A Wild Goose Chase on Thanksgiving

Among the many things I am most thankful for are my two great kids: Alex and Miya.  Since they are 28 and 32 respectively and definitely very grown up, it may be wrong to call them “kids”, but I guess that is a prerogative of being a parent.  I had the chance to join them in Boston for Thanksgiving and somehow that holiday seems more real in New England.  We had a fabulous dinner – pumpkin pie (with whipped cream of course), stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes (with marshmallows of course), green beans, broccoli and cauliflower, rolls, cranberry sauce and of course a beautiful brown Turkey.  Plenty of leftovers and way too many calories, but a wonderful meal and good time together.

I had a chance to walk around Miya’s Brookline neighborhood before the meal so the Turkey was not the first bird I encountered, but it was definitely the only one incapable of flight and making no sound.  Although the area is very urban, I was surprised by the amount of birdlife.  Blue Jays scolded me, each others and the world in general from trees and porches. Northern Cardinals added their flash of color in many spots and House Sparrows were conspicuous and noisy.  A few Black Capped Chickadees were joined by even fewer White Breasted Nuthatches and the inevitable Starlings and Rock Pigeons abounded.  Not a long list, but individuals were plentiful and the Jays and Cardinals were a sharp reminder that I was no longer in Washington – how nice if I could find those birds in my Edmonds neighborhood.

Blue Jay




Yes the purpose of the trip was to see family and celebrate Thanksgiving, but I was able to break away for a little birding.  Originally the plan had been to go to Cape Cod and try to add some new ABA Birds – specifically Dovekie and Cory’s and Great Shearwaters.  But birding requires flexibility – and a little luck always helps.  I had the good fortune to have “met” Mike Resch earlier in the month when we exchanged info by phone and online to help him add to his Washington List on a visit.  Mike has the staggering accomplishment of observing more than 50% of the “possible species” in 47 states.  On his visit to Washington, he not only added I think 18 birds to his state list in an insane three day mad dash, he also was the one that first found the Prothonotary Warbler at Neah Bay.  Mike returned the favor by helping me with some ideas for good spots to go and then upped the ante when he informed me that a Pink Footed Goose was being seen near Newburyport and offered to meet me there and serve as tour guide.  The Shearwaters and Dovekie would just have to wait for another time.

I met Mike on Scotland Road just off Interstate 95 in pretty thick fog.  We scoured the fields where the goose had last been seen but found no geese at all.  We tried the waterfront in Newburyport near Parker River NWR and then went to a couple of reservoirs where we finally found some birds including 5 species of Woodpeckers and – some geese!!  The Pink Footed had been associating with flocks of Canada Geese so we were optimistic and excited.  We found more than 100 Canada Geese and a small group of Cackling Geese but sadly no small geese with brown heads and pink feet.  While this was of course a major disappointment, it was still very much a fun excursion for me.

I repeat my mantra that birding inserts us in situations where we have the opportunity to see great places, meet great people, and see great birds.  Definitely the case here as the whole area was lovely, interesting and very different from my normal Washington birding haunts.  Newburyport has homes dating back to the 17th Century and is very picturesque.  Mike is a fascinating guy and super birder whose ears just may challenge Frank Caruso’s – maybe something about starting birding in New England where it is even more of a benefit than in the West.  And often as a result of his acute hearing, I was able to find birds like Tufted Titmouse, Red Bellied Woodpecker, White Throated Sparrow and more Cardinals, Nuthatches and Jays that are definitely not everyday (or even ever) birds in Washington.

White Throated Sparrow


White Breasted Nuthatch


Tufted Titmouse


And stay tuned because the reservoir will have a repeat performance of great importance.  We met other birders searching for (and not finding) the Pink Footed Goose and one of them told us of a Tufted Duck that he had seen earlier that morning at Johnson’s Pond – not far away in Groveland.  So off we went.  Ponds in New England come in all sizes and this one is quite large, but Mike relatively quickly found a distant duck with a very dark back and very pale sides distinguishing it from its neighboring Scaup and making it our Tufted Duck.  Now especially after my finding a beautiful mature male Tufted Duck with a very prominent tuft, this guy was not impressive with barely a nub of a tuft, but unmistakable and definitely a great find.  I was more impressed with the numerous Mute Swans – debatable if they are even countable in Washington.

Tufted Duck with Scaup and Mute Swan


Tufted Duck Wings


Mute Swan


Along the way we also had nice close-ups of American Black Ducks – abundant here but never found in Washington, so I could not pass up the photo-op catching one of the many Ruddy Ducks around as well.

American Black Duck


Ruddy Duck


It was approaching the time that Mike was going to have to get on with non-birding matters, so we revisited the Scotland Road fields now with some clearer skies – but still no geese so it really had been a wild goose chase – but without the wild goose.  We parted company and I went off in search of a Purple Sandpiper at Plum Island.  I had been there maybe 20 years ago in the summer and had fond but non-specific memories.  There is a large salt marsh area – very different than our Washington marshes and reminiscent of Scarborough Marsh in Maine which I had enjoyed last year.  Being November there were no shorebirds and very little else in the marsh itself but driving out to the end of the road, I found a few birds along the way including a Barred Owl, several Tree Sparrows and a Northern Mockingbird.  Nice to get a photo since I had missed the Mocker in Neah Bay on our last visit.

Northern Mockingbird


When I got to the rocks at the end of the park another birder was heading out with his scope – his target also a Purple Sandpiper.  We went different directions saying we would wave and scream if either of us met with success.  Unfortunately I think the tide was wrong and the only shorebirds seen were five Sanderlings on a flyby.  I had close-ups of a Greater Black Backed Gull and a Herring Gull – the larus species of choice here.

Greater Black Backed Gull


Herring Gull


Time for me to go as well.  I made another stop by Scotland Road again without geese and headed south to Boston – with traffic fortunately being very light.  Sure enough after getting back,  I got a call from Mike who had found a report of the Pink Footed Goose near one of the areas we had visited.  That’s the trouble with birds.  They have wings and they know how to use them.  The area we had searched was quite large and it could have been anywhere – being at Spot A as we had been at Spot B or vice versa.

Although I could not make it work then, I determined to try later and did return to Newburyport and particularly to the Upper Artichoke Reservoir where finally a goose with pink feet cooperated even if often hard to separate from the Canada Geese it was with.  It was too far for a photo – although if I had known the area better I probably could have gotten close enough on a different road, but the ID was pretty easy with the small size, brown body and even browner head and a pinkish bill with a dark tip.  The photo is from another birder.

Pink Footed Goose


Maybe someday one will show up for a chase in Washington.  Mike says he may be out my way again.  Maybe he will repeat the Prothonotary Warbler feat and find one for us – probably at Neah Bay.

The Gift that Keeps on Giving – Neah Bay, Yet Again – (Subtitled – the Four Yells)

6:00 a.m. – meet at my house. 6:20 a.m. – board ferry at Edmonds for Kingston. 8:15 a.m. -stop at Safeway in Port Angeles for a fill up of gas tank and coffee mugs.  9:30 a.m. – arrive in Neah Bay (in good weather regardless of forecasts) and start seeing incredible birds!!  It has almost become routine the past few months – as another and another and another rare bird keeps showing up and more and more birders go to this Makah fishing village to find them.  Truly Neah Bay has been the gift that has kept on giving.

On Wednesday November 16, a Willow Flycatcher was reported at the base of the Jetty in Neah Bay – a good bird for mid-November but hardly a reason to make the long drive.  But hold on there…  It turned out that this was a case of mistaken identity and Thursday’s Willow Flycatcher had morphed on Friday into a Dusky Capped Flycatcher, a bird that breeds as far north as Arizona but generally resides and winters in the tropics.  I have seen the species in Arizona, Costa Rica, Peru and Brazil – but until that day of misidentification – nobody had ever seen it in Washington – it was a new state record and absolutely something to draw one’s attention including mine.  And there was more – another misidentification on that same November 16 with the result that a Brown Headed Cowbird had become a very rare Blue Grosbeak not the first Washington record but a species I had not seen in the state.  Unfortunately the ID was not corrected until Sunday so no other birders had looked for it – no further observations, while the Dusky Capped had been seen again and photographed..

I had important social engagements for the weekend or I would have been on my way to Neah Bay on Saturday but had to be patient and planned to go on Monday.  I called Steve Pink, Brian Pendleton, and Ann Marie Wood and we all agreed we would make the trip but only if one of the rarities was seen again on Sunday.  As of 8:00 Sunday night, neither had been reported.  Looked like the trip was off. Then just after 8:00 p.m., an Ebird report from Keith Brady came through.  He had seen and photographed the Dusky Capped Flycatcher earlier – we were now a GO!! And we followed the routine described at the start of this post and arrived in Neah Bay around 9:30 a.m. intending to head straight to the base of the jetty and hope that another birder was already there and the Dusky Capped Flycatcher was in their sight.

But… a brief departure from the plan.  As we drove along the waterfront, we saw some close in Wigeon and Brian picked out a Eurasian Wigeon so we stopped for Ann Marie to get a look at a bird she had missed on an earlier trip.

Eurasian Wigeon


We got back in the car and back to the plan – well sort of.  Ann Marie is a great trooper but sometimes she just has to rebel against the rules.  Not too much further along, she yelled “STOP”!  And we (almost) always listen to Ann Marie.  She had spied a Greater White Fronted Goose inside a fenced off play area.  Not rare but always a nice bird.  We stopped – got photos – maybe this was a good omen and hopefully not just a consolation prize.  Now back towards the jetty.

Greater White Fronted Goose


No cars or birders greeted us at the jetty, so we were on our own.  Doing his best Ann Marie impersonation, even before we got out of the car, Steve Pink yelled STOP! – Black Kittiwakes!  We may not listen to Steve as often as we do to Ann Marie (just kidding Steve…), but he has found us many a great bird and a Black Kittiwake certainly qualifies – but Steve must have had his anticipatory adrenalin in high drive, because the birds on the beach were not Black Kittiwakes – they were a much better find – Red Phalaropes which Steve quickly corrected himself to state.  These usually pelagic species seen far out at sea had invaded inland waters in the past week being seen all over the state including by us independently at the Edmonds fishing pier.  There were 5 – close in, in good light and begging for a photograph.  I rose quickly to that easy challenge.

Red Phalarope


We were precisely at the spot where we hoped to find the Dusky Capped Flycatcher – once again were the Red Phalaropes an omen or a consolation prize?  It took less than a minute to answer that question.  I walked back towards and then behind a series of brambles and now it was my turn to yell.  I saw a quick flash of yellow on a small bird:  “I’ve got it!! It’s the Dusky Capped!!”  The Flycatcher was very active flitting from branch to branch and bramble to tree, at times giving its plaintive little call.  How amazing that this bird was so far from home and that we were looking at it – and in great light – behind us and directly on the bird.  Photos were taken quickly and then I kept trying to improve them hoping the bird would make its way into the open.  Two of the best of those photos are below.

Dusky Capped Flycatcher


Dusky Capped Flycatcher


It was not even 10:00 a.m. and we had seen our quest for the day and had two bonus prizes as well.  Additionally we had had a quick flyover by an Osprey, very rare this late in the year.  We stayed at the jetty and with the flycatcher for almost an hour and had another very rare bird – well make that “birder”.  It was John Weigel, a birder from Australia who is doing an ABA Big Year – and quite a year it has been.  He recently added the Common Scoter in Siletz Bay, Oregon, his 776 ABA bird for 2016!!  Given that the old ABA Big Year record by Neil Hayward (See my blog from my Adak trip) was 749 – this is an almost unfathomable accomplishment.  John stayed only a short while – off to find his next year bird.

Already ecstatic from our good fortune, we ventured out to try to find the Blue Grosbeak.  It had been seen in the vicinity of where our group had had an extraordinary Two Minute Blitz (earlier blog post) two weeks earlier that had Tropical Kingbird, Palm Warbler, Blue Gray Gnatcatcher and Orchard Oriole essentially together.  We drove and walked the entire area and saw neither Cowbird nor Grosbeak.  We found only a single Tropical Kingbird and then we found Matt Bartels who had not been able to resist the chance to add some of the newly reported rarities to his Clallam County list.  He too had seen the Dusky Capped Flycatcher, Greater White Fronted Goose and Red Phalarope.  He had been there much longer than we had and also had seen a Blue Gray Gnatcatcher and a Palm Warbler – but no go on the Blue Grosbeak.  As if on cue, as we talked, the Blue Gray Gnatcatcher literally flew out of a bush and into a tree right in front of us.  It has been around now for almost a month.  Matt was pleased we had the success we had, but he was most interested in the Osprey.  It was a nemesis bird for him in Clallam County – the only county in Washington where he had not seen one.

Blue Gray Gnatcatcher


Tropical Kingbird


We drove some more and then headed to Butler’s Motel where we ran into Paul Baerny – just as I had on the wonderful day last month when I finally got my Rose Breasted Grosbeak in Washington.  He had seen all the good birds as well and had nothing new to report.  What next?  Ann Marie recalled that a Tufted Duck had been seen in years past at the Sewage Treatment Plant in the Wa’atch Valley and asked how far that was and if we could go.  Sure, why not.  No expectations other than it was often a good spot and in fact during the Eurasian Hobby frenzy in 2014, that is where I had my first Cattle Egret in the State.

The gate was open at the STP so we drove in and up to park right next to one of the ponds.  There were dozens of ducks mostly Buffleheads, Scaup and Green Winged Teal in the two closest ponds. There was also a gorgeous Northern Pintail, a real beauty in perfect light. A small group of Mew Gulls were feasting on I don’t think I want to know what close by as well.

Northern Pintail


Mew Gull


There were ducks in the back ponds as well and Brian and I headed off in that direction taking a circuitous route to create as little disturbance as we could.  There were again mostly Buffleheads in the southwestern-most pond, but from a distance it looked like the northwestern-most pond might have some Ring Necked Ducks or Scaup.  As we turned the corner, the ducks in the southwestern pond flew off but fortunately the ones in the northern pond did not and we crept down the bank to further avoid detection.  Then I saw it and again I yelled:  “Tufted Duck”!!  I snapped a couple of quick photos and got Brian on the bird.  We inched closer and I called out to Steve and Ann Marie who were back towards the car and I frenetically motioned them to come.  Unfortunately they were on the path between the ponds and as they approached most of the ducks flew off – including the Tufted Duck.

It wasn’t fair. The Tufted Duck was state year bird #349 for Brian – a new personal best – but Ann Marie’s hope to see a Tufted Duck had been the impetus for the visit.  We had come.  Brian and I had seen it (the first in Washington since last winter), but she had not.  There will be more to the story so stay tuned.

Tufted Duck


Tufted Duck


I called Paul Baerny and told him we had found one but that it had flown off – maybe to the Wa’atch River below.  He was on his way.  We went down to the river but could not find it. Paul and Matt arrived. (Matt does not carry a phone so we could not call him, but we were glad Paul had found him.)  We could not find the Tufted Duck.  Then Charlie Wright drove up.  Charlie is one of the premiere birders in Washington and always comes up with something great.  He had been the one that found the Red Legged Kittiwake at Neah Bay that had prompted my first visit to the area much earlier in the year. It was nice to be able to share our discovery with him and he suggested that it was possible that the ducks had flown to Hobuck Lake instead of landing in the River.  As we stood talking, an Osprey flew directly overhead.  Matt did not get the Tufted Duck but now he had his Osprey!!



We found our way to Hobuck Lake – a few Ring Necked Ducks were there – but no ducks with tufts.  We decided to return to the sewage ponds hoping it may have returned.  As we were pulling in, Matt was pulling out.  He and Charlie had gone to the ponds while we had tried Hobuck Lake.  The bad news was that our male Tufted Duck was not found.  The good news was that they had found a second Tufted Duck – a female.  Matt kindly guided us to the spot and pointed out Tufted Duck #2.  It was now a happy ending for Ann Marie after all!!  Steve had seen females in his native England but this was the first for any of us in the U.S. and definitely the only time we had seen two Tufted Ducks in one day.

Tufted Duck Female


What had started as an incredible day was now significantly beyond that – we were a very happy group.  There was still time to return to town and see if we could find anything else before heading home.  We tried unsuccessfully in a couple of spots for Swamp Sparrows that had been reported earlier and then went to the woods across from the Minit Mart, a spot where many rarities had been found over the years and where a Palm Warbler was seen earlier in the day.  Seemed very quiet at first, but Brian persevered and  went around the edge and then it was his turn to yell: “Palm Warbler”.  We never got stationary in the open looks but watched as it did its fly-catching and disappearing act.  Another good bird for the day.

We made a bath room stop at the marina and with perfect light this gave me a chance for some additional fun photos as the marina was full of grebes, ducks, loons and scoters. Earlier by the water I had a chance for an unusual sighting and photo. A Tropical Kingbird, perhaps the same one seen in town earlier or perhaps not, was fly-catching behind the Warmhouse Restaurant.  At one point it actually landed on the sand.  I had never seen one on the ground before and I was fortunate to be able to capture the photo in good light.  Earlier also we had some Black Oystercatchers fly in for a photo shoot – always a fun bird.

Tropical Kingbird on the Sand


Black Oystercatcher


Now back at the water’s edge I first found a photogenic female Belted Kingfisher and then a nice Western Grebe, and a Red Throated Loon, but what drew me onto the walkways and out to the boats was first the bellows of the Sea Lions on one of the rafts and then a White Winged Scoter that seemed to be feeding close by.  I got close to the Sea Lions and snapped some photos and then refound the Scoter – with something large in its mouth.  It proved to be a butter clam and watching the Scoter positioning the large clam and then crunching it open with that powerful and well designed serrated bill was a fascinating experience – somewhat captured in my photos.

Belted Kingfisher


Western Grebe


Red Throated Loon


Sea Lion


White Winged Scoter with Butter Clam




It was now time to leave.  A fantastic day – yet again – at Neah Bay, the gift that indeed keeps on giving!  And definitely something to yell about:  Ann Marie’s yell about the Greater White Fronted Goose; Steve’s on the Black Kittiwakes that became Red Phalaropes, mine on first the Dusky Capped Flycatcher and then the Tufted Duck, and finally Brian’s on the Palm Warbler.  Team birding at its best.

On the long drive home we wondered whether in the history of birding if there had ever been a day that included observations in the same place of these wonderful birds:  Dusky Capped Flycatcher, Eurasian Wigeon, Tufted Duck (both male and female – and not even together), Red Phalarope, Osprey, Black Oystercatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Palm Warbler, Blue Gray Gnatcatcher (Eastern) and Harlequin Duck.  We had seen these 10 species and about 60 others and enjoyed each other’s company, great weather and visits with friends.  What a day!!

Burrowing Owl and Foxes – Thank You San Juan Island

I am not a county lister although I have lists for counties where I have birded – thanks to Ebird.  Ann Marie Wood and Steve Pink are definitely county birders and the opportunity to see a Burrowing Owl that had been reported at American Camp on San Juan Island was a major draw from them.  Any owl is special and I had not birded in San Juan County for a long while, so I was happy to join them to look for the Burrowing Owl.

We had good weather and good directions and headed directly to Pickett Lane where the bird had been reported.  At least we thought we had good directions, but when we spoke to the couple that had last reported the owl, we got conflicting details from each of them, so we were not so sure.  As we arrived at the first most likely spot, in the field off to the east, we saw dozens of the rabbits for which San Juan Island is well known and which provided the burrows that probably attracted this very out of place owl.  But our information was that the Burrowing Owl was in the field to the west and although we saw no rabbits there, we did see two foxes, one red and one black, another species for which the Island was known.  We worried that the owl could have been a meal for one of them or at least that their presence may have caused it to bury itself deep in a burrow.

One of Many Rabbits


Pair of Foxes


We spent almost an hour looking at the grassy fields which seemed to correlate to the directions we had received – but we could not find an owl.  We went to the end of the road where it provided a great view of the water and watched for whatever we could find.  There were many loons, grebes, sea ducks including a single Long Tailed Duck, but the highlight was undoubtedly the small groups of Ancient Murrelets that flew by.

Ancient Murrelets


Long Tailed Duck


We returned to the fields where we hoped to find the Burrowing Owl.  Another birder had been there for some time and she too could not find the bird.  Then another car with two birders arrived and they finally found the owl and helped us get onto it as well.  It was barely visible in the clumps of grass, but unmistakable.  Steve and Ann Marie had another species for the county – so did I but that wasn’t saying much since at the start of the day, my list for San Juan County was a pathetic 28 species.

Burrowing Owl


Time to move on and see what else we could find and enjoy the spectacular scenery that waited around every bend as is evidenced by the two photos below.





Land birds were few and far between and nothing exciting.  We found good waterfowl at many stops including one spot with 50+ Pacific Loons and continuing Ancient Murrelet groups.  Three Harlequin Ducks were nice additions at one overlook.

Harlequin Duck


At one spot we saw a gorgeous Red Fox on a pullout off the road.  As we approached not only did it not run off, it actually came closer to us – as if it was looking for a handout.  This provided the opportunity to take close up photos – some of my best ever.

Red Fox


Red Fox


We surveyed a number of salt water lookouts and many fresh water ponds and lakes.  Not a great diversity but at the end of the day we had something over 65 species.  There were a number of Trumpeter Swans on various ponds.  Again nice photo ops.

Trumpeter Swan


We searched hard for a Canvasback that would have been a new San Juan County bird for Ann Marie and Steve, but just could not find it at Sportsmen’s Pond where it had been reported.  One stop provided a non-birding photo that I am calling “The Old Man in the Woods” – a very gnarly tree trunk with lots of character.

The Old Man in the Woods


With a fairly late start (took the 8:15 ferry from Anacortes) and darkness by 4:30, there was not a lot of birding time.  The Burrowing Owl had been found and was terrific but to me it was the foxes that were the highlight.

Black Fox


A Hawk with Red Shoulders

In unexpectedly good weather on Friday this week, Jon Houghton, Jean Olson and I took advantage of the lighter traffic on Veterans Day and ventured south to Clark County.  Most of our time was spent at Ridgefield Refuge where we were most interested in finding a Red Shouldered Hawk that had been reported there consistently this month.  Jon was also interested in his first of year Sandhill Crane, getting him very close to his goal of seeing 9% of the world’s birds this calendar year.

Ridgefield and Steigerwald Refuges in Clark County have been regular spots for Red Shouldered Hawk in Washington, but I had not visited either yet.  The River “S” Unit at Ridgefield was our first visit.  At the check in point the whiteboard listed recent sightings and the Red Shouldered Hawk was reported from the previous day, so we were confident we would find one.  Also listed was a Cattle Egret.  Very rare in Washington, I had not seen one reported on Ebird or elsewhere so, if accurate, this was certainly great news and became our most sought after bird.

Our first sighting of note was a Nutria along one of the water areas.  These large rodents are non-native and unwelcome but still pretty striking.



As we drove on, what was most impressive were the large number of American Wigeon, Coots and Northern Pintails seen at almost every stop along the loop road.  We also quickly saw raptors in some trees and checked carefully for the tell tale markings of a Red Shouldered Hawk.  The first several hawks were Red Tailed Hawks but about half way around the loop we saw what seemed to be a smaller hawk in one of the trees and got close enough for a positive ID as a Red Shouldered Hawk with vertical striping on the upper breast and horizontal striping below, a relatively small head and a definite reddish cast.  A few minutes earlier we had first heard and then seen some Sandhill Cranes, so we had covered the two main targets for the trip.

Red Shouldered Hawk – First View


Sandhill Crane


We scrutinized every white form that we saw hoping for a Cattle Egret.  Some turned out to be distant signs, some were gulls and some were partial views of upturned Pintails or Shovelers.  Some were indeed egrets but all were Great Egrets.  Can’t ever complain about seeing a Great Egret in Washington, even though unlike when I first started birding here in the 1970’s, they are now quite common at least in Clark County and a few other spots in the state.  One Great Egret was particularly photogenic.

Great Egret


We saw a second Nutria on our tour but far better was a pair of Raccoons that were feeding in the grass along one of the waterways.  Being safe across the water from us, they were often out in the open and made for some good views and photos.



We completed our loop drive and decided to give it another go – hoping that a Cattle Egret would magically appear or that we would have a better view of a Red Shouldered Hawk.  Pretty close to the start of the second circumnavigation we saw a smallish hawk perched high in a tree that was partially blocked by branches.  The small head, reddish cast and small orange feet suggested it might be a second Red Shouldered Hawk, a juvenile.  I got a couple of not so hot photos which upon closer examination revealed it to be a Northern Harrier, one of many seen.  Not too much further along, however, we refound the Red Shouldered Hawk that we had that seen on our first loop – now out in the open. The splayed tail feathers and hints of red on the shoulders visible from what was now a back view were pretty cool.

Red Shouldered Hawk – Round Two


No Cattle Egret or new birds on the second loop.  The last photo I took was of some Teasel plants (the place was thick with Teasel everywhere) that at first we thought had moss on it.  Closer examination of the photos showed some kind of green growth but we were not sure what – a parasite or a mutually symbiotic relationship somehow?  Whatever – quite striking.



It was now about 11:00 a.m.  What next?  An Acorn Woodpecker had been seen about a half hour north and we wanted to give that a try, but since we were already this far south we elected first to go to Steigerwald NWR hoping for an appearance by a White Tailed Kite – something I had seen there last year but had not been reported in 2016.  Steigerwald proved to be pretty birdless.  We had great views of a couple of hovering American Kestrels and both male and female Northern Harriers and not much else.

Northern Harrier


American Kestrel Hovering


Time to start home with a stop at the feeders where the Acorn Woodpecker had been reported for a couple of days previously.  Although not far from I-5, the route to the private residence was circuitous, but the excellent directions provided on Tweeters brought us to the home of Larry and Joanne Turner who had graciously opened their bird friendly home to visitors.  With numerous hummingbird and seed feeders around, their grounds were a mecca for birds.  We spent almost two hours there (joined by Mary Frances Mathis) and unfortunately never saw the out of habitat Acorn Woodpecker.  Larry, who was a fascinating host, said it had not been seen that day earlier either.  We were treated to an amazing show by maybe as many as 10 or 12 Anna’s Hummingbirds and a visit by a California Scrub-Jay and numerous Ruby and Golden Crowned Kinglets among others.  One of the latter was really worked up and displayed as much red in the cap as I have ever seen.  The photo is OK but would have been really special if the focus was a bit better.

Anna’s Hummingbird on a Quince Plant


California Scrub-Jay


Golden Crowned Kinglet


So no go on the Acorn Woodpecker.  Hopefully it will return.  How strange that it was there at all as there are no oak trees for miles.  We encountered less than expected traffic on our return and had no rain either.  The Hawk with Red Shoulders was the highlight of the trip but lots of other fun birds as well.  An excellent day to be out with friends…

The Two Minute Drill

Football fans are very familiar with it – those last two minutes of the game when no matter what has happened in the preceding 58 minutes, these minutes can make all the difference.  Something changes.  Maybe it’s the focus.  Maybe it is the intensity.  Often it seems to be the approach. Whatever it is, those last two minutes can seem like an eternity or they can just fly by.  Lots of excitement can be crammed into those two minutes.  Maybe the entirety of the rest of the time had been boring and inconsequential.  Without something big in those last two minutes, the fans will go home disappointed and the players will wonder what they might have done earlier to have changed the outcome of the day – to make it a win – a success – instead of a loss – a failure.

It was 1:35 P.M. on Sunday November 6th.  We had spent the past 6 hours traveling yet again to Neah Bay and once there, joining with others in the effort, we had scoured every bramble, bush and tree within 1/8 mile of the area where the Prothonotary Warbler had been seen and photographed the day before.  An extraordinary bird with only two other records in Washington – EVER.  It had been found by Mike Resch, a birder from Massachusetts on his own crazy quest – adding some new birds to his Washington list so he could add yet another state to his long list of states where over his life, he had seen at least one-half of the species that had been reported for that state.  He was familiar with this bird from his past and when he called me on Saturday morning, it just did not seem fair that some outsider had found this bird in my state.  But why not, an outsider finding an outsider bird.  How cool!  If I had not had commitments for that day I would have raced off to the ferry and made the trek.  Those plans were too important, so I deferred until the next day and contacted others so that Ann Marie Wood, Steve Pink and Brian Pendleton were the explorers leaving Sunday morning.

Prothonotary Warbler – Neah Bay November 5, 2016 – first found by Mike Resch – Photo by Brad Waggoner


Our search for the warbler was futile – no sound, no glimpse, no record.  Disappointed of course, but we had hopes for a consolation prize and our attention had turned to other birds and other areas.  We all wanted first and foremost to find an Orchard Oriole – a rare bird for Washington that had eluded Brian and me on our earlier visits; and Steve and Ann Marie had not been to Neah Bay since it had first been seen and thus wanted it as well.  Steve and Ann Marie were also hopeful of finding a Tropical Kingbird, or a Palm Warbler or a Blue Gray Gnatcatcher, all of which are really good and uncommon birds which Brian and I had seen on our Neah Bay visit earlier in the week.

As of 1:35, we had frankly not seen very much.  Not only no Prothonotary Warbler – no warbler at all and not much of anything else of note.  Probably the Northern Fulmars seen off shore and numerous Black Oystercatchers on the rocks being the best birds.  We had none of the consolation birds and we wondered if the long trip was going to go unrewarded.  We were pretty low.  And “low” turned out to be the correct word in another way.  Somehow from the back of the car, Ann Marie had seen something that looked – different. “What is that there low on the ground?” she asked.  We got on the bird quickly and Eureka!!  Ann Marie had spied the Orchard Oriole.  It had been seen earlier in the day in this area (Lincoln and 3rd) but until that moment we had missed it.  We had been told it was very active and so it was.  We got out of the car.  I snapped a couple of photos and we followed it as it flew from building to building, yard to yard, branch to branch for two blocks.

Orchard Oriole


And now there was more.  A Tropical Kingbird flew onto a wire just above us as we were watching the Oriole.  A second consolation prize – just seconds after the first.  Wow! Another photo.  Our spirits were definitely improved.  But there was more to come.  The Orchard Oriole had brought us to the location where the Harris’s Sparrow had been seen earlier in the week.  We had been there before and seen nothing, but Steve noticed that there were now a number of Golden Crowned Sparrows on the ground and in the bushes so we searched for the Harris’s Sparrow.

Golden Crowned Sparrow


No go but in a bramble behind the building, I saw a small grayish bird flit about.  I was able to get a good view and screamed out that we had a Blue Gray Gnatcatcher.  Brian and I had had one six days earlier in the area by the Seawatch where the Prothonotary had been found.  John Gatchet had one or possibly two there earlier in the day.  This was almost a mile away.  There had to be more than one in Neah Bay.  It flitted about but gave us super looks including one as it perched on a red railing with more red in the background making for a cool photo.

Tropical Kingbird


Blue Gray Gnatcatcher



In just under two minutes, we had gone from nothing exciting to three really good birds; this was a rally of note.  And just as the two minute clock was running out, we had another big play.  Steve asked “What’s this?” as a little bird flew in on the ground next to the sparrows just as the Gnatcatcher flew off.  It was a Palm Warbler.  It fed on the ground, flew briefly up onto the building where Brian and I had seen the Harris’s Sparrow on Monday; posed briefly, and then returned to the ground for a few more looks before disappearing.  This had been a memorable two minutes.  We agreed that it had been the most exciting and surprise-packed two minutes we had every had in our many, many years of birding.

Palm Warbler


We felt like we had now definitely won the game.  High fives all around.  This had been one heck of a two minute drill.  We would have traded all of it for a single Prothonotary Warbler but not for much else.  And now we were re-energized and went off looking for more.  This took us to the bay itself, west of the Warmhouse restaurant and near the creek outfall where there were gulls to scan.  Something really rarer would be great, but the main hope was for a Black Legged Kittiwake – new for the year for Ann Marie and Steve.  We had Black Oystercatchers and some Dunlin, lots of ducks, loons and grebes in the water and dozens of gulls in close.

Black Oystercatcher

Black Oystercatcher.jpg

Fairly quickly, Steve found the hoped for Black Legged Kittiwake on a rock maybe 50 yards out.  We had great light and great looks.

Black Legged Kittiwake


With that success, we turned to sorting through the remaining gulls.  Most were pretty close and in good light, and we felt pretty confident concluding that we were watching the following gull species:  California Gull, Glaucous Winged Gull, Herring Gull, Heerman’s Gull, Western Gull, Mew Gull, and Thayer’s Gull.  Nothing really rare but together with the Kittiwake, we thus had 8 gull species close up for great comparisons.  Some photos:

California Gull


Herring Gull


Heerman’s Gull


Mew Gull


The Black Legged Kittiwake had disappeared and then just as we were about to leave, it returned.  At first it had been the bird that was furthest out.  Now it was the closest and we all got great parting photos.  Now if only somehow the bird that had returned had red legs instead of black.  Maybe someday…

Black Legged Kittiwake – our parting shot


We made one more try for the Prothonotary Warbler – again a no show.  But with our memorable Two Minute Drill behind us and to be always remembered we considered it a miss and not a failure.  Another great day in Neah Bay.

The Neah Bay October/November Phenomenon – Part II: 2015 and 2016 – and my Visit on October 31, 2016

This is Part II of a post on the phenomenal birding that can be found at Neah Bay in October and November every year.  Part I described the fantastic experience of October and November in 2014 started by the observation of a Eurasian Hobby in the Wa’atch Valley on October 26, 2014 which brought more than 100 birders to this remote town on the far northwest corner of our state.  Part I also talks about the numerous other great birds in October and November that year – a list for a single location and only two months that would make most birders happy if found over many years of birding.  That year was special but not unique as will be evident from the rest of this blog which portrays more great Neah Bay birding in October and November in 2015 and 2016 – the Phenomenon continues.

At the end there is a summary of observations in Neah Bay in the two months of October and November 2012-2016.  The numbers in general are impressive, the diversity and rarities even moreso.

After a trip to Neah Bay for a pelagic trip in April 2015 I was only able to make it to Neah Bay once in October 2015 and had nothing exceptional to report from that visit.  the best bird from that April visit was a Glaucous Gull.  Probably the two best birds in October were a Golden Eagle and a Lapland Longspur on the 24th.  Not bad and others had reported Yellow Billed Loon and a Western Screech Owl earlier in that month but not pretty tame compared to the previous year.  But November was a different story.  I headed off alone to Neah Bay on November 3rd.  Repeating the good fortune of “finding Brad Waggoner” in November 2014, I ran into a birding group on my way that included Brad and also Paul Lehman and Barbara Carlson. The first benefit of that good fortune was a Blue Gray Gnatcatcher on Kalawa Street in Clallam Bay – my first ever in the state.

Blue Gray Gnatcatcher – Clallam Bay November 3, 2015


I continued on with them and another great bird resulted.  Brad and Paul are expert “pishers” – the sound technique that can magically draw birds in similarly to using playback, except it is more universal/generic.  Brad and Paul would stop at “likely” spots – mostly scraggly brambles and thickets along the road – and “pish”.  They stopped on Highway 112 midway between Sekiu and Neah Bay and used their technique.  Somehow they managed to spot a small unobtrusive bird in a large agglomeration of Fuschia bushes across from a lawn on private property that responded but it was very distant and hard to identify but they thought it might be a rare warbler.  They had produced the bird and I wanted to contribute so I hiked up a long driveway and knocked on the door to see if we could get permission to come onto the property for a closer look.  The owner was a disabled grandfather who gave the permission and then his granddaughter asked if she could come see it.  “Terrific”, I said.  However when she learned it was just some small bird and not something cool like an eagle, her eagerness left and she stayed with her grandfather.  Long enough story short, the bird they had found was a Tennessee Warbler – very rare in Washington and certainly my first observation in the state.

Tennessee Warbler – Highway 112 near Neah Bay


We continued on and then went separate ways in Neah Bay itself.  Nothing extraordinary that day but good birds I saw included a Northern Goshawk flyby, Peregrine Falcons, a Palm Warbler and a Snow Bunting.

Snow Bunting – November 3, 2015


I had been counting on finding and photographing a Tropical Kingbird in Neah Bay, but it had proved elusive. I spent the night at Butler’s Motel and continued the search for it and other birds the next day including some time up on Bahokas Peak that produced a Hutton’s Vireo but nothing exceptional and at Hobuck Beach.  About midday I ran into Randy Hill who was also looking for a Tropical Kingbird.  After walking the area around Blue Jay and Lincoln streets, we finally found our bird and I was able to get a decent photo of it perched in a small tree.  Pleased and wanting to get home early, I said goodbye to Paul and Brad who I saw again and headed off around noon.

Tropical Kingbird – November 3, 2015


Birding often is about choices.  Where do I go?  What route should I take?  Which opportunity is best?  As I was heading home I had to make a choice:  Bruce Labar very kindly called me to say he had a King Eider in Tacoma.  A great bird and even though it would add another 75 miles to my journey and more hours to my day – I HAD to go for it.  But wait…about 5 minutes later I got a call from Paul Lehman who said there was a Summer Tanager in Neah Bay – in the exact tree where we had the Tropical Kingbird about 90 minutes earlier.  These were both great birds – but I had seen both in Washington before.  Going back to Neah Bay would add at least 3 hours to the trip.  I decided to go for the King Eider. Good choice/bad choice…

It was a good choice because the King Eider was easily found near the ferry on Ruston Way.  Got a great photo and watched it eat an unbelievable number of crabs.  Bad news because the Eider stayed for about a month and in fact I took two others down to see it four days later.  The Summer Tanager of course was a one day wonder and was gone the next day.

King Eider (Female) – Ruston Way, Tacoma – November 4, 2015


Summer Tanager  (sadly not the Neah Bay one) University District December 9, 2012


Now back to Neah Bay.  Including the birds seen on the way, the trip to Neah Bay had paled compared to the previous year but that was hardly a fair comparison and it had indeed been an excellent visit.  Then it got better.  A Hooded Warbler was found near the Seawatch spot at the East end of town.  Three of us headed off to Neah Bay on November 11th to look for it and anything else that we could find.  It took some time but with the help of Matt Bartels, we found the Hooded Warbler and it cooperated by leaving its dense thicket and making a photo-helping jaunt out over the green grass.

Hooded Warbler


Later we added some more excellent birds including another Blue Gray Gnatcatcher and another Palm Warbler.

Blue Gray Gnatcatcher


Palm Warbler


That was it for 2015.  Thus great birds during the October/November Phenomenon for me were:  Golden Eagle, Lapland Longspur, Snow Bunting, Tropical Kingbird, Tennessee Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Palm Warbler and Northern Goshawk. Once again, a good Washington rarities list for a full year let alone for just over a month.

To paraphrase a popular question:  OK, Neah Bay, that’s all fine and dandy, but what have you done for me lately?  As I already chronicled in my earlier Blog Post “I Still Know the Way to Neah Bay”,  a trip to Neah Bay on October 18th with Steve Pink and Brian Pendleton had already produced what was for me a super bird – finally a Rose Breasted Grosbeak – the only non-review committee bird I had not seen in Washington.  We also had a Tropical Kingbird, Swamp Sparrow and a strangely plumaged Oriole that was either a rare for the time Bullock’s Oriole or an extremely rare Baltimore Oriole.  My distant photo was too poor to make a positive ID.  A great day but as outlined in that earlier blogpost, we missed some birds that had been seen by others lately – again a Blue Gray Gnatcatcher, Palm Warblers and most importantly the Dickcissel.  The Grosbeak sealed it for me and absent something new and exciting, I was probably done with Neah Bay for the year.

Then something new and exciting happened.  On October 29th the first ever Washington record or of Field Sparrow was reported.  The Dickcissel was gone, but there were Palm Warblers everywhere, a couple of Buller’s Shearwaters seen from land and at least one and maybe two Orchard Orioles. The next day a Harris’s Sparrow was found and the Blue Gray Gnatcatcher was found in a new location.  Commitments precluded me from going the next day but discussing options with Steve and Brian again, we decided that IF the Field Sparrow was reported again on Sunday we would go on Monday.  Alas, it was not reported – to go or not to go – that was the question.  The weather looked marginally better on Monday than for the rest of the week  and if somehow the Field Sparrow was still around each passing day decreased that possibility.  Brian and I opted to go and Steve opted out.

So we again boarded the 6:20 Edmonds ferry on Monday morning and headed west.  We had light rain in the darkness.  The skies lightened but by the time we reached Sekiu, the rain had increased and it was pouring.  Our optimism was challenged but we were soon rewarded because as soon as we reached Neah Bay, the rain stopped and we had no rain at all the rest of the day until we returned home.  We first went to the waterfront area where the Field Sparrow had been seen two days earlier.  We searched diligently …and unsuccessfully…our best bird a Eurasian Wigeon in the harbor.  Now our priorities changed.  We headed to Raven’s Corner and then Butler’s checking the thickets and brambles for the Blue Gray Gnatcatcher.  Again no luck.

Eurasian Wigeon


Field Sparrow from my Trip to Maine in June 2015 Where it Is Common 

Field Sparrow

Plan A and Plan B had failed, now it was off to the area where the Harris’s Sparrow had been reported.  On the way we first ran into three Tropical Kingbirds and then we ran into John Gatchet.  We had birded with John on our trip the previous week and he knows Neah Bay as well as anyone and had seen some of the special birds there recently.  In fact he had just seen the Harris’s Sparrow around the block from where it had been seen earlier and he took us to the spot – a tumble of brambles and a dilapidated building.  Quickly we got a glimpse of the Harris’s Sparrow but it was only in the open for a few seconds before it flew off and never returned.  No picture this time, so I include one from last year.

Harris’s Sparrow (Denny Van Horn’s Feeders in Sequim – March 31, 2014)


There were lots of sparrows there – Fox Sparrow, Lincoln’s, Golden Crowned mostly.  The Lincoln’s Sparrow was particularly appealing. We continued to see more Tropical Kingbirds – the count now up to four.

Lincoln’s Sparrow


At least the Harris’s Sparrow was a new year bird for me, but Brian had seen one earlier.  We decided to move on to Hobuck Beach where a number of Palm Warblers had been reported by many.  I love that area and we enjoyed walking the beach and the dunes and especially enjoyed finding at least four and possibly as many as six Palm Warblers – again new for the year for me but seen previously by Brian.  We had two more Tropical Kingbirds bringing our total to six for the day.  We also had a beautiful Western Meadowlark and our third Wilson’s Snipe of the day.

View from Hobuck Beach


Palm Warbler


Tropical Kingbird


Brian and Blair at Hobuck


We went back to the sparrow spot but no sign of either a Field Sparrow or the Harris’s Sparrow.  We again searched again the brambles on both sides of the Warmhouse Restaurant and the Mini Mart and found no orioles. A last stop at Butler’s before moving on did produce another Tropical Kingbird – number 7. It was getting late and options were disappearing.  John suggested we move out to the Loop Road and look for the Clay Colored Sparrow.  It had been seen in a scruffy area where a large tank had been removed.  When we got there we saw a small bird fly off and disappear.  It might have been a sparrow; it might have been something else.  We did not find a Clay Colored Sparrow there or in the nearby brambles along the water or near the dilapidated building.  We did have yet another Tropical Kingbird though.  Brian moved on to the west while John and I worked more to the east before returning to the area where the tank had been removed.  We  then heard shouts from Brian. He had found a Blue Gray Gnatcatcher – first hearing it and then finding it in a willow next to the building.  It hardly kept still but I was able to grab a nice photo.

Blue Gray Gnatcatcher

blue-gray-gnatcatcher1 blue-gray-gnatcatcher

Finally Brian had a new bird for the year – in fact a new life state bird.  This was better and everyone was beyond satisfied.  There was maybe another hour or so of birdable light so we decided to head over to the jetty and look for pelagic species having been told by Bruce Paige that he had seen Northern Fulmars and Shearwaters far off shore.  First we checked the creek mouth where we had several Thayer’s Gulls and two Snow Geese.

Thayer’s Gull


Snow Goose


We clambered up onto the rocks at the jetty and searched.  John quickly announced that he was seeing many Fulmars and some shearwaters.  I saw some Fulmars but was not getting great looks.  Maybe 10 minutes later after trading off with Brian I got a pretty decent but very quick scope look at two shearwaters with distinctly white undersides and grayish backs/wings.  It was not a great look – not sufficient to make a positive ID but they could well have been Buller’s Shearwaters.

Maybe 10 minutes later, John got a good look at a Shearwater with white below and grayish wings with the critical “M” pattern readily seen.  I was on the other scope and was able to get on the same bird and track it going first left and then right and could also make out a pattern on the back.  But Brian was the one that really “needed” a Buller’s Shearwater as weather had canceled all of his Autumn pelagic trips and thus he had missed this species.  He took the scope and after very diligent searching he was able to find the bird as well. Ta da!!  Way too far out for a chance at a photo but we all were really sure of the observation.  All told we saw more than 100 Fulmars including at least one or two light phased birds, two Buller’s Shearwaters, a dozen or so Sooty Shearwaters and many ducks, loons, grebes and cormorants.  Shearwaters and Fulmars are exceptionally good observations from shore.

John Gatchet and Brian Pendleton at the Jetty – happy after the Buller’s Observation


We were very pleased with the continuation of the Neah Bay October/November Phenomenon.  We had seen perhaps 6 Palm Warblers, 8 Tropical Kingbirds, a Harris’s Sparrow, a Blue Gray Gnatcatcher, 2 Buller’s Shearwaters, 100+ Nothern Fulmars and a Eurasian Widgeon.  That is a great list – and there is still November for more goodies.

The Phenomenon Summary – October/November   2012 – 2016

Just during October and November in the 5 years from 2012 to 2016, according to Ebird, a staggering 226 species have been reported from Neah Bay (including pelagic).  I don’t know how that compares to any other small area for any two months, but I expect it is pretty close to the best.

But it is not just the numbers, it is also the diversity and the rarities.  Consider for example these numbers of species in each group for the period:  33 geese, swans and ducks; 10 loons and grebes; 10 hawks, eagles and vultures; 23 shorebirds; 7 alcids; 17 gulls and terns; 5 doves; 7 owls; 4 falcons; 5 wrens; 12 warblers; 18 sparrows; and 10 finches.

Also consider the rarities (or species of note) in these tables.  (Species in bold and italic are ones I consider exceptional):

2012 2013 2014
Black-legged Kittiwake American Golden-Plover American Pipit
Clay-colored Sparrow Black-legged Kittiwake Black-legged Kittiwake
Glaucous Gull House Wren Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Lapland Longspur Iceland Gull Brambling
Long-billed Curlew Lapland Longspur Bullock’s Oriole
Northern Mockingbird Palm Warbler Cattle Egret
Orchard Oriole Red Shouldered Hawk Chipping Sparrow
Palm Warbler Rock Wren Clark’s Grebe
Snow Bunting Swamp Sparrow Clay-colored Sparrow
Snowy Owl Thayer’s Gull Elegant Tern
Swamp Sparrow Tropical Kingbird Eurasian Hobby
Tennessee Warbler White-throated Sparrow Golden Eagle
Tropical Kingbird Yellow-billed Loon Grasshopper Sparrow
Tufted Puffin   Harris’s Sparrow
Lapland Longspur
Lucy’s Warbler
Northern Pygmy-Owl
Orchard Oriole
    Palm Warbler
Pine Grosbeak
Purple Martin
Red Phalarope
Rock Sandpiper
    Slaty-backed Gull
Swamp Sparrow
Thayer’s Gull
Tropical Kingbird
Turkey Vulture
Vesper Sparrow
2015 2016 (Through October Only)
American Tree Sparrow American Pipit
Ancient Murrelet Barn Owl
Barn Owl Barred Owl
Black Phoebe Black-legged Kittiwake
Black-legged Kittiwake Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Blue-winged Teal
Cassin’s Finch Brown Pelican
Clark’s Grebe Buller’s Shearwater
Clay-colored Sparrow Clark’s Grebe
Eurasian Wigeon Clay-colored Sparrow
Golden Eagle Dickcissel
Grasshopper Sparrow Elegant Tern
Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch Eurasian Wigeon
Great Horned Owl Field Sparrow
Hooded Warbler Golden Eagle
House Wren Harris’s Sparrow
Lapland Longspur Lapland Longspur
Lark Sparrow Long-tailed Duck
Leach’s Storm-Petrel Marbled Murrelet
Long-tailed Duck Northern Pygmy-Owl
Marbled Murrelet Orchard Oriole
Northern Pygmy-Owl Osprey
Northern Saw-whet Owl Palm Warbler
Osprey Parasitic Jaeger
Palm Warbler Pink-footed Shearwater
Pink-footed Shearwater Pomarine Jaeger
Ruffed Grouse Red Knot
Sandhill Crane Red Phalarope
Short-eared Owl Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Short-tailed Shearwater Ruff
Snow Bunting Ruffed Grouse
Summer Tanager Swamp Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow Thayer’s Gull
Thayer’s Gull Tropical Kingbird
Tropical Kingbird Turkey Vulture
Tufted Duck White-throated Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow  
White-throated Sparrow  
White-winged Crossbill  
Yellow-billed Loon

The Neah Bay October/November Phenomenon – Part I: Starting with a Hobby in 2014

Since here again is another blog post on Neah Bay, it may seem like I am repeating myself or playing an old record over and over again or that there is an echo, but not so.  Neah Bay is simply that fantastic – especially in October and November and especially as it gets more and more attention from birders.  So here we go again – this was going to be a post about my visit on October 31, 2016 but as I recounted the great birds on that day and thought about my earlier visit this year, I also recalled the great birds in Neah Bay in previous Octobers and Novembers and that led to a two part post about what I have called the “Neah Bay Phenomenon – October/November“.  Part I goes back to the start of my focus on Neah Bay in these months – the Eurasian Hobby Frenzy of late October 2014.  Part II is about those months in 2015 and ends with the trip on October 31, 2016.  Who knows, maybe November 2016 will be exceptional as well and I will have to add a Part III.

On Sunday October 26, 2014 a Eurasian Hobby was reported on Ebird by Ryan Merrill, Brad Waggoner, Steve Mlodinow, Ryan Shaw and Charlie Wright in the Wa’atch River Valley in Neah Bay.  Some of these names will appear again (and again) in this post and the next as they are truly elite birders and responsible for many fantastic bird observations and reports in Washington.  hen there is an extremely rare bird in Washington  or anywhere else in North America, birders classify it as a “mega” – a sighting that gets everyone’s attention and is a “must see”.  The Eurasian Hobby was definitely such a bird – a true “Mega”.  Accordingly Steve Pink, Ann Marie Wood and I traveled to Neah Bay two days later on October 28 looking for the rarity.  Unfortunately even though it had been seen again the previous day and we saw many Peregrine Falcons (very similar) in the same area, one of which may have been the Hobby, poor light and poor views left us sufficiently unsure to be able to “count” the bird.  –  despite others reaching the opposite conclusion and counting it for their lists. We were pleased to find the Orchard Oriole, another very rare bird – coming to a feeder at 590 Bayview but very disappointed to not see the Hobby and we headed home.

Peregrine Falcon with Green Winged Teal in Talons from Wa’atch River


Orchard Oriole – October 28, 2014


When the Hobby was reported again the following day, Steve and I headed out again early on October 30 determined to not leave until we saw it.  We headed directly to the Wa’atch Valley where the Hobby was being seen and in the morning, we had no luck.  But our luck turned when Tom Mansfield came by describing a bird he saw but could not identify at the creek mouth on the beach west of the Senior Center.  Steve thought it might be a Brambling – another very rare bird – and we headed over to Tom’s spot immediately.  Sure enough there was a Brambling feeding in the open.  A great consolation prize but the Hobby was the real treasure so we all headed back up the Valley after passing by the feeder on Bayview and again seeing the Orchard Oriole.

Brambling – October 30, 2014


It took another hour of nervous watching but finally one of the falcons that flew by was smaller than a Peregrine and larger than a Merlin and with very pointed wings and rufous “leggings” confirming that we had the Eurasian Hobby.  It never perched and we were not able to get a photo but our two days of effort and many miles traveled were successful.  Neah Bay had delivered yet again.

The Hobby remained and on the following two days – now the weekend, seemingly every birder in the state appeared in the Wa’atch valley to see this remarkable bird.  Steve and I had departed but we heard that there were upwards of 100 birders who traveled to Neah Bay and they were successful – indeed moreso than we had been as the Hobby perched in an area which enabled some to get photos.  Doug Schurman – a terrific photographer and birder may have gotten the best and I include it here to show the fabulous and storied bird.

Eurasian Hobby – Photo by Doug Schurman – October 31, 2014


I had missed the spectacle and the photo op on October 31 – a picture I greatly wanted.  There were additional reports of the Hobby on November 1st together with reports of a Cattle Egret – a species I had not seen in Washington, so I wanted to return but could not for a couple of days at least.  Then a report of a Black Headed Gull in South Bend presented another rarity and I elected to try for it on November 4.  That was successful but the Hobby and Neah Bay were in my head and I wanted more.  There had been no reports after the 1st, but I figured that maybe everyone had already seen it and since it was now mid-week, maybe it would still be around.

I arrived in Neah Bay early on November 6th and immediately sought out and found the Cattle Egret at the Sewage Treatment Plant which was near the area where the Hobby had been seen.  It was very photo-friendly and I was very happy with that find.  I continued to hope for the return of the Hobby but had no luck and finally, as the weather was worsening, I gave up.  I had several good finds as I continued birding.  One was the Orchard Oriole yet again at the same feeder where now it was being joined by a Bullock’s Oriole – rare at this time of the year.  Another was a Palm Warbler – an uncommon but regular visitor in the Fall with Neah Bay being one of the best places to find one.  The best find of all, however, was Brad Waggoner.  I “found” Brad at Butler’s Motel.

Cattle Egret – Neah Bay STP – November 6, 2014


Brad consistently finds fantastic birds and had been one of the group that had first found the Hobby.  It was now pouring rain and very windy, not great for birding or birders.  Brad confirmed that there had been no reports of the Hobby since November 1st.  So that dream disappeared.  However, another quickly replaced it as Brad said he may have found a Lucy’s Warbler in the wood lot across from Raven’s Corner.  We trudged over and bushwhacked through the brush.  Earlier Brad had gotten fleeting views and had good audible responses but he had not been able to get a photo.  We had similar luck.  The bird was extremely secretive and all we could see was movement of some unidentifiable bird that responded clearly and well on at least three occasions to playback but never came out into the open.  Why was it there?  It breeds in the hot Sonoran desert and is relatively easy to find there but this was about as opposite of that habitat as one could get.  I had seen a Lucy’s at three locations in Arizona in late June 1977.

The Lucy’s Warbler was heard again by Brad and his brother Dan the next day but never showed itself.  On September 16 in 2015 (yes outside the October/November Phenomenon), Ryan Merrill found and photographed another Lucy’s Warbler in the Wa’atch Valley in Neah Bay – the second state record.  I include Ryan’s photo.

Lucy’s Warbler – Ryan Merrill Photo – September 16, 2015


I was very fortunate to have intersected with Brad and to have been taken to his prize find.  Maybe even better than a Hobby photograph.  I had many more great observations in November 2014, but that was my last trip to Neah Bay.  October and November had been – well, phenomenal.  Here is the recap of exceptional species seen there:  Tropical Kingbird, Orchard Oriole, Brambling., Clay Colored Sparrow, Palm Warbler, Eurasian Hobby, Cattle Egret, and Lucy’s Warbler.  This would be a fantastic list for the state for any year – maybe even for several years – yet all of these birds were found in magical Neah Bay in just over one week!!

Neah Bay had always been known as a great birding spot but the Eurasian Hobby frenzy and the increased use of listservs like Tweeters and reporting and ease of use of Ebird increased our consciousness and awareness of just how special a place it can be in the Fall.  Part II of this blog moves on to 2015 and 2016 and concludes with shared observations, experiences and photos from my visit there on October 31, 2016.