Three days after my unsuccessful trip to Mt. Rainier to see White-tailed Ptarmigan, I noticed that someone posted on Tweeters (the Washington birding listserv) that she had seen ptarmigan along the same Mt. Fremont trail a few days after I was there. It was obvious that the birds were still around, even though I missed them over Labor Day weekend. As I mentioned in my previous post, the time for seeing these birds at all during my big year was growing seriously short. I decided to try for them one more time, so yesterday I trekked 90 miles back to Sunrise for Round Two.
The day was again spectacularly beautiful. I was surprised at how much snow had melted from around Frozen Lake in only six days.
I was also treated to great views of American Pika (not to be confused with Pica, that strange disorder in which people eat dirt, chalk, and rocks). Pika are lagomorphs, which is to say that they are closely related to rabbits and hares.
This little guy was alternately collecting herbaceous goodies and storing them in his burrow, and sitting on a rock and chirping at me.
I also saw more goats on my trek up Mt. Fremont. There are two herds which have been roaming the landscape near Sunrise this summer.
As I approached the Mt. Fremont lookout, I turned up the sensitivity on my ptarmigan scanner. An hour passed, and no ptarmigan. As I was beginning to lose hope of seeing this species, I thought that maybe I saw a ptarmigan-shaped rock down the ridge just past a little bend in the trail. Was that really a ptarmigan, or just a rock? It wasn’t moving. I needed to get closer to tell for sure.
I stumbled down the trail, trying to keep an eye on that ptarmigan-shaped rock. I was so intent on watching this rock that I didn’t immediately notice what was around that little bend in the trail.
“Goat!” I yelped, as I rounded the corner and came nearly face-to-face with a fully grown Mountain Goat. While these fuzzy alpine denizens seem cute and cuddly, a mountain goat killed a man a couple years ago in Olympic National Park. They can be aggressive and dangerous when provoked. It’s best to keep one’s distance from them even when they are calm, to avoid habituating them to humans. I saw that there were in fact quite a number of goats loafing here, including some kids born this spring. I had found part of the second herd.
I gently eased my way back around the corner. The goats went back to their snoozing. But what about that ptarmigan? I scanned the area, and saw this:
Can you spot the ptarmigan in the photo above? It’s dang hard to see! Eventually, it stood up for a moment, and I got good looks at an adult female White-tailed Ptarmigan. They are usually quite tame, but I couldn’t get any closer because the goats were between me and the ptarmigan. Here’s my best long-range photo, zoomed and cropped:
After 20 minutes of watching her, I headed for home. The moon was rising over the ridge as I descended. It was a good day.