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Bird Sightings

Bird Sightings
by Bob Boekelheide & Denny Van Horn

Okay, everyone — this is it! The nesting season is happening. The next two months bring the most intense birding of the year, with forests, fields, and marshes filled with bird song and baby birds. Do it now, because it will be over in no time.

It has been a cool and wet spring, particularly April, which may score the third wettest April on record for Seattle. Passing storms not only threatened our BirdFest field trips, but occasionally slowed down newly arriving migrant birds. Some early migrants seemed late this year, from disparate species like Rufous Hummingbirds, Savannah Sparrows, to Western Sandpipers. Spring finally arrived with gusto in the last week in April, with a couple intense days of warm sunshine. Will it last? Ha!

Baby Anna’s Hummingbirds
Photo by Gary Bullock

Despite the rain, some nesting species have already fledged chicks. Lucky Gary Bullock tracked an Anna’s Hummingbird nest at his home by the Dungeness River, saying the female sat tight on its two eggs starting 3/4, and the two baby hummers were ready to fly by 4/11. That is one fantastic hummer mama!

That silly first-year Snow Goose is still at the pond at Kirner and Woodcock, hanging out with Canada Geese. Time to go north? By now it probably thinks it is a Canada Goose. Annette Hanson reports on 4/25 that one pair of Canada Geese already has goslings swimming around that pond.

Denny Van Horn witnessed a huge flight of Cackling Geese over Dungeness on 4/20, estimating as many as 10,000 geese went over during the day. The first Cinnamon Teal appeared on 4/20 as well, seen by Joe Veverka at Salt Creek Co Park.

John Gatchet and Sarah Peden, while doing the Puget Sound Seabird Survey at Diamond Point, reported an immature Brown Booby flying by on 3/3. The bird was mostly dark with a white belly, flying with its bill pointed down, as boobies do. This is an exceptional record for this time of year, but Brown Boobies continue to expand their range along the West Coast.

As usual, February through April is the time Golden Eagles migrate north, with several reported at Bahokus Peak. Charlie and Linnaea Wright spotted a Golden Eagle there on 3/11, with the most recent one seen by Mike Charest on 4/22.

Yellow-billed Loon
Photo by Bob Boekelheide

Once again, the Protection Island Aquatic Reserve bird surveys turned up more Yellow-billed Loons at Dallas Bank and off the north end of Miller Peninsula, seeing five on 3/12 and two on 4/23. The March birds were just beginning their pre-alternate molt, but by April the birds were in spectacular breeding plumage. The waters around Protection Island are one of the most reliable areas to observe this unique loon in the entire Salish Sea, suggesting that individual loons remain within a small area throughout their non-breeding season.

Denny Van Horn reported a very late sighting on 4/25 of Gale and Storm, the Black-crowned Night Herons that spent the winter in Dungeness. As Denny says, “It’s nice to see them once more, before they leave for who-knows-where.” Sandhill Cranes turned in a wonderful migration show at Neah Bay, first seen by Denny Van Horn on 3/31.

Sand-hill Cranes
Photo by Bob Boekelheide

During the Olympic BirdFest Neah Bay field trip on 4/17, Denny estimated at least 2900 cranes passing overhead throughout the day, calling loudly as they went. Soras are also calling now, at Ken Wiersema’s Pond on 4/23 and the wetlands near Hogback on 4/28.

Bruce Paige, while walking Hobuck Beach on 4/24, spotted a Snowy Plover mixed in with a flock of 6 Semipalmated Plovers. Hobuck Beach is one of the more reliable places in Clallam where Snowy Plovers have appeared over the years.

In Dec, 2017, Pete Walker discovered a Pacific Golden-Plover hanging out with Black-bellied Plovers at Schmuck Road, where it continued off and on over the next couple months. This is the second winter in a row that a Pacific Golden-Plover has wintered in that area. The plot thickened, however, when a Pacific Golden-Plover appeared on 3/5 on the mudflats at 3 Crabs with Black-bellied Plovers, then again on 4/3 and 4/19. During earlier sightings the bird was in its brownish basic plumage, but by 4/19 it had molted into its finest breeding splendor. It will be most interesting to see if one appears again this fall. Pacific Golden-Plovers normally winter at Pacific islands like Hawaii, although a few remain in California for the winter. We may have the furthest-north wintering golden-plover in the world, right here in our own backyard.

Similarly, the lone Willet spending the winter in Dungeness Bay was last seen by a BirdFest field trip on 4/13, the third winter in a row that one Willet has wintered here. Same bird? Could be. One Red Knot first spotted by Dan Waggoner at Fort Flagler on 1/12 also remained for the winter, last reported by David Poortinga on 3/27. A Spotted Sandpiper apparently spent the winter at the north end of the Miller Peninsula, seen on the beach at Panorama Vista County Park by Sarah Peden on 3/3 and last by Bruce Paige on 3/8.

A Glaucous Gull, or perhaps a Glaucous X Glaucous-winged Gull hybrid, appeared at Ediz Hook in March, first spotted by John Gatchet on 3/7. Another Glaucous Gull appeared for Bruce Paige at Neah Bay on 4/23, roosting with other gulls at Village Creek. Judy Collins reported 3 Bonaparte’s Gulls at Blyn on 4/5, a species that unfortunately is becoming scarce around here. The first local Caspian Tern appeared in Dungeness Bay on 4/6, later than the last several years.

The White-winged Dove first spotted by Alexander Patia at Neah Bay on 12/15 remained through the winter, last seen on 3/30 by Denny Van Horn. That, too, might be the furthest north wintering White-winged Dove in the world.

Northern Pygmy Owl
Photo by Bob Boekelheide

Ed Schreiner, who lives up Deer Park Road, watched a Northern Pygmy-Owl sitting on his bird feeder on 3/4. Ed aptly describes the owl as a “very cute puffball,” but not if you’re a small songbird trying to use the feeder. It’s a good time to look for nesting Peale’s Peregrine Falcons along the west coast, like at Cape Flattery and Second Beach. Graydon Hidalgo reported a Peale’s Falcon at Ruby Beach on 3/24.

March is the month for Say’s Phoebes to pass through; too bad they don’t stick around. Linnaea and Charlie Wright found one at Hobuck Beach on 3/11, as did Brad Waggoner on 3/24. Denny Van Horn found one at Dungeness on 3/12, and Bruce Paige spotted another at Jamestown on 3/14. Bruce also found an early Western Kingbird on the power lines at Schmuck Rd on 4/24. Pacific-slope Flycatchers are back, with the first heard on the Wed am bird walk at RR Bridge Park on 4/25.

Once again the first Purple Martins appeared in early April, with one seen by Sarah Peden on 4/7 at 3 Crabs. Are the first martins from the local population, or are they Canadian birds still heading north? Quiglin Ma reported the first Barn Swallow at RR Bridge Park on 3/15, and John Gatchet reported the first Cliff Swallow at Knapp Rd on 4/3.

A California Scrub-Jay visited Marie Grad’s feeder in Carlsborg on 3/15, traveling in a flock with 10 Steller’s Jays. Scrub-Jays have visited Marie’s feeder over the past two years, possibly nesting nearby.

Two Scrub-Jays have also been seen by many observers in Port Townsend during March, near the north end of Kah Tai Lagoon.

Mountain Bluebird
Photo by Sally Harris

Early spring is bluebird time, but curiously only Mountain Bluebirds have been reported so far this year. Adrianne Akmajian found the first Mountain Bluebirds at the Waatch River Valley on 3/12, peaking at 4 males and 2 females on 3/14. Another contingent of Mountain Bluebirds appeared at Point Wilson near Port Townsend, peaking at 9 seen on 4/3 by Meghin Spencer. Sally Harris photographed a lovely male Mountain Bluebird at 3 Crabs on 4/19, where Cindy Fullwiler found one with two females on 4/23. It was a good year for Townsend Solitaires in the lowlands, with the first reported by Scott Gremel in Port Angeles on 4/8.

The Hobuck Eurasian Skylark has been found again lurking in the beach grasses at Hobuck Beach, this time on 3/19 by Bruce Paige. One skylark has been observed at this location in May 2017, Nov 2017, and now Mar 2018, likely the same bird. These sightings are reminiscent of a skylark that returned to Point Reyes, California, for 5 winters in a row in the 1970s and 80s. Is the Hobuck bird a true migrant, perhaps the Asian subspecies? Did it stay at Hobuck through the entire winter?

Bruce Paige located a wayward Northern Mockingbird at Lost Mountain on 3/4, flushed from the side of the road with a flock of robins. Bruce also saw and heard the first Common Yellowthroat of the spring near Port WIlliams on 4/9, and the first House Wren on 4/10. Dan Waggoner reported the first local Western Tanager of the spring at Silent Lake near Dabob on 4/25, saying it might be the earliest tanager ever for Jefferson County.

Swamp Sparrow
Photo by Bob Boekelheide

Following Bruce Paige’s Swamp Sparrow at Holland Rd on 2/25, Brad Waggoner found another at the Waatch Valley on 3/24. Chipping Sparrows have arrived, with Artemis Celt reporting one on 4/9 in Port Townsend, John Gatchet finding one at Knapp Rd on 4/11, and Jane Stewart spotting one on Solar Lane outside Sequim on 4/28. Jane Stewart and Neil Burkhardt spotted a Townsend’s Warbler in their yard on 4/9, and Adrianne Akmajian spotted the first Wilson’s Warbler at the Waatch Valley on 4/18. A Snow Bunting hung out at Ediz Hook for at least 6 days in January, first reported 1/19 by Iris Winslow. Another Snow Bunting, a beautiful breeding male, appeared at Ediz Hook on 3/10, seen by Carol Turnbull.

Best news in the finch world is a Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch found by Cassidy Grattan on a ridge west of the Elwha River on 4/11. Sue Nattinger spotted 4 Pine Grosbeaks along Onella Road east of Joyce on 3/14, always a treat in the lowlands. White-winged Crossbills continued at Hobuck Beach, with 13 seen by Brad Waggoner on 3/24, but also interesting is 3 White-wingeds spotted by Denny Van Horn at Bahokus Peak on 3/30.

American Robins are now everywhere, singing their hearts out. On 3/11, while at Neah Bay, Charlie and Linnaea Wright watched several huge flocks of robins fly over town and Bahokus Peak, estimating 1280 passing overhead.

Get out there and find some birds, particularly during Birdathon/World Migratory Bird Day on May 12. Please email Bob Boekelheide at bboek@olympus.net when you see something interesting or unusual. Thank you very much for your sightings.