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Bird Sightings

Bob BoekelheideBirdathon Wrapup and Bird Sightings

by Bob Boekelheide and Denny Van Horn 

Many thanks to everyone who participated in the 2017 OPAS Birdathon/International Migratory Bird Count on May 13. In total, 57 people submitted bird sightings for the count, tallying 18,630 birds of 170 species.

170 is well below our high species count of 202 recorded in 2012, partly because we had fewer people helping out this year, and partly because we didn’t have an offshore boat to pick up pelagic species lurking offshore. Consequently we missed species such as albatrosses, shearwaters, and puffins that undoubtedly are out there, but they won’t come to us if we don’t go to them. We also missed a good number of species that we usually find in low numbers on the spring count, such as Eurasian Wigeon, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Black Turnstone, Western Screech Owl, Great Horned Owl, and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. With fewer people counting and fewer party-hours counted, it’s not a good combination if we want to tally more birds.

Despite fewer counters, some species still set record or near record counts this year. Gadwalls have been particularly visible, with their highest count since 2007. After several years of relatively low numbers, Harlequin Ducks, the well-chosen symbol of OPAS, also showed well, with their highest count since 2002. Red-breasted Mergansers blew away their old record, with a flock of approximately 750 offshore of Jamestown and Graysmarsh. At the west end of Clallam County, both Red-throated Loons and Black Swifts appeared in high numbers. Warbling Vireos are having a good year, with their highest counts since 2002. Both Cliff and Barn Swallows tallied far above their average counts for the last 24 years. Several groups reported flocks of American Pipits still migrating through the lowlands. Lastly, it was a record year for Chipping Sparrows, a species that seems more and more visible around here.

Some species tallied very low numbers, likely because we just missed them, or maybe because they had moved on by the time of our count. For one, Northern Shovelers tallied their third lowest number for the last 24 years. Horned Grebes really disappeared in early May, with only one seen on the count at Neah Bay. Both Sharp-shinned Hawks and Red-tailed Hawks had their lowest numbers since 1994. Mew Gulls had migrated out of here, with only one tallied on count day. Unfortunately we didn’t have a counting party at Cape Flattery, so our numbers didn’t include the breeding murres or puffins at Tatoosh Island. Surprisingly, Steller’s Jays had their lowest count ever, but they always become mysteriously quiet during their nesting season. Lastly, Townsend’s Warblers had very low numbers, possibly because fewer people tallied these birds in their forest homes, but maybe because they are genuinely fewer in number this year.

Which species truly represent the breeding avifauna of Clallam County? Granted, our survey is not scientific, but it still gives some clues to important species in our area. The most abundant species on the count that also nest here, in decreasing order, were Glaucous-winged/Olympic Gull (2,473), American Robin (719), Rhinoceros Auklet (653), Barn Swallow (515), crow (384), European Starling (382), Red-winged Blackbird (378), Cliff Swallow (355), Violet-green Swallow (348), Song Sparrow (319), and Mallard (300). But just because a certain species shows up more in our count may not mean it is the most abundant, it may just mean that it is more visible for our counters.

Our counts also provide some interesting historical data. One curious tidbit is changes in dove populations over the years. The accompanying graph shows changes in numbers of Mourning Doves and Eurasian Collared-Doves counted over the last 24 years. Mourning Doves were never abundant here until 2001, reaching their peak numbers on both the Spring Birdathon and our Christmas Count between 2002 and 2007. Collared-Doves first appeared on these counts in 2007, and have since skyrocketed. Mourning Doves have gradually tapered off on our surveys, but there are still areas in the foothill forests that have more Mourning Doves than collared-doves.

The Neah Bay area again came up with some very unusual species on count day, thanks to sharp-eyed Ryan Merrill and Brad and Dan Waggoner. They found a Eurasian Skylark at Hobuck Beach, only the second skylark record for Clallam County. They also found a beautiful male Hudsonian Godwit hanging out with a Marbled Godwit in Neah Bay. Even though we didn’t have an offshore boat this year, they still found some “pelagic” species in Neah Bay, including Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels and Red-necked Phalaropes.

Remember, International Migratory Bird Day is always the second Saturday in May. Please put May 12, 2018 on your calendar right now to join the Clallam County count, because we need your help next year. Please join us!

Many, many thanks to the following people who counted birds in Clallam County on May 13:

Kathy Bush, Steve Koehler, Sharle Osborne, Laura Davis, Alan Smith, David Price, Don & Missi Baker, Denny Van Horn, Carol & Bruce Von Borstel, Kris Lether, Millie Marzec, Michael Barry, Mark Salvadalena, Bob Boekelheide, Jim & Audrey Gift, John & Diana Anderson, Kate, Annette, & Peter Buenau, Nancy Kohn, Scott Gremel, Sherrie Rogers, Jon Purnell, Carol Greenstreet, Carolyn Wilcox, Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin, Wendy Feltham, Nan Evan, Marcia Schwendiman, Pat Rothman, Leianne Niccoli, Judy Collins, Colleen Ostrye, Ian Barker, Mary Robson, Judy Mullally, Marie Grad, Sue Nattinger, Coleman Byrnes, Keith Brady, Powell Jones, Adrianne Akmajian, Jon Scordino, Ryan Merrill, Brad & Dan Waggoner, + 7 unnamed others.

In other bird sightings, once again this year groups of American White Pelicans cruised by the north Olympic Peninsula in late spring, including 35 first seen by Iris Sutcliffe and Tom Butler in Port Angeles on 6/5. Another group of 14 appeared off 3 Crabs on 6/17, spotted by Lee Bowen, then the next day they landed in Sequim Bay, and finally Protection Island and Discovery Bay. The first Brown Pelicans of the year included 5 spotted by Levi Grudzinski off Cape Alava on 6/14. While studying birds at Protection Island, Gordon Atkins spotted a Yellow-billed Loon near the island’s marina on 5/20, and it ended up staying close to the island until at least 5/27.

More incredible shorebird news: The lovely Hudsonian Godwit first discovered at Neah Bay on 5/13 attracted another one, so there were two Hudsonian Godwits, a male and a female, on 5/16, photographed by Adrianne Akmajian. While staying at the New Dungeness Lighthouse, David Price discovered a very unusual Snowy Plover hanging out with Sanderlings.

A Semipalmated Sandpiper hung out at 3 Crabs between 6/3-5, first spotted by Michael O’Brien, Louise Zemaitis, and Alexander Patia. Stacey Fradkin discovered a flashy female Wilson’s Phalarope at Helen’s Pond on 5/31, and another on 6/16. Mark Salvadalena and Bob Boekelheide spotted a Pacific Golden-Plover at 3 Crabs on 5/2. Michael Barry, along with Don and Missi Baker, found a Pectoral Sandpiper at 3 Crabs on 5/27. Denny Van Horn heard a Lesser Yellowlegs on 6/23, making you wonder whether this bird is already returning from its northerly nesting areas.

Rock Wren
Photo by Bob Boekelheide

It’s been an excellent spring and early summer in the mountains. Michael Barry discovered a Rock Wren singing along Obstruction Point Road on 5/28, where it remained until at least 6/23, last seen by John Gatchet. Michael spotted 2 Pine Grosbeaks at Hurricane Ridge on 5/28, also tallied by Sierra Hemmig and Alexander Patia on 6/4. Several people reported Ruby-crowned Kinglets singing at various places around Hurricane Ridge in early June, where they likely nest. Tom Unsicker reported at Clark’s Nutcracker at Hurricane Ridge on 5/29.

In the lowlands, Michael Barry spotted a female Yellow-headed Blackbird at the Hogback swamp on 5/2, then another showed up in Dow and Marlene Lambert’s backyard in Dungeness on 5/20. Lots of Western Kingbirds this spring: 2 seen on 5/4, one at Towne Rd by Dow Lambert and one at Dungeness by Denny Van Horn; one on 5/13 at Dungeness seen by Denny; one on 5/20-21 at Tsoo-Yess, seen by Eric Heisey and Annika Willlette, and one on 5/31 seen by the Wednesday morning bird walk at RR Bridge Park. The Wed am bird walk also spotted 20 Black Swifts soaring high in the sky over the Dungeness River on 5/17. Red-eyed Vireos turned up at Archawat Beach near Neah Bay on 6/10, reported by Adrianne Akmajian, and at Jimmy-Come-Lately Creek estuary on 6/26, photographed by Alexander Patia.

The Bird Surveys at 3 Crabs turned up some interesting birds. On 5/11 and 5/26, 2 Arctic Terns sat on driftwood stumps west of 3 Crabs, suggesting they may be nesting somewhere on Dungeness Spit this year. A flock of 16 Blue-winged Teal, made up of 15 males and one female, flew around 3 Crabs marshes on 5/26, a very high number for our area.

At the west end of Clallam County, Brad and Dan Waggoner discovered a Bank Swallow sitting on the wires with other swallows at Neah Bay on 5/12. At the Quillayute Prairie, a beautiful male Lazuli Bunting appeared at Dave Geiger’s bird feeder on 6/4. Bahokus Peak continued to turn up interesting raptors in early May, including 14 Golden Eagles, 2 Swainson’s Hawks, and 2 Broad-winged Hawks on 5/4, seen by Keith Brady and Alexander Patia. Lastly, Eric Heisey and Annika Willette found the last Palm Warbler of the spring on 5/20 at Hobuck Beach.

One last amazing bird: On 5/17, Michael Barry photographed a small gull at Hobuck Beach, called it a Bonaparte’s Gull, and posted the photo with his eBird report. Weeks later, Isaiah Nugent looked through Michael’s eBird report and noted that the bird really looked like a Little Gull, the smallest gull species in the world. Isaiah then reported the bird to Ryan Merrill, who confirmed that the bird was really a Little Gull. There are very few Little Gulls nesting around the Great Lakes, but the center of their distribution is really vast areas of Siberia. Without Michael’s ebird photo and Isaiah’s close observation, this record would have disappeared forever. Thank you, Michael, and thank you, Isaiah!

Little Gull
Photo by Michael Barry

Fall migration has already begun. The nesting season is winding down and all those young birds are wandering your way. Please go birding and let us know what you find at bboek@olympus.net. Thank you for your observations!