Two Coincidences and Sharing Four Great New Birds for the Year

I am going to try to mesh two different stories here and it might not work so well, but doing so at least makes sense to me.  On July 6, Barry Brugman posted a plea for ID help on Tweeters, our local birding listserv.  He had found a “different shorebird” at Canyon Park Wetlands and after checking his photos and various guidebooks concluded that it was a Baird’s Sandpiper – probably.  He asked for others to review the photos and share their thoughts.  At first I concurred as at least in one photo the wings seemed quite long and it appeared noticeably larger than the Least Sandpipers with which it was keeping company.  This was pretty early for a Baird’s Sandpiper but there are exceptions to most rules especially as to when a species might first appear in migration.

I communicated my feeling to Barry, and he replied that he had a number of other responses to the same effect.  I shared the photo with birding pal Steve Pink and Steve thought that the faint stripe over the eye and absence of buffy color suggested instead that the bird was more likely a Semipalmated Sandpiper.  I looked at some of Barry’s other photos and my various field guides and started leaning towards that conclusion as well.  The best way to find out I figured was to go to the Wetlands and see for myself.  Especially since I had not yet seen either a Semipalmated Sandpiper nor a Baird’s Sandpiper this year, it was a no-lose decision.

I arrived at Canyon Park early the next morning and found the small flock of shorebirds that included 7 Least Sandpipers and another that now looked much shorter winged and somewhat smaller than I had concluded from the earlier picture.  The dark legs, straight bill and overall color and pattern confirmed that it was indeed a Semipalmated Sandpiper.  Steve may not always be right – but he usually is.  Glad to have him as a resource.

Semipalmated Sandpiper – Canyon Park Wetlands, July 7, 2017

Baird’s Sandpiper for Comparison (Midway Beach August 20, 2015)

Baird's Sandpiper

I returned home, submitted my checklist with photos to Ebird, shared the info with Barry and Steve and then began work on a photo project organizing Washington bird photos in a Word document.  It was a laborious task as I had to select the best photo of each species and organize it in taxonomic order – no real way to short circuit the process.  Having almost 400 such species in my photos, it was going to take a long time – days.  I made progress and then put it away planning to return to the project the next morning.

And so I did.  By about 10:20, I had worked my way mostly through the shorebirds – the largest species group for me in Washington.  I had included my photos of Semipalmated and Baird’s Sandpipers as well as one that became very important – the Red Necked Stint that I had seen with George Pagos at Bottle Beach on July 22, 2013.  No more than three minutes after I had added the photo of the Stint and noted how poor it was, a message appeared on Tweeters from Ryan Merrill.  He and Adrian Lee were looking at a Red Necked Stint in breeding plumage at Crockett Lake on Whidbey Island.  It was barely 10:30 a.m.  I was sitting at the computer in my robe and had not yet showered,  I decided immediately that I had to follow Rule 1 for any chase: “Go Now!” – I advised Steve Pink of the find and he was an immediate co-conspirator.  He advised Ann Marie Wood and she was in also.  Not more than 30 minutes later – dressed and showered,  I had picked up Steve and got Ann Marie at the 128th Street Park and Ride and we were off.  It being a beautiful Saturday, we decided to take the longer route across the top of Whidbey Island and then down to Crockett Lake rather than risk a two hour wait at the much closer Mukilteo Ferry.

Red Necked Stint at Bottle Beach July 22, 2013

Red Necked Stint at Bottle Beach

The good news was that when we arrived at Crockett Lake – about 90 minutes later, and drove towards the Southeast end, we saw three birders standing at the lagoon’s edge with scopes out.  The bad news was that just as we arrived to join them (Ryan and Adrian and another), all of the shorebirds took off and flew away.  The Stint of course had been in the flock – had we really arrived two minutes too late??? Nope – Ryan found the bird about 125 yards away and we got scope views to at least confirm the ID for each of us – a new life bird for Ann Marie.  The even better news was that for the next 10 minutes, the Red Necked Stint worked its way back towards us and with the sun at our back, we had fantastic views and great photo ops.  At times the bird was less than 35 feet away.

The Stint is Out There Somewhere

Blair and RNST

Red Necked Stint – Crockett Lake – July 8, 2017 – a Much Improved Photo

Red Necked Stint 3


How great that Ryan and Adrian had found this very rare bird, that they had communicated its presence so quickly, that they remained at the spot and that the bird had remained for us as well!!  Over the next 90 minutes many other birders appeared on the site and got similarly terrific views.  Then just as another Edmonds birder, David Poortinga arrived, a Peregrine Falcon swooped over the water and scattered all of the shorebirds.  It had a pretty cool battle with a Northern Harrier which was fun to watch – but for the new arrivals, this was bad news.  Steve, Ann Marie and I left after another 10 minutes or so.  Later we learned that the Stint had returned to the same favored area and David got a great look at his life bird!

The coincidence was that I had just included that previous Red Necked Stint photograph in my project (now of course replaced with this far better one).  Interestingly though there were also many Semipalmated Sandpipers in the area and then the next day two Baird’s Sandpipers were found there as well.  Over the next several days, the Red Necked Stint remained in the same general area and was probably seen by more than 100 grateful birders including ones who flew in from Arizona and who knows where else just to see this Siberian species.

That was the first coincidence with two new birds for the year.  Another was coming soon.  It has been a great pleasure to get to know Bill and Deb Essman from Ellensburg/Kittitas.  We have shared great birding, fishing and jeeping times together.  On July 11, just a few days after the Stint trip, I was telling Deb about my Flammulated Owl experience near Liberty and she was telling me about a pair of Three Toed Woodpeckers they had discovered on Table Mountain.  Bill was also hankering for some fishing on the Yakima River so we agreed that I would come over and look for the Woodpecker and take Deb up to my Flammulated Owl spot (a life bird for her) and that Bill and I would go fishing the following day.  You ready for coincidence number 2?

Not more than 15 minutes after having worked out my visit to them, I got an Ebird alert that a White Winged Dove had been seen at a private residence in Selah, Washington – a bit more than an hour from where the Essmans live.  Some detective work determined that the Dove was coming to a feeder at the residence of Kevin Lucas – an excellent birder in the area and a birding acquaintance so I sent him an email inquiring about the possibility of a visit.  He very graciously responded with an invitation for the next morning.  Since I had plans to stay over for fishing, I could not drive anyone else, but I notified Steve and Ann Marie and they notified David.  I had seen (briefly and without any photo possibility) the White Winged Dove that had visited Butler’s Motel in Neah Bay, but it would be a new state bird for all of them – something hard to do for Steve.

I arrived at Kevin’s a bit after 8 on Wednesday the 11th.  His wife had seen the Dove earlier in the morning before she left but he had not seen it come down to the feeders yet – its normal activity.  About 15 minutes later, Steve, Ann Marie and David showed up.  We watched and waited and had a great visit with Kevin – marveling at his set up for taking photos and movies through his scope and also learning of his tracking activities including from a small plane.  But the Dove was a no-show.  Kevin took matters into his own hands and somehow managed to find the White Winged Dove perched in the close by large Sycamore tree – a favorite roost.  We all got good looks and decent photos – even with a branch partially in the way.  We also had a great look at a female Black Chinned Hummingbird that was almost too close to get in focus.

White Winged Dove

White Winged Dove1

Black Chinned Hummingbird Female

Black Chinned Hummingbird Female

A California Scrub Jay also made an appearance.  No longer rare in Yakima County, but not an everyday bird either.  Kevin made us all feel welcome and the White Winged Dove was a real treat.  I understand that many others have been to Kevin’s after us and the Dove put on a better show – but certainly we were thrilled with our views.  Depending on how a couple of “officially” non-countable birds are treated, this photo was species 400 in Washington.  But just to be “official” I am going to wait for one more to claim that distinction.  It is special for me in another way, though.  I am trying to get photos of every species I have seen in Washington.  Since some real rarities were seen many years ago before I began taking photographs, I don’t believe I will ever be able to reach that objective, but since this was one of those “seen but not photographed” birds on my list, I am getting closer.

So the White Winged Dove is the third great bird for this post.  It is also the second of the coincidences as well.  As I mentioned above, I first learned of the White Winged Dove observation barely 15 minutes after finalizing my plans to see the Essmans.  The coincidence is that Deb Essman had a White Winged Dove in her yard – and took a photo of it in June 2002.  There had been a couple of earlier historical records of White Winged Dove in Washington and a few more after that but having set the trip to come to the area and visit Deb moments before seeing the Ebird post for Kevin’s White Winged Dove certainly made an impression on me – another coincidence.

The fourth great bird also involves the Essmans as I followed their excellent directions to a spot far up Reecer Creek Road to the huge burn area on Table Mountain and hiked out on a jeep trail to look for their American Three Toed Woodpeckers.  The area is spectacular.  It is high above the Ellensburg valley at an elevation that Bill said is over 6000 feet.  Incredible views and beautiful flowers and scenery.  The fire burned many thousands of acres and the burned timber is a stark reminder of the danger and destruction from our too common wild fires.  But even the burned trees have their own silent beauty and there are already signs of rebirth as some young trees are emerging.

I did not find the pair of Three Toed Woodpeckers that joined the Essmans on their picnic lunch, but in the exact area that had been described to me, I found a single American Three Toed Woodpecker drumming in its unique patterned way in a grove of trees that had been spared by the fires.  It was my first record of this species for Kittitas County and my first for this year – number 298 in Washington.  So in this single day, I got much closer to two of my goals for the year – 300 species in Washington (for the year) and 400 species photographed in the state (lifetime).

American Three Toed Woodpecker – (Earlier Photo)

American Three Toed WP

But this already long day was not over.  At 8:30 p.m. I met Deb Essman and her friend Lana in the town of Liberty to try for night birds, especially a Flammulated Owl.  Per my previous blog post, I had located a Flamm here the previous week and came as close as I ever had to getting a photograph before two jeeps roared down the road and I had to move my car and myself and the owl that had been oh so close was afterwards oh so gone.  It had seemed to really like the spot and I was hoping that we would find it there again.

As I had done the previous week we drove to the top of the road and waited as the skies darkened.  It was after 9:30 when we heard our first Common Nighthawk and then got a visual as it flew over.  It was particularly fun to hear it “booming” several times.  Perhaps thirty minutes later I heard a distant Common Poorwill and then we all briefly heard what was probably the single hoot of a Flammulated Owl, but it would not respond or repeat so we dismissed it and moved on.  Slowly we worked our way down towards the spot where I had the interaction with the Flammulated Owl the previous week.  We heard more Nighthawks and then at least two more Poorwills, one of which called incessantly.  We arrived near “the spot” and parked – out of the way this time – and listened.  We were just above where I had the owl and there were two sharp calls from below – at the spot itself.  They were the alarm calls of a Flammulated Owl – almost cat-like.  We moved down the road and then began to hear first the single hoot and then the double hoot call of the Flamm.  There was no mistaking it.  We sparingly used playback and got calls in response but on this night the Flamm was just not going to move.  We remained another half hour and the little owl tooted intermittently and a Poorwill called continuously.  No photo tonight, but this was a life bird for Deb and Lana.  Very cool indeed.

When I saw Bill the next morning (not a whole lot of sleep for me after the owling and return to my motel) I asked if his wife had told him of her owl.  “She woke me up and was still high from the experience”.  Big smile on my face – that’s what it is all about.  Ryan had shared “his” Red Necked Stint.  Kevin had shared “his” White Winged Dove and the Essmans had shared “their” American Three Toed Woodpeckers.  Now I had somewhat returned the favor by sharing “my” Flammulated Owl.  Those possessives are only indicators of the observers who found the birds – there is no ownership.  I understand that in some birding communities, people do not share their experiences – keeping them for their own competitive reasons.  How sad and how wonderful that such is not the case here (again thank you Ryan, Kevin and Deb) – or at least usually so (and if someone reading this understands what I mean …well shame on you…)

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