The plan for today was to search for Sooty grouse at Sauk Mountain before dropping out of the Cascades to reach the Puget Sound region. If I could find the grouse today, I would just chart a coastal route south without concern for detouring to alternate inland, mountainous spots for this species. It really was a must find from a logistical standpoint. I took off from Marblemount, WA at 6:45am and paralleled the Skagit River to reach Rockport, WA ~10 miles downstream. From here I would access Sauk Mountain Road and climb into what appeared from aerial photos to be good grouse habitat. I was able to add Pacific-slope flycatcher while biking along the river this morning. His characteristic 2-note call gave him away. A quick pish brought him into view for year bird #524. Again, no photo since he was under the canopy and there wasn’t any light at this early hour.
The detour up Sauk Mt can be seen in
the elevation profile
The ride up Sauk Mountain Road was absolutely murderous. It was both steeper and longer than Teton Pass, the previous titleholder for the most challenging stretch I have faced this year. It was also all on dirt (Teton pass was all paved). Luckily, I ditched most of my weight at the bottom of the hill since I knew I would be able to collect it after the descent. There were many stretches of the climb that were excruciatingly slow, and the bike had to be pushed around swithbacks on a number of occasions. It took nearly 2 hours to climb the 6 miles to the top. Riding the fully loaded bike up this road would have been impossible. Physically, my legs did feel good today, so I guess the day off yesterday did the trick. The views from Sauk Mountain were fabulous. These have become standard in this part of the world.
Mt. Baker and its glaciers way in the distance
Sooty grouse like areas that have been previously logged and are now undergoing reforestation. They like open woodlands intermixed with meadows. This is in contrast to Spruce grouse from earlier in the week; They like the really dense stuff. My strategy today was to walk the various logging roads on and around Salk Mountain. These wound through apparently appropriate habitat, and I was hopeful I could kick one of the birds off of one of these roads. I spent roughly 6 hours scouring the logging roads without luck. There were very few birds today, but I did find the usual western warblers, kinglets, and chickadees. I also saw several dozen Band-tailed pigeons. These were a nice surprise since I have not seen them since Arizona. 4pm came and it was time to descend. This was as hard on my forearms as the climb was on my legs; I had to squeeze my brakes with everything I had not to run away down the incredibly steep, winding road. It was very nerve-racking.
I birded lots of area like this......
....and this without finding the grouse.
I realized today that I ride the bike like someone who doesn’t want to be on it. I am pedaling as fast as I can all the time. I am not stopping to explore. I blow right through small towns without looking up. I avoid bike paths in favor of highways since they are more direct. I am basically trying to make every ride as short as possible. My pedal clips currently seem like handcuffs, and the loaded bike feels like a giant tumor than I cannot shed. On my ride from Okanagon to Mazama three days ago, I got so frustrated with the wind that I got off the bike and threw it down on the side of the road. I then ripped off my helmet and smashed it against the guardrail. It took several additional minutes of pacing the highway shoulder before I was calm enough to resume the torture. Since then, I have just been counting mile markers; “63 miles to go, another 5 hours of this f’ing bullshit” and so on and so forth. Biking can be great, but when you have to do it day after day after day after day with ZERO breaks, it extracts an immense toll on your mind and body. What I really need is weeklong vacation from the bike. Thanks to the missed grouse, that ain’t gonna happen!
Tomorrow I will hit the Washington coast for the first time. I expect there to be a nice bump of new birds as a result. It is also nice to be back in flatter, more developed areas with more places to find food and lodging. Although I am really sick of biking, I am confident it will get better over the next 2 weeks (minus the search for the Sooty). I just need a few easier days to recover before I resume the grouse hunt.
Tail feather from Sooty grouse that I found today.
As a said, a bird in the hand isn't always better.....