Audubon outings guarantee in-the-know companions — or you can just take your binoculars and go.
If you ever want to learn a whole lot about the birds on Lake Washington’s east side, Nancy Roberts is a great person to have around. Fortunately for me, she was part of the group when I recently joined one of Eastside Audubon’s many recurring bird walks.
About 10 of us, decked out in hats, sunglasses and binoculars, roamed Juanita Bay Park in Kirkland on a Tuesday morning. The park’s boardwalks and trails make its wetlands and water easy to reach.
Roberts has loved birds since she was a kid living on Midway Island in the Pacific. She has watched birds here, with her Navy-retiree husband, Jim, for years. During our walk, she wore a bird T-shirt and a hat decorated with wildlife pins. Even her earrings were bird-shaped.
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She can tell you not only what kinds of birds you’re likely to see but also the stories behind some individuals. Pointing to a tree where the resident bald eagle couple’s offspring died a few years ago, she said, “They have never touched that tree again.”
She can look at a torn-up tree snag and determine which kind of bird did the damage — leading one member of our group to chuckle, “It’s like ‘CSI: Audubon.’ ”
Roberts also speaks with indignation about habitat loss, pollution and other hazards driving down native bird populations. She stopped at a “No Fishing” sign and described finding a bird tangled in fishing line an irresponsible angler left behind. “It’s so important that they have places where they can be safe,” she said.
A chance to learn
Although obsessive folks such as Roberts are likely to be on many Audubon walks, group knowledge runs the gamut and complete newbies are welcome.
“I joined for the ability to go on field trips and learn from more knowledgeable people. My knowledge just exploded,” said Nancy Hubly, who was also on the Juanita Bay walk and who serves as Eastside Audubon’s treasurer.
Mike Moreland, whose status as our walk leader was easy to suss from the big Swarovski scope he had slung over his shoulder, was happy to point out even the most common birds. “If it flies, we want to look at it,” he said.
That morning, he was seeking a Virginia rail, a bird known for maneuvering through grasses and reeds without even rustling them. Just after he mentioned them, one called out from its hiding place. “Yeah, we’re talking about you,” Moreland said.
He set up the communal scope so everyone could see a copper-colored male cinnamon teal duck. An eagle glided past. Later, a male redwing blackbird danced along a boardwalk handrail, showing off its crimson wing spots.
Like many National Audubon Society chapters, Eastside Audubon is going beyond appreciating birds. The group has increased its outreach, helping to pull invasive plants out of parks, advising people about bird-friendly gardening, counting birds in annual surveys, and hosting kid-friendly activities to attract the younger crowd. It offers beginning birding classes for newcomers of all ages.
May is Eastside Audubon’s biggest fundraising time: While the scheduled walks are typically free to join, the group is requesting a $25 donation per participant throughout the month. May’s field-trip destinations (participants can sign up and pay in advance on the website) are as close as Juanita Bay or as far-flung as Grays Harbor.
Places to nest
The Eastside’s many large parks make for peaceful bird-watching, especially since crowds are often smaller than those in Seattle’s urban parklands. While every season is good in some way, spring is when bird calls tend to be loudest as they court potential mates and pair up.
Along with Juanita Bay, 600-acre Marymoor Park, on the north side of Lake Sammamish, is one of two parks Eastside Audubon has formally adopted. Among other conservation projects, the group has been working to eradicate invasive plants.
Members also helped build the park’s Audubon BirdLoop, actually a series of short, interlocking loops ranging from 0.3 to 0.5 miles and encompassing forest, riverbank and marsh (bit.ly/1NG8VgK). During an early-morning walk, a bird-seeker might see as many as 70 different species. Bird enthusiast Michael Hobbs leads walks through the loop on most Thursday mornings (marymoor.org/birding.htm).
Lake Sammamish State Park in Issaquah is another of Eastside Audubon’s regular bird-walk spots (parks.state.wa.us/533/Lake-Sammamish). On sunny days, its 512 acres are filled with recreating families, but many birds, including great blue herons, frequent the lakeshore early in the morning.
Bellevue’s Mercer Slough Nature Park is home to the largest stretch of wetland left on Lake Washington (ci.bellevue.wa.us/mercer_slough.htm). Its ever-changing marshes and bogs are home to many species, including birds. One of the best ways to explore it is by canoe, but nature walks are also popular.
For birds that live in thick forests, head to wooded Saint Edward State Park, in Kenmore, on Lake Washington’s northeast corner (parks.state.wa.us/577/Saint-Edward). With 3,000 feet of undeveloped Lake Washington shoreline, the park — formerly the grounds of a Catholic seminary — is also a great place to see water birds.
One of the best things about the Bellevue Botanical Garden is its proximity to downtown, making it an easy getaway for office workers seeking a dose of nature (bellevuebotanical.org). Its well-maintained gravel paths are work-shoe-friendly, and its flowers attract birds, butterflies and other wildlife. Next door, Kelsey Creek Park re-creates an old-time rural feel with its farm animals and two big barns, but it also includes paths through the wetlands of its namesake creek (bit.ly/1WhZdrw).
If you go
Birding walks and locations
• The Eastside Audubon website includes information about events, bird-watching tips, and advocacy: eastsideaudubon.org. For a calendar of field trips and walks, click on “Get Outside.”
• King County Parks, including Marymoor Park: 1.usa.gov/23P10uh
• Washington State Parks: parks.state.wa.us.