Lake Quinault Birding: A Conversation with the National Audubon Society’s Mary O’Neil

A couple months ago, a friend asked me if I had any tips regarding Lake Quinault birding. I had no answer for her, so I decided to find someone who did.

My gumshoeing eventually led me to Mary O’Neil, secretary of the Grays Harbor Audubon Society. After graciously agreeing to talk with me about Lake Quinault birding, O’Neil gave me more information than I’d hoped for in my wildest dreams. My intention was to deliver an informative Lake Quinault birding guide, and I believe O’Neil helped me accomplish that.

O’Neil was introduced to birding by her sisters. Her passion for the hobby eventually led her to be an interpretive program worker at the Lake Quinault Lodge, a job she’s still doing today.

Though O’Neil vehemently insists that she’s no expert, I find it hard to believe there’s anyone else in the world who knows more about Lake Quinault birding than she does.

O’Neil also happens to be a good-humored conversationalist and a pleasure to talk to, and I look forward to someday getting a personal Lake Quinault birding tour from her. So, without further ado, here is my conversation with Mary O’Neil.

Lake Quinault Birding: A Conversation with the National Audubon Society’s Mary O’Neil

Northwest Nomad: What are some of the more common birds people can expect to see around the Lake Quinault Lodge area?

O’Neil: Steller’s jays are the dominant bird there. They raid the feeders constantly. We have the song sparrow. At the moment we have this dysfunctional song sparrow who thinks he’s competing with a bird in the lobby window.

Then we have our white-crowned sparrows during the summer months, and they’re having babies up there just having a wonderful time. In the summer months we also have ospreys that nest around the lake, and if you take the lodge’s lake tour you’ll quite often see a contest between the osprey and the eagles catching fish. It’s really cool.

Anna's hummingbird perched on a branch.
Anna’s hummingbird. Photograph provided by Reed Moss (https://www.instagram.com/yssom/).

They don’t have as many Anna’s hummingbirds. Well they may have them, but everybody takes their feeders down after summer, not expecting a winter hummingbird.

Summer months, the hummingbirds are just thick. They get so thick people can’t keep their feeders full. They do feed them there at the lodge, and everybody in the area has hummingbird feeders in their yards. You can walk in the woods and the hummingbirds will just buzz you. They’re everywhere.

Winter months we’re looking for the varied thrush. They should be returning quite soon, and if you look out to the water you’ll see the common common merganser and occasionally red-necked grebes; not so much, but occasionally. And, of course, the common loon hangs out there on the lake quite a bit.

The most common bird up there, probably, is the Pacific wren. I saw some just yesterday out on the trail. There was one, probably a male, chipping at us. A second bird was quieter in the background, and it was like the louder chipping one was trying to draw attention away from it.

Nomad: What are some of the rarer birds to have out there, or the more difficult ones to see?

O’Neil: Well, I don’t know how difficult it is, but we have grouse in the area. We have the ruffed grouse. Occasionally you’ll just see them walking on the trails around the lodge. In the summer months, if you drive the 31 mile loop road, they’ll be nesting in the dirt road in the upper end of the valley. It’s quite common to see them there.

It’s a little more difficult to bird among the trees. In the summer months, you can expect to see warblers. You’ll definitely hear the Wilson’s warbler, orange-crowned warblers, black-throated grays, but to see them is quite difficult, because they’re in the thick trees. You can get lucky, but it’s very difficult.

Black-capped chickadee hanging from a fir branch.
Black-capped chickadee. Image provided by @antlischio (https://www.instagram.com/antlischio/).

It seems year-round we’ve got the black-capped chickadees and the chestnut-backed chickadees. And if you walk the trails carefully you’ll run into them.

One of the more rare birds that I found and took great delight in identifying was the warbling vireo. I’d never run into one before, but I found it, isolated it, and identified it. I felt really good then.

It was up in an alder tree, and it was really hard to pull out of the tree. There was one year and then the next there were three in the area year-round. I think they may have reproduced in the area, but I don’t know.

Nomad: What are your tours like?

O’Neil: Well, it has been and will probably continue to be on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I just do a standard interpretive walk in the woods. But depending on the interests of the people there, I may turn the focus to a bird watching trip. But a lot of the times the people aren’t interested as much in the birds, so I talk more about the plants and animals and some silly stories.

Nomad: How about for newcomers to the area who want to bird on their own? There’s a lot of ground to cover out there. What would you say is the best place to start?

O’Neil: Definitely check out the lawn at the lodge. That’s probably got your best variety. They’re out in the open.

In the summer months, we have evening grosbeaks and black-headed grosbeaks. I think they nest in the area. They also hang out at the feeders quite a bit. You can count up to 10, 12 at a time, maybe even as many as 25. They’re really cool to see. That’s definitely a good place to start, just checking out the feeders there.

The further off the road you get, the more difficult it is to catch the birds, but around an area above the lodge some trees blew down rather seriously in 2007, so quite often if you get yourself in the right position you can look down over the shrubbery and the newly growing trees and then you’ll see the trees in the tops. That’s particularly where you want to look for the threshes. You can hear them with their upward, spiraling whistle.

Nomad: Do you know if there’s any particularly good time to see eagles?

Osprey perched in a tree branch.
A magnificent osprey on the lookout. Photograph provided by txbirdguy (https://imgur.com/user/txbirdguy; https://www.reddit.com/user/txbirdguy).

O’Neil: I don’t see that many, but they nest there in the summer months so that may be a good time, especially if they’re particularly bent on stealing from the osprey. I don’t see so many in the winter months, but there’s great opportunity for them because the fish run in the winter months.

Winter Lake Quinault Birding

Nomad: What about winter birding? Winter seems to be a time when few people take advantage of Lake Quinault, but it’s so great there during that time of year. So quiet.

O’Neil: I think you have quite a bit of opportunity because the lake birds will show up. I think there was a grebe out the other day. You have your western grebes and your red-throated grebes.

Swans winter near the Rain Forest Resort Village at Lake Quinault.

Song sparrow perched on a branch in the daytime.
Song sparrow. Photograph provided by Reed Moss (https://www.instagram.com/yssom/).

Along the sides of the roads there’s juncos and song sparrows. Then you’ve got fox sparrows out there. Winter we get the hermit’s thrush; summer we get the Swainson’s thrush. You may come across one of those.

If it snows, you can expect to see the varied thrush. The varied thrush likes to hover near the snowbanks. You’ll hear it singing all summer long, but picking it out of the woods is not so easy. You can hear it, but you can’t see it.

A couple years back the snow was real bad and I was doing a different job. I drove in several times early in the morning, after the snow plow had gone through, and the edge of the road would be so full of varied thrush you couldn’t go very fast because they’d fly up in clouds in front of you.

Nomad: And you don’t get to see them as much in the summer?

O’Neil: No. If you live there you might hear them, because I think they’re around all the time, but they do elevation migration. In the summer months, they’ll migrate up to the higher elevations where the snow is.

Making a Day of Lake Quinault Birding

Nomad: Are there any other tips you’d like to share about Lake Quinault birding?

O’Neil: The most extensive way to do it, is to take a morning and do a morning walk around the lodge area. Then get in the car and drive up the south shore road, up to the bridge area. Take it very slowly. Don’t rush it. The open fields just east of the lake area quite often will have hawks. That’s also where the elk like to hang out.

There are cooper’s hawks and sharp-shinned hawks. That’s what you can expect to find if you troll slowly up through the valley. Of course you’ll find flocks of Canada geese and sometimes ducks in the upper valley. The common merganser’s the most common duck in the valley, but occasionally I’ve run into the harlequin duck.

Nomad: Well, I’m no good at identifying them, but I’ve seen lots of birds up at Irely Lake.

O’Neil: Did you run into Sasquatch up there? (laughs)

Nomad: Not yet, but I’m hoping! Do you have anything else to suggest? Anything I’ve missed?

O’Neil: Only that if you do plan on coming, check out the Lake Quinault lodge website and see what kinds of things they’re offering.

Nomad: Great. Well, Mary, thank you so much for taking the time to share your knowledge with Northwest Nomad and my readers.

Three Easy Hikes at Mount Rainier

You don’t need to be a great mountaineer to enjoy the grandeur of Mount Rainier. Intimidating as the mountain may appear, it’s accessible for everyone to enjoy. While summiting the peak certainly takes preparation and physical conditioning, there ARE easy hikes at Mount Rainier.

As someone who’s visited the mountain dozens of times without ever losing a bit of my sense of wonder at it, I believe everyone who gets the chance to visit Mount Rainier should do so. It’s an experience you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life.

Easy Hikes at Mount Rainier #1: Box Canyon Loop

Above all others, the Box Canyon Loop (which is part of the Wonderland Trail) is the one short trek that I always make sure to take visiting friends and family on. When it comes to easy hikes at Mount Rainier, this one is hard to beat. It leads to one of the most fantastic sites on the mountain. I’m not talking simply “most fantastic easily accessible sights,”; I mean, “one of the most fantastic sights on Mount Rainier…period.”

The quickest route to the trail is from Mount Rainier National Park’s southeastern Steven’s Canyon entrance (the National Park Service provides concise driving directions). You can’t miss the Box Canyon Loop trail head, which is just off to the side of the main road and generally well-visited (you’ll see cars and pedestrians).

The Box Canyon Loop is only 3/10s of a mile long. The trail itself is to the east of the road and parking lot, but don’t forget to also check out the lookout to the west.

The lookout is just a few yards from the parking lot. Not only does it have a terrific view of the surrounding landscape, but the ground itself is interesting in that the stone was scoured smooth by the recession of the Cowlitz Glacier long, long ago. The glacier itself has retreated a couple MILES up the mountain, but the evidence of its influence on the terrain is right there at your feet. It’s always felt humbling to me to consider the unfathomable time scale that the mountain reveals.

The main trail to the east of the lot leads to a bridge that overlooks a very narrow and very deep canyon cut into raw stone. Blasting through this little canyon is the melt-water of the Cowlitz Glacier. This is, in fact, the very start of the Cowlitz River.

The sheer force of the water coming through that channel is amazing and one of my favorite sights on Mount Rainier. It gives a visceral sense of the magnitude of the natural forces that Rainier represents. I’ve gotten lost in a sense of sublimity while standing on that bridge and contemplating the power of that water and the scale of the glacier, which itself is dwarfed by Rainier itself.

Incredible stuff. Don’t miss it. (The trail shows up on Google Maps as the “Box Canyon – Wonderland Trail,” rather than Box Canyon Loop. The location is pinned to map below)

 

Easy Hikes at Mount Rainier #2: Reflection Lakes

While the Box Canyon Loop is my personal favorite easy hike at Rainier, Reflection Lakes would probably take that prize in most other people’s eyes. This spot shows up in nearly visitor’s photographs and in the bulk of Mount Rainier postcards. There’s good reason for this.

Even if you didn’t walk at all, just parking and looking at the lake is impressive. On a clear day when the sun is at the right position, you can see Mount Rainier reflected perfectly in the lake (hence the name). This area is also known to explode with color at the right times of season, with wildflowers blooming in summer and leaves changing in autumn.

The one drawback to the beauty and easy accessibility of this spot is that it gets visited a LOT. There are often no parking spaces left. You can see the lakes from the road, though, and it’s pretty likely that it’ll be enticing enough that you’ll wait for something open up. Visiting Rainier without stopping to look at the Reflection Lakes should be a felony, in my opinion.

The trail goes around the lake. There are also points where other trails branch off of that primary trail, but that’s outside the scope of this article.

There are apparently trout in the lake, as well. I haven’t seen them myself, but word is that the lake was stocked with trout years ago and that you can even see them jumping now and then.

Easy Hikes at Mount Rainier #3: Cispus Braille Trail

This trail is specifically designed for visually impaired hikers. The trail, which is a little under a mile long with no appreciable elevation changes, features a guide rope that hikers can touch or hold as they go around. The walkway is kept free of anything that might trip somebody up.

The trail’s design also allows for all hikers to enjoy a new experience of nature. Even if your eyes work well, you can close them and lead yourself around by the guide rope, focusing on the feel and the sounds and smell of the woods. It’s an experience of nature that you aren’t likely to come by in any other way. I did it for a short while and felt like a whole new dimension of nature had been opened up to me. Ever since then, I’ve tried to remind myself while camping or walking to stop, close my eyes, and focus on my other senses.

This is one the trails I most like to tell people about, because it opens up the wilderness experience to a community of people who otherwise may not be able to fully immerse themselves into. The Lions Club sponsors this trail. That information isn’t something visitors really need to know, but I want to mention because I feel they deserve kudos for that. Go Lions Club!

Enjoy the Hikes!

If readers happen to check any of these options out, please shoot me a message to let me know about the experience. I would love to hear about it.

Amanda Parshall Helps Travelers Navigate the Olympic Peninsula with Rainshadow Escapes

If you get the chance to see the Olympic Peninsula (my favorite spot in the Pacific Northwest), then you’re going to want to make the absolute most of your time. The area’s only sin is that there’s too much to see in a short time, unless you have a good game plan. Luckily, Amanda Parshall of Rainshadow Escapes is there to help you do that.

I found Rainshadow Escapes on Twitter and was immediately struck with jealously over the fact that I hadn’t thought of the business idea first. The feeling was short-lived, though. Parshall would have had a significant leg up on me in competition. She’s been in the travel business, leading people all over the world, for a long time.

What’s different about her current venture is that this time she’s focusing her expertise on the area she calls home, bringing a combination of personal and professional experience that you’re not going to find anywhere else.

I asked Parshall if she’d be interested in discussing her new business, the Olympic Peninsula, and Washington state’s beaches. She agreed.

Thanks for your time, Amanda, and for the beautiful photographs.

Interview with Amanda Parshall of Rainshadow Escapes

Northwest Nomad: What inspired you to start Rainshadow Escapes?

Amanda Parshall: I find that the best businesses start with a passion, and Rainshadow Escapes is no different.

For over 10 years, I worked as a Travel Coordinator for expedition travel, helping people to reach exotic places all over the world.  I loved that work. However, I started realizing that some of my most memorable travel moments happened in my own, impressive backyard: the Olympic Peninsula.

I also recognized that, while the Peninsula is one of the most special places on the planet, there is a real need to get the message out. Rainshadow Escapes is my platform for sharing this amazing region with the rest of the world, and to help everyone traveling here to discover the side of the Olympic Peninsula that will resonate the most for them.

Northwest Nomad: What are your personal favorite attractions along the Peninsula?

Amanda Parshall: For me, the Peninsula has it all: incredible scenery, abundant wildlife, endless opportunities for adventure and, most importantly, a deep history and culture.  There is a strong connection to the past here, a past that locals are prideful of, and that echoes through every aspect of daily life in the small towns and enclaves throughout the region.

Of course, a major draw for many people, including myself, is the vast and varied landscapes.  From beaches to mountains to rainforest, there is no shortage of places to lose yourself in solitude and pure beauty. I also love that you can truly get away from it all, but not be too far from civilization when the need for modern convenience arises.

It’s hard to deny the lure to the popular attractions (Hurricane Ridge, Lake Crescent, the Hoh Rainforest…the list goes on).  However, some of my personal favorite spots are a bit more off the beaten track, and show a side of the Peninsula that the main tourist route sidesteps.

Port Gamble, for example, is a captivating port town just minutes from the Hood Canal Bridge.  It’s a tiny town, but it’s big on history and charm, and is home to some great restaurant, shops and a wonderful logging museum.

The Peninsula is home to many little surprises like this, and those surprises are what I get excited to share with people.

Northwest Nomad: How do you sell wintertime travel along the Peninsula?

Amanda Parshall: It’s true that visitors dissipate quickly after the summer season is over, and the Peninsula becomes a different scene. This is not just a challenge, but a great opportunity for Rainshadow Escapes to highlight the benefits of traveling to the area in the off season (or what we would affectionately call, the “value season”).

Not only is it quieter, less crowded and cheaper to travel outside of the summer months, but every season has something unique to offer.  I am personally a shoulder season traveler, and right now we are in the height of one of my favorite times of year on the Peninsula: fall.  The autumn leaves are at the peak of color, days are clear and crisp, and area restaurants are serving up the bounty of the local harvests.

Winter is the perfect time to spend a relaxing few days on the coast, cozying up to a fire and watching the storms pound the surf from the comforts of your rental cabin.

And spring brings stellar wildlife viewing opportunities, allowing the best chance to see elk, bear and birds, among others. One of my goals with Rainshadow Escapes is to encourage people to experience the Olympic Peninsula in new and different ways, and to take advantage of these amazing seasonal opportunities.

Northwest Nomad: In addition to general travel, does Rainshadow Escapes work with specific interests, such as anglers, hunters, etc.?

Amanda Parshall: We don’t specialize in any specific type of travel. Our focus is to know all that the Peninsula has to offer, understand individual traveler’s interests, and match the two together. As a travel concierge service, we aim to cater to any interests and travel styles.

Northwest Nomad: If you had a client who asked for one Washington beach to see, and one only, which would you pick?

Amanda Parshall: Our travel planning service is designed around the idea that no two people are the same or are looking for the same trip experience, so this is a difficult question to answer. But if someone was looking for the iconic Washington coast beach experience, I might recommend Second Beach.

A personal favorite, Second Beach requires a short but scenic hike in, and offers rewards of sea stacks and tidepools. And if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of one of the estimated 800 sea otters that lives on the Quillayute Needles National Wildlife Refuge, which is within eyesight of the beach.

Northwest Nomad: What is something about the Peninsula that you don’t feel gets promoted enough?

Amanda Parshall: I believe one of the more unique attractions in the Peninsula that gets less attention than deserved is the Olympic Discovery Trail.

The trail is a 130-mile path spanning across the Peninsula from Port Townsend to the Pacific Ocean. Whether you’re interested in a multi-day bike tour or a short stroll, the Olympic Discovery Trail is an exceptional way to take in views of old growth forest, snowy mountains and picturesque seascapes.

Northwest Nomad: What annual Port Angeles events do you consider “must see;” or, at least, “really, really should see”?

Amanda Parshall: The Dungeness Crab & Seafood Festival in October is a huge event in Port Angeles, and is another great reason to visit the Peninsula in the fall. Not only does the 3-day event highlight a local culinary favorite, it showcases local art, music and cultural activities. If you’re interested in the local scene and love seafood, this event is a must-do!

Northwest Nomad: Is there anything else you’d like to tell people about Rainshadow Escapes?

Amanda Parshall: Rainshadow Escapes makes planning a trip to the Olympic Peninsula easy, whether it’s a quick weekend getaway or a 2-week adventure.

Our Trip Questionnaire makes it simple for you to share your personal interests and travel style, allowing us to customize the itinerary just for you using insider knowledge. The Peninsula is a magical place and we would love the opportunity to share our home with you!

************************************************************************************************************************

(All images in this article are property of Amanda Parshall.)

Tour of Washington State Movie and TV Locations Part 3–Twin Peaks at North Bend

Twin Peaks at North Bend: Go for the Novelty, Stay for the Si

North Bend and Twin Peaks will forever be entwined with each other, but even if there’d never been Twin Peaks at North Bend, the town (which is home to Mount Si) would be a fantastic destination.

Si is possibly the most popular mountain hike in the state of Washington. It affords incredible views and has a well-maintained, easy-to-follow trail. Don’t let that fool you, though.

The walk is pretty challenging physically, and I’ve seen a lot of people start it without understanding what they’re getting into.

By all means, do the Si hike before you die, just make sure you’re mentally prepared for it. Also, plan to hike early in the morning before the heat rises.

The fact that Twin Peaks was filmed in North Bend is just the dollop of ice cream atop the cherry pie (see what I did there?).

North Bend and Twin Peaks:

Twede’s Cafe is the Double R from the television show…you know, the one with damn good coffee. The interior is decorated exactly as it is in the series.

The cafe also happens to have some of the best burgers I’ve ever had, and a wide variety of them at that.

Perhaps the weird energy of the show rubbed off on the area, too, because I’ve seen some odd things there, including a man carrying a full-sized tuba up to the top of Mount Si and playing it there.

As noted in the Roslyn entry, you can hit up North Bend and Roslyn in one day. They’re only an hour apart from each other, and doing them both makes for a fun little road trip for television and entertainment buffs.

Tour of Washington State Movie and TV Locations Part 2–Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight at Forks and La Push

Twilight at Forks and La Push, Washington

One of the funniest bumper stickers I’ve ever seen read, “Vampires SUCK…at Forks, Washington.”

The sticker, of course, references Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series.

Like Northern Exposure‘s Roslyn, this is an area that I’m familiar with because I love the area itself. And yes, that is partially my way of saying, I’m not really a Twilight fan (though I did watch the first movie and enjoyed it much more than I thought I would).

While I’m not a big Twilight-head, personally, it’s been fun watching Myers’ vampire-and-werewolf love stories transform the formerly sleepy, way-off-the-beaten-track and not-passionately-sought-out destination of Forks, Washington, into a treasured haven for females of all ages.

The thing that’s sort of odd about Forks and La Push as movie attractions is that none of the films was actually filmed in either of those places, far as I know. That’s not what their claim to fame is.

Rather, the attraction is that the Twilight series was set in a fictional version of Forks, and various Jacob-oriented scenes took place at La Push.

The fact that the area isn’t really featured much in the movies stopped the area from becoming a major attraction for Twilight fans. It also hasn’t stopped the people of these towns from catering to those visitors.

The Pacific Inn Motel, for instance, has special Twilight-themed rooms.

Save on your hotel - www.hotelscombined.com

Beautiful Scenery and Rugged, Fun Hiking

Like most of the other locations I’ll be featuring in this series, Forks and La Push made the list because they are great destinations on their own — even without the movie fanfare. So, when you visit them, you get two wins for the price of one.

La Push has some of the most beautiful beaches you’ll find in the state of Washington. The place is rugged and wild and sparks with elemental energy. View or rocks in the ocean as seen from La Push beach.Forks, too, is an underrated location.

The town itself is rather small with few attractions, but while you’re there, you’re within easy travel distance of rain forests, beaches, and Lake Crescent (with its fabulously terrible Mount Storm King) destinations.

All of those things make Forks a terrific yet relatively little-known base camp for exploring the northwestern corner of this amazing state. It also tends to be affordable for those on budget trips.

La Push accommodations are nice and host spectacular views, but in the peak season can get a bit pricey. Both places are well worth the cost, however, if you’re willing to throw down the quid. It really just boils down to what your budget is at the time you want to visit.

If you drive in to the area from the east, stop by Granny’s Cafe for some of the best food you’ll find on the 101 loop.