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