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Bird Sightings

by Bob Boekelheide

It was a beautiful day in the neighborhood for the 44th Sequim-Dungeness Christmas Bird Count (SDCBC), held December 16, 2019. Overcast skies, occasional sunbreaks, and very light winds prevailed throughout the day. Temperatures ranged from a pre-dawn low of 28 degrees F. at the top of Palo Alto Rd, to an afternoon high of 48 degrees on the Sequim prairies. Early December weather prior to the count was about as benign as it can get, with moderate temperatures and no major storms.

Despite the benign weather, our species total this year was “only” 139 species, the lowest species count since 2010 and below the 25-year average of 143 species. In fact, it was only the fourth time in the last 25 years that our species count dropped below 140. Total number of individual birds was 59,783, fairly close to the 25-year average of 61,131 birds. We had excellent human participation, with 110 field counters and 21 feeder watchers. (Click here to see accompanying table)

It’s always interesting to see how species rank during our CBC. As is typical, American Wigeon topped the list, with a count of 10,789 individuals. The other top-ten most abundant species were Mallard (4,413 individuals), Dunlin (3,791), Pine Siskin (3,701), American Robin (2,944), large pink-legged gulls (pure Glaucous-winged and hybrid Olympic Gulls combined) (2,368), Dark-eyed Junco (2,291), Northern Pintail (2,215), Bufflehead (1,757), and Brant (1,545). These 10 species made up about 60% of all birds on our count. Or another way to think about it: More than one out of every six birds on the SDCBC is a wigeon.

Spotted Towhee
Photo by Robert Hutchison

Species setting record-high counts this year included Northern Saw-whet Owl, Anna’s Hummingbird, Red-breasted Sapsucker, California Scrub-Jay, and Spotted Towhee. Word is that saw-whet owls had an excellent nesting year, with many young birds migrating south this fall. Anna’s Hummingbirds continue their amazing northward range expansion, as anyone with a hummingbird feeder knows well. Scrub-jays also continue their northward movement, so prepare yourself for shrieking scrub-jays in your neighborhood sometime soon. Why so many sapsuckers and towhees? Hard to say, but these species have been remarkably visible throughout our area this fall.

Even though some species did not set record counts, they still showed higher than average numbers, including Red-breasted Merganser (highest since 1997), White-winged Scoter (highest since 2012), Common Goldeneye (highest since 2000), Wilson’s Snipe (highest since 1997), and Canada Jay (highest since 2003). These high counts may be largely due to our excellent counters who took time to carefully tally their numbers.

Some species scored far below average, some with the lowest counts in many years, including Mallard (lowest since 2012), Western Gull (lowest since 1988), Savannah Sparrow (lowest since 2012), and Brewer’s Blackbird (lowest since 1991).

Of particular interest, a number of introduced “invasive” species also scored surprisingly low counts this year, including Rock Pigeon (lowest since 1992), Eurasian Collared-Dove (lowest since 2014), and Eurasian Starling (lowest since 1981). Have you noticed fewer Rock Pigeons, collared-doves, and starlings this year? Is this just an artifact of our counting methods, or are these species really declining?

Northern Flicker
Photo by John Gatchet

There were a few unusual species tallied this year, but none of these are new species for the SDCBC: Redhead – 2 spotted in Jamestown; Yellow-billed Loon – 3 found offshore; Sora – 1 whinnying at dawn in Graysmarsh among the abundant Virginia Rails; Caspian Tern – 1 lingering here since November; California Scrub-Jay – 3 in Dungeness; Western Bluebird – 2 near Cat Lake; and Swamp Sparrow – 1 lurking at Jamestown and 1 at 3 Crabs. The only “count week” (CW) species this year was one female Canvasback found by Judi White at Jamestown on 12/18.

It’s amazing how consistent some species can be from year to year. There are numerous examples from a variety of species, but some of the diurnal raptors really pop out when comparing this year with last, like Sharp-shinned Hawk (15 in 2018, 16 in 2019), American Kestrel (15 in 2018, 14 in 2019), Merlin (12 in 2018, 12 in 2019), and Peregrine Falcon (11 in 2018, 11 in 2019). Northern Harrier counts have been particularly consistent over several years (32 harriers in 2014, 33 in 2015, 35 in 2016, 32 in 2017, 32 in 2018, and 33 in 2019). Are we really so consistent with our sampling methods that the SDCBC successfully censuses these raptor populations using the area? Ah, if it were only so. Or to put it another way, are these raptor populations so close to carrying capacity that their numbers change little from year to year?

Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Photo by John Gatchet

Another question: Why was our species count below average this year? In essence, a few unusual species here or there really makes a big difference. This year there were 1) no irruptions of northern species like Snowy Owls, Common Redpolls, or Bohemian Waxwings; 2) no wayward shorebirds other than one persistent Willet here for possibly its sixth winter; 3) no wandering marine species like shearwaters, storm-petrels, or phalaropes; and 4) unfortunately, no vagrant warblers, sparrows, finches, or blackbirds.

Are there any expected species we missed entirely? Yes – Greater White-fronted Goose, Red Crossbill, White-throated Sparrow, and Orange-crowned Warbler. The SDCBC has only missed white-fronted geese twice in the last 13 years. The last time we missed Orange-crowned Warbler was in 2009, the last time we missed Red Crossbill was 1998, and the last time we missed White-throated Sparrow was 1997. All seem genuinely scarce this winter.

Looking ahead, the 2020 SDCBC will occur on Monday, 12/14/20, so mark your calendars now. No vacations allowed!

Special thanks to property owners who allowed access for the count, including USFWS, Olympic Game Farm, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, Dungeness Farms and Habitat, Willits family, Kevin Froese, Graysmarsh, Maple View Farm, WA State Parks, WDNR, Clallam County Parks, and more. Great thanks particularly to Durkee Richards for providing the offshore boat, and to Gary Poor and Rod and Kathy Schock for ferrying counters to Dungeness Spit. To our esteemed observers who traveled long distances to help with the count, we particularly thank you. And of course huge thanks to all the great cooks who provided food for the compilation dinner. If I forgot anyone, sorry about that, and thank you very much!

Dungeness Spit-Jamie Acker, Andrew Westphal; Dungeness Rec. Area-Ken Wiersema, Coleman Byrnes, Sue Nattinger, Ed Chadd, Scott Horton; West Dungeness-Denny Van Horn, Dow Lambert, Laura Davis, Alan Smith, Barb Boekelheide, Shirley Anderson, Ed & Myra Koszykowski; Three Crabs-Scott Gremel, Mandy Holmgren, Eric Guzman, Dave Manson, Tom Butler, Lee Bowen; Jamestown-Brad & Dan Waggoner, Vic Nelson; Graysmarsh-Bob Boekelheide, Ted Stadtmueller, Katie Adolphsen; Port Williams/WA Harbor-Bruce & Sharon Paige, Roger Hoffman, Dana Scott, Ron Miller, Steve & Nancy Smith; Battelle-Kate Buenau, Nancy Kohn, Heida Diefenderfer; W. Sequim Bay-Susan Savage, Bob Blush, Jim & Audrey Gift, Bob Hutchison, Margaret Levitan, Bruce & Carol Von Borstel; E. Sequim Bay-Judy Mullally, Dan McDougall-Treacy; Miller Peninsula-Powell Jones, Greg Voyles, Katherine & Otis Bush; Diamond Point/Gardiner-John Gatchet, Bob Bagwell, David Durham; Offshore Boat-Charlie Wright, Linnaea Wright, Bruce LaBar, Mike Crim; Durkee Richards; Protection Island-Sue Thomas, Julie Merluccio, Lorenz Sollmann, MarySue Brancato, Ed Bowlby, Janis Burger, Pat Willits; Chicken Coop-Bob Steelquist, Charlotte Watts; Palo Alto/Woods Rds-Steve Grace, Beverly McNeil, Varn Brooks, Ken Wilson, Valerie Wolcott; South Sequim-Kendra Donelson, Joyce Volmut, Pat MacRobbie, Joyce Ryba; Happy Valley-Peter Walker, Judi White, John Acklen, Juanice Reyes; W of Dungeness Riv./S of Hwy 101-Quenn Charrier, Norrie & Barb Johnson, Pat McGuire, Ida Domazlicky, Jane Nicholas, Mary Morgan, Tim McNulty, Randy Larson, Walt McGahan; Robin Hill Park/Solmar-Heidi Pedersen; Olympic Discovery Trail W.-Kathe Smith; McDonell Creek-Barbara Vanderwerf, Sarah Bird; Carlsborg/W. Dungeness-Marie Grad, Ally Simons, Dan & Valerie Stahler, David Wescott, Diane Luoma, Jim Karr, Steve Koehler, Sharle Osborne; Sequim neighborhoods-Bob Iddins, Jan Stewart; North Sequim to Dungeness-Enid & Bob Phreaner, Gary Bullock, Kevin Froese, Marion Rutledge, Grace & Kate Goschen, Liam Antrim, Pam Maurides; Railroad Bridge Park-Mary Robson, Jenna Ziogas, Penny Soares, Sandy & Steve Bengtson; Sequim feeders-Stacey Fradkin, Joy Bertman, Sara Blake, Bev Swearingen, Doris Causey, Jo Fjellman, Sandy Boren, Syrene Forsman, Alexis Megahan; Swans-Bob & Ann Sextro.

Bird Sightings

In other bird news, many observers (MObs) flocked to Neah Bay over the last couple months to search for the birding holy grail, aka “rare birds.” MObs reported numerous Swamp Sparrows, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Tropical Kingbirds, Pine Grosbeaks, and late Barn Swallows, along with Palm, Yellow and Wilson’s Warblers. The Eurasian Tree Sparrow first spotted by Chris Warlow on 10/27 remained until at least 11/21; could it still be hanging with House Sparrows near the harbor? A Kumlien’s-type Iceland Gull was at Hobuck Beach on 11/17, seen by Alex Sowers and Will Brooks. One immature Glaucous Gull appeared for the Neah Bay CBC on 12/15 — could it have been the same one seen on 11/30 by Jeffrey Bryant at Ediz Hook, or the same one seen by Judi White at the Elwha River mouth on 12/5? Isaiah Nugent spotted a Common Redpoll at Butler’s Motel on 11/10 and a late Swainson’s Hawk over the Waatch River on 11/11. Most interesting might be at least one Orchard Oriole and two Bullock’s Oriole wintering over at feeders near the Neah Bay waterfront.

Yellow-billed Loon
Photo by John Gatchet

Among waterfowl, a juvenile Emperor Goose appeared on Dungeness Spit on 11/1, first seen by Barb Boekelheide. It hung around Dungeness Bay until at least 12/9, but didn’t stay for CBC count week. Gary Bullock watched 12 Snow Geese fly over 3 Crabs on 11/10. Jan Stewart found a Northern Shoveler and Eurasian Wigeon at Carrie Blake Park on 12/1, among the other ducks. Other than the CBC Redheads mentioned above, Ryan Merrill spotted one male Redhead flying with 14 Canvasbacks in Dungeness on 11/11. Bob and Leslie Bagwell reported 4 Blue-winged Teals at Ediz Hook on 12/24, a very strange time and place for these teal.

Unfortunately, nearly all wayward shorebirds seen this fall in Dungeness Bay departed before the Christmas Bird Count. The Bar-tailed Godwit first seen by Rick Klawitter on 10/9 was last seen on 11/12. The Sharp-tailed Sandpiper first seen by Bob Boekelheide on 10/26 was last seen on 11/10. The Pacific Golden Plover here through summer and fall was last seen on 10/26 (but could it still be hiding out among the Black-bellied Plovers?). The last Short-billed Dowitcher was seen on 11/5 and the last Long-billed Dowitcher on 11/23.

Fall birding trips into the Olympic Mountains can be very productive. Scott Gremel found a Mountain Bluebird at Hurricane Hill on 10/31, then Mandy Holmgren spotted 3 Clarks’s Nutcrackers and 20 Gray-crowned Rosy Finches at Marmot Pass on 11/1. Max Epstein photographed 2 Bohemian Waxwings at Hurricane Ridge on 11/4. Other than Neah Bay, Pine Grosbeaks popped up at Hurricane Ridge Rd on 11/2, seen by Christian Hagenlocher and Haley Thoresen, and at Blue Mountain on 12/11, seen by Bruce Paige.

We wish you all a birdy New Year, and thank you for your bird sightings. When you find something interesting, please contact Bob Boekelheide at bboek@olympus.net, or 360-808-0196