Jimi Hightower – Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, Seattle.

View from the train
View from the train

Yesterday, I accompanied Jim, a well-seasoned Trails and Rails volunteer on the Amtrak to Portland, OR. KLSE has a strong, well-established T&R program that provides volunteer guides for trips to and from Portland, OR and Glacier NP. I read up on the program prior to my trip, but I still wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. What resulted was an engaging, interesting eight hours on the train in which I saw the passion and dedication of our T&R volunteers, made a lot of new friends, and had a lot more fun than I anticipated. Jim expertly guided our fellow passengers through the historic towns, unique ecosystems, and glorious vistas that our trip had to offer and encouraged me to step in however I could. As I gazed out the window thinking about what I should talk about in order to impress and relieve my counterpart, I began noticing barn swallows, great blue herons, and double-crested cormorants – alas! I discovered a way I could contribute to the program. I told Jim that I was an amateur bird watcher and that I could point out and identify birds we may see along the way while giving our passengers interesting information. He was really excited and began pointing out areas on the map where the trees thinned so I could keep a weather eye out for our flying friends. Before I knew it I was saying, “If you look out the right side of the train you’ll see a great blue heron. These majestic yet gawky birds stand 3-4 feet tall and can have a wingspan of up to 6 feet! Did you know they only weigh 5-6 pounds?” And thus began, Bird Tales by yours truly. I was delighted to see the passengers interested and engaged, I even had people come up to me asking them to help them identify a bird or point one out and say, “Tell us about it, Jimi!” We saw geese, mallards, gulls, barn swallows, great blue herons, double-crested cormorants, red-tailed hawks, and even an osprey! I also discovered that it is fairly difficult to point out and identify birds while travelling approximately 80 mph, but I did my best and talked about birds we could potentially see along the way and where to look for them. Overall, it was a great experience and I am incredibly honored to be working with such dedicated volunteers. Now, I’m off to jot down the bird facts Jim requested for future trips!