A VERY Long and VERY Excellent Day

As I wrote earlier, May is the best – lots of new birds as migration is in full swing and birders are out finding and reporting great birds.  Prompted in part by the recently reported Black Backed Woodpecker seen in a burn near Cle Elum and my ongoing desire for a photo of a Flammulated Owl, I planned a long trip into Eastern Washington to try for both and to see other birds that had come into the state.  Frank Caruso had seen the Black Backed Woodpecker with the Pilchuck Audubon Group on Tuesday.  It had been a nemesis bird for him and when found a new ABA Life bird!  Building on that success, he joined me hoping for any Flammulated Owls – a second life bird for the week.  We had a great trip!!

We started with a stop at the hummingbird feeders at Hyak on Snoqualmie Pass.  Lot of Rufous Hummingbirds and a good assortment of Warblers – Nashville, MacGillivray’s, Yellow and Townsend’s.  Then it was off to look for the Black Backed Woodpecker with a relatively quick stop at Bullfrog Pond which has become part of every trip to the area.  It was fairly quiet and there were no Sapsuckers.  Frank got his FOY Cedar Waxwing and then I had a scare as my camera seemed to be malfunctioning.  It turned out to be operator error (surprise) and Photoshop and I were even able to rescue a pretty nice photo of a Hammond’s Flycatcher.

Hammond’s Flycatcher

Hammond's Flycatcher1

Then it was on to try for the Black Backed Woodpecker.  This species is generally found in burned areas where the damaged trees are susceptible to attacks by insects which provide the food for these Woodpeckers.  We parked at the gate at NF 230 just off the Middle Fork Teanaway Road and hiked in.  After maybe a quarter of a mile we reached the spot where Frank had seen the woodpeckers earlier.  Nothing… Then after going a little further up the road, we heard some tapping and located the area easily.  But we just could not find the bird.  I thought I heard a second bird tapping and then got a brief view on a snag.  I climbed up off the road into the burned trees.  The tapping was louder and I knew I must be close but could not find the Woodpecker – until of course I looked at the right snag – the one right in front of me.  And there it was – a great photo op.  Meanwhile Frank located the first woodpecker – a twofer!!

Black Backed Woodpecker

Black Backed WPr

Very pleased, we headed off to Ellensburg to look for a Long Billed Curlew with a stop at the Bank Swallow colony at the intersection of Highway 10 and Reecer Road.  We had seen Bank Swallows there several weeks earlier with Deb Essman but had not found the nest cavities.  Maybe we had not looked hard enough then, but it was easy this day as there were 75+ Bank Swallows flying everywhere and easy to follow to the nests.

Bank Swallow Nests in Bank and Bank Swallow Leaving Cavity

Bank Swallow Nests


Bank Swallow Leaving Nest

We probably spent an hour driving road after road looking for a Long Billed Curlew – no success – one of the very few disappointments this day.  Our next specific target was to find a Lark Sparrow.  Deb had some off Recreation Road earlier in the week so we headed out Vantage Highway.  Unlike most other trips to the area, we made no stops along the way looking for Sage Shrub Steppe species.  Not too far from the Recreation Road turnoff, we had a one-two-three sequence of birding surprises and treats.  First we spotted a single Chukar right on the road.  It climbed onto some rocks and posed for a wonderful photo.



A moment later I caught a quick look at a bird and thought it might be a Loggerhead Shrike.  Not that unusual here, but it was the one species we had missed when we visited this same area with Frank’s East Coast birding friend the previous week.  A Loggerhead it was.  Then moments later I noted what appeared to be an Osprey sitting on a rock.  Ospreys are not uncommon in the area – but we had never seen one here – more than a mile from the Columbia – or any water – no food sources and no nesting area.  A surprise.  We turned onto Recreation Road and got ready to hike up into the Canyon – where Deb (always enthusiastic) had said Lark Sparrows “were everywhere”.

As soon as we got out of the car, we heard a Lark Sparrow singing.  It turned out to be in the open on the tree right at the road.  We did not have to walk even 25 feet.  A new year bird for both of us.

Lark Sparrow

Lark Sparrow

We carried on into the Canyon – a really beautiful spot.  Frank hoped to break his year long jinx and find a Canyon Wren.  I thought we might find more sparrows and hoped for a Yellow Breasted Chat in the riparian area less than 1/2 mile in.  Suddenly a bird rocketed off the path just in front of us and made a beeline for the other side of the draw.  It happened so fast, there was no time to grab the camera and our minds raced to figure out what we had seen.  The fieldmarks were clear, but it was such a surprise that it took a few moments to comprehend that we had just flushed a Common Poorwill.  It was one of the birds we hoped to see later in Liberty and the habitat was certainly good for it here, but you just do not see them in the day time and I had never seen one here.  The light was perfect and it was gorgeous – golden highlights on the top of its wings and white highlight on the outer feathers of the short tail.  No photo for us but I am including one from the Internet by James Morris that gives the wing detail as we saw it in flight – a first of the year and the first at day time for both of us.

Common Poorwill

Common Poorwill

No Canyon Wren and no Chat but after the Poorwill, we hardly cared.  We had not planned anything to fill the rest of the time before it would be “owl” time at Liberty.  Now what?  We saw that Ryan Merrill had reported a White Faced Ibis at the County Line Ponds.  That had been a good spot for us the previous week so off we went.  As soon as we arrived it was clear that we had made a good choice.  I quickly found the Ibis in grass past the northernmost pond and Frank found some Wilson’s Phalaropes in the nearer pond on the north side of the road.  There were more on the South side – at least a dozen altogether.  We had other good birds as well.

White Faced Ibis

White FAced Ibis

Wilson’s Phalaropes

Wilson's Phalaropes

Wilson's Phalarope Female

A Great Egret had flown off just as we arrived and other species seen included many American Avocets and Black Necked Stilts and six duck species:  Mallard, American Wigeon, Redhead, Blue Winged and Cinnamon Teal and Northern Pintail.  The Ibis was our first for the year.  This species seems to be expanding in Washington and there have been reports from a number of locations in the State already in 2018.

We continued on to Potholes hoping to find some Terns.  Instead we found lots of people and lots of boats.  Maybe that is why Terns were nowhere to be seen.  There were many Ring Billed Gulls and Western Grebes and not much else.  We had the same experience at Lind Coulee and decided it was time to head to Liberty – getting some gas and food in Ellensburg (not cause and effect) on the way back.

I have come to rely on the area above Liberty as a go to spot for Flammulated Owls.  Frank had never even heard one – anywhere.  I did not go so far as to promise him one there, but I was confident he would have a new life bird.  I was not as confident that I would finally get a photo of one – but I thought this could be the night.

We birded our way up through Liberty and about 4 or 5 miles up to an intersection of a couple of dirt roads where we would wait until dark to start looking for owls.  This had been the successful strategy twice in July last year – first on my own and then with Deb Essman and one of her birding friends.  On both of those occasions there were multiple Common Poorwills, Common Nighthawks and Flammulated Owls.  This would be almost 2 months earlier but Bruce Lagerquist had already found and recorded (excellently!!) both Poorwill and Flammulated Owl so we were eager.

Our pre-dark birding was quite good although there were some moments of concern as light rain visited us for about 15 minutes.  Fortunately there was no wind and the rain did not return until after we had finished our birding in the dark.  As I said it was a VERY excellent day – both birding and weather wise.  As we waited we heard at least two Williamson’s Sapsuckers and many Cassin’s Finches and Cassin’s Vireos.  We had a couple of very active Dusky Flycatchers and Wood Pewees, several Mountain Chickadees, Pine Siskins, Western Bluebirds and 4 species of Warbler.  There were many Hermit Thrushes and once they got going towards dusk, they continued to sing and call until almost fully dark.  The Cassin’s Finches sang until almost the same time.

Cassin’s Finch

Cassin's Finch

Dusky Flycatcher

Dusky Flycatcher

It was still too early in the year for Nighthawks and at most we heard a single distant Poorwill but…there were LOTS of Owls!!!  My go to spot for Flammulated Owl was about 1.5 miles down from where we had waited.  My owling approach is to go in segments of a quarter to a half mile – stop and listen.  Not much more than a quarter of the mile down from our waiting spot, we heard our first Flammulated Owl – then a second one.  We tried to coax one in with playback.  One never moved and the other moved several times – on both sides of the road and seemed quite close.  We spotlighted every tree and never saw an owl.  For a couple of moments we had three owls here – all calling at the same time from different spots.  Never saw one.

For the next hour plus we continued down the mountain and were almost never out of ear range of a calling Flammulated Owl during the entire 1.5 miles.  While it is possible that one or more owls may have followed us down the hill and it is certain that we could continue to hear some of the previously heard owls at our next stop, there is no question that there were many owls – since often then ones we heard were below us.  At one stop we were positive that we had 4 different Flammulated Owls.  It sounds almost crazy but we are sure we had no fewer than 8 different individuals and believe there were more than 10 and maybe even as many as 15 – and this was just in a relatively small part of the possible territory there.  We heard a variety of Flammulated calls – both the single and double hoots and a couple of alarm calls.  We scanned dozens of trees and never saw an owl – a result I am all too familiar with from many similar heard only intersections – although never at this scale.  Quite a way for Frank to get another ABA Lifer.

Oh yeah — we had other owls, too.  At one of our first stops we heard a distant hoot and then squeal.  We thought it might be a Long Eared Owl, checked and confirmed it against our recordings and then heard it a single time again.  At our next stop – again off in the distance we heard very distinct hoots and whistles from a pair of owls including a hooting pattern that we immediately thought of as that of a Spotted Owl.  Again we checked our recordings and found an almost exact match.  We tried our own playback twice and had immediate responses.  All together we had heard maybe a half dozen vocalizations.  We did not intend to draw the owl in or to disturb it – just hoped for a confirming response so once received, we stopped.  I have had Spotted Owls at a “secret spot” in the Liberty Area before.  I know they are found and are breeding here.  It was not the intent this night to try for one – but if one calls for us – you bet we are going to take notice,  Another Life Bird for Frank!!

We were now on a different slope of the mountain and continued to get Flammulated Owl calls.  Then unsolicited we got a call that bothered us.  It was a Barred Owl – the classic “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all?”  It was much closer than the Long Eared or Spotted Owls we had heard – completely different sound and in a different area.  I had been told that there had been a massive effort by Fish and Wildlife to rid the area of Barred Owls – so this was not good news.  Frank and I live within 1/2 mile of Barred Owl nesting area in Edmonds and hear them often from our homes.  Those are cool – this one wasn’t.  We decided to stop our owling and be happy (make that ecstatic) with our night – and our day!!

This photo of a Flammulated Owl is from Birdpix and shows the Owl in its nest cavity.  This may be the only way to finally get a photo – find a nest.  Any ideas?

Flammulated Owl in Nest

Flammulated Owl at Nest


Finally – A Skylark Photo

English settlers in North America missed the beautiful song of the Eurasian Skylark from their native country and tried to introduce the species to North America.  The only success was on Vancouver Island in British Columbia in the early 1900’s with another small population on San Juan Island in Washington State.  At its peak, the population was estimated at perhaps 1000 individuals in all of North America.

I saw my first Skylarks as a new birder in 1973 on a trip to Victoria, B.C.  I later saw some at American Camp on San Juan Island a few years later.  I was not taking pictures in those days.  The San Juan population died out in 2000.  Beginning in 2015 I made several attempts to find and photograph this rapidly declining species in its remaining few locations in the Victoria area.  These attempts were adjuncts to chases for other rarities – Pink Footed Goose, Purple Sandpiper and Redwing and were not at prime times for the Skylarks – in breeding season when they are singing and displaying.  The other rarities were found – but not the Skylarks.

Pink Footed Geese – March 2017 – A Great Find but No Skylarks Later

Pink Footed Geese

Good friend Melissa Hafting knew of my attempts for a photo of this species and we had tried for it and failed on our successful venture for the Pink Footed Geese.  I think it was as important to her that I get my photo as it was for me.  Accordingly, she encouraged me to try again – in May when there were reports of singing and displaying Skylarks – mostly at the Vantrieght Farms Bulb fields.  On Tuesday, May 15 I left Edmonds early to meet Melissa to catch the 9:00 a.m. ferry from Tsawwassen.  A nice surprise was that we were joined by Brian Stech.  Brian had been on the Field Guides trip to Northern Peru with me in 2013.  Great guy and great birder.

We had perfect weather and when we arrived after the beautiful crossing, Melissa got word from local birder friends that they were at the bulb fields and had Skylarks singing.  We couldn’t get there fast enough.  They were still there when we arrived – the same place I had last tried for them in 2017 – and we heard the potentially great and potentially awful phrase that I have heard before on chases:  “They were here five minutes ago…”  Fortunately they did not add – “and then they flew off”.

It only took a couple of minutes until I heard one calling  in the field somewhere shortly followed by it flying up above us in a display flight with the full bodied beautiful song that is the bird’s most appealing aspect.  I snapped photos quickly not knowing if this would be the only opportunity – I finally had a photo of a Eurasian Skylark!!!

Eurasian Skylark – First ABA Photo

Skylark Flight1

The Skylark flew higher and higher and never stopped singing.  We lost sight of it but could still hear its song which continued nonstop for at least 15 minutes.  Then we heard another Skylark and another flew up and landed on the road separating the fields – one grass and one dirt.  Then there was another.  My shutter was going non-stop as I took more than 100 photos – some in flight, some in the grass and some on the dirt.  Many were terrible – out of focus or with the bird appearing headless.  Some came out OK – and far better than I had expected.  A sampling:

Eurasian Skylarks in the Grass and Dirt Fields and in Flight

Skylark in Dirrt1 Skylark Wings

3 Grass Skylark in Dirt

Skylark Flight2  Skylark Flight 5

Melissa says that there may only be 32 individual Skylarks that remain in B.C.  Doubtful they will survive much longer – all the more reason to be thrilled with this observation and the photos.  Elated and satisfied we moved on and chased a Lazuli Bunting that was a rarity for the area.  Beautiful bird, but at least for me – a mere postscript to the day’s early success.  This is not a full on post – just important to me to finally get this photo and to share it.  The day also ended on a high note as we raced to get the 3:00 return ferry.  A signboard said that there might be a wait, so we were tense as we got in line.  These are huge (and too expensive) ferries with a large auto holding capacity.  As it turned out we were the next to next to last car to get on.  It was just that kind of day!!!

May Is the Best

In my last post I wrote about the early stages of spring Migration into Washington.  While there is much activity in April, it really gets going in May.  It is now May 13th.  And it is going strong.  With birding friends, I have been a big time participant.  After a conversation with one of my friends about the “best” month to bird in Washington, I analyzed my sightings over the past 5 years and found that on average I saw 203 species in May.  The next closest month was June where the average was 163.  May is the best!

So far this May I have seen 164 species in Washington.  Since I have some trips out of state planned, I don’t think I will get to the average and certainly will not approach my all time high of 225 in 2013, but I hope at least to at or above my low of 178 in 2014.  Of course while numbers are fun, it really is the experiences out in the field that matter most and already May 2018 has been terrific in that regard.

My last blog covered trips through May 5th.  The following day Ann Marie Wood and I looked for and failed to find a Long Billed Curlew that had been seen in the Snoqualmie Valley but we did find a Western Kingbird the first one reported for the area which is a good spot for this species starting in May.  We had better success finding the American Avocet in Redmond that I had seen the previous day, but was a new county bird for her.  Next was Camano Island where we had a large flock of Whimbrels on Rekdal Road (more on that later). Maybe the most fun was seeing a very effective American Robin with its catch of worms – probably food for young in a nearby nest.

American Robin with Earthworms


At English Boom in addition to seeing more Whimbrels, we also had numerous noisy pairs of Purple Martins.  This is a reliable place to find this large swallow and to get photos.

Purple Martins

Purple Martins

The next day in Yost Memorial Park – less than 1/2 mile from my home, I got a nice photo of a Black Headed Grosbeak.  I had heard one at Marymoor a few days earlier but had not seen it.

Black Headed Grosbeak

Black Headed Grosbeak

On Tuesday the  8th, Brian Pendleton and I left early to do some scouting for a trip I was going to be leading to the Cle Elum area for the Yakima River Canyon Birdfest on the 12th.  It is always a treat to bird with Brian who has great eyes and ears and really knows his birds.  We started at the two spots that I knew would be on the field trip, Bullfrog Pond and the Burlington Northern Railroad Ponds.  Birding was excellent at both places.  Highlights were Red Naped Sapsucker (plus a probable hybrid Red Naped x Red Breasted), Cassin’s and Warbling Vireos, Yellow (FOY), Nashville, MacGillivray’s, Yellow Rumped and Wilson’s Warblers, Hammond’s Flycatcher, and Western Wood Pewee (FOY).

Red Naped (or possibly a hybrid) Sapsucker

Red Naped or Hybrid Sapsucker

Hammond’s Flycatcher (FOY)

Hammond's Flycatcher

Cassin’s Vireo (FOY)

Cassin's Vireo

MacGillivray’s Warbler (FOY)

MacGillivray's Warbler

Nashville Warbler

Nashville Warbller

At the RR Ponds we had an amazing sight as we watched an Osprey bring a very large stick – maybe 8 feet long to the nest platform.

Osprey with Large Stick

That was it for the scouting as the Birdfest trip was for a half day only.  Brian and I then headed east to Ellensburg and then south down Canyon Road with a first stop at the Umtanum Creek area.  We found 6 Warbler species, a constantly vocalizing Warbling Vireo, a Prairie Falcon, 2 Canyon Wrens, another Western Wood Pewee and our FOY Bullock’s Oriole and Lazuli Bunting.  We were disappointed not to find Yellow Breasted Chats (stay tuned…).

Warbling Vireo

Warbling Vireo

Lazuli Bunting (FOY)

Lazuli Bunting1

All except the Prairie Falcon and Wrens had probably arrived within the past week or 10 days.  We made another stop a little further down the river and had similar species but added Western Kingbird and had at least 8 Bullock’s Orioles.

Western Kingbird

Western Kingbird

Bullock’s Oriole

Bullock's Oriole

It had already been a great day but it was still relatively early so we decided to head further south and try Oak Creek and Bethel Ridge.  No Ash Throated Flycatchers at Oak Creek but we had the usual looks at the always beautiful Lewis’s Woodpecker.  Bethel Ridge was a bit slow, but we had a cooperative Red Naped Sapsucker and a flyover Williamson’s Sapsucker a First of Year for me, but seen previously by Brian.  We also had our FOY Dusky Flycatchers. a Hermit Thrush and several Townsend Solitaires.  No luck near the top for Three Toed or Black Backed Woodpeckers.

Red Naped Sapsucker

Red Naped Sapsucker1

Dusky Flycatcher

Dusky Flycatcher

The weather began to change so we called it a day and made the long trek home.  It had been very productive as the new arrivals allowed each of us to add eight or nine species for the year.

A couple of days later, I had an errand in downtown Edmonds and decided to check out the waterfront.  Not real birdy but there were three species of alcids as well as the usual Surf Scoters and some Caspian Terns and Western Grebes.  The alcids included 8 Marbled Murrelets, two Rhinoceros Auklets and a dozen or more Pigeon Guillemots.  All were in full breeding plumage.  I cannot recall seeing Marbled Murrelets except in pairs, and the pattern held this day.

Marbled Murrelets

Marbled Murrelets

Saturday May 12th was the Birdfest trip.  Frank Caruso had agreed to help – lending his terrific ear and knowledge of bird songs to the trip.  He was being visited by one of his birding friends from the Cape in Massachusetts who wold join us and this would be a great chance for her to add some new ABA species as she had never birded in the Northwest.

We started early enabling us to make a stop at the hummingbird feeders at Hyak near Snoqualmie Pass.  In addition to many Rufous Hummingbirds we had a good look at a MacGillivray’s Warbler which was a good thing, since they were surprisingly absent the rest of the day. Our meet-up spot for the trip was Bullfrog Pond.  It was a small but very interesting, fun and skilled group: Brandon, Jim, Martha and Jerry.  The weather the whole day was absolutely gorgeous – not too hot and almost no wind.  Our first bird was a Mountain Chickadee actually on the ground at the parking area.  We quickly ran into a group from Seattle Audubon.  I think they got there a bit early before things warmed up and we had more singing birds than they had.

Not as many warblers as usual, but lots of Yellows, some Nashville, Yellow Rumped and Common Yellowthroats.  Beautiful views of first a Western Tanager and then a Black Headed Grosbeak that took turns singing from a tall snag.  We had a brief glimpse of a Bullock’s Oriole.  We heard Northern Flicker, Downy, Hairy and Pileated Woodpeckers but sadly there were no Sapsuckers.  In the conifers across the road we had a nice Western Bluebird, some Pygmy Nuthatches (my first there) and Jerry spotted first one and then a second Brown Creeper – again my first for the area.  We heard Cassin’s Finch singing but could only find a female to view.

Western Tanager (In the open but a long way off)

Western Tanager

Our next stop was the Northern Pacific Railroad Ponds where we ran into yet another bird group – a class given by Connie Sidles.  We added some duck species and saw mostly the same as we had seen at Bullfrog.  This time we had a much better view of a Yellow Warbler.  A couple of House Wrens sang the entire time we were there and there were few if any moments when we were not seeing Tree, Northern Rough Winged or Barn Swallows.  But again no MacGillivray Warblers.

Yellow Warbler (FOY)

Yellow Warbler3

House Wren Singing

House Wren1

A nice bonus when there is more than one group in the area is the sharing of information.  I had gotten a text from one of the Audubon trip co-leaders that I had not seen.  It said that there was a Clark’s Nutcracker at the feeders across from the Cle Elum Ranger Station.  Fortunately she had notified one of the people in Connie’s group as well who told me.  We had considered a visit there anyhow, but now it was a “must”.   Closely related to jays, Clark’s Nutcrackers are usually seen at higher elevations.  We found two quickly that were very cooperative and photo friendly.  It was a life bird for some in the group.

Clark’s Nutcracker

Clark's Nutcracker1

As a bonus there were a pair of Cassin’s Finches and an Evening Grosbeak coming to the feeder which was probably the attraction for the Nutcracker as well.  This was the end of the formal trip and we had a respectable 58 species for the morning, but we were invited to bring our lunches to the home of one of the participants in the Teanaway Valley and were pleased to accept,  A beautiful place where we were greeted immediately by a fly-catching Say’s Phoebe and shortly thereafter had a Calliope Hummingbird – our first for the year – bringing us to 60 for the morning.  There had been some notable misses, but the Nutcracker more than made up for it.  Kathy, Frank and I said goodbye to the group and carried on for a full afternoon of birding – mostly looking for new life species for Kathy but looking for some new ones for Frank and me for the year as well.

At Umtanum Creek we quickly heard several Yellow Breasted Chats, our first for the year, but try as we might, we could not get them to show themselves.  A bird that was far more cooperative visually but surprisingly silent was a FOY Olive Sided Flycatcher.  Both the Chats and the Olive Sided were new arrivals and were reported widely around the state this weekend.

Olive Sided Flycatcher

Olive Sided Flycatcher1

We continued on to the same area down river where Brian and I had many Orioles a few days earlier and they were again readily found although hard to see well or photograph high up in the very leafy cottonwoods.  Then it was decision time.  We could retrace our steps, return via Wenas Road or carry on to a new area.  We saw that some Red Necked Phalaropes had been reported on Lateral C in the Toppenish area and decided to continue south.  It turned out to be a great decision as at various watery areas there and on Pumphouse Road we had some really nice birds.

On Lateral C, we had a very brief look at the Phalaropes until they disappeared behind some reeds – FOY’s for all of us.  A big surprise was a White Pelican that circled and then landed – again invisible behind reeds.  We heard some Yellow Headed Blackbirds as soon we pulled up and finally got some to come close for good looks and a photo.

Yellow Headed Blackbird

Yellow Headed Blackbird

A big show here came from the many Wilson’s Snipe – winnowing, displaying and posing on distant posts.  There may have been many more, but we counted at least 16.  Just before departing we heard a distant Sora calling and it responded readily to playback.  We never saw it but it is always a good find.  Not surprisingly we also found a Virginia Rail – closer than the Sora but never seen.

Wilson’s Snipe

Wilson's Snipe

Other birds seen in the area were many Cinnamon and Green Winged Teal and two Ring Necked Pheasants.  We were not able to find some Wilson’s Phalaropes that had been reported earlier.  Now it was time to head home and we retraced our route up to Interstate 82 instead of returning to Canyon Road.  Along the way, we did an informal species count and it seemed like we were close to 100 for the day.  Since there was still some good light and it would give Kathy a chance to add some shrub steppe birds – an area we had not visited on our trip, we decided to detour to Durr Road after filling the gas tank in Ellensburg.  It was another great decision.

We readily found Mountain Bluebirds and then heard the insect-like buzzy song of a Brewer’s Sparrow.  It responded to our playback and posed for photos and good looks.  There were at least ten seen or heard.

Mountain Bluebird

Mountain Bluebbird

Brewer’s Sparrow

Brewer's Sparrow1

We heard numerous Western Meadowlarks and then picked out the somewhat similar melodic song of a Sage Thrasher.  It too was responsive and gave us good looks and a photo op.

Sage Thrasher

Sage Thrasher

Then Frank heard what he thought was a Vesper Sparrow.  It was seemingly very close and responded to playback, but we just could not locate it – until we looked in the right spot – where it was partially hidden in a  mature sage,  Another new bird and photo for the day.

Vesper Sparrow

Vesper Sparrow

We failed to find a Loggerhead Shrike but there was a final exclamation point for the day.  I saw what at first I thought might be a Common Nighthawk off in the distance but we quickly noted it was too large and instead we had a Short Eared Owl hunting at near dusk off in the sage.  Unfortunately our earlier count was off and we ended the day with 90+ species – but it really had been terrific whatever the tally.  I had added four new Washington species for the year and Kathy had significantly increased her ABA list.

Having no plans for the following day – after Mothers Day notes to the mother of my children and to one of those children who is now a mother herself – I headed to Eide Road where Steve Giles had reported some Pectoral Sandpipers the previous day.  When I got to the specified pond, I could see a number of shorebirds and ducks.  I was immediately drawn to first a Cinnamon Teal and then several Blue Winged Teal.  A few seconds later a Green Winged Teal came into view.  I tried in vain to get a photo capturing all three at the same time.  The one I got had the Cinnamon and the Blue Winged but depth of field and my lack of skill were wrong for focus on both.

Blue Winged and Cinnamon Teal

Blue Winged TEal with Cinnamopn Teal in Background

Having the three Teal species was cool but the reason for the trip was the Pectoral Sandpiper.  I saw some Greater Yellowlegs, some peeps and then a Long Billed Dowitcher.  Finally behind some grass, I saw a medium sized shorebird – the hoped for Pectoral Sandpiper.  I failed to find another but there may have been others further out in the pond.

Pectoral Sandpiper (FOY)

Pectoral Sandpiper1

Among the peeps, there were clearly some Western Sandpipers and at least one Least Sandpiper.  A couple others were a challenge and this is where I made a poor choice.  Another birder/photographer had arrived and was excited to tell me that there was a large flock of Long Billed Curlews on a field near the airport on nearby Camano Island., an area mentioned previously that in migration can have large numbers of Whimbrels – as had been seen earlier by Ann Marie and me.  I asked him if he meant Whimbrels and he said “Oh no, these are definitely Curlews“.  Earlier in this post, I wrote that Ann Marie and I had failed to find the Long Billed Curlew in the Snoqualmie Valley and I have also been unable to find one in Ellensburg – often my go to spot, so I was VERY interested.  Instead of continuing to process the peeps to see if one or more might be Semipalmated Sandpipers and getting better photos, I decided to race off for the Curlews and check the photos I had taken later.

The field in question was at the intersection of Rekdal and Utsalady Roads.  Indeed there were MANY larger shorebirds with long decurved bills – but they were not long enough and of course were all Whimbrels.  Still spectacular as there were probably 300 or more, but not Long Billed Curlews as hoped for.  Sigh…



Whimbrels in Flight

Whimbrel Flock Flight Shot

I should have returned to Eide Road but in my disappointment I forgot about the other peeps and returned home.  Those other peeps were Semipalmated Sandpipers – my first of the year.  I had noted that they were about the same size as the Western Sandpipers and had dark legs.  They seemed paler and more nondescript and  with a straighter shorter bill.  One of my pictures was good enough to confirm the ID but barely that.  The fact that Semipalmated Sandpipers were found there later by another birder supports the ID as well.

It has been a great week – hey it’s May!!  Lots of good birds and especially good times with good folks. Fifteen new Washington species for the year.  I will be heading up to Victoria B.C. tomorrow hoping finally to get a photo of a Skylark – May is a good time for them as well.  I have my fingers crossed!

Postscript – it is now July and I checked my records for May.  The total number of species seen was 199 just about average for me over the past 6 years.

The Shorebirds (and other Migrants) Are Coming…

Late April and into May – time for shorebirds and passerines to migrate to and through Washington.  Always a fun time.

BUT FIRST I have to mention my 5 day trip to Boston – a chance to see my first grandchild – Griffin Pascal Leung.  Maybe he is going to be like me – always early – because he arrived a month ahead of schedule.  I waited an extra month to give mother and father a chance to get on top of things without me being in the way.  All is well with parents and child although it is a busy and often sleep-deprived household.  He is definitely a cutie.  He also makes a variety of noises that are very birdlike so he qualifies for this blog.

New Grandson with Grandpa

With grandpa

This was not a birding trip but I was able to fit in a couple of walks with a very focused goal of finally getting a photo of a Tufted Titmouse.  I had seen them in years past before I was taking pictures and it was definitely the most common bird without one.  It took a while to get the first one – at Mt. Auburn Cemetery and I then had many more after that.

Tufted Titmouse – Cambridge, Massachusetts – New ABA Photo

Tufted Titmouse

On May 2nd, since I arrived back in Seattle around 2:30 P.M., I was just able to beat the traffic and make stops first at the Montlake Fill and then Magnuson Park.  At Montlake I was able to find the Solitary Sandpiper (FOY) that had been reported there the previous day and at Magnuson Park I got to see the Lewis’s Woodpecker that was first seen three days earlier and is still being seen on May 5.  This woodpecker belongs east of the Cascades and there are only a few records in King County over the past 20 years.

Lewis’s Woodpecker – Magnuson Park


My body had no idea what time zone I was in when I finally got home but I expected I would wake up early thinking it was three hours later.  I did and decided without any planning to just take off and head to the coast to see what shorebirds were around.  I was on the road by 4:30 a.m. and there was still traffic – although not too bad.  My first stop at Brady Loop was without any shorebirds in the sometimes productive fields.  It was a little better at the Hoquiam STP and Bowerman Basin.  At the former I had my first Long Billed Dowitchers of the year and a photo friendly Killdeer.  Like so many other formerly great shorebird spots, changes at this location have gotten rid of much of the “mud” so I was pleased to have anything there.

Long Billed Dowitcher (FOY)

Long Billed Dowitcher


Killdeer (2)

The tide was very low so there was tons of mud at Bowerman Basin, but that meant that the birds – probably more than a thousand – were far out.  Gray skies did not help photography.  Most were Western Sandpipers, although there were also several hundred Semipalmated Plovers and some Least Sandpipers.  There were only two “larger” shorebirds – and both were of note for me.  One was my first Whimbrel of the year and the other was a single larger plover.  The photo is not very good, but does support the ID as a Golden Plover which was clearer through the scope even with some of the breeding plumage “golden” flecking on the back.  The Whimbrel was too far away for any kind of photo.

Golden Plover – distant Record Shot Only


I debated going on to Ocean Shores but I knew I wanted to be at Bottle Beach around 1:30 and was not sure there was time for that as well as Westport, so I retraced steps through Hoquiam and Aberdeen and hit Westport.  There were only a few but I did see my FOY Brown Pelicans in the marina and then was able to find a single Wandering Tattler at the “groins” – rocky outcroppings on the jetty near the lower observation platform near the restrooms.  This has been my most productive spot for this species at Westport over the last few years.

Brown Pelican (FOY)

Brown Pelican

Wandering Tattler (FOY)

Wandering Tattler1

The tide was still very low when I hit Tokeland and zero shorebirds were there.  As had been the case at Westport, there were a number of Common Loons and a single Pacific Loon as well as several Pigeon Guillemots.

I then drove the beach starting just north of Grayland.  There were thousands of shorebirds but nothing “special”.  The only species I saw were Western Sandpipers, Dunlin, Semipalmated Plovers, Sanderlings and a few Least Sandpipers.  I was surprised to find no Black Bellied Plovers.  Most of the Sanderlings were still in basic plumage but the other species were more than 75% in breeding plumage.  I saw no larger shorebirds at all.

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

I arrived at Bottle Beach at 1:30 – three hours ahead of the scheduled high tide.  Several cars were already there and birders pulled in as I arrived.  I was hoping for some Yellow Warblers on the way out to the water but found only Common Yellowthroats.  That was a bit disappointing but the shorebird show more than made up for it.  Although the tide was still way out and there was lots of exposed mud, there were already hundreds of shorebirds there more than 2.5 hours before high tide.  About 10 birders as well including a surprise visit by Virginia, Kathleen and Joyce from the Pilchuck Group – great to see them.

The main target bird at Bottle Beach in Spring is the Red Knot.  I have seen hundreds there at one time before.  Probably only 30 or so this time, but they were readily seen and are always a treat for photographers.  This is often a great spot to find Ruddy Turnstones and there were at least two in their very striking breeding plumage.  As the tide came in, the birds were more concentrated and closer and as most were in breeding plumage, there were great photo opportunities.  Species seen included the Knots, Western Sandpipers in the thousands, hundreds of Semipalmated Plovers, 20 or so Greater Yellowlegs, maybe 60 Black Bellied Plovers, 100 or so Short Billed Dowitchers and although there must have been more – a few Least Sandpipers.  We looked in vain for Curlews, Godwits and Whimbrels but found none.

Red Knot

Red Knot

Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone2

Western Sandpiper

Western Sandpiper Breeding



Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

Time to head back.  Thinking there might be some migrants at the Hawks Prairie Settling Ponds, I stopped there on the way home.  Nothing special so I carried on to Nisqually – again looking for a FOY Yellow Warbler.  Maybe I just missed them, but again nothing unusual there.  Several Yellow-rumped Warblers greeted me – both Audubon’s and Myrtle forms and there were some Common Yellowthroats but no other warblers at all.

Yellow Rumped (Audubon’s Form) Warbler

Yellow Rumped Warbler1

There was only the briefest delay around JBLM and I was home by 7:30 p.m.

Jet lag caught up with me the next day and I stayed home to catch up on day to day stuff left while I was away.  Also hit the gym for the first time in a week and worked on bird photos and lists.  A few days before I left for Boston (and before the Eastern Washington trip reported on in my previous blog post), I had gone up to Homeacres Road in Snohomish County to see the Black Necked Stilt that was found there by David Poortinga.  It is a rare species west of the Cascades and was my first in the County.  At least in Eastern Washington, they are often associated and seen with American Avocets.  An American Avocet was now being seen in Redmond in King County and this morning (Cinco de Mayo), I decided to look for it and then head on to Marymoor Park – again looking for Yellow Warblers.

I quickly found the Avocet along with a lot of other birds in the wet fields just east of Willows Road and South of 124th.  Also present were a number of duck species, lots of Savannah Sparrows, 5 Greater Yellowlegs, 6 Long Billed Dowitchers, 100 peeps (more Western than Least Sandpipers) 10 Killdeer and more than 50 American Pipits.  As best I can tell, there have been only a few Ebird records of American Avocet in King County over the past 20 years – a nice bird.

American Avocet

American Avocet

American Pipit

American Pipit

At Marymoor Park, I was able to find (heard only) my first Black Headed Grosbeaks of the year but again found no Yellow Warblers – a single Nashville Warbler, some Common Yellowthroats and some Yellow Rumps only.  At one spot I was watching a male and female Downy Woodpecker chasing each other when first a male and then a female Purple Finch flew into the same view frame.  It would have made a great photo, but it was not possible (at least for my skills) to get them all in focus at the same time.  I settled for a photo of the two Woodpeckers.

Pair of Downy Woodpeckers

Downy Woodpeckers

And then as soon as I got home, I saw that a Long Billed Curlew was being seen in the Snoqualmie River Valley.  I f I had known it earlier, I would certainly have gone looking.  Maybe tomorrow I will go looking and who knows maybe there will be a Yellow Warbler there as well.