I think it was the winter of 2005 when I first went out with Andrew for the Wahkiakum County Christmas Bird Count, and I’ve done it nearly every year ever since. I usually paddle the section of the count circle that is lower on the river, in the Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge. It’s usually a very cold, and sometimes stormy kayak trip. This year was no exception.
I set off from Skamokawa around 10:30 in the morning, and paddled out into a strong ebb tide, with a lot of extra runoff pouring out of the mouth of the creek. It was almost instantly windy and rainy, and I saw almost no birds for the first couple of miles crossing the river.
When I got to Woody Island I was ready for a break from trying to look at birds from a kayak that was getting tossed around in the wind and waves, and I pulled out for a half hour or so, had some tea and a Clif bar, dried my freezing hands and put on gloves. I usually don’t use pogies, since I’ve mostly used a Greenland stick for years, but lately I’ve been using my bent shaft Werner, and I sure was wishing I had pogies now!
I had planned to paddle down the west side of the refuge islands, but the wind was just too heavy for decent birdwatching, and I finally gave up and moved to the inside of the islands. That didn’t take me out of the wind completely, but it cut it way down, and I could finally set my paddle down without having it blown away.
My last stop was on Karlson Island, where Andrew hoped that I would be able to climb up on top of the old dike and find a treasure trove of birds in the large field inside the dike. Years ago, someone hit the jackpot here, so I gave it a try again. Sadly, this spot was nearly devoid of bird life. I found a dozen mourning doves and a Fox sparrow, and that was it. I did find a sizable congregation of coots, though, inside the little channel next to the dike.
Numbers wise, this wasn’t a great bird count year for me, personally. I only got 28 species, and there were quite a few that I was expecting to see that I did not. And my position as Scaup Sighting Champion, which I’ve held for several years running, was taken away from me. Last year I counted almost 7000 Scaup, this year, only 1020.
But I did see more White Winged Scoters than I have ever seen before, and I think my Coot count was the highest I’ve ever had, too. And I saw the Tundra Swans, and a few Ruddy Ducks, which I don’t get every year.
I pulled up to the Knappa Docks in Oregon at about 3 PM, just as another squall hit, nearly taking away my paddle again. Twenty minutes later it was back to flat calm, as I loaded up the kayak on the car. All in all, a nice winter paddle.