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Bird Sightings

Bird Sightings
by Bob Boekelheide and Denny Van Horn


The weather prognosticators say La Nina is brewing in the Pacific Ocean, which usually means a cooler, wetter winter in the Pacific Northwest, along with earlier and stronger upwelling in the California Current System next year. But this may not be a particularly strong La Nina, so who knows? We do know that September and October brought beautiful fall weather to the Olympic Peninsula, other than a series of wet Pacific storms between Oct 18-22 that washed out a few birding trips.  

If you want to see lots of Cackling Geese, now is the time. The first fall Cackler flocks appeared over eastern Clallam County in mid-September, with hundreds flying overhead through October. Several thousand are now hanging out in the harvested corn fields by Schmuck and Port Williams Rds, where Bruce Paige recorded the peak number of an amazing 6000 Cacklers on 10/28. It has also been a good year for Snow Geese, with the first one spotted on 9/23 by Ronald Auler at Jamestown, then a flock of 18-25 hanging around Dungeness through October, and a high count of 32 seen by John Gatchet at Gardiner on 10/10.

Trumpeter Swans
Photo by Robert Hutchison

In duck news, Jennifer Standish and friends reported 2 late Cinnamon Teal at Kitchen-Dick Ponds on 9/30. A couple Canvasbacks showed up this fall, one at Kirner Pond, first seen 10/10 by Paulette Ache, and one at the Elwha River mouth on 10/15, seen by our Audubon field trip.

Yellow-billed Loons have returned for the winter (maybe never left?). The Protection Island Aquatic Reserve survey on 10/23 located 4 of these beautiful loons north of Protection Island. The same day, Bruce LaBar and others recorded a mass flight of Pacific Loons past Cape Flattery into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, estimating over 1000 loons passing in about an hour.

Lucky Ryan Merrill participated in WDFW pelagic surveys off our coast in September, seeing a lovely variety of seabirds. On 9/15, in deep water WSW of La Push, Ryan found over 200 Buller’s Shearwaters and two Scripp’s Murrelets, formerly known as Craveri’s Murrelet. On 9/16, he recorded 2 Flesh-footed Shearwaters WNW of La Push, along with many other species.

It was a good fall for Northern Goshawks. In the Olympics, K.R. Eckert spotted 2 soaring over Hurricane Ridge Rd on 9/13; then Levi Grudzinski found one flying over Royal Creek on 9/15. Bruce Paige spotted another goshawk circling low over the Obstruction Point Rd on 9/27. Goshawks also appeared in the lowlands, with one reported by John Gatchet at Gardiner on 10/19 and one soaring near Bahokus Peak seen by MObs (many observers) on 10/23. 

Neah Bay vicinity was good for Golden Eagles this fall, with one seen by Bruce Paige at Hobuck Beach on 10/10 and one seen by Will Brooks at the Waatch Valley on 10/15. In the Olympics, Alexander Patia found a Golden Eagle soaring over Badger Valley on 9/10. Perhaps most interesting, Sue Nattinger saw one flying over Wasankari Rd west of Port Angeles on 10/11.

A Harlan’s-type Red-tailed Hawk has been hanging out in the Waatch Valley, first reported by Will Brooks on 10/15. Harlan’s Hawk is a very dark subspecies of Red-tailed, nesting in Alaska and usually migrating east of the Rocky Mountains to winter in the southern Plains. Also off-track is an immature Red-shouldered Hawk near 3 Crabs first spotted by Denny Van Horn on 9/29, then seen by MObs through most of October. It might still be there.

Fall shorebirds are always exciting, and this year didn’t disappoint. Michael Barry found a beautiful Snowy Plover at Dungeness Spit on 10/22, the best place in eastern Clallam County for a Snowy. Sharp-eyed Gary Bullock spotted a juvenile Sharp-tailed Sandpiper near Roberta’s Pond on 10/20, and Jennifer Standish found a juvenile Ruff while on the OPAS field trip to Dungeness Landing Park on 9/30. A Willet is back at Dungeness Bay, first seen by Trina Beyard on another OPAS-led trip on 10/15, which makes the third fall/winter in a row for Willets in Dungeness Bay. Michael Barry found a high count of Surfbirds, with 16 on the coastal rocks outside Neah Bay harbor on 10/9.

It was an impressive fall for both American and Pacific Golden-Plovers. Were there really more than usual, or did people just notice them more? They are difficult to tell apart without looking very closely. Regardless, several individuals of both species showed up at both Dungeness Bay and Neah Bay between mid-September and mid-October (see eBird.org accounts for dates and locations). An impressive passage of Wilson’s Snipes occurred at 3 Crabs in mid to late October. The high count goes to Alexander Patia who counted 24 snipes at Roberta’s Pond on 10/27.

Even more impressive is the thousands of California Gulls and Heermann’s Gulls that passed through Clallam County during summer and early fall. High count of California Gulls in Dungeness Bay was 4500 on 9/15. At the other end of the abundance spectrum, Chris Rurik picked out the one Iceland Gull that wasn’t a Thayer’s Gull at Neah Bay on 9/28, then Will Brooks described a nice 3rd-cycle Slaty-backed Gull at Hobuck Beach on 10/16, and Bruce LaBar found a striking 1st-cycle Glaucous Gull at Neah Bay on 10/23.

Ancient Murrelets likely nest somewhere on the Clallam coastline, but no one knows where. The last known nest was on Carroll Island in 1924. Following other sightings at sea this summer, Jason Vassallo and Will Brooks spotted 5 Ancients from the base of the Waadah Island jetty in Neah Bay on 9/10. By late October wintering Ancients are beginning to show up in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Rufous Hummingbird
Photo by Robert Hutchison

Late Rufous Hummingbirds appeared on 9/15 in Port Angeles at Judy Mullally’s feeder, and the same day at La Push, where Ryan Merrill spotted a female-type. Bob Iddins watched an even later male Rufous at his feeder in Sequim on 10/1. Deb Shiell reports a striking Yellow-shafted Flicker at her mother Dee’s house at Monterra on 10/21, saying it had super-bright yellow tail and wings.

Neah Bay and surroundings have become the Northwest Mecca for rarities, the place to look for vagrant birds. This fall is no exception, with birders flocking there to find the latest and greatest wayward birds. As the number of birders increases, so, too, does the number of rare birds. Coincidence? Neah Bay really is a magical place for birds, not only for vagrants but also for large numbers of western migrants as well.     

As many as 3 to 4 Tropical Kingbirds showed up in Neah Bay this fall, perhaps more, ranging in dates between 9/28 and 10/29, seen by MObs. At least one ranged in Neah Bay itself, one hung out in the Waatch Valley, and the last one, seen by Jordan Gunn on 10/27, hung out at Hobuck Beach. Will Brooks and Jason Vassallo recorded a nice Black Phoebe at Neah Bay on 9/9, a species seen more and more in Washington State. A very late and off-course flycatcher was a Say’s Phoebe spotted by Michael Barry at Hurricane Hill on 10/15, later refound by Scott Gremel west of Hurricane Hill.

Speaking of species increasing in WA, California Scrub-Jays continue to be seen in Carlsborg and Dungeness. The first ones hung out near Old Olympic Highway and Carlsborg Rds, and the second ones are right in the town of Dungeness. Sure wish we knew if they nested this year, but it’s probably just a matter of time before they’re regulars in our area. Adrianne Akmajian also had a scrub-jay come to her feeder in Neah Bay on 9/30.

Gray Jays appeared in the lowlands this fall. Lyn Muench followed 4 Gray Jays at her property off Blue Mountain Road on 10/3, eating voraciously from her suet feeder. Patti Gotz reported 4 Gray Jays at her home west of Port Angeles on 10/14. But most unusual was a sea-level Gray Jay perched in a tree at Helen’s Pond on 10/1, seen by 3 Crabs bird monitors. Scott Gremel found a Clark’s Nutcracker traveling with Gray Jays at Hurricane Hill on 10/15.

Kaiyote Snow, while walking the Olympic Discovery Trail near the base of Ediz Hook on 10/6, spotted one little chickadee feeding in the shore pines. Knowing it was a strange place for a chickadee, Kaiyote looked closer and discovered it was a Mountain Chickadee, far afield from their usual haunts in the Cascades. It’s been many years since a Mountain Chickadee appeared on the Olympic Peninsula, but they occasionally have irruption years so look for more. Another far afield bird was a Rock Wren at La Push on 9/27, seen by Scott Barnes.

At least two, maybe three Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers popped up in Neah Bay this fall, the place to see gnatcatchers in Clallam County. First Scott Barnes and Linda Mack located one on the west side of Neah Bay on 9/28 that remained for a few days, then another showed up on the east side of town on 10/15, seen by Scott and Sierra Downes. Michael Barry found another near Hobuck Beach on 10/24, where it also remained for a few days.

A lovely Mountain Bluebird appeared at Dungeness Spit on 9/23, photographed by Ron Auler, then another showed up on the west side of Hurricane Hill on 10/15, photographed by Scott Gremel. Very late Swainson Thrushes appeared at Neah Bay, one on 9/30 seen by MObs, and one on 10/8 seen by Charlie Wright.

 Fall trips to the Olympics might turn up Pine Grosbeaks. Michael Barry and Scott Gremel found 3 at Hurricane Hill on 10/15, then Scott found one more at the Switchback Trail on 10/23. The most wayward finch may be Charlie Wright’s report of a heard-only White-winged Crossbill at Neah Bay on 10/7. The first Common Redpoll in quite a while appeared at Neah Bay on 10/29, seen by Scott Downes.

The most interesting Clay-colored Sparrow report is one found on 10/19 by Randy Hill and Stefan Schlick on Schmuck Rd near the Sequim sewage treatment plant, where it was feeding in the road with other sparrows. Two reports of Clay-colored Sparrows came from Neah Bay, one on 9/6 by Ryan Merrill and one on 10/7 by Brad Waggoner. Swamp Sparrows have reappeared for the winter at Neah Bay, starting with one at Hobuck Beach on 10/14 seen by MObs. One lonely Lark Sparrow appeared in the Waatch Valley on 9/30, spotted by Scott Barnes and Linda Mack.

White-throated Sparrow
Photo by Robert Hutchison

A Harris’s Sparrow visited Scott Gremel’s feeders in Port Angeles on 10/9 and again on 10/15, where we hope it will stick around for the CBC. White-throated Sparrows have also appeared on cue, with one found by Marie Grad at the lower Dungeness River dike trail on 9/27, one in Bob Hutchison’s backyard in Sequim on 10/16, and one at RR Bridge Park starting on 10/18.

Interesting icterids include a wayward Bobolink at 3 Crabs on 9/17, seen by Eric Guzman and Levi Grudzinski. Alexander Patia and Sierra Hemmig spotted a lovely Orchard Oriole at Tsoo-Yess Beach on 9/24, and Brad Waggoner found a very late Bullock’s Oriole at Neah Bay on 10/23.

Townsend’s Warbler
Photo by Robert Hutchison

The wayward warbler parade this fall at Neah Bay was quite astounding, mixing late western warblers with lovely eastern warblers. The numerous records included Northern Waterthrush (9/9 Jason Vassallo & Will Brooks); Tennessee Warbler (9/25 Alexander Patia, & 10/4 John Gatchet); Nashville Warbler (10/7 Brad Waggoner); Yellow Warbler (10/7 MObs, 10/16 Will Brooks); Chestnut-sided Warbler (9/23 Ryan Merrill); and Palm Warbler (9/23-10/23, MObs). Not at Neah Bay, Bob Hutchison photographed a lovely Townsend’s Warbler in this back yard in Sequim on 10/1. Late Black-throated Gray Warblers appeared at Salt Creek County Park on 10/11, seen by Caitlin Best, along with one in Sekiu on 10/14 seen by Brad Waggoner, and one in Neah Bay on 10/14 seen by Will Brooks.

The Christmas Bird Counts are coming up, so now is the time to be out birding, staking out unusual species. If you see something interesting, please call Bob at 360-808-0196 or email bboek@olympus.net. Thanks very much for your sightings.