Long Ago but Not Faraway…

By the time I first visited Seattle in the summer of 1972, I was just beginning my journey to become a “birder”.  I had begun to contract that disease – or more positively stated, develop that passion – while in law school  spending far too much time at Palo Alto Baylands and Coyote Hills Regional Park.  I was not so much into listing at that time and of course there was no “Ebird” so record entry and record retrieval was a totally different matter.  But I did keep some notes and records and eventually many of them have become data points in Ebird and thus open to review and catalysts for memories of the past.

Yesterday some work on another birding project included an examination of my birding history in Washington which gave birth to this post – looking back at rarities of the past.  Some have been seen again, but many not.  No digital cameras back then, so no photos and how I regret that.  My first Ebird entry for Washington was from a trip to Sunrise at Mount Rainier on July 27, 1972 – a place I revisited two days ago (September 21) in an unsuccessful attempt to find a Boreal Owl.  While there I made the comment to my companions that I remembered that Ptarmigan sure seemed easier to find in the “good old days” and checking that out was one reason that I looked back at my old birding records in Washington.

The checklist from that first Rainier visit did include White Tailed Ptarmigan.  It was pretty clear that while I identified Sunrise as the location, other spots along the way were actually involved and my record keeping then was not very precise.  All told I reported 34 species and of those 27 were “life birds” – the joy of birding new areas.  Among those “lifers” were Sooty Grouse, Gray Crowned Rosy Finch, Clark’s Nutcracker, Gray Jay, Townsend’s Solitaire, Hermit Warbler, Red and White Winged Crossbills, Black Swift and Mountain Chickadee.  Some of those are not so rare but all were pretty exciting at the time and many would still be considered quite nice today.  Again no photos, but since one rule for blog writing is to not go too long without including some photos, here are two from the failed Owl Prowl on September 21st.

Gray Jay – Sunrise, Mt. Rainier


Clark’s Nutcracker – Sunrise, Mt. Rainier


The nostalgia seeing that first Washington checklist led me to wonder about other early birding experiences in Washington.  In those early days there was no Ebird and no Tweeters so news about special birds came by word of mouth and a single hotline or “Rare Bird Alert”.  Somehow it worked and while I was actually working and starting a new life in a new place, I found time to go on at least a few chases and looking back at the Ebird entries made many years later, I found a lot of very rare birds including many I have not seen again.  The remainder of this post describes some of them – and I sure wish some would return and I could enjoy them again, this time with a camera at hand.

Arctic Loon – Port Gamble – October 22, 1973.  This is the only Arctic Loon I have seen.  There have been only a couple more recent records in Washington.  I cannot recall any details of this observation other than I believe it may have been on Seattle Audubon RBA at the time.  I had hoped to see one on my Alaska trip in June this year but did not.  Photo from the internet.


Scripp’s Murrelet – Westport Pelagic – September 8, 1974  My first observation was on my first pelagic trip – who knew it would be almost 30 years before finding one again – a pair seen on September 7, 2013 and then another on October 19, 2013.  Not surprisingly that first trip included a lot of other life birds including the “Skua Slam” , Buller’s (then New Zealand) Shearwater, Tufted Puffin, Fork Tailed and Leach’s Storm Petrels, Black Footed Albatross (my first albatross), Sabine’s Gull and Arctic Tern.


McKay’s Bunting – Ocean Shores – February 5, 1979 – beautiful bird that created a lot of excitement.  There have been other McKay’s Buntings at various spots at Ocean Shores.  I chased one a day too late at Damon Point in February 2012.   The photo is by Knut Hansen of that bird.


Brambling – Lake Sammamish – January 20, 1982  My first observation was at a stakeout near Lake Sammamish.  Since that time I have seen three more Bramblings in Washington.  The next was in Birch Bay, then one in Neah Bay during the same crazy week that had the Eurasian Hobby among a number of other good birds, and then finally one last year coming to a home in Issaquah.  The photos are from the three more recent sightings.





White Wagtail – Fort Casey SP – January 21, 1984  This rarity was seen by many on Whidbey Island in 1984.  Another was found at/near Point no Point in 1993 and another possible one in the same area in 2007.  I have expected additional visits but my only other observations have been elsewhere.  The first was on an extraordinary day of birding at the Mai Po Nature Reserve outside Hong Kong on Christmas Day 1979, the next in Corbett National Park in India on January 11, 2011 and most recently in Nome Alaska on June 5, 2016.  The photo is of the Nome bird.

White Wagtail

Little Gull – Everett Sewage Ponds – September 23, 1984 The photo is from a later sighting on October 7, 2013 from Point No Point where it was seen at distance from shore in a massive group of Bonaparte’s Gulls.  My first observation of this bird was from the South Jetty of the Yaquina River in Oregon on September 8, 1979.  A pretty poor photo but I was thrilled to get it.


Steller’s Eider – Point Wilson/Fort Worden – November 23, 1986.  This is a photo from the internet.  I believe this is the only Washington record – certainly the only Ebird entry.  It ranks right up there with Smew as what I feel are the most beautiful ducks – even ahead of the showier Wood Duck and Hooded Merganser.


Rustic Bunting – Kent Ponds – December 19, 1986 – This rarity continued into January 1987 and then repeated its performance in 1988/1989.  I had seen one in Wajima, Japan in December 1983, my only other record.  Photo is from the internet.


My Washington birding was very active from when I first arrived until the birth of my first child in 1984.  I had moved to Oregon for a few years and birded there but even then more in Washington.  I continued a few chases for the next couple of years after her birth and then became absorbed in activities involving that daughter and the son that followed.  Recreational time was devoted to a new found passion – fly-fishing.  As they moved on to high school and then graduated and went off to college, my birding activity was more international with fun trips to Australia, Brazil and Kenya.  Slowly, however, the interest in Washington returned and from 2010 on that has been a big, enjoyable and rewarding part of my life.

During the years I did not bird in Washington, I missed a lot of great birds, some of which I have been fortunate to see later – some not.  Among those missed and not seen later are White Ibis (Raymond – January 2001), Dotterel (Ocean Shores October and November 1999), Baikal Teal (Kent Ponds April 2005), Garganey (Wenzel Slough April 2005), Fork Tailed Flycatcher (Pacific County – September 1995) and the one bird that remains on the very top of my “birding bucket list” – Smew. One was seen two years in a row near Stevenson, Washington.  I will leave the minute I hear of one being seen anywhere in Washington, anytime.  In fact it may be the one bird that I will leave for immediately if I hear of one anywhere in the U.S. – if it is a male – as I think it is the most beautiful of all the birds.  Just wish the photo below, which will conclude this post, were mine.

Smew – the Very Top of My Birding Bucket List – photo from Internet


“TW3 – That Was the Week That Was”

If I ever “grew up” at all, it was in the Sixties – that wonderful decade that set in motion so many of the changes that have shaped America and the World in the following 50 years.  (Damn I am old!!!)  One of my fond memories of the Sixties was a short lived television satire called That Was the Week That Was or in shorthand TW3.  It was an American version of an eponymous British show that first brought David Frost to British audiences just as this TW3 brought him and many other talented artists to America.  Little was sacred, most was irreverent and all was fun – even better than the Daily Show – a favorite that just has not been the same without John Stewart.  What does this have to do with a birding blog you might ask.

Well aside from the fact that it is my blog and I can write whatever I want, it came to my mind as I considered what to write this week – a week that must be considered as “Birding Lite” even though it included a fun trip to Yost Memorial Park in Edmonds as part of Edmonds Bird Fest.  In great weather we had over 70 people walking the trails in rapt attention of our leader Finn learning about and hoping to see one of the Barred Owls resident in the Park.  My job was to “help” which essentially turned into a combination of crowd management, Finn management (when he gets on a roll, it is great but then again only for those close by – so I  worked to be sure the stories were repeated and heard by all) – and occasionally identification of some additional species.  It was a great trip; we had fabulous looks and photo ops with one of the owls and everyone was happy, but not really enough material for a full post.

Barred Owl at Yost Park


Finn and Edmonds BirdFest Crowd at Yost Park


I recalled that when I first started writing the blog, I expected that there would be down/inactive weeks so to continue to write, I would revisit experiences from my birding past and include a feature called “Bird and Memory of the Week” which I figured would provide lots of content options.  Who knows why, but this morning as I started that exercise, TW3 came to mind and I decided instead to look back at some as yet unidentified week of birding in the past and see if that might be of interest.  Where to start?  Two options first came to mind – go back to my first week of “real” Ebird records or go back to this same past week but in some other year – like last year for example.  I thought the first option would be really cool, but the reality is that when I first switched over to Ebird to enter historical data, it was woefully incomplete – since it was only the “new species” and not really as detailed as to time and place as it could have/should have been.

So I looked at Option 2 instead.  September is usually a great month to look for shorebirds, so I knew I had been out sometime last year for that – but which week.  Turned out I made a great choice.  With the possible exception of the Eurasian Hobby extravaganza at Neah Bay the week of November 14, 2014, the week of September 9- 15 last year just may have been my best week of birding in Washington. Here are  the stories and some of the details for That Week That Was.

The birding part of the week started with a 3:00 a.m. wake up call on September 9.  I have since moved a few blocks away but at that time I lived very close to the aforementioned Yost Park and one of its owls was asking the world “Who..Who Cooks for You”; so this story begins with the hooting of one of the parents of the Barred Owl that we saw last Sunday on the Bird Fest Trip.  How’s that for symmetry…stay tuned there will be more.  It turns out that this particular “week that was” was one that included LOTS of birding and travel. Indeed, while the owl did in fact wake me up a bit earlier than planned, I was heading off to Neah Bay with an early start anyhow.  A Red Legged Kittiwake had been reported from there the day before, so together with Jon Houghton and Nathaniel Peters we were off in search of that mega rarity.  (See earlier Blog Post https://wordpress.com/post/blairbirding.wordpress.com/1900).

We tried hard to find a Kittiwake with red legs, but unfortunately the only one we found had legs that were decidedly black.  Still a nice bird … but…  We birded the area the whole day without anything special but we were planning to stay the night so who knew what the morrow would bring.  It brought some good birds but again nothing with red legs.

Kittiwake – Unfortunately with Black and Not Red Legs

Black Legged Kittiwake

As indicated earlier this trip was covered in an earlier post so I will not go into further details other than to say in the context of this post, there were lots of good birds to add to THE LIST for that week including Sooty Grouse, Northern Pygmy Owl, Black Oystercatcher and a Stilt Sandpiper.

At this point I am going to jump to the end of the story, possibly to build interest for a reader to continue with the details.  It turns out that this was a very birdy week to have chosen as I said.  Here are some bottom line numbers:  Total species seen – 131; shorebird species – 25; waterfowl – 13; gulls and terns – 10.  Even better though, I would say at least 10 of the species were pretty special or even better.  Read on.

After the long trip to Neah Bay, I took a couple of days off but hit the birding trail again with another  Edmonds Bird Fest trip which I lead to  Kitsap County including a wonderful visit to Point No Point where EVERYONE on the trip was able to observe a relatively close fly by of a Brown Booby, presumably the same one that had been spotted from the Edmonds Pier in August and which I had seen up close and personal as it came into the marina perched on the mast of a sail boat.  Our look at Point No Point was not that good but what a great bird for everyone.

Brown Booby in Flight – September 13, 2015 (not as good as the photo from the Edmonds Marina which I include again here)


Brown Booby from Edmonds Marina (August 21, 2015)


Any week in Washington that includes a Brown Booby is very special – but there is more.  On Monday following the Sunday BirdFest trip, I headed back down to the coast.  I had been there the week before and after another wonderful trip with Westport Seabirds and had some nice shorebirds but nothing special (although there had been Elegant Terns – unlike this year.)  This week in 2015 proved much better – indeed quite spectacular with observations and photos of many great shorebirds including among others:  American and Pacific Golden Plovers, Ruff, Sharp Tailed, Baird’s, Pectoral and Rock Sandpipers!!!

Pacific Golden Plover




Golden Plovers and Ruff


Sharp Tailed Sandpiper


It was also nice to have good looks at both American Pipits and Lapland Longspurs in the salucornia and grass at the Game Range when chasing down the Ruff and Golden Plovers.

American Pipit


Lapland Longspur


As is usually the case, I had forgotten how much birding I had done and how much of the state I had covered in that week.  After the birding in Neah Bay, Kitsap County, Edmonds and Ocean Shores, I should have been done but I guess I needed some diversity so the next day I headed east to Soap Lake and Potholes among other spots.  Probably the best birding was a spectacular mix of shorebirds that included another Stilt Sandpiper at Lind Coulee among 11 species there and the huge flock of Eared Grebes (and some Horned and Western but no Clark’s Grebes) at Soap Lake.

My last stop for the week was at Robinson Canyon on the way home – hoping for the picture of a Poorwill that had eluded me all year.  Surprisingly though there were many other “recreationists” using the Canyon that evening so although I added a Merlin and a Sharp Shinned Hawk, a try for a late Poorwill was ill fated.

Looks like I picked a pretty good week to look back on.

Here is the entire list of birds seen that week.  I have highlighted 15 that I think are special – either rare or at least not on my every day bird lists:

American Coot (Red-shielded)
American Crow
American Golden-Plover 
American Goldfinch
American Kestrel
American Pipit
American Robin
American Wigeon
Anna’s Hummingbird
Baird’s Sandpiper
Bald Eagle
Band-tailed Pigeon
Barn Swallow
Barred Owl
Belted Kingfisher
Bewick’s Wren
Black Oystercatcher
Black Turnstone
Black-billed Magpie
Black-capped Chickadee
Black-legged Kittiwake
Bonaparte’s Gull
Brandt’s Cormorant
Brewer’s Blackbird
Brown Booby
Brown Creeper
Brown Pelican
California Gull
California Quail
California Scrub-Jay
Canada Goose
Caspian Tern
Cedar Waxwing
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Common Loon
Common Murre
Common Raven
Common Tern
Cooper’s Hawk
Dark-eyed Junco
Double-crested Cormorant
Eared Grebe
Eurasian Collared-Dove
European Starling
Glaucous-winged Gull
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Greater Scaup
Greater Yellowlegs
Green-winged Teal
Hammond’s/Dusky Flycatcher
Harlequin Duck
Heermann’s Gull
Hooded Merganser
Horned Grebe
House Finch
House Sparrow
Hutton’s Vireo
Lapland Longspur
Least Sandpiper
Lesser Scaup
Lesser Yellowlegs
Marbled Godwit
Marsh Wren
Mew Gull
Mourning Dove
Northern Harrier
Northern Pygmy-Owl
Northern Shoveler
Northwestern Crow
Orange-crowned Warbler
Pacific Golden-Plover
Pacific Wren
Pectoral Sandpiper
Pelagic Cormorant
Peregrine Falcon
Pied-billed Grebe
Pigeon Guillemot
Purple Finch
Red Crossbill
Red Tailed Hawk
Red-breasted Merganser
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Red-necked Grebe
Red-necked Phalarope
Red-throated Loon
Rhinoceros Auklet
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)
Rock Sandpiper
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Savannah Sparrow
Say’s Phoebe
Semipalmated Plover
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper
Short Billed Dowitcher
Song Sparrow
Sooty Grouse
Sooty Shearwater
Spotted Sandpiper
Spotted Towhee
Steller’s Jay
Stilt Sandpiper
Surf Scoter
Swainson’s Hawk
Swainson’s Thrush
Townsend’s Warbler
Turkey Vulture
Varied Thrush
Vaux’s Swift
Violet-green Swallow
 Warbling Vireo
Western Grebe
Western Gull
Western Sandpiper
White-crowned Sparrow
White-winged Scoter
Wilson’s Phalarope
Wilson’s Snipe
Yellow-rumped Warbler

I found this retrospective to be pretty surprising and also a reflection of a crazy week of travel in our quite wonderful state.  Pretty hard to imagine someplace else with this bird list for this week and/or such diverse places as Neah Bay, Ocean Shores, Soap Lake and Robinson Canyon (among others).  Not now but at some other time I am going to look at other weeks in the Spring or Fall and see how they compare.  Pretty hard to top a Brown Booby, Ruff and Sharp Tailed Sandpiper though.


A Mad but Definitely Not Maddening Dash

With a lot of new birds and new photos from the great pelagic trip on August 28 (see  my earlier Magical Pelagical post), I had met my “goals” for the year and that compulsive urge to go chase every new bird was gone.  Sure I would still go for new state life birds or photos and there were some specific species I definitely wanted to see – yes, I mean you Boreal Owl – and some trips I wanted to make – but I no longer felt the need to go for everything.  I had done that for the past three years and it had been great and successful, but no more.

So yesterday when Russ Koppendreyer posted on Tweeters that he was looking at a Ruff that Jeanelle Richardson had found earlier that morning at Three Crabs in Sequim, I was tempted; but even though a Ruff is a wonderful rare bird and one I really enjoy – nope – no need to rush out to see it.  I set about on another bird project and that was that.  Until…a couple hours later,  I checked email and found that Russ also had a Sharp Tailed Sandpiper at the same location.  That is a favorite shorebird and also quite rare so now the ante had been raised significantly.  Let’s see…it was now 1:20 pm.  The next Edmonds/Kingston ferry was at 1:40 and I was in shorts, T-Shirt and sandals and had not eaten lunch.  I asked myself if I really “needed” these terrific birds and the answer was “no”.  But when I rephrased the question to self as whether I wanted the adventure of a possible mad dash with a potentially great prize, the answer was “hey this could be fun – why not”.  I live less than 10 minutes from the Edmonds Ferry terminal so I put the SD card back in the camera, checked that the battery was okay, grabbed another layer and a protein shake and took off.

It helped that the weather was spectacular – 72 degrees and sunny.  It did not help that apparently a lot of other people were heading off in the great weather and when I got to the ferry toll booth there was a line.  It was now 1:35 and I wondered if I was going to make the ferry.  If not, I was going to abort and head home.  The ticket seller said she thought I would “probably” get on but “no guarantee”.  I bought the ticket and moved forward.  As the cars loaded on ahead of me, I saw that they had stopped letting more cars into the waiting area.  It was looking “iffy”.  I won’t dwell on the agony of suspense – the happy ending was that I was the next to next to last car to board the ferry – so I was on my way.  And details like this add to the adventure and the story.

Room for Me on the Ferry


Waiting for the ferry to decide to let me on or not, I had spoken to Russ and was encouraged that the birds would likely stay regardless of tide and that they could be seen well enough for some photos.  Three Crabs has been a great spot for years – even back to when there was actually a restaurant named “Three Crabs” at the spot.  There is a wetlands “restoration” project underway at the location – yet another project to help salmon but not necessarily good for shorebirds, so I hope it will continue as a birding hotspot.  Traffic was good and I arrived at Three Crabs around 3:30 somewhat expecting to see a long line of birders with scopes trained on one or both of the special shorebirds.  But there was only a single parked car with two people looking out at the wetland.   Hmmm???

The Wetland


At the northern most part of the area (east of the road and south of the former Three Crabs site) there was a series of pools with a number of shorebirds walking about feeding.  They were small peeps – a mix of Western and Least Sandpipers but then another bird flew in – a little larger and my heart rate went up as I thought it could be the Sharp Tailed Sandpiper.  But no – only one of the three or four Pectoral Sandpipers that were around.

Pectoral and Least Sandpipers


Now that I noticed that the couple in the parked car had a pair of binoculars and a camera, I went over and learned that they had been there earlier, seen both rarities and had now returned after lunch.  Beginning birders, they were excited by what they had seen before and were hoping for better looks, but had not seen either species since they had returned.  Now a Ruff is a good sized shorebird – not quite as big as a Greater Yellowlegs, but hard to miss – unless of course it is buried in or behind some tall grass and there was plenty of that around.  I walked further south when I saw a head above some of that grass.  It turned out to be a distant Greater Yellowlegs, but I also got a fleeting glimpse of a browner large shorebird that I was pretty sure was the Ruff.  It disappeared behind even taller grass so I waited 5 minutes without another view and then decided to return to the earlier area and look for the Sharp Tailed.

Now there were at least two Pectoral Sandpipers – or maybe three – or maybe that third bird was the Sharp Tailed – as the demarcation on the chest appeared at least less distinct and the cap a more solid reddish.  Then it flew off and I could see it was definitely the Sharp Tailed but now distant and hidden.  The couple from the car had now gotten out – interested in my focus on the birds I was watching – and we were joined by another birder – a local (I will not include the name for her privacy) who while not hard core was also way beyond mere beginner and she was very interested when she learned of the prize birds.  I said I thought we had a good chance of finding the Ruff in the area where I thought I had seen it earlier so the whole gang moved south and we were immediately rewarded as the Ruff had returned to the little pool with now three Greater Yellowlegs and off and on it would come out into the open.  I snapped a few OK pictures and was happy that all of us had gotten acceptable views.

A few more cars came by and stopped to ask what we were looking at.  Most had no interest in birds but still thought it cool that some rare birds had chosen their neighborhood for a show.  One car had some more beginning birders and they joined our party.  Another car had parked up at the north end and two people were busy studying the shorebirds there.  After getting our newly added birders (who had no idea what a Ruff even was) onto to the Ruff, we moved to the north again.  I told the two folks in the car there about the Ruff and Sharp Tailed Sandpiper.  Their only bird book was of Puget Sound Birds and neither species was in that guide.  What was very cool, however, was that the day before they had birded this same spot and found a bird they could not identify.  Their excellent notes clearly indicated that they had seen a Ruff.  When I showed them my photo they immediately said – “that’s it”.  Now they would get to see it again.

First View of Ruff


For the next 30 minutes or so, we continued to watch for the Sharp Tailed Sandpiper and hoped the Ruff would come closer (as apparently it had been closer to the road in the morning).  Jason Vasallo joined us – still pumped from seeing his first Broad Winged Hawk out at Neah Bay with the Waggoners.  We immediately got him on the Ruff and that made new state bird number 2 for the day.  Now there were more eyes looking for the Sharp Tailed Sandpiper – always a good thing.  There were a couple of Wilson’s Snipe in the field – and good scope views made it easy for all to see and learn the fieldmarks with the heavily striped back and head and the long bill.  We also studied a Pectoral Sandpiper and focused on the difference between it with a clearly demarcated breast streaking and broken streaks on the head compared to the solid cap and more of a wash on the breast of the Sharp Tailed.

Wilson’s Snipe


The Pectoral study paid off as the Sharp Tailed was spotted directly in front of a clump of grass about 30-40 yards out in the field.  Not a close look but with the scope all of the fieldmarks clearly seen and everyone got on the bird.  And Jason had new state bird number three!!

First View of Sharp Tailed Sandpiper


Had the day ended there, everyone would have been happy.  But if happy is good, then thrilled and ecstatic is even better and that is what we got.  We never heard the signal, but there must have been one.  Don’t know why, but BOTH the Ruff and the Sharp Tailed Sandpiper decided to put on a real show and they kept getting closer and closer eventually coming within perhaps 30 feet of the crowd now watching intently with oohs and aahs from the road – with the sun directly behind us and directly on both birds.  At times both species could be seen within feet of each other and at another time the Sharp Tailed was within feet of the Pectoral Sandpiper – giving great comparison views.

Ruff – Up Close and Personal



Sharp Tailed Sandpiper Up Close and Personal



Sharp Tailed and Pectoral Comparison


It simply does not get any better than this.  Very great birds, beautiful weather, perfect positioning and sun for photos, very cool people and a beautiful place.  It had been a mad dash and it had worked – and then some.  Time to leave and when you can end the day with a view of Mount Rainier over Puget Sound from the Kingston Ferry Terminal as the sun sets – just an awesome day.  I think I will continue to be a birder!!!


Magical Pelagical

Maybe the birds don’t care if the seas are rough or not but the birders do.  Frank Caruso and I did a whirlwind trip to coastal stops on Saturday August 27 the day before we were to join Westport Seabirds for a pelagic trip.  The weather was not very good – drizzly and foggy.  It was not too bad for birding on shore but it did not look too good for a trip out on the ocean if it continued to the next day.  Indeed there was another Westport Seabirds trip that day and we wondered how they fared.  Our first stop was the Point Brown Jetty and we could barely see anything in the mist – definitely could not find the early Rock Sandpiper that had been reported there the week before.  Andy Rogers was there taking photos and getting wet.  He had not seen the Rock Sandpiper either but had a Wandering Tattler which had flown to the other side of the jetty.   We settled for some Sanderlings on the beach and some Black Turnstones on the jetty and then headed to the Oyhut Game Range – our main target area for the day anyhow.

Black Turnstone at Point Brown Jetty (in the mist)

Black Turnstone

We understood that the Game Range was not so great from the Oyhut entrance so we walked in from the STP side.  The skies had cleared a bit but the light was still pretty dim. The tide was high and the bay was full of Sooty Shearwaters, molting Red Throated Loons and gulls.  Some of the loons still had their red throats which was very cool and I was also able to get a photo of one that showed two reasons they were so close to shore – no wing feathers for flight on one and another with a fish.

Red Throated Loon with Red Throat

Red Throated Loon Breeding

Molting and Flightless Red Throated Loon

Red Throated Loon in Molt

Red Throated Loon with Fish

RTLoon withFish

The loons were great but our quest was for shorebirds and we trudged through the sand and mud and salucornia to an area that had some activity.  Not a lot of birds but it looked like there might be some potential for a goody or two.   First though we were distracted by some very friendly calling, flying and posing American Pipits.  Not flamboyant but very pretty birds.  Too bad none of them had red throats.

American Pipit

American Pipit1

As we got close enough to look at the shorebirds, one jumped out immediately as “the right size” meaning bigger that a peep.  It proved to be a Stilt Sandpiper.  We had good scope views before it took off and disappeared.  There were no other “larger” shorebirds – just some Least and Western Sandpipers, Sanderlings and Semipalmated Plovers and a single Baird’s Sandpiper..  We had hoped for some Golden Plovers but not even any Black Bellied Plovers and definitely nothing as exciting as a Ruff or Buff Breasted Sandpiper – two rarities which have been previously found at this location.  We gave up on anything special and headed back.  But somehow without our noticing it , a larger shorebird had come in to the area and was foraging along the channel.  Probably because we wanted it to be one, we tried hard to make it into a Sharp Tailed Sandpiper.  Some of the characteristics were right but – no – the rufous cap was broken and the breast markings too distinct.  So we settled for some very good looks at a Pectoral Sandpiper.

Pectoral Sandpiper – what we saw

Pectoral Sandpiper1

Sharp Tailed Sandpiper – from Hoquiam STP on September 19, 2014 – what we wanted to see

Sharp Tailed Sandpiper

The rest of the day was pretty disappointing although we saw lots of birds.  Nothing of note at the Hoquiam STP.  Thousands of gulls at North Cove but no Elegant Terns.  Not a single shorebird at Tokeland and again no Elegant Terns.  We saw thousands of Sooty Shearwaters from North Cove – not too far offshore – as we had earlier at the Game Range in the bay.  We drove the beach at Midway/Grayland with friends Melissa Hafting and Ilya Povalyaev from Vancouver and had very few shorebirds and definitely nothing of note and definitely no Snowy Plovers although again there were thousands of Sooty Shearwaters.  We did not check the ponds at Midway but Ilya and Melissa did later and had some nice birds but again no Snowies nor Buff Breasted, Ruffs or Sharp Tails.

Time to head to Westport and check into our motel.  We stopped at Float 21 and scanned the hundreds of Marbled Godwits but we were not able to find the Bar Tailed Godwit that had been hanging out with them  Our plan was to get checked in, have an early dinner and then head to Bottle Beach.  High tide there was at 9:38 pm so our goal was to arrive around 7 and catch the shorebirds as they moved in with the incoming tide.  The check-in and dinner part went according to plan.  While waiting for our pizzas, Melissa called to say they had returned and had the Bar Tailed Godwit near the Coast Guard station off Float 21. Fortunately it waited until we finished dinner and got there around 6:30.  There were actually far fewer godwits than when we had seen there before, but the Bar Tailed was pretty easy to find as its paler feathers contrasted with the browner/tanner plumage of the somewhat larger Marbled Godwits.

Bar Tailed Godwit with Marbled Godwits from Float 21

Bar Tailed Godwit

Timing was perfect for us to then get to Bottle Beach by a little before 7:00 pm. From many previous visits I have learned that it is generally necessary to get to Bottle Beach at least 2.5 hours before high tide and bird as the tide comes in bringing what can be many hundreds of shorebirds in with it.  As Frank and I passed over the bridge next to Brady’s Oysters, we wondered if we had read the tide tables wrong since the oyster beds were covered and there was lots of water and little mud.  And when we hiked out to Bottle Beach joined by Melissa and Ilya and again saw very little mud and the pilings almost completely under water we figured we had made a mistake for sure.  Turns out that high tide was indeed at 9:38 and we were more than 2.5 hours ahead of it – BUT the low tide had been a very “high” low tide and the high tide was a very “high” high tide so there was just no mud for the shorebirds.  We had a few peeps, a few Semipalmated Plovers and maybe 150 Black Bellied Plovers – and again thousands of Sooty Shearwaters.  AND the shorebirds we had did not stay long as a Peregrine Falcon flew by and they disappeared.

A small consolation prize was an up close and personal look at a Virginia Rail from the bridge on the boardwalk coming back to the cars.  We heard at least two others in the reeds.

Virginia Rail

Virginia Rail

So much for the preliminaries; time to get some sleep and be ready for the pelagic trip the next day.  I had gotten word that the sea conditions had not been the best for Saturday’s trip but they had some good birds including Scripp’s Murrelets, lots of Red Phalaropes and some Arctic Terns.  I was particularly interested in the latter as I have only seen them a couple of times in Washington and have never had a photo.  The weather had continued to improve though the day so I was optimistic for a good trip on Sunday.

Frank had been fighting a cold most of Saturday and the combination of that battle plus medication for it and Dramamine for the boat trip left him a little groggy but we were on board and in good spirits by 5:45 a.m.  We had great spotters in Bill Tweit, Bill Shelmerdine and Scott Mills and the seas were C-A-L-M and there was no W-I-N-D.  Unlike the previous morning there was also no rain or even fog or mist.  Maybe no sunshine but decent visibility in the cloudy day. Captain Phil and First Mate Chris were their usual wonderful selves and all looked good.  Let’s go!!

Seas were as calm on this trip as any I can remember. Crossing the bar was a piece of cake and there were essentially no swells or waves the entire way out and the entire way in.  We almost immediately started seeing close in Sooty Shearwaters – continuing our experience from the day before.  Hundreds of Common Murres, some adults with chicks, and in all plumages were seen immediately as well.  Additionally we had the usual large numbers of Brown Pelicans and California Heerman’s and other Gulls.  Also much earlier than usual I spied some small birds floating in the air just above the water – Fork Tailed Storm Petrels – always a treat and this close in – perhaps a good omen.

Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican


Fork Tailed Storm Petrel

Fork Tailed Storm Petrel2

Not too far out we also found our first (and almost only) non-avian treat – a fairly large Mola Mola (Sunfish) swimming on the surface.  I have been on trips where we have seen more than a dozen of these pretty weird fish.

Mola Mola

Mola Mola

We also had some Cassin’s Auklets closer in than usual and lots of Phalaropes – unfortunately all Red Necked.  A striking flock of mostly White Winged Scoters was also fun.

White Winged Scoters (Trailed by a Common Murre)

White Winged Scoters

As is often the case, we hit a slow period as we traveled towards deeper water.  We continued to see Cassin’s Auklets and then a number of Rhinoceros Auklets – but no Scripp’s Murrelets which were hoped for by all.  We also had a close fly by from a Pomarine Jaeger.  I wish the focus was better for my photo.  We also had more Red Necked Phalaropes, and a couple of Pink Footed Shearwaters stood out with their white bellies in contrast to the numerous and continuous dark bellied Sooty Shearwaters.

Pomarine Jaeger

Pomarine Jaeger

Captain Phil Anderson had noted that there were some shrimp boats south of us in Pacific County.  These boats are prizes on any pelagic trip as often dozens or even hundreds of birds follow them hoping for scraps. When found on a pelagic trip the close up views and the diverse species and even rarities are treasured.  We saw the boats off in the distance and could tell that there were many birds circling them – adrenaline began to flow.  Phil is a great captain not only because he handles the boat so well but because his years of experience have taught him where to find birds and how to approach them to give his birders the best views etc.  He also has great eyes and identification skills himself.

On the way to the boats I heard a call that was music to my ears “ARCTIC TERN!!”I rushed to the front of the boat just in time to get a few rushed photos.  This has been a nemesis for me in Washington and now I finally had a photo – not a great photo but clearly it was this sought after bird.  It was the 300th species I have photographed in Washington this year and number 397 on my Washington Photo Life List.  YAY!!!

Arctic Tern – Photo 300 for the Year and 397 for my State Photo Life List

Arctic Tern2

As I said not a great photo so I cannot resist again including a very great one from an earlier blog – a breeding plumaged Arctic Tern up close at Machias Seal Island in Maine.

Arctic Tern – Breeding Plumage – Machias Seal Island Maine

Arctic Tern with Fish 2

Phil maneuvered us perfectly to the first shrimp boat and we had LOTS of birds.  Lots of numbers and lots of species.  One excellent bird was a Long Tailed Jaeger.  Another was a Short Tailed Shearwater and the very best was a Flesh Footed Shearwater which accommodated the birders with several flights around the shrimp boat its all dark body and pale bill and pale feet easy field marks to see and distinguish it from the other shearwaters.  The Short Tailed Shearwater was not as easy to distinguish as it closely resembles the abundant Sooty Shearwaters, but its thin bill, rounder head and at times visibly shorter tail (with feet extending behind), grayer chin and faster wingbeat were all observed.  More common species included many Pink Footed Shearwaters, Sooty Shearwaters, Northern Fulmar, Sabine’s Gull, more Fork Tailed Storm Petrels and Black Footed Albatross.

Short Tailed Shearwater

Short Tailed Shearwater3

Flesh Footed Shearwater

Flesh Footed Shearwater3

Pink Footed Shearwater

Pink Footed Shearwater2r

Sabine’s Gull

Sabine's Gull

Northern Fulmar

Northern Fulmar

Fork Tailed Storm Petrel

Fork Tailed Storm Petrel4

Black Footed Albatross

Black Footed Albatross1

We changed course and found another fishing boat with more birds but no different species and then in quieter waters Phil and Bill Tweit chummed in some birds and at another time laid out a fish oil slick which brought in more good birds including more than 50 Black Footed Albatross at one time.  At the chum spot we had excellent looks at a Long Tailed Jaeger that circled several times.  Briefly we also had a fly by of a Parasitic Jaeger and more Short Tailed Shearwaters.

Black Footed Albatross at Fish Oil Slick


Long Tailed Jaeger

LT Jaeger4

It was time to return to port.  We still had not seen any Red Phalaropes even though the day before they had more than 1300!!  Also no Buller’s Shearwaters – also missed on the earlier trip – a surprise and disappointment.  We remedied the Red Phalarope absence with several groups on the way back – at times mixed with Red Necked Phalaropes.  Best of all we found a single South Polar Skua – completing the so-called Skua Slam with the three species of Jaegers.  A light phase Northern Fulmar was another good bird but we never did see a Buller’s Shearwater nor any Scripp’s Murrelets although we saw many more Common Murres and Cassin’s Auklets and added two more alcids – a single Tufted Puffin and a very close Pigeon Guillemot.

South Polar Skua

South Polar Skua2
South Polar Skua3

Red Phalarope

Red Phalarope3

Northern Fulmar (Light Phased Adult)

Northern Fulmar Light Phase

Tufted Puffin

Tufted Puffin

Cassin’s Auklet

Cassin's Auklet

Pigeon Guillemot

Pigeon Guillemot

As we got closer to Westport we passed through many Sooty Shearwater flocks and off in the distance there was an endless stream of them flying close to the water.  I don’t know how one can count/estimate the numbers of these birds but all agreed that there were more than 35,000 all told and it could have been a large multiple of that number.  We also saw a couple of Wandering Tattlers on the jetty and the large flock of Marbled Godwits circled overhead as we approached our dock.

Passing though a Flock of Sooty Shearwaters

Shearwater Frenzy

It had been another great trip on very calm seas.  Some species were missed but the Skua Slam and both Flesh Footed and Short Tailed Shearwaters more than made up for those misses.  Indeed it was a “Magical Pelagical”.  I added 7 species to my year list for Washington and got photos of them all.  For me at least the bird of the trip was that single Arctic Tern and it no longer will be on either my Want nor Need list for photos in Washington.  But there are others…