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Bird Sightings

Birdathon Report 2019, and Bird Sightings
by Bob Boekelheide

The Clallam County Birdathon, always held on World Migratory Bird Day on the second Saturday in May, is in significant transition partly due to the growth of eBird, the online bird records app. In the past, Birdathon participants counted birds at many Clallam locations and submitted paper tally sheets with their records. eBird instead provides an electronic tally sheet, and anyone who submits eBird records in Clallam County on Birdathon day essentially becomes a Birdathon participant, as long as the compiler (me) can find their data in eBird. Are the two methods comparable? Yes and no.

This year 79 people in 42 parties counted 15,429 individual birds of 177 species. This is a very respectable species count for any county in Washington, but still far below the record Clallam count of 203 species seen in 2012. The species count is also below the average of 181 species for the last 26 years. Our total number of individual birds is well below the record total of 33,537 birds observed in 2010, and also below the average total (23,760 birds) for our mid-May count.

Photo by Judi White

This year’s Birdathon data includes eBird tallies from a group of birders riding on the Star Princess, a repositioning cruise ship traveling from Los Angeles to Vancouver BC. This group counted birds approximately 30-35 mi west of La Push, technically within Clallam County according to the way that eBird tallies offshore birds. Consequently we ended up with high counts of species like Black-footed Albatross, Pink-footed Shearwater, and Red-necked Phalarope. But other than the cruise ship, the only species setting a record high count on land this year was Sora.

Unfortunately there were fewer people counting in fewer places this year, particularly at the west end of Clallam County. This led to lower counts than typical for several species. Species with low counts this year included Brant, Surf and White-winged Scoters, California Quail, Common Loon, Brandt’s and Double-crested Cormorants, Black Oystercatcher, Western Sandpiper, Mew and Western Gulls, Caspian Tern, Pigeon Guillemot, Marbled Murrelet, Vaux’s Swift, Rufous Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher, Tree Swallow, and Pacific Wren. In addition, we totally missed several species typically on our list, including Merlin, Greater Yellowlegs, Ring-billed Gull, Western Screech-Owl, and Great Horned Owl.

The most unusual Birdathon species was a migrating Broad-winged Hawk that passed over the Old Dungeness Schoolhouse, seen by Mark Salvadalena and Bob Boekelheide.

No matter how the data are recorded, our goal remains unchanged — to produce a one-day snapshot of the avifauna of Clallam County on World Migratory Bird Day, the second Saturday in May. Please put next year’s Birdathon on your calendars right now — Saturday, May 9, 2020.

Many thanks to our Birdathon participants: Lee Bowen, Laura Davis, Alan Smith, Bruce & Carol Von Borstel, Marsha Wiles, Bob Iddins, Karen Parker, Kate, Peter, & Annette Buenau, John & Diana Anderson, Audrey Gift, Kathy & Otis Bush, John Gatchet, Trudy Wegehaupt, Ken Wiersema, Powell Jones, John Woolley, Alan Selig, Arnold & Debbie Schouten, Michael Barry, Judy Mullally, Steve & Sandy Bengtson, Tom Butler, Lee Leddy Scott Horton, Bob Boekelheide, Mark Salvadalena, Judy White, Pete Walker, Jean Siesener, Ida Domazlicky, Bob & Enid Phreaner, Iris Winslow, Heidi Pedersen, Ally Simons, Sandra Boren, Marie Grad, Denny Van Horn, Bruce Paige, Myra & Ed Koszykowski, Karen Holtrop, Derek Buchner, Sue Nattinger, Coleman Byrnes, Judy Collins, Adrianne Akmajian, Kristen Johanson, Kendra Donelson, Killian White, Star Princess Cruise Ship — WINGS tour, NatureScape tour, Matt Dufort, and others.

Among other bird sightings, an interesting story comes from Stacey Fradkin, who on 6/14 spotted a Trumpeter Swan through the trees near Quilcene, as she zoomed by on Highway 101. What is a Trumpeter Swan doing here in mid-June? A few days later a single Trumpeter Swan mysteriously appeared down the road at Crocker Lake, seen by Dan Waggoner and John Gatchet. Is it the same bird?

A male Blue-winged Teal visited Charlotte Watts’ pond at Chicken Coop Hollow Rd on 5/29; only the second time in 30 years she has seen a Blue-winged Teal at that spot. Bruce Paige found a very late Greater White-fronted Goose still mixed in a Canada Goose flock at Schmuck Road on 5/25.

Hudsonian Godwit (right) flying with Marbled Godwit
Photo by John Gatchet

There was a lovely wave of early-returning shorebirds in Dungeness Bay on 6/23-24, including Western, Least, and Semipalmated Sandpipers, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Marbled Godwits, Semipalmated Plovers, and one Long-billed Curlew. The bird that created the most interest, however, was an unusual Hudsonian Godwit found at 3 Crabs by Richard Baltierra on 6/24. This godwit, possibly a post-breeding female, remained in Dungeness Bay until at least 6/26, and was seen by several observers.

Snowy Plover
Photo by John Gatchet

John Gatchet and Bob Bagwell spotted a banded Snowy Plover at Tsoo-Yess Beach on 5/22. John heard back that this bird was banded as a chick in San Luis Obispo County, California, in 2018, and it was last seen near San Luis Obispo in March 2019.  Spencer Hildie found a Wandering Tattler at Dungeness Spit on 6/3, an unusual spot for a tattler. One Willet showed up for the OPAS field trip to 3 Crabs on 5/4, possibly a different bird than the one that stayed here during winter. Red Knots remained later than usual, with up to 10 knots at 3 Crabs through 6/6.

The lone immature Glaucous Gull that has been wandering around Dungeness since March was last seen by Bruce Paige at 3 Crabs on 5/8.

It is now typical for birders and birding companies looking for offshore seabirds to ride on repositioning cruise ships. The spring trips usually start in Southern California and head to Seattle or Vancouver. Other than the Star Princess mentioned above, birders on a different ship spotted 7 Murphy’s Petrels about 75 mi SW of La Push on 5/2. Murphy’s Petrel is a dark gadfly petrel that nests on remote southern hemisphere islands in French Polynesia. They occur often enough off our coast to suggest that they migrate by here every year.

Joel Brady-Power boated off the west Clallam coastline in late May, seeing a nice variety of offshore birds. He reported a Flesh-footed Shearwater mixed with other birds on 5/27 about 28 mi west of Cape Alava, and a Brown Booby on 5/29 about 18 mi west of Cape Alava. Closer to shore, Ken Brown reported a Thick-billed Murre in the surf off Tsoo-Yess Beach on 5/4, seeing all the field marks that separate Thick-billed from Common Murre.

White Pelicans in flight
Photo by John Gatchet

Pelicans in the news: On 5/13, a group of 24 American White Pelicans roosted at dawn on the shore of Dungeness Bay, part of a trend of white pelicans appearing in the Salish Sea during spring. On 6/3, Bob Bagwell spotted 5 more white pelicans north of Protection Island in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Be on the lookout for Brown Pelicans during this El Nino summer — Tom Leschine spotted a pair of Brown Pelicans from the ferry in Admiralty Inlet on 6/22.

Spring is the time to visit Bahokus Peak near Neah Bay for migrating raptors and Sandhill Cranes. Reports this year include multiple Golden Eagles, Swainson’s Hawks, and Broad-winged Hawks. Single Sandhill Cranes showed up elsewhere in Clallam County in May, including 4 flying over Bob and Leslie Bagwell’s home at Blue Ribbon Farms on 5/13, one that passed over Kathleen Kleinschmidt’s home in Port Angeles on 5/18, and another seen by Jean Siesener and others at Schmuck Road from 5/19-21.

Sally Harris photographed a lovely female Northern Bobwhite at her home near Sequim on 6/7. Other recent Bobwhite sightings come from the usual areas near Joyce, where Bruce Paige heard 2 males calling on 5/2 and Sue Nattinger found 2 others on 5/24. Sue spoke to the owner of the property, who confirmed that the birds escaped this winter when snow collapsed fences on his property.

It’s been a good winter and spring for Red-naped Sapsuckers in Clallam, including one found at Mora campground by Kathleen Kleinschmidt on 5/2.

The best mountain bird report comes from Jordan Gunn, who hiked to Marmot Pass and Buckhorn Mountain on 5/26. Jordan saw at least 5 Clark’s Nutcrackers, 4 Pine Grosbeaks, and 2 Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches. He says the nutcrackers were very social, calling and cavorting as if in courtship. Michael Heaney reported a singing Pine Grosbeak in Olympic National Park on 6/15. Not in the mountains, Sue Nattinger found a lowland PIne Grosbeak near Joyce on 5/23.

California Scrub-Jay
Photo by Judi White

One California Scrub Jay has taken up residence on the west side of RR Bridge Park, seen on Wednesday morning bird walks on 6/5 and 6/26.

In other songbird news, the Bagwells reported a very late Northern Shrike at their yard in Blue Ribbon Farms on 5/28. Western Kingbirds popped up at several places: seen by Randy Hill on 5/2 at Diamond Point, seen by Judi White on 5/13 at Dungeness Landing Park, and seen by Bruce Paige on 6/14 at the Waatch River Valley. Judi White also photographed a late female Mountain Bluebird at Helen’s Pond on 6/5. Will Brooks and Justine Jones found a “gorgeous” male Lapland Longspur in breeding plumage at Hobuck Beach on 5/9. Joel Brady-Power found a Clay-colored Sparrow at the jetty at Neah Bay on 6/4, along with a singing Fox Sparrow nearby. Bruce Paige also spotted a Fox Sparrow at Neah Bay on 6/14, where they likely nest. 

Thank you for your sightings! Summer is upon us, so if you see or hear any interesting birds, please call Bob Boekelheide at 360-808-0196, or email