I often find typos or errors in previous blog posts and go back an make the change – no big deal. Another change is in order and this one is a big deal. A very nice big deal.
In an earlier post (See https://blairbirding.com/2016/01/21/o-canada-rare-visitors-to-b-c-redwing-and-siberian-accentor/), I wrote: “The Siberian Accentor is a small passerine bird, much like a sparrow, which breeds in northern Siberia on both sides of the Urals. It is migratory, wintering in southeast Asia. It is a rare vagrant in western Europe, and a very rare vagrant on the West Coast of the United States. Another “mega” in the ABA area. I don’t know if it has ever been seen in Washington State – certainly not by me…” Nothing has changed about the description of the bird or its normal range, but thanks to Russ Koppendreyer, I have to change that part about if it had ever been seen in Washington and that part about “not by me”.
That earlier blog post followed a trip to British Columbia successfully chasing a bird found there by George Clulow on January 3, 2016. It was a mob scene but I was able to observe and get a distant photo of a Siberian Accentor – an ABA Life Bird. That Accentor stayed until at least January 18th and was seen by many observers from Canada and the U.S.
Siberian Accentor – B.C. – January 4, 2016
On Thursday, February 6th, Russ Koppendreyer, an excellent birder, posted the following on Tweeters, the major listserv for Washington birders: “I just found what I believe to be a Siberian Accentor at the west end of Stenerson Rd in the Woodland Bottoms. Photo sent to expert, but confident enough to get the word out. In leafless tree on north side of road with Juncoes, then flew behind the west most house on north side of the road.”
And then the madness began…
I contacted Russ for more details and the photo he sent absolutely confirmed the ID. Knowing all too well my Rule 1 for a chase to “go now”, I debated leaving immediately. Without major traffic issues (never guaranteed), I calculated I could get to the location by maybe 3:45 p.m. The days are getting longer, but that still did not leave a whole lot of good light. If I made the 3 hour drive and did not find the bird, then what? Stay the night and try the next day? Return home with an even longer drive since the traffic for sure would be bad? I had seen the B.C. bird but it would be really nice to have it on my Washington List. I decided to wait and try the next day. When reports came in that it had been seen again after 3:45 pm, I chided myself for not leaving earlier. Maybe it would stay.
Russ’s Siberian Accentor Photo (Enhanced)
I called several friends to see if they were up for an early morning departure and quickly found 3 who were up for the adventure, including Bruce LaBar from Tacoma. The fact that this would be a state life bird for Bruce attests to its rarity as Bruce had seen 453 species in the state, significantly atop the Ebird all-time list. Jon Houghton, Mark Tomboulian and I left Edmonds at 5:30 a.m. on Friday the 7th and picked up Bruce an hour later. Our next stop would be Stenerson Road. We wagered how many birders would already be there, but the important question was whether any of them would be looking at “THE BIRD”.
We arrived about 8:10 a.m. The answer to the first question was somewhere between 15 and 20 and the answer to the second was “No” but it had been seen earlier. More birders arrived in short order and by 8:40 we heard someone say “I’ve got it!” It was seen in a distant willow tree across a field maybe 200 yards away. The Accentor is a small bird, less than 5.5 inches long. It could barely be seen even with our scopes, but the brief looks mostly buried in foliage were sufficient to see the buffy orange breast, supercilium and throat and black mask. Not great looks but they were looks of a great bird. The best picture I could get was the tree in which the Accentor was buried. A tiny spot in the tree was the bird, so I technically had a photo of a Siberian Accentor in Washington, but certainly not ID quality and not good enough to honestly include on my State Photo list.
The Accentor Tree – It Really Is in There – to the Right of the Arrow
The bird flew to the adjoining tree and continued to play hide and seek. Barely decent scope looks and no photos at all. Then it disappeared. After another hour plus we said goodbye to the now more than 50 birders who had assembled and headed off for some Clark County birding. Of particular interest was Lower River Road where a Snowy Egret continues. Extremely rare in Washington, this Snowy Egret with one or two Great Egrets has been found at this spot for three years now – the only one in the State. We found the two Egrets and lots of waterfowl including large flocks of Tundra Swans, Cackling Geese, Snow Geese and many ducks. There were also many Sandhill Cranes. We had seen some earlier at the Accentor stakeout spot. There were also many California Scrub Jays. Within the past 10 years this species has significantly expanded its range and in now quite common in Clark and Cowlitz counties.
California Scrub Jay
We failed to find the Lesser Goldfinches that have often been seen at a small park in Vancouver, WA and then were disappointed to find that the River S Unit of Ridgefield NWR was closed on weekdays. We had hoped for a Red Shouldered Hawk there. We looked for one at the Carty Unity of the Refuge and were unsuccessful.
We returned to the Accentor Stakeout hoping for better looks. There were many birders there – some remaining from the morning but mostly new arrivals. There had been sporadic observations for a short while after we left but nothing for a couple of hours. We waited 30 minutes and then headed home. It had been a very fun day and we had seen the main target and added some species for the year. If only I had gotten the photo, I would have been completely satisfied. Even an almost traffic free return trip during what should have been rush hour did not quite make for the failure to get that picture. Guess I can still get greedy sometimes.
My best estimate is that at least 70 people had tried for and/or seen the Siberian Accentor on Friday. There were many more than that who gave it a go on Saturday and unlike our experience, there were several times on Saturday when the Siberian Accentor flew into the close-in apple tree where Russ had first seen it or in to some cedars about halfway between the apple tree and the distant willows. There were some ok photos and some that were quite good. Ouch…rub it in. I gave a quick thought to a return trip to get a photo. We were going to an Oscars Party Sunday evening so I decided to just be happy with seeing this mega rarity again – and now in my home state. BUT…even more reports and more photos came in from Sunday. How about Monday?
On many occasions (birding and otherwise) I have recognized my good luck in having Cindy Bailey enter my life. Not long into our relationship, she took a big chance and joined me on a couple of my 50/50/50 Adventures in Ohio and Michigan and then again later in Wyoming and Montana. She got a taste of a chase when she joined Jon Houghton and me going for the Emperor Goose in Sequim in December, but she had enough sense not to come along on my Ivory Gull marathon (see https://blairbirding.com/2020/02/05/ an-ivory-gull-at-flathead-lake-whats-behind-a-complicated-chase/). I had bemoaned my lack of a photo of the Accentor off and on Saturday and Sunday. She encouraged me to try again. We had nothing scheduled for Monday and Cindy was interested in a firsthand view of the craziness I had described with the throngs at the stakeout. She was game for a road trip. The weather was great on Monday morning and when I saw an early report that the Accentor had been seen again, the decision was made. So we loaded Chica (our Black Labrador) into her crate and headed south, leaving at 10:00 a.m.
Helped a bit by being a car pool (even without Chica), we breezed through first Seattle and then Tacoma and made it to Stenerson Road around 1:00 pm. I grabbed my camera and checked the settings – or tried to – but I had really blown it. Unknowingly I had left the camera on from the Friday trip and even though I had a double battery pack in – it was dead!!! I will not repeat the language I used to express my anger – at myself. I have learned some lessons though and had brought a back up camera – a Canon 70SX. I am still not used to it and it does not focus as fast or well or reload as fast as my DSLR, but it was all I had.
There were maybe 15 birders already there. We got the word that the Accentor had been seen intermittently. We joined the group – and waited. Nothing for maybe 20 minutes and then it flew out from the trees behind the road where the birders were gathered and where it could not be seen, and made a 3 second stop in the apple tree and then headed off to the cedars with a bunch of Juncoes and disappeared. We had seen it in flight and got just enough of a glance to know it was the Accentor but no chance at a photo. Cindy took Chica for a walk and I continued the vigil as more birders arrived. Perhaps 15 minutes later a flock flew from the cedars to the trees behind the road. We had a one second view of the Accentor as part of the group and that was it. Another 10 minutes passed and I had walked a little distance away from the group and was close to the apple tree. I saw a single bird fly in and it was again the Accentor. I yelled out – “it’s our bird”. I should have concentrated on getting my photo. By the time I could try, it flew off again.
I went to the car and checked on Chica and Cindy – quite frustrated as I probably could have gotten a photo if I had the other camera. They were fine. We nibbled on fruit and crackers we had brought along. I regained composure and returned for one more try. Now there were maybe 25 people there – anxious and eager. Once more the Accentor flew into the apple tree. This time it perched in the open and stayed in the open for a moment or two. That was just enough time to finally get a few pictures. I have trouble focusing this camera in general and much moreso when there are branches to deal with and end even moreso when I am stressing about it. So, not the best photos ever, but I now had an OK photo of a Siberian Accentor in Washington. It was state photo #410. Hurray!!
Feeling very much better when I returned to the car this time, I felt I owed both Cindy and Chica some compensating time and experience. Listing a Snowy Egret in Washington is not important to Cindy, but she had enjoyed seeing one in California in December. More importantly I knew she and especially Chica would enjoy the walking at Lower River Road and it really was a gorgeous day, so that would be our next stop. The sunshine was spectacular, both Mt. St. Helens and Mt Hood were brilliant against the blue sky, and there were waterfowl in the hundreds with great looks at Canvasbacks, Hooded Mergansers, American Wigeon, Ring Necked Ducks, Cackling Geese, Tundra Swans, Mallards, Pintails and Gadwalls. We also saw what to me was an unbelievable 15 Great Egrets and then the Snowy Egret.
Much more importantly we had a great walk with Chica getting a chance to romp along and then go into retriever mode to chase and bring back “the stick”, time after time after time. It truly was gorgeous and as relaxing a time as we could hope for, a great capper for a great day.
My Two “Girls” – Cindy and Chica
I had promised a good dinner if we found the Accentor and we thought about trying something new in Olympia. I had passed by the “Rib Eye” Restaurant in Napavine many times on birding trips but had never stopped. The timing was right and when the sign caught our eye about 6 pm heading north we decided to go for some beef. They did not have prime rib on weekdays, so we settled for some rib eye steaks. A bit of gristle but done just right and there was enough to give Chica a treat as well.
Rib Eye Steak
A few more words on the Siberian Accentor. When Russ posted his marvelous find on Tweeters, it set in motion a wonderful reaction in the birding world. The location was less than an hour from Portland and its airport and about 2.5 hours from Seattle. Birders from all over Oregon and Washington flocked to see the bird beginning on the afternoon of the 6th and the crowd grew on Friday and then Saturday and then again on Sunday. Birders from many other states came in as well. Birding friends of mine visited from Boston and Ohio and I am sure there were birders from other states as well. The rush has continued in smaller numbers Monday when I returned for a second visit and the observations have continued this morning. Birds that over wintered in Idaho and Montana stayed for two months. The B.C. Accentor remained for 2 weeks. Who knows how long this will one will remain.
You get a good sense of the rarity and appeal of the bird since it is the one pictured on the cover of “Rare Birds of North America” (Howell, Lewington and Russell). After seeing Russ’s Tweeters post on Thursday, I posted the find (by him and with his photo) on the ABA Rare Bird Alert page on Facebook. There were 100 “likes” within 10 minutes and they continue today – now being over 800. I posted it because it was a similar post about the Ivory Gull in Montana that got me motivated to chase it. I do not know how many people have now seen the Siberian Accentor, but I know we all owe Russ Koppendreyer a great big THANK YOU!!
Rare Birds of North America Cover
I have to say this in my blogs that include rarities – I would greatly prefer that male Smew – but a Siberian Accentor is a great add to my state life list and photo lists and continues a run of successful chases and great birds lately. Maybe this will be the Year of the Smew.