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Bird Sightings

Bob BoekelheideBird Sightings

by Bob Boekelheide and Denny Van Horn 

Our wet and cool winter and spring continues. The record keepers say that this has been the wettest October through April period ever in Seattle history, which is pretty startling. Snow pack in the OIympics is above normal, but nowhere near record breaking. Temperatures continue to be much cooler than average, but spring heat waves lurk just around the corner. Enjoy the cool weather and lovely clouds while you can.

Jim and Audrey Gift recorded the last Trumpeter Swans on the OPAS surveys on 3/31, but Denny Van Horn watched others fly over Dungeness and Port Williams on 4/3. One lone immature Trumpeter, possibly sick, lingered all by itself at the Waatch River Valley through April. Gary Bullock reported the last Tundra Swan hanging out with Trumpeters at Schmuck Rd on 3/5.

Gary had a big thrill on the evening of 4/22, when he stepped outside, looked up, and watched a giant line of over 1000 Cackling Geese passing overhead. He said the geese formed a long thin line in a huge V-shape, along with a smaller V nearby. Similar numbers of Cackling Geese passed over Dungeness on 4/21, seen by Gary and Denny Van Horn. Greater White-fronted Geese also passed by, including a flock of 60 seen by Ryan Merrill at Neah Bay on 4/8. Marie Grad spotted 3 White-fronted Geese taking a break at 3 Crabs on 4/28. Those 4 Snow Geese that have been hanging around the Olympic Game Farm this winter are now down to only one according to Michael Barry. Perhaps they really were wild birds.

Michael Barry reported the first Cinnamon Teal of the year, swimming with other ducks in the big pond south of Hogback Road on 4/22. Michael also reports it has been a good year for Black Scoters, with 12 visible on the north side of Dungeness Spit on 4/25. The 3 Crabs Bird Monitoring team found a pair of Black Scoters swimming with Surf Scoters inside Dungeness Bay on both 3/27 and 4/14, an unusual spot for this species.

The biggest raptor news is an immature Gyrfalcon first found by Michael Barry near the Dungeness Recreation Area on 3/21. Michael took distant photos of the bird, which at the time stimulated indecisive discussions about the bird’s identity. Amazingly, Gary Bullock re-found the bird in the same area on 4/5, where it put on a wonderful show for lots of birders. The bird was the gray-morph style Gyr, big and chunky. It killed and ate at least one mallard while in the area. Since Gyrfalcons are normally seen in WA during winter, what was this northerly falcon doing in Dungeness in March and April? A Gyrfalcon reappeared for 3 winters back in the 1990s, so hopefully this one will come back as well.

Photo by Michael Barry

Spring raptor migration at Bahokus Peak near Neah Bay peaked in mid-April, again delighting birders. Most abundant species, as usual, were Red-tailed Hawks, Turkey Vultures, and accipiters, but there were also daily Golden Eagles along with occasional Northern Goshawks and Swainson’s and Broad-winged Hawks. Ryan Merrill, while watching raptors from the peak on 4/9, had a bonus sighting of Orcas swimming in the Strait of J de F. While driving up the peak on 4/21, Michael Barry scoped 21 Whimbrels faraway at Hobuck Beach. Coincidentally, Bruce Paige and Adrianne Akmajian, at Hobuck Beach at the same time, recorded the same group of Whimbrels.

Neah Bay in April is the place to see migrating Sandhill Cranes. Numbers peaked in mid-April, with hundreds flying overhead most days. The high count goes to Ryan Merrill, with 420 on 4/8. Don’t forget that rails migrate as well, including reclusive Soras. Michael Barry chuckled about a Sora hanging out by his pond in late March that vocalized every time some chickens cackled nearby.

Shorebirds rush through in spring, usually heading to nesting areas to the north or inland North America. Curiously, two unusual species that showed up this spring mostly nest to the south of us. Wendy Feltham photographed a lovely breeding-plumage American Avocet at Hobuck Beach on 4/18, where it remained until 4/19. Lonnie Somer spotted 2 Snowy Plovers traveling with Semipalmated Plovers at Dungeness Spit on 4/24, far north from their usual nesting haunts along the Pacific Coast.

Sarah Peden located a Pacific Golden Plover at 3 Crabs on 3/4, continuing the trend for more golden plovers in winter in WA. The Willet that hung around Dungeness Bay all fall and winter (for the second winter) was last reported by Doug and Lisa Schmidt on 4/8. Iris Sutcliffe found 3 Ruddy Turnstones at Ediz Hook on 4/21, one more than usually reported this winter.

The early bird may get the worm, but they’re also taking big risks. Jane Stewart found a lovely Killdeer nest with 4 eggs at Carrie Blake Park on 4/3, very early and very risky if the weather turns nasty.

Killdeer Nest
Photo by Jane Stewart

The Strait of J de F continues to be an excellent spot for Yellow-billed Loons. Dave Jackson and Marion Rutledge watched one YB Loon near Ediz Hook on 3/4. The Protection Island Aquatic Reserve monitoring cruises spotted YB Loons on both 3/9 and 4/21. Elston and Jackie Hill, along with Carolyn Morillo, spotted a very speckly Common Loon at Salt Creek on 4/14. Unlike most birds that molt soon after the nesting season, Common and Pacific Loons molt in late winter, becoming flightless as they do so. 

Again this year there are lingering Ancient Murrelets at Neah Bay, seen by Ben and Ron Barkley on 4/21. Ancients are nesting somewhere along the outer coast of WA, but the last nest was found in 1924.

Calliope Hummingbird
Photo by Judy Collins

This year’s first local Rufous Hummingbird award goes to… It’s a tie! Michele Canale in Port Angeles and Don Baker up O’Brien Road both recorded the first Rufous on 3/12. Even more exciting is that Judy Collins got great photos of a male Calliope Hummingbird at her feeder on the east side of Port Angeles on 4/28. We usually have only one or two Calliopes each year in Clallam.

Lucky Christina Heliker! A female Anna’s Hummingbird built a nest right outside her window, allowing Christina to document the entire nest attempt, even during February snow storms. Anna’s Hummers are renowned for winter nesting in California, but this is ridiculous! The bird laid its first egg on 2/16, the second egg on 2/18, the chicks hatched in early March, and both successfully fledged on 3/30. The female continued to feed the fledglings through at least 4/6. 

Anna’s Hummingbird in nest
Photo by Christina Heliker

The best owl news comes from Valerie Wolcott, who heard 2 Western Screech-Owls tooting near her home on Palo Alto Rd on 3/28. Kathy Bush recorded the first migrant Band-tailed Pigeons at her home on 3/6, but they’re now ganging up at a feeder near you. High count of Eurasian Collared-Doves goes to Charlie Wright, who estimated 275 in the trees at Butler’s Motel in Neah Bay on 4/21.

This might be the first year that California Scrub-Jays nest in Clallam County. There is now a scrub-jay pair residing near Old Olympic Hwy and Cays Rd, seen on 3/31 by Gary Bullock carrying nesting material into a big hedge. This in the same location where Michael Hobbs first spotted one scrub-jay on 12/31/16.

How are migrant passerines responding to the wet and cool weather? Surprisingly, first arrivals of many species are early this year. Purple Martins led the charge, even showing up on 4/7 for the Olympic BirdFest 3 Crabs field trip led by Gary Bullock, Bruce Paige, and Bob Iddins. Barn Swallows, already here in January and February, continued in swallow flocks at 3 Crabs through March and April. Flycatchers, which we normally think of as late spring migrants, appeared early, with a Hammond’s Flycatcher at RR Bridge Park on 4/12, seen by the Wed AM Bird Walk, and two Pacific-slope Flycatchers at the Lower Dungeness levee on 4/16, seen by Bruce Paige. Bruce also found the first Western Kingbird of the spring off Schmuck Road on 4/23, and a normally-early Say’s Phoebe in the same area on 4/2. Sue Nattinger reported an extremely early Olive-sided Flycatcher at Wasankari Road on 4/23.

Other early birds included 1) a singing House Wren on 4/12 spotted by Bruce Paige near Schmuck Rd, 2) an extremely early Swainson’s Thrush seen by Bruce on 4/15 near Schmuck Rd, 3) the first MacGillivray’s Warbler at Wasankari Road found on 4/15 by Sue Nattinger, 4) the first Wilson’s Warbler singing at Neah Bay spotted by John Gatchet on 4/16, and 5) the first Black-throated Gray Warbler seen by Marie Grad at the Wed AM RR Bridge Park bird walk on 4/19. The last winter Palm Warbler was seen at Ediz Hook by Alex Patia and Sarah Hemig on 3/9. Cassin’s Vireos made their typical mid-April appearance, including one singing in Port Townsend for Robert Ambrose on 4/11 and one in Neah Bay for Michael Barry on 4/15.

Wilson’s Warbler
Photo by John Gatchet

It’s been a great spring for Mountain Bluebirds, particularly in the Waatch Valley near Neah Bay. From one female first spotted by Bruce Paige on 3/31, the number of Mountain Bluebirds in the Waatch peaked at 19 (8 males and 11 females) for the BirdFest field trip on 4/10, led by Denny Van Horn and Bob Boekelheide. Mountain Bluebirds also appeared at 3 Crabs on 4/3, seen by Eric Guzman, with up to 5 seen by Michael Barry and Gary Bullock the next day. Sue Chickman found 4 Western Bluebirds at Salt Creek on 3/6, and Michael Barry spotted 3 Westerns near Cat Lake on 4/2. Please report any bluebirds you find nesting in Clallam County.

Along with bluebirds, Townsend’s Solitaires also appeared in good numbers in the lowlands this spring. Three first appeared at 3 Crabs on 4/4, seen by Michael Barry and Gary Bullock, along with 4 there on 4/8. Peak numbers appeared during the BirdFest field trip at Neah Bay, with at least 16 solitaires counted on 4/10. There was an excellent passage of Hermit Thrushes as well, with big numbers in Neah Bay during BirdFest week.

As part of the same migrant wave in early April, a first-of-year male Black-headed Grosbeak appeared at Adrianne Akmajian’s feeder in the Waatch Valley on 4/10. Also at Adrianne’s feeder was a flashy male Yellow-headed Blackbird on 4/21. Judy Mullally spotted a flock of 25+ Evening Grosbeaks in east Port Angeles on 3/10, commenting she has seen almost none this winter. Scott Gremel reports 2 Pine Grosbeaks at Three Forks camp at the Greywolf River on 4/21. There was a big wave of Golden-crowned Sparrows throughout Clallam County around the same time, but particularly at Neah Bay where Charlie Wright estimated 250 at Butler Motel’s feeders and another 100 around town on 4/21.    

Migrant Lapland Longspurs appeared at 3 Crabs, first seen on 4/1 by Sarah Peden, and peaking at 2, possibly 3, on 4/3, seen by Liam Hutchenson and others. It’s been an excellent year for migrant Chipping Sparrows as well. One appeared in Dungeness on 4/3, seen by Bruce Paige and Denny Van Horn. John Gatchet discovered 3 Chippers at Sequim View Cemetery on 4/17. Three more took up residence in the Boekelheide front yard in Dungeness on 4/28.

Spring has seriously sprung. Spring migration and nesting are peaking right now, so you must get out now to see spectacular birds. If you see or hear anything unusual, please call Bob Boekelheide at 360-808-0196 (email at bboek@olympus.net). Thank you for your sightings!