After exploring some neat habitats the day before, we were all very excited for Mt. Rainier, where we would get a taste of classic alpine habitat. We set off south from Lacey and took a gorgeous drive as we climbed gradually upward into the cascades. We entered the national park and pulled off into the lush rainforest around us. The lushness was incredible, and you would be asking “Uh, is it just me, or did everything just turn green?”
The only bird at this spot however, was a Gray Jay.
We than began the drive up to Paradise, (that’s the name of the spot), our final highest destination, at an altitude of around 7,000 feet. We climbed upward, and soon all the trees were conifers which formed a dark and formidable barrier along the road. As we were driving, many robins were flying up and perching on snags along the road. One “robin” in particular flew up onto a fallen tree, and as it turned it showed a black band on it’s chest and an orange throat… “Varied Thrush!” I yelled! The Thrush gave a brief but good look from the car before dissapearing into the forest. One goal down, 2 to go. Along the road we also saw a Steller’s Jay.
Soon we reached an overlook over a few cascade mountains (not Rainier, it’s peak was behind us and covered in clouds) and we all got out and enjoyed beautiful views of the jagged, snow clad peaks. We also got great looks at some Chestnut-backed Chickadees, “Oregon” Dark-eyed Juncos, and a new bird, Vaux’s Swift. Pretty Cool. This is also the first place we began seeing a little snow. Well, there would be more where that came from.
We continued upward, and the snow cover grew and grew until we reached paradise, where there was at least 7 feet of snow. INSANE! Up on paradise we walked among the snow banks and watched as the clouds rolled in towards us. I was also watching the Clark’s Nutcrackers, who were very tame. They definitely beat the looks I had of nutcrackers last year in Wyoming. We spent a while up on paradise and then began the drive down. We had a couple stops and a hike planned along the way.
We decided to eat lunch at Narada Falls, a little ways from paradise. Lunch turned out to be a memorable experience. The Gray and Steller’s Jays around the falls were tame and brave and would fly down to the table, snatch a chip and fly away to eat it. One of the JS, Zach, actually was able to handfeed a particular Gray Jay, which was really cool. Only the one bird was that daring. Then a few of us, myself included, decided to venture down an ice slick path to the falls overlook, where the mist from the falls swirled up. It was a cool thing to see. When we came back up, Grit, who had stayed behind told us she had just seen a Dipper on the river. American Dipper was another big miss on my previous western trip, so my Dad and I sat and waited for the bird to show. Soon I spotted a little dark bird with buzzy wings flying toward us. It was an American Dipper! We watched as the bird jumped into the torrent and came back up onto the rocks until it dissapeared once again. A really awesome bird!
We then moved on to our last stop on Mt. Rainier, a really cool hike with awesome views (it’s name escapes me.). We took log bridges and climbed a ridge that bordered a rushing river. There were interesting botanical specimens everywhere you looked, but the trail was literally DEAD birdwise. Still, a cool way to see some of the amazing experiences Mt. Rainier has to offer.
A few Common Ravens waved us goodbye from the park, and we finished at the Copper Creek Inn, where we had the best blackberry pie ever. A great way to finish a great day!