Definitely a Laughing Matter at Bottle Beach

This has been an incredible week.  Starting with eight Willets at Tokeland and six Wandering Tattlers at Westport, then a Short Eared Owl and Prairie Falcon on the way to the Scissor Tailed Flycatcher on Highway 24 that was kind enough to fly into and be observed in two counties followed by hundreds of Eared Grebes at Soap Lake and a Clark’s Grebe at Lind Coulee.  Later I got a photo of a Stilt Sandpiper at Wylie Slough to replace the ones lost on a missing SD Card.  That would be quite a week by any measure.

Stilt Sandpiper – Wylie Slough – a “Make Up” for a Lost Photograph

Stilt Sandpiper

But those birds and fun trips were just a prelude to today’s spectacular visit to Bottle Beach.  Over the weekend a Laughing Gull was photographed there by Steve Giles and reported by others.  One had been observed there some months ago as well.  Like the aforementioned Scissor Tailed Flycatcher I had seen this species in Texas and elsewhere but never in Washington.  And if that was not sufficient motivation for a visit, a Bar Tailed Godwit was also being seen there – possibly the same bird seen at the Coast Guard Station in Westport or perhaps a second bird.  I had seen one in breeding plumage in Alaska this spring but Jon, Fran and I had looked for and not found one at either of the Washington locations on our earlier trip.

Laughing Gull – Texas April 2013

Laughing Gull

Bar Tailed Godwit – Nome Alaska June 2016

Bar Tailed Godwit1

I had meetings in Everett this afternoon and a dental appointment tomorrow and high tides were not optimal, so I wondered how I could swing a trip.  The answer came when I awoke early this morning and could not get back to sleep so I headed out at 5:00 a.m.  Actually too early for the tides but a great way to avoid traffic and also to fit in a stop at the Hoquiam STP.  There were almost no gulls at the STP but some good mud in the third pond had some shorebirds, the best of which was a Baird’s Sandpiper.  There have been more reports of this species this year than I remember from years past.

I arrived at Bottle Beach at about 8:00 almost 4 hours before high tide.  I checked the gulls at the pilings where the Laughing Gull had been seen and saw only Ring Billed Gulls.  I also found a group of 6 Semipalmated Plovers, a bird I had not seen there or on the open beach in my last visit to the coast.  There was plenty of time to explore so I went pretty far south where there were hundreds of birds – primarily Western and Least Sandpipers and Black Bellied Plovers.  There were also scattered Short Billed Dowitchers in varying plumages – including a few in near breeding colors.  I thought I had seen a Red Knot but could not get a close look and it was more likely another Dowitcher although the bill seemed short.  There were also two Ruddy Turnstones in breeding plumage.

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

I had now been there over an hour and I was freezing.  With all the hot weather we have had in Puget Sound and in Eastern Washington, I wrongly assumed the same at the Coast and checked only on tides.  A marine layer kept temperatures in the 50’s and a stiff wind made it feel much cooler.  My extra layer left in the car would have been very welcome.  I had expected more birders at Bottle Beach given the great birds reported.  Finally about 9:15 two more birders arrived and shortly thereafter a third.  The first two – Jason Vassallo and Paul Baerny had also been the next to arrive when Frank, Ann Marie and I relocated the Scissor Tailed Flycatcher and I had seen Paul the day before at Wylie Slough where we each independently found the Stilt Sandpiper. The third to arrive was Whittier Johnson.  We definitely had some good birding eyes to look for our birds.

For the next 45 minutes we unsuccessfully searched the MANY Black Bellied Plovers for a Golden Plover and the MANY peeps for a possible Red Necked Stint and the occasional godwits for a lighter one making it our Bar Tailed – but we found only a few Marbled Godwits. And of course we continued to check the gulls by the pilings – but our prize was not to be found.  None of us saw it fly in but at almost exactly 10:00 I checked the pilings again and shrieked that “IT’S THERE!”  A bit smaller than the Ring Bills, with a dark mantle and even darker wing tips, dark legs and a dark thick bill, a white head with a small smudge and crescents above and below the eye, the Laughing Gull had made its appearance.  Perhaps it had been hidden behind a piling but I thought we had searched thoroughly, diligently and often.  Nobody cared about from whence or when it came.  It was gloriously there now and easily observed and photographed.  It was a new state life bird for everyone there – the crowd now grown to perhaps a dozen with the arrival of Bob Morse, Keith Brady, Neil and Carleen Zimmerman and others. WOW!!

Laughing Gull – My First in Washington – as First Seen with Ring Billed Gull

Laughing Gull with Ring Billed Gull

Laughing Gull Posing for Photos

Laughing Gull1

This was my second new state lifer in less than a week (the Scissor Tailed Flycatcher was the other.)  Another adrenaline rush and I even forgot how cold it was.  There was celebration all along and the gull stayed with its cousins in the pilings and drew most of our attention.  Jason, with the youngest eyes, continued the search for the Bar Tailed Godwit and not too many minutes later, he had located it pretty far out at the water’s edge. It was near a few Marbled Godwits, quite a contrast in color.  It was interesting to observe too that it fed constantly while the Marbled Godwits fed only occasionally if at all.  Not the brilliant breeding plumage I had seen in Nome, but quite distinctive and a second celebration was in order when spied.  We were able to move quite a bit closer for decent photos even though the light was poor. WOW again!!

Bar Tailed Godwit

Bar Tailed Godwit

This is the seventh time I have had this species in Washington and the second time at Bottle Beach.  Not quite the thrill of the Laughing Gull but a wonderful bird anytime.

The Laughing Gull is named after a quality of one of its calls – and rightly so.  We did not hear any laughs at Bottle Beach this morning from the Gull but there were many smiles and chuckles and maybe even a laugh or two from some very happy birders.

What a week!!!

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