Fin Whale found feeding in the Straits of Juan de Fuca

Fin Whale surfaces to breath in the Juan de Fuca Straits and Mt. Baker rises in the background. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Fin Whale surfaces to breath in the Juan de Fuca Straits and Mt. Baker rises in the background. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The spout rose a couple of dozen feet above the surface in a reverse cone of vapor and droplets. A whale blow well off our starboard side, and the captain turned the boat to cruise in that direction. The whale’s back continued to glide along as more and more of it surfaced in a slow arc before the mammal submerged completely. The captain cut the motor, and we began to drift. Just the breeze and the chatter of the passengers filled the air. This fin whale had been sighted the week before and seemed to be hanging around. This individual was only the second confirmed sighting of this rare baleen whale in the Salish Sea in many decades. The blood rushed through my body as I attempted to hold my camera still for the next surfacing. I had seen a fin whale a quarter century ago in the Gulf of California but never one in the United States.

A minute later the whale surfaced again, blowing water vertically, the water droplets glistening in the afternoon sun. It’s black skin reflecting light as it surfaced and the water slid down the glossy skin. The sickle-like dorsal fin eventually rose above the surface before the beast submerged again. This individual was 60 to 70 feet long, an adult. Fin whales are bigger than all but the blue whale. Our whale surfaced seven times before its back arched, and it dove. Its fluke never rose above the surface.

Our boat drifted in the Straits of Juan de Fuca a little west of Port Townsend. The captain said the whale was either feeding on krill or schools of herring that had congregated in this area. An escarpment cuts across the bottom in this location, and the water churns here as the tides move in and out of the Salish Sea. The mixing of nutrients makes an ideal soup for plankton to bloom and the krill and herring to feed. The abundant food drew our fin whale as well as several humpback whales that were surfacing half a mile to the south.

Fin whale populations have slowly recovered since they were protected from slaughter in the 1960s. The use of the Straits may indicate that fin whales are seeking new feeding areas or possibly the straits were having a large bloom of krill and herring this year. If fin whales return in future summers, then maybe this sighting is an indication of improving populations. Fin whales tend to be solitarily and so it wasn’t unusual to see just one individual.

Fin Whale releases a breadth of air as it surfaces before breathing deeply to make another dive. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Fin Whale releases a breadth of air as it surfaces before breathing deeply to make another dive. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The boat had rocked for about five minutes before the whale surfaced from its feeding dive. I tried to imagine how it might have opened its huge mouth, filling it with water and possible food items, and then using its tongue to push the water through the bristly baleen like a colander and finally swallowing any food. This time, it had halved the distance between us. It looked like it would pass our bow. The passengers erupted in cheers, and many clapped hands in excitement. I felt the compression of human mass as everyone tried to congregate on the starboard side to see each successive breath of this cetacean. Each time, a new spout of water droplets rose like a flag announcing its arrival. In the distance, Mt. Baker showed behind the whale like a queen overlooking her kingdom. The snow and ice of this stratovolcano sparkled in the bright summer sun and gave me the sense that we had seen something special. After five more surfaces, our rorqual dove for the depths and another bit of lunch.

Twenty minutes later and after a few more sightings, the captain suggested we look for the humpback whales. Holding the railing as the boat rocked in the waves, I watched the spot of its last dive wondering what this fin whale thought of us watching it.

 

The Milky Way over Mount Adams

Muddy Meadows had taken on a golden brown cast and contrasted with the white summit of Mt Adams peaking through the sky. (Thomas Bancroft)

Muddy Meadows had taken on a golden brown cast and it contrasted with the white summit of Mt Adams that peaked through the clouds. (Thomas Bancroft)

Clouds had obscured Mt Adams all day except in late afternoon when a small window formed between the high and low clouds. I hoped the clouds might disappear as the day shifted to night and so I set my alarm for 10:30 PM. I had hiked into Muddy Meadows in Mt Adams Wilderness with the hope that I could photograph the Milky Way over Mt Adams. I have a personal goal of photographing the Milky Way over all 5 shield volcanoes in Washington. With a new moon just started, this night promised to be dark and perfect for seeing the Milky Way if the clouds disappeared. Lodgepole pines and firs surrounded the large wet meadow and the meadow had taken on a wonderful warm brown tinge as fall approached.

The Milky Way twinkled above Mt Adams and Muddy Meadows. (Thomas Bancroft)

The Milky Way twinkled above Mt Adams and Muddy Meadows. (Thomas Bancroft)

At 10:30 PM the Milky Way twinkled above the mountain and I didn’t see a single cloud. I found a good place to watch the sky and the mountain. A few meteors streaked through the sky and one large one looked like a shooting rocket. Unfortunately, it was just outside of my camera’s view. I found the stars memorizing and lost track of how cold it was. My fingers slowly became numb in the low 40s temperatures. Little light pollution was evident and I could see far more stars than I can see in Seattle. Muddy Meadows sits on the north side of Mt Adams and a little northwest of the peak. The Milky Way stretched southwest. I wondered how many stars were out there? Some scientists estimate that we may have 400 billion stars in just the Milky Way and many have planets circling them. It always thrills me to think about the vastness of the universe and how small our planet is within the expanse of space.

I stood staring at the stars when suddenly I caught the shadow of a dark object shooting by the right side of my head, maybe only an arm lengths away and slightly higher than me. Just beyond me, it dropped down to eye level and disappeared into the darkness without a sound. I thought an owl, maybe a northern pygmy-owl. It surprised me that I hadn’t jumped or even flinched. The owl must have been checking out what this strange object was in the middle of “its” meadow. Seeing it added an additional excitement to the night experience. I wondered what else might be watching me from the surrounding wilderness?

I did it again here. I seem to drift into a meditative state each time I stand watching stars gradually drift west. My mind wanders from family and friends to thinking about wild country. Seeing wild country or experiencing it through literature, films and art always seems to leave me energized, happy, and excited for tomorrow. When I began to shiver, I realized it might be time to find my tent and my warm sleeping bag. I grabbed my camera and tripod, turned to head toward my tent, but stopped for one last look up and to wonder a little more.

Do you enjoy seeing the Milky Way? Does it raise thoughts and feelings in you?

The Milky Way twinkled above Mt Adams and Muddy Meadows. (Thomas Bancroft)

The Milky Way rises above Mt Adams and Muddy Meadows in the Cascade Mountains of Washington. (Thomas Bancroft)

What is it about a tree anyways?

Many bird species seem to come to this ponderosa pine during the time I sat and watched. (Thomas Bancroft)

Many bird species seem to come to this ponderosa pine during the time I sat and watched. (Thomas Bancroft)

I was bumping and jostling along North Wenas Road, a dusty dirt road with lots of potholes when I saw a silvery flash near the top of a lone Ponderosa pine. The pine sat in a sea of sagebrush and grasses, a towering dark green monolith in the expanse of short brownish green. I pulled over to scan the tree with binoculars and see what might have made the flash.

As I raised my binoculars to my eyes, a Lewis’s woodpecker flew out from the tree making a broad circle over the road and back into the tree. The whole time it was squawking. It landed by a second woodpecker and I could see the two of them flashing their wings as they greeted each other. Courtship! It must be spring.

Within seconds of seeing this, a red-shafted flicker began its boisterous call. At first, I thought maybe the Lewis’s woodpecker could call just like a flicker but the flicker kept calling over the next few minutes. Eventually, the flicker popped out on a dead branch near the top of the tree so I could confirm that it was a flicker and not the woodpecker imitating it.

While all this was going on, a bullock’s oriole made a brief appearance near the top left side of the tree. Its yellow feathers glistened in the afternoon sun and I could see it looking back and forth into the foliage at the top: a nice male with its black back feathers and black eye stripe. After just a second or two, it dove back into the dark green foliage. I heard the gruff scratchy notes of the oriole as it hopped through the foliage.

A European starling sat on one of the dead branches along the left side of the tree and began to give its screech call. At first it startled me, for I didn’t think this was quite the right habitat for a starling, but sure enough it was sitting in this ponderosa pine.

As I watched this menagerie, I realized that both an American robin and a house wren sang in the background. I couldn’t tell if they too were in the tree, but they definitely were part of this meeting place. A pair of red-tailed hawks came over the crest of the hill behind the pine and began to circle lazily on the thermals rising from the sagebrush expanse. They too called a few times.

You can listen to this meeting place in the backcountry outside of Ellensburg.

As I sat listening, I realized I could also hear crickets calling too. The tree reminded me of a coffee shop where so many people come to meet, often oblivious to others who have come to meet too. I smiled and tipped my hat to this old ponderosa pine and its important role as gathering place. I wonder how many decades it has served this function in these rolling hills.

I would love to hear if you have seen a tree function in a similar way for wild things?

The Sweet Elegant Song of the White-crowned Sparrow

A male white-crowned sparrow sings from the top of a cedar in Washington Park by Anacortes. (Thomas Bancroft)

A male white-crowned sparrow sings from the top of a cedar in Washington Park by Anacortes. (Thomas Bancroft)

We had been birding all morning as we climbed onto viewpoint above Burroughs Channel. It was almost noon and we had a good morning searching for seabirds and shorebirds, pretty much ignoring the little tweets.  The sweet whistle followed quickly by several more whistles and buzzes, therefore, caught me off guard.  I stopped to listen again.

We had pulled into Washington Park at Anacortes to search for buffleheads and surf scoters on Rosario Strait. We found several feeding out from the boat landing. They repeatedly dove staying down for 20 to 30 seconds while they searched for tasty morsels. My birding partner spotted a white flash way off shore and we discovered a pigeon guillemot stretching on the gentle swells. With each stretch of its wings, its white patches flashed in the noon sun and the white contrasted with the black body plumage. A common loon in its new nuptial plumage cruised by as we climbed back into the car to head to Green Point. At the point, five red-necked grebes bobbed in the waves; they had shifted from their drab winter plumage to their nuptial plumage with the distinctive rufous neck that gives them their name. We, also, heard the loud cries of a black oystercatcher pair and ran to the edge but to no avail.

So what was this sweet whistle I just heard above Burroughs Channel?

As we strolled down the slope toward the source of the whistle, I realized that we could hear a line of these songs echoing in both directions through the scattered cedars and pines. These songs declared that each vocalist owns their individual patch of habitat. Finally, one called in a cedar not far from where we stood. I crept around the edge of the tree to find a white-crowned sparrow on the top singing its sweet melody. We stood for quite a while listening to him bellowing out his song as strongly as any opera singer.  In 1772, J. R. Foster got it right when he called this one of the most “elegant little species.” This little bird is one of the most intensely studied species in the world. It breeds across western United States and north into Canada and across the Arctic. Just like people, these little guys have distinctive dialects depending on where in their range they breed. A number of years ago when I heard one singing in Denali National Park, I remember that I didn’t recognize it. It looks like I still can’t seem to keep all their dialects straight. We found a nice bench just above the cedar and sat to eat our lunch and listen to his solo version of “I will always love you.”

Here it is if you would like to hear it too.

 

Dorothy Lake on an April Morning

 (Thomas Bancroft)

Dorothy Lake in Alpine Lakes Wilderness sits in a glacier carved valley. (Thomas Bancroft)

We climbed the trail toward Dorothy Lake in Alpine Lakes Wilderness hoping to see what it might look like on this spring morning. Every quarter mile or so, we heard a Pacific Wren singing his complex melody to declare that spring is here and he is ready for a mate. We stopped at Camp Robber Creek for 20 minutes to watch and listen to the water tumble down the granite chute from the valley above. The bridge across the creek is right where Camp Robber Creek joins the East Fork of the Miller River coming down from Lake Dorothy. Smith Creek joins these two from a ravine a dozen yards below this junction. The chorus formed by these three watercourses was so loud that we had to shout to each other to be heard over the symphony engulfing us.

The water tumbled down through a series of crevices in the water smoothed rocks.  The water divided between water courses and came back together as it tumbled down the cascade. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The water tumbled down through a series of crevices in the water smoothed rocks. The water divided between water courses and came back together as it tumbled down the cascade. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

Soon after leaving the bridge, we discovered snow on the trail. I had not expected snow today when I suggested this trip. The storm that moved through Seattle during this last week must have brought snow to these mountains. Looking through the forest on both sides of the trail, we noticed that the snow on the ridges looked fresh, maybe from last night. Snow clung to the branches of the subalpine firs to make a winter wonderland scene in mid-spring.

Fortunately, the snow and ice on the trail had begun to melt and we had a small amount of traction as we climbed the steps up the trail. Volunteers with Washington Trails Association have improved this trail by using logs to stop erosion, construct steps up steep sections, and build boardwalks across wet places. We hiked delicately so as not to slip and fall on the snow and ice.

We took the side trail out to the outflow from Dorothy Lake. The U-shaped valley is a result of glaciers gouging out this valley and carving the deeper scoop that now forms Dorothy Lake. I suspect the granite rocks here at the outflow were too hard for the Pleistocene glaciers to carve. The snow covering the trees and valley walls gave a picturesque view across the lake, and we found a rock to sit for a while.

A mass of drift logs crowded the shore near the outflow. Water trickled through the logs and down the creek beside our seats. Two small rapids over rocks gave a pleasant sound to the scene. I noticed fresh buds preparing to open on the huckleberries. Once it warms, the new leaves will unfurl. The lake near us was flat and mirror-like, reflecting the mountains and clouds. The creek gurgled behind us and I felt the cold air rising from the melting snow, chilling my back. We rose to hike along the lake a short ways, flushing a few juncos from the bushes and hearing the chatter of chickadees in the cedars and hemlocks above us. Although I could not feel the breeze, the lake surface had become scalloped in a mosaic pattern. We found a rock to eat our lunch and watched the mosaic of scallops twist and turn in the afternoon light before we rose to head back.

Spring will reach this subalpine lake any day now.

 

 (Thomas Bancroft)

(Thomas Bancroft)

 

 

 

A Pacific Wren sings “it is spring” in Washington.

I rounded a corner on the trail and heard a Pacific wren begin its high energy song. Seattle has had some wonderful warm days in early April, and I guess this little bird has decided that spring has arrived. Dr Kroodsma, a world expert on bird songs, characterized these little guys as having the “pinnacle of song complexity.” They have a large repertoire of notes that they can arrange in different sequences. Their song ends up being more complex than their close relatives the winter wren of eastern United States or the Eurasian wren. I edged along the trail looking for the bird. I was hiking in St Edwards Park along the shore of Lake Washington. It should be sitting on a branch a few feet to a dozen or more off the forest floor. The call came from the far side of a clump of hemlocks. The wren is only 4 inches long, and dark mottled brown so it blends into the dappled forest light extremely well. I could not find it. The singing male is probably cocking his tail high behind his back and twisting back and forth as it repeatedly sings. A male’s song helps him defend his territory from other males and helps him try to entice a female to join him for the season. Listen to this little guy sing his heart out.

Does hearing it bring hopes of spring to you? Do bird songs bring high spirits to you?

 

 

Laughing Kookaburra: A Spectacular Australian Bird

The laughing kookaburra watched the ground intentently for possible prey. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The laughing kookaburra watched the ground intentently for possible prey. (G. Thomas Bancroft)   click on picture to see bigger version.

When I was young, I loved going downstairs on Saturday mornings in mid-winter to watch Tarzan movies. Johnny Weissmuller’s call would reverberate through the house to my mother’s vexation. In my pajamas, I would curl up in a blanket on the floor in front of our black and white TV and become engrossed in the show. The exotic animals and the jungle sounds spell bounded me. Later as I became fascinated with birds, I heard that one of the background jungle sounds in Tarzan movies was the call of the laughing kookaburra. Their call is loud and often many birds in a family group cackle together to defend their communal territory. The call resonates through the landscape, and this may be why movie producers use it. They think that a sound like the kookaburra’s call must be from the jungles of Africa or South America. Kookaburra calls appear in a number of other films including “Count Dracula,” “Raiders of the Lost Arc,” “Cape Fear,” and “Objective Burma.” Kookaburras live wild in Australia and not in the places these films depict. A kookaburra also calls in the forests of the “Wizard of Oz.” Maybe they do live in Oz?

Listen to a Kookaburra call recorded by Christopher. Thanks to him and soundbible.com for making it available.

 

Before my trip to Australia, I saw a live laughing kookaburra only once in a zoo in Florida. It sat majestically on a branch about 10 feet above the ground as I walked through its aviary. I stood and watched it for half an hour until my 5-year old daughter insisted we continue. The bird never called or even moved.

As I planned my trip to Australia, one of my quests would be to see and hear laughing kookaburras in the wild. They are native to eastern Australia, and people have introduced them to Tasmania. Kookaburras are the largest member of the kingfisher family, weighing about a pound, 18 inches in length, and they possess a large 4-inch bill. They live in eucalypt forests, open woodlands, parks and suburban neighborhoods. They rarely eat fish but rather feed on snakes, small mammals, birds, lizards, and insects. They sit motionless on a perch watching the ground and surrounding area for prey. When they spot something, they fly down to grab it, returning to their perch where they may whack it repeatedly on a branch to kill it and tenderize it before eating it head first.

To start my Australian odyssey, I flew to Hobart in Tasmania to meet up with my daughter, her husband, and his family. We planned to tour Tasmania for a week. I had the first morning free to explore on my own, so I hopped the first city bus in the morning that went southwest of Hobart, and I was the only person on the bus. I was surprised to discover that the driver could give me change for my ticket. No buses in the places I have lived in the United States give change for fear that someone will rob the driver. The money sat in a tray between the driver and me. The driver kindly looked at my map and helped me determine where to exit his bus so I could walk into the Peter Murrell Reserve. He worried that I would have too long a walk to come back to find the return bus, but I shrugged and jumped off the bus. Black peppermint trees dominate this dry sclerophyll forest. The forest contained a thick understory of shrubs and grasses. A few grassy meadows broke up the contiguous forest. Birders regularly find laughing kookaburras in this reserve, and I was out to find one.

Kookaburras occur in family groups with young staying for several years to help their parents raise subsequent broods. As I walked through the eucalypts along Coffee Creek Trail, I heard my first kookaburra. The call started as a low chuckle, growing through a series of trills, chortles, and into a full belly laugh. I stopped dead in my tracks to take it all in. Over the next 20 minutes one or more birds called. I tried to creep over to see them but never did find them. With this call, kookaburras defend their territories, which they keep throughout the year. If a kookaburra from a nearby family responds, all the members of the original group may join in a loud and rambunctious series of laughs that can last several minutes. The next day we drove into the western wet part of Tasmania, and I did not hear or see another kookaburra for almost a week.

I spent two days birding at Dandenong Ranges National Park and You Yangs Regional Park near Melbourne on the southern mainland of Australia. I had good looks at laughing kookaburras in both places but in neither case would the birds allow me to move in close. I wanted to see the details of their plumage and admire their massive bill.

My chance to observe them up close came when I visited friends near Warwick in southeast Queensland. Penny had told me that kookaburras would serenade me at dawn from outside the bedroom window where I would stay. Penny’s bed and breakfast is spectacularly situated in a rural landscape that is perfect for birds. The first morning I walked along their driveway where I could look through the eucalyptus trees toward the river below. I spotted one sitting on a branch with its head cocked slightly to one side. I crept slowly along the driveway until I could watch it carefully. A dark brown line extended from his eye to the back of his head, and he had a dark spot on the back of its head. A light creamy stripe of feathers ran above the eye, and the bottom of his head and collar were light gray. I couldn’t believe how massive his bill was. It reminded me of a large pair of needle-nose pliers. The dark brown feathers on his back and wings had white-tips, and I could see the textures of the individual feathers.  After a few minutes, he turned around so I could see his creamy white underside and even see the nails on each toe gripping the branch. I don’t know if it was a male or female for they look very similar. Females are often slightly bigger. His gaze at the ground became riveted, and then he flew down to the ground to probe among the grass stems. I could not tell if he caught anything before he flew farther down the hill. I stood for a few minutes taking in this splendid bird before I headed back toward the house for breakfast with my friends so excited to tell them of my find.

On my last day at Penny’s place, I woke well before dawn, and as I lay in bed, I heard a loud chorus of laughing kookaburras tune up in her yard. They called back and forth amongst themselves for several minutes, and I drifted back to my childhood and those Tarzan movies. For a few minutes, I thought maybe I was again 9-years old. But no and I quickly rolled out of bed to go out to see these magnificent birds. Several birds hung out in the scattered eucalypts in their yard.

Here is a recording of the morning chorus that I made a few days later in the Atherton Tablelands of northern Queensland. The morning was just waking up and several species called in the first light of the day.

 

Seeing this unique bird and especially hearing their raucous calls will remain a cherished memory of my Australian adventure. Do you have a birdcall that you just love to hear and that brings back fond memories?

The laughing kookaburra turned around to show its creamy white chest and belly. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The laughing kookaburra turned around to show its creamy white chest and belly. (G. Thomas Bancroft)   click on picture to see bigger version.

Purple Sea Star and Algae

The tide was going out and I found this ochre sea star on the side of a rock with various algae.  The sea star didn't move in the 20 minutes I stood nearby watching.  I was intrigued by the design formed by the sea star and the brown algae. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The tide was going out and I found this ochre sea star on the side of a rock with various algae. The sea star didn’t move in the 20 minutes I stood nearby watching. I was intrigued by the design formed by the sea star and the brown algae. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

 

I am excited to announce that I have a photograph hanging in the Wilderness Forever 50th Anniversary Photography Exhibition. My photograph of a purple sea star and algae taken at Scotty’s Bluff along the coast of the Olympic Wilderness received an honorable mention in the wildlife category. The exhibition is on display at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington, DC through the end of the summer in 2015. I am incredibly flattered that the judges chose this photograph out of more than 5,000 submitted to participate in the celebration. If you make it to DC in the next few months, stop by to see it and let me know how it looks.

Congress passed the Wilderness Act, and President Johnson signed it into law on September 3, 1964. Wilderness is a protection overlay applied by Congress to public lands managed by one of four federal agencies: the National Park Service, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, or Bureau of Land Management. The Wilderness Act defined a process for designating Wilderness in national parks, national wildlife refuges, and national forests. In 1976, Congress added lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management when it passed the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act. Congress has designated more than 109 million acres including almost 4.5 million in Washington.

Congress has designated over 90% of Olympic National Park as Wilderness including portions of the strip of land that borders the beach along the Pacific Ocean. I took this photograph when I hiked south along the beach from Third Beach where I had camped. Tom Martin, my friend who leads American Forest Foundation in Washington, DC, had told me to check out Scotty’s Bluff because the tidal pools are spectacular there. I rose early so I could reach Scotty’s Bluff by 6:15AM when low tide would just be beginning. As he predicted, the tidal pools and surf at Scotty’s Bluff glowed in the morning light, and I found some great things including this purple sea star.

At the time I took this photograph; I was taking an online photography course with William Neil. William Neil creates landscape photograph art of wild country. His work is mesmerizing and inspirational. As I composed this shot, I went through the checklist of techniques he had taught us. Bill’s guidance paid dividends that day and continues to enlighten my photography.

Thank you Tom and Bill. I thank all of you who enjoy my photography too. You inspire me to keep growing.

A Good Day for Bald Eagles on Whidbey Island

A bald eagle sits on top of a dead snag in dense fog on Whidbey Island in Washington. (Thomas Bancroft)

A bald eagle sits on top of a dead snag in dense fog on Whidbey Island in Washington. (Thomas Bancroft)

The fog created an eerie feeling to our walk on the beach. It wrapped around us like a winter quilt. I could feel the dampness on my cheeks, and the air tasted salty. We had come to North Whidbey Island to see what birds we might find. To our left, we could hear the rhythmic lapping of waves and to our right the fog completely obscured any view of vegetation at the beach’s edge. We wondered if we would see anything. I joked to my friend that a large bear, mountain lion, or marauding band of Vikings could suddenly appear out of the fog, and we would not have a chance to escape.

A weak, flat, whistle made us stop in our tracks. Initially, we could not pinpoint its direction, turning to look in all directions. The sound added to the eerie mood. We then heard 3 or 4 whistles at one-second intervals followed by 8 or 10 rapid whistles. Their tone varied, and it sounded almost as if the “beast” stuttered. The call puzzled me initially as I ran through all the possibilities that it might be. After a few more calls, my friend and I simultaneously said bald eagle.

We walked cautiously up the beach moving closer to the upper edge of the beach to see if we could see it. After 100 yards, we spotted the faint outline of the bird on top of a dead snag. The adult bald eagle continued to call through the fog. We wondered if it was trying to locate its mate. As we strolled by looking at it, the magnificent bird looked one direction down the beach and then the other. It totally ignored us on the beach. The bird’s magnificence caused us to stop for several minutes to watch the bird call and gaze through the fog.

A pair of Bald Eagles fly along the beach on Whidbey Island calling to each other. (Thomas Bancroft)

A pair of Bald Eagles fly along the beach on Whidbey Island calling to each other. (Thomas Bancroft)

Later the fog partially cleared and we watched a pair of adult bald eagles fly together along the beach, one slightly behind the other and both calling back and forth to each other. They made the shorebirds and the ducks extremely nervous. The shorebirds flushed and the ducks dove, but the eagles didn’t appear to be hunting. We wondered if one of these was the individual we saw earlier.

About a mile farther down the beach I heard something behind us and turned to watch a juvenile bald eagle fly out of the fog and by us on steady, powerful wing beats. A one-year-old bird, it still had black plumage on its belly and above its eye. The bird passed overhead, and we could see its large hooked bill and yellow legs and hear the beat of its wings.

A good day for eagles!

A juvenile bald eagle flies along the beach on Whidbey Island in Washington. (Thomas Bancroft)

A juvenile bald eagle flies along the beach on Whidbey Island in Washington. (Thomas Bancroft)

A Family Outing

A rufous-bellied pademelon pauses from feeding to consider if danger is near and it should flee. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

A rufous-bellied pademelon pauses from feeding to consider if danger is near and it should flee. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

I rounded the corner and spotted her sitting beside a bush. Her fine features, dainty little hands, and smooth curves took my breath away. I couldn’t help but stare at her. She flexed open and shut her delicate small fingers and brought her hands together and then apart as she chewed quietly on something. Occasionally, her pink tongue would slip between her soft lips suggesting that the flavor of her food was satisfying. She cocked her head to one side as she gazed down the trail; she had not spotted me. Her brown eyes twinkled in the soft light. She did not appear disturbed by the light drizzle or the water droplets forming on her hair. Droplets coalesced into larger ones that meandered down her face. I stood frozen not able to take my eyes off such beauty, features so fine, such a marvelous example of life.

She turned toward some movement in the bushes and a smaller version of her hopped out from under a bush to sit beside her. Two miniature kangaroos, two pademelons, a mother and her half grown joey, sat right in front of me, not more than a dozen yards away. My blood raced through my arteries as my heart pumped as if I had run a marathon. I stared frozen in the rain as I watched these two magnificent animals chew on grass. I can’t believe that these miniature kangaroos, the mother only 18 inches tall and the joey only a foot tall, were so close. I worked hard not to move.

The cry, “Mummy, Mummy, can we go play in the playground, pleaseeee,” catches my attention and brings me back to Seattle. I am sitting on a bench in Cal Anderson Park in Seattle Washington. It has been two weeks since I returned from Australia and saw the pademelons in Tasmania, yet the image in my mind is still so vivid, so real as if it just happened and I keep returning to the thrill. I watch the boy, maybe 7, hop with his knees tight together down the hill toward his mother just like a kangaroo. He yells, “Please, mummy, can we go into the playground.” His mother roots through her purse for change for the parking meter. His brother, maybe 5, slips and falls as he tries to climb one of the cherry trees, hitting the ground with a thud but he simply stands back up to attempt to climb the tree again. I chuckle as I watch them. So much life in these boys it reminds me of when my daughter was their age.

My wife and I use to take our daughter to playgrounds when she was young. The Miami Zoo had wonderful playgrounds and we would tour the park looking at the animals and stopping at each playground for a little diversion. Our daughter would scramble over all the equipment: sliding, climbing, jumping, running, and falling. So much energy and life! Just like those two pademelons that appeared to be enjoying a fine meal and the drizzle wasn’t going to bother their outing. This trip to Australia was my first trip overseas by myself since my wife died. My daughter now lives in Sydney Australia and I went to see her but also to see some of this mythical continent with all its marsupials and unique birds. The boys’ mother must have said yes for they run into the playground and onto the jungle gym as she strolls up the hill past me. I drift back to Australia and remember that I moved just slightly when I no longer could hold my breadth and stiff stand on the trail. The mother kangaroo immediately saw me and began an intense stare trying to determine if I was dangerous. I panicked that they would flee immediately but after several moments she seemed to relax and she turned with her baby close behind and hopped slowly into the bushes and out of my sight. I turned to head back toward the lodge where we spent the night so I could have breakfast with my daughter, her husband, and his family. My wife would have liked Tasmania, those adorable miniature kangaroos and she would be proud of our daughter.

The rufous-bellied pademelon gazes intensely down the trail. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

The rufous-bellied pademelon gazes intensely down the trail. (G. Thomas Bancroft)

This blog was first posted on The Travel Writers site.