Birds? What Birds?

Wednesday morning birders at Nisqually NWR. 
     The first hour of my Wednesday morning did not go well. I slept through the alarm, had to cancel my first appointment, was already running late for my second, and forgot a third. But nothing was going to keep me from joining the birders at Nisqually. So what if it's 27 degrees Farenheit?
   Every Wednesday morning at 8, a genial band of birders gathers at the refuge Visitors' Center for a three-hour birding walk with Phil Kelley or another Nisqually NWR volunteer. Usually there are several refuge volunteers in the group all with spotting scopes, field guides, and much knowledge to share with beginner as well as experienced birders. The weekly walk is organized through the Black Hills Audubon Society; there is no fee for the walk, just the $3 refuge entrance fee. Tip: spend your first $3 of the day at Nisqually instead of Starbucks.
Pintails, snow goose, mallards, shovelers, mergansers, buffleheads, Canada geese, and goldeneyes are commonly seen in the refuge ponds.  Luckily, they did not distract me from the cirrus sky above. 
   Until this month, I have been going to Nisqually to walk, usually very fast, out to the end of the new boardwalk and back. Nisqually was exercise with a great view, maybe some bald eagles, a harrier, or other large bird I could see without binoculars. Now I go to walk very slowly and just to the start of the boardwalk looking at birds. I cannot call what I am doing "birding." I am looking at clouds while birding. I am chatting while birding. I am not pulling out my field guide or making a list. I am hearing the names of the birds and watching them fly and perch and hunt. Being in their company is marvelous. As is being in the company of a group of people who seem to want nothing more than to make sure everyone sees what they do--and delights in it.
   There is a generosity of spirit that infuses this group and that seems to build during the walk. The volunteers and birders set up their Swarvoski spotting scopes and newcomers are invited to take a look. Birds are identified, genders noted or guessed at, behaviors marveled over, plumage admired. Everyone will see something common such as a bald eagle (usually several) and everyone will see something unusual or something few have seen before. This morning, in addition to many eagles, we saw one cryptically colored American Bittern crouched down in the grass, it's feathers fluffed against the cold. We watched a red-tailed hawk perched in a small tree warming itself in the sun--its wings spread like a cormorant, its tail fanned out so that we could see individual feathers. Common or rare, it was all stunning. And unphotographable with my l'il camera that is better suited to big skies.
Here are the cirrocumulus clouds. There is a bald eagle in the top of that Douglas-fir.

Altocumulus lenticularis forming above the pond where waterfowl dabbled.

This January sky holds so much more than I will ever know.
   To find out for yourself what's in the sky and waters of Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge (8 miles from Olympia) follow this link: Black Hills Audubon. Or better yet, cancel all your Wednesday appointments and go the refuge at 8.