It was another beautiful summer on the north Olympic Peninsula. We had the most pleasant July and August in all of North America, with few days reaching above 75 degrees F. It’s not good for tomatoes, but it’s really great for air conditioning bills. Despite the cool temperatures, local rivers and creeks still suffered from low stream flows, a holdover from low snowpack last winter and spring. Scattered rainstorms in July and August may have helped forests from drying out too much, so we escaped with fewer forest fires and no horrible smoke like last summer. Local nesting birds appeared to have done reasonably well, but, as is typical during the dry days of August, songbirds dispersed widely in pursuit of food. Poof – they’re gone!
The migration floodgates opened wide on clear nights in late August, particularly for insectivorous birds heading to the tropics for the winter. They’ll really take off in September, so if you have a chance get out right now and find flocks of warblers, vireos, tanagers, flycatchers, thrushes, and other Neotropical migrants. For many species, this is your last chance to see them until next spring.
Greater White-fronted Geese are already heading south along the outer coast, including 45 seen on 8/18 off Cape Alava by Liam Waters, Jonathan Eckerson, and Evan Lipton. Among other waterfowl, one lone male Black Scoter apparently remained behind this summer in the offshore waters near the base of Dungeness Spit, first seen by Jeffry Roth on 7/28, then by the OPAS field trip on 8/9, then by Bob Boekelheide on 8/25. At least a couple female-type Red-breasted Mergansers also stayed for the summer, seen in Dungeness Bay between 7/5 and 8/10. Red-breasted Mergansers become flightless during wing molt in summer, so the one seen flying by the Protection Island Aquatic Reserve survey on 8/20 apparently had already finished its molt.
Sue Nattinger found 2 Northern Bobwhites on 8/21 at their accustomed spot at Wasankari Road, where Judi White found one the next day. As Sue wrote about these birds, they are “continuing from accidental release,” in reference to their escape during last February’s snowstorm. An even more bizarre chicken story was one Chukar seen by Carol Strohmeyer on 7/9 in her yard in east Port Angeles. Who is raising and releasing Chukars?
A post-breeding adult Pacific Golden-Plover in heavy molt appeared with Black-bellieds at Dungeness Bay, first seen by Bob Boekelheide on 8/8, then by several others all the way to the end of August. On 8/11, Carolyn Wilcox and Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin spotted another molting adult Pacific G-P at Ediz Hook, where it was seen by several others as well. Then, on 8/26 and also at Ediz Hook, Carolyn and Lindsey found not only the adult Pacific G-P, but also a juvenile accompanying it. That same day Bob Boekelheide found at least one and possibly two juvenile Pacific G-Ps at Dungeness Bay. This makes five and possibly more Pacific G-Ps visiting our area in the last month.
In other shorebird news, John Gatchet spotted two wonderful Wandering Tattlers at Gardiner Beach on 8/18, where they fed for awhile on the rocks before they flew toward Diamond Point. John says the tattlers are species number 200 for his Gardiner yard list. Congratulations, John! He also has the high count of Baird’s Sandpipers for this summer, with 6 at 3 Crabs on 7/16 & 7/18. John spottted a Wilson’s Phalarope at the Diamond Point lagoon on 8/11, apparently the first for Clallam for the year. There were at least 225 Red-necked Phalaropes seen by the Protection Island Aquatic Reserve survey in the Strait of Juan de Fuca on 8/20. Bob Boekelheide spotted an adult Red Knot in fancy breeding plumage at Dungeness Bay on 7/11, where another (possibly the same) occurred on 7/19. Bob then found four juvenile Red Knots at 3 Crabs on 8/17. Don and Joanne Normandin discovered a juvenile Willet at Neah Bay on 8/19, right where the OPAS field trip led by John Gatchet also found one on 8/25. It was a good summer for Semipalmated Sandpipers. The high count was 15 observed by Bob Boekelheide on the 3 Crabs mudflat on 7/6, but single birds hung around the mouth of Meadowbrook Creek between 7/2-7/13 and 8/7-8/23. The forlorn Hudsonian Godwit with its broken right leg, first discovered in Dungeness Bay on 6/24, was last seen there on 7/12.
A birding group from Atlanta, GA, led by Vinod Babu, spotted a juvenile Solitary Sandpiper feeding in the Dungeness River at RR Bridge Park on 8/7, where the Wednesday morning bird walk found it the next day. Tom and Connie Unsicker found another Solitary Sandpiper at Pitship Pocket Estuary on 8/14.
Alethea Leddy, a naturalist on whale-watching trips out of Port Angeles, photographed an adult Long-tailed Jaeger flying by their boat on 8/8. This El Nino year has been good for Brown Pelicans, not only on the outer coast near La Push, but also inside the Salish Sea. The Brown Pelican high count for Clallam County this summer was 110, seen at Second Beach on 8/4 by Daniel Horton. Cindy Fullwiler spotted 24 Brown Pelicans flying across Dungeness Bay on 7/16, then Ken and Mary Campbell spotted 2 pelicans off Ediz Hook on 7/28. American White Pelicans lurked at Whidbey Island through the summer, but few strayed further west. Eric Crocket spotted one white pelican at Port Townsend on 8/3.
A Green Heron visited Charlotte Watts on 8/8-9 at her Chicken Coop Hollow pond east of Sequim, the first Green Heron she has seen there. This is the time of year when Green Herons show up around the north Olympic Peninsula, likely post-breeding wanderings, so look for them.
This is also the time of year for Golden Eagle and Northern Goshawk sightings at Hurricane Ridge. There were at least seven eBird reports of Golden Eagles, ranging from 7/13 by John Gatchet and Bob Bagwell, to 8/20 by Dave Manson. The goshawk reports ranged from 8/3 by Katie Sorenson and Peter Olsoy at Deer Park, to single birds seen on 8/20 by Dave Manson and John Gatchet. In the lowlands, Cindy Fullwiler had the high count of 4 American Kestrels all together on 7/16, likely including fledglings from a local nest.
A single Osprey appeared at 3 Crabs on 7/9, first seen by Bob Boekelheide; then recorded by many people over several weeks. The Osprey occasionally landed on the Purple Martin nest pilings, causing the martins to dive bomb the Osprey to protect their nests. The Osprey often fished very close to shore, mostly catching flatfish and munching them on nearby pilings. The Osprey sometimes mysteriously flew inland, seen carrying fish over the town of Dungeness and on 7/29 carrying a big stick towards the Schoolhouse Bridge. Then, even more mysterious, two Ospreys appeared together on 8/6 and 8/7, along with an even more mysterious count of 3 Ospreys by Susan Talburt on 8/6. On 8/5 another Osprey appeared at Gardiner Beach, seen by Vinod Babu and his birding group. So what gives? Are all these Ospreys migrants, just showing up here on their way south? Might Ospreys return as a nesting species to the area? Ospreys nested in Sequim Bay as recently as 2006, then their nest blew down and eagles chased them away. It would be remarkable if Ospreys could tolerate all the Bald Eagles around Dungeness Bay.
It’s been a good year for Red-naped Sapsuckers. Vinod Babu and his Atlanta birding group discovered another Red-naped Sapsucker at Anderson Lake on 8/5. We have two reports of American Three-toed Woodpeckers. First, John Gatchet and Bob Bagwell found two Three-toeds together at Hurricane Ridge on 7/13, including at least one juvenile. Second, also on 7/13, Eli Gross discovered a male Three-toed in the subalpine forest above Deer Lake. Curiously, there were two reports of intergrade Northern Flickers about the same time, one on 7/10 in Forks by Kristen Johanson, and one on 7/12 at Hurricane Ridge by Carolyn Wilcox. In both cases, they assumed the birds were intergrades because they had red markings on their napes. One caution: local nesting Red-shafted Flickers may show red in their napes, so just having a red nape is not a sure sign it is an intergrade.
Michael Barry wins the coveted Vireo Award this summer. On 7/12 Michael found the only Red-eyed Vireo of the year for the north Olympic Peninsula, at Pysht. Then on 8/23 he found no less than 4 Cassin’s Vireos while walking on DNR land at Lost Mountain.
The mountains are calling and I must go birding. Arjun Subramanian found 2 Clark’s Nutcrackers along the Mount Townsend trail on 7/14. Kurtis Messingale reported a family group of 5 nutcrackers near Marmot Pass on 8/20. John O’Brien found 3 Mountain Bluebirds along the Obstruction Point Road on 8/2. Could they possibly be nesting there? Nearby on the Obstruction Point Road, John Gatchet heard a Rock Wren singing on 7/13. Ruby-crowned Kinglets were singing all over the place — on 7/2 at Moose Lake, found by Nicole Koeltzow and Suria Lejau, on 7/13 between Deer Lake and High Divide, seen by Eli Gross, and on 7/14 at Hurricane Ridge, seen by Cathy Reader. George Lynch, while staying at Lake Crescent Lodge on 8/9-10, reports daily Ruby-crowned Kinglets. Obstruction Point Road was the place for Pine Grosbeaks, with 4 seen on 7/12 by Pete Walker and Judy White, and 2 on 8/20 seen by John Gatchet.
In the foothills, Bob Boekelheide discovered a striking male Lazuli Bunting on 7/4 singing in a regrowing clearcut south of the Dungeness Fish Hatchery. The bird remained for at least one day. Sue Nattinger reported a Palm Warbler singing at Onella Road on 7/15, a very strange place for a Palm Warbler in July.
At RR Bridge Park, there was a report of a Nashville Warbler on 8/4 and a Yellow-breasted Chat on 8/23. Unfortunately, neither report was very complete, leaving many questions about the birds’ identities. The Wednesday morning bird walk at RR Bridge Park discovered a Hermit Warbler on 8/21 traveling with a flock of other birds. The warbler had the bright yellow face of a Hermit along with a white breast with no streaking, all good Hermit field marks. But to complicate the issue, pure Hermits are much less likely on the north Olympic Peninsula than Hermit X Townsend Warbler hybrids. Even though the bird on 8/21 showed no hybrid field marks, could it possibly be a pure Hermit? There’s no doubt about the California Scrub-Jay hanging out at RR Bridge Park this summer, usually by the Olympic Discovery Trail near Runnion Rd.
Summer is winding down and fall migration is here. During September you must be vigilant, watching closely for migrants. When you see something good, email Bob Boekelheide at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you very much for your sightings!