Saturday, June 21, 2008

Big Four Ice Caves, WA - 15 Jun 2008

Happy Fathers Day! A quick breakfast in the hotel and I was out the door and headed north on I-5 to exit #194 (Route 2) east to Route 204 north to Lake Stevens and Route 9 north. East on Route 92 to Granite Falls, then a left-turn onto the Mountain Loop Highway took me 14.5 miles to the National Forest Visitor Center. Another 14.5 miles from there took me to the Big Four Ice Caves picnic area, where I parked and geared up.
An immature Red-tailed Hawk sitting on a power line alongside the road stayed long enough for a few pics before it took flight.

Just like yesterday, the day started cloudy and cool, but cleared to sunny skies by the time I had parked. Snow was still all around me despite the 70+ degree weather. The Stillaguamish River was gorgeous, and flowing fast! I stopped several times along the way to grab some pics of the river as I headed to the picnic area.
As I headed out of the parking lot I was immediately greeted by singing Warbling Vireos, Willow Flycatchers and Pine Siskins. The boardwalk that heads toward the caves opened into a stunning view of the alpine country complete with mountains, cedars, snow, and wet lowlands. Yellow Warblers were everywhere, along with Vaux’s Swifts and a lone Tree Swallow. Within minutes I was face-to-face with a lovely Red-breasted Sapsucker, with its black body and bright-red head. As I fired away at it the bird flew toward me and landed on the tree right next to me. I had to back up in order to get the bird in focus but got some nice close-ups. A family passed by with kids and the dog, and the sapsucker took to the woods. I spent about 30 minutes in an open area of the boardwalk trying to digiscope Yellow Warblers, Willow Flycatchers, and Common Yellowthroats. I even tried a few flight shots of the swifts and Tree Swallow as they passed overhead several times.
Continuing on into the woods I was greeted by a foot of snow and a slippery walk to the river’s edge. A while back a large ice flow took out the bridge, so the trail stopped here. There would be no trip to the caves. A nice consolation prize was hearing the loud, plaintive, flute-like trills of a Varied Thrush somewhere in the deep woods. Winter Wrens were also being heard in various directions.

Returning back toward the parking lot I was greeted by a lovely male Rufous Hummingbird that buzzed overhead for a few moments before flying off to a dead snag. I managed to get some long-distance digiscoped pics of the bird before it moved on!Walking up the trail toward another trailhead I heard several Swainson’s Thrush, more Pine Siskins, and White-crowned Sparrows. At the parking lot a Warbling Vireo challenged my photographic skills by ducking in and out of the thick bushes, but rewarded me with several images as it fed from a flowing willow. A Cedar Waxwing appeared and provided a few portrait shots. Out of memory, I decided to head back toward the hotel. Two big thumbs up for this place!

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