63 Saw-whet Owls in 9 Hours


After a full day of banding songbirds, Ed and I stayed up almost all night catching owls. Conditions couldn’t have been better: clear, calm, and cold with no moon. Though we have caught a few owls every night this week, last night was the best yet – 63 saw-whets! We finally turned into bed at 4:00 am, slept an hour and a half, and headed out at dawn for another field day of banding songbirds. It never stops…

Saw-whet Owls are just unimaginably cute. I can’t get over it. Those big eyes and soft, soft feathers get me every time. And saw-whets are normally very hard to find; before banding them here, I had seen exactly two in my whole life. Handling 63 in one night blows my mind!




A northern cold front brought a nice collection of winter migrants today, and Ed and I banded 86 new birds at Petit Manan Point – very solid. We were pretty stoked about catching our first tree sparrow of the fall until Ed came running back from a net run with a Northern Shrike, definitely the most awesomest bird of the entire season so far!

Shrikes have murderous hooked bills designed for tearing apart other, smaller birds. This one tore us up, too, as we took its measurements, but the bloodshed was worth it…

Angry Cardinal


Winter is coming to Maine. The forecast for Sunday calls for a high of 38 and snow showers. Brrr.

First, though, we’ve got several warm(ish) days of northwest winds to look forward to, after enduring almost two weeks of south winds (bad for migratory birds around here). Ed and I are hoping this brings one last big push this week before we head home at the end of the month. We only caught 11 birds this morning, but enjoyed an Orange-crowned Warbler and the first cardinal of the fall at Petit Manan Point.

Day And Night



My schedule is getting strange. Ed and I stayed up past one a.m. catching owls, rose at dawn for six hours of songbird banding, took a four-and-a-half-hour nap in the afternoon, opened the owl nets again at dusk, stayed up past 3:30 am and caught 15 new saw-whets, slept less than two hours, banded 127 migrant songbirds between 6 am and noon, took a three-hour nap, and opened the owl nets again at sunset.

So far tonight, we’ve caught four new owls. After dark, the nets only need to be checked once an hour, so we’ve been trading off on net runs and napping in between. This morning was fantastic for songbirds; we took a big hit of sparrows. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? I’ll be up to find out soon enough…

Catching Saw-whet Owls



I’m staying up tonight with Ed to capture Northern Saw-whet Owls. It’s 11pm, and we’ve caught three so far – not bad, but not spectacular (a good night at Petit Manan Point might yield 20 by midnight). We take turns checking seven mist nets outside our trailer once an hour, luring in the fist-sized owls with a boombox which continuously broadcasts their calls at full volume.

Couple of interesting things about saw-whets. You can tell how old they are by looking at different generations of feathers in their wings, and this is made easier by spreading their wing under a blacklight (fresh feathers glow pink under UV rays). We use a light called the “stink finder,” designed to find cat pee stains in carpets. And Saw-whets often take a minute to fly away upon release, so you can sit one on your shoulder to pose for photos. Cool stuff!

From Island to Peninsula


Yesterday, after I’d spent three weeks banding birds on Metinic Island, a Fish and Wildlife boat showed up to transport our crew back to the Maine mainland. So I’m once again in the land of cars, flushing toilets, and lobster lunches.

I’m not done here, though. Metinic Island may be closed for the year, but I’ll spend the next ten days extending the season at another bird banding station called Petit Manan point, a couple hours up the coast, working with my good friend Ed (who I last saw in Costa Rica last winter). We’re occupying a tiny trailer on a windswept coastal peninsula, hoping to catch lots more songbirds and, probably, lots of saw-whet owls. At least, if it ever stops raining…

Thousands Of Birds



It’s been a crazy week on Metinic Island. We captured and banded 200+ new birds on five out of the last six days, capped by a tremendous 467 (!) yesterday, an all-time record at this banding station! It was such an incredible effort that special, “half millennium” T-shirts are in the works for this crew.

Chuck and I managed to catch a fist-sized Northern Saw-whet Owl in a mist net after dark – definitely the softest, cuddliest bird I’ve ever held. And I even got a life bird today: two White-rumped Sandpipers huddled down on the beach. Looks like rain coming, which means a couple of slower days ahead. We could use a bit of a rest…

Huge Bird Wave!


As soon as I stepped out the door this morning, I could feel it. A Rusty Blackbird was on the compost heap. A Brown Creeper inched incongruously up the shingles of the house. And, I quickly realized, every tree, bush, and vine was awash in hundreds, thousands of fluttering, restless shapes. Last night, Metinic Island was invaded by birds.

All day long, waves upon waves of warblers, sparrows, thrushes, kinglets, and woodpeckers sloshed back and forth while we sprinted to keep up the banding station, in sheer awe of the numbers of birds – underfoot, overhead, flocks of hundreds flushing with every step through the brush. Transporting them in soft cotton bags, we were barely able to keep up as more and more birds piled up in the mist nets. In the end, we banded 293 birds today, nearly doubling my biggest mist-netting effort to date. Looks good for another big hit tomorrow, too!

Gale Force


Adrienne, Chuck, Andrea and I gathered around our digital weather display this afternoon as a windstorm slammed the cabin on Metinic Island. When the wind hit 50 mph, the refrigerator inside our kitchen started to shake. When it hit 62 mph, we all ran outside to rescue a microphone (which records calls of migrating birds) after it blew off its support.

Otherwise, the weather is looking up. We had enough sun to replenish the solar battery today, and the lights are back on. And we put in a full, uninterrupted day of banding this morning, catching 129 birds. I found a Yellow-throated Vireo and an American Golden-Plover. Life is good.

Three Weeks In Maine


At 300-acre Metinic Island, seven miles off the coast of central Maine, it’s currently raining sideways with a steady 30-mph wind. I arrived on a Fish and Wildlife powerboat three days ago for three weeks of migratory bird banding with a small field crew, but the weather has made that difficult this week; even our large bank of solar panels can’t keep up after several days without sun, so we are crawling around the island’s two-story cabin with headlamps to save power.

But things are already looking up. This morning we were able to open a third of our mist nets and captured 161 birds, mostly colorful eastern warblers – awesome! And sunshine is in the long-range forecast. They tell me that this is just the beginning of the busiest month of the year here, so fingers crossed. And sitting in a rustic cabin feels pretty luxurious after spending the last four months hiking through the western wilderness!

A 64-mile Dayhike


On the PCT this summer, I was all about consistency. I never tried a truly huge day (my biggest was 35.8 miles), but, increasingly, I found myself wondering: given easy trail and a light pack, how far could I really hike in one 24-hour period? (No running allowed). What if I walked from midnight to midnight?

Today, a week after finishing the PCT, it was time to find out. I’ll probably never be in better shape to attempt a 24-hour hike. In the interest of carrying as little as possible, I decided to park my car at a strategic location near some running paths in south Eugene and use it as a resupply station between a series of loops.

I started walking at 12:08 am, using a GPS to measure mileage. For six hours I walked in the dark, dodging Friday-night revelers and a sneaky skunk while waiting for the sun to come up. By dawn I’d already logged 21 miles, off to a good start.

I hit 30 miles before 11 am, somewhere on the Ridgeline Trail near Spencer Butte; I worried about my legs feeling tight, but kept a steady pace with few breaks. The afternoon was tough mentally, not close to the beginning or end, so I did a bunch of laps around the Rexius Trail and hit 50 miles around dinnertime. With legs like iron, I pushed on into the night and finally, mercifully stopped at 11:42 pm, having walked 64.0 miles (103 kilometers) in less than 24 hours!

I drove home, pulled on compression tights (purchased last year when I ran a marathon in Australia and flew home to Oregon the same afternoon), and collapsed into bed, having slept less than two hours of the previous 40. What a day! This summer has definitely redefined my perception of reasonable mileage. But, now, I’m done with long walks for a while – promise!


Just before 9:30 this morning, after 123 days and 25 minutes of nonstop walking, came the moment I have been anticipating so long: The Canadian border, and the northern end of the Pacific Crest Trail – I made it!!!!!!!!

It took just under four calendar months (May 19 to Sep 18) to hike 2,663 miles from Mexico to Canada this summer, averaging 21.6 miles/day (everything included). From the SoCal desert through the snowy high Sierra, dusty NorCal wilderness, buggy Oregon, and lush Washington, it’s been an incredible journey.

A big THANK YOU to everyone who gave encouragement through comments and emails – they have meant a lot to me! I can’t express how much the support helped, especially through difficult sections.

I am happy to be done; northern Washington was physically and mentally intense. Last night it rained intermittently while I tossed and turned, unable to sleep, and my gear was soaked this morning. My dad met me at the border monument, snapped a few photos, and shepherded me to the Manning Park Lodge where we’re spending the night before driving home tomorrow. It is surreal to return to civilization after so long in the woods.

I will be working at a migratory songbird banding station on Metinic Island, off the coast of Maine, from late September (next week!) to late October; and on a Wedge-billed Woodcreeper tracking project at Tiputini Biodiversity Station, in eastern Ecuador, from January to April, so stay tuned for more adventures.

Meanwhile, I will be doing preliminary research for a possible book about the 2011 PCT season. If you hiked this summer, watch out – I may be calling you soon…

Sorry for the lag in recent updates; I had no cell service for the last eight days. I’ll post an overall summary when I am home and settled. For now, a giant dinner awaits – success is sweet!

Pasayten Wilderness


During an early sunbreak on a breathtaking ridge in the Pasayten Wilderness, I felt the first, bittersweet twinges of regret that this trip is nearly over. It’s been nearly four months of nonstop hiking, without much time to pause and reflect; I suppose the enormity of it all is really beginning to sink in. I hiked a while, misty-eyed, reminiscing over the summer – then I tripped on a rock, a mean-looking cloud blotted out the sun, and my reverie was snapped. Onward to the finish line!

My thermometer read 28F this morning, and the weather continues to deteriorate, so I’m glad to be out tomorrow. I hiked a frigid 29 miles today under threatening clouds, wearing gloves, hat, rainpants, and down parka most of the day; by late afternoon an intermittent, sleeting drizzle had set in. Time to wrap this thing up – winter is arriving in the mountains.

So Close…


This morning the fog burned off for a few hours of pleasant sunshine, but a layer of clouds had blotted out the sky by midafternoon, and my thermometer registered 37F at six pm with an icy wind – brrr! So much for summer. Some climbers reported snow flurries at 8,000 feet yesterday; I’m camped among rugged peaks at 7,000′ tonight, hoping any precipitation holds off just a little longer…

I hiked 25 miles today, well past the 2,600 mark, and am now camped just 35 miles from the Canadian border (not that I’m counting). Should get there on Sunday morning, whatever the weather brings. It’s so hard to wait.

A Change In Weather


Last night was very windy in Stehekin, and I woke up to gray skies this morning. Finally, the weather I had expected in Washington: cool and cloudy. I just hope any real rain holds off for three more days…

Because of breakfast and shuttle schedules, my dad didn’t see me off until after noon (next time we see each other, on Sunday, we’ll be in Canada!). I hiked a steady 20 miles up to aptly-named Rainy Pass where a heavy, saturating mist is now drizzling down, enough to soak everything; luckily I found a dry(ish) campsite, just before dark, under a thick tree about 20 feet behind an outhouse by the trailhead parking lot. Gotta love the wilderness.



Another 27 miles (3,000 feet up, 5,000 down) brought me to Stehekin today, an isolated town in northern Washington. The roads here don’t connect anywhere else, so it’s necessary to take an expensive ferry to reach Stehekin – except, of course, if you walk here!

My dad took the ferry, loved it, and met me at the Stehekin Lodge where we are staying tonight. Looks like a change in weather ahead, but I only have four days left – can I reach Canada before the rain comes? I’ll be at the border on Sunday… It’s weird to be so close to the finish line.




A couple miles before I reached the Suiattle River crossing this afternoon, I found a sign proclaiming, “New! PCT + Bridge,” pointing down a freshly cut side trail. Knowing that the bridge had been out for a few years, and sick of hauling myself over miles of poorly maintained trail (thick, head-high brush with lots of deadfall), I followed the sign to see what adventures awaited.

Turns out the PCT has officially been rerouted to incorporate a new bridge three miles downstream, where better bedrock exists. I found the trail crew and a Forest Service employee putting some finishing touches on the excellent bridge before they are airlifted out on Thursday, mission complete. They were pretty excited to see me, saying I was maybe the first hiker to use the new route (!), which also now incorporates a spectacular, 700-year-old stand of oldgrowth. Unfortunately, it adds at least four extra miles, and I fell short of my target this evening despite hiking 27 rough miles today. It’s gonna be tight getting to Stehekin tomorrow…




At eight a.m. this morning, I hit the two and a half thousand mile mark – an inconceivable distance when I started this hike, back in May. By dusk I’d logged 29.3 for the day. Just 138 miles to go…

Today rocked all around. I hiked into the Glacier Peak Wilderness and was taken a bit by surprise when I popped out of the trees in late morning into an alpine wonderland. Flowers blooming everywhere, snow decking the slopes, three Golden Eagles soaring overhead, and what weather! Record high temperatures have been set all over Washington this week. I hiked in a T-shirt all day and dripped sweat on every climb. Still feels like summer out here.

The Skykomish Buffet


The Sunday breakfast buffet in Skykomish this morning was… AWESOME! I don’t know how many calories I ate, but it measured in the thousands.

And I paid for it over the next six hours. My mom hiked a few miles in from the trailhead with me before turning around to head home, and I struggled through 20.0 heavy, sluggish miles before camping on a mosquito-infested ridgetop. My pack felt crushingly loaded, I ate very little even for dinner (still full!), and I could barely keep my eyes open as I hiked through the afternoon and evening. But the buffet was worth all that – I’d definitely do it all over again…

Stevens Pass


With 27.1 miles done by six p.m., I hit Stevens Pass to find my mom sitting in a lawn chair at the trailhead, doing a crossword, and waiting for me to arrive without even knowing what day I’d get there (I finally found cell service a half mile out, much to her relief) – it’s great to have supportive parents! We checked in to a motel in nearby Skykomish where I took my first shower in 11 days.

Back on the trail tomorrow morning, I’ll have one week left to Canada – that’s it! Just 187 more miles. Once, that seemed like a huge distance; now, it’s a final, short hop before the end. I’m ready.

Roller Coaster


One giant roller coaster ride today, for 31.5 miles, under a hot sun (is this really Washington?). Climb 400 feet, drop 2,200… climb 2,500, drop 2,600… and climb 2,600 more – up and down from ridgetop to valley floor, back and forth, with a wicked-looking elevation profile.

But I saw some Sooty Grouse and Black-backed Woodpeckers along the way, and should arrive at Stevens Pass tomorrow. And I’m going to bed with a happy stomach after demolishing a packet of Mountain House Beef Stroganoff, labeled to serve four people – who are they kidding, really??

Man Who Stares At Goats



I hit Snoqualmie Pass today in time for breakfast at the pancake house and a quick resupply before hiking north into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, totaling 24.2 miles. I am now more than halfway through Washington, past the 2,400-mile mark, with fewer than 250 remaining to Canada.

Northern Washington is very rugged, at least in parts, and this afternoon I traversed miles of steep, loose rock along crumbling ridges – difficult walking, for sure. On one such traverse, I rounded a corner to suddenly startle a half dozen Mountain Goats off the trail just a few feet in front of me – awesome! They scrambled a short distance up the cliff overhead then peered down from an impossible angle, evidently not impressed by my clodding footsteps – hooves would certainly be useful on some parts of this trail…

Two Owls and Magic


This morning I woke to the sound of a Northern Pygmy-Owl outside my tent. I whistled it in to a small tree about 20 feet away, where the owl tooted furiously at me until I packed up and left camp. And, this evening, in fact while I write this very sentence, a Northern Saw-whet Owl is calling nearby in the darkness. Two new birds for the trip!

I hiked 29.1 miles today despite an unexpected 2.5-hour break at a smorgasbord of trail magic – a guy named Not Phil’s Dad had set up canopy, chairs, and stovetop with chili and hot dogs for PCT hikers. He’d spent three weeks sitting there already, at a random gravel road in the forest, and seemed a little disappointed to have seen very few hikers so far – not more than four in one day – so was very happy when nine of us converged there this morning (me, Turbo, Mr. Furious, Lovebird, Raven, Doc, Hercules, GQ, and Viper). Guess I’m at the front of the main wave, if there’s any herd left this year.

Elk And Clearcuts


Lots of ridgewalking this morning until the trail dropped into a section of forest and patchy clearcuts, with dozens of annoying blowdowns to climb over. I hiked 30.3 warm, dusty miles between dawn and dusk – with the sunny weather and low topography, this section feels more like northern California than Washington!

I saw my first elk of the trip in late afternoon, right next to the trail in the forest – they didn’t seem to mind. Otherwise, not too much wildlife lately, though another hiker I talked to saw a bear. Hoping for a couple more surprises in my last two weeks out here.

Mount Rainier


The PCT doesn’t get very close to Mount Rainier, but I skirted the National Park boundary’s eastern edge for 30.9 miles today, with intermittent views of the impressive peak looming off to the west. This area is known for damp and rainy weather, but I ain’t seen it yet – Washington, so far this September, is cloudless and warm. Keep it coming!

Apparently, a forest fire completely shut down a big section of trail this week in northern Oregon, near Mount Hood, and many PCT hikers are now stuck behind it; I slipped through there just a couple days before the closure. Glad to have avoided that mess.