Bird Sightings and PACBC Report
by Bob Boekelheide
Are you tired of snow yet? February storms really smacked the Pacific Coast, with record snowfall in many areas. Cold air rushed down the Fraser River on Super Bowl Sunday like blitzing defensive ends, pushing aside the offensive line and gang-tackling the poor quarterback, namely Clallam County. The biggest dump on Feb 8-9 dropped one to three feet of snow throughout the north Olympic lowlands and much more in the foothills and mountains. Latest to be hit are Oregon and Northern California with huge snowstorms and flooded rivers. Unseasonably cold air continues well into March, with air temperatures 10 degrees or more below average.
Ironically, January weather was just the opposite — warm and mild. In Sequim, high temperatures reached 50 degrees or higher on 10 days in January, and no high temperatures in January were below 43 degrees. In contrast, 12 days in February never warmed above the 30s, and the coldest day, 2/4, only reached a high of 28 degrees. And that’s just in Sequim. If you live in the foothills or in the frost pockets west of Port Angeles, it’s not over yet. We will remember this February for a long time.
How do birds handle the cold weather? Migrant species currently making their way north through storm-ravaged California and Oregon may be in big trouble. Undoubtedly some don’t make it, but birds are remarkably resilient as long as they can find food. Flocks of small forest birds at RR Bridge Park have been relatively small this winter, particularly kinglet flocks, whether it’s cold or not.
Despite the weather, early nesting species like Anna’s Hummingbirds are displaying on territories like usual; some may already be incubating eggs. Established Bald Eagle pairs with well-built nests look like they will start laying eggs any day. If you live near an eagle’s nest or regularly see one, please keep track of major events at the nest this year, such as when the female first sits in the nest, when the chick(s) is visible in the nest, and when the chick(s) leaves the nest.
Despite the snow, some birds with “snow” in their names did not visit this winter, as far as we know. The last big Snowy Owl invasion was in 2011 and 2012, so we are overdue for their next irruption. As Michael Barry points out, Snowy Owl populations world-wide appear to be much lower than we thought, although it’s very difficult to census this nomadic lemming specialist. Snow Buntings similarly did not show up this winter.
One other “snow” bird, Snow Goose, has shown up throughout western WA in good numbers this winter. Following Snow Goose sightings here in December, a mysterious flock of 7 juvenile Snow Geese has been wandering around Port Angeles and Dungeness through January and February. Alan Selig recorded 7 on the west side of PA on 1/1, then Iris Winslow found them at Civic Field on 1/6, Missy Baker recorded them at Port Angeles High School on 1/7, and Roger Hoffman found them at Lincoln Park on 1/10. Then, in February Bob Phreaner and John Gatchet spotted 7 juveniles in west Dungeness on 2/17 and Bob Boekelheide spotted 7 juveniles swimming in Dungeness Bay on 2/23 and 2/25. Are they all the same birds? Maybe so. Where will they go next?
In other waterfowl news, a flashy male Cinnamon Teal is hanging out in the Towne Rd marsh, first seen by Bob Boekelheide on 1/7, then by Bruce Paige on 1/22, then again by Bob on 2/17.
The wintering Willet remains in Dungeness Bay, the fourth winter in a row that one wintering Willet has remained in Dungeness Bay. Same bird? Maybe so. Four Marbled Godwits hung out with the Willet through January, but there have been no sightings of godwits in February. There were two sightings of Spotted Sandpipers, one seen by Laurie S at the Elwha River on 1/21 and one seen by Bruce Paige at the north beach of Miller Peninsula on 1/27. Bruce also spotted the only local Glaucous Gull of the period, at Port Williams on 2/18.
On 1/27 Kevin Metcalf reported an Arctic Loon at Neah Bay, in the area where Michael Barry first found one in December. Was it the same bird? Maybe so. At least one Yellow-billed Loon continued in Port Angeles harbor after the PACBC, last seen 1/1 by Bob & Leslie Bagwell. Sierra and Scott Downes reported another YB Loon at Port Williams on 1/21, seen there again by Richard Holcomb and Karen Wosilait on 1/25.
During the OPAS field trip led by Judy Mullally to Ediz Hook on 1/26, we spotted a Common Murre in the harbor with a bright yellow bill instead of the normal dark bill. The bird really stuck out, looking like it had a little yellow banana stuck out of its face. Its plumage otherwise looked normal, except possibly a little lighter than usual. There is a similar report of a yellow-billed murre at a nesting colony in Norway in 2008.
Very soon migrant Turkey Vultures will return to the Pacific Northwest, but apparently one never left. Doug Schmidt spotted a TV flying low over the Pysht River on 1/13, then Gloria, Aaron, and Stan Beerman spotted another sitting in a tree outside Clallam Bay on 1/20. Same bird? Maybe so. Susan Savage reported 2 Swainson’s Hawks at the Dungeness Rec Area on 1/7, but winter Swainson’s Hawk records are very tough to prove, since most of them are in South America right now. We need a photo! The gray-phase immature Gyrfalcon first discovered on the Sequim-Dungeness CBC continues to be seen in the area.
Judi White found a California Scrub-Jay on 12/30 sitting in a tree near Carlsborg Road and Jake Way, the same area where scrub-jays have been seen over the last three years. Scrub-jays continue to increase up the I5 corridor, so expect more here as well.
The curious case of winter Barn Swallows continued this year. On 1/26, Bob Boekelheide spotted one Barn Swallow flying over the west side of the Dungeness River delta, showing its long forked tail and dark back. Just two days later on 1/28, Bruce Paige found five Barn Swallows foraging over a pond by the Elwha River mouth. As I write this there are still no local sightings of either Violet-green or Tree Swallows, although they have been reported elsewhere in western WA. Perhaps you can win the coveted First Swallow Award!
Speaking of first arrivals, Rufous Hummingbirds will return this month, once again challenging Anna’s Hummingbirds at your feeders. Who will win the coveted First Rufous Award? Likewise, Band-tailed Pigeons are winging their way north. Who will win the coveted First Band-tailed Pigeon award? Will the cold weather slow them in their tracks? Please send me your first sightings.
Winter is the time of year that twitterpated American Dippers set up nest sites. The Wednesday morning bird walk at RR Bridge Park watched some serious Dipper-love, as a pair sang, chortled, and chased each other up and down the river. Patti Gotz also had Dippers visiting her home west of Port Angeles in early January, saying “they’re fun to watch.”
The best sparrow news this month is the American Tree Sparrow staying for the winter at Sue Nattinger and Coleman Byrnes’ feeder in Joyce. It first appeared around Christmas and last reported by Sue on 2/18. The rush of Swamp Sparrows in December has slowed down, with only one reported by Cara Borre at Neah Bay on 2/16.
The impressive fall rush of Palm Warblers in Clallam continued through January. The PACBC on 12/19 unfortunately missed the Palm Warblers at Ediz Hook, but Scott Gremel found one there on 1/6. A Palm Warbler visited John Gatchet’s neighborhood in Gardiner for several days in mid-January, seen by several people. At least two Palm Warblers remained around 3 Crabs in mid-January, seen between 1/14-18 by several people. Lastly, three Palm Warblers popped up at the West End on 1/20, two at Hobuck Beach reported by Gloria Beerman, and one at Ba’adah Village reported by Scott and Sierra Downes. John Gatchet also reported a very unusual winter Nashville Warbler on 1/9 at Francis Street Park in Port Angeles.
Lastly, Bob Bagwell reported an out-of-season Yellow-headed Blackbird perched on the power lines at Helen’s Pond on 1/12, last in line with other blackbirds.
Spring is sprung (well, almost). Be on the lookout for early first arrivals, particularly Turkey Vultures, Rufous Hummers, Band-tailed Pigeons, and swallows. Hopefully warmer weather is right around the corner and spring arrivals are on their way. Please call Bob Boekelheide at 360-808-0196 or email at email@example.com if a different bird comes to visit.
By Barb Blackie
Barb Blackie, compiler of the Port Angeles Christmas Bird Count, reports that 43 stalwart counters tallied 108 bird species on 12/29/18, along with four more count-week species. The low species count was mostly due to heavy rain and blustery winds much of the day. The government shutdown didn’t help either, preventing any tallies inside Olympic National Park. One new species for the count included a Yellow-billed Loon at Ediz Hook. A remarkable 96 Wood Ducks mostly flocked at Arnold and Debbie Schouten’s ponds on the west side of P.A. The species with the highest overall count was Common Murre, and the most abundant bird on land was Pine Siskin, followed by Dark-eyed Junco. Let’s hope for better weather next year!