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Bird Sightings

by Denny AFMJ Van Horn

“Holy mucilage, Batman . . . Clallam County ROCKS!” And does it ever!! Why? Well, just ask Carolyn Wilcox about her sighting of Washington’s first Painted Redstart out at Cape Flattery, or any of the many who found Washington’s second record of a Phainopepla. That’s why! But wait . . . that’s not all, for just another look-see you too could’ve seen the American Golden Plover, or the Tennessee Warbler, or the Northern Waterthrush, or the Buff-breasted Sandpiper; and then there’s the Lazuli Bunting and the . . . Whoaaaaa! I better take a breath, slow down a bit, and take a more laid-back approach to reporting these past two month’s sightings. So, here we go!

Painted Redstart
Photo by Mike Charest

Since it’s that time of the year when Neah Bay goes bonkers with ‘Good birds!’, let me revisit Wilcox’s Painted Redstart, which continued it’s early morning show at Cape Flattery. The last sighting was 9/17. Neah Bay birding continued it’s magic with a Solitary Sandpiper found by Ryan Merrill in the Wa’atch Valley [8/29]. He and Charlie Wright also located a Tennessee Warbler that same day near the Makah Museum.

Northern Waterthrush
Photo by Alex Patia

And then Alexander Patia turned up a Northern Waterthrush in the swampy woods along Ba’adah Village Loop road. He was clued in by the bird’s loud chip notes; then photographed it as it popped up into view. And if that wasn’t enough, Alex was “shocked” to find a Buff-breasted Sandpiper out on Hobuck Beach … both of these rarities only hours apart on 8/30. Adrianne Akmajian had a Red-eyed Vireo in her backyard at the mouth of the Wa’atch River; while just across the river Nadine Drisseq found a single Snowy Plover foraging along the beach [9/1]; another was photographed on Rialto Beach by Jake Bramante [9/22]. Cara Borre found the year’s first Stilt Sandpiper along the low tide-line near the Warmhouse restaurant.

Snowy Plover
Photo by Mike Charest

While walking the Boom Road, sifting through the hundreds of warblers that were inhabiting the woods, Sarah Peden and Jordan Gunn found a Chestnut-sided Warbler and an American Redstart, along with seven other warbler species [9/5] giving them an unprecedented nine-warbler day. The redstart was the second one found in the area that week – Brad Waggoner ticked the first one. So now, let’s toss in a female Yellow-headed Blackbird [9/6] that showed up at Akmajian’s seed feeder.

Red-shouldered Hawk
Photo by Charlie Wright

Charlie Wright and Ryan Merrill photographed a Red-shouldered Hawk in the Wa’atch River valley [9/8] … a “good bird” anytime or anywhere for the county. Something else they saw that is always amazing to witness were at least sixty Black Swifts doing aerial dances – in their words, “Big clouds and passing rain showers presumably concentrated these birds; just about any time we looked up [we] had several dozen in view at once.” And to top the day off, they documented a second Tennessee Warbler near the Sea Watch overlooking the bay. Nick Glover tallied 100 Brown Pelicans at Cape Alava [10/1]. Noah Sanday noted a flock of 113 Black Oystercatchers from the lookout at Cape Flattery [10/9]. And an oddball African Collared Dove [aka Ringed Turtle Dove] was found in the village by Ryan Merrill [8/29].

Long-tailed Jaeger
Photo by A. B. Calk

Several outings from La Push and Neah Bay onto ocean waters scored big with pelagic species. First though, while taking the M/V Coho across to Victoria, Bryan Calk photographed the year’s first Long-tailed Jaeger [9/01] … a beautiful adult with a streaming tail. On a pelagic survey out of La Push, Ryan Merrill recorded the year’s first Buller’s Shearwater and South Polar Skua [9/5].

Flesh-footed Shearwater
Photo by Brad Waggoner

Then on 9/06, he documented two Flesh-footed Shearwaters; again, first records for the year. Scott Schuette, birding 20 miles W of Cape Flattery, added the year’s first Leach’s Storm-Petrel and Short-tailed Shearwater. Ken Lane added a Laysan Albatross, as it flew passed his boat while fishing off the Cape [10/3]. Then on 9/15 the M/V Windsong made its third pelagic trip of the year out onto the waters off Cape Flattery. I’m just going to list noted species and jaw-dropping numbers.

California Gulls
Photo by Bob Boekelheide

California Gulls are back from their northern breeding grounds; we found a few–22,400! And what else? Sooty Shearwater [9,550], Pink-footed Shearwater [1,266], Flesh-footed Shearwater [2, maybe 3], Buller’s Shearwater [56], Sabine’s Gull [1,670], Pomarine Jaeger [20], Parasitic Jaeger [2], Long-tailed Jaeger [2], jaeger species [2], South Polar Skua [1], Red-necked Phalarope [47], Black Oystercatcher [69], AND one black Merlin that came ripping past the boat only feet off the water – heading towards the Cape. We were miles off shore when that one went by! And 29 Sandhill Cranes that were coming south from Vancouver Island. And that leads me into their migratory numbers this fall.

The first Sandhill cranes noted moving south were on 9/14 when the Waggoner brothers “. . . [were] first alerted to their presence by the rattling bugle like call. One flock of eight joined another flock of eight that were rising in a kettle. After obtaining sufficient height, they continued their migration south.” And for the first time in years, good numbers of cranes were seen flying south from other locations in the county besides Neah Bay. Almost daily from the first sighting until early October cranes flew over heading south. The highest daily tally was 145 [9/23]; total numbers recorded were 815 cranes. These are just the birds we know of; how many others passed unseen/unheard is a guess. When compared to the northward migration totals [3,285, 3/30 to 5/2] these fall numbers represent only a small fraction of the spring migration.

I’ve kind of spent most of this time out to the far west end of the county. Guess I ought to bring this report back inland a bit. How about this: Michael Barry sighted a Red-shouldered Hawk near the Creamery on Towne road [9/12]. And then there’s Bob Boekelheide’s Ruff [9/11]. That bird was so far out there on the tide flats that even at 60x it was nothing more than a speck of fluff behaving like a Ruff [or a Reeve]. How’s that for ID characteristics? And then the long spate of sightings of Pacific Golden Plovers at 3 Crabs, Dungeness Landing, and Ediz Hook. And toss in an American Golden Plover [9/11 & 9/18].

Golden Eagle
Photo by Scott Gremel

An adult Golden Eagle back in the Olympics; Scott Gremel and Mandy Holmgren twitched that one [10/23]. Paulette Ache had a drake Canvasback at Dawn Lake [10/21]. Bruce Paige had 42 Great Blue Heron at Jimmy-Come-Lately Creek [9/16].

And how about them Swallows! Not many birders are aware that by the second week of September, swallows leave en masse! And nowhere is this more evident than out in Dungeness where they stage in massive numbers. Here’s a sampling. On 9/5 off E Palmer, Barn Swallow [1,050], Tree [25], Cliff [140], Rough-winged [12], Violet-green [28], Purple Martin [22] … and this was on just two sets of telephone wires at the end of the culdesac. On 9/12 there were an estimated 2,850 swallows on wires at 3 Crabs and on 9/13 there were none! Always hate to see them leave.

Photo by David Hoder

And that brings me to this bird: Phainopepla! I’ll simply leave this sighting in the words Bob Boekelheide posted on 9/19 to eBird, “On this morning’s Wednesday bird walk at RR Bridge Park, we discovered a male Phainopepla in a scrubby area on the west side of the Dungeness River flycatching and eating berries as it perched in an elderberry bush. It seems quite territorial, even trying to supplant waxwings from the bush: CC’s first, WA’s second.’  For weeks the bird hung at that location. At last estimate over 200 birders made the trip to look-see, photograph, tick, tally, and oogle. It was last seen on the afternoon of 10/23.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Photo by Ann Nightengale

Darn, almost forgot these gems: Blue-gray Gnatcatcher [9/14], Lark Sparrow [9/15], Palm Warbler [9/29], Snow Bunting [10/21], Prothonotary Warbler [10/22], and Clay-colored Sparrow [10/22] … all out at Neah Bay. Meanwhile, the Dungeness Bay Willet continues to be seen every now and then.

I have to close this column now, but I’ll do it with one more sighting. A few days ago, out at Neah Bay up on Bahokus Peak in the thick of trees and clearcuts, Mike Charest flushed a Wilson’s Snipe! If that doesn’t confirm Robin’s claim that “Clallam County Rocks!”, then I don’t know what does. Good Birding, my friends.