For the Birds
The Whidbey Audubon Society posts bird sightings on its website. They include the bird’s name, location and date with a photo of each bird. For example; Long-billed Dowitcher, Deer Lagoon, July 23. Virginia Rail, Deer Lagoon, July 23. American White Pelicans, Deer Lagoon, July 3. Each sighting has a detailed description of what was seen, who saw it and exactly where. Check it out.
Okay, not all the sightings are at Deer Lagoon, but today I counted ten reports and five are from Deer Lagoon. I wondered, were there so many sightings at Deer Lagoon because it’s so rich in bird life? Or because it’s a favorite place for birders to walk? Probably both.
Birders love to walk there along with the locals who come for a jog, bike ride, or nearby residents on their way to or from the beach. Kayaks are sometimes seen on the lagoon but for the birds, that’s too close for comfort. Better to put the kayak in at nearby Double Bluff instead.
The entrance to the trail has recently been improved making it easier to carry in a spotting scope or tripod, and providing easier access for those in a wheelchair or mobility scooter. The trail between the end of Deer Lagoon Road and the dike is a wide, flat, gravel path through shady alders, snags and stately firs alongside a cattail marsh. I spent a lot of time there hearing birds and trying to spot them with binoculars. Then I moved on to the dike where I could easily see ducks and shorebirds out in the open.
In the distance I saw the American White Pelicans that have been coming here on their summer vacations since 2016. There are hundreds of them and they’re huge. It was late afternoon when I was there and after stopping to study a few dozen, I began to see more coming in for the night. The sky filled with lines of gliding birds spiraling down to the waters below. Their big white bodies and black tipped wings were striking against the blue sky above or water below.
White pelicans skim up fish and other organisms as they glide smoothly over lakes, rivers and wetlands. They’re heavy birds but they can glide in long lines for great distances. With a wingspan of eight to nine feet they’re larger than a bald eagle and slightly smaller than a California condor. When they flap their wings it’s slow and graceful.
But it’s the bill that fascinates me. It’s like ‘bring your own bag’ when you go to the store. The pelican has one built in. They lower their bill and scoop up fish. Often they work as a group to herd fish toward shallow water for easy meals. Or they tip up like a dabbling duck. Sometimes they steal food from other pelicans or from cormorants.
When I looked online for more information about American White Pelicans each site said they live in inland lakes and wetlands. The range maps didn’t show them in the Puget Sound area at all. So I called Sarah Schmidt, a local bird expert. She said there had been much speculation about why these birds are here. Perhaps they were displaced from the Mahler Wildlife Refuge in Oregon when a drought made their nesting island into a peninsula and their chicks vulnerable to predation. Or they might have come from Eastern Washington where flocks along the Columbia River got too big and split apart. They sent out scouts for years before they settled on Deer Lagoon. Some like Crockett Lake near the Coupeville ferry while others found Padilla Bay to their liking. So even if you’re not a birder, you can still enjoy watching these magnificent birds close to home.
PS Birds really appreciate some cool, clean water during this hot dry weather. A bird bath or pan of water that's out of reach of cats is a treat for them and for those watching.
Directions: From Highway 525 in Freeland, go south 1 mile to Double Bluff Road and turn south. Go about a half mile and turn left on Millman Road. Go another half mile and turn right on Deer Lagoon Road. Park near the road end but be careful not to block someone's driveway.
Mobility: This trail is flat and wide with a gravel and dirt surface.
Transit: There is no bus to Deer Lagoon Road, however it's just a flat mile and a half from Highway 525 where Island Transit Route 1 stops if you flag it down. The bus bike rack holds 2-3 bikes. Island Transit is fare free.
"You should sit quietly for fifteen minutes every day to gather your thoughts, unless you're too busy, in which case you should sit for an hour."
I don't know about your summer, but I suspect it may resemble mine in how full it has been, how busy with activities and adventures, tasks and to-do lists. I want to experience as much of the summer as I can, making up for the shortage of human interaction last summer. In so doing, however, I may have overextended myself, overfilling the hours and days and weeks.
It's in these times of busyness that I remember the quote about sitting quietly. I could tell I needed maybe even more than an hour to rest where the wild things are.
The only time I could find was the closing of this day. The sun was sinking close to the horizon. The moon rose, nearly full, though obscured by clouds. I finished a dinner engagement with friends, then drove out alone to the Padilla Bay Shoreline Trail in the Skagit flats.
Mine was the only car in the parking lot. I walked onto the trail, and immediately my senses took me to a world far removed from the hectic hubbub of the past few days. Fields and farms smelled of earthly warmth, of sunshine and harvest. The nearby tidal waters added the spice of the seashore, of muck and beach salty marine air.
Sandpipers piped their warning songs to each other as I walked along. Gravel crunched underfoot as I strolled, relaxed, watching the sun approach the island hilltops, the clouds softening as they mellowed in pink. Farmers parked their combines and then headed home for dinner and rest.
One last ray of sunlight lingered over the hill, then the day was done. I walked on into the twilight, the half-light, the fading of vision that we depend on, the blurring of the worlds between daytime and night. It invites introspection, deeper thought, an awareness of a world apart from the day, where darkness comes alive. The speed of the day slows down in the dark; the blazing light of the sun becomes the pinpoints of stars, lights that were always there though hidden, now revealed in their individual glory. So to, my active daytime deeds now became a memory, and my mind became attuned instead to the always present but seldom heard inner voice, the whispers of the sacred night, the wisdom of the ages, the music of the spheres.
"Under every full moon, memories stir of the dreamers we were." -- Robert Braul
I stopped after about a mile, at the halfway point where the trail follows the shoreline of Padilla Bay. I laid on the grass and looked for the moon, but clouds still hid its body, allowing its softened essence to bathe the shoreline and fields in silvery sweetness.
I became grateful for such a trail as this, close to home, easy to walk, yet weaving its way through a world apart. The presence of the present, the moment of now, became all I needed to see, to hear, to embrace, to breathe, and to rest and refresh.
A cool wind rose from the west. I eventually got up and walked back in the near darkness, the trail visible in the muted moonlight.
"When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do no tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free."
-- Wendell Berry
Directions: Between Anacortes and Mt. Vernon take Highway 20 to the Bay View - Edison Road intersection. Go north about a mile to reach the south trailhead.
Accessibility: the trail is packed gravel. There is a gate at both trailheads which may or may not be wide enough for a wheelchair. During business hours a key is available to the gate at the Breazeale Interpretive Center, two miles to the north of Bay View.
Opening the Gate
Hats off to the Whidbey Camano Land Trust! They’ve done it again! The Possession Sound Preserve is now officially open to the public! It’s a wonderful new addition to the Land Trust’s list of protected properties. The Land Trust partnered with Island County to obtain over $2 million to secure these 45 acres of shoreline property just south of Clinton. It’s another beautiful place for people and an important preserve for wildlife and the ecology of our island shoreline. If we've learned anything over the past year, it's how precious these places are, close to home, for peace of mind and serene spirit.
I pulled in, turned off the engine and began a tranquil stroll through a mature forest of Doug fir. A split rail fence and gravel path led me toward the water. A pileated woodpecker drilled into an alder as I neared the bluff. A covey of quail scurried across the trail. Fragrant ocean spray bloomed above a thicket of ripe thimbleberries and blackberry blossoms. I walked the half mile of trail winding down to the beach with peak-a-boo views across Possession Sound toward the mainland. Looking south in the distance I saw Mount Rainier. To the north, Mount Baker.
At the end of the trail was a level green meadow as big as a football field, a great place for a picnic or a game of Frisbee, or both! On this morning, neither. Driftwood logs provided benches and steps to the beach. At low tide I could walk a half mile to the south before nearing a row of houses. Overhanging alders and maples, the trickle of a small stream and huge ferns graced the shore. Steep feeder bluffs provided homes for pigeon guillemots as well as sediments needed for forage fish along the water’s edge. This cobblestone shore with slippery seaweed isn’t easy to walk. It required a slow pace. I began to explore, breathe deep, look around and let it soak in. It’s not often we get this kind of quiet along the water.
The rumble of a train on the far shore brought me back to the hum of ordinary activity. Returning to the grassy green, kayakers cruised close to shore and shouted, “Is it open yet?” Paddle boarders trailed along behind. The Clinton and Mukilteo ferries changed sides. This beach, not far from the busy Clinton ferry dock, is an oasis compared to the popular island beaches so often cluttered with vacation homes and crowds of people. An eagle soared above, gulls below. In the fall salmon will hug the shore. In spring grey whales return. In the meantime, boats glide by, tugs towing barges, fishing boats, yachts and kayaks. And now, people like me can come on foot, with binoculars and a camera to try to capture a few sweet moments of beauty and peace.
As I turned away from the shore and began the steady climb back up the switchbacks to the forest above, I stopped for a few berries which gave me a chance to catch my breath. Thimbleberries are my favorite with their sharp burst of tangy flavor. Blackberries are beginning to ripen and feed the birds and anyone else walking this way. Rabbits scampered under their protective branches as I approached. The tall trees provided shade for a summer stroll. I turned at the gate to give thanks before settling into the driver’s seat and turning the key.
For details click here.
Directions: From 525 in Clinton take Humphrey Road (just up from the ferry) south 2 miles. The parking area is on the left.
Transit: There is no transit access to this trailhead.
It’s summer, full speed ahead. The sun is high, hot, and heavy. We feel compelled to play, to travel, to relax, and experience all of life's joys during these lengthy sunlit hours.
This July day dawned under a blanket of fog, but I knew by noon it would be summer-hot again. I wanted to hike where I was immersed in the cool, among the green, and under the shade. I decided to go to Heart Lake: it has a good name, gentle terrain, and tree-shadowed trails.
Walking from the sun-baked parking lot, I started on trail 210, along the lake and among the green of the forest and shoreline. The sky was now blue and ablaze, but the forest was dripping wet. Firs and cedars had wrung moisture out of the morning fog and were still sharing it with all their shorter neighbors. Raindrops pockmarked the dusty trail. Salal leaves cradled puddles that then poured onto the mosses and ferns. I appreciated having dressed in layers, with the temperature several degrees cooler here in the home of these ancient giants and their friends.
I wasn’t alone coming here. Two moms carried two kids in backpacks while a couple others scampered along beside them. At the lake shore, a retriever retrieved a stick and brought back a wet coat to shake off on its owners. Bike riders pedaled fast, past a dad, daughter and dog standing patiently on the side of the trail.
But farther from the trailhead now, and away from the lake, the trail became quiet. Peaceful. At rest. Inhale. Exhale. All this green photosynthesizing, busy making the simple gifts of sugar and oxygen.
My pace slowed and I began to sense the many shades of green, some backlit, some sun-splotched, some well shadowed. At the south end of the lake I continued south up trail 212, then onto trail 220, to head a mile and a half even farther south. My goal was a squiggly line on the map that said “viewpoint”, with Lake Erie below. I wondered what kind of view it would offer.
This trail parallels Heart Lake Road, but soon a ridge of trees muffled the noise of the occasional traffic. The pathway follows a dry creek bed, descending quite quickly down the valley. Firs and ferns filled the creek bottom; dense cedars stood guard all around. A raven spoke to me in Ravenese (I can’t translate what it said); siskens and sparrows shared their voices, along with robins and wrens.
I came out of the deep woods into a balding field of dry golden grass. Here the trail ended. Open to the full sun, the temperature rose ten degrees. I was at the viewpoint, I guess. Trees blocked the view toward Lake Erie, but no matter -- Mount Erie rose like a fatherly spirit, high above it all. I basked in the warmth, then turned around to climb back into the coolness of the forested valley, the green below me and above me and all around, shadows deep even in the noonday sun.
Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of nowhere. And sometimes, in the middle of nowhere, you find yourself.
“The forest cradles my shadow as hers,
and gives my soul company without saying a word.
Along this earthen wonderland my heart falls in green love
as I gaze awestruck to the trees sharing grace from above.
The forest spoke to my soul in a language I already knew;
a distant lullaby from the womb of peace and green and true.”
-- Angie Weiland-Crosby
A thrush serenaded with its lonesome ballad. Near the Heart Lake shoreline again, a woodpecker hammered away for its lunch, and reminded me that I could use a bite to eat too.
But back at the sunny parking lot, I was already missing the gifts of the cool green shade of the Heart Lake trail.
And thank you Anacortes Parks Department for maintaining these trails through our beloved community forest lands.
Directions: From Highway 20 at 32nd street in Anacortes, head west on 32nd to H Avenue, then south on Heart Lake Road. Follow it one and a half miles to the Heart Lake parking area on your right.
Transit: the area is not served by the transit system.
Accessibility: the trails here are fairly wide but with roots, rocks, and some elevation changes. They can be muddy in the winter.
Bicycle access: although Heart Lake Road has minimal shoulders, traffic is usually also minimal. The hills are steady but fairly gentle coming out of Anacortes. And nearly all downhill going back.