By Caryn Schutzler, Seattle Audubon Member
Seattle is a city of neighborhoods, each with its own unique flavor—from the Scandinavian enclave of Ballard to bustling South Lake Union, from funky Fremont to vibrant Columbia City, and everywhere in between. Accordingly, Seattle Audubon is proud to introduce a new series for the blog, Birding My Neighborhood, with volunteer, writer, and amateur photographer Caryn Schutzler. Caryn appropriately begins the series with a birder’s view of her own neighborhood, which she shares with our Nature Shop—Wedgwood.
Nearly 100 years ago, in 1923, a real estate brochure featured a photo of Lake Washington as seen the from the Morningside Heights plat of Wedgwood at the corner of 95th and 35th Ave NE. Interested persons were urged to “drive to this point and spend a few moments listening to the singing of the birds…” Fast forward to 1981: another realty company advertised a home featuring a park-like lot, with no mention of birds. Thrilled to see large trees and scampering squirrels, (then, not now) we bought our home in Wedgwood. But at the time, since I was both working and studying landscape design and horticulture, I was too busy to sit and listen to birds, let alone explore our new neighborhood. My birding had always been purely accidental, until a tiny olive bird with a red spot on its head lit on our bedroom windowsill.
I went in search of a bird book and bought my first Golden Birds of North America field guide. In it, I found my spark bird to be a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, awakening me to “real birding.” And as I gardened, introducing more native plants and dense understory, the more the birds came; but I always wondered where they came from and flew off to. Noting some in my new field guide, it’s amazing today looking back to see who visited and when.
Some favorite ‘firsts’ from my yard:
- Evening Grosbeaks on a small window feeder, a definite eye-popper—3/3/1987 (They visited again in 1/93, but not since);
- Anna’s Hummingbirds—1988 (rare then, regular visitors and nesters now);
- Wilson’s Warbler—1991 (still visit annually);
- Pileated Woodpecker—7/19/01 (an intermittent yet always striking visitor)
Granted, these are relatively common species in our area, but seeing any bird for the first time is always memorable—especially when in your own neighborhood or garden.
Having birded minimally outside Washington on the east coast and in Utah, Arizona, California, Oregon, and Alaska, lately my birding has become more focused and much closer to home. But exploring Wedgwood over the years, between jaunts to the beach (shorebirds are a favorite), I find myself more and more preferring local birding. There’s nothing like waking up, stepping out your door with a cup of tea, and listening to the dawn chorus, trying to identify each song.
Once, after returning from an eastern Washington road trip to the Leavenworth bird festival, we awoke to see two neighbors standing in our driveway—one still in her bathrobe. Looking up into our 100’ foot Doug fir, they pointed silently. Hoping it was my “regular” Barred Owl visitor, I was astounded to see instead, an adult Bald Eagle, perched, glaring down at us.
Though we are fortunate to see many eagles here now, it was a first for me in my garden.
Sparking an even deeper curiosity to what other flora and fauna might visit my own tiny quarter-acre plot of Earth, I monitor bird sites such as Tweeters or eBird. Many local, keen-eyed birders generously post rare sightings for us “non-expert” birders. I’m forever surprised when they alert us to almost-right-outside-your-door birds, saving thousands of miles of travel to other continents. Too lazy to head out on a “three-hour-bird-tour,” with no assurances of finding the rare-bird du jour, sometimes, one will show up at the right place and time.
From my deck, I can hear the kee, kee, kee-ing of a Merlin, nesting just a couple of streets south of me. They have been nesting in northeast Seattle since around 2008. Other raptors, including the Sharp-shinned Hawk, in my garden, are sighted fairly regularly in Wedgwood.
Back home, on a walk in my garden, I notice an owl pellet beneath one of our Doug firs. I’m pleased to discover that the visiting Barred Owls I “chat” with have helped to organically manage the rat population. Recently, I finally got to see the Barred Owl during the day when crows alerted me to its presence in the “siesta tree” out back where many birds take respite during the day and roost at night. Feeling like Jane Goodall, I observed it for three hours waiting until it flew near dusk; my patience was rewarded.
One May morning, on another walk to the south, Dark-eyed Juncos and Spotted Towhees called from their perches. Wafts of lilac perfumed the air; a Bewick’s Wren’s (pictured below) boisterous call competed with lawn mowers, blowers and pressure washers, and those other big-birds—jets and seaplanes—detracting from my Thoreau-like pilgrimage around the neighborhood.
When we bird locally, our universe expands beyond our fences, allowing us to enjoy birding wherever we live, right outside our front doors. As I stand at that same corner of 95th and 35th today, I wonder about the earlier residents—human and avian. I understand how Wedgwood must have seemed then, as it is for me, now—a refuge from that “big city,” downtown Seattle. And I realize we can really bird anywhere—around the world or right in our own neighborhoods.