January 2018 – Looking Back – Looking Ahead – Looking at Myself

It has been a very full month.  My quest for 200 species in Washington in a Big Month was reached and passed.  As I have learned from other “numbered quests” or Big Years, even when a targeted number is reached, there is still the feeling – “well, since I won’t be doing this again and there is time left, let’s see what else I can do.”  Maybe that is a form of addiction – just NEED one more… Certainly it was a given that once I hit 200 species and there was time left – I would go for some more.  It is not really a competition – at least certainly not with anyone else.  Moreso it is a personal challenge – “is there more left in ME?”

As I have written before, these kinds of challenges provide a framework for my birding.  Maybe it would be better to just go out and enjoy birds and birding wherever without any specific plan or goal – just be in and enjoy the moment.  I have found that at least for me, having a target, a plan, a goal, a “project” brings me that same “in the moment” feeling but with some structure that not only does not get in the way but actually enhances each moment – whether there is a hit or a miss.  There is just a heightened awareness that is consuming and enjoyable.

Also as I have written before, birding is often a kind of distraction.  Being absorbed in my “birding projects” enables me to distance myself from other things – negative things that unfortunately are part of my life:  Being far away from my kids; imperfect relationships; no longer working – missing those challenges and those client intersections, and the challenges of “yet another deal”.  Probably also at times a distraction from things I should be doing including the mundane things like paying bills, doing laundry, shopping etc.  And maybe from some other not so mundane things – building friendships and relationships, writing that book I have thought about, finding new things to positively occupy my time and use my abilities.  I sure ain’t perfect.  If you are – please write that up with an instructional manual and share it.  But for all of that, months like this one are pretty darn good – not measured by birds seen – but by challenges met, places visited,  and especially people along the way.  Friends, acquaintances, birders and non-birders, a very wide ranging group – all with their imperfections, distractions, engagements, appeals and stories.

And in the end I believe finding stories is the goal – again repeating words previously used.  Life should be about stories – from our experiences and observations – and maybe sharing them – sometimes just again with ourselves and sometimes with others – in the field, on those long drives, over food and drinks, in blogs, posts, messages, calls (and yes for some but not for me – even tweets and selfies).  I have found that taking photographs of birds helps me tell my stories – certainly to others – but maybe more importantly to myself.  I revisit those pictures and remember.  From the perspective of stories, this has been a really good month.  I have chronicled and cataloged some in the blog posts for the Big Month.  But many others have not been shared – at least broadly.

Ten of many more than ten story snapshots:

(1)  Talking with Jim Shinn at the Cowlitz hatchery and learning that he “lost” the competition for Chris Anderson to Phil Anderson (of Westport Seabirds) “way back when” – and that he still loves them both.

(2) Deb Essman throwing corn to the waiting Wild Turkeys on that ranch in Ellensburg and having the turkeys flock in just like the rancher (a real character) said they would.

(3)  Finding out that the fly-fisherman at Rocky Ford Creek was one of the owners of a large Lavender Farm in Sequim and that he really wanted to see what bird was making that pig sound and how happy he was to see the photo of the Virginia Rail I had taken moments before.

(4) Seeing the look on the young boy’s face when I was finally able to locate a Short Eared Owl at the West 90’s and share it with him and his family.

(5) Talking with a lady that I expect is the owner of the Breadfarm in Edison about the bakery’s Kouign Amman pastry – an absolute delight – and their business.

(6) Meeting a photographer/birder at Juanita who was from Aruba and was on vacation and wanted more than anything else to get a picture of Wood Ducks.

(7) Watching Mike Denny tossing loaf after loaf of bread to the gulls at Lower Monumental Dam – and of course it was important to see if he could scale the next slice – even further.

(8) Showing bird pictures to many folks along the way including the hotel clerk in Walla Walla who was doing a night shift to earn money to help pay for her college – and who could not get over the fact that there were owls nearby.

(9)  Great times at feeder stake outs for Blue Jay, Western Tanager, Rose Breasted Grosbeak, and White Throated Sparrow – visits with the feeder owners and others who came to look for the birds.

(10) The MANY folks at gas stations, parking lots, parks, motels and restaurants who when they saw my camera and binoculars wanted to know if I was – a nature photographer, birder, journalist, researcher etc. and then almost no matter what my answer, the next question was whether I had seen “the Eagles“.  How do you properly explain that you have seen hundreds of Eagles and that you are looking for some far less charismatic bird?  You don’t.  You are happy for their enthusiasm and that conservation efforts have made Eagles so commonplace now.

Prior to this year, the most species I had seen in Washington in any January was 154 in 2015.  I originally set a goal of seeing 175 species and if that worked out well – pushing for 200.  Luck, work, the appearance of unexpected species and lots of help from others got me to 200 on January 24th.  On January 28th I saw my 208th species.  On the 29th, Jon Houghton and I tried for a Violet Green Swallow that had been seen at the Green River Natural Wildlife Area the day before.  Neither the weather nor the Swallow cooperated so I declared the Big Month project completed and I am writing this on the 30th.  No birding today.  If something “incredible” shows up today or tomorrow, sure I will go for it, but otherwise 208 it is and I am very pleased.

There were misses along the way and in retrospect I see how I might have “managed this project” differently.  If energy and luck had held, I think finding another 20 species was possible of which maybe 13 were just outright misses.  These include: Lesser Black Backed Gull, Say’s Phoebe, Burrowing Owl, Osprey, Ruffed Grouse, Pine Grosbeak, Sharp Tailed Grouse, Tricolored Blackbird, Yellow Headed Blackbird, American Pipit, Great Gray Owl and that Violet Green Swallow.  A trip to Neah Bay through Port Angeles might have added White Winged Dove, Black Kittiwake and Ruddy Turnstone.  If I were even crazier than I often appear, I could still try for one or more of these tomorrow – but nope, it’s just not going to happen.  And for the record, at least according to Ebird, 234 species have been seen in Washington this January.  Lots of opportunities – but it is a BIG STATE!!  And what about this “opportunity”?  If Westport Seabirds had scheduled their first trip for January instead of February (weather permitting in either case) who knows how many more species might have been seen.

So much for looking back.  What’s ahead?  Most importantly there is that as yet unscheduled trip to Boston to visit my daughter and son-in law and what will then be my first grandchild.  That will be the best trip of the year for sure and by far.  On the birding side, I have scheduled a trip to Texas in April and hope to get to Arizona sometime in the next couple of weeks.  Frank Caruso and I are trying to schedule a visit to North Carolina – head out on two pelagic trips with Brian Patteson.  Possibly another trip to San Diego – more pelagic birds and maybe some new ABA photos.  If all goes well, I can hope to add another 10 to 15 ABA life birds and another 25 to 35 ABA photos.  And I am sure there will be some additional Washington birds as well – but no goals now that January is done.

I also hope to meet many new great people and to see more of those with whom I have  already spent time.  And many thanks to many folks who have helped in the field and behind the scenes this month.  I could not have done it without them.  In alphabetical order they include:  Ann Marie Wood, Blue Jay Barry, Bob Boekelheide, Brian Pendleton, Bruce Labar, Carol Riddell, David Poortinga, Deb Essman, Frank Caruso, John Puschock, Jon Houghton, Mark Tamboulian, Max and Melissa Kingsbury, Melissa Hafting, Mike and MerryLynn Denny, Stefan Schlick, Steve Pink and Todd Sahl.  Apologies to the folks I have forgotten and thanks to everyone who posts on Tweeters and Ebird.

I have been asked a number of times about my “best” or “favorite” birds during this Big Month.  They have all been included in previous writings and are in “my top list” for varying reasons.  I will close with this group of ten – meaning no disrespect to any of the others.  There easily could be another thirty.

American Tree Sparrow and Blue Jay                                                                       

Gray Partridge and Long Eared Owl                                                         

Prairie Falcon and Rose Breasted Grosbeak

Ross’s Goose and Snowy Owl

White Headed Woodpecker and White Wagtail


Goodbye January…Thanks for the Memories!!


The Last Week of January and of My Big Month

As I looked at the morning of Thursday January 25, I was feeling good about passing my goal, but even though the successes earlier that day had outweighed the failure of finding the White Wagtail on the previous day, I still felt like I wanted to end my “project” on an up note.  I considered going back to Neal Road to see if just maybe the Wagtail would return but if it had not more hours of standing around would compound the negative feeling.  I felt positive though and thought I would use that good feeling to try to make up for another miss.  I decided to look for a Gray Jay at the Stevens Pass Ski Area – atoning for missing them in the Okanogan.

I had never been to the ski area before and I was definitely out of place as I walked among the hundreds of skiers and snow boarders – looking for a bird and playing the Gray Jay call on my cell phone – and armed with some potato chips to entice a Jay closer if I found one.  I had walked around for maybe 20 minutes and had seen only a single Raven.  I saw someone with first aid gear who looked official and assuming he was a regular, I questioned him about whether he had seen any on the mountain.  He said they were common at the top of the lifts and would eat right out of the operator’s hands.  As I was considering whether that was an option, I saw a medium size bird fly into a pine near one of the buildings.  I thanked the guy for “helping me find one” and went off to try to get a better look.  It flew off but I was able to follow it and get a good look and a reasonable photo.  Happy, I started for the parking lot.  And…on the way two Gray Jays flew in close and I got a MUCH better photo.  I was now at 203.

Gray Jay

Gray Jay

On the way home I checked Ebird for any exciting reports and there were none – until I pulled into my garage and saw that indeed the White Wagtail had reappeared .  It was too late for a reasonable attempt but I determined that would be my quest the following day.  So joined by Sherrill Miller and Frank Caruso, it was back to Neal Road the following morning.

To make a too long story short, it took over four hours to finally get a view – fleeting but definite of the White Wagtail.  We finally had moved over to the 19th Avenue viewing spot and that was the key.  It flew in and perched for only a few moments – just long enough to get an ID quality photo.  A White Wagtail is a prized bird south of northern Alaska – very rare in Washington – and while yes it was species #204 for my Big Month, more importantly I now had a photo of one in Washington – my 403rd such in the state and now there were only 11 species in the state I had seen but not photographed.  Frankly I had never expected to remove this one from that list.

White Wagtail

White Wagtail

January 27th – now what?  Go to the Coast for shorebirds or – really Blair? – back up to Skagit County and try yet again for a Gyrfalcon or American Pipits.  How about both?  I hatched a plan.  I would give the Gyrfalcon ONE MORE TRY and then the next day I would do something I had put off  for too long – I would head down to Seaside, Oregon and try to get a photo of the Steller’s Eider that had been there for several weeks now.  It wouldn’t count for my Big Month – wrong state – and it would not get my “photos missing in Washington” list down to 10 – again the wrong state.  But it would be a new ABA Life Photo – one that was not at all likely ever again unless I returned to northern Alaska.  And if I were lucky, I might be able to hit the Washington Coast and try for Semipalmated and Snowy Plovers.

Back on Fir Island, I was torn between looking down on the ground for Pipits or up in the trees and poles and the sky for a Gyrfalcon.  I went to places I had already been numerous times this month and just as in each of those visits – no Gyrfalcons and no Pipits.  Then I noticed some movement of smaller birds in a field at the corner of Maupin and Fir Island Roads.  The birds were shorebirds – a mix of Dunlin and Black Bellied Plovers, 40+ of the first and 70+ of the latter.  Suddenly as I was taking photos, there was pandemonium and all the birds took flight.  This generally means a raptor is around and in a flash a large falcon strafed the group and picked off a Dunlin.  It was a young Gyrfalcon – powerful and very fast.  I could not get on it as it flew off with its prize but FINALLY I had seen one of the Skagit Gyrs.  I continued my birding still hoping for some American Pipits or maybe refinding the Gyrfalcon.  No luck – but Gyrfalcon was no longer on my “missing” list.  Instead it was #205 for the Big Month.  I also just simply enjoyed looking at the “regular” birds of the area – Trumpeter and Tundra Swans, Bald Eagles and Snow Geese.  The numbers there are amazing.

Snow Goose

Snow Goose

Tundra Swans

Tundra Swans

It is about 210 miles from my Edmonds home to the Steller’s Eider’s temporary home in Seaside, Oregon.  Just under 4 hours.  On the morning of January 28th, I left early – just about 5:00 a.m. and hoped to get there around 9:00 and hopefully find the Eider by 10:00 – leaving me time to get to the Washington Coast, but I was ready to remain in Seaside as long as it took.  I had excellent instructions from Melissa Hafting who had seen the Eider earlier this month.  I parked and walked to the beach, looking for the transmitter antennae that marked the area where the Eider had been hanging out.

It took less than 2 minutes – the first bird I saw was the Steller’s Eider – close in and associating loosely with a small group of Surf Scoters.  Somehow after the long wait(s) for the White Wagtail, this seemed “only fair” although I knew it didn’t work that way.  I took a few photos, watched for a couple of minutes and left.  I gave a well received “thumbs up” to birders who were heading out to the spot hoping for the rarity.  I would have plenty of time for the Washington Coast although there was still another two hours of driving to get there.

Steller’s Eider

Steller's Eider

The route from Seaside to the coast took me across the mouth of the Columbia River over the Astoria Bridge.  It is astounding just how wide the river is – an impressive sight.  My first thought had been to drive directly to the Warrenton/Cranberry access road to the beach.  Driving on the open beach – something I always enjoy would hopefully get me one or both of my targeted Plovers.  Since I passed right through Tokeland, I decided to first take the small detour down to the Tokeland Marina to see it any Willets were around.  This is the “go to” spot in Washington for them – at least in the summer and fall.  I had already seen one – barely – in Sequim earlier in the month, but it would only take maybe 30 minutes.

At the Marina I quickly located two intermixed flocks of shorebirds – 19 Willets (the most I had ever seen) and 14 Least Sandpipers.  Again neither was new for the month, but these were superior views and superior photos.




Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

There were also quite a few gulls in the Marina – nothing special.  AND – there were also two Grebes with long necks.  One was clearly a Western Grebe – black of the cap completely enclosing the eye and a greenish bill.  The other – completely unexpectedly – was apparently a Clark’s Grebe – the eye outside (almost completely) of the dark of the cap and a bright orange bill – a new bird for the month.  Visiting the Marina was a good decision resulting in #206 for the month.

Western Grebe

Western Grebe

Clark’s Grebe

Clark's Grebe 2

I hit the beach and began my search for shorebirds.  There were two problems.  First the tide was fairly low, so there was a lot of beach, and second it was VERY windy with sand blowing all around.   I found small groups of Sanderlings and Dunlin quickly but no plovers.  I then drove as far south as I could go and found a single Snowy Plover flying fast in the heavy wind.  There was no hope for a photo but this really is a favorite little bird so I include a photo from the same area from a wind free earlier visit.

Snowy Plover

Snowy Plover1

I turned north and when I hit some water that was a bit deeper than I wanted to challenge, I returned to the highway and then came back to the beach from a more northern access point.  Now I found hundreds of shorebirds on the beach – a small group of Black Bellied Plovers and 400+ Sanderling, and I estimated as many as 3000 Dunlin.  Near the Bonge Road access I saw two small dark brown backed shorebirds with short bills flying against the wind right at the surf line as I was heading north with the wind.  I could make out their partial neck/breast bands – definitely two Semipalmated Plovers.  I did a u-turn and raced back down the beach hoping they would land.  They did not and were soon out of sight down the beach.  I was satisfied with the identification and thus with the results of my visit to the beach – both targeted Plovers – Big Month species #207 and #208.

I scanned out to the open ocean hoping that maybe the winds would have blown in a Shearwater – no luck.  I visited the Westport Marina and jetty – hoping for – well whatever.  Nothing new.  It had already been a long day and I had another 2.5 hours to go to get home.  Time to call it quits.  The only thing that could have made it better would have been for the Steller’s Eider to have been in Washington.  It was ABA photo #635.  A week that included that photo and the photo of a White Wagtail was quite a week indeed.


The Big Month – Crossing the Finish Line – and Keeping Going

Continuing from my last post, an unexpected Ebird report made my decision for January 24th pretty easy.  Bill Tweit and Whittier Johnson had reported seeing some Western Bluebirds at Sanderson Airfield in Shelton, WA.  At the beginning of this quest, I had felt there was a remote chance to see Western Bluebirds.  The earliest I had seen them was in March but I knew that some birds over wintered and in fact they were a possibility on my Walla Walla trip.  What was more important here, though, was a good itinerary now took form – try for Mountain Quail in Port Orchard, try for the Bluebirds in Shelton, try for a Palm Warbler in Hoquiam and then head to the coast if time permitted.

So I was on the 7:10 ferry from Edmonds to Kingston and arrived at “the quail spot” adjacent to the Port Orchard Airport at 8:15.  Brian Pendleton and I had Mountain Quail here, and also at the Port Orchard Quarry just a little further on in the past and Brian and his wife Darchelle had some at this spot earlier this month.  It was pretty gray still but I would certainly be the first person at the spot and I hoped to find some quail in the brush.  Sure enough about 5 minutes into my walk two Mountain Quail sounded their “querk” calls as I flushed them and they were off to even denser cover.  If a photo had been important I probably would have tried instead in “Quail Mary’s” (Mary Hrudkaj) neighborhood, but a photo was not needed for this purpose – just the confirmation.  I let out my own variation of a “querk” call when the Mountain Quail brought me to 200 species for my Big Month – and I also gave a sigh of relief.  Everything now would be icing on the cake!!

It was less than an hour to Sanderson Field.  The Ebird report said they had been seen with Robins along the “airport fence line”.  The problem was that there were fences everywhere including along places where the roads were closed or gated.  Which fence line?  I drove them all and saw basically no birds at all.  I tried one more area – an industrial park adjacent to the airfield and saw a flash of blue flying from the ground to a tree.  More flashes and more blue as five Western Bluebirds flew from ground to trees to fence lines.  Pictures captured these beauties – and I was now into bonus territory and had species #201.

Western Bluebird

Western Bluebird1

Western Bluebird

It was another hour to the Hoquiam STP where the Palm Warbler had been found by Alex Patia.  Just as I cleared Aberdeen and was midway through the dismal city of Hoquiam, I got a call from Ann Marie Wood.  A White Wagtail had been found at the Neal Road location where the Rusty Blackbird had been seen two days earlier.  Yikes!!  White Wagtail is EXTREMELY rare in Washington.  I saw one at Fort Casey in Washington almost exactly 34 years ago – on January 21, 1984.  It is one of only 12 species I had seen in Washington for which I had no photo.  It was 128 miles from Hoquiam to Neal Road.  It was almost 11:45 a.m.  If I turned around instantly I might get there by 2:15 that afternoon but that would mean no Palm Warbler and no coast birding.  Time for an executive decision.

I was very close to the STP so I elected to try for the Palm Warbler and then think it through.  I turned onto Paulson Road – came to its end and parked at the turnout next to and between the two ponds – the purported Palm Warbler location.  I pulled out my phone and played the chip note – watching the brush between the ponds where it had been seen.  There was an immediate response – from behind me.  I turned to find a very demonstrative and very beautiful – and very welcomed Palm Warbler in the trees behind me.  It came right out and was pumping its tail vigorously.  Snap, snap – photos and Big Month Species 202 was mine.  It had taken all of 5 minutes from the time Ann Marie had called.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler1

I figured the odds on seeing the White Wagtail were lower than seeing a Snowy Plover – and neither was guaranteed.  For purposes of my Big Month, they were the same – one more bird.  But there really was no comparison – the chance for a new state photo drove the decision.  I turned and raced to Fall City.  I will not share the exact amount of time it took, but let’s just say I beat the Google Maps projected time — significantly.  Other birders were there when I arrived – but the Wagtail was not.  More birders arrived – it was a fun social event – but it would have been a lot more fun if the White Wagtail had made an appearance.  It did not.  I located the Rusty Blackbird again and showed some others – that was nice – but not as nice as seeing a Wagtail – or heck even a Snowy Plover.  Worse yet, it was now late and the traffic back to Edmonds was awful.

There was of course disappointment – but somehow it hardly mattered.  It had been a fabulous day – the Mountain Quail for #200 was fantastic and adding both the Western Bluebird and Palm Warbler – completely unexpected a few days earlier – felt extra good.  It was like having an ice cream sundae with whipped cream – and nuts – and chocolate sauce – so what if there was no cherry on the top.

Closer – Closer – Oh So Close

January 20th was a much needed day of rest – allowing me to catch up on bills, cleaning, blog posts and some sleep.  I had gotten to 194 species – and only needed 6 more for my Big Month goal.  The problem was that there were no longer spots with multiple probabilities.  There were lots of possibilities left out there but seemingly few sure things.

Way back on January 6th I had picked up a few birds on Camano Island, but I had missed one as well.  A Townsend’s Solitaire had been reported on Maple Grove Beach Road.  I had not been able to find it.  It had been seen often in the following two weeks and it was time for another try – especially now that I had some more specific information about its favored spot. I arrived just after noon on the 21st and parked across from its two favorite berry-laded trees.  It wasn’t there but if still around, it would probably come in to feed.  Not long after I arrived I thought I heard its whistled call down the street.  I played it on my bird songs app and hoped it would fly right in.  It didn’t but I felt it was only a matter of time.  I had parked such that while I had a view of both trees, one was a little behind me and required me to swivel to check it – which I did periodically.  I had not seen it fly in, but on my third swivel, there it was feeding and mostly in the open – begging for me to take its picture.  Who was I to deny a request from a cooperative bird?

Townsend’s Solitaire

Townsend's Solitaire

Timing and good luck matter.  No more than two minutes after finding Bird of the Month #195, people came out of the house behind the tree and went to a car parked next to it.  Apparently one couple had been visiting the other and now they were leaving and saying goodbye.  This action also was a goodbye for the Solitaire and it flew off over the house and towards the area where I had first heard it.  My timing had been good indeed.  One down and five to go.  I gave the Skagit and Samish flats area yet another go trying for the Gyrfalcon that seemingly everyone but me had seen there.  No go yet again.

The next day I planned to go to Tacoma to try for Least Sandpipers at a spot Bruce Labar had given me but there was another option as well.  A Rusty Blackbird had been seen at the end of Neal Road along the Snoqualmie River.  Rusty Blackbirds often hangout with dozens or even hundreds of their cousins – Red Winged and Brewer’s Blackbirds, Starlings and Brown Headed Cowbirds.  It can be very hard to find in a a moving mass of black.  This one was no exception but the flock seemed smaller and besides I “needed” another “tick” on my list and this species had been on my “high hopes” rather than “highly likely” list of possibilities – a bonus bird so to speak.  I figured I would try for the Rusty first and then head to Tacoma further south.

Fortunately others were already at Neal Road when I arrived.  It took a while but finally it was spotted, first by Marv Breece, high up in one of the two trees that the flock seemed to favor.  Nothing like the extraordinary closeup view last year of a Rusty that visited some salt on a parking lot near a Home Depot in Bellingham, but good enough for a distant photo and a positive ID of Bird of the Month #196.

Rusty Blackbird – Neal Road

Rusty Blackbird1

Rusty Blackbird – 2017

Rusty Blackbird

Time for an aside.  I have made the adjustments in the preceding blog posts so that the numbers are correct, but when I awoke on the morning of the 22nd and headed off for the Rusty Blackbird, I thought I was already at 196.  But before taking a step forward, I took a step backwards.  I left it out of my blog post on the Walla Walla trip but Mike Denny and I thought we had a first cycle Glaucous Gull at Lower Monumental Dam.  I got some good photos but the light was a bit tricky and may have overemphasized some features.  In any event that morning I got word from an Ebird reviewer that our bird was NOT a Glaucous Gull.  Maybe if it was January 31st and it would have made the difference between 199 and 200 I would have counted it anyhow – that was Mike’s reaction.  But I felt there was still time and I removed it from my list and thus went backwards.  As I said the Rusty Blackbird had not been on my expected list so maybe everything was just balancing out.

And besides…a Glaucous Gull was being seen at Gog Le Hi Te in Tacoma so there was a chance to make it up.  That was my first stop in Tacoma.  Finding a Glaucous Gull there means going through dozens or even hundreds of gulls on rooftops of industrial buildings with a scope.  I had just done the “blackbird” equivalent of that to find the Rusty Blackbird – definitely not my favorite kind of birding.  But this time I was lucky, when I arrived, two birders were looking at the Glaucous Gull through their scope.  All I had to do was take a look to confirm.  Okay – a step back, a step forward and now another step forward and I was at #197.

I am not real familiar with Tacoma and often get confused finding niche birding spots along the river or at the Bay usually after wending my way through heavy duty industrial areas.  Bruce’s spot for Least Sandpipers at the end (well sort of) of Alexander Road was no different.  Despite great directions, it still did not seem right when I arrived.  I expected the Least Sandpipers to be on some mud exposed at low tide.  There was a small patch of mud with no birds and lots of rocks and rip rap.  This could not be the right place.  But I had come this far and figured I would explore.  A good decision.  I trudged through some debris and came upon a concrete slab angled into the water.  There were lots of gulls and as I looked closer, I could see some smaller birds skittering about.  Shorebirds – and not Dunlin – these were Least Sandpipers.  Thank you Bruce.  Fourteen of them made for species #198 for the month.  It was an important one because it had been on my “sure thing” list but I was not sure where I would find them.  There were lots of other places to try – but now I did not have to look anywhere else.

Least Sandpiper – Pale Legs, Short Bill and All

Least Sandpiper

It was not yet One o’clock but there really were not any options to pursue for more birds so I headed home before traffic got bad.  Despite a disappointing start losing the Glaucous Gull from Walla Walla, it had been a great day – regaining the Gull, picking up a surprise and adding a sure thing.  I needed two more birds and there were still none days to get them.  Things were looking good.

There are lots of ways I could describe Ann Marie Wood – a trooper, tenacious, positive, tough minded, etc.  I could also describe her as a good birder and a good friend.  I sent an email out on the 23rd to see if anyone wanted to join me for yet another try to find a Gyrfalcon and hopefully some American Pipits in the Skagit/Samish areas – possibly numbers 199 and 200 to reach my goal.  Others were otherwise committed and Ann Marie was game.  I did not know it at the time but this day was also her 80th birthday – yet she was giving me the gift of joining forces.

It would be nice to say that for “her” birthday I got two birds as a gift and hit 200, but not to be.  We spent hours and many miles driving every road in the areas where the Gyrs and the Pipits had been seen – again nothing.  The highlight was a stop at the Breadfarm in Edison.  It is marvelous – everything is fantastic and there are simply too many temptations.  At least I was able to give Ann Marie a birthday treat – a Kouign Amann – one of the specialties of this artisanal bakery.  It is a Breton pastry that has it all: tons of butter, sweet caramelization and a good bit of salt, like a salted caramel in pastry form.  She had never been to the Breadfarm or had one of these delights.  I am sure she will be back.

Ann Marie is a very committed County birder – especially for Snohomish County – and she knew some spots where we had a good chance to add a Spotted Sandpiper and maybe a Semipalmated Plover to get me to or closer to 200.  At Priest Point where she has had one for several Christmas Counts, Ann Marie said the Spotted Sandpiper could be anywhere on the shore.  I stepped up onto a high spot to get a better look and right on cue a Spotted Sandpiper flew up and off – its shallow wingbeat a giveaway.  Now at #199 I was oh so close.  The Semipalmated Plover did not cooperate in Everett but now I knew a good spot to keep trying.

Thanks to Ann Marie, I was on the brink of success.  When I went home I wasn’t sure where I would go next – the coast for Semipalmated or Snowy Plovers, Port Orchard for a Mountain Quail or Stevens Pass to try for a Gray Jay.  I was feeling confident.  Once again an unexpected Ebird report made my decision easy…but that is for the next post.

The Big Month Continues – On to the Okanogan

My visit to the Okanogan in late December had been less successful than I had hoped.  Recent trips by others had been terrific perhaps aided by additional snow accumulation.  I was optimistic and hopeful, but the temperatures had warmed and some snow had melted.  I really was not sure what to expect.  I left Ephrata early on the morning of January 19th and headed towards Mansfield on the Waterville Plateau.  Fortunately the fog cleared and I started looking for Snow Buntings and Partridge.  Near Heritage Road (Road L), I found my first Snow Buntings and at their “regular spot” I found 5 or 6 American Tree Sparrows.  I had seen the latter with the Dennys earlier, but the Snow Buntings were new – and a “must” for this trip.

Snow Buntings  (#190) 

Snow Buntings

No Partridge anywhere.  Next I was on to Bridgeport Hill Road where I hoped to find Sharp Tailed Grouse.  There were none there and also none at a nearby place that was a potentially good spot.  There would be other chances, but this was a regretted miss.  It was on to Cameron Lake Road.  In December there had been so much fresh snow that I was not able to drive the entire road.  But on the small portion that I did drive I had Snow Buntings, Gray Crowned Rosy Finches and Common Redpolls.  There was far less snow now and in fact most of the road was clear.

About 7 miles in, from the southern end of the road. I came upon a Seattle Audubon Trip that was led by Stefan Schlick.  I met up with them 5 minutes too late.  They had just seen a Gyrfalcon.  They had watched it for some time and it had flown off.  I joined them as they continued on hoping for more looks.  We did not see it again.  This was now the second time this month that I had missed this prized bird by just a few minutes.  A bonus though was that Stefan told me about a good spot ahead for White Headed Woodpecker – “where the flag is over the road.”  Before getting to that spot I had a Northern Shrike, a Golden Eagle and a huge flock of at least 300 Snow Buntings – about 100 yards off the road.

It was impossible to miss the “flag spot” as someone had strung a cable across the road supporting  a large American flag.  I stopped, got out of the car and played the call and the drumming sound for White Headed Woodpecker.  Instantly first one and then another appeared – one flying directly over my head and not far from it.  A bit later a third appeared.  These woodpeckers are always a favorite and they were new for the month – #191.

White Headed Woodpecker

White Headed Woodpecker

Nothing else new on Cameron Lake Road and having seen American Tree Sparrows earlier I did not even stop at “their spot” on this trip.  I went on into Omak and then headed up towards Conconully.  Just out of town a dark Merlin flashed by me – far too fast for a photo but maybe a good omen.  Less than a quarter of a mile later on Epley Road, I saw a large flock of birds in a bare tree across from a small orchard.  Usually such flocks are Blackbirds or Starlings, but this was the Okanogan and there are other possibilities.  When I pulled off the road and got by binoculars on the flock, it was quite apparent these were one of those possibilities – a very large flock of Bohemian Waxwings – 130 birds or more.  I had seen this species earlier in the month, but this was truly a spectacle as they flew from tree to ground and then circled and then repeated the performance.

Bohemian Waxwing


Bohemian Waxwing Flock (A small portion and with a few Cedar Waxwings)


I continued on towards Conconully with my first stop being at the pasture where I had “missed” the Gray Partridge found there by Jon Houghton a week earlier when I visited in late December.  Missed them again.  Then I spent a lot of time searching for Sharp Tailed Grouse in the Scotch Creek area and on Happy Hill Road.  I had the grouse there on my December trip but only in the early morning – there were none now at midday.

When I planned this trip, I had counted on Gray Partridge and Sharp Tailed Grouse and had hoped for Gyrfalcon.  I wasn’t doing well with these “needed” species.  I had also planned – indeed almost counted on both Gray Jay and Clark’s Nutcrackers in Conconully.  Others had seen them there recently.  Two more misses despite very diligent searching and almost constantly paying various calls for both.  Thankfully though I got a coveted consolation prize as a small flock of Gray Crowned Rosy Finches flew over head and could be identified both by the quick look and also by their calls.  No photos but I was now at 192 for the month.

It was now on to the Highlands and a stop at Fancher Road.  I may have been there before, but I did not recall it.  The ABC Group from Tacoma had had large numbers of both Chukars and Gray Partridge in the cattle pastures.  I was stunned when I reached the area.  There seemed to be Chukars and Partridge everywhere.  In that “stunned” condition though, I confused the two species and thinking that Chukars are usually even harder to find than Partridge, bypassed photos of the Partridge which I had seen first and took MANY of the Chukars thinking I had finally gotten photos of Gray Partridge.  By the time I figured this out, the Partridge had retreated to the hills while dozens of Chukars and even more California Quail remained.  (Stay tuned – there will be more to this story.)



Well at least I had finally seen some Gray Partridge and my Big Month count stood at 193.  I headed off to the Havillah Sno Park Area hoping for a Great Gray Owl.  I have only seen one there once, but it is a good area for them.  But not today – and it did not help that this was the one area that was buried in heavy fog.  An owl would have had to have flown right in front of me to see it.  I decided to come back later at dusk and hope the fog had cleared.  I went on to Nealey Road.  I had heard that the feeders were still inactive the previous week, but I hoped that was old news.  It wasn’t.

In the past there have been many birds at the feeders – Rosy Finches, Waxwings and Redpolls among them.  There were birds today despite the absence of seed, but nothing extraordinary.  I got a nice photo of a Mountain Chickadee which shared a tree with a Black Capped Chickadee and then one of my favorite photos ever of a Hairy Woodpecker.

Mountain and Black Capped Chickadees

Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

Just as I readied to leave I heard some chatter notes.  I had been playing this call earlier in the day and could hardly miss the sound of a Clark’s Nutcracker.  At least one and perhaps a second called from the hill behind the Nealey cabins.  I could get a glimpse in the distant trees – just enough to be sure they were not Black Billed Magpies mimicking the Nutcrackers – so at least one of the earlier misses was erased and I now had 194 species for the month.  I returned to the Havillah Sno-park.  There was less fog but no owls appeared, so it was off to Omak for the night.

An early start the following morning had me at Scotch Creek so early I could see almost nothing.  Two shadows in some Water Birches unfortunately late proved to be Great Horned Owls and not Sharp Tailed Grouse.  More searching as the light improved also improved by still obstructed view of the Great Horned Owls but produced no grouse.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Sharp Tailed Grouse had been on my “near certain” list and was an important find.  I was concerned.  The ABC Group had found some on Siwash Creek Road – near Fancher Road and the Havillah Sno-Park, so that became a priority.  I headed East via the Riverside Cutoff Road.  No Golden Eagle as I had in December, but at a spot I had had one before I found a Canyon Wren – singing its lovely descending note song.

When I stopped at Fancher Road again, I had even more Chukars – maybe as many as 80 – but no Gray Partridge at all.  Now I was worried that my error of the previous day might mean that I would get no Partridge photos.  But again, stay tuned.  Siwash Creek Road was perfect Sharp Tailed Grouse habitat and unlike at other good spots, here the Water Birch were close and at eye level.  Grouse, if present, would be readily seen and readily photographed.  Sadly, as far as I could tell – they just were not present.  Missed again.

I made another pass at he Sno-Park – fog-less, people-less and owl-less.  Time to head back home with another drive of Cameron Lake Road hoping that somehow the Gyrfalcon might give me the privilege of a view.  This time I did not stop for the White Headed Woodpecker, but I did stop at the copse of trees that were good for American Tree Sparrow. I found at least 9 and got a new favorite photo of one.

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow in Snow

Also along the road, I had a Golden Eagle, a Northern Shrike – and to complete the story – finally – some photo friendly Gray Partridge.  I breathed a sigh of relief.  But not complete relief as I never saw a Gyrfalcon.

Gray Partridge

Gray Partridge

I tried once more and failed once more to find any Sharp Tailed Grouse along Bridgeport Hill Road – the major disappointment of this trip.  So no new birds this day.  I had done OK for the trip but not great.  My total for the month was at 194.  Including the prelude to the Okanogan, I had added 11 new birds – honestly about what I had originally expected but I had not expected some of the birds I did see and I definitely had expected two I did not – Gray Jay and Sharp Tailed Grouse.  And yet again missing a Gyrfalcon was a downer.  But when I finally got home – very tired – I was optimistic that 200 was reachable – just not sure exactly how.

The Big Month Continues – Here and There and Almost Everywhere – Prelude to the Okanogan

I had noted an Ebird report of an Osprey at the Cowlitz River Trout Hatchery.  This was not a species that I had thought possible as I believed they left in the Fall and did not return until the early Spring.  But this was apparently a hold over and it had been doing so for several years.  I planned an itinerary that would include looking at Magnuson Park for Cedar Waxwings and possibly an Iceland Gull, continuing to the Mouth of the Cedar River looking for the Gull there if missed at Magnuson (and also hoping that somehow a Palm Warbler had shown up there as it has been a good spot in the past).  Then it would be down to the Cowlitz with a stop at Nisqually NWR on the way down or back.

The plan also included the hope that Brian Pendleton would join me and that worked very well especially since Brian knows Magnuson Park much better than I do.  There were no Iceland Gulls on the bathing platform but we found at least one and possibly two Cedar Waxwings at the Hawthorn trees near Kite Hill.  I had not even taken my camera as it was wet but a sufficiently good view to know it was a Cedar and not a Bohemian Waxwing, which have been at this location in the past.

At the Mouth of the Cedar River, no Palm Warblers but there were lots of gulls and through the scope we were able to find at least one and possibly a second Iceland Gull.  These were both birds that were highly likely at other spots if missed, but getting to 182 and 183 felt like a great start to the day.  Unfortunately it went downhill from there.  We found the Cowlitz Hatchery and it definitely looked like a great spot for a hold over Osprey, but despite a long and diligent search there and at the Salmon Hatchery upriver, we found only Bald Eagles.  But we had a great visit with a couple of locals – one of whom had a great story about Phil and Chris Anderson – Captain and First Mate of the Monte Carlo which is the boat for the wonderful Westport Pelagic trips.  Not for sharing here, but it will be fun to share with Phil and Chris when we see them.

On the way home, the weather turned ugly and Nisqually was quite wet.  Even before entering, we found a large group of shorebirds – but they were only Dunlin and Greater Yellowlegs.  We found the Northern Saw Whet Owl near the parking lot but it was so wet, we did not even take the scope out to the boardwalk.  We saw a flock of shorebirds – two sizes (probably??) that likely contained the hoped for Least Sandpipers, but too distant, too wet and too dismal to make the call.  Our best find was an American Bittern that flew in and posed for a photo.  For the day we had 50 species – two new for the month and at least the traffic on return was not too bad…but that Osprey was a big miss.

American Bittern

American Bittern Nisqually

I hearkened back to my decision to cut my visit to the Okanogan short and return on December 31st last year instead of carrying over and starting the year there for 2018.  Especially since reports had come in over the past two days of two great group trips there, I knew that I had to return and indeed a successful trip was probably essential if I had a shot at 200.  But of course I never seem to do anything the easy way, so in addition to having to make another trip to the Okanogan, I front loaded it with a trip in the other direction – to Fort Simcoe in Yakima County to get the Lewis’s Woodpecker that was a certainty there but also to hope to find an Acorn Woodpecker that does not belong there but which had been seen a couple of days earlier.

I again went the longer and slower route through the Yakima River Canyon.  No Golden Eagle this time, but in the area I had had one before I was able to get a Canyon Wren to respond to my playback.  #184  When I arrived at Fort Simcoe it was, as I knew, closed for the winter, but you could park outside and walk in.  It really is a cool spot and now, completely deserted except for me and a single Park employee, it was kind of eerie.  But it was also VERY windy.  I worried that this did not bode well for finding woodpeckers.  However, Lewis’s Woodpeckers were easy – if for the most part seen in hurried flights before landing at the tops of the many oak trees that are why they are there.  At first the light was poor and so were my photos but later there was a sun break and a nice photo of this beautiful bird resulted.

Lewis’s Woodpecker

Lewis's Woodpecker

Now where was that Acorn Woodpecker?  I spent over an hour looking – circling the property three times without success.  Earlier I had visited with the park employee.  He was doing some early maintenance work and while aware of the Lewis’s Woodpeckers being there, he was not familiar with birds at all.  I told him that I was there to get a see the Lewis’s Woodpecker and a much rarer Acorn Woodpecker.  I showed him the photo and he said he had never seen one.  But this had been a good decision as about 70 minutes into my visit as I passed him again, he said that there had been a “smaller woodpecker” near the Interpretive Center.  I checked it out and found it but unfortunately far back in an area behind an electrified wire and “off limits”.  It responded to my play back – but only vocally – it never flew in closer.  There is no way to misidentify this clown faced bird though.

Acorn Woodpecker

Acorn WP

It was nice to add these two new birds.  When I made my first plan for the assault on 200, I figured I might need to try for the Acorn Woodpecker in Lyle in Klickitat County, normally the only place in the State to find it.  This saved me many miles and many hours and I was now at 186.  Time for the long drive north towards the Okanogan.  No way to get there and do significant birding that day, so the plan was to stay in Ephrata that night after a stop at Rocky Ford Creek where a Sora was possible.

Almost on a whim as I was heading back through Yakima, I decided to stop at the Popoff Trail – very popular with and productive for Yakima area birders and just possibly a spot where there might be a Hermit Thrush.  I had never birded there before so I just picked a trail and headed off.  At the first “likely spot”, I stopped and played the call note of the Thrush.  There was an immediate response and a very inquisitive bird flew in within seconds.  The brush was dense and it was never in bright sunlight but the call was unmistakable and the photo was at least good enough for a firm ID.  I had hoped for one during the month but was not at all certain where to look so this was a real bonus bird #187.

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

I had not been to Rocky Ford Creek for at least 12 years.  I had known it as a fun fly-fishing spot and not as a place for birds, but seeing it again, the cattails and rushers were perfect for rails and the ponds for waterfowl.  Two men were fishing as I arrived and we traded “fish stories”.  One fellow was from Sequim and was familiar with the areas I had birded there recently.  The water is gin clear and large trout were visible here and there.  I almost wished I had my gear.  But I was there to find a Sora.  I went to what looked like a good spot and played several calls.  No immediate response – except from some Virginia Rails – which often happens.  Then a few minutes later I hear “keep calls” from a Sora near the platform there.  Further play back from me resulted in another Sora making a quick appearance after some whinnying calls across the creek.  This was #188 for the month.

I had hoped one would come in for a photo – but the only rails that came in close were Virginia Rails.  One was extremely active and I got a photo and I had at least partial views of at least three.  I could safely say there were at least seven there and I think there may have been 10.

Virginia Rail

Virginia Rail

Although it did not end with a photo of a Sora, it was very cool to show the fishermen my picture of the Virginia Rail.  They had wondered what bird had made the pig grunts sounds.  Now they knew.

There was still time to drive just barely onto the Waterville Plateau before returning to Ephrata for the night.  I hoped for some Snow Buntings or Gray Partridge.  I found neither but at one stop I did hear the clear “chuck chuckara” calls from some Chukars on a massive stone cliff where I had stopped to play for Rock Wren – without response.  I had hopes for actual sightings and photos but these birds can be challenging so I was pleased to have my first ones for the month – ending the day at 189.

The next day would get me to the Okanogan itself.  There had been great reports from a Tacoma ABC Club trip and from another group.  I was hopeful – and tired – so early to bed.

Half Way Through the Month – 5 More Birds of the Month Today

Today is January 16th.  Yesterday I passed my initial Big Month Goal of 175 species for the State and the total was at 176.  The original thought was that if 175 was “reasonably easy”, I would push on and go for 200.  With 176 species in just about half of the month, had it been “reasonably easy” – well sort of, but even though “only” 24 more species in the remaining half month seemed easy, I knew that all of the easy birds had already been seen and I would need many more trips and some good lucks – maybe even some unexpected birds in addition to almost all of the expected ones to reach the goal.

This morning the plan was to try for one of the “unexpected ones”.  A female Western Tanager was visiting Mark Tamboulian’s feeder in Shoreline, Washington and he said I was welcome to visit.  This was a great stroke of luck.  Western Tanagers are generally not here in the winter – so an unexpected add.  I had to take my car in for service that day and would get a loaner but that imposed some time constraints.  Luckily Mark’s place was only a couple of miles from my dealer and was on the way back from the dealer to my home.  How convenient.

Mark has a landscape business and it was very apparent as I drove up to his home.  The grounds were SPECTACULAR!!!  Super design and of course very well maintained.  I was invited in and we began our vigil watching his feeders in his equally beautiful back yard.  He explained that it generally came in with other birds and usually visited the suet.  As we waited we talked – about birds mostly – but a really fun free-ranging conversation.  His neighbor and birding pal was there as well.  His interests were more to photography but together they had traveled to many places in the U.S. and Latin America and had a very impressive bird list and expertise and great stories.

As I have said so many times, in birding we get the opportunity for great places, great people and great birds.  The beautiful home and grounds and wonderful people had delivered the first two of these and when the Western Tanager showed up, all three were there and it was just barely 9:00 a.m.

Western Tanager Female

Western Tanager

It hung around awhile and then took off.  I continued my visit and we shared stories.  Their experience at the Asa Wright Station in Trinidad was alarming – very unsanitary conditions – I was forewarned.  They had lots of good stories as well.  Time to leave but I happened to mention that one bird I was looking for was a Red Breasted Sapsucker. Bingo!!  The neighbor said there was often one in his yard.  We went out and there it was drumming away in open sight.  Hard to get any easier than that.

Red Breasted Sapsucker

Red Breasted Sapsucker

I now had 178 species for the month and the day was young and I had plans for more.  The visit with Mark had been terrific in any way.  I hope our paths cross again and after i am through with this Big Month I will be sure that happens.  But first it was time to head north to Whatcom County.

A Rock Wren had been seen regularly at Birch Bay State Park.  It was one of the birds missed on the Walla Walla trip so here was a make up opportunity.  Additionally this was a good spot to find Eared Grebes – not an easy find in the winter.  I found the Rock Wren fairly easily but off leash dogs on the beach kept it pretty leery not willing to pose in the open as it had for many others.  The Eared Grebes were not so easy but eventually I was able to find at least two out in the Bay – just close enough for some ID shots.

Eared Grebe

Eared Grebe

It was interesting to watch one of the Grebes.  It was almost like it was paired with a female Bufflehead.  The two moved around as a unit and I never saw the Grebe more than 25 feet away from the Bufflehead.  The photo is fun, too, as it shows just how small the Grebe is.  Buffleheads are very small ducks – but the Grebe is even smaller.

Eared Grebe and Bufflehead

Eared Grebe and Bufflehead

As pleased as I was to get a photo of the Eared Grebe, I could not fail to recall the spectacular photo of one last year not far from this spot at the Blaine Marina.  I think it has appeared in a blog before but I include it again.

Eared Grebe (March 2016 – Blaine Marina)

Eared Grebe5

My final stop for the day (I had to get back to get my car) was at Semiahmoo.  I hoped that somehow a Mountain Bluebird might reappear here -as one had been there in the winter of 2014 – but not this time.  I did however add a Northwestern Crow.  This is the only place in Washington I will count one other than the Olympic Peninsula.  I am not convinced it is a separate species but the authorities accept it…who am I to argue – especially as it was Bird of the Month #181.

Been East – Going West – The Quest Continues

It was pretty late when I got back home from my Walla Walla trip on January 14th.  There is a saying, “There is no rest for the wicked“.  Wait a minute – I am not wicked – just currently obsessed.  So after that long trip there was still unfinished business and this meant getting little rest and then back to it early on the 15th – this time heading west – specifically to Sequim and environs.

A huge flock of Black Bellied Plovers had invaded a corn field on Schmuck Road and at least one Pacific Golden Plover was being seen with them.  Dunlin were in the field as well.  I easily found the field and at first did not see any birds at all.  Then I moved a little further east and noticed birds flitting around through the corn stalks.  It was a gray day and the light was poor and the birds were mostly pretty far out.  Even through binoculars it was clear they were Plovers but a scope was going to be needed to find the Pacific Golden Plover.  There were dozens – actually many dozens of birds.  They would come into view and then disappear as they moved between the rows of stalks.  At first there were only Plovers – no Dunlin.  Then first one and then another and then another flock of Dunlin moved in.  There were probably 75 to 100 Plovers and several hundred Dunlin.  It was frenetic!!

Fortunately though I had a good scope, the Pacific Golden Plover is noticeably darker and smaller than the Black Bellied Plovers and most importantly I was lucky.  A smaller, darker Plover became very apparent still quite distant but a bit in front of the other Plovers and obviously different from the Dunlin.  It was not still though and if I took my eye off the scope I would lose it.  Back to the scope and I would find it again only to repeat the process.  I have never used digiscoping, but I think that would have been the only way to get a photo.  Pleased with finding the Pacific Golden Plover and Bird of the Month #172 it was time to try for the next target.

Actually targets.  A flock of Marbled Godwits had been showing consistently at Dungeness Landing Park and a single Willet had been seen there and/or at Three Crabs as well.  I first went to the lookout spot over Dungeness Landing Park – the vantage point from where the Emperor Goose had been seen in 2016.  No shorebirds visible.  Then it was down to the park itself with the same result.  Cline Spit looked seemed to be the likely spot for them – but there were no birds there.  Maybe luck would be better at 3 Crabs.

It was.  I didn’t find the birds but I did find the birder who knew about the birds.  Bob Boekelheide was on one of his census runs.  Together with Denny Van Horn, Bob is as knowledgeable about birds in and around Sequim as anyone and is also a great guy and has been very helpful on past quests.  Bob said that the Willet generally traveled with the Godwits and that Dungeness Landing Park was the best place to be.  He said, “Let’s go look.”  About four minutes later we pulled into the parking area, got out of our cars, and were exactly at the right time to see the flock of Godwits fly in with a companion – the Willet.  They landed on a mini-island just off Cline Spit – visible as shapes by the naked eye and as the targeted species with magnification.  I have a 100-400 mm lens.  A 600 mm lens with a doubler would have been necessary for good photos at that distance but I was able to get the one below that shows the Godwits with the Willet easy to ID with its black and white wing pattern.

Marbled Godwits and Willet


Bob certainly delivered as these were Birds of the Month #173 and #174.  He also delivered again as he told me of a couple of spots on the Dungeness River where I could probably find an American Dipper.  Sure enough right again.  Another distant view pretty far downstream from the bridge but I had reached #175.  One more stop to make – off to Point Wilson at Fort Worden in Jefferson County hoping for some Ancient Murrelets.

Point Wilson is a very cool spot – with great views at the intersection of the Straits of San Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound.  It can be very birdy.  In November 1986, I joined many other Washington birders to observe an extremely rare Steller’s Eider there.  No such rarity this day – although this Western Alaskan rarity was currently being seen about 200 miles south at Seaside, OR.  My hopes were simply for some Ancient Murrelets.  This was as good a place as any in Washington to see some and I intended to follow up with a trip on the Port Townsend to Keystone Ferry for closer views.

Point Wilson did not disappoint.  Again all the birds were far off and a scope was needed but there were a number of alcids – primarily Common Murres and some Pigeon Guillemots and a pair of Ancient Murrelets.  The look was good enough for a positive ID and Bird of the Month #176 but I was looking forward to the ferry ride as I have always had good looks at Ancients on the passing.  This is where trouble struck.  I got to the Port Townsend Ferry Terminal early.  I was asked if I had a reservation.  I said “No’ and then asked if it would be necessary.  I was assured I would get on the next boat.  I was the next to next last car that did NOT get on the ferry and the next one would not leave for 90 minutes by which time it would be too dark to see anything.  To say I was furious was an understatement.  And it was made worse when I learned that there was a two hour wait on the Kingston Ferry which I could have made without any delay if they had just told me that there would not be room.  AAARGH!!!

So there being no great shot from the ferry of an Ancient Murrelet I include one from another trip.

Ancient Murrelet

Ancient Murrelet (2)

I consoled myself with the fact that I had a good day birding and had passed the 175 species original goal.  But ferry disappointment aside, I was now committed to going all out for 200 species for the Big Month and waiting for the Kingston ferry gave me time to plan the next trip.

The Quest Continues – to Walla Walla and Back

Has it really only been ten days since my last post.  It feels like ages ago – definitely a very full ten days.  That last post was on January 11 as I was about to embark on a trip to Walla Walla with stops along the way.  In my quest to see as many species as I could in Washington in my Big Month of January, I had just seen some Bohemian Waxwings and Purple Finches at Harborview Park in Marysville and my total for the month was 157.  With great luck, I said that maybe 170 was possible after the trip to Walla Walla.  This post covers that trip.  Others will go from there – but just as this has been delayed, so too will they – because I am fully absorbed in the birding – collecting the stories and photos that will appear in later posts.

I intentionally chose the scenic route of the Yakima River Canyon rather than racing down I-82 after I cleared Ellensburg.  The Canyon is beautiful, a favorite fly fishing spot – floating the Yakima River mostly in the fall, and it can be birdy – especially in the Spring.  I stopped at a couple of spots to listen for Canyon Wrens – and heard none.  I looked for Chukars – and saw none.  But just where it was supposed to be – near Selah Butte, a Golden Eagle flew overhead and then landed on one of the rocky crags.

Golden Eagle (New for the Month)

Golden Eagle Landing

A Black Crowned Night Heron flew by at the Yakima River Delta and I saw my first American White Pelicans at the Columbia Park Marina.  Unfortunately I did not find the Lesser Lesser Black Backed Gull that had been seen there recently.  I next looked for Ferruginous Hawks first on Nine Mile Road – where I added my first Horned Lark for the Year and then on Byrnes Road.  I found the hawk at the latter spot but only a poor distant view of it in flight over one of the fields.  I visited the Tyson Ponds thinking I might look for Yellow Headed and/or Tricolored Blackbirds.  Overwhelmed by the huge numbers of Starlings, and Blackbirds there I did not try very hard, and as it was already getting a bit dark (the day was gray anyhow), I called it a day and headed to my hotel in Walla Walla.  I checked in with Mike and MerryLynn Denny and made plans for the next day.  When MerryLynn told me she had had a Western Screech Owl at Walla Walla Fort Park, I knew that would be how I would start my day.  This day had been just “OK” – some species missed but I had added 5 so I was now at 162.

I was up early and hit the Park before 5:00 a.m.  It was less than 2 miles from my motel.  Just where MerryLynn said she found it, I was able to strike up a playback conversation with this little owl.  It never came in close and I did not have a spotlight anyhow, but this was a good omen.  I returned for a shower and breakfast and then joined up with the Dennys.  Birding with them is a highlight each year.  Fun, knowledgeable, excellent birders, very giving – one could not ask for more.  And the day was beautiful.  Walla Walla had experienced some very cold and snowy weather but the snow was all gone and this day would be in the 50’s.  It was an excellent day.

We went to so many places I could not keep track.  One of the “problems” with birding with Mike and MerryLynn is that they do so much birding in their beloved county and see so many birds, that there is a constant litany of what they had seen a day ago, a week ago, or last year.  I am no longer disappointed when we don’t see everything they had seen in those past trips – but I think they are disappointed that I too don’t get those birds.  We got off to a bit of a slow start – not real birdy – until I changed my hat – putting on one that my daughter had given me a couple of years ago.  Things picked up.  The first new species I added was an Evening Grosbeak on Biscuit Ridge Road.  It had been on my theoretical list but was not expected.  In perfect light, the picture shows a stunning bird.

Evening Grosbeak (New for the Month)

Evening Grosbeak

We then moved on towards Smith Springs Road where Long Eared Owls were “guaranteed”.  We had them there last year on the Denny’s popular “Owls By Day Trip”.   I am going to cheat a bit here and not be real exact on some of the locations that were all “in the vicinity” – but we had lots of great birds and especially great views.  Some of the observations will be out of order time wise as well.  Here are the new birds for the month and “special birds” – with their photos.

It took some time to find them buried as they were in the thicket along Smith Springs Road but we were able to find 4 Long Eared Owls.  There were probably more but other birders were around and we did not want to hog the resource.  As deeply as they were buried I was thrilled to get any photos at all.

Long Eared Owl (New for the Month)

Long Eared Owl3

Long Eared Owl

Nearby we also found some American Tree Sparrows – definitely a target for the trip.  Also buried in thick branches and hard to photograph from the car but glad to add to the list.  We had at least 4.

American Tree Sparrow (New for the Month)

American Tree Sparrow1

The previous day I had found a small flock of Common Redpolls on Nine Mile Road.  MerryLynn had not seen any in the County yet so we were all happy when three showed up with a huge flock of probably 300 American Goldfinches.

Common Redpolls




This area is really good for falcons.  We saw many American Kestrels during the day but special treats were a Merlin and a Prairie Falcon that were very photogenic.



Prairie Falcon

Prairie Falcon

Prairie Falcon 3

Throughout the day we had many hawks – mostly Red Tails but also a Cooper’s Hawk and both light and dark phase Rough Legged Hawks – real beauties.

Rough Legged Hawk – Light Phase

Light Phase Northern Rough Legged Hawk

Rough Legged Hawk – Dark Phase




Another new bird for the month was a Ring Necked Pheasant.

Ring Necked Pheasant (New for the Month)

Ring Necked Pheasant

We visited Lower Monumental Dam primarily to look for “specialty gulls”.  Mike had brought many loaves of bread to “chum” for the gulls to come in closer.  It worked but I think part of the reason was just because Mike so enjoyed seeing how far he could scale the bread.  The gulls were mostly California Gulls but there were also many Herring Gulls and one adult Glaucous Winged Gull.  Here the latter are “pure” rather than the mostly hybrid Glaucous Winged/Western “Olympic Gulls” on the West side.  I liked the photos of the Glaucous Winged and Herring Gulls in flight and include them here.

Glaucous Winged Gull

Glaucous Winged Gull

Herring Gull

Herring Gull

We thought one gull might have been a Glaucous Gull.  But expert review nixed our ID.  It would have been nice. In addition to the Long Eared Owls, earlier we had also found a Great Horned Owl, my third owl species for the day.  We were about to add a fourth as, per usual, the tiny Northern Saw Whet Owls at Fish Hook park were cooperatively roosting in their regular spots.  Very hard to get a photo through the thick branches.

Northern Saw Whet Owl (New for the Month)

Northern Saw Whet Owl

Two other good birds at the Park were some Purple Finches (MerryLynn’s first for the year) and a White Breasted Nuthatch.  I had seen the latter at two other spots earlier in the month but this was my first photo.

White Breasted Nuthatch

White Breasted Nuthatch1

It had been a full day bit there was to be one more stop – another try for Great Gray Owl on Lewis Peak Road.  We had just missed one at this spot on the Owls By Day Trip last year and one had been seen “at the meadow” a couple of times in the preceding week.  Within a few minutes of arriving and me playing the owl’s call, we had a response.  My heart beat quickened but sadly what we heard was a pair of Great Horned Owls.  They were in the distance and probably made it less likely that a Great Gray would appear.  And it did not.  This was also a good area for Northern Pygmy Owls but they too were uncooperative.  So not the great climactic finish that was hoped for but still a wonderful day.  I had added another 6 new species for the month and my total was now at 168 – and there was still – tomorrow.

“Tomorrow” started early again as I revisited Lewis Peak Road hoping that the Great Gray might like the morning better.  Alas no luck, but exactly where the Denny’s had seen one earlier in the month, a Northern Pygmy Owl gave a brief appearance in the early morning light.  My hoped for 170 was close and there was more ahead that day.

Northern Pygmy Owl (New for the Month) – Picture from November


Before heading out to Walla Walla, MerryLynn told me that a Snowy Owl had been seen just off Dodd Road.  I had looked for it on my way over but did not have an exact location and knew it was iffy anyhow.  Now, however, I had specifics and I would try again. First I made a quick trip to the Barn Owl spot on Dodd Road and was able to see one owl buried deep in a burrow – Owl #2 or the day and #6 for the trip.  I was told that it liked to sit on some bee boxes visible from the road and reachable by a track into the field.  When I got to the right spot, I saw the bee boxes in the distance and there seemed to be something white on one of them – part of the box – or the Snowy Owl.  Yay!!  It was indeed a Snowy Owl – lucky #7.  How cool if the Great Gray had cooperated to make an 8 Owl trip -and there was a possibility for #9 as a Burrowing Owl had been reported at the man made burrow spot off Highway 395.  I tried for that and was unsuccessful so had to be happy – and I was very happy – with 7 owls!!

Snowy Owl – (New for the Month)

Snowy Owl

I returned to the gull spot near Bateman Island.  This is where I had missed the Lesser Black Backed Gull two days earlier.  Chris Lindsey had seen a Slaty Backed Gull there just the day before and this time I was armed with some of Mike’s chumming bread.  When I got there many gulls were on the ice where the Slaty Back had been seen.  It was not there but other gulls were in the area and I thought chumming and waiting and hoping was a good strategy.  It sort of was.  I threw the bread out and got some action – but nothing with a slaty back.  I waited and tried again – but unfortunately this was a holiday and there were visitors to the area including a family with two kids.  Also two twenty-somethings.  They all started skimming rocks on the ice and just as a number of larger gulls including the Slaty Backed came in, they changed tactics and started skimming the rocks towards the gulls.  No gulls were hit but a large number flew off including my target.  Many just circled and returned but the Slaty Backed Gull flew off towards the Island.  It remained but was now viewable only by scope.  There ought to be a law (actually there probably is).  So no photo and not the best experience but it was a new bird and the chumming was a new experience for me.

I made that unsuccessful try for the Burrowing Owl and it was time to head home.  Snow was predicted on the Pass and I wanted to beat it.  I didn’t beat it, but I did avoid problems that may been there just a little later as there was heavy snow fall when I went through but it was not yet cold enough to really stick.  The story was probably very different a couple hours later.

The trip had surpassed expectations even without the Great Gray Owl.  I was now at 171 species for the Month.  My Big Month would easily hit 175 and the two rarities of Snowy Owl and Slaty Backed Gull – both unexpected and very special – suggested that I should go for 200.  More stories on that quest will follow.

A Day Off – So Posting a Catch Up

It is January 11th.  It is raining.  I am not out birding.  I am resting … and attending to mundane necessary matters like laundry, bill paying, deciding whether to change insurance companies and cellular plans, and starting on taxes.  I would rather be birding…

And tomorrow I will be again – back at the quest for a “Big Month”, something I have never done before.  Unless the Pass is completely closed by snow, I will head east to Walla Walla with stops a long the way.  If all goes well I will be within striking distance of my Big Month goal of 175 and then think about really pressing on towards 200.  All that is for a later Blog Post.  Today is a quick summary of the past 10 days – good birds and birding in Washington.

January 1st

I started the day with the resident Barred Owl in nearby Yost Park – doing its “Who cooks for you” thing at 6:30 a.m.  Then it was up to Barry’s place on Bow Hill Road hoping that the Blue Jay would be there still.  I saw it almost as soon as I drove up in dim light just before 8:00 a.m.  I picked up some of the regulars along the route and found the Merlin in Edison before 9:00 – #30 for the day.  Shortly thereafter I found the Prairie Falcon that has hung around near Bayview Edison Road – a good bird – #40 for the day.  And a few minutes later I had a Kestrel – my third Falcon in less than 20 minutes.  I assumed I would quickly find a Peregrine for a fourth, but I missed it.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

I went to the Samish Island overlook to scope for water birds hoping for some nice alcids.  The water was choppy and I found no alcids.  The best bird was a Long Tailed Duck.  I did not have an exact itinerary for the day but knew I wanted to look for the Black Phoebe that has been a regular at Wylie Slough, so I headed South and readily found the flycatcher – catching flies.  The handful of other birds I added there brought the day’s work to 60 species.

Black Phoebe

Black Phoebe

There were two more specific targets for the day – the continuing Rose Breasted Grosbeak near Green Lake and the Common Redpolls that were at Green Lake itself.  I met Jason Vassallo at the Grosbeak stakeout site.  It was a little delayed but then the Grosbeak made a very cooperative appearance feeding on the ground below the feeder.  Jason told me he had had a large group of Redpolls at the Montlake Fill, so I opted for that instead – thinking it might produce more species as well.  I only found 4 Common Redpolls there but seeing a Canvasback and some Wood Ducks were a treat and I left the Fill at 71 species for the day.

Rose Breasted Grosbeak

Rose Breasted Grosbeak

Now it was back to Edmonds.  Disappointingly few birds at the waterfront and I ended the day back at Yost Park where two Varied Thrushes ended the day with my species list at 79 for the day – the month – and the year.

January 2nd

Hoping for some better birds on the Edmonds Waterfront, I started the day there but found even fewer birds at a high tide.  Sunset Avenue was kinder, however, as I found a group of Brant and a pair of Black Scoters – both species often found scanning from this location.   I also found the usual Harlequin Ducks at Edmonds Marina Beach Park.  Next it was to Pine Ridge Park hoping for some more forest birds.  Just as I was leaving after adding a few species, I found a Pileated Woodpecker tapping away – species #89 for the year.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

At this point I had not yet decided to do a “Big Month”.  I had birded hard the day before and was still tired from a shorter than originally planned trip to the Okanogan on December 30th and 31st.  I was tired.  I knew I would be heading off the next day with Carol Riddell and Brian Pendleton for birding in Tacoma and Ocean Shores – so I called it a day  and went home.

January 3rd

A Ross’s Goose had been seen at Ocean Shores in late December.  If I had not seen one at the Salton Sea on my California trip, I might have chased it then.  But this was a new year so this rare small white goose was very appealing.  Brian, Carol and I first tried for some uncommon birds in Tacoma.  We found the Harris’s Sparrow but could not find either the Cinnamon Teal or the Glaucous Gull.  We were hindered by poor light and the press of time and moved on to Joint Base Lewis McChord where a Gyrfalcon had been seen the last week in December.  I had seen it on Christmas Day and should have returned to look for it on New Year’s Day.  We arrived just in time to learn that we had missed it by 10 minutes.   AARGGH!

Harris’s Sparrow

Harris's Sparrow1

On to Ocean Shores.  It took a little sleuthing to figure out where on the Golf Course we would find the Ross’s Goose, but when we rounded the corner and a brilliant spot of white was seen against the green grass of the course, we knew we were good.  It was grazing with a small flock of Greater White Fronted Geese – bingo two new year birds!

Ross’s Goose

Ross's Goose

Greater White Fronted Goose

Greater White Fronted Goose

The other rarity that had been a draw to Ocean Shores was the White Winged Crossbill.  A flock had been hanging out in the vicinity of the Discovery Center.  We drove the area looking at the tree tops and listening.  More importantly we kept our eyes open for other birders and when we found some, they had located the Crossbills.  Not the giant flock that would be seen later in the week, but decent treetop looks in good light – good enough to see the white wing bars.

White Winged Crossbills

White Winged Crossbill

We next visited the Point Brown Jetty.  The tide was high and the waves were ferocious.  A spectacular sight.  I am no longer able to walk out on the jetty to get to the Rockpipers that are often far out.  Under these conditions it would have been suicidal, but more importantly it was unnecessary.  The high water and waves had concentrated the birds relatively close in and we had great views of 4 or 5 Rock Sandpipers and a dozen or more each of Black Turnstones and Surfbirds.

Rock Sandpiper

Rock Sandpiper1



Black Turnstone

Black Turnstone

We visited the Sewage Treatment Plant where we added some ducks and looked for shorebirds at the Game Range – but the water was so high, there was no place for them to be.  As a last resort we drove the beach just south of the Casino and found thousands of shorebirds – mostly Sanderlings and Dunlin bit there were also some Black Bellied Plovers and a handful of Western Sandpipers.  All were new year birds.





Western Sandpiper

Western Sandpiper

Our last bird of the day was a Barn Owl that flew over at dusk just as we approached the rest area on the way home.  It had been an excellent day – adding some rarities, some good coastal birds and ending the day with 106 species for the month.

January 4th

Today started with an unsuccessful wait for a White Throated Sparrow that had been frequenting a feeder in North Seattle.  It left 15 minutes before I got there and returned 30 minutes after I left – having waited over an hour.  I got a California Scrub Jay at Sakuma Viewpoint and then headed back up to Skagit County where I bumped into Jon Houghton at Wylie Slough.  We looked for and failed to find the Great Horned Owl that had been seen roosting in one of thickets but then joined forces and were off to the North Fork Access to the Game Range hoping for Swamp Sparrow.  We may have heard the Swamp Sparrow but definitely not well enough to count it.  Jon’s eagle eye did pick out an American Bittern, however and it was very photogenic.

American Bittern

American Bittern

Jon headed home and I picked up a few more birds including a Peregrine and a Northern Shrike and ended the day with 115 species for the month.

January 5th

This started back at the Edmonds waterfront which was a bit more productive and I was able to pick up two alcids and two loons and a Western Grebe.  I returned for more feeder watching and after about 20 minutes the White Throated Sparrow made an appearance with a small group of Juncos and Golden Crowns.  Later in the neighborhood I found some Band Tailed Pigeons – a species I have seen in the area often.  I then got my oil changed (way too many miles chasing birds).  There was not time for a long search but I had time to visit the Weyerhauser Ponds for the sure thing Redheads (and some other ducks).  A stop at the Boeing Ponds returning home was disappointing as the resident Green Heron was not found.  My only new bird there was an American Goldfinch.  The total for the month was now up to 124



January 6th

I had started the year with a Barred Owl but I had not yet actually seen any.  I was hoping to rectify that today and headed to Camano Island hoping for a Great Horned Owl and then to Eide Road hoping for a Short Eared Owl.  Great Horned Owls had been reported at two places on Camano – one on Hanstad Road – a go to spot for Wild Turkeys.  No owls and no turkeys.  But a Great Horned Owl did hoot back on Arrowhead Road – still no visual, however.  It was still near dusk but with enough light to see so I retraced steps and went to Eide Road.  A single Short Eared Owl has been reported there, but despite intense scoping, not one for me.  A Cooper’s Hawk was a new bird for the year.  I then went back to Camano Island to Maple Grove Beach – a new place for me.  It has been a good place for seabirds and I was able to find 10 water birds there including my first Common Murres and Marbled Murrelets of the year.

It was still relatively early so I headed again up to Skagit County – determined to find a Short Eared Owl at the West 90 and hoping for some other  good birds at other spots.  I tried again for the Great Horned Owl at Wylie Slough and was again unsuccessful.  At the North Fork Access, the water level was higher than when I had visited with Jon Houghton.  Maybe that is why I could not find the American Bittern but might also explain why I did find the Swamp Sparrow – although unlike the time I was here last month with Bruce LaBar and Ed Pullen, it would not come in for any view at all.

On to Rosario Head and Rosario Beach.  A Yellow Billed Loon had been here around this date last year – not this time.  Also no Ancient Murrelets.  The only new bird was a Black Oystercatcher – on the rocks on one of the offshore islands seen only with the scope.  Now for that Short Eared Owl.  Near Sullivan Road I ran into a group from Whidbey Island Audubon.  They had seen a Short Eared Owl hunting at the West 90 perhaps 30 minutes ago.  When I got there Grace and Ollie Oliver were leaving and they had seen one about 10 minutes earlier.  So one was there – but where.  A yell from Ollie was for a flock of Plovers across from the West 90 – a common place for them.  All were Black Bellied.

For the next 20 minutes I scoped every inch of the West 90.  Some other birders arrived and looked as well.  Finally I found a single Short Eared Owl on the ground maybe 400 yards away completely invisible with its back to us but briefly visible when it turned its head.  The highlight of the day was being able to get a family onto the bird – a thrill for the young boy who thought owls were “cool” – who would not agree!!  A small flock of Brown Headed Cowbirds had flown in while we were looking for owls – a new bird for the month.

It had been raining for much of the day and I had decided to leave my camera in the car – after having one fizzle out in light rain on my trip to Arizona last year – an expensive lesson.  It was drier at the West 90 and the Owl was too far away for any photo anyhow but then heading home the Northern Shrike was perched on exactly the same spot as when I had seen it earlier in the week – my only photo of the day – from in the car.  The month total was now at 134.

Northern Shrike (from the car)

Northern Shrike

January 7th

Any Big Year, Month or Day requires a lot of traveling.  I had already been to the Coast.  Now it was time to head south and find some special birds in Clark County.  Snowy Egrets are few and far between in Washington.  At least one has been seen at times the last few years in the Vancouver Lowlands along Lower River Road.  If this was the only potential new bird for the year, I would not have made the trip, but there were some other possible goodies and it proved a good trip.  I easily found the Snowy Egret along with three Great Egrets in the River Road Ponds.  I was surprised to also find both Tree and Barn Swallows there.  Flyover flocks of Sandhill Cranes meant that I added 5 new year and month birds in less than 10 minutes (well after 3 hours of driving of course).

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

Sandhill Crane

SAndhill Crane1

I then followed up on a report of some Lesser Goldfinch at Meadowbrook Marsh Park – less than 15 miles away.  I had barely started hiking the park when a small accipiter took off after two small birds.  It was a male Sharp Shinned Hawk chasing two Lesser Goldfinches.  So quickly two more new birds for the month.

Next it was on to Ridgefield National wildlife Refuge.  It is always a good place – lots of waterfowl and raptors.  Passerines too but observation is limited as you have to remain in your car for most of the circuit through the refuge.  My targets here were Red Shouldered Hawk, Wilson’s Snipe and just maybe a White Headed Nuthatch – most likely to be heard.  I was greatly aided by a very knowledgeable volunteer at the entry and set off on the car loop at the River S unit.  Just where they always are, I found numerous Wilson’s Snipe in a muddy pond.

Wilson’s Snipe

Wilson's Snipe2

On my first loop around the path I listened for Nuthatches and heard none and I searched every tree looking for a Red Shouldered Hawk – again none.  I decided to make another pass – a good decision as I heard a White Breasted Nuthatch at the Kiwi Trail pullout and then a Red Shouldered Hawk buried in dense branches just as the auto route began to turn back to the east.

Red Shouldered Hawk

Red Shouldered Hawk

On the way home, I made yet another try for the JBLM Gyrfalcon – again no luck.  I think it may have moved on – or been hit by one of the planes.  Traffic was bad – but less bad than usual coming home – still a long day.  But a good one that ended with the month count at 145.

January 8th

It’s getting harder to find new birds.  One that I had “saved” was the Townsend’s Warbler that comes to Steve Pink’s feeder.  I think it may have flown off the feeder just as I arrived but fortunately it returned about 15 minutes later.  I then headed over to Log Boom Park.  I have had Green Herons there in the past and Carol Riddell reported one there on the 7th.  It is an easy bird to miss but this time luck held as it was again at Pier 3.

Green Heron

Green Heron

Then on to Everett Marine Park – a great place for gulls.  I quickly found what I thought was a Herring Gull but then wondered if it was a hybrid instead.  I found another gull that was definitely a Herring Gull – pale iris and all.  I had a couple of candidates for Iceland (Thayer’s) Gull but just wasn’t sure so I will look again.

Herring Gull

Herring Gull

The last new bird of the day was an Orange Crowned Warbler – at the Union Oil property adjacent to the Pine Street Fish Hatchery.  We had one there for the Edmonds Christmas Count.  It was less responsive this time but in the same general area.  Not a staggering list for the day but the total for the month stood at 149.

January 9th

Time to hit the road again.  Steve Pink, Brian Pendleton and I headed over the Pass to Kittitas County.  We would meet up with birder friend Deb Essman but first we birded Suncadia and Bullfrog Pond just west of Cle Elum.  We had no luck at Bullfrog Pond but at Suncadia we found all three Washington Nuthatches (Pygmy, Red Breasted and White Breasted) and a couple of Mountain Chickadees.  On the way to Deb’s we fund the first of many Black Billed Magpies – still the first of year for all of us.  A big disappointment though was failing to find a White Headed Woodpecker which we know is in the area.

At Deb’s place we quickly had more Mountain Chickadees and then off we went searching for “chickens” – looking for Gray Partridge, Wild Turkeys, California Quail and Chukars.  We were hampered by lots of fog – and the birds were not cooperating.    Our best bird was a Prairie Falcon – one of two seen.

Prairie Falcon

Prairie Falcon1

Deb called on some special resources to get us the best birds of the day.  We went to a ranch where the owner feeds Wild Turkeys.  He gave Deb a bucket of corn and she took it to the feeding spot and within moments after spreading it we had a great scene of at least 50 Wild Turkeys coming in to gorge themselves – very cool experience.

Wild Turkeys

Wild Turkeys1

Then Deb took us to another friend’s place – a veritable bird haven with many feeders, native trees and an avid birder owner.  There were hundreds of birds including lots of California Quail and Goldfinches.  We also got a fleeting look at another White Breasted Nuthatch and some Mountain Chickadees.  We had a Cooper’s Hawk as we approached and apparently had just missed a Barred Owl.

Mountain Chickadee

Mountain Chickadee

Not long after we left to continue our hunt for Partridge, Deb got a call from the owner saying he had relocated the Barred Owl.  We returned and found it high in some trees.  I had actually seen one at the same property with Deb two years ago but it was a new County bird for Steve and Brian – very nice find.

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

We dropped Deb back home and then went out to Vantage and Hunzinger Road hoping for Rock and/or Canyon Wrens and Chukars.  No luck on any of them – pretty birdless.  The Turkeys and the Barred Owl were clearly the stories of the day.  The trip back was a little tense as there was lots of snow falling on Snoqualmie Pass.  My Jeep handled it well but we would not have liked being there an hour later.  After the trip, the month list was at 154.

January 10th

I had looked for a Red Breasted Sapsucker at a couple of spots earlier in the week and tried a couple more in the morning – no go.  Carol Riddell had reported some Cinnamon Teal at Tambark Pond in Bothell.  I had never heard of the place but wanted the Teal so I gave it a try.  There was a pull-off on an adjoining main road.  I parked and quickly saw two ducks that I was sure were Cinnamon Teal disappear around some reeds.  Another 7 birds took flight and disappeared.  I thought I saw blue wing patches but they flew directly away from me so no ID. There appeared to be a road that was next to the pond in a housing development and I found a way to get there and when I parked I found a group of ducks all huddled together resting that included the two birds I had seen earlier together with some more Cinnamon Teal, Green Winged Teal and a Northern Pintail.  I watched for 10 minutes and the birds remained – heads down.  Could confirm as the desired Cinnamon Teal though.

Cinnamon Teal (and others)

Cinnamon Teal

I considered trying some other spots but was running out of ideas.  I have been considering switching my cellular service from Verizon to Comcast and stopped by the Alderwood Comcast store.  Afterwards, as I was heading home I got a call from Steve Pink who said that David Poortinga had located some Bohemian Waxwings in Marysville.  Odd how the world works.  Since I had been in the store, I had not checked email messages.  I had come close to making the switch while there but decided to wait until after getting back from a trip to Walla Walla.  If I had made the switch I would not have had my phone when Steve called.  I headed for Marysville right away.

Steve, David and Ann Marie Wood were on the Bohemian Waxwings as I got to Harborview Park – another new spot for me.  Sure enough there were eleven Bohemian Waxwings feeding on berries and being their gorgeous selves.

Bohemian Waxwing

Bohemian Waxwing

And as a bonus I found some Purple Finches that David said he had seen earlier – another new bird for the month.

Purple Finch

Purple Finch

When I started writing this, I had intended to only cover a few days and then return for additional reports later.  But I often find I get swept up in the writing and I enjoy it.  Hours pass and then I realize it is late and I am hungry – like now.  But I am all caught up at least.  The month count is now at 157.  I am off to Walla Walla and environs for a few days starting tomorrow.  Hopes are high.  With luck I could even get to 170 species for the month.  Stay tuned.