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Bird Sightings

Bird Sightings
by Bob Boekelheide

It has been a warm dry summer, highlighted by horrid smoky air in August from wildfires in British Columbia, eastern WA, and right here on the Olympic Peninsula. The smoke peaked on 8/20, as brown skies reduced visibilities to less than one mile. The period May-August may also go down as the driest ever recorded in western WA, which certainly doesn’t help the fire situation. NWS climatologists also say Seattle beat a heat record this year for the most days at 85 degrees or more in a year, with 31 through the end of August.

How do birds respond hot dry summers? Of course every species is different, but in general it looks like nesting songbirds at RR Bridge Park quickly finished their nesting efforts in June with few attempts later in the summer. The general rule is that as insect populations decline during drought, so, too, do birds decrease their breeding efforts as insects dwindle.

Semipalmated Plover
Photo by Bob Steelquist

One exception is Purple Martins at 3 Crabs, which apparently had a very successful nesting season. Dow Lambert and Ken Wiersema, using a nifty endoscope, peered into the boxes on the old 3 Crabs pier on 7/12 and found that every one of the 18 established nest boxes had eggs or chicks. Their average clutch size was 4.4 eggs per nest, right about average for Purple Martins throughout North America. Confirming their data, on 8/27 the 3 Crabs Bird Monitoring team tallied the highest count of martins for Clallam County, with 70 martins perched on power lines or at the nest boxes. Martins, being aerial insect specialists that focus on prey like dragonflies and damselflies, must have been able find food this summer.

Baird’s Sandpiper
Photo by Michael Barry

Other swallows may not have done so well this year, particularly Tree Swallows. Charlotte Watts wrote to say how few Tree Swallows she has seen this year up Chicken Coop Road. Charlotte says the normal ratio of Tree to Violet-green Swallows at her place is 5 to 1 in favor of Trees, but this year only one nest box had Tree Swallows and that pair abandoned their young in June. Tree Swallows had some fledged young near the Old Dungeness School House on 6/23, but otherwise the summer mix of swallows at 3 Crabs has been almost entirely Violet-greens and Barn Swallows. What happened to the Tree Swallows? In other swallow news, many observers reported a wayward Bank Swallow at Kah Tai Lagoon on 7/29, the only one we know about this summer.

Painted Redstart
Photo by Carolyn Wilcox
of Geert Van de Vijver’s camera screen

The rare bird of the summer, perhaps of the year, has to be the Painted Redstart located by Carolyn Wilcox and others at Cape Flattery on 8/25. Painted Redstarts, often called Painted Whitestarts, mostly nest in the mountains of Mexico, with some nesting in Arizona and New Mexico. Carolyn found her bird foraging with a flock of Golden-crowned Kinglets near the overlook at Cape Flattery, as far northwest as you can get in the continental US. Prior to this, Painted Redstarts were only recorded once north of California, one lone bird near Vancouver BC in 1973. Good work, Carolyn! The redstart continues to be seen as I write this report, so maybe it will stick around.

While looking for the redstart, birders have found other unusual species. Ryan Merrill reported a Tennessee Warbler in Neah Bay on 8/29. An anonymous eBird observer reported a Lapland Longspur at Neah Bay on 8/27.

Carolyn Wilcox, along with Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin, also spotted a female Barrow’s Goldeneye with 7 chicks at Heart Lake on 7/15. It’s good to know that Barrow’s continue to nest at some lakes in the Olympic high country, since some of their nesting spots disappeared with the removal of dams on the Elwha River.

A Black Merlin, the dark Suckleyi subspecies that nests in dark coastal forests, appeared at RR Bridge Park on 7/25, seen by the Wednesday Birdwalkers. Another one showed at Rialto Beach on 8/15, seen by Jamie Simo.

Western Sandpiper
Photo by Bob Steelquist

Migrant shorebirds return from their breeding grounds very quickly, arriving at the mudflats and beaches of the Olympic Peninsula during July and August. This summer, however, the shorebird migration has been good, but not great. Sprightly Semipalmated Plovers joined the lovely juvenile Western Sandpipers on the mudflats through August. Baird’s Sandpipers peaked in late August, showing up at several locations on the Clallam coastline. Michael Barry had the high count of Baird’s, with 5 at Jamestown Beach on 8/25. Lesser Yellowlegs peaked in early August, with a high count of 2 at 3 Crabs on 8/10, seen by the 3 Crabs Bird Monitors.

Barrow’s Goldeneye & Chicks
Photo by Carolyn Wilcox

A very interesting banded bird was seen on the OPAS Backyard Birder gull and shorebird field trip on 7/7. While viewing sandpipers at 3 Crabs, we discovered one Semipalmated Sandpiper with a lettered flag on its left leg and a yellow color band on its right leg. We dutifully read the letters on the flag (HCK), double-checked them amongst ourselves, and sent the info to the Bird Banding Lab. We subsequently received word that this sandpiper was banded in Delaware Bay in May, 2004, making it at least 15 years old and perhaps older, likely one of the oldest surviving Semipalmated Sandpipers on record. It is also the first Semipalmated Sandpiper banded in Delaware Bay to be resighted in the Pacific Northwest. Imagine the life this bird has lived, flying back and forth from the Arctic as far as South America every year.

Western Kingbird
Photo by Gary Bullock

The Port Townsend Marine Science Center trips around Protection Island, in addition to finding Tufted Puffins, found a Yellow-billed Loon on 7/10. Michael Barry discovered a large flock of 270 Surf Scoters off Jamestown Beach on 7/4, a surprisingly large group for summer. These are likely young birds that didn’t go north for the nesting season.

The OPAS pelagic trips to Swiftsure Bank have turned up thousands of Pink-footed and Sooty Shearwaters, along with thousands of Sabine’s and California Gulls. The 8/18 trip also spotted 24 Cassin’s Auklets and 26 Tufted Puffins in the fog north of Tatoosh Island. The jaeger of the trip was Pomarine, with at least 12 observed on 8/18. Michael Barry spotted a lone Ancient Murrelet on the 7/14 pelagic trip.

Dan Waggoner spotted a Manx Shearwater offshore of Beach 6 in Olympic National Park on 8/26, another tantalizing sighting of a Manx during the nesting season. They must be nesting out there somewhere.

Common Nighthawk
Photo by Mary Wallace

Mary Wallace, who lives at 900 feet elevation up O’Brien Road, is lucky to have nesting Common Nighthawks, with at least 2 nests this year. You may have heard nighthawks with their “peeenk” calls flying overhead this summer. Patti Gotz, who lives west of Port Angeles, reported 6 Evening Grosbeaks at her feeder on 8/23, including at least 2 juveniles being fed by parents. It’s been a very slow year for Evening Grosbeaks, so it’s good to know at least some are out there.

If you think there are lots of Anna’s Hummingbirds around, you’re right. The RR Bridge Park Wednesday morning bird walk tallied 18 Anna’s on 8/22, a high count for the last 17 years of bird walks.

Summer is the time to see Golden Eagles in the high country of Olympic National Park, and this summer is no exception. Dan Waggoner recorded one near Obstruction Point on 7/8, and John Gatchet and Bob and Leslie Bagwell recorded one in the same area on 7/28. At the other end of Hurricane Ridge, Bryan Hanson and Iris Winslow spotted individual juvenile Golden Eagles at Hurricane Hill on 8/2 and 8/4, respectively.

Clark’s Nutcracker
Photo by Robert Hutchison

Other mountain species included Clark’s Nutcracker, bluebirds, and PIne Grosbeaks. Michael Barry found one nutcracker east of Obstruction Point on 6/27, John Gatchet and Bob Bagwell found one more nutcracker at Deer Park on 7/14, K.C. Anderson found another at Hurricane Ridge on 7/19, and Jane Nicholas had a close encounter with one at Hurricane Hill on 7/24. Scott Gremel spotted a group of bluebirds at Hurricane Hill on 7/23, identifying one as a Mountain Bluebird, but the others disappeared before Scott could nail down their ID. I hate it when that happens. Pine Grosbeaks appeared at Hurricane Ridge on 7/10, seen by David Poortinga, and on 7/14, seen by John Gatchet and Bob Bagwell. John and Bob also reported 2 possible pure Hermit Warblers at Hurricane Ridge on 7/28, although researchers caution that nearly all Hermit-types in the northern Olympics are likely Hermit-Townsend hybrids.

Pine Grosbeak
Photo by Robert Hutchison

Lastly, Gary Bullock spotted an unusual summer Western Kingbird at Port Williams Rd on 7/4, flycatching from the wires and trees. And Bruce Paige, while walking near Salt Creek County Park, spotted 6 Northern Bobwhites feeding along a hedgerow exactly where he saw some three years ago. A local resident told Bruce that several young bobwhites were raised in the area this year, so we’ll see how long they stick around.

Fall migration is here! Email Bob Boekelheide at bboek@olympus.net or call 360-808-0196 when you see something interesting or unusual. Thank you very much for your sightings!