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Field Notes

Covering the natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest

October 15, 2012 at 7:00 AM

Birding in Seattle and King County: a new book from Eugene Hunn

Eugene Hunn is back with a beautiful new birding book, and best of all it is a detailed look at the birds right here, close to home.

Richly illustrated with photographs and maps, the book belongs in the backpack and bookshelf of nature lovers and hikers of all sorts, not just birders. It’s an accessible, useful guide to the natural wonders on the wing all around us, ready for appreciation.


Eugene Hunn has updated his classic bird reference for Seattle and King County for the first time since its initial publication in 1982.

Cover photo, savannah sparrow by Kathrine Lloyd.

Courtesy, Seattle Audubon

From the beaches of Vashon Island to the river valleys of the Green, White, Snoqualmie and Skykomish Rivers, the alpine zones of the Issaquah Alps and even tips for birding by bus, it’s all here, and written in a style inviting for amateur as well as experienced birders and outdoor enthusiasts.

Included too is a chapter on other living things — a nice touch, that draws out the rich biodiversity of a region blessed with the presence of everything from beavers to whales to dragonflies.

Hunn, Seattle author Connie Sidles notes, in 1982 wrote the first version of Birding in Seattle and King County, and in it encouraged birders to practice their appreciation closer to home. Hunn, Sidles reports, even encouraged birders to keep track of their mileage when birding to figure out a “birds per gallon” consumption.

His point, of course being that there is a lot here right at home to appreciate, and this book makes it easy to do.

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A pileated woodpecker sticks its tongue into a tree to capture insects for a tasty meal.

Photo by Gregg Thompson, courtesy Seattle Audubon

“King County is pretty amazing,” said Hunn, professor emeritus in the anthropology at the University of Washington by cell phone in the middle of a birding trip in Sonoma County, Ca., where he now lives, to be closer to his children and grandchildren. “It is bigger than Rhode Island or Delaware, and goes from sea level to 8,000 feet. There are more than 265 species of birds within the city limits, and 377 in the county.”

Just 40 miles from downtown Seattle, the Middle Fork of the Snoquamle River offers sheer rock faces and deep forests; and even in the heart of the city, recovered habitats, such as the former airstrip at Magnuson Park, now a complex of man-made wetland ponds, and the Montlake Fill, a former garbage dump, are a birder’s paradise.

The Montlake Fill is an old landfill, a city dump on University property, I remember when it was just a muddy mess, you took your life in your hands walking out there with little methane flames jetting out,” Hunn rememebred. “Now it is an open, marshy environment that is quite rare and valuable.”

He credits too the farmland preservation effort in the Kent Valley for preserving open fields birds need, and the city’s grand green spaces, such as Discovery Park, that provide large refuges of habitat of many types, from saltwater shoreline to upland native forests and grasslands.

“There is tremendous diversity, right in the city,” Hunn said.

Hunn started birding in 1967, and his book includes a section on the sweeping changes in Seattle and King County in bird species just since his first edition was compiled, using graph paper and hand tallies, in 1982. His second edition notes 70 new species added to the lists of birds seen here, Hunn notes.

Birds now common that were rarely seen back then include bald eagles, peregrine falcons, merlins, and brown pelicans. Ospreys are nesting on cell towers and trumpeter swans, once rare, now carpet farm fields in winter.

Climate change may be playing a role in the presence of some species here now year round, but rarely seen in the 1980s, Hunn noted, including scrub jays, once seen in Oregon but not Washington, but now common here, and Anna’s hummingbirds. Once a California species, Anna’s hummingbirds today are year round residents frequenting feeders and ornamental plantings right in Seattle’s urban neighborhoods.

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An American dipper feeds its young. Dippers are the only aquatic songbird.

Photo by Gregg Thompson, courtesy, Seattle Audubon

Hunn urges a deeper exploration of all that is right here to enjoy. “Who can go all around looking for parrots of the world, when in our own back yard we have tremendous diversity? With the concern about green house gas emissions and fossil fuel burning it makes more sense than ever to focus at home. You can get to know every little nook and cranny,” Hunn said.

Call it green birding if you will. Beyond its ecological good sense, birding right here at home is also of course a lot more affordable.

Over his decades of local birding, Hunn has noted losses too, notably purple finches, now exiled mostly to the far fringes of the suburbs, screech owls, once common at Seward Park but now rare, spotted owls, and wintering sea birds, such as western grebes and white wing scoters.

But in all, he finds himself optimistic as to the future of the region’s biodiversity. “I am not a doomsday guy,” Hunn said.

“My final take is don’t despair. Be sure to save the good diversity of habitat we have, and get out there and enjoy it. The more people are interested in what they can find and learn about and enjoy close to home, the more likely they are to protect it for the long term.”

The book retails for $21.95 and is 252 pages long, and illustrated with full color photographs and more than 30 maps.

It is available at booksellers around the area, or at the Seattle Audubon Nature Shop at 8050 35th Ave. NE in Seattle. The book may also be purchased from the nature shop by phone, by calling 206-523-4483 or online.

Hunn will be making a presentation his book to the Washington Ornithological Society at the Center for Urban Horticulture on November 5. There will be a reception at 6:30 and Hunn’s presentation begins at 7 p.m.

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The brilliant colors of a a male lazuli bunting live up to its name.

Photo by Doug Parrot, courtesy, Seattle Audubon



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