I don’t know about you, but sometimes I just need to escape The Tweeting. It’s too easy to become entranced in the early hour of the morning by a Twitter feed of disturbing nonsense. My “stable genius” is unsettled!
Fortunately, I’ve found an antidote. Nature abounds in Seattle. On recent walks and trips across Puget Sound I have seen otters frolicking, a killer whale stalking salmon, bald eagles and ospreys gliding overhead, and little hummingbirds enduring the wet and cold.
On a recent Twitter-overloaded Saturday morning, I saw that the Seward Park Audubon Center was offering an early morning bird walk where, for $5, I could spend the morning with a nature guide and fellow Seattleites traipsing around the perimeter of the park learning about the water birds that make their winter home here. I jumped in the car at 7:30 in the morning on impulse figuring this might help my sanity.
Lake Washington is positively tropical for these birds that fly south from Alaska, the Yukon, northern BC and Alberta and other places. Our winter ducks on Lake Washington are here roughly November through March. For those Seattleites who complain about our winter climate, it’s a virtual paradise compared to winter in the Arctic.
Well, not paradise for everyone. After a short class on what species of birds we might see—coots, mergansers, grebes and many kinds of ducks—we walked out of the cozy Tudor-style cottage that houses the park’s nature center and immediately witnessed an eagle high in a bare tree near the parking lot tearing apart its prey on the high branch. Dotting the branches around it were crows hoping to snatch a piece of the prize away. The eagle plucking its meal and feathers floated down. We later found the dismembered parts of a mallard duck nearby. Maybe bird-watching is not so unlike Twitter and its trolls after all.
Still, part of nature’s beauty is its cruelty, not unlike professional football. But the Seahawks are not playing this month, alas. It was a compensating pleasure to walk the shore of Lake Washington trying to ID the northern visitors in their uniforms—there were goldeneyes with their, well, golden eyes. There were ring-neck ducks whose ringed necks are invisible to the naked eye. We learn their name came from hunters who handled dead ones who saw the rings up close—no wonder they seem particularly shy of humans and swim off shore quickly if you come near. We learned that grebes have legs set near their rear ends and that gives them powerful thrust when they dive, but makes them awkward walkers and vulnerable on land.
We learned that another type of resident waterbird, the pied-billed grebe, loves to eat crayfish. It swallows its own feathers to create a kind of nest in its gut to protect it from the critter’s shells, then spits up the shells and feathers in a kind of pellet.
I envy this ability. As a consumer of social media and news, I frequently wish my own gut was lined with something more protective than an antacid to soothe it from toxic real news, fake news, spin. propaganda and the gushing floods of crap that come at us every day. Something that will aid news digestion!
The morning was drizzly, the walk was chilly, but we learned a lot, saw almost all the birds on our list. Beginning the weekend with two-hours of engaging with nature in the middle of the city was cleansing and wholesome. Think of it as a kind of spa for the news junkie’s soul.