↑ Return to Birds

Bird Sightings

Bird Sightings
by Bob Boekelheide and Denny Van Horn

How can one year be both the wettest and the driest on record? This year, Seattle tallied the wettest period in its recorded history from October 2016 to April 2017, then set the record for the longest period with no measurable rain, 55 days, from June to August. Fortunately, enough of the past winter precipitation fell as snow in the mountains, so river flows on the north Olympic Peninsula have stayed above critical levels despite summer drought. Without winter snowpack, we’d be in big trouble. We typically have long dry spells in summer, but is this the new normal? 

How have nesting songbirds responded this year? Who knows? Although we have no specific data, it seems like many species quit nesting early this year, perhaps because insect populations dwindled with dry conditions after June. There are always some late nesters that seem to squeak out a few fledglings in late July and August, but the woods this summer have seemed very quiet. 

Imm. Pintail and Orphaned Hooded Merganser

Nesting Canada Geese have done well, with local family groups gathering by the hundreds at Dungeness Bay and feeding in nearby fields and lawns. It’s hard to say about duck broods, however. Ruddy Ducks nested again at Kitchen-Dick Ponds, where Michael Barry discovered a female Ruddy Duck swimming with 5 ducklings on 8/18. Charlotte Watts spotted a Hooded Merganser female with 4 ducklings at her pond off Chicken Coop Road on 6/22. Charlotte says the female Hoody later disappeared with 3 ducklings, leaving one duckling behind to fend for itself. Curiously, the orphaned Hoody started hanging out with an immature male Pintail that arrived on 7/10, one of the oddball northern nesters that didn’t go north this year. Among other out-of-season/early arrivers included a female Black Scoter found by Michael Barry at Neah Bay on 8/4, and both a Black Scoter and a Common Goldeneye spotted by Adrianne Akmajian at Neah Bay on 8/19. Brad Waggoner found an unusual summer Red-breasted Merganser, a female-type at Neah Bay on 7/8. 

Summer is the time for Golden Eagles in the Olympics, so keep looking up. Mark Hunter reported an adult Golden Eagle soaring over the Duckabush River on 7/13. On 8/4, Fred Werner spotted another adult Golden cruising past Hurricane Ridge as he walked the meadow trail. On 8/8, at Cedar Lake in the upper Graywolf, Mark Salvadalena and Bob Boekelheide watched an adult Golden soar over adjacent peaks, then glide over a mile across the lake in a couple minutes. Not coincidentally, marmots around the lake sounded their shrill alarms as the eagle flew over. Last, Patrick and Forrest Ellsworth reported another Golden flying over the Morse Creek overlook on the Hurricane Ridge Road on 8/11. 

Even though very few Ospreys now nest around here, they still pass by during migration. Carolyn Wilcox and Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin spotted an Osprey flying over Port Angeles Harbor on 8/19, but they weren’t the only ones. A Merlin mobbed the Osprey as it passed overhead. Go, SeaHawk! 

Sue Nattinger reports a Northern Bobwhite along Onella Road between Port Angeles and Joyce on 8/6, which she guesses may remain from a flock introduced into that area a few years ago. 

Horned Puffin
Photo by Jon Scordino

Jon Scordino discovered a Horned Puffin at Neah Bay on 7/19 hanging out with Rhinoceros Auklets in the harbor. Many observers (MObs) made the pilgrimage to Neah Bay to see and photograph the bird, which seemed to disappear after a few days. But Michael Barry rediscovered the bird on 8/4 (assuming it is the same one), and it cooperated very well for the OPAS pelagic trip out of Neah Bay on 8/5. Among seabirds, Horned Puffins are a “dispersive” species, showing up and occasionally nesting outside their normal range. Two other Horned Puffins showed up this summer near Smith Island in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca, so could they be making inroads into the Salish Sea? They are apparently regular off our coast during winter, so it will be interesting to see whether more show up during future nesting seasons. 

Summer is the time for pelagic trips on the bounding main. The 8/5 OPAS pelagic trip to Swiftsure Bank and the Juan de Fuca Canyon, organized by Denny Van Horn, found large concentrations of Pink-footed and Sooty Shearwaters, a few Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels, and one Black-footed Albatross following a trawler much closer to shore than usual. At Swiftsure Bank, there were several Humpback Whales along with many Cassin’s Auklets, both likely feeding on krill. A flock of 4 Ancient Murrelets flew by at Swiftsure, another sighting of this species off the Clallam coast during the nesting season, so they must be nesting here somewhere. Other birds included at least 17 Tufted Puffins along the coast, 2 Sabine’s Gulls, 2 Parasitic Jaegers, and 15 Red-necked Phalaropes. On the return leg along the coast, there was a surprisingly large flock of over 100 Pacific Loons off Shi Shi Beach, and over 60 Black Oystercatchers roosting together on the west side of Tatoosh Island. 

Black-footed Albatross
Photo by Denny Van Horn

Scott Downes reported a Manx Shearwater flying off the Olympic National Park Beach 6 overlook on 7/23. Coincidentally, Alexander Patia reported another Manx from the exact same spot on 8/6. Both Scott and Alex saw the birds in the direction of Destruction Island, which looks like an intriguing place for Manx Shearwaters to be nesting. Are they? 

“Fall migration” for shorebirds actually starts when the calendar says early summer. After traveling north, migrant shorebirds return from their breeding grounds very quickly, returning to the mudflats and beaches of the Olympic Peninsula during July and August. Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plovers, Sanderlings, Ruddy Turnstones, Least and Western Sandpipers, both dowitchers and both yellowlegs have been regular around Dungeness Bay. But what’s with Willets again showing up here in summer? Jerry Tangren spotted a Willet at Neah Bay on 7/26, right about the same days that a Willet occupied Dungeness Bay in 2015 and 2016. Judy Collins reported an unusual Hudsonian Godwit hanging out with a Marbled Godwit at 3 Crabs on 8/1, following the two Hudsonians at Neah Bay in May. Several Baird’s Sandpipers, which nest in the high Arctic and spend the winter in South America, passed through Clallam County in late July and August. 

Baird’s Sandpiper
Photo by Bob Boekelheide

Summer is Nighthawk time, so keep scanning sunset skies for a few more weeks. Vince Lucas spotted a couple dozen Common Nighthawks feeding over Port Angeles during the Concert on the Pier on 8/2, then Pete Walker spotted a similar number flying over Sequim on the evening of 8/3. Soon they, too, will be leaving for their South American winter haunts.

Denny Van Horn, while walking the marshes at 3 Crabs, spotted a very unusual summer Say’s Phoebe on 7/30. Red-eyed Vireos, one of the last migrants to arrive in the spring, made a couple appearances this summer. Joyce Volmut heard the distinctive question-answer voice of a singing Red-eyed Vireo at DNR land on the Miller Peninsula on 6/16, then Alexander Patia spotted one singing in the evening at the Jimmycomelately Creek estuary on 6/26. Alexander also reported a Lazuli Bunting at Port Hadlock on 7/18, right about the time they usually show up on the north Olympic Peninsula each year. Gary Bullock spotted the first-ever Loggerhead Shrike for the Wednesday morning bird walks at RR Bridge Park on 7/19, by Runnion Road. Gary noted the darker gray head and back, along with a smaller bill with little hook, in contrast to Northern Shikes typically found here in winter. 

Lucky Michael Shepard, while hiking the beach at Cape Alava, spotted a Northern Mockingbird foraging with sandpipers in the seaweed on 8/5. He says it ran on the beach like a roadrunner, with its tail cocked up. James Boyce reported a Vesper Sparrow at the unlikely location of Lake Crescent Lodge on 6/28.

The singing Rock Wren first spotted by Michael Barry along the Obstruction Point Road in May remained through at least 6/30, last reported by John Gatchet. Another Rock Wren turned up along the loop trail at Hurricane Ridge, seen by Rose Swift on 8/17. They must be nesting up there somewhere. 

Perhaps the strangest bird sighting this month comes from Jon Scordino, who reports a vagrant Blackpoll Warbler circling their fishing boat 12 miles offshore of Cape Flattery on 6/30. Jon says he first assumed it was a Black-capped Chickadee, which might be even stranger, considering that chickadees do not fly over long stretches of water. The warbler eventually landed on the boat and allowed an excellent look for Jon and others onboard.

Much more late summer and fall migration is on its way. If you see something noteworthy, please call Bob Boekelheide at 360-808-0196. Right now mark your calendars: the Sequim-Dungeness Christmas Bird Count is on Monday, December 18, this year. Thank you very much for your sightings.