This is a down period between my 50/50/50 trips which will not resume until I head off to some of the prairie states in September. While not as goal oriented as in previous years, I have been filling in some Washington species not yet seen in 2019 and also chasing some special birds hoping to add to year or life lists for either Washington or the ABA area. There have been some disappointments and some very happy successes.
On June 23rd, I had a chance to add Heerman’s Gull to my 2019 lists visiting the fishing pier in hometown Edmonds where they visit each summer. Bonus photos were of a pair of Marbled Murrelets, one with a small fish in bill. Not really a chase – just some nice birds.
Two days later there was a chase. Cindy and I went over to Sequim to enjoy a beautiful place and a beautiful day and also to chase a Hudsonian Godwit that had been seen at two hotspots there that were close to each other – Three Crabs and Dungeness Landing Park. We started at the latter and were not successful. At Three Crabs, we learned we had missed it by less than an hour. Maybe we should have started there. We waited and were joined by others including Paul Baerny, John Gatchet and Judith White. After another wait, we decided to head over to Dungeness Landing again with mutual promises to call if seen at either place. Nothing at Dungeness Landing again, so we decided to visit Nash’s Store, a Sequim fixture with wonderful local organic produce. Just as we neared it I got a call from Paul. The Hudsonian Godwit had just flown in. I raced over and we were able to see it – broken leg and all.
Not a mega rarity but especially until recently, the Hudsonian Godwit is a rare bird in Washington, maybe seen once a year. This was my first record for 2019 and only my fourth in the state ever. Paul has been very helpful to me and many others sharing information. He is having a great Big Year in Washington and I hope he has some big numbers. We then did make it to Nash’s and got some fabulous berries.
On June 29th Jon Houghton and I visited Hayton Reserve and Wylie Slough in Skagit County hoping for some shorebirds. None were found but we easily found both of the Black Phoebes there. Ebird still treats them as a rarity but one or more have been there for several years and they have expanded their range into a number of locations in Washington. I believe a nest may have been found at Wylie this year.
Since we were in the area, we made a stop at Sunday Lake Road where a Least Flycatcher was being seen, or at least heard, regularly. I had been there the week before and had a microsecond view only although it gave its “che-bek” call nonstop for 30 minutes. It appeared we would have the same fate again, but with some maneuvering I was able to get a visual and a photo. This was an “after thought” chase.
There was one more day in June and there would be one more chase – unfortunately an unsuccessful one, and success would have been very sweet indeed. A sighting of a Crested Auklet at Discovery Park was reported on Tweeters on the morning of the 30th. Discovery Park is one of my least favorite places to bird. It is hard to get to and to me (and some others) it is both very confusing and with limited and inconvenient access. I had seen a number of Crested Auklets during my pelagic trip out of Adak with Jon Puschock in May 2016 but somehow had not gotten a photo. I figured I would never see another one and certainly not in Washington. I raced down to Discovery Park – or at least tried to race down given the morning traffic. My GPS took me to a road without public access but not knowing how to get back to an open road, I went to the end figuring I would turn around there. I stopped briefly to scan the waters and found a large group of Rhinoceros Auklets and was excited as the Crested Auklet had been seen in such a flock. I got even more excited when one of the birds seemed smaller. Alas, it was only the light and the angle and it was just another Rhino. Had I been there 45 minutes earlier, I might have seen it. There were no further reports that day or thereafter.
Crested Auklet – Internet Photo from Audubon
July started off a lot better. Cindy and I visited Snoqualmie Falls and enjoyed the view and a brief look at a couple of Black Swifts – target birds often seen there. I missed a great photo opportunity as one quick view of the Swift was as it was being chased by a Peregrine Falcon with the Falls as a background…way too fast for my reflexes. The only photo was of the Peregrine, one of a pair, as it perched on an outcropping afterwards.
The next day I made the trek down to Rainbow Falls SP to find a Hermit Warbler. I heard one singing as soon as I arrived but there was a light rain and especially in the big trees favored by the Warbler, the lighting was terrible. A Wilson’s Warbler was also singing – in fact non-stop. The latter flew and perched all around me, but I could not get the Hermit to come down from the treetops. So success finding a new year bird and then I had fun birding on Leudinghaus Road adding some new Lewis County birds (inadvertently) but a photo of the the Hermit would have been nice.
Hermit Warbler (from an earlier visit)
No more birds or birding until a real chase on July 8th. A male Rose Breasted Grosbeak in breeding plumage was reported by Ed Swan, an excellent birder and nature writer. It was coming to his feeder. Forgetting that Ed had moved from Vashon Island to West Seattle, I had put off trying for it earlier not wanting to get hung up in the ferry traffic to Vashon over a holiday or weekend. Jon Houghton had the right location and we got to Ed’s place around 9:30 a.m. We waited and waited and waited watching the feeder from the comfortable shading and rain protection of Ed’s carport. A small group of Band Tailed Pigeons flew in and seemed to finish off the seeds in the feeder.
Band Tailed Pigeon
Some other birders joined our watching vigil. One left after maybe 90 minutes. Fortunately Ed came out and seeing that the feeder was empty, he added some seed. We continued to see some birds – 20 species in all – but no Grosbeaks. At 12:30, our patience was running thin and having been there almost 3 hours, Jon and I announced we would give it another 15 minutes but would have to leave at 12:45. We had been hearing the call of a Pacific Slope Flycatcher but it had remained distant. Now it made an appearance singing in the open for a moment, flycatching and then moving off to another branch or tree. I was able to get a photo and figured that would be the consolation prize for our wait and failed chase.
Pacific Slope Flycatcher
I had tried much earlier without any result, but figured it would not hurt to play the song of the Rose Breasted Grosbeak one more time and did so around 12:35. No immediate response but a few minutes later I heard what at least sounded like the “chink” call of the Grosbeak. Maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t but at exactly 12:43 with two minutes to go on our self imposed deadline, the Rose Breasted Grosbeak made an appearance at the feeder, staying for maybe 10 minutes. If we had known it was “deadline aware” we would have issued our deadline two hours earlier. Success!! I have seen two other Rose Breasted Grosbeaks in Washington, but this was my first breeding plumaged male. What a beauty!
Rose Breasted Grosbeak
Cindy and I had talked about a visit to Sun Mountain Lodge before. Her birthday was coming up, the weather looked great … and I had not seen a Dusky Grouse yet this year. Let’s go!! It is a beautiful 4 hour drive to Sun Mountain Lodge just out of Winthrop, Washington. Much of it is through the Cascades mountains and particularly through North Cascades National Park. I hoped for an American Three Toed Woodpecker at Washington Pass, but had to settle for spectacular scenery.
The visit to Sun Mountain Lodge was as good as it gets. The setting is gorgeous. The Lodge is just right. The food is exquisite. The weather was perfect and there is excellent birding. In years past, I have often had Dusky Grouse along the entrance road or in the parking area. As we pulled into the latter, I heard a Lazuli Bunting singing and called it in for a stunning view. No Grouse but that would be remedied soon.
After checking in and a brief moment to relax, we hiked down one of the trails below the parking area and found Dusky Grouse everywhere – at least 10 and maybe a dozen. One was a female with 3 or 4 pretty sizable chicks. Several were in the trees. All were very approachable and photogenic.
There were no birds involved, but dinner that evening was excellent. We had soups, a mushroom strudel starter, and two small plates (crab cakes and cornbread crusted sole), wine and shared a dessert. Each dish was perfectly prepared and presented and yummy!!
Sun Mountain Dinner
Mushroom Strudel Starter
After dinner we drove up Thompson Ridge Road. It was a beautiful night – perfect for night birds with a clear sky, no wind and just warm enough. I have had Flammulated Owls there twice. I heard only one in the far distance this night but we had lots of Common Poorwills and Common Nighthawks and also heard a Great Horned Owl and a Long Eared Owl. We did not hear or see another human or car. Wonderful!!
So that was a pretty fun two weeks of birding – a very fun two weeks of living. Great food, great friends, great birds and great places. A Crested Auklet in Washington with a photo would have been nice to be sure, but there was something just around the corner that would more than make up for that.
Just after 8 p.m. on the night of Sunday, July 14th I got a text from dear friend and super birder Melissa Hafting from Vancouver, B.C. “I think I just found a Common Ringed Plover…need to review my photos but pretty sure!! I’m so excited.” It was followed by another text 15 minutes later: “Common Ringed Plover confirmed!!” She didn’t use smiley faces or GIF’s but I could almost feel her excitement through the phone. This was a big deal – a mega-rarity that was beyond expectation for British Columbia or Washington.
The Common Ringed Plover is a small shorebird common in the Eastern Hemisphere which is very closely related to and very hard to distinguish from the Semipalmated Plover which is common in the Western Hemisphere. As of September 2017 there had been 15 observations of a Common Ringed Plover in the ABA area outside of Alaska including one in Washington in 2006. An adult was seen in British Columbia on September 5, 2018. All of the others had been from the Eastern United Sates or Canada. Additionally, there have been a number of sightings in remote Alaska.
I had a lunch scheduled for the next day but it was with an understanding friend and could be rescheduled. I had to go. A few calls and emails notified others. I posted it on Facebook and Tweeters and planned to make a try for the afternoon/evening of July 15th – heading to Beach Grove spit on Boundary Bay near Tsawwassen about 2.5 hours from Edmonds depending on the border crossing time. A couple of invitees could not make it, but Ann Marie Wood, Jon Houghton and I headed north at 11:00 .am. planning to make the incoming high tide around 4 p.m. We got to the parking area ahead of schedule and met a local birder who was coming out from his unsuccessful try for the bird. He said the tide was extremely low and there were NO birds present. It was about 2:50 p.m.
Rather than sit and stare at barren mudflats for a couple of hours, we headed off for a little sustenance and conversation returning to the area around 5:00 p.m. Again we met a birder who was coming back to the parking lot. It was one of the birders that had seen the Common Ringed Plover the previous evening. He said the tide had come in very quickly and the area where the bird had been seen the day before was already covered. He had not seen it this day. Others were still out there looking. Had we miscalculated and arrived too late? Yes and no. Maybe more than miscalculating, we had misunderstood. The Common Ringed Plover had been seen the previous day on an outgoing high tide not an incoming one. It looked like the prime time if the pattern held would be maybe a couple of hours later. There was hope.
We hiked out on the trail maybe a third of a mile and encamped at a convenient bench. There were a dozen or so Canadian birders stationed a bit further along the trail. Over the next hour several more birders – all local – arrived and learned as we had that the Common Ringed Plover had not been seen – yet… The prime area was a cove right in front of us with the spit maybe 120 yards further out. We waited as the tide hits it peak and began to recede. Sometime after 6:30 Melissa arrived with Ilya Povalyaev. They were the ones who had first seen and identified it the night before and are our good friends. If nothing else it would be great to visit with them again. As everyone waited patiently (and considerately) on the path looking across to the spit and crossing fingers that the Common Ringed Plover would arrive as the water level fell, one birder hiked around and out to the spit in exactly the area that the few birds that were around were flying and which might be the likely place for our target to first arrive. In fact a single small plover was seen flying into the area and then disappearing behind the raised area of the spit. There was no way to identify it but it was near where this birder was walking. Displeasure with this potential interference rose as the water level fell. It hit a high point when the birder – on the far side of the spit and facing out to the water started taking photographs of … something, Was it our bird? Nobody knew and he was not communicating anything back.
Around 7:30 the birder returned to the masses with photos. He was not sure of what but it was either a Semipalmated Plover or THE Common Ringed Plover. It was definitely the single bird that had flown in maybe 30 minutes prior. After discussion and debate of was it or wasn’t it, one of the birders decided it was time to trek out to the spit, hope it was still there and find out. I think we had all hesitated doing so before as a courtesy to everyone else and a recognition that the previous observation had been inside the spit closer to the trail. So much for hesitation. Once one birder headed off, all followed. This was a very wise decision as after the 5 minute walk, there was the bird, sitting on the wrack line on the far side of the spit, completely invisible to anyone who was watching from the trail.
I did a quick look through my scope and it sure looked like the same bird that had been seen the night before: broad breast band, large and distinct supercilium, pale back, long bill with a dark tip. Time for a photo as I had been the second person to the bird and now others were arriving. Would it fly off as most Semipalmated Plovers I had seen on open beaches did? Here is the first photo I took:
Common Ringed Plover
It definitely did not fly off and in fact remained almost as if glued to the spot for the next 20 minutes or more as everyone arrived, set up scopes and took photo after photo. More discussion and debate. What about the bill? Did the black extend to the gape? Was there a ring around the eye? Could anyone see webbing on the toes? Slowly a consensus built, driven by observation and analysis and not hope and desire. This was the same bird seen the previous evening and most importantly, it was a Common Ringed Plover. The final confirmation came with an amazing photo by Raymond Ng that showed no webbing between the middle and inner toe.
Common Ringed Plover – Foot
Suddenly the bird flew off. Was it gone? It landed on the beach maybe 150 feet from its first perch and remained there for the next 20 minutes. During the entire time it had been on the spit, it had never foraged, fed or associated with other birds. It tolerated the group approaching fairly close and was unfazed by our noise or movement. This behavior was unlike any I had seen from shorebirds before and supported an identification as a bird out of place and possibly not in good health.
I don’t know how many photos were taken by the birders – many thousands for sure. Mine were mostly the same ones over and over although I moved trying for different perspectives of the subject.
Common Ringed Plover
Ann Marie, being the trooper she is, was able to make it out onto the spit. I pointed out the bird and she got a good view with her binoculars. I retrieved my scope which I had set aside in my picture taking frenzy and lowered it for her to view this still immobile rarity. This was a life bird for Ann Marie. Jon and I had seen it in other countries in the Eastern Hemisphere and I even had a photograph from South Africa. These were so much better. And so much better too for it to be in the ABA area. In those other places, “common” did hold true. Not here. In this neighborhood it should be called an Extremely UnCommon Ringed Plover.
We said our goodbyes and trekked back to the parking area and headed home. Coming into Canada, the border control person was friendly, respectful, courteous and efficient. Not the case returning to the U.S. The control agent was rude, inefficient, unpleasant and disrespectful. Reminded us of a certain loathsome person in Washington, D.C. Another nice aspect of birding is that when doing so, that person and our attending problems are forgotten. Sorry to end on that sad note. Think I will go birding…
The Common Ringed Plover was seen for a brief moment the next morning but that evening 60+ birders waited for hours and it did not make an appearance. Brings to mind Rule #1 for a chase: “Go now!” We did. We were fortunate.