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Bird Sightings

Bird Sightings
by Bob Boekelheide

Winter 2018 continues to pummel the north Olympic Peninsula, bringing occasional snow and gusty winds to the lowlands through February, and lots of snow in the mountains. This is what La Ninas are supposed to do, right? Mountain snow depths are above average for this date with about 10 ft at Hurricane Ridge, hopefully making salmon happy later this summer when they need water in the rivers.

Female Redhead
Found at Simdars Rd. pond by
Pete Walker, John Acklen, and Juanice Reyes

This has been the winter of repeat birds, with several unusual species making repeat visits, or hanging around for weeks or months after first being seen. One good example is the female Redhead still at the pond on Simdars Rd near Hwy 101, right where Pete Walker, John Acklen, and Juanice Reyes found it on the Sequim-Dungeness CBC.  A male Redhead also appeared at the Kirner Pond in late December, staying well into January.

In late January, Carolyn and Bob Iddins discovered a Rough-legged Hawk at the exact place where one hung out two years ago, along Keeler Road east of Sequim. The bird showed up again about a week later, spotted by Gary Bullock on 2/2. Could it be the same bird as the one seen in the winter 2015-16?

Other unusual species keep coming back year after year, possibly the same individuals. For the ninth winter in a row there are Black-crowned Night Herons spending the winter in Dungeness, roosting in thick conifers along Palmer Street and flying out at dusk to haunt local marshes.  Denny Van Horn, a noted Human in the Dung, named the two birds “Gale” and “Storm,” perhaps because he used to watch My Little Margie.

Willet & Godwit
Photo by Dow Lambert

For the third winter in a row, one Willet is wintering-over in Dungeness Bay, hanging out with the 20 or so Marbled Godwits also there. Until fairly recently, both these species were very scarce this far north during winter. In the 25 years between 1975 and 2000, Marbled Godwits only occurred four times on the Sequim-Dungeness Christmas Bird Count, mostly single birds, and a single Willet only occurred once. Now flocks of Marbled Godwits have wintered here five of the last six years and one Willet has stayed for the last three winters. Are these birds indicators of warming climates, staying further north in winter?

For the second winter in a row, a Pacific Golden-Plover is spending the winter hanging out with Black-bellied Plovers in the corn stubble along Schmuck Rd, first discovered this year by Pete Walker on 12/27. This species normally winters in Hawaii and other Pacific Islands, although stray individuals occasionally remain through winter in California and Oregon. But two years in a row?

Among other shorebirds, Patti Gotz photographed a large flock of 71 Black Oystercatchers roosting at Cape Flattery on 1/4. They’ve been missing from local bays this winter, so it’s good to know they’re out there somewhere. A Red Knot, first found by Dan Waggoner at Fort Flagler on 1/12, is still there in late Feb. Ruddy Turnstones have been hard to find with the Black Turnstones at Ediz Hook this winter, with only two reports — 3 on 1/28 by Iris Winslow and 2 on 2/11 by Judy Collins.

It’s been a good winter to spot Spotted Sandpipers, which aren’t spotted in winter. Judy Mullally spotted one Spotted near the mouth of Lee’s Creek on 12/27, and spotted it again on 1/7. Judy spotted another Spotted in Sequim Bay on 1/3. Ivy Doak spotted one Spotted at Freshwater Bay on 2/16. So all you spotters, get out there and spot more Spotted Sandpipers.

Spring has sprung! The coveted First Turkey Vulture award goes to Zeke Smith, who found one TV soaring over Port Hadlock on 2/7. The first Clallam County TV award goes to Dave Manson, who watched a TV soaring near the Elwha River on 2/13.

There are hundreds, maybe thousands of Anna’s Hummingbirds around Sequim this winter, but how about Rufous Hummingbirds? Bob Bagwell reported a male Rufous Hummingbird at his home in Blue Ribbon Farms on 1/29, too early for spring migration. Curiously, another eBird record of a Rufous showed up not too far away at Monterra on 2/4, reported by an anonymous observer. Normally first Rufouses don’t show up until March, so could a Rufous have stayed north this winter? Bob Bagwell also reported an unusual winter Osprey flying over his yard on 1/28.

Trumpeter Swan Family

High counts of Trumpeter Swans by OPAS volunteers this winter have never reached the lofty levels seen last year, peaking at 183 swans in January. Complicating the counts, swans are much more spread out this winter and have occupied some new locations. They’ll likely be gone by the end of March, so enjoy them while you can.

Yellow-billed Loons are around this winter, including one found north of Protection Island by the Protection Island Aquatic Reserve survey on 2/15, and another found by Alexander Patia from the overlook at the Dungeness Rec Area on 1/27. Sumner Collins reported a very unusual Clark’s Grebe at Dungeness NWR on 1/6.

Yellow-billed Loon

Another bird sticking around for the winter is the White-winged Dove first seen by Alexander Patia in Neah Bay on 12/15. It continues through Feb, often hanging out with collared-doves in the middle of town. One and sometimes two Short-eared Owls have been frequenting 3 Crabs this winter, along with occasional sightings at other locations. One also flew around Keeler Road near Hwy 101 on 2/17. A Barn Owl hunting on a bright sunny day is a very uncommon sight, as one was doing 2/19 at 3 Crabs, photographed by Bruce Paige.

White-winged Dove
Photo by Robert Hutchison

A remarkable wave of swallows passed through the north Olympic Peninsula in January, mostly Barn Swallows along with a few Tree Swallows. The first sighting was 4 Barn Swallows seen by Lee Bowen at 3 Crabs on 1/4, then over the next several days many observers reported small flocks all over the north Olympic Peninsula, from Chimacum to Neah Bay. The peak number reported was 17 by Leslie and Bob Bagwell at 3 Crabs on 1/6; the last ones reported were 2 seen by Zeke Smith near Chimacum on 1/20. Tree Swallows showed up briefly on 1/16, with 2 reported by Denny Van Horn in Dungeness and one reported by Bruce Paige at 3 Crabs. These sightings continue the trend of more swallows in winter, particularly Barn Swallows. Are they possibly finding aerial insects in the cold winter skies?

The Neah Bay area, from Sekiu to Hobuck Beach, experienced a nice wave of White-winged Crossbills mixed with Red Crossbills this winter.  The high count was 6 White-wingeds on Christmas Day, seen by Paula Flores in Sekiu. The last report was at least 3 White-wingeds in a flock at Hobuck Campground, seen by Adianne Akmajian. Bill Tweit reported the only lowland Pine Grosbeaks of the period, with 2 at Neah Bay on 1/6.

Common Redpolls continue their winter irruption, seen many places from Forks to Discovery Bay in the last two months, sometimes with siskins and sometimes by themselves. The high count of redpolls goes to Alexander Patia, who reported a pure flock of 50 redpolls near the mouth of the Dungeness River on 1/28. The last report I know about was 7 redpolls at the Port Angeles waterfront on 2/13, seen by Astrid Padilla, but they might still be around.

“The craziest bird ever identified on a COASST Survey” (as described by Charlie Wright), was a Purple Gallinule literally unearthed by Nancy Messmer at Hobuck Beach on 12/14/17. She found the remains of a right wing barely sticking out of the sand, which amazingly could be identified as a Purple Gallinule. Purple Gallinules are typically found around the Gulf of Mexico down to South America, but they have a tendency to stray outside their range, even as far as Iceland and Europe. It may have been just a matter of time before one showed up here as well. The closest other records to WA are live birds in California and Utah. The moral is: next time you walk a beach, don’t ignore strange wings sticking out of the sand.

Another crazy past sighting worth mentioning is an immature Brown Booby found by Stephanie Lotze at 3 Crabs on 11/15/17. While walking the beach, Stephanie spotted a strange bird perched on a log. At first she walked right by it, but on the way back she thought it was so unusual that she took its picture. Sure enough, a Brown Booby! The moral is: next time you walk a beach, don’t ignore strange birds perched on logs.

Even though it feels like winter, the nesting season has already begun. Great Horned Owls are likely sitting on eggs right now, maybe feeding chicks. Anna’s Hummingbirds are building nests and getting ready to lay eggs. Established Bald Eagle pairs may have started laying eggs by the time you receive this newsletter, so go check your local eagle nest to see if the female has started incubating. Birdsong is in the air and spring migration has begun. Don’t let the nesting season slip away without experiencing the full intensity and grandeur of spring — go birding!

Thank you very much for your sightings! If you see anything noteworthy, please call Bob Boekelheide (360-808-0196) or email to bboek@olympus.net.