by Bob Boekelheide
How the avian world has changed in the last 15 years. Eurasian Collared-Doves hadn’t even appeared on the north Olympic Peninsula, and now they’re a regular sight in the Clallam lowlands. Fifteen years ago it was very unusual to see Anna’s Hummingbirds in winter, and almost no one kept hummingbird feeders operating during freezing temperatures. Fifteen years ago very few Trumpeter Swans showed up here in winter. What will the next 15 years bring?
The next increasing species might be the California Scrub-Jay, a species created by the AOU last year when they split Western Scrub-Jay. Michael Hobbs, while driving on Old Olympic Highway near Cays Rd on 12/31/16, spotted a California Scrub-Jay beside the road. Gary Bullock found it again on 1/2/17, and it’s probably still around. Other Scrub-Jay sightings have increased in the last couple years in eastern Clallam County. Scrub-Jays continue their northward movements, even occasionally seen in British Columbia, so keep your eyes out for more.
This winter, high counts of Trumpeter Swans by OPAS swan volunteers are blowing away old records. Highest official count so far is 258 tallied by Kathy Bush and Kendra Donelson on 2/23. Two Tundra Swans have also joined the big guys, seen by Michael Barry. Nash Huber’s carrot field is taking the brunt of their attacks, with over 227 swans gobbling down carrots on 2/23. According to the volunteers’ data from the last five years, peak numbers of swans are here in late February and early March, so go watch them now before they’re gone in early April. Other waterfowl news – a Tufted Duck continued through January at Neah Bay, likely one first recorded earlier last fall.
It has been an exceptional winter for swallows. It all started when John Gatchet reported one Tree Swallow and 2 Barn Swallows at Graysmarsh Beach on 1/25/17, along with another Barn Swallow at Jamestown on 1/26. Annika Willette and Eric Heisey found 2 Barn Swallows at Neah Bay on 1/28, and Bruce Paige observed another at 3 Crabs on 1/30. The floodgates really opened on 2/18, when Sue Nattinger discovered a flock of about 25 swallows zipping around 3 Crabs, including Violet-green and Barn Swallows. Sue found a Tree Swallow at the Elwha River mouth on 2/19. From then on, MObs. (=many observers) began seeing all three species of swallows (Barn, Tree, and Violet-green) nearly every day at 3 Crabs.
What gives? Why so many swallows in winter, particularly Barn Swallows? Violet-green and Tree Swallows, both cavity nesters, are thought to arrive earliest because cavity sites are limited, and, as they say, “the early bird gets the nest site.” Whereas Violet-green and Tree Swallows typically migrate as far south as Mexico and Central America, Barn Swallows may go much further south into South America. But for some reason, pockets of Barn Swallows are now remaining in or returning to western WA in winter, typically seen in marshlands and estuaries where they hopefully find aerial insects. Tree Swallows are renowned on the East Coast for occasionally eating waxy bayberries during winter, but not Barn Swallows, which seem totally reliant on flying insects. Is it global warming? Or are there just more birders out there noticing early swallows? This has not been a particularly mild winter on the West Coast, so could the massive storms and flooding in California have driven the birds north? Again, it’s hard to say. We’ll see if this trend continues in future years.
Another harbinger of spring is the first migrant Turkey Vultures. Sure enough, Artemis Celt spotted 3 TVs lurking in a field near Dungeness on 2/6/17. Scott Gremel spotted another TV sailing over Port Angeles on 2/13, saying it was 5 days earlier than his earliest sighting in P.A.
In the raptor department, this is the time of year to look for migrating Golden Eagles, which pass by in late winter on their way to Alaska and Canada. They arrive in Denali National Park as early as mid-March, when it can still be seriously cold. John Gatchet found and photographed a Golden Eagle ripping apart a prey item near his home in Gardiner on 2/12. Barb Blackie reported an immature Northern Goshawk at a carcass at Striped Peak on 2/19.
Yellow-billed Loons are almost becoming an everyday event in Clallam County. Are they becoming more abundant, or are people just going to the right places to see them? At least one Yellow-billed Loon continued at Neah Bay, seen on 12/31/16 by Bruce Paige north of the jetty. John Gatchet and Dan Waggoner found one several days apart in early January at Gardiner Beach. John reported another in Port Angeles harbor on 1/23. On the same day, the boat survey in the Protection Island Aquatic Reserve found a Yellow-billed Loon off the northwest shore of Miller Peninsula.
Winter shorebirds have not been particularly diverse this year, although the Willet continues at Dungeness Bay, last officially reported on 2/6 by Bob Boekelheide. This is the second winter in a row that willets have wintered-over, suggesting it might be the same bird as last year. Sometimes it hangs with other shorebirds, particularly Black-bellied Plovers, and sometimes it forages alone.
One Ruddy Turnstone appeared for the Port Angeles Christmas Count on the logs at Ediz Hook on 12/31, then two were present on 1/28 for the OPAS field trip. This is perhaps the 3rd winter in a row in which Ruddy Turnstones have wintered-over in Port Angeles harbor, so might they be the same birds as well? Speaking of same birds, Alex Patia discovered a Pacific Golden-Plover hanging with Black-bellied Plovers at Fort Flagler on 1/29, about a month after the Pacific Golden-Plover here for the Sequim-Dungeness Christmas Count was last seen near Port Williams. Could it have been the same bird, or could there be two golden-plovers spending the winter in our area?
The most noteworthy gull of the winter was a third-year Slaty-backed Gull found at Village Creek mouth at Neah Bay on 1/12, by Bill Tweit and Bruce LaBar.
Gary Bullock tells an interesting story about seeing a raven carrying a dead Northern Flicker on 1/23. The most interesting part of the story is Gary could see that the flicker was a Yellow-shafted Flicker, showing yellow colors in its drooping wing feathers.
The Bohemian Waxwing invasion at Jamestown that started last December and peaked during the Sequim-Dungeness CBC continued well into January. Marcus Roening reported the very last lowland Bohemian on 1/17/17. The best Bohemian Waxwing report this period came from Mandy Holmgren, who spotted 75 of the beauties sitting in subalpine firs at Deer Park on 1/28. What the heck were they doing up there?
Even though there aren’t many palm trees around here, this has been a superb winter for Palm Warblers in Clallam County. On 1/6/17, two Palm Warblers appeared on the beach at 3 Crabs, first noted by the OPAS 3 Crabs Bird Monitoring team and seen by MObs. At least one remained until 2/16/17, seen foraging within a half mile of where it was first seen. Coincidentally, another Palm Warbler, possibly two, showed up at Ediz Hook on 1/30/17, first reported by John Gatchet and seen by MObs.
In other warbler news, Tom Butler found a Common Yellowthroat at Hollywood Beach during the Port Angeles Christmas Count on 12/31/16. That bird should be enjoying New Years in Los Angeles, not Port Angeles. Bill Tweit and Bruce LaBar found a gray-headed version of Orange-crowned Warbler at Neah Bay on 1/13, possibly one of the subspecies that doesn’t nest in WA.
John Gatchet has been following Western Bluebirds on the Miller Peninsula this winter, where he spotted a high number of 6 on 2/12. Joyce Volmut is leading an OPAS project to provide nest boxes to lure these beauties to stay for the nesting season. A striking Harris’s Sparrow has been visiting the feeders at Butler’s Motel in Neah Bay, seen by MObs throughout the month of January. Wintering Western Meadowlarks continue at their Schmuck Road hangouts, but occasionally they pop up at other places, including one photographed at Ediz Hook on 1/6 by Bill Wood.
Iris Sutcliffe reported an amazing flock of Pine Siskins and American Goldfinches at Francis and 7th Streets in Port Angeles on 2/8, estimating 300+ siskins and 200+ goldfinches in the flock. Her description said it best: “A ridiculous number of siskins.” Finally, while snowshoeing with the Klahane Club on 2/25, Michael Barry found a small flock of Pine Grosbeaks at Hurricane Ridge. Hope they stick around.
The Port Angeles Christmas Bird Count, held on 12/31/16, turned up 114 species this year, not a record, but still a very admirable showing. The count is growing, with 60 participants this year. The 10 most abundant species, in order from highest to lowest, were Dark-eyed Junco, Pine Siskin, Glaucous-winged/Olympic Gull, European Starling, Canada Goose, Mallard, Surf Scoter, Golden-crowned Kinglet, American Wigeon, and Chestnut-backed Chickadee. The most unusual species was the Common Yellowthroat found by Tom Butler at Hollywood Beach, mentioned above. Many thanks to Barb Blackie for compiling the PACBC!
The temperatures are chilly, but the nesting season is already ramping up. Many species are singing. Who will win the coveted First Rufous Hummingbird Award this year? Please report your sightings to Bob Boekelheide, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for your sightings.