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.
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.