Bird and Memory of the Week – Red Legged Kittiwake – Well No But…

The Bird and Memory of the Week is the Red Legged Kittiwake, Rissa brevirostris, and I only wish that the memory included actually seeing this rarity. BUT…although sadly I did not find it, it serves as another example of why I write these posts – great memories for me and hopefully some enjoyment for others even when a bird is missed. As is usually the case, just in the process of being out in the field – looking for a particular species or just observing the world around us, there is great value and reward.

Red Legged Kittiwake (Photo by Charlie Wright)


On September 8, 2015 Charlie Wright and Linnaea Chapman found a Red Legged Kittiwake at Neah Bay and got Brad Waggoner on it a bit later. Their Ebird report included great photos…wow!  Now one should not need special incentives to go to Neah Bay even though it is quite the jaunt from Edmonds. This is an area that continually produces rarities in addition to many fine “regularities” and some incredible scenery. I am sure there will be many blog posts that involve Neah Bay in the future. But in this case the Red Legged Kittiwake report was a call for immediate action. Remember Rule 1 is “Go now” and Rule 2 is “No whining if you miss a bird because you do not follow Rule 1”. So on September 9, three hopeful birders caught the ferry from Edmonds hoping to find a new life bird.

As is sometimes (too often?) the case, we were a day late. And I guess since we stayed over for a second day, one could say we were also two days late. We searched diligently both days but it was simply not to be found. But after all, this was Neah Bay so likely there would be some consolation prizes and while there was nothing to report on Ebird or Tweeters as a rarity, we had great birds, great birding and a wonderful time – richly rewarded for our time in the field and together. Just in Neah Bay itself we had almost 70 species including Black Legged Kittiwake, Stilt Sandpiper, Sooty Grouse, Peregrine Falcon, Vaux’s Swift, Marbled Godwit, Whimbrel, Red Crossbill, Black Oystercatcher, Northern Pygmy Owl, Sooty Shearwater and Lapland Longspur. Neah Bay is also the only place where I succumb to the lister’s temptation to include Northwestern Crow (although I am a doubter) so that was added as well. That’s a great list for me any day.

Black Legged Kittiwake

Black Legged Kittiwake

We were of course really excited when we saw the Black Legged Kittiwake exactly where the Red Legged had been reported the day before. Just could not get those legs to change color for us. Still a gorgeous bird. And not far off we had Red Throated and Common Loons, all three Washington Cormorants, and some Sooty Shearwaters. Our first visit here produced Black Oystercatchers, and Least and Western Sandpipers as our only shorebirds.

Red Throated Loon

Red Throated Loon

After many hours at the harbor area, we hit the Wa’atch Valley and picked up the Northern Pygmy Owl, some Band Tailed Pigeons and our Peregrine. The next morning we got an early start at the harbor again. Now there were two Kittiwakes but sadly both had those darn black legs…sigh. So we consoled ourselves with a nice array of shorebirds – numerous Oystercatchers, Stilt and Spotted Sandpipers, a Whimbrel, a Marbled Godwit, Killdeer, Sanderling and Black Turnstones. We also found the Lapland Longspur that Charlie et al had reported on the 8th.


Black Oystercatchers

Black Oystercatchers



Marbled Godwit

Marbled Godwit2

It was time for a change of scenery. There was a lot of fog along the Wa’atch so we headed for high ground and went up Bahokas Mountain/Peak, an area I had visited only once before. Again we had some nice birds and truly some incredible scenery. This is becoming a famous hawk watching spot and I hope to return for that this year, hopefully catching some of the Broad Winged Hawks that were reported in 2015 migration.

I rank grouse almost as highly as owls as favorite finds and we were treated to a very nice Sooty Grouse. I have never seen one that looks like the one we found with its eye completely surrounded by a yellow-orange patch – but not raised as in display.

Sooty Grouse

Sooty Grouse2        Sooty Grouse in Flight2

We also had a large number of Vaux’s Swifts, some Hutton’s Vireos, Red Crossbills and more Townsend’s Warblers than I have ever seen – 18. A Swainson’s Thrush was still singing and we also found a Warbling Vireo. But the highlight was the “light”. We had beautiful views of the fog in the Valley, the islands in the Pacific and a picture of Nathaniel in the forest broken light that I will just call “Enlightenment”.




Enlightenment – Nathaniel “Sees the Light”


We looked again in vain one more time for the Red Legged Kittiwake – no go – but a very wonderful trip.  I am headed to Alaska this June with John Puschock and hope to see a Kittiwake with those bright red legs then.

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