It seems like I have been planning this trip forever and now my departure is only 6 days away. On Monday April 30, I fly to Boston and take a giant step on my 50/50/50 Adventure that will take me to 15 states in 30 days, birding in 13 of them and hopefully adding all of those to the “Completed” column in that 50 species in a day quest. The logistics have been fun but at times overwhelming: mileage, hotels, bird lists, companions, flights, hotspots, and then more of all of it over and over again. There are still a couple of details to attend to, but I am good to go and very excited. Before sharing my “before I go” Washington birding, here is a peek at my upcoming schedule.
As I have said many times as I have discussed this trip with others, it sure would be nice if there was more than one “May” in the year. It is the best month for the most species to find and the easiest time to find them in most states. I am packing so much into this trip because there is only one May each year and I need to make the most of it. One negative consequence is that I will miss almost all of May in my home State of Washington. While I gave up on any thoughts of a really big species count for Washington this year because of the May trip east and another trip for half of June in the Mountain States, it was hard to completely break old patterns and habits. Accordingly I have still targeted a state list of 300 species for Washington in 2019, and that has required some serious scurrying around in late March and April. Trips to Eastern Washington and Semiahmoo in Whatcom County were detailed in previous blog posts. This one very briefly covers my trip to the Coast and a pelagic trip out of Westport.
A first stop was at the Hoquiam Sewage Treatment Ponds. Not raining but very grey. Among the many swallows were some Vaux’s Swifts, a pleasant addition to my year list. Other highlights were a lovely Northern Harrier and a flock of at least 700 Greater White Fronted Geese at the adjoining Bowerman Basin NWR. I would later see thousands of them in long skeins flying overhead in many places.
At the Westport Jetty and Marina, the only bird of interest was a Common Loon gorgeous in full breeding plumage. Lots of fisherman on the jetty but no Rockpipers.
After Westport, I got to Bottle Beach in time for a great show – thousands of shorebirds and many birders including a WOS Trip. I had not seen any Short Billed Dowitchers in 2019. There were more than a thousand on the mudflats – a great way to get a FOY.
Short Billed Dowitcher
Other species were Black Bellied Plovers, Dunlin and Western Sandpipers, the first time I had seen the latter in numbers. Returning from the beach, there were some nice warblers in the trees along the path including several Orange Crowned Warblers and my FOY Wilson’s Warbler. The former posed nicely and the latter played hide and seek.
Orange Crowned Warbler
With the tide coming in I headed to the Point Brown Jetty at Ocean Shores, still hoping for some Rockpipers especially a Rock Sandpiper. But it was no go – too much wave action and no birds at all. I later found out that Wilson Cady had a Rock Sandpiper there several hours earlier. If I had skipped Bottle Beach, I may have seen one. Can’t do everything – sadly. The tide was not too high for some driving on the open beach and that was my next venture. A good choice as there were hundreds of birds with eight species of shorebirds including a large flock of Marbled Godwits and lots of Semipalmated Plovers.
I had waited too long to make a room reservation in Westport for that night – before my pelagic trip the next day, so I ended up staying in Aberdeen. Not ideal, but workable with an early start. I made another stop at the Hoquiam STP on the way to the hotel and found nothing new.
Hopes were high for the pelagic trip – not just because it would be my first one for the year – and only then because there had been a cancellation opening up one spot – but because the previous trip had been “EPIC” with 2 Short Tailed and 8 Laysan Albatrosses in addition to the regular fare. Captain Phil Anderson had sent us an email the day before warning us of a rough crossing of the bar and some high seas, but the trip would be a go. Lots of good birders were on board and sea conditions aside, the weather looked great with a beautiful sunrise as we headed out. I won’t go into great detail – just some highlights.
Crossing the bar was indeed no fun but not nearly as bad as I had expected. There were large ocean swells though that slowed our progress, made good handholds essential, and made viewing even more challenging than usual. A good omen was an early sighting of a Tufted Puffin – our only one of the trip. There was also an early Manx Shearwater – but it disappeared quickly.
Tufted Puffin – FOY
Lots of Common Murres and Pacific Loons but maybe due to the swells, it seemed really slow. It seemed to take a bit longer than usual but we finally found some Sooty Shearwaters and a bit later our first Pink Footed Shearwater of the trip. New for the year but a given for an April pelagic trip. We had a nice flyby of some Surf Scoters and some excitement with a small flock of Bonaparte’s Gulls with some Phalaropes – both Red Necked and Red. A single Pomarine Jaeger distant and flying away from us would be the only Jaeger of the trip.
Pink Footed Shearwater
Red Necked Phalaropes
A Black Footed Albatross made a brief appearance but it continued to be slow. And there was some bad news. The fishing boats that Phil had seen on radar earlier all had moved north. There would be no intersection. Phil’s deft intersection with a fishing boat on the epic trip had been the key to the good birds then. Was this going to be an unproductive trip without a fishing boat to follow? Westport Seabirds always does a great job, and my concerns proved unfounded. Phil and Chris put out an oil (vegetable? fish?) slick and it drew in the birds and this was aided by chumming with fish “bits”. It was not a feeding frenzy, but we had a good diversity of birds with the highlight probably being 2 or 3 Laysan Albatrosses.
Black Footed Albatross
Fork Tailed Storm Petrel
Black Legged Kittiwake
No Short Tailed Albatross this time and only a single Northern Fulmar. As we left this stop, we had a single Sabine’s Gull and there would be a few more later. Numbers were low and although it had not seemed it, I had now seen 13 new birds for the year. (But who’s counting 😉 ) The seas were much more favorable on our return trip and we continued to see some of the birds that we had observed on the way out. I had been disappointed that I missed a Cassin’s Auklet that a few others had seen earlier but this feeling disappeared when I spied one off the starboard bow. Lousy photo but another FOY. A much better photo is of one of the Rhinoceros Auklets that we saw.
There would be one more alcid as well. Not the hoped for Parakeet Auklet or equally rare Scripp’s Murrelet but a lovely pair of Ancient Murrelets. I had seen some earlier this year – but at a distance too great for a photo. They are lovely birds.
It had not been an “epic trip”, but a very good one. Numbers were fairly low and I definitely missed some photo ops, but it was fun and productive. I hope to be able to schedule another trip in the Fall after my 50/50/50 trips…but there will still be a bunch of prairie states to bird to finish off that project. North Dakota in September? Maybe…
Super spotter Scott Mills – Keeping Track of “Numbers” – Sorry but no photo of the other super spotter Bill Shelmerdine – Many thanks to both and to Phil and Chris.