Are there some hikes in your spring and summer plans? If so, make sure you pack your binoculars and field guide. Extra weight is frowned on when you are deciding what goes in the backpack, but I have a reason for encouraging hikers to carry binos and a book. Anyone going into the high country for several days has a good chance of seeing some interesting birds.

There is another reason to encourage backpackers to carry extra weight. Hikers that get high into the mountains can gather information on this state’s birds. Believe me, all birders aren’t hardy hikers. Many of us never get to those higher elevations if we can’t do most of it in a vehicle.

I wish that when we were backpacking with our children that I had realized what a great birding opportunity was waiting on those trails. The struggle up to Heather Pass or Honeymoon Meadows would have been easier if I had thought I might see something unusual, even important.

A couple of years ago, I was surprised to learn from a biologist with the Department of Fish and Wildlife that there are resident Clark’s nutcrackers high in the Olympics. I thought they were only resident in the Cascades. There is a year-round population in the Olympics. Someone had to discover that the birds are more than occasional winter visitors. Chances are they were hikers familiar with birds.

I recently had the opportunity to meet with a local mountaineering group. Preparing the program opened my eyes to the information this club could collect on the high elevation birds in our mountains.

All of the books and field guides show that mountain chickadees are only found in the mountains to the east. They aren’t listed for the Olympics. Why not? These are mountain chickadees and the Olympics are mountains.

During the latter part of 2004, for whatever reason, mountain chickadees were seen in many areas throughout the Puget Sound lowlands. If they were traveling on the Kitsap Peninsula, why couldn’t they be in the Olympics? Maybe they are. One experienced mountaineer saw a photograph of the bird during the meeting and stated that he had seen “that bird” in the Olympics. He saw them while hiking in the Bailey Range at about 5,000 feet.

Bird populations and their territories change. Up until the early ‘50s, the Western scrub jay only occurred in small numbers in the southwest corner of Washington. In the decades that followed, they began expanding their range northward. Now they are regularly reported on the northern tip of the Kitsap Peninsula and have nested north of Seattle.

The Anna’s hummingbird wasn’t even mentioned in the textbook, “Birds of Washington State,” that once was used by ornithological students at the University of Washington. It was published in 1953. This hummingbird is now shown as a year-round resident in Puget Sound, the southwest coast and the lower Columbia River area.

Birding is young in the Pacific Northwest. There are more discoveries to be made and some of those will be found in those mountains only the hardy reach by packing in. If you’re one of them, please add those binos and a field guide to your pack.