It started innocently enough -- a kayak in the Elkhorn Slough. Little
did we (Emma-Cherril and Catharine) know that that this simple dip
into a wildlife refuge would lead to an all-encompassing search, a
few hundred miles of diversion, and hours and hours of laughter.
Piles of soft, cuddly stuffed birds -- squeaky toys, really --
crafted by the Audubon Society filled the rack of the Elkhorn Refuge
Visitor Center. Each bird is a close representation of the actual
species, rendered in poly-fuzz with the bird's vocalization recorded
on an internal device that can be activated by a soft squeeze.
We, of course, had to try all of them, until with great difficulty
we decided on a robin for Emma and a red-tailed hawk for Catharine.
These were quickly attached to our respective backpacks, and we
By the time we reached Port Townsend, Wash., we were more than
ready for a break from the road. "The Constant Gardener" was playing
at the Rose Theater, and we were happy for the diversion.
Before the show, Emma and I engaged in our recently developed
pastime -- bird talk. That simply meant that her squeaky-toy robin
would call out, while my squeaky-toy red-tail would respond. The
wrinkle here is that a woman five rows back began to laugh and told
us that she too has one of the Audubon birds.
That led to a woman in front of us admitting the same. Suddenly,
the birds were talking, a woman had developed a "squeak" in her
husband's neck (i.e., she'd squeeze and he'd squawk) and none of us
could stop laughing. We queried the five-row back woman for possible
locations to obtain additional birds and marked down potential
addresses for our morning walk.
Before the film, one of the theater's staff gave a brief
introduction to both the film and upcoming titles. He remarked that
due to popular demand, "March of the Penguins" would be returning for
a 12- week stay. He was, of course, just kidding.
There were birds in Port Townsend -- just none that we could take
home. The general store had two that were broken. The toy store had
birds -- but not squeakies. It was a dry day in birdland -- although
a walk along Fort Warden's shoreline gifted us a kingfisher, two
herons, an egret and an otter (OK, an otter isn't a bird, but he was
such a sweet sight).
We headed for Sequim to hike the rainforests and ponder the bay.
Black oystercatchers chattered incessantly, a kingfisher screeched
and fluttered from masthead to tree, and a flock of Canadian geese
honked overhead, then landed in the nearby pond. A harbor seal (OK,
again, not a bird) fished in the shallows near the cottage we had
rented and surprised our early evening meditation when he surfaced
with a salmon clenched in his teeth.
The bird search continued with great success at the Dungeness
River Wild Bird Center. Gifts for Emma's grandson filled a small
shopping bag. On the Dungeness Spit we saw black brants -- one of the
refuge's most important inhabitants. The brant is a true sea goose,
able to drink saltwater and eat saltwater plants. It depends on
eelgrass for its survival. Approximately 1,500 brant spend the winter
in the area, but during the spring migration, as many as 8,000 can be
seen on the tidal flats to the east and west of Graveyard spit.
Two-hundred-plus geese on the bay the next morning, and we were
headed south -- not down the coast, but toward the pull of the
Pacific flyway -- the migratory path that leads through Klamath
National Wildlife Refuge.
Our hunch was right about an early migration due to all the odd
We put our kayaks into the refuge waters and found ourselves
surrounded by ducks, dragonflies and damsel flies. Autumn breezes,
heated by the vast volcanic valley, sent spent seedpods skittering
across the surface of the water. Redwing blackbirds raced and
chattered. A bald eagle winged across the ponds, his majesty as
awe-inspiring as promised. Northern harriers, red-tails, gyrfalcons,
willets, long-billed curlews, godwits, pintails, mallards, white
pelicans, common and red-breasted mergansers, roadrunners, grouse,
pheasant -- and yes -- Canadian geese completed the scene.
We briefly stopped at the Klamath National Wildlife Refuge Visitor
Center to gather additional information, and there they were -- the
Audubon birds! This time, no rationing. A tiny quail for Catharine. A
bald eagle for Emma. A bit more squeaky added to the packs. A bit of
silly fun to ease our transition toward home.
* Catharine Cooper loves wild places. She can be reached at