Jon Houghton, Frank Caruso, Sherrill Miller and I had a fun day birding yesterday – August 10. Like many such days we missed some of the birds we hoped to find and we found some other so called targets and also had some other birds that were nice additions.
Our first quarry was a Mountain Quail – never easy except when coming to Mary Hrudkaj’s feeders. Mary had given us a lead on a possible spot and we headed there first. Unfortunately I had forgotten to bring my Garmin and phone reception was bad so we could not access directions via Google Maps so we lost a lot of time and never did get to the new area. We did spend a lot of time at the Port Orchard Quarry where I had a Mountain Quail last year and drove Blacksmith Tahuya Road – lots of good habitat but no quail for us. At the Quarry there were numerous Turkey Vultures. We never saw a carcass but there must have been something appetizing (to them) around.
.Mountain Quail (2014 Photo from Mary’s)
Not a great start but we had much more to look for and headed off towards the coast where our first stop was the Hoquiam STP. As written up in an earlier blog, I had a Franklin’s Gull there om July 25 and it has continued to be seen. But no such luck this time as the only small gull we found was a non-breeding plumage Bonaparte’s Gull. There was very little mud and no shorebirds. So now we were 0 for 2 on our targets. But it was a beautiful day and still lots of birding ahead.
We opted to bird the “Westport” side and thus retraced the unpleasant drive back through Hoquiam and into Aberdeen before heading south. Sure would be nice to bypass those two towns – sad reminders that the boom times around Seattle have not been felt everywhere in our state. Coastal birding plans are dictated in large measure by tides and high tide was to be at 6:40. We wanted to be at the Coast Guard Station at Westport then and wanted to include some beach driving, a visit to Tokeland and also Bottle Beach. Over the years I have learned that it is best to be at Bottle Beach on an incoming tide and to be there at least 2 hours and maybe even 3 hours before the high tide. Accordingly we planned to drive the beach at Midway/Grayland then go to Tokeland, then to Bottle Beach and then to Westport. It all worked out pretty well.
The open beach is always fun. It was the first time Sherrill had been in the area so much was new. While we did not find any Snowy Plovers and surprisingly also found no Semipalmated Plovers either, a real treat was the constant stream of Sooty Shearwaters not too far off the coast. I have seen them there many times – always heading south. This was a life bird for Sherrill- very cool. We had hundreds of Sanderlings in varying plumages and many Least but no Western Sandpipers.
Sherrill and Frank at Midway Beach
Sooty Shearwaters – streaming South just off Grayland Beach
Nothing real exciting but Frank yelled out that he glimpsed what he thought might be Black Turnstones flying by. Fortunately we got a better look and they even stopped just ahead of us – two Ruddy Turnstones and when they moved up towards the dunes we found a single Whimbrel as well. Not the best focus but I got a fun photo of the Whimbrel with its very long wings extended up.
Whimbrel with Extended Wings
Time to head south and we checked the many gulls and terns at North Cove hoping for something special – but exclusively Heerman’s, Ring Billed and California Gulls and lots of Caspian Terns. Probably a little early still for Elegant Terns – hope they are more plentiful than last year.
Approaching the Tokeland Marina always kicks up the heartbeat – will the Willets be there or not. Definitely the best spot in Washington for these birds, I had one there last month but the only photo I got then was of the Peregrine Falcon that timed its flyover to the exact moment I arrived and it chased off the Willet and the hundreds of Heerman’s Gulls that were present. This time the bird gods made amends as not only was there great light but also 8 Willets. They were joined by a single Marbled Godwit and a single Whimbrel and there were both adult and juvenile Least Sandpipers on the other side of the road. This is also a good spot for Elegant Terns but only Caspian Terns were present – with Ring Billed and Heerman’s Gulls. Also present and noisy were numerous Purple Martins.
Willets, Whimbrel and Marbled Godwit
It was time to head to Bottle Beach ahead of the incoming tide. While there had been some cloudiness earlier in the day and on our open beach drive, it was now blue skies and warm temperatures. The light had been great at Tokeland and remained so for the rest of the day. When we hit the beach, our timing appeared perfect – lots of shorebirds maybe 100 yards out and the tide was starting to push them in. I have had many wonderful birds at Bottle Beach over the years including rarities like Red Necked Stint and both Bar Tailed and Hudsonian Godwits. Today it was just the “regulars” and not even all that many. Lots of Black Bellied Plovers (I have had both Golden Plovers here in the past), Least and Western Sandpipers, a Greater Yellowlegs and a few Short Billed Dowitchers. And again no Semipalmated Plovers.
We waited for more birds to arrive but none did so we headed off to Westport hoping for that Bar Tailed Godwit. One had been seen there on August 6 but the Ebird report had not come in until August 9 and we hoped the passage of the three days would not matter. When we got to the dock near the Coast Guard Station we found the typical raft of hundreds godwits and had fantastic light to search for a smaller bird that was grey and not tan. All four of us went over every bird several times for more than 30 minutes and unfortunately all were Marbled Godwits – beautiful birds but not the treasured rarity. I suggested we head off to my favorite Wandering Tattler spot – hopefully find one and then return to look through the godwit flock again.
Marbled Godwit Flock (only a small portion)
As uncooperative as the godwits had been, my favorite Tattler spot produced immediately and fantastically. Our first look produced 4 Wandering Tattlers on the rocks on one of the groins and then two more in stunning light very close on the rocks just below us at the observation platform. I have never had more than 3 Tattlers at one time before (at this same spot last month) so these six were a real surprise. They were also either life or year birds for the others in the group and there could not have been better looks.
This proved to be a really good spot for other reasons as well. Not more than fifty feet off shore was a Common Murre preening and posing for us and further out by the red buoy a Humpback Whale was spouting and diving continuously for the 30 minutes we were there.
We returned to the Coast Guard Station and all the Godwits were still Marbled. Maybe next time. But the light was perfect for some nice Brown Pelican photos – there were hundreds on the breakwater and flying about.
Brown Pelican in Flight
So there were some hits and some misses – but two definite additional hits were the dinner that followed at Bennett’s and the great company on the trip. It also helped that we could listen to the Mariner’s win another game – sixth in a row – on the radio on the long drive back to Edmonds.