Birds of the STP (and other Yucky Places)

Today’s birding took me to lots of places – starting with a stakeout looking for a Lesser Goldfinch in Snohomish County where it is extremely rare.  Not a good look, but unmistakable.  Thank you Ann Marie (again) and David Poortinga who discovered the rarity at a feeder – at his house.

Lesser and American Goldfinch – Courtesy Ann Marie Wood

Now where?  I wanted to look for a Short Eared Owl at Eide Road so I headed off to Stanwood and as I usually do I made a quick stop at the Stanwood Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) where there were a few ducks including a Ruddy Duck and some Dunlin.

Eide Road (Legue Island) is a favorite spot – really put on the map by superbirder/lister Michael Williston before he relocated to Omaha.  Over the years I have had many wonderful birds there and it is a reasonably reliable spot for Short Eared Owls – as it was today.  Caution is needed however as it is prime hunting ground and today I was reminded of this by the pick up trucks filling the parking lot and the shots ringing out in the fields.  I remained on the road and in the car and had terrific looks at a single Short Eared Owl before other photographers, not in a car, motivated the owl to fly off its open perch – even though they were not intrusively close.  Lots of spectacular Western Meadowlarks with their black vests on bright yellow chests.  But time to move on again…

My Favorite Eide Road Short Eared Owl Photo

Short Eared Owl


Not far from Eide Road is another favorite place – but of an entirely different kind – the “Sparrow Spot” on Norman Road – which is a much more appealing designation than – the “Manure Piles” on Norman Road.  But whatever you want to call it, the place has lots of birds and is especially good for sparrows.  Today was no exception with 9 species of “sparrows”:  White and Golden Crowned, Song, Lincoln’s, White Throated, Fox and House (ok it’s a weaver) Sparrows plus Dark Eyed Junco and Spotted Towhee.  Also seen were Orange Crowned and Yellow Rumped Warblers, Bald Eagle, Trumpeter Swans and the Barn Owl that roosts in the red barn next door.  Not today, but a Harris’s Sparrow has been found there as well.

White Throated Sparrow – Norman Road Manure Piles

White Throated Sparrow3

It is NOT the most pleasant place and with windows open the stench can be pretty bad.  It is basically a couple of manure piles from the neighboring dairy with some hay often around as well.  The farmers are nice to birders but you do have to stay out of the way of the tractors bringing in “material” to add to the collection so to speak.  It was the combination of that stop and the stop at the Stanwood STP that prompted today’s post.  Not that there is a paucity of evidence to support the proposition anyhow, but the amount of time that birders spend at Sewage Treatment Plants, Landfills, Garbage Dumps, manure piles and sewage lagoons is proof positive that we are – well, at least different.

Today got me wondering about the birds I had seen over the years at such places – so I did a little studying.  In the State of Washington I have seen just under 410 species.  If someone had asked how many I had seen at the aforementioned kinds of places I would have guessed maybe 75 – not even close.  The actual number and I am pretty sure I have missed some spots (like the junkyard at Neah Bay) is 135!!  And not just quantity.  How is this for a list of really good Washington Birds:  American Bittern, Baird’s Sandpiper, Barn Owl, Cattle Egret, Elegant Tern, Franklin’s Gull, Harris’s Sparrow, Lapland Longspur, Little Gull, Merlin, Red Shouldered Hawk, Ruff, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Sharp Tailed Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper, Thayer’s Gull, Tricolored Blackbird, Tropical Kingbird and White Throated Sparrow.

Sharp Tailed Sandpiper – Ocean Shores STP

Sharp Tailed Sandpiper

Red Shouldered Hawk – Hoquiam STP

Red Shouldered Hawk

Ruff – Hoquiam STP ruff

On a trip to India we searched for a Painted Snipe, a truly beautiful bird in the most foul sewage lagoon I have ever seen – absolutely disgusting place and no bird.  I questioned our sanity then and admittedly I probably would have reached a different conclusion if the bird had been found.  I also wonder about the ducks that float around for days on end in places like the Everett Sewage Ponds – how does that compare to the experience of their cousins that live in pristine lakes somewhere.  (And do hunters shoot these ducks — and EAT THEM?) I guess it is all about food and safety but they have wings and theoretically have better spots available to them.

Maybe this blog is a response to the urges I have had at times to “write a book”.  I expect many of us have these thoughts and fortunately we never act upon them and face the reality.  One of the subjects that I have had in mind often is “Birds of the STP’s”.  In my dream the book would be light hearted and would be illustrated.  And in this vision the illustrator of course would be Gary Larson – his offbeat take would show the birds with just a little something “off” – a third eye, perhaps a giant bill – the result of living with what must be “bad stuff” in the sewage or garbage.  Then I wonder too if we birders hang around these places too much,  will we become a little “off” as well – or maybe if it has already happened.

Larson Vultures

See you at the dump… bring your scope!!!



O Canada Redux – Black Headed Gull in Vancouver, B.C.

This is getting to be old hat:  get up early, meet friend(s), cross border into Canada, find exciting rare bird, meet new birders, see old friends.  Get photo. Come home.

Black Headed Gull

Black Headed Gull3

Well not quite that easy – but today almost.  Ann Marie Wood, Steve Pink and I left Edmonds at 6:00 a.m. and headed North in search of a Black Headed Gull that was first seen two days ago at Trout Lake in Vancouver, B.C.  The Black Headed Gull  (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) is a small gull that breeds in much of Europe and Asia.  I saw my first one at the Mai Po Nature Reserve outside of Hong Kong on Christmas Day 1979.  I was in the company of James, an ex-pat Brit – how appropriate as now just over 36 years later here I was with Steve Pink – another super ex-pat Brit birder.

Black Headed Gulls have been seen both in Washington State and in B.C. before but they are quite rare in both places – a great attraction for birders.  I had chased one in South Bend, Washington in 2014 and after waiting more than an hour had a very quick and unsatisfying view before it flew off.  When we crossed the Border at Blaine, our border guard was the same personable (I know that is rare in this job category) young woman that greeted us on our quest earlier this month for the even rarer Siberian Accentor in Surrey.  I remembered her; she remembered me and once again she smiled when we told her we were after another bird.  And just as before, “No we were not bringing in any seed/feed or firearms!!”  Maybe this greeting was a good omen.

We found our way to Trout Lake (Jack Hendry Park) without trouble and were optimistic as the lake just before us as we parked was full of gulls and a birder was checking them out with his scope.  Rule 1 when chasing a bird somewhere (pretty sure I have said this earlier in this blog) is to look first for the birders hoping they have already found the target.  No such luck this time.  He had been at the Park for just under an hour and no luck so far.  Our optimism sank a bit.  Then another birder arrived, Sebastian Pardo.  He lived nearby, was extremely knowledgeable about this bird and birds in general and he said not to worry.  “It usually shows up around 10 when most of the off leash dogs (allowed) are gone”.

Some more Canadian birders arrived and the additional eyes were valuable and indeed proved so fairly quickly as the Black Headed Gull arrived out of nowhere at about 9:10 a.m. and landed with the 100 plus other gulls on the Lake.  In the same cooperative spirit it would show throughout the remainder of our stay, it conveniently landed at the extreme left end of the raft – all alone and clearly identifiable by its size, red feet and red bill with a dark tip.  YAY!! we had found our bird. I got a quick photo but not a very good one as the light and distance were not terrific.  Sebastian was off by 50 minutes – we all approved.

Black Headed Gull in Lake with Mew Gulls (first photo)

Black Headed Gull first photo

Very shortly thereafter Tina Klein and Nathaniel Peters showed up.  They had been at the Accentor sighting earlier (as had Ann Marie but not Steve) – well representing the Washington State birding community.  Nathaniel got an immediate look – ABA bird 668 for him.  Tina was a little late getting on it as it was now buried in the flock.  Then CHAOS!!  Every gull took off from the lake – an eagle was overhead and gulls are eagle food.  Where was it?  Where did it go?  Nathaniel had the answer – right over there on the grass – in the open with only one other bird with it.  We raced for better looks and photos.

As I said this was a most cooperative bird as it remained in the open in the grass and pictures were easy.  A favorite for the day was one of the Gull eating a worm which I saw it pull from the grass – a taste that Robins and gulls, at least Black Headed ones apparently share.

Black Headed Gull with Worm

Some of its cousins joined it on the grass but with its smaller size and red bill and feet, our friend was easy to find.  Then  CHAOS again – not an eagle just a very energetic young boy running at and scattering the gulls.  As they flew off and landed and he repeated his charge we screamed at him to stop which he fortunately did.  Still cooperating our Black Headed Gull now landed on the even closer gravel playfield.  More birders and photographers arrived and the Gull continued to accommodate us all.  I caught a photo that I guess is what happens when you eat worms (and whatever else gulls eat) – the stream of white coming out of the gull’s bottom as clear and well timed as I have ever photographed.  Please do not take the photo as an editorial comment.

Black Headed Gull Defecating

We had been at the lake maybe 30 minutes before the gull arrived.  We enjoyed perhaps 20 minutes watching it and it was now not even 10:00 a.m.  What next?  We considered a trip to Iona Island in search of the Tufted Duck that has been there for a while but instead, driven by the County Birding Madness that consumes both Steve and Ann Marie, we decided to head south to Whatcom County to try to find Mountain Bluebirds that had been reported there this week.  I had seen one at Semiahmoo in Whatcom County last year, but it would be a new county bird for each of them.  I was game – sure let’s go – but first a stop at Semiahmoo – which I always enjoy.

Semiahmoo Spit is immediately across from Canada and is usually a great place for waterfowl and shorebirds.  It delivered again although there were not as many birds as often can be seen there.  Just before getting to Semiahmoo as we drove by Drayton Harbor we spied a Northern Shrike, always a good bird.

Northern Shrike

As we drove onto the Spit, we were greeted first by a young coyote sauntering across the road without a care.

Semiahmoo Coyote

In Canada we had seen many Bald Eagles – and we would see many more later this day.  This included several on the Spit – a common find there.

Immature Bald Eagle

Immature Bald Eagle

Ann Marie was particularly interested in seeing some White Winged Scoters.  We found a small group in the bay but from the back seat she was not able to get a good view.  I told her not to worry as I was sure there would be more – and in a few minutes we had 150 plus on the Drayton Harbor side – joined by Surf Scoters as well.  She was also interested in a Long Tailed Duck – another bird often found here. Just as Steve commented that they are more often found out at the end of the spit, one flew right by us – the only one we saw that day.

White Winged and Surf Scoters at Semiahmoo

White Winged and Surf Scoters

Other treats from the Spit were Harlequin Ducks, Common and Red Throated Loons, Horned Grebes and 4 species of shorebird – Dunlin, Black Turnstones, Sanderlings and a pair of Black Oystercatchers.

Black Oystercatcher

Black Oystercatcher2

Now it was off to the spot where the Mountain Bluebirds had been reported by Eric Ellingson.  I keyed the address into the Garmin GPS and followed directions only to arrive at a single house with a brown fence in a large open area.  Within 1 minute (ok 10 seconds) of arriving we saw a blue bird on the fence.  It was indeed our target.  Shortly thereafter a second duller version joined it.  The former a male, the latter the female.  Sometimes it really is easy.

Mountain Bluebird

We headed home with a detour through the Samish flats area but by the time we arrived so too had the rain and a lot of wind.  So we cut it short and headed home – very happy for the day.

With today’s Black Headed Gull added to the earlier Redwing and Siberian Accentor, Canada has been VERY good to me this year.










Bird and Memory of the Week – Red Billed Streamertail

I hope that there will be sufficient experiences and photos and memories and reflections to keep content flowing to this blog for a long while. I also hope that for the most part it will be a spontaneous expression and I definitely do not want it ever to feel like an obligation. Some discipline is probably a good thing, however, and it is to that end that I am going to try to start each week with some particular bird of memory that has special meaning to me – and hopefully interest to others. While the birds will be the focus of each post, it will be the associated stories that matter most to me.

My first Bird and Memory of the Week is the Red Billed Streamertail or “Doctor Bird”. It is the National Bird of Jamaica and is spectacular. I have chosen it not just for its beauty but also because it is probably the first international bird that I remember seeing and it has both wonderful associations and memories and I believe a good related story. The images are not mine – I first saw this bird in 1967 and cameras and film were way beyond my means at the time.

Red Billed Steamertail1

Back in another life when I was a young man (or at least becoming one), sports were a very important part of my life; and birds were not. Specifically I was a very serious competitor in track and field with my event being the Javelin. In 1967-69 (yes I am very old), I was a member of the Harvard Track team – a truly excellent squad that qualified many for the NCAA Championships, a story for another time.  I was a scholarship student at Harvard, definitely not someone of any financial means, and I had certainly never traveled internationally. BUT Harvard did have its resources and in 1967 a fairly large number of us traveled to Jamaica for Spring Training. We stayed at Independence Park in Kingston where the Commonwealth Games had been held the previous year. It was an amazing time and my eyes were popped wide open most of the time we were there.

Javelin Record

One of the best parts of the experience was training with some members of the Jamaica National team who had competed in those Games and who the next year would compete in the Olympics. These were great athletes, National Heroes and very cool folks. Somehow there was no racial tension – on the track or when in spare time we went into downtown Kingston with some of the athletes. Everyone knew these guys and we were like hangers on with rock stars. I remember one fellow in particular – Keswick Smalling who I believe was a decathlon guy. He was friendly, talented and gorgeous. It seemed that every woman in Jamaica knew him and he was constantly greeted with “Kezzie” as we walked the streets.

One of our non-training visits (we actually trained very hard and got much more out of the time than we would have in the still frozen fields of Cambridge) was to Dun’s River Falls – a world famous tourist mecca with the Dun’s River flowing over smoothed rocks into pools and then falling again into more pools and over more rocks. I remember distinctly the incredible hummingbirds with long streamer tails that seemed to be everywhere around the falls. I was not a birder yet but it was impossible not to be amazed by these awesome beautiful birds.

Dun's River Falls

It would be many years before I returned to Jamaica. Tracks and javelins were long ago history but I remembered that bird and now as a birder I wanted to see that bird more than anything else. It is endemic to Jamaica and is relatively common there. We went to Dun’s River Falls and sure enough there they were zipping around just as I remembered – but now even more spectacular to me.

As I began to write this I did a google search for Keswick Smalling. I found some references to track meets but mostly to a much younger man who is apparently a soccer star. It has to be the son – gorgeous just like his father was. Almost as gorgeous as the Red Billed Streamertail.

Red Billed Steamertail

Loss – Remembering Arne Gillam

This one is not about birds – forgive me – although many birds were seen on fishing trips with my great friend Arne Gillam – some even appreciated by him although his focus was on the hoped for trout.  Last night I read an email from another great friend who is having a tough time and I thought of the value of simple solid friendship.  That stirred my memory of Arne and I recalled something I wrote about him, about friendship and about loss not long after his unexpected passing almost 6 years ago now.

I debated whether to add this to my newly found blog space.  Then I thought about how all of us have had losses in our life: family, friends, loved ones.  We all know the pain and we all have the memories.  Take comfort in those memories and in creating new ones.

Remembering my great lost friend Arne Gillam…


Boat over log


There are very few people in the world who…

  • Are at peace and in being so help others be at peace as well…
  • Can listen with an open mind and an open heart and understand with both as well…
  • Can always be counted on not just to do what they say but to also know what to say and how to do it…
  • Can remember the three left turns and four right turns needed to get to wherever it is and get them right every time…
  • Enjoys every day on every river, no matter the number of strikes or long line releases or fish in hand, because every such day is a gift and a remembrance of what is really worthwhile in the world…
  • Can honestly, steadfastly and skillfully negotiate for his client’s best interests and all the while do so treating the party on the other side as an adversary as necessary but never as an enemy and always with respect, decency and a shared common interest of possibilities…
  • Is equally comfortable catching the first fish, the most fish or the biggest fish as he is watching another do the same…and knows that the next time, the roles may be reversed…
  • I can be comfortable with as a passenger in a car driving just as fast as I would, because I know I need neither be in control nor worry about skill and safety…
  • Teach and exemplify the meaning and value of true friendship every day and in every way…
  • Can accept shortcomings in others without judgment knowing that none of us is perfect…
  • Speaks volumes even in silence by strength of character and action…
  • Walks the walk when others merely talk the talk…
  • Is passionate about life and his family and his friends and his interests…
  • Has never stopped growing and wanting to know more…
  • Is my friend, my teacher, my student, my fishing buddy, my confidante, my source of great happiness…

Arne with rainbow

Arne, you were all of these and much more. You have greatly enhanced my life and will always be with me, be alive in me. I am and will be forever grateful and thankful for the moments, hours, days, years we have shared.

I could not have asked for a better friend. You could not have been a better person. While I am going to miss you in so many ways, every time I do, I will also remember how wonderful it has been to be with you and I hope that whatever is ahead for you in the plan that God has for you, you will find some time to recall that as well.

I really do love you Arne…you are the best.

P.S. I really don’t know anything about what comes “next”, but if somehow that includes ANY influence over the fishing “gods”, I would really appreciate it if you could let me land one of those big fish. I promise I will look up in thanks and may even give it a kiss from you as I release it.

What do you say…Let’s see what is ahead for us over the next hill…

Arne and Blair next hill


Cherish your friends. 

Be as good a friend as you can be. 

Share the moments and the memories…





What a Difference a Year Makes – Common/Uncommon Redpolls

On January 20th, two days ago I had some business to attend to in the University District.  While I am not a “county lister” per se, Ebird does keep track of my county observations for me and I admit to at least paying attention.  I guess it is a general human trait, but some numbers seem to be more appealing than others and this is especially the case for multiples of 100.

That is all introductory to my decision on the 20th to try to add two birds to my King County list to bring it to 200 species.  Not really much given that I had lived in King County for 40 years and have only lived in Snohomish County for 3 years yet have observed 221 species there.  Back to the story.  I had never seen a Great Egret in King County.  One was reported at the Ballard Locks for quite a while at the end of 2015 but I never felt the need to add it as #199.  However, when many people reported seeing one from Sakuma Viewpoint off Boat Street AND there were also many reports of a feeding flock of Common Redpolls at Greenlake (another bird never seen by me in King County), I figured a little time after my meeting to possibly add both and hit that oh so appealing 200 was an opportunity not to be missed.

The Great Egret was easy and not very satisfying – on a houseboat across the canal from the viewpoint – partially obscured but hard to misidentify a big white wader with a yellow bill.  Was not worried about photos as this year I am looking only for new ones or quality and this bird offered neither.  So then it was on to Greenlake where the Redpoll flock had been reported feeding on Birch catkins “just south of the swimming pool”.  Well just south turned out to be about 1/4 mile but there they were at the tops of some birches paying no attention to the many passersby.  Horrible light but I took a few photos just because they are such neat little birds.  A couple of other birders came by and one, Rich Frank had one of those super telephoto lenses that I covet (500 mm Canon) and was definitely on the birds.  We had a very nice talk and viewing his photos made me want to erase all of mine…a definite case of lens envy.

Common Redpoll – one of 35+ – Greenlake

Common Redpoll2

Greenlake is always fun as it so often provides opportunities to see ducks, gulls and grebes close up and there is usually a Eurasian Widgeon or two mixed in with the myriad American Widgeons as well.  So on the way back to the car I could not resist a couple of other photo ops even with the grey skies.

Pied Billed Grebe – Greenlake

Pied Billed Grebe

American Widgeon – Greenlake

American Widgeon

As I said talking with Rich was great, but even better was sharing the experience with many folks who walked by and asked what we were doing.  All of them thought it very cool when I explained that these were very unusual birds for this location, that they were “northern finches” and that their name came from the red on their “poll” – head.  I showed them various photos from that day or previous observations and also called up the bird on I-Bird to share information.  These kinds of experiences are some of the most enjoyable I have in my birding – interaction with interested non-birders who genuinely appreciate learning and being brought into a new circle.

Indeed my favorite all-time experience was when an older couple (both in their eighties) walked by me on the path just north of Shoveler Pond at Union Bay.  I was down in the muck with my camera and bins and the lady asked what I was doing.  I came up onto the trail and told her I was looking at a Virginia Rail and showed her some photos.  She was very engaged and said she would love to see one some day.  I asked her if that day might be “today” because this rail had been very responsive to the “grunt” call and might be seen if she could come down off the path a bit, but it might be a little wet.  She said a little gunk had never been a problem and she took my arm and we walked carefully down to the edge of the pond.  I played the call and a rail responded immediately.  My new lady friend literally shrieked – joyful.  THEN…it came out into the open for a few seconds and she could see it clearly.  Maybe I was wrong and she was eight instead of eighty because the little girl in her was certainly out in the open.  A beautiful shared moment.

Virginia Rail

Back to the Redpolls.  No shrieking, but it was cool to share these birds and how wonderful that so many people/birders had gotten to see them in such an accessible place.  I have seen them in many areas in Washington but certainly most commonly in the Okanogan.  From my trips there earlier in the year and to Salmo Mountain I knew this was a great year for “northern finches” and I wondered how the Greenlake Redpolls fit in this pattern.  A little Ebird research and the answer is clear – at least compared to last year this is an extraordinary time for Common Redpolls…extraordinary!

In December 2014/January 2015 Common Redpolls were reported on Ebird in 6 counties in Washington:  Okanogan (many records), Pend Oreille, Walla Walla, Grant, Stevens and King (a single record and I wonder…).  By comparison, and recognizing that there is still more than a week left in January 2016, for the same period December 2015/January 2016, Common Redpolls have been seen in 24 Counties:  the same 6 as the previous winter Okanogan, Pend Oreille, Walla Walla, Grant, Stevens and of course King (both Greenlake and in Bellevue) plus Thurston, Adams, Yakima, Snohomish, Skagit, Whatcom, Jefferson, Whitman, Douglas, Chelan, Benton, Lincoln, Spokane, Island, Franklin and Clark.  I myself have seen Redpolls in King, Franklin, Clark and Okanogan. Actually in Clark I should say heard and not seen.  After seeing the Beautiful Yellow Throated Warbler at Lake Sacajawea in Longview, Jon Houghton and I headed south to see if we could find the Snowy Egret for him that I had seen earlier in the year near Post Office Lake.  Ryan Merrill and Robert Flores who had also been at the warbler also made the trek.  We never did find the Snowy Egret and we hiked all the way to the end of the trail.  But as is so often the case, Ryan heard something none of the rest of us at first could hear – Common Redpolls flying high overhead.  He was right of course and a little later, I too heard the familiar call.  A very surprising bird in that far south location – another proof that this is definitely a Redpoll Year.

Common Redpoll – Okanogan

Common Redpoll 3

It is not just that they have been seen in so many more counties.  There have also been multiple sightings in some of these places compared to single sightings last winter.  I am sure that academic types (or at least birders more serious than I am) have explanations for this irruption – food scarcity further north, better success on breeding grounds, snow, global warming or whatever.  And that would be interesting to know.  But whatever the cause, how nice it is to have these little finches as visitors.  I hope they enjoy their stay.

Birding in Maine with the Schoodic Institute

The Schoodic Institute is an independent 501c3 nonprofit organization committed to guiding present and future generations to greater understanding and appreciation for nature by providing research and learning opportunities through its outstanding Acadia National Park setting, unique coastal Maine facilities, and innovative partnership programs.  I was the beneficiary of one such program in June 2015 when the Schoodic Institute’s Bird Ecology Program offered a birding tour in partnership with the Maine Birding Trail.  It was designed with Bob Duchesne, former Maine State legislator, natural history tour operator, and author of “The Maine Birding Trail”.  It included 4 nights lodging, 5 days of field trips in the northern forest during the height of songbird singing as well as the raucous seabird breeding islands along the Downeast coast.  It was fabulous!!

Although I had gone to school in Boston, I was not a birder then and missed out on such great birding areas as the Mt. Auburn Cemetery, Cape Cod and the forests and coasts of Maine.  My daughter lives in Boston and so there is always a good reason to visit this formerly neglected area.  Previous trips had taken me to some of those missed spots, but I never made it to Maine.  The Mountains to Sea program seemed like the perfect combination of highlight areas but was not long enough so I added 4 more days on my own so I could include Machias Seal Island with its breeding colonies and both Scarborough Marsh and the Kennebunk Plains.  I had researched these areas and was excited at the chance to see and hopefully photograph many Eastern birds some of which would be new ABA Life birds.  Ending the trip with a visit to see my daughter would be icing on a very rich cake.

Oh yeah…a lobster or two would also be nice and the folks at Schoodic must have known this as a highlight was a lobster dinner for the group.

Lobster Blair

First a note of praise.  Bob Duchesne and Seth Benz, the Schoodic leader, were fantastic and the whole program was extremely well done.  I believe the program is being offered again this year and I highly recommend it, especially if you have not birded Maine before.

The program started in Baxter State Park and I will start with a disclosure of disappointment.  One of the key target birds was Spruce Grouse – a can’t miss specialty – but we missed it.  Bob and Seth worked so hard and it just did not happen.  Fortunately I later saw one at Bunchgrass Meadows with Khanh Tran in Washington and got a lovely picture but the miss was made up for with other great birds including many warblers not seen in Washington except as rarities.  These included:

Black Throated Green Warbler

Black Throated Green Warbler 2

Bay Breasted Warbler

Bay Breasted Warbler



Chestnut Sided Warbler

Chestnut Sided Warbler

Magnolia Warbler (Seen once in Washington at the Gingko SP Ranger Station with George Pagos, Mike Clarke and Kevin Black)

Magnolia Warbler

Canada Warbler

Canada Warbler

Palm Warbler (seen often in Washington but never in breeding plumage)

Palm Warbler

Northern Parula (also seen as a rarity in Washington at Walla Walla Fort SP)

Northern Parula (2)

None of these were life birds as I had seen them in other Eastern locations or in Texas, but many had not been seen for many years, had not been photographed and were beautiful in any event.  I was particularly happy to see the Chestnut Sided Warbler and Ovenbird as they had been chased and missed (more than once) in Washington.

Bob Duchesne was particularly good at finding woodpeckers and we referred to him as the “Woodpecker Whisperer or Conjurer”.  Tromping through marsh and woods he was able to deliver stunning views of both Three Toed and Black Backed Woodpeckers for the group.  Although I had of course seen both in Washington, many of the others in the group had never seen either before.  You can never see too many of these beauties.

Black Backed Woodpecker

Black Backed Woodpecker at Nest

Three Toed Woodpecker

American Three Toed Woodpecker

Other “special” birds seen in the first part of the trip included Barred Owl, Eastern Phoebe, Bobolink, Boreal Chickadee, Black Duck, Slate Colored form of the Dark Eyed Junco, Olive Sided, Great Crested and Yellow Bellied Flycatchers in addition to many of the more common or familiar birds seen elsewhere including Washington.  Some photos:

Boreal Chickadee (seen in Washington but this was my best ever photo)

Boreal Chickadee2

Yellow Bellied Flycatcher (a first ever picture)

Yellow Bellied Flycatcher

Great Crested Flycatcher

Great Crested Flycatcher

Barred Owl (seen in Washington and elsewhere but never this soaking wet!!)

Barred Owl

Black Duck (again seen elsewhere but somehow my first photo)

Black Duck

Eastern Phoebe (I actually saw and photographed this species in Rosalia, WA in 2012)

Eastern Phoebe

Not everything seen at the Park was a bird.  We also had great looks at moose, deer and minks and a very brief sighting of a distant black bear.

Cow Moose and Calf

Moose Cow with Calf

Baby Mink

Mink Baby

We then left the Mountains having seen 86 species and went to the Sea with a planned boat trip to see some of the special alcids etc. that was a major reason for many to participate in this program.  BUT we ran into some trouble.  We were scheduled to go out on a large boat but it had mechanical problems.  Seth performed a miracle and found a smaller boat that would go out for our group only to visit the waters around Petit Manan Island.

I was very pleased with the trip even though some of our views were more distant than I would have liked.  But we saw all of the expected birds except for one – Great Shearwater – again a “never miss” that was missed – perhaps because our smaller boat did not go as far ashore as we might otherwise have done.  (What was most disappointing about this miss was that not only would the Great Shearwater been a life bird for me, while I was in Maine this species was seen as a major rarity on one of the Westport Pelagic trips – so a double downer.)  Eighteen more state birds were added on this last day with the program – a very respectable total of 104 species and our birds that day included Razorbill, Atlantic Puffin, Arctic Tern, Common Eider, Great Black Backed Gull and Black Guillemot among others.

After our day at Sea we had a farewell dinner and bid each other adieu.  I won’t list names here, but it was a terrific group and all enjoyed the company as well as the leadership and of course the birds.  Again, I would highly recommend the program to anyone.  But now I was on my own and my first stop was Cutler, Maine a tiny little harbor where I would board a small boat and visit Machias Seal Island – claimed by both the U.S. and Canada and home to breeding colonies of some of the best birds we had seen the day before.  BUT if the tides and seas cooperated we would be able to go ashore and get up close and personal views.

There was a bit of a panic as the group assembled at the dock as Captain Andy of Bold Coast Charters, our captain, was not to be seen.  Fortunately he arrived a few minutes later.  The Barbara Frost was ready to motor and Andy said that water conditions looked perfect.


I have forgotten how far offshore we traveled but we saw some great birds along the way and arrived uneventfully and disembarked.  There is an operating lighthouse on the island that is “personned” by the Canadians.  Otherwise it is minimal housing and many blinds for visitors.

IMG_2382 - Copy

As we arrived we were welcomed by birds in the sea and in the air and fittingly by an Arctic Tern perched on the sign (bilingual) that was right at the landing.

Arctic Tern Welcome - Copy

The procedure is for the group to gather at a welcoming station, get a short introduction and then be escorted two at a time to one of the blinds.  The only “problem” is that while you can stay at your blind as long as you like, once you leave you cannot return and you cannot go to another blind.  This sounded like a major infringement on our freedom and a limitation on viewing opportunities – so of course we blamed the Canadians.  There was no need to worry however as all of the blinds were in prime territory with sufficient viewing area to see all of the birds and as you  will see in the pictures below, they were indeed very up close and personal.

I am not going to include every photo and there were many – please enjoy this selection.  Included will be photos of Arctic Tern, Atlantic Puffin, Razorbill, Northern Gannet, Black Guillemot, Common Murre and Common Eider all of which wither breed on the Island or are found in the waters close at hand.

RazorbillRazorbill Head - Copy

Atlantic Puffin

Atlantic Puffin Mouth - Copy

Northern Gannet

Northern Gannet - Copy

Gannet Wings - Copy

Arctic Tern

Arctic Tern with Fish - Copy

Common Murre

Common Murre


Razorbill Mouth 2 - CopyAtlantic Puffin

Atlantic Puffin 3 - Copy

Arctic Tern Juvenile

Arctic Tern Juvenile - Copy

Arctic Tern

Arctic Tern with Fish 2Common Eider Pair

Common Eider Pair

Common Eider Male

Common Eider1

Atlantic Puffin and Razorbills

Razorbills and Puffin

Black Guillemot

Black Guillemot

As is evident from the photos the birds were often VERY close to us in the blinds and they were also quite oblivious to our presence.  At times they were literally just a few feet away.  And when we were out of the blinds both Arctic and Common Terns zipped overhead often joined by the alcids returning to their nesting or resting areas.

The visit to Machias Seal Island ranks right near the top of all birding experiences in my life and I cannot recommend anything higher.  It was especially great for photography but it would be impossible not to be exhilarated by the experience. The Northern Gannet was the only new state bird for the day – but including the day before I added three new Life Birds:  Atlantic Puffin, Razorbill and Black Guillemot.  On to southern Maine to continue my trip.

It took the rest of the day to get to my next stop – a pleasant cabin just south of Scarborough Marsh in ____________ Maine.  The next morning I visited the marsh and also the Maine Audubon Center at Gilsland Farms and Popham Beach.  Scarborough Marsh is another not to be missed spot with many waders, shorebirds and both Saltmarsh and Nelson’s Sparrows.

Glossy Ibis

Glossy Ibis

Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron

Saltmarsh Sparrow

Saltmarsh Sparrrow

Nelson’s Sparrow

Nelson's Sparrow 2

The Audubon Center at Gilsland Farm is beautiful.  I had stopped by on my way to Scarborough the night before and learned that a Little Egret had been seen there lately.  This is another “mega” for North America – a wader similar to our Snowy Egret but breeding in temperate and tropical areas in Africa, Asia, Europe and Australia.  I had seen it first at the Mai Po Nature Center outside of Hong Kong in 1979, later in Australia and then in Kenya and most recently in South Africa in 2014.  Finding it in North America was “unheard of” yet there it was and I was fortunate to get a glimpse of it at one of the ponds at the Center.  Definitely an ABA Lifer.

Little Egret at Distance at Gilsland Farm

Little Egret

Little Egret Much Closer in South Africa (October 2014)

Little Egret (3)

Next stop was Popham Beach where I was able to get wonderful looks at and photos of both Least Tern and Piping Plover – a delicate little plover similar to the endangered Snowy Plovers found at Grayland Beach in Washington.

Least Tern on Nest

Least Tern on Nest

Piping Plover

Piping Plover

By day’s end the trip list was up to 122 species and both the Little Egret and Nelson’s Sparrow were new ABA Life birds.  I had a lobster roll for dinner and slept well in the little cabin with a light rain falling that night.

The next morning I headed off to Kennebunk Plains, a very different habitat – sandy plain with very different birds including my main target – Upland Sandpiper.  Birding with Dennis Paulson at the Oyhut Game Range in 2013  we had a very clear but brief sighting of an Upland Sandpiper in Washington where it is extremely uncommon.  It flew directly overhead.  I had also seen one that year at the airport in Dallas but no photo and I really wanted a good look at this long necked shorebird.  I was the only person at the plains and I walked around the loop 2.5 times before finally hearing the Sandpiper’s distinctive call and then finally finding one out in the open on the road.

Upland Sandpiper

Upland Sandpiper

Other good birds found here were Prairie Warbler, Brown Thrasher, Eastern Meadowlark, Field, Vesper and Grasshopper Sparrows, Bobolink and Eastern Towhee.

Field Sparrow

Field Sparrow

Eastern Towhee

Eastern Towhee

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher 2

Prairie Warbler

Prairie Warbler



Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

I returned to Scarborough with the trip list now standing at 132 species and I had added many new photos to my collection.   I picked up a few more trip birds including an Eastern Bluebird posing at my cabin as the rain returned that evening.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

It was now time to head to Boston but there would be a couple more stops along the way including a try for Roseate Tern at Pine Point Beach and then on to Capisic Pond.  The tides were not right at Pine Point but after a solid hour of searching I was finally able to spy a distant Roseate Tern – another ABA Life Bird.  Too far for a photo – lucky to find it at all – but disappointing as I had hoped for one close up.  At Capisic Pond I had both Virginia and Sora Rails and both Orchard and Baltimore Orioles. A last stop at Kennebunkport added a beautiful Green Heron, Tufted Titmouse and Black and White Warbler concluding the trip at 147 species seen in the state – far beyond expectations, but better yet because of the quality and the enjoyment at seeing them.

Green Heron

Green Heron

I hope to get back to Maine again – not to add birds to some list but just to revisit some great spots and see some of these birds again.  And of course another lobster or two would be welcome as well.





O Canada…Rare Visitors to B.C…Redwing and Siberian Accentor

In the Big Photo Year for Washington in 2015 I traveled to every corner of the state and saw and photographed many great birds.  I  am NOT going to repeat that journey in 2016 – as a minimum saving wear and tear on the car (35K in 2015) and cutting back on gasoline expenditures which was a major expense item.

That does not mean no bird chases for 2016 – but they will be limited to new species for Washington, new photos for Washington or new ABA area life birds that are “reasonably close”.  Opportunities for two of the latter arose earlier this month as a Redwing visited the Victoria area and a Siberian Accentor visited Surrey – both in British Columbia.

What follows is a short story of the chase for each, a couple of dreadful photos and some troubling reflections.


The Redwing is a small thrush native to Asia and Europe bearing some similarity to an immature American Robin.  It is extremely rare in North America – a misguided “vagrant” and is considered a “mega” in the birding world.

I was not deeply into state birding when a Redwing was found by Gene Revelas near Olympia in 2004 and 2005.  Nor was I aware that a Redwing was found in Victoria in 2013 and since I was doing a Washington Big Year then (not Photos) I probably would not have chased it if I had.  But when a Redwing reappeared in the same Victoria neighborhood (or is that neighbourhood if in Victoria?) in late December 2015 and was continuing to be seen in January I decided to give it a try if I could find some company.  Frank Caruso was happily  of a similar state of mind so on January 5th we took off early heading for the Tsawwassen ferry.

Our border crossing was easy and we made the 9:00 a.m. ferry with time to spare.  No good birds on the crossing which was disappointing but the Redwing was the goal.  The first snag was my not making the adjustment for kilometers and miles and getting a speeding ticket within a couple of miles of our destination.  Oh well not the first of those I have gotten in my birding ventures.  We easily found the stakeout spot – open lot in a nice residential neighborhood – with lots of mud and THE HOLLY TREES that the bird enjoyed.  I thought I had a glimpse of the bird within the first 15 minutes of arriving but it was fleeting and buried in the thickness of the hollies.  Then NOTHING for the next two hours.  We were joined however by an eager birder from Chicago who had flown into Seattle the day before so he could make the trek to Victoria for this lifer – I think something over 750 or 760 for him in the ABA area – American Birding Association – which is comprised of all of the U.S. and Canada except Hawaii.

It was a pretty cold miserable morning but it rained only a tiny bit.  But this was not enjoyable birding – standing and hoping for a glimpse.  We left our Chicago friend and headed off for a bathroom, some food and an attempt to find Skylarks in fields where they are often found that were not too far away.  This would have been a lifer for Frank and the first one for me since seeing some at Friday Harbor in the 1970’s – now extirpated in Washington.  No luck – so we headed back to the holly.

Paul from Chicago was still there.  He said that a group of local birders had been there maybe an hour before and the bird had been seen – but not by him so he was staying the course.  We watched together for maybe another hour.  We saw some movement that was hopeful but could not find the bird.  Then somehow Paul found it in a small opening in one of the holly bushes – still pretty hidden and obscured in branches but clearly THE REDWING.  I took a few photos in the now exceptionally poor light.  Could enough as ID proof but nothing more than that.  We thanked Paul said our goodbyes and headed off to the ferry and a long trip back to Seattle.  Yay…  but it somehow was just not very satisfying – maybe the setting, the wait or the fact that it was not part of a “Big something” but certainly a bird I would not have expected to add to my own ABA list #640.


Siberian Accentor

The Siberian Accentor is a small passerine bird, much like a sparrow, which breeds in northern Siberia on both sides of the Urals. It is migratory, wintering in southeast Asia. It is a rare vagrant in western Europe, and a very rare vagrant on the West Coast of the United States. Another “mega” in the ABA area.  I don’t know if it has ever been seen in Washington State – certainly not by me – but one was found by George Clulow in the Surrey area of British Columbia on January 3, 2016 although I was not aware of the sighting until after our Redwing jaunt.

British Columbia and particularly Vancouver has a very good, very active and very large birder community.  As word got out on this bird it was clear that it would be sought by many.  In the days after its discovery, viewing it was kind of hit and miss.  It was on private property – basically a large blueberry farm with some brush and a vacated house.  Not the best of viewing conditions – viewing from a bordering narrow road.  On the ferry ride back from the Redwing it was clear I was “coming down with something” as I spent much of the trip in uncontrollable shivers.  By the next day I had a fever and was highly congested and coughing most of the time.  Nonetheless, I thought I would give the bird a try and again found Frank Caruso a willing partner in crime – joining us was Ann Marie Wood – a very intrepid birder who lives nearby.  I warned everyone of my ailment but would wear a mask – hey it was a SIBERIAN ACCENTOR – worth the risk.

Again we set out early.  A fun moment was at the border crossing where our border guard, a young woman, was aware of the bird – maybe from others who had made the journey – although we were probably the first Americans at least that day – or from some publicity it had already raised.  We got to the Hill Farm location around 8:30 a.m. and found at least 25 birders already there.  This is in many ways a good thing on a chase as rule Number 1 is to look for other birders hoping that they already have found the bird and can simply point it out to you.  Even if they have not, the extra sets of eyes are very helpful.  Nobody had seen the target yet but several in the group had seen it in earlier days.

Birders kept arriving – all told many hundreds of thousands of dollars of optical and photography equipment with binoculars, scopes and cameras with big lenses.  By the time we left some hours later I think there were probably 100 birders there – many from Washington including several I knew.  It was very sunny which was nice, but that also meant it was quite cold.  The bird was from Siberia after all so it would not mind, but my “cold/flu/infection” was not real happy.  Basically we strung out along the road hoping for a glimpse in the brambles along a ditch on the side of the house or down the road separating the ditch from the blueberries or in the blueberries – or anywhere else it might select to be.  It had been seen in previous days with a large meandering flock of Dark Eyed Juncoes so eyes were waiting for the flock to arrive.  IT DID – but far down the road and there was no Accentor in its midst.

After an hour plus Ann Marie needed “a break” and there being no facilities, formal or informal, around she drove off to find some.  Sure enough 10 minutes after she left the Accentor made its appearance in some blackberry brambles along the ditch near a white “barrel” or at least that was the best way to point out its location.  Madness ensued as everyone sought a vantage point with a view.  It was not easy as the press of birders at times had us stacked two or three deep.  They were not great looks (at least for most of us) but enough to ID the bird and tick it off our lists (or “twitch” it if you were say from England).  Then it disappeared.  Uh-oh – Ann Marie had missed it…

Siberian Accentor1

While of course she was not happy to have missed the bird being the fine person she is Ann Marie was happy for Frank and me (and the others) and hoped it would return.  We waited another 35 minutes or so and Ann Marie said it was ok to leave.  But being the fine people (usually) that we are, Frank and I (and my dang ailment) decided to stick it out.  Another 10 minutes and now it showed up on the other side of the house – first very briefly on the roof and then low on the ground.  Depending on where one was there was either a decent look, a great look or no look at all.  Ann Marie could not get on the bird until I got her to a scope that another Washington birder had set up and she got a great view before it flitted off again.  I had a great view a couple of times – but mostly with others in the way of being able to get my camera on it so I had to settle for the terrible photo above.  Certainly good for an ID but not at all showing the real subtle beauty of the bird.  Oh well..

Off we went as more birders arrived.  I know the bird stuck around and was seen (and also missed) up until at least January 18th.  Reports included sightings from birders all over Canada and U.S. – what happens when a “mega” is found and accessible.  Another bird that I never would have expected to see in North America and the second new ABA bird in less than a week now Number 641 – poor by serious birder standards, but my attention has been in Washington.  I hope this year that trips to Colorado and Alaska will add some new birds but the hallowed 700 Club still seems far off.


Maybe it was my ailment, maybe the comparison to the excitement of the chases finding new birds/photos for the 2015 Washington Big Photo Year, maybe the cold weather but somehow despite finding two incredibly rare and great birds, the experiences were not satisfying … not positive. They reminded me of experiences on a trip to Peru in 2013.  I had previously had wonderful birding trips to Brazil, Kenya, Australia and India among other places.  And in 2014 Samantha Robinson and I had a wonderful trip to South Africa, but Peru was different.

Despite a huge list of birds seen – 409 species – Peru just was not “fun”.  On that trip the main focus was on “endemics” – birds seen nowhere else in the world – a major reason many “listers” take certain trips.  Often our group – at least ten of us – would be stretched out hoping for ANY view of a particular endemic bird so that we could say “Check, I saw it”.  Frequently the birds would be drab, hidden in the dense foliage and darting quickly around – barely if at all in the open.  Is this really “seeing” a bird?  Often it did not feel like it was even though I had noted all the field marks to be sure it was Bird A rather than Bird B.  Somehow these two Canadian experiences felt that way – standing around hoping for ANY view of a rare bird.


It’s down there somewhere…I hope


Oh there it isA Cock of the Rock – not drab but not a real open view either.

Maybe I had been spoiled because in most of my birding in Washington I am either alone or with a small group of friends and there is usually time to observe the bird well – one reason I undertook the photo year in the first place as photos require better and longer views to catch the picture.  Traveling with Frank and Ann Marie were the best parts of each day except for the adrenalin rush of spotting the target even if briefly.  And at the Redwing it was fun to visit with Paul and in Surrey there was much socializing with new and old friends.  But not satisfying in other ways.  I am going to have to reflect further.



Best Birds of 2015 – 80 Favorite Photos and Stories

I posted a message below on Tweeters yesterday (January 20) thinking it a good way to share some photos and mini-stories from what turned into a BIG PHOTO YEAR in Washington.  However when I pulled up the Picasa link I found that the comments did not show on the photos and they were an important part of the message.  Some readers asked if I had thought of a blog and the truth is that I had but rejected it as too difficult for my miserable technical skills.  Turns out it may be something even I can handle so I am trying it here including the photos but with the comments added.  The intent then will be to repost to Tweeters and direct interested parties to the Blog.

(Per the Tweeters Post January 18, 2015)  Although it did not start out that way, 2015 turned into a Big Photo Year for Washington Birds.  I started out to observe 300 species in state and get photos of at least 97%.  As more and more birds were seen, it morphed into a very fun but crazy year where I ended up with observations of 358 species and I got photos of all but 3.  The missed photos were of Boreal Owl, Flammulated Owl and Common Poorwill.  The latter was in my viewfinder but my settings were wrong in the dim light and no photo.

I enjoyed the input, guidance and company of many great birders in the state.  Many thanks to all of them.  My first photo of the year was of the White Tailed Kite that visited Steigerwald NWR.  A photo of a Yellow Billed Loon on December 31 was photo 355 to end the year.

The photos selected for this blogpost  were chosen as favorites or rarities or for  “stories”.  Some are pretty poor and others not so bad.  I enjoyed taking them and they help me recall the experiences.  I hope they can give you some enjoyment as well.  I hasten to add that I hesitate posting any photos when so many great photographers include so many of their wonderful shots in various postings.  I enjoy them all and envy the skill and artistry of the photographers and their work (you know who I am talking about Doug, Greg and many others…).  I am at best an amateur trying to get better.  These photos are personal for me and not intended to compete … just to share and maybe provide some value or pleasure.  Enjoy.

What now follows are the selected pictures with comments/anecdotes that got lost in my earlier post,  It was hard to limit this to 80 shots but many readers will probably think that too many and they are probably right.  Most are in alphabetical order with some groupings by place but I am starting off with the first bird I took a photo of in 2015 – a White Tailed Kite – missed in Washington for a number of years.  It was one of the first birds that fascinated me in California when I started birding in 1970 so it deserves to be at the head of the list this year.

Also it is fun for me to note that there are pictures of birds from the four corners of the state (and most places in the center as well).  A Big Year requires a lot of travel – rain, wind, snow and of course gorgeous sunshine.  Birds are included from Neah Bay (NW corner), Asotin County (SE Corner), Ilwaco (SW Corner) and Bunchgrass Meadows (Northeast Corner).  We are fortunate to live in a beautiful state with diverse habitats and many wonderful birds … and birders.  Posts by the birding community on Ebird, Tweeters, BirdYak and Inland NW Birders were of immeasurable help in learning of birds, sightings and their whereabouts.  Thank you to all participants in those lists.

White Tailed Kite Steigerwald NWR January 6, 2015

My second bird of the year and first photo. I had waited for a Kite to Washington return and wasted no time when I heard one had been seen at Steigerwald. I arrived while still dark and was fortunate to find it at early light. Truly a lovely bird.

American Dipper Conconully February 15, 2015

American Dipper2

Always a crowd pleaser as it “dips” into mountain streams and disappears as it swims in its search for insects and pupae.  And the first time you see the white eyelids (are they nictitating or otherwise?) is extra cool.  Now you see it and now you don’t.

Three Toed Woodpecker/Black Backed Woodpecker Bethel Ridge June 4, 2015

Bethel Ridge is a favorite birding spot especially for Owls and Woodpeckers.  On one day this year I had every Washington woodpecker there except Acorn and Red Breasted Sapsucker.  I have not had the greatest luck finding Three Toed Woodpeckers.  On this day, however, I found nests for both Three Toed and Black Backed – a special day indeed.

American Tree Sparrow Union Bay Natural Area October 13, 2015

Over the years I have seen many new and favorite birds at the Montlake Fill (Union Bay Natural Area).  For awhile I lived across the street from this special area.  When someone posted an American Tree Sparrow had been seen there, I rushed down (as best as one can rush anywhere from Edmonds) and was treated with my best views ever for this species. 2015 was a great year for American Tree Sparrows.  On our Okanogan trip Jon Houghton and I had a flock of at least 17 at a marshy area along Cameron Lake Road.

Ash Throated Flycatcher Bear Canyon Road June 10, 2015

Although this myiarchus flycatcher is usually easily found in Washington in the summer, it generally requires a trip to the Lyle area.  The range seems to be expanding and this was a most cooperative fellow much closer to home at Bear Canyon.

Baird’s Sandpiper Midway Beach August 20, 2015

Again not a rare bird but I love this picture because it so clearly shows the posture and long wings that are my first clues that I am looking at a Baird’s.  The scaly back helps as well.

Black Throated Gray Warbler Yard in Edmonds April 16, 2015

My photo year took me to every part and corner of the state and included many relatively rare and/or charismatic birds.  What is so great about birding, however, is that great birds are everywhere including in our own backyards.  This was the only Black Throated Gray that I observed visiting my feeders – what a beauty. I have not included photos of Townsends or Yellow Rumped Warblers which also visited.

Black Throated Blue Warbler Bothell April 1, 2015

And speaking of beauties, it is hard to beat this “Eastern Warbler” that visited in Bothell this year. Even though it was seen on April 1 it was definitely not an April Fools Day joke. Great homeowners allowed visitors to see this great rarity. My first in Washington.  My earlier picture shows a Black Throated Gray Warbler and in Maine I saw many Black Throated Green Warblers.  Pretty awesome group.

Black Footed Albatross Westport Pelagic October 7, 2015

Supposedly this is an older Albatross – I get white hair, it gets white feathers. Since they live 50+ years, I wonder how many birders he has seen.

Hudsonian Godwit with Worm Semiahmoo Spit September 29, 2015  Bar Tailed Godwit Ilwaco Marina October 5, 2015

There was a report of three Godwits at Semiahmoo Spit, a favorite spot: a Hudsonian, a Marbled and a Bar Tailed. Alas when I arrived there was a single godwit – fortunately it was the Hudsonian pictured above. A photo of all three together would have been great. Oh well.  A week later, on my birthday, I visited Ilwaco Marina where earlier both Bar Tailed and Hudsonian Godwits had been seen here in large flock of Marbled Godwits. When I arrived only one rarity remained – thankfully the Bar Tailed since I had seen that Hudsonian at Semiahmoo. A lovely Birthday Present!

Black Turnstone and Surfbird Point Brown Jetty February 21, 2015

Again nothing rare but this is a favorite photo as it demonstrates how size can be tricky. The Surfbird seems at least 50% again larger than the Black Turnstone even though it is behind it. Yet the birds only differ by an inch at most. Postures and neck positioning make all the difference.

Blue Gray Gnatcatcher/Hooded Warbler Neah Bay November 11, 2015

Maybe not quite as exciting as last year in the Eurasian Hobby et al frenzy, but still hard to beat Neah Bay for rarities and new species.  The non-descript fellow a/k/a Blue Gray Gnatcacher is turning up regularly in Neah Bay now and this year I finally got to see two – one there and another in Clallam Bay – new state bird and state photo. Earlier that day we were fortunate to see the Hooded Warbler that had been seen at one of the Seawatch sites just east of town.  Matt Bartels relocated the bird and Frank Caruso, Ann Marie Wood and I were able to get brief views and then finally it flew into the open on the grass for a couple of seconds giving me a chance to get this flight picture which I especially like because of the tail feather detail.

Tennessee Warbler Neah Bay November 3, 2015

Another great Neah Bay area bird and again another new state bird and photo was this Tennessee Warbler.  A terrible ID quality photo only as the bird remained buried in the thick fuchsia shrubs.  It was found by Brad Waggoner, Paul Lehman and Barbara Carlson who I fortunately ran into.  As they “pished” heavily from afar, I got permission from the landowner to move in closer.  The granddaughter was initially excited to come see our great bird but her interest disappeared when I told her it was a tiny little warbler.  She was hoping for an eagle.

Tropical Kingbird Neah Bay November 4, 2015

A regular late fall visitor to Washington – regularly seen in Tokeland and Neah Bay. One had eluded me until finding this one in Neah Bay. Two hours later – as I was on my way to the King Eider I got a call from Paul Lehmann who told me there was a Summer Tanager in the exact same tree. I was torn but decided to continue to the Eider. I should have returned. The Tanager was gone the next day and the Eider stayed for weeks.

Blue Jay Clarkston Heights December 5, 2015

A not so good photo of a Washington rarity. I coordinated with Keith Carlson. I was in the area where it had been seen the day before and heard what I was pretty sure was its call. I then got a call from Keith who said he was watching the bird – he was just downhill from me so I drove down and got some decent views. I wonder if what I had heard was the bird or was Keith calling it.

Bohemian Waxing Nealey Road Feeders November 29, 2015

White Winged Crossbills Nealey Road November 29, 2015

What more could one want– bright skies, 20 Bohemian Waxwings in the fruit trees, 50 Gray Crowned Rosy Finches on the ground below them and two flocks of White Winged Crossbills nearby. I love the Okanogan.  These were just some of the great birds Jon Houghton and I found on our first trip.  It was a great year for finches as the trees were full of cones and we saw several flocks of both Red and White Winged Crossbills.

Brambling Issaquah February 25, 2015

My third Brambling in Washington – a very cooperative bird coming to a feeder in Issaquah.

Brown Booby Edmonds Marina August 21, 2015

The Booby had been reported earlier by Josh Adams and Joe Sweeney from the Edmonds pier where they had distant looks across the Sound. I went down to Sunset Avenue and found Ann Marie Wood, Frank Caruso and John Puschock already there. We watched for 30 minutes and Frank left. As I was getting ready to leave John saw a tiny speck on a sailboat mast several miles away. It was the Booby. We raced to the Marina just as the boat came in with Booby right in front of us. Wow!  In June I was leading a trip as part of the Edmonds Birdfest that included a trip to Point No Point.  The Booby gave us a fly-by.  No time for pictures as I made sure that everyone got at least a quick look at the bird.  Wow again! 

Cedar Waxwing Wylie Slough May 26, 2015

Red “wax” on the wings. Gorgeous bird – BUT not quite as much as its Bohemian cousin.


Common Nighthawk Horn Rapids Park June 10, 2015

Birding has its disappointments but also its consolation prizes. Jon Houghton and I traveled to Horn Rapids seeking the Chestnut Sided Warbler that had been reported there the day before – a new state bird for each of us. No such luck but this lovely Common Nighthawk was indeed a great photo consolation.

Crested Caracara July 4, 2015 Skykomish Stakeout

A wonderful Independence Day present. For much of the time I was in Maine (many great birds) I read about a Crested Caracara being seen in Snohomish. I doubted it would remain until I returned. But luck held and although it disappeared for a day, I was able to find it on the 4th. Definitely a State Lifer and new Washington photo.

Dickcissel Hardy Canyon June 4, 2015

It pays to check Ebird and Tweeters and BirdYak. I was heading over to Yakima for birding there and later at Bethel Ridge when I saw a post that a Dickcissel had been seen at Hardy Canyon by Denny Granstrand. I arrived just shortly before dark and was alone in the Canyon and found the bird but in very poor light. I returned at dawn the next morning and again had the place to myself and again found this lovely visitor. On the way out I ran into Ryan Merrill who had traveled over to see this beauty.

Elegant Terns Tokeland September 4, 2015

They come and they go. In 2014 the Elegant Terns were few and far between after being plentiful in 2013. 2015 was another good year and these terns were most cooperative at the Tokeland Marina (a usual hangout) with Willets below them.

Forster’s Tern Potholes SP July 16, 2015

This was a tough bird for me this year as I missed it at several usually reliable spots. Finally I found a pair at Potholes and this one was close enough for a decent shot.

Franklin’s Gull John Wayne Marina September 2, 2015

This was THE NEMESIS photo bird for the year. I had seen one early in Monroe but did not take a photo. Later I struck out at least 8 times trying to make up for that oversight. When I got to the Marina I saw this bird with a large mixed flock of gulls on the rocky beach. I desperately had to “use the facilities” and headed for the restroom. Just before entering I snapped this single distant photo. When I got out a dog walker (off leash) was down by the gulls and they took off. Franklin was never seen again.

Gray Crowned Rosy Finches Both Forms Nealey Road Feeders February 14, 2015

One of many great observations from the WOS Okanogan trip expertly led by Shep Thorp and Fanter Lane. This photo shows both Interior and Hepburn’s forms of the Gray Crowned Rosy finches. Interestingly Jon Houghton and I had both at the same spot 9 and a half months later.

Great Gray Owl Biscuit Ridge May 20, 2015

This is probably photo favorite #2 for the year. Jon Houghton and I had the privilege of birding Biscuit Ridge with the Dennys. A Great Gray was our top priority although any trip with Mike and MerryLynn is terrific regardless of birds seen. I had heard Great Grays at Havillah and had a poor distant scope view across a field in a blizzard. No photo. Then somehow I spied this owl against the similarly gray tree trunk – I wonder if I would have seen in if its eyes were closed. Definitely a marvelous bird!!  (Earlier I had gone to Reifel Refuge in B.C. with Pilchuck Audubon and we had close up views of the Great Gray that had been there for some time.  So this was not my first Great Gray photo – but definitely my first in Washington.)

Green Tailed Towhee Biscuit Ridge May 20, 2015

Earlier attempts at photos of this Biscuit Ridge specialty had been mostly branches. in 2013 Mike Clarke and I had almost fallen downhill going to a bramble with a “hidden bird”.  Much happier with this fellow and its distinctly “green tail”.  Later Brian Pendleton, Melissa Hafting and I visited Coppei Ridge looking for Green Tails and other birds.  We came to what I thought was a promising spot and I stopped the car.  As soon as we got out we could hear a Towhee calling.  We found and got great photos of maybe 5 birds there and we found more further along the road.

Glaucous Gull Gull Wading Spot Skykomish River April 2, 2015

I had seen a number of Glaucous Gulls in Washington but never got a decent photo. On March 14 I traveled to Swallows Park in Clarkston to see and photograph one. Pretty good shots. As these things often go, that photo seemed to open the door and within the next month I photographed three more individuals including one I found in Monroe. Now if only an Ivory Gull would show up…

King Eider Ruston Way November 4, 2015

Bruce Labar kindly called me very soon after finding this gal. I was on the way back from Neah Bay and changed plans to see it. What a treat as it devoured dozens of crabs in the short time I was there. Very cool was that it stayed and provided life bird experiences for so many Washington birders.

Lapland Longspur Oyhut Game Range September 23, 2015

By far my best photo of this species. One of many at the Game Range. Someday I hope to see and photograph one in full breeding plumage as Joe Sweeney did this year. This ain’t bad though.

Long Eared Owl  Eide Road January 25, 2015

This lovely Long Eared was seen first in December 2014, It remained for several weeks and was seen and photographed by many (there were at least two owls) but not everyone behaves and the story did not end well.

Snowy Egret Post Office Lake/Knapp Lake Area December 8, 2015

I had seen presumably the same bird in the area last year but had views literally of its bill only as it did not move from behind an island for 90 minutes. This year the road in was closed necessitating a walk but about half way out I spied three white “dots” one smaller than the other two. Indeed it was the Snowy – a first Washington picture – from WAY far away.  I had expected several more hours of effort hoping to find this bird.  The relatively quick success enabled me to race off to Bateman Island – see below.

Lesser Black Backed Gull Bateman Island December 8, 2015

A truly terrible ID only picture but included because this is a relatively rare species and it was very cool to see it on the same day as seeing the Snowy Egret at Knapp/Post Office Lake. A VERY long day of birding but two great first of year birds and photos.  Grace and Ollie and Steve Pink shared the LBBG experience.

Lesser Sand Plover (aka Mongolian Plover) Ocean Shores Open Beach August 16, 2015

This has to be my favorite bird and photo of the year. I was co-leading an Audubon trip to Ocean Shores with Tim Boyer (truly an extraordinary photographer) driving the second car on the open beach past the Casino on our way off to other locations. As we zipped along somehow I saw a small group of plovers one of which had a “different breast”. Without turning off the motor, I came to a quick halt, threw open the door and without a word dashed out leaving my passengers wondering what was going on. In a small pond with Semipalmated Sandpipers was this Lesser Sand Plover. Everyone got great looks.  It sounds pretty boring compared to its former “Mongolian Plover” designation but definitely a striking bird in this plumage.  I had seen one earlier in Washington but in very drab plumage.  It was great that the bird stuck around for quite awhile as the WOS Conference began in Ocean Shores giving many a chance to see the rarity.

Lewis’s Woodpecker Oak Creek May 21, 2015

One of my favorite birding spots is Oak Creek where you can drive the road and see perhaps dozens of Lewis’s Woodpeckers – often on snags at eye level and close by. Highly recommended for birders and photographers.  This is also the place where I had one of my big disappointments for 2015.  Dusk and early darkness are great times here to hear, see and possibly photograph Common Poorwills.  That night I drove the road and heard several of these mostly nocturnal birds.  Finally I saw one in the road ahead – its eyes reflecting the headlights of my car.  As I slowed to try for a photo it took off.  Sigh…  Then maybe 15 minutes later, more reflecting eyes.  This time I was able to position myself just right with the car as a blind and I had the bird clearly in my viewfinder.  I pushed the shutter release and … nothing.  My settings were wrong in the darkness and the camera would not take the photo.  I had not reset from earlier and tried to correct this quickly.  My skills were not up to the task and by the time I was set, the bird was gone.  Lesson learned…hopefully.

Yellow Billed Loon/Ancient Murrelets/Long Tailed Duck/Pigeon Guillemot Sequim Boat Trip December 31, 2015

Following up on a great Christmas Bird count report from the area, I organized a boat trip out of John Wayne Marina specifically with hopes of finally getting a photo of a Yellow Billed Loon. We had great weather and all 20 onboard got great looks at this loon and one other. Another highlight was hundreds of Ancient Murrelets and abundant Long Tailed Ducks.  The great sun afforded a super photo of a winter plumaged Pigeon Guillemot in flight as well.

Merlin Edmonds Marsh July 27, 2015

This has been a good year for Merlins with more than a dozen seen. I enjoyed watching a couple with Barb Diehl in North Seattle and then later had this lovely photo op close to home at the Edmonds Marsh.

Mountain Quail Port Orchard Quarry July 11, 2015

Earlier I had flushed a small group at Mary Hrudkaj’s street but no photo.  Later in the year Brian Pendleton and I found this single bird at least 300 yards away at the Quarry.  Not a great photo but in the unedited original it was hardly a speck.

Northern Mockingbird Olympia Neighborhood November 2, 2015

When I arrived at this stakeout spot I wondered how anyone could ever have looked here let alone found this rather uncommon bird. When a gentleman came out of one of the houses and introduced himself as Keith Brady, a super birder, it was clear. Of all places the Northern Mockingbird had chosen this one to hang out. Thanks Keith.

Parasitic Jaeger Westport Pelagic September 5, 2015

I chose this photo both because it is a favorite bird but also because it is the only one I have taken showing the undersides of the wing, belly and beautiful head pattern. My others all are with wings down. A few moments earlier I got a photo of a Long Tailed Jaeger (not very good) and also had both Skua and Pomarine Jaeger – the so called Skua Slam!!

Orchard Oriole Neah Bay April 8, 2015

This female continued to come to this feeder from November 2014 until at least April 2015.  Getting this photo was just luck as I had not realized the bird had over-wintered and just happened to see it at the feeder as I drove by.

Northern Waterthrush Calispell Lake June 3, 2015

A favorite bird at a favorite place. Jon Isacoff first showed me this area a couple of years ago. Beautiful country and wonderful birds. Other specialties found nearby include American Redstart, Red Eyed Vireo and Bobolink. Brian and David Pendleton and I had over 60 species in about an hour this year.

Northern Saw Whet Owl Bridgeport SP December 26, 2015

C’mon – you gotta include a NSWO in any group of favorites.  I had missed one at the Park earlier on my way home from a late November Okanogan trip.  Samantha Robinson and I found this cutie by looking for owl “poop” on the snow beneath the trees.  It is still being seen there in Mid January.

Northern Pygmy Owl Chinook Bend January 21, 2015

Usually this would be a shot from the Okanogan (where for example Jon Houghton and I had at least 6 in November) but there was a pair of Northern Pygmies at Chinook Bend.  The Heibergs and I hiked around with Paul Bannick and found one of the owls providing ok photos. When we returned to the car this owl stared us down from a perch within feet of the cars.

Peregrine Falcon with Green Winged Teal Waatch Valley November 3, 2015

2015 was a good year for Peregrine photos and choosing among them was difficult. I watched this falcon swoop down and grab the Green Winged teal off the river and then with powerful wingbeats lift its prey and fly past me. Exhilirating!!  Earlier I had seen a banded Peregrine on the open beach at Ocean Shores take a small shorebird.  Very keen birds.

Red Naped Sapsucker  Washington Park Arboretum January 23, 2015

Both Red Naped and Red Breasted Sapsuckers shared sap wells in the Arboretum and provided great views for many birders.  Later Frank Caruso and I joined Bill and Deb Essman in their high clearance jeep for a great trip up into Coleman Canyon where we found this species at its nest…their more usual habitat east of the Cascade Crest.

Red Throated Loon Ocean Shores August 16, 2015

Not the greatest picture in the world but a favorite species and there is no mistaking the red throat.

Rhinoceros Auklet with Fish/Tufted Puffin Protection Island June 27, 2015

Rhinos breed on Protection Island. We often saw auklets with fish to take back to their nests. This one had more than any others. What a remarkable bill structure that enables them to hold on like this. This was the second time Samantha Robinson and I had been on this boat trip that is organized by George Gerdts.  Tufted Puffins are the main appeal and while not as many as on our first trip, they put on a show again.


Ross’s Goose Ellensburg March 25, 2015

A very poor and distant photo of this Ross’s Goose and a Canadian to give a size comparison. Usually I have seen this species mixed in with a large flock of Snow Geese. No snow geese in sight this time.

Ruddy Turnstone Bottle Beach May 24, 2015

Pretty hard to beat a Ruddy Turnstone for beauty with the Ruddy wings and red legs. Earlier in the year at Ediz Hook a winter plumaged Ruddy Turnstone worked the rocks along with Snow Buntings as we searched for the Thick Billed Murre (below).  The pattern is similar but a prime example of how showy breeding plumage can be. 

Ruff Oyhut Game Range September 14, 2015

I saw my first Ruff at Ocean Shores in 1979 (not sure cameras had been invented yet – well certainly not the world of digital photography yet).  Another last year. This one was extra fun because he was so often with the mixed flock of American And Pacific Golden Plovers.

Rusty Blackbird Crescent Lake WMA February 4, 2015

A most cooperative fellow except that he never got completely in the open. But the corn kernel makes up for that.

Sharp Tailed Grouse Scotch Creek near Happy Hill Road December 27, 2015

This was a first ever picture of a Sharp Tailed Grouse which has been a nemesis bird.  Earlier Jon Houghton and I had missed this species in the Okanogan despite looking in all the right places.  The key now was that there was snow – lots of it and Samantha Robinson and I got stuck in the snow as we pulled over to get a closer look. This was almost at the intersection with Happy Hill Road following directions Bill Brynteson had given from his success there a couple of days ago.  Getting stuck was well worth it for a photo of what had been so elusive in the past.  Very nice locals helped us get out.  Nice story.  A few days later Jon and his spouse Kathleen found Sharp Tails everywhere – life birds for both of them.

Shrub Steppe Birds Quilomene Wildlife Area March 2015

I led a fun Shrub Steppe field trip for Seattle Audubon in March with Jean Olsen.  This is a compendium of birds seen on that trip or on the scouting trip in advance.  It was great to get all of our targets.  (As an aside I often put together compendia like this using PowerPoint, a good way to show comparisons or to picture groups like Washington Warblers etc.)

Slaty Backed Gull Tacoma March 25, 2015

This is the third or 4th year for this striking dark mantled gull. This photo was from maybe 25 feet in my car on the slab next to the bridge. Sure beats distant rooftop shots.  Later there was a “probable” Slaty Backed Gull in Snohomish County – distant rooftop views only.

Snowy Owl Waterville Plateau February 12, 2015

There was very little snow in the Okanogan Highlands or on the Waterville Plateau. However there were a few small patches. This was one of 4 owls seen on a few such spots on F NW near Road 12.

Snowy Plover Grayland Beach April 24, 2015

This guy sure had lots of jewelry with bands on both legs. Unquestionably a favorite bird. I later had Piping Plovers in Maine – also a great treat.

Sooty Grouse Bahokas Mountain Neah Bay September 10, 2015

This Sooty Grouse was a consolation prize as our main quest (failed) had been to find the Red Legged Kittiwake which had been seen two days earlier.  This is a good spot in migration for Broad Winged Hawks.  I hope to give it a try this year.

Sora/Virginia Rail Wylie Slough August 6, 2015

My best photo ever of the reclusive Sora rail.  There were also 6 Virginia Rails that day.

Spotted Owl Lewis County June 7, 2015

How much longer will we be able to see these vanishing owls in Washington? Thanks to Doug Schurman for organizing the trip.

Spruce Grouse Bunchgrass Meadows October 16, 2015

This was a trip to Salmo Mountain and Bunchgrass Meadows with Charlie Desilets, Ken Hemberry and Khanh Tran. This was our only Spruce Grouse but it could not have been more cooperative. A life picture for me. We heard many Boreal Owls but sadly never could get a visual or photo.  We also had some White Winged Crossbills and Boreal Chickadees – other specialties in this remote northeast Washington wilderness.

Stilt Sandpiper  Eide Road August 7, 2015

Over the years Eide Road has been a great shorebird site. So sad that it will be destroyed as such. This Stilt Sandpiper was one of 5 I saw in Washington this year.

Thick Billed Murre Ediz Hook January 19, 2015

This rarity has returned to Ediz Hook for at least two and maybe three years. Bob Boekelheide and I studied it at length through the scope and kept hoping it would come closer. It did not. This is a highly magnified distant photo but suffices at least for ID.

Tufted Duck Marina Park February 8, 2015

There are some birds that are easily identified because the most distinctive field mark is also in their name. Tufted Duck tufts are not always this visible. Thank you on this day.

White Headed Woodpecker Kindle Lane/Umtanum Road April 22, 2015

Not the best photo but definitely a wonderful and favorite bird. I had discovered a nesting pair along Umtanum Road and saw this bird on several occasions. Nice that others found it there too when given specifics.

White Faced Ibis Millet Pond May 19, 2015

This bird was quite distant so ID photo only.  I missed this species a couple of times in past years but have now seen them more than once. Dry conditions in Oregon and California seem to have pushed them further North.  Let’s see if the pattern continues.

Western Screech Owl Whitman College Library May 8, 2015

Thanks to Mike and Merry Lynn for taking me to this little guy. As they searched the trees near the Whitman Library I happened to look up and found it sitting on the window ledge three stories up. Not the most natural setting but hey my first good Western Screech photo.  Last year (or was it 2013?)Steve Pink and I visited the Dennys and they gave us a marvelous tour.  At the end of the day they asked if there was anything else we wanted to see.  We mentioned Western Screech Owl and they directed us to a four block residential area near downtown and said just walk around and “you can’t miss”.  We walked the entire area and thought MAYBE we had heard one owl.  Disappointed we returned to the car…where in the tree immediately overhead there was a Western Screech.  You can always count on the Dennys!!

Western and Clark’s Grebes Lind Coulee June 2, 2015

You could not ask for a better comparison photo op for these two species.  Brian Pendleton and I were treated to this “Close Encounter of the Grebe Kind”.

White Throated Sparrow Norman Road January 7, 2015

I later saw dozens of these sparrows in Maine and learned their mournful song. This bird was with a number of White Crowned and Golden Crowned sparrows (and others) at the trough on Norman Road – a favorite spot to find them in Washington.  (Don’t tell anyone but there is also a Barn Owl in the nearby Red Barn…)

Wood Duck February 24, 2015

No comment necessary – just enjoy!!

Yellow Throated Warbler  Longview December 16, 2015

It took two trips to get this photo of a new Washington state bird (and a beauty).  Car trouble prevented me from finding it on the first trip but the second trip was fun and successful joining numerous other birders chasing it from tree to tree at the end of the lake.  It often came down on the ground and foraged there–other times acting like a Brown Creeper.  With thanks to Russ Koppendreyer.


There are references and thank yous in some of the individual stories with the photos.  I am sure I have forgotten some but to repeat them, thank you to:

Samantha Robinson, Jon Houghton, Frank Caruso, Ann Marie Wood, Brian Pendleton, Deb Essman, Doug Schurman, Shep Thorp, Fanter Lane, Mike and MerryLynn Denny, Grace and Ollie, Steve Pink, Russ Koppendreyer, Khanh Tran,  Bill Brynteson, Paul Bannick, Hank and Karen Heiberg, Bruce Labar, Keith Carlson, Keith Brady, Melissa Hafting, Bob Boekelheide, Jordan Gunn, Tim Boyer, Charlie Desilets, Ken Hemberry, George Gerdts, Denny Granstrand, Mary Hrudkaj, Barb Deihl, Josh Adams, Joe Sweeney, Brad Waggoner, Paul Lehman, Barbara Carlson, Matt Bartels and John Puschock.