Four Months and Two Thousand Miles

This will be a relatively short post.  October 5th was my birthday.  A Lapland Longspur was reported at the Mouth of the Cedar River that day.  I had not seen one in Washington yet this year and contemplated going to try to find the bird. But I had plans for later that day and so decided against it.  However, when it was reported the next morning, I figured it would be a nice late birthday gift so why not.

The Longspur had been seen foraging in the grass between the path and the road at the park which is maybe a narrow half mile long from entrance to the river mouth itself.  It took only a little while to locate the bird.  Check.  Now for the photo.  Uh-oh.  I had the camera.  The batteries were recharged. But I had forgotten to replace the SD Card that I had removed earlier.  Not the end of the world especially since I had many good photos of Lapland Longspurs in Washington from previous years and also some breeding plumage photos from my Alaska Trip earlier this year.  But still it was disappointing.

Two days later Ann Marie Wood and Steve Pink went to look for the Longspur and did not find it.  But they did find a Sabine’s Gull – regular on pelagic trips, and seen by me on both May and August trips this year, but very rare inland.  I had seen them many times on such trips but never in King County.  I contemplated a return but had other things to do and since I have not yet caught the “County Lister” disease, I felt no compulsion.

Sabine’s Gull from Pelagic Trip on August 28, 2016

Sabine's Gull

The saying is that it takes two to tango.  Well in this case it took two to bring on that compulsive feeling.  The next day, others again reported seeing the Sabine’s Gull and the Lapland Longspur was being seen again.  I had plans to join friends to see the Presidential Debate that night (I have to insert that it turned out to be neither “presidential” nor a “debate” and even for this very sad year of politics it was particularly disgusting.)  The timing was not perfect but I decided to return to the Mouth of the Cedar and give it a shot.  I made sure the SD card was in place this time though.

When I arrived at the park I met two birders who were leaving after having seen both the Longspur and the Gull and got specific directions as to the Longspur’s location.  I headed to that area and found another birder just leaving – a familiar face – Chazz Hesselein.  He had just seen the Longspur and kindly guided me to the spot.  At first we did not see the Longspur but then after almost stepping on it, we got fantastic views of the lovely bird.  Sharing the moment and visiting with Chazz made it extra nice.

Lapland Longspur at the Mouth of the Cedar Park


We said our goodbyes and then I returned to the northern end of the park to walk out to the actual river mouth and to search the logs and open water for the Sabines’s Gull.  Two birding friends were heading the other direction towards the Longspur having chosen to look for the Sabine’s Gull, which they had found, first.  Gregg Thompson and Dan Reiff gave me details of the Sabine’s location and I gave them details for the Longspur.

Gregg Thompson and Dan Reiff


They had said that the gull was hanging around on the furthest out logs. After a couple of moments I found what I thought was the gull quite far out on either a little gravel bar or a log.  I did not have my scope but the small size was consistent with that of a Sabine’s Gull.  I hoped for it to fly to reveal the distinctive wing pattern. Suddenly all of the hundred or so gulls took flight.  I watched carefully but did not see either a small gull nor that beautiful white and black pattern.  Worse yet, when they all returned I could no longer relocate the probable Sabine’s Gull at all.

Fortunately Dan and Gregg returned and the additional (and superior) eyes found the tiny gull sitting on the same gravel bar/log.  I think I had missed it because another gull had blocked it from my angle.  We watched it for quite a time including several flights where it would head even further out to a slick in the water before returning to the gravel.  The distance and lighting were not the best for good photos, but no mistaking the identification.

Sabine’s Gull on Gravel Bar


Sabine’s Gull in Flight


This visit had been very successful and when I called my hostess for the “Debate” Party, it was ok to come early so that worked out as well.

I could end the blog post here but then you rightly would be completely confused by the “Four Months and Two Thousand Miles” title. So on we go.  In earlier posts I wrote about the wonderful trip to Adak and Nome Alaska in June earlier this year.  That trip was Four Months Ago from the date of these observations and those locations are Two Thousand Miles from the Mouth of the Cedar River Park.  And on that trip I had fabulous views of many Lapland Longspurs and Sabine’s Gulls and unlike these two, those birds were adults in spectacular Alternate (breeding) plumage.  These photos show the extraordinary difference.

Lapland Longspur in Breeding Plumage – Adak, Alaska

Lapland Longspur

Sabine’s Gulls in Breeding Plumage – Nome, Alaska

Sabine's Gulls

I doubt I will ever again see a Lapland Longspur and a Sabine’s Gull on the same day in King County.  Sure was nice to do so.  And I hope I never again see such a pathetic display of what has come to pass for politics in America again either.  Unfortunately I probably will…sigh.

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