Category Archives: Uncategorized


Most of the puddle duck males have finished breeding by now and are busy working on another big task: getting rid of their conspicuously bright plumage. Earlier in the year, they needed their gaudiest getups in order to attract a female, but now that mating season is over, the males would like to blend into the background a lot more and lower their risk of being eaten by predators. So they are molting as fast as they can into a camouflage plumage called “eclipse.” Not everybody molts on the same schedule, though. You can still catch a few males looking spiffy. In particular, one quite lovely Cinnamon Teal male has been hanging out on Southwest Pond lately. He likes to nap on a tussock of grass and mud on the southwest edge of the pond.

Here is a poem for you today:CinTeal

I dream.
I dream of harmony between me and mine.
The song sublime.
And all of humanity is mine.
And all of nature too.


Douglas Road Work

The Washington Department of Transportation has committed to mitigate the damage that will occur when the new 520 bridge is built in the Foster Island area. Part of the mitigation will be to convert the Dime Lot at Montlake Fill (also known as E-5) into a wetland. This will add something like 20 acres of new wetland to the Fill, a substantial increase to the 75-acre site. Wowza. Back in April, the UW closed off Douglas Road, the gravel road leading into the Dime Lot. Work is scheduled to begin in July. In the meantime, the birds have already taken back Douglas Road and the parking lot. If you are quiet and slow, you can enter this brave new world and share it with the wild birds who live here, most notably, a family of Killdeers: mom and dad and chicks who look like puffballs on stilts. Here is a poem for you today:

They closed the road in April
KilldrChick_Parrottto build a wetland someday,
but a Killdeer came
to scrape her nest,
lay four eggs.
Now babies own that road.

Dawn Chorus

In spring and summer, many of our songbirdsstart singing well before dawn, filling the darkness with cascades of liquid notes. Birders call this the dawn chorus. Two species who start especially early and sing a long time are American Robin and Bewick’s Wren. Both species can be heard at Montlake Fill right now, if you get up early enough to hear them! Actually, they both sing well into midmorning as well, so if you’re not a morning person, go ahead and sleep in a bit, drink your coffee, and get fully awake before you set out. But I encourage you to make the effort to listen to the dawn chorus as well. It is ethereally lovely. Here is a poem for you today:

I walked the trail this morning
before the robin sang,AmericanRobin
and the wren.
Before the world woke.
Wild nature and I, alone.
At peace.


On the Way North

American Pipits are moving through the Fill now, on their way to breed in the Far North. Years ago, I was in Alaska to see them on their breeding grounds: talus slopes near Mount Denali, where they could creep into little crevices away from predators to lay their eggs. The slopes were alive with pipits, reminding me of moms and dads at University Village crowded around the little play area, watching kids, talking to each other about events of the day, comparing notes on childcare. Every time I see pipits at the Fill now, I can imagine them arriving at their summer place, where the sun never sets and life is good.

Here is a poem for you today:

Pipits touched down briefly,
ate a seed or two,
then took flight
into the empty blue sky,
one haunting pipeet
fading behind in the wind. AmericanPipit

Cinnamon Teal

Our Cinnamon Teals are starting to come back to breed here, having spent the winter in sunny Mexico. They seem to bring the sunlight with them when they come. I suppose it’s their sunrise colors that seem to make them glow from within. Look for them on all the ponds of the Fill – we had twelve pairs nesting last year and perhaps we’ll get even more this season.


Here is a twitter poem for you:

In spring a Cinnamon Teal floats by,
feathers glowing like embers
about to burst into flame,
like the fiery dawn of life

Spring Morning


The Pied-billed Grebes of the ponds, lagoons, and lake around Montlake Fill are gearing up for another year of making more grebes. You can hear their eerie songs in the morning, and if you are really lucky, you might see one trying to impress its mate as it runs across the water before face-planting and disappearing beneath the waves. It is one of the many wonders of nature going on right here in our own backyard.

Here is a new twitter poem for you today:

In the silver morning light
a Pied-billed Grebe dances
across the lagoon toward his mate,
etching an ephemeral trail in the molten water.

Introducing “Twitter” Poems

With this new post (in far too long, my apologies), I want to introduce a brand-new art form, one that I am calling “Twitter Poems,” for lack of a better name. Twitter, as you all probably know, is the online micro-blogging app invented in 2006 that allows users to post very short messages. Each message can be only 140 characters long, including word spaces. My kids have been urging me for years to join social media networks and enter the 21st century. They decided that Twitter would be a good way to let me take baby steps into this brave new world. “Stop being a dinosaur,” was their succinct, almost tweet-like way of putting it. So I gave in and joined Twitter.

Much to my dismay, when I began to read other people’s posts, I found most of them loaded with abbreviations, symbols, and references to who knows what. It was like trying to decode some secret language that I wasn’t sure even was a language. As I am already trying to learn one new language (Portuguese), which at my age is not easy to do, I decided that anything I posted would have to be written in plain English.

So I began. I soon discovered that writing anything sensible, lyrical, and meaningful in only 140 characters is quite a trick. Wonderful discipline for a writer, though. The spareness of my tweets began to resemble poetry, which I thought I might share with you. Below is my first blog-posted Twitter poem, in honor of one of my favorite Montlake Fill birds, the Red-winged Blackbird:


In spring the Red-winged Blackbird sings
his cranky song in the marsh,
rough disharmony among the reeds.
I guess even grumps can be in love.

Are You a Bieber Belieber?

“Have you seen her today?” asked a birder friend of mine breathlessly, panting because he had trotted all the way down the Loop Trail to Southwest Pond.

“No,” I answered regretfully, “but I heard her!” My friend’s eyes got gratifyingly big, so I offered details. “She was calling to her kids. I could tell she was just a few feet away, but she didn’t come out.”

“Yesterday,” bragged my friend, “I saw her out on the path, and she had TWO babies with her. They were walking along right here in the water.”

“Well, I heard she had four babies altogether,” I responded, “and a friend of mine got pictures!”


We both sighed ecstatically. Hollywood has its fan clubs—Justin Bieber has whole claques of them—and we have ours. Perhaps our biggest fan club is the one that idolizes Virginia Rails. We haven’t given ourselves a catchy name yet like Justin’s followers. Rail Trailers? Ranters for Rails? But we are every bit as gaga over our celebs as any fan could be.

Virginia Rails are prehistoric-looking birds of the marshes, with short tails and long, curved bills. They look like footballs on stilts, but they have the ability to change their shape, flattening themselves into pancakes as they pass through the cattails. For the most part, Virginia Rails are shy and retiring. They don’t mind calling loudly when people pass by, but they dislike being looked at. I guess they are conflicted celebrities, like Greta Garbo, who sought fame as a movie star but vanted to be left alone. So it’s always a great day when a Virginia Rail decides to give us a glimpse. The rail family on Southwest Pond has been particularly visible lately, giving us fans thrill after thrill. We’re thinking about starting a Starline bus tour any day now.VARailChick

Is He or Isn’t He?


A debate is raging in the birding community about whether Cedar Waxwings have a secret identity. The debate was sparked by the observation that Cedar Waxwings might not have any feathers at all but, rather, are encased in a super suit.

“Just look at them,” said one birder. “They are completely smooth all over, like they’re wearing Lycra. But Cedar Waxwings have been around long before Lycra was invented. The only possible explanation of their sleekness has to be that they’re wearing super suits. And,” he added, “everybody knows the only characters who wear super suits are superheroes.”

“That explains so much,” said another birder, nodding thoughtfully. “One time, I was looking at a Cedar Waxwing, and I turned away for half a second. When I looked again, the Cedar Waxwing was gone! In its place was a House Finch!!”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said a third birder, scornfully. “Why would a Cedar Waxwing’s secret identity be another bird? I was on a master birder field trip recently, and someone in the group spotted a Cedar Waxwing foraging near a blackberry bush. But when everyone turned to look, all we saw was our leader, Dennis Paulson! And, he was eating a berry!!!”

When contacted about this startling assertion, mild-mannered ornithologist Paulson would say only, “I am not a Cedar Waxwing in disguise.”

“Of course he’s not a Cedar Waxwing,” said a fellow scientist, who refused to be named. “If Dennis were to assume a secret identity at all—and I’m not saying he has—he would be a Swallow-tailed Kite.”

When confronted by a horde of reporters outside her home, Paulson’s wife Netta Smith refused to answer any questions at all. Before hustling into her car, though, she put her finger to the side of her nose and tapped it significantly. And so the debate rages on. The public is asked to report any future sightings of Cedar Waxwings—or Dennis—in telephone booths.