Recent Misses – Remembering Rules #1 and #2

How nice if I could write an excited blog about successful chases recently – finding the Little Gull at Point No Point, the Blue Grosbeak at Neah Bay, the Red Shouldered Hawk at Three Crabs or even the Golden Plovers at the West 90.  But alas, no can do.  I was batting zero – having failed at all of these recent pursuits.  If the Joy of Birding was measured as specific birds pursued and found, it would be an unhappy time indeed.  And while I am not going to pretend that there was no disappointment and unhappiness in each of those “misses”, fortunately there have been nice returns on the efforts in the field looking for those special birds.

Little Gull

The Little Gull was first found at the Point No Point area by Kelly Beach and others participating in a bird survey by boat on the morning of Friday October 13th.  Brad Waggoner was able to search for the bird later that morning and after several hours of diligence he was rewarded first with distant scope views and then with a close fly by giving him a chance to get some fabulous photos which I include below – taken from his Ebird report.

Little Gull – Point No Point – October 13, 2017 (Photos by Brad Waggoner)

Brad's Little Gull

With Bonaparte’s Gull – a Super Size Comparison

Brad's Little Gull with Bonaparte

News of the sighting hit Tweeters on the afternoon of the 13th – too late to chase it that day but definitely something for the next day.  I had seen a Little Gull in Washington twice before.  The first was at the Everett Sewage Ponds on September 23, 1984 and the second was at the Point No Point location on October 7, 2013.  The gull was far from shore in 2013 and with the help of the Olivers, I was able to get a very poor distant photo.  That gull was first found by Matt Bartells the previous day and I was hoping this gull would also remain another day.

I got to Point No Point early on the 14th at 8:30 a.m.  I had alerted Carol Riddell to the Little Gull but she had received the message too late to join me at first.  She arrived maybe an hour later.  Ken Brown, a terrific birder from Tacoma was already there when I arrived.  It was a beautiful day and there were lots of gulls, but despite our thorough searching over many hours (almost 8), no Little Gull was to be found.  It would have been a new bird for the year – both in Washington and in the ABA for me – but at least I had seen and photographed it before, so the disappointment was somewhat tempered.  Brad’s photos were so terrific, I was mostly hoping to have a chance for one as well.

But as I have written before, there were consolations. There was the chance to visit with Ken and with Carol – enjoyable and educational.  And there were other good birds.  Sarah Peden and Jordan Gunn, both Master Birder Classmates, had also come to look for the Little Gull.  It was Jordan who first saw a Franklin’s Gull as we searched west of Norwegian Point.  Not nearly as rare as the Little Gull but definitely uncommon, it was the first one I have seen in Kitsap County.

Franklin’s Gull

Franklin's Gull

And there were hundreds of Bonaparte’s Gulls as is usually the case here in the fall.  A treat among the Bonies was a good number of Parasitic Jaegers – chasing the gulls often working in pairs and making them disgorge their food – standard Jaeger behavior.

Bonaparte’s Gull

Bonaparte's Gull

Parasitic Jaeger

Parasitic Jaeger

I was also able to show Carol a California Scrub Jay I had found before she arrived – a new county bird for her.  It was in the same spot I had seen one two years ago.  So no Little Gull but a good day of birding – and there would be other chases on another day.

California Scrub Jay

California Scrub Jay

Golden Plovers and Sharp Tailed Sandpiper

Over the next week plus as I wrote in my most recent blog post (See Dream Birds I dreamed of birds instead of going to look for some.  I saw reports of a Sharp Tailed Sandpiper that was being seen at Hayton Reserve and of Golden Plovers seen at the West 90 among other places, but maybe the energy was low or I was just not motivated since I had seen these species earlier this year and had photos.  Eventually the good weather and inactivity weighed too heavily and I decided to look for these birds and who knows maybe something else like a Lapland Longspur or Snow Bunting in Skagit County.  Late morning on Monday October 23, I set off and called Steve Pink to see if he was interested in going.  It turned out that he was already out at the Tulalip Spit, another area I had considered, so we arranged to meet at Hayton Reserve.

At Hayton we saw hundreds of shorebirds – but there were no Golden Plovers or Sharp Tailed Sandpipers among the Dunlin and Dowitchers.  We left a car in town and then headed to other spots including a barn with a Barn Owl in a nesting box along Moore Road.  The Owl was tucked way in the back but we could at least identify it as such.   When we arrived at the East 90, we quickly identified the plowed field where the Golden Plovers had been reported for many days but there were no birds present at all.  The only consolation was a fly by of a Red Tailed Hawk that turned out to be of the dark Harlan’s form.

Red Tailed Hawk – Harlan’s


It was more of a disappointment for Steve since he had not seen Golden Plovers this year, but we were both a bit bummed.  And this disappointment was to be compounded.

Blue Grosbeak

Prior to setting out for Skagit County, I read a post on Tweeters from Ryan Shaw.  He was in Neah Bay with a big group of top birders and was looking at a Blue Grosbeak in brambles near the Minit-Mart.  I had seen and photographed the bird earlier in the year in Arizona and Florida but I had never seen one in Washington.  In fact this was only the second state record.  Randy Hill had found one in Neah Bay previously.  When I saw the post it was past 10:20 a.m.  If I hustled I might be able to catch the 11:10 ferry and possibly get to Neah Bay by 3:00 p.m.  I decided to wait and see if others reported the bird later and if so then to try for it the following day.

I told Steve of the report when we were out and it would be a new State bird for him as well but he had other plans for the following day and probably could not go.  It turned out that David Poortinga was then in Sequim and when he learned of the Grosbeak, he continued on to Neah Bay and he relocated the bird that afternoon.  This was all I needed to commit to a chase the next day.  After some family negotiations, Steve arranged to go as well.

The bird apparently had first been discovered by Bill Tweit.  The Washington Bird Records Committee had been meeting in Neah Bay and they all got a chance to see the bird.  Later David Poortinga and Alex Patia saw the bird and the photo below is from David’s report.

Blue Grosbeak (Hatch Year Bird) – Photo by David Poortinga

Blue Grosbeak

Steve and I caught the 6:10 a.m. Edmonds Ferry and were in Neah Bay before 10:00 a.m.  We went directly to the spot where the bird had been seen and searched hard for the next hour.  We were surprised that no other birders were already there.  Ken Lane showed up and he joined the search.  We had no success.  Sigh…

Steve and I continued to bird in Neah Bay for the next several hours returning often to the Minit Mart area but nothing changed.  The Blue Grosbeak had been a one day wonder.  Such is often the case – but it sure was a downer.  Steve and I had 50+ species in Neah Bay but nothing unusual.  We gave up and headed home planning a stop to see if we might find the Red Shouldered Hawk that had been reported at Three Crabs in Sequim.  It was getting late when we got to Helen’s Pond and in a car heading in the opposite direction was Brad Waggoner.  I enviously complimented him on his Little Gull photo and asked if he had seen the Red Shouldered Hawk – “Not today”.  Yikes – another miss?

We saw some birds with the best probably being two Eurasian Wigeon hard to pick out from the thousands of American Wigeon in the Bay.  We had seen a Sharp Tailed Hawk but otherwise no raptors at all.  As we started to leave I noted what might be a raptor in a tree behind Helen’s Pond – the area where the Red Shouldered Hawk had been seen.  As we got out of the car for a look, we both saw what we believed to be a Short Eared Owl fly out of a ditch and then continue hunting in the fields.  The bird in the tree turned out to be only a Red Tailed Hawk.  That was disappointing but the owl now had our attention and great interest.  Over the next 20 minutes we watched it hunt making several dives and flying both away and towards us in beautiful light.  Now we could see that it was a Barn Owl and we were enthralled by the show.  It was a County first for both of us and the experience made us forget about the earlier misses.  Like a hail Mary pass that snatches victory from the jaws of defeat in a football game, this was a great way to end our day.

Barn Owl – Three Crabs

Barn Owl 6

Barn Owl7

Barn Owl4

So the owl was a treat – not really close to what the Blue Grosbeak would have been by some measures but it was great to share the experience with Steve.  Nobody else has reported the Grosbeak so at least we do not have to feel bad about that – but we did learn that the Golden Plovers we had missed at the West 90 had been seen two hours before we got there.  If we had started there and then went to Hayton – well who knows.

Hopefully my accounting of the missed Blue Grosbeak has not been taken as whining.  Maybe if I had followed my own Rule #1 the story would have been different.  Rule #1 for any “chase” is “Go now!” with Rule #2 being “If you fail to follow Rule #1, there can be no whining.”  What if I had taken the chance and gone to Neah Bay as soon as I read Ryan’s first post?  Odds are fairly good that I would have been successful (and very tired).  But if I had made that trip alone and failed to find the bird, it would have been a major downer – and there would have been no Barn Owl show.  Next time I will…

Dream Birds

It happens every year about this time.  The rains return to the Northwest.  Migration is mostly over.   I have chased birds, traveled all over the state and especially this year all over the country.  I have seen lots of really, really good birds.  It is October 19th and most of the show is over as I have seen most of the birds in Washington that I am going to see for the year.  Of course I would like to see more.  But what? Where?

In the previous five years I have averaged almost 355 species in Washington each year.  With different priorities and goals, there will be far fewer this year.    In those past five years, after this date, I have averaged about 15 new species for the remainder of the year.  Maybe that will be the experience this year as well and with some luck, maybe some surprises and a trip or two to the always fantastic Neah Bay and maybe a visit to the Okanogan, at most I might see 325 species this year – and that will be terrific.  It has been a good year in Washington and especially elsewhere.  Now what?

As I sit here today on October 19th, there is nothing specific to go chase – just some spots that might be productive with some luck – no certainties to add to the list.  I have some time in the next week to go birding.  What to do?  Thinking about that got me to dreaming.  What if I could somehow will some very special birds to show up – what would they be, what would I most want to see?  And since this has been a year with goals beyond the borders of Washington, what if my dreaming could include all of the ABA area?  That exercise led to the following bucket list of my top 10 Birds to round out the year.  My Dream List (all photos are from others or by me not in Washington).

 1. Smew (Internet Photo)


I have mentioned this before.  A male Smew is at the very top of my bucket list.  Sure I would love it to be in Washington and there have been a couple of observations in Washington in the early 1990’s.  I have never seen one.  Maybe next year.  It has to be a male and I want a photo. (See

2. Boreal Owl

Boreal Owl1

This one does have to be in Washington.  It is my most wanted photo for the State.  I have heard many and had a very fleeting look at one.  This photo is by Dan Reiff and was at Sunrise at Mount Rainier where I had my only visual.  I tried again this year – unsuccessfully.  There is an outside chance to try once more.

3. Ivory Gull (internet Photo)


Maybe this year’s Swallow Tailed Gull means anything is possible, and an Ivory Gull was seen at Point Roberts in December 2001, but this is a tough bird to get anywhere – with Barrow Alaska being the most likely spot.  This photo is of one seen at Plymouth on Cape Cod (I was just there) in January 2009.  A real beauty.  It would be fantastic.

4. Red Legged Kittiwake

Red Legged Kittiwake

Continuing the gull theme, I would love to see and photograph a Red Legged Kittiwake in Washington.  There was one seen at Neah Bay in September 2015.  I chased it the next day unsuccessfully with Jon Houghton and Nathaniel Peters (See  The photo is of the one I saw on my Adak pelagic trip last year . (See

5. Spotted Redshank (Internet Photo)


I first saw this bird at the Mai Po Nature Reserve outside Hong Kong in December 1979 where it is common.  Just over a year later I saw another one in Oregon in February 1981.  It is extremely rare in the U.S.  One was seen by a few observers at the Jensen Access in Skagit County in late November/early December a couple of years ago.  Maybe it will return this year.  I would love to add it to my photo list and to my Washington State life list.

6. McKay’s Bunting

McKay's Bunting

This photo was taken by Knut Hansen of the McKay’s Bunting found at Ocean Shores in February 2012.  With several other birders, I tried (and failed) to relocate the bird the following day.  I had previously seen one there 33 years earlier in February 1979.  So not a lifer or even a new state bird, but I would love to check it off of the birds seen but not photographed in the State. (See

7.  Little Bunting

Little Bunting

I will not go into details, but this bird holds the title of Bird I am Angriest to Have Missed in Washington.  It was seen on October 10, 2015.  The photo is by Ryan Merrill.  NOT a happy story.  Maybe someday.

The preceding birds are all ones I would like to see and/or photograph in Washington.  Three would be ABA Life birds and two more would be new State Birds.  The other two would be new State photos.  The next three are birds that would have to be seen elsewhere – two lifers and a life photo.

8. Whooping Crane (Internet Photo)

Whooping Crane

This would be an ABA Life bird.  We failed to find one in Florida this year and I have missed them on two trips to Texas.  I hope to return to Texas and see one next year.

9. California Condor (Internet Photo)

California Condor

This too would be an ABA Life bird.  I am considering a trip to Southern California this year and if so will try to include Big Sur and hope to see one there if I do.  If not – then maybe the Grand Canyon next year.

10. Black Rail (Internet Photo)

Black Rail

This may be the most surprising bird on the list as it is not a super rarity and is not a reintroduction success story like the Whooping Crane and the California Condor.  But it holds a special place for me as it may be the bird that really got me hooked as a birder (See  The only one I have ever seen was at Baylands Park near Palo Alto in May 1973.  It is elusive and very small – hard to get a photo and that is what I want – to add to my ABA photos list.  Need a lot of luck – and a very high tide.

I imagine that most readers would love to see these birds as well but likely not all are in their Top 10.  As I made the list I also got to thinking about the Top 10 birds I have seen – and it is just too hard to make that selection – even if reduced to just those in Washington  or even just in any one year.  But going back to the start of the post and what put me in the mood, I wondered about the Top 10 birds I have seen “after October 19th”.  I came up with the following – a pretty good list certainly for the State of Washington – and many for almost anywhere.  I would be thrilled to see any of them again this year.

Emperor Goose – Sequim, WA – December 19, 2013


Northern Hawk Owl – Highway 28 – December 22, 2012

Northern Hawk Owl 1

Rustic Bunting – Neah Bay – December 7, 2016


Eurasian Hobby – Neah Bay – October 30, 2014


King Eider – Ruston Way, Tacoma – November 4, 2015


Brambling – Neah Bay – October 30, 2014


Dusky Capped Flycatcher – Neah Bay – November 21, 2016


Summer Tanager – University District – December 9, 2012


Yellow Throated Warbler – Longview – December 16, 2015


Northern Wheatear – Westport – October 28, 2012

Northern Wheatear

Dream List  


After October 19 List

Smew   Emperor Goose
Boreal Owl   Northern Hawk Owl
Ivory Gull   Rustic Bunting
Red Legged Kittiwake   Eurasian Hobby
Spotted Redshank   King Eider
McKay’s Bunting   Brambling
Little Bunting   Dusky Capped Flycatcher
Whooping Crane   Summer Tanager
California Condor   Yellow Throated Warbler
Black Rail   Northern Wheatear




Looking Back – No Birds until the End

This post will have some birding content, but my trip was not about birds.  It was about going to the East Coast revisiting my past – looking back at places where I lived and went to school and spent my youth.  It was also about seeing my two children who live on that Coast – far from me in Edmonds, WA.  On the third day of the trip I turned 70 – how is that possible?  Really? – old people are 70 – so how can I have reached that age?  Guess I will have to reassess and think that people are not “old” until they are 80.  Hope I make it to that time to see for myself.

I grew up in Langley Park, Maryland from the time I was 4 until I left for college in 1965.  It was a post-war development in Prince Georges County not far from the District of Columbia .  My parents remained in that same house until the birth of their granddaughter prompted their relocation to Seattle in 1985.  So it was in 1985 that I last revisited Langley Park.  Now 32 years have passed and I wanted to see what had changed and to feel what this simple place that had seemed so idyllic to me back then felt like now.   I was part of the beginning of the post-war baby boom.  Our neighborhood of hundreds of simple brick ramblers and some apartments was full of families with kids.  None of the families made much money, but America was so wealthy after the War that standards of living were pretty good even for middle class (lower) families like mine.  We had simple wants that were met and frankly we did not know about or want much else.

My home was across the street from my elementary school with play fields and summer programs.  Just around the corner and down the street was “the Woods” with endless interactions with nature and our imaginations.  There were snakes and frogs and turtles and birds (although I had no sense of their appeal then).  Walking or riding our bikes with absolutely no worries of safety or foul play, we would spend hours reliving the “Civil War” from hills we called Confederate and Yankee lookouts, wading in “the Creek”, looking for arrowheads, or going to the Old Mill.  Our bikes or feet also took us to “the shopping center” – at first just a single strip mall and eventually many stores on all corners of the major intersection about a mile from my home.

I was not aware of it at the time, but the weather was miserable – temperatures and humidity in the 90’s in the summer and snow and moderately cold in the winter.  Kids don’t process weather – it was what it was and all we knew.  We played all day.  Repeating myself, there were kids everywhere.  An example was that on Halloween, hundreds of us would fill the streets receiving candy from every house – two shopping bags full as I remember – sometimes even whole candy bars – not the bite size we use today.   Little League was a half mile away.  There was a bowling alley not too far and we were only a short bus ride from Washington, D.C. where my father worked (a small optical store in a not so good area) and on my own even at a very young age, I could ride that bus, with a transfer at the “District Line” to get to Griffith Stadium to see the abysmal Washington Senators (bleacher seats were less than $1.00) or for a real treat go to “the Mall” to see the monuments for Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson, the National Gallery of Art and especially the fabulous Smithsonian.  All were free.  Dwight Eisenhower was President and in those much simpler times, we actually had picnics on the grounds of the White House.

Later I would go by bus (with all those other kids) to a Junior High School less than 3 miles from home and then later to a large high school about 5 miles away.  Enrollment in the High School tells the baby boom story.  In just grades 10 through 12 in three shifts, we had almost 3500 students – the place was bulging at the seams.  But I got a good education in the “Academic Track” and went on to college in Cambridge, MA – wonderful and confusing and challenging and at times bewildering years at Harvard as the 60’s ended with enormous change, rebellion, protests and no longer a naivete and innocence about a simple life where everyone had been in the same boat – relatively at least.

Life really was good – at least I thought so at the time and cannot remember it differently now.  My revisit did not change that memory but the place had certainly changed.  It was impossible not to notice the completely different racial/ethnic makeups.  My neighborhood had been 99% Caucasian and now was seemingly all Hispanic.  All of the familiar stores from the “shopping center” were gone and were replaced by smaller stores of unfamiliar brands with signs either bilingual or in Spanish only,  My high school had similarly been almost exclusively Caucasian.  Now almost entirely black.  The school itself seemed familiar with maybe a new auditorium but definitely not a shining new beacon of education.

My elementary school still had portables that may have been built in the last years I was there.  Then there were two separate buildings/schools: Langley Park and McCormick.  They are now combined into the separate and newer (meaning probably 1956) two story McCormick building.  The older Langley Park building seems to have been partially razed leaving an administrative building function only.  Neither place looked very appealing.

Not surprisingly, the Woods were the same – although they did seem smaller to my grown up eye.  The Creek ran clear, the trees had not yet donned their Autumn cloaks and while I doubt that young kids still play there without adults nearby, it was a pleasant and inviting area.  My guess is that there are (and were) birds there although my attempt to find and finally get a photo of a Tufted Titmouse was unsuccessful.

The Old Family Home

Langley Park1

The High School


Continuing into D.C. I remembered the route first to my fathers old work place and then to the Mall.  Dad’s shop had been in the heart of one of the areas burned during the Martin Luther King riots in 1968.  It had escaped the flames although windows were damaged, but the area changed and went even further downhill – at least for awhile.  Not the case today as it is very upscale with expensive shops and clean streets.  Not recognizable at all.  Jeni’s Ice Cream has replaced 975 Optical Co.

Dad’s Corner

975 Optical

The Mall was the same but different.  I used to walk the length of it going from place to place.  We did a lot of walking this day, but it seemed so big.  And now there were additions: The Vietnam Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Martin Luther King Memorial.  A short visit to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum which was the same on the outside but with different and terrific exhibits on the inside although the giant African Elephant still occupies center stage.  I have wanted to see the Vietnam Memorial for a long while – very simple and very powerful.  A memory of a ghastly inexcusable war – a very bad time in my life.  I was alive during the Korean War but was just a toddler.  That Memorial is also very powerful as is the one to Martin Luther King.

Vietnam Memorial


Korean War Memorial


Martin Luther King Memorial


The Lincoln Memorial has always been my favorite.  It ranks with the Taj Mahal as the most emotionally moving buildings I have experienced.  Memories of climbing on Lincoln’s lap after my High School Prom add to its magic.

Lincoln Memorial


I cannot resist adding two more photos – the Washington Monument across the Reflecting Pool and the White House.  The former memorializes one of the true American greats and the latter currently houses one of America’s greatest disappointments.  Enough said.  Yes much has changed.

Washington Monument


The White House


After D.C. it was on to New York City – primarily to visit my son Alex.  I admit to not caring for New York – just too many people, too busy, crowded, impersonal etc.  It was great to see Alex and try to catch up on his world.  He has a difficult job with difficult people.  His standards and performance are so high I wonder if he can ever really find a comfortable place.  I wish it was easier.  He is buried preparing for a major event in Seoul, South Korea next month.  I just hope the nut job in the White House does nothing that will make Seoul disappear.  We also visited the new World Trade Center and 9-11 memorial, museum and the observation tower.  Not going to go into details or include pictures – incredible place – a horrible event that will never be forgotten and that has changed our world forever.

It was then on to Boston to visit my daughter and her husband and to revisit some of my college haunts.  Miya and Lester have just purchased a home in Newton and it was so exciting to see them in their own place – the spare bedroom was nice also!!  It was here that I had the highlight of the trip as I learned that after a very tough ordeal, Miya is pregnant and with continued good fortune, I can expect a first grand child in March.  There are no words that can express my joy and my happiness for them.  They are an incredible couple who are both engaged in academic medicine and have worked so hard to get where they are.

Before revisiting Harvard and seeing an off the wall street parade in Cambridge, we journeyed to Children’s Hospital in Boston, where Miya is now on the faculty and she got to show off her very new office – with a window and a door that locks – quite the treasure in her world.  Harvard seemed little changed since my graduation in 1969 and my last visit for her graduation in 2006.  At least on the outside.  I expect that the content of what is taught inside the walls is very different, as is the student body.  I would never get admitted today and doubt I would understand much of what is taught there as well.  Yet that continuity – strangely like “the Woods” at my childhood home and the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.  was comforting.  Sound foundations are irreplaceable.

There was one more leg of the journey – this time not looking back and finally looking – even if briefly – at some birds.  We had time for a jaunt to the Cape – all the way out to Provincetown with the possibility of some new life birds if the shearwaters were around Race Point Beach as they often are at this time of year.  The weather on arrival was not great – but only a light rain and light wind.  Just before hitting Provincetown, there had been a pair of Mute Swans visible from Highway 6.  Not officially “countable” in Washington they are established and do count in Massachusetts.  They were ABA Area species number 500 for the year – so at last another of my goals was met.  A Greater Black Backed Gull greeted us at Race Point Beach for #501.  Also at Race Point were hundreds of shearwaters.  Without my scope or good camera, it was a bit frustrating but several Great Shearwaters flew close enough for a photo.  The Cory’s Shearwaters were further out but I had a good enough view to pick out the determining field marks.  Both were ABA life birds – numbers 692 and 693.

The next morning I returned early in great light and saw many thousands of birds – again both shearwaters plus hundreds of Northern Gannets, Common Eiders, and Common Terns.  Many Parasitic Jaegers harassed the terns and there were a few Manx Shearwaters in the mix.  A single Black Legged Kittiwake was the only other new bird for the year bringing me to 505.

Greater Black Backed Gull

Greater Black Backed Gull

Great Shearwater

Great Shearwater2

So goals that I set out earlier this year as 1 through 6 have now been accomplished.  I wish there was a way to get to goal 7 – my 700th ABA species this year but I just don’t see it happening.  Some misses in Florida and again in Arizona might have changed the story.  I am considering one more out of state trip this year, but even four new ABA birds would require a lot of luck.  Guess I will have to wait (unless Neah Bay has even more surprises than usual.)

But I would not trade my visits to my kids and especially my daughter’s great news for any number of lifer’s.  There can be no greater goals than to see your children doing well – healthy and happy.   Makes me happy as well…