Field Journal: Say’s Phoebe at Magnuson Park

A day without rain, or so the weather forecast promised, so I decided to make a morning of it and head to Magnuson Park after dropping my daughter off at her forest preschool. On my way it started to rain. I’m rarely caught off-guard with the wrong jacket, but tired of month after month of wearing my raincoat, I had opted for a lighter jacket. Fortunately the rain had nearly stopped by the time I arrived at Magnuson Park and I was treated to blue skies punctuated with rolling black clouds. None of the clouds dropped more rain on me and despite the frequent darkening of the landscape, I was able to explore unimpeded. 

Instead of starting at the wetlands as I nearly always do, I began on the north end and headed to the dog park. Almost immediately I encountered a pair of immature Bald Eagles. One was perched in a tree overlooking Lake Washington while the second soared and tried to land in the same tree. There was some jostling in the air as the first tried to fend off the second and I lost track of which one was which eagle. Eventually one settled back into the tree and the other turned and flew on enormous wings directly at me. It turned slightly before landing in the tree I was standing by. 

I took our dog to the dog park to burn off energy before resuming my walk. As I walked back by the field where I’d seen the eagles, I noticed a bird hawking insects. I knew it was something different and although I caught a glimpse of orange I could tell it wasn’t an American Robin. I pulled out my camera and took some shots which I was able to look at enlarged. At first it baffled me, it looked like a kingbird, but I couldn’t place the orange belly. I had to pull out my phone and check my bird app to learn that it was a Say’s Phoebe, a bird which only visits our region during migration. 

The eagles were still in their respective trees and as I looked at them I noticed a third eagle, back by the dog park. I was in the middle of a Bald Eagle triangle, two immature eagles near the lake and an adult to the north. The adult flew over me a short time later and out over the lake before one of the immature eagles followed. 

I wandered the meadows, finding Savannah Sparrows foraging on a hillside and several singing from the tops of grass stalks. I discovered a pair of crows eating a rat, one ripping apart the carcass while the second stood one one leg watching patiently. Later I spotted another pair of crows, one with fluttering wings making a begging call. I followed the Say’s Phoebe around unintentionally and found a Northern Flicker on the ground, hidden between two tussocks of grass. When I stopped walking, the flicker stopped watching me and returned to its pursuit of sticking its head into a hole in the ground. Perhaps it had found an ant nest, of which they are particularly fond. 

Leaving the meadows I walked towards the wetlands, entering backwards from my usual route. I encountered a flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers foraging in the trees and the Cedar Waxwings were still hawking insects over one of the ponds which I had observed ten days ago on the first day of spring. The eastern pond was still full of Ring-necked Ducks and I watched them in a small cluster diving down and bringing back up stringy vegetation. They gobbled the plants down and it was hard not to anthropomorphize their eating habits. 

Finally I returned to complete my wandering loop and near the end I watched a male Common Merganser fishing. He swam in one direction, nearly always in a straight line, with his face down in the water. With rhythm, he would raise his head to breathe and check for danger – or perhaps watch where he was going – before lowering his face back. Twice I watched him streak forward, face still down in the water. The second time he raced around in a haphazard manner and even up near the beach before he surfaced with a fish in his beak. 

Kelly Brenner
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Kelly Brenner

Kelly Brenner is a naturalist and writer based in Seattle. She founded and writes The Metropolitan Field Guide, a blog for ideas, thoughts and resources for the design of urban wildlife habitat and has contributed articles to a variety of other websites and publications.

Kelly has a certificate from the University of Washington in non-fiction writing. She continually takes classes and attends talks on various natural history topics. In 2009 she earned a bachelors degree in landscape architecture from the University of Oregon.

She's also an avid photographer focusing on the natural world.
Kelly Brenner
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