Big September 2022 – Week 2 – Major Progress

Week 1 had not been terrible, but it had not been great either – with too many “misses”. It had not been an intense week with a whole day “lost” on the unsuccessful chase for the Curlew Sandpiper in B.C. and some personal obligations that except for a single trip to Eastern Washington had kept me close to home. I had found only 119 species and felt very disappointed – maybe too hard on myself as there was a lot of time left, but it has been that internal pressure that produced the drive necessary to continue similar pursuits in the past. Somehow though this time felt different. I needed some good days to return to good spirits. That is essential, because the ONLY reason to do these kinds of projects is to enjoy them. Sure there can be some downs but there have to be some ups as well. Gotta have fun.

I first met Phil Bartley in May 2020 on Dennis Road in Benton County, Washington. He was “on” the rare Black Throated Sparrow that I was chasing when I arrived. We spent a few moments together and later had some intersections on Facebook and exchanged information about Canon mirrorless cameras and birding in Ecuador. We were birding acquaintances maybe moving towards birding friends. Plans for Week 2 of Big September included a trip to the Tri-Cities area where Phil lived and I contacted him for some guidance. That evolved into an arrangement to bird some together and then into an invitation to spend the night at Phil’s place and then bird together the next day including time at Washtucna, Washington – a migration/rarities oasis/trap about 4 hours from me and less than 90 minutes from Phil’s home. Phil knew the spot well and I did not. This seemed like a great plan.

Our Canon Camera Setup

Week 2 – Day 1 – Back (to the) East

So early on September 8th, I was again off to Eastern Washington, again stopping first at Bullfrog Pond – and again being disappointed there as it and the adjacent Wood Duck Road were very quiet – except for the patterned tapping of a woodpecker – a much sought after Red Naped Sapsucker. It never came close enough for a photo, but it has become an irregular species for me – so OK. I again went to the Northern Pacific Railroad ponds for my next stop looking mostly for ducks on the ponds. I found 16 – 15 Mallards and a single Hooded Merganser, the latter new for the year. Hoped for Common Mergansers, Barrow’s or even Common Goldeneyes, all of which I have seen there often, were no shows. The “Hoodie” was new – #121 and just over 60% towards the goal.

On my last trip to Eastern Washington, I had opted for Kerry’s Pond over County Line Ponds for possible Black Necked Stilts and Avocets. Failing to find the latter with that choice, I included the County Line Ponds on this trip which enabled me to make some other stops along the way, the first of which was Rocky Coulee on Recreation Road near Vantage, Washington. Although there would be other places that I might find one, a top target here was a Rock Wren, a sure thing at this location in my planning. Missing it would be a blow. Not as certain was a Canyon Wren. They are regular there but not always found. On this visit I found both wrens and had my first Lincoln’s Sparrow and several first of month Orange Crowned Warbler as bonuses.

Rock Wren – Rocky Coulee
Canyon Wren – Rocky Coulee

In June this year I finally got my Washington Lifer Black and White Warbler at Getty’s Cove – just off the Columbia River and 10 miles south of Rocky Coulee. It should have been a good place to find some needed warblers and maybe some other migrants, so I included it in my itinerary for the day. Along the way I found some Common Mergansers on the Columbia, but nothing new at Getty’s Cove itself which was quiet. Admittedly I did not spend as much time there as I should have and if I had I expect some of those warblers would have been found. I had a lot of other places to go and so I backtracked to Vantage, crossed the Columbia into Grant County and headed to the County Line Ponds – watching the fence lines and and wires along the way hoping for a Western Kingbird.

In my original planning I thought that Black Necked Stilts would be guaranteed and American Avocets would be likely at the County Line Ponds with some other species possible including Great Egret and Red Necked Phalaropes. When I visited there in May this year, I had Stilts, Avocets, Egrets and PhalaropesWilson’s Phalaropes. When I arrived on September 8th I saw two things that immediately brought a smile to my face. The first was several large beautiful and mostly white shorebirds with distinctly upturned long bills – American Avocets. The second was a group of smaller shorebirds swimming in circles in the northern pond – Red Necked Phalaropes – one of my phavorites – and yes I know I have taken liberty with the spelling. No Egrets but no (r)egrets as I would certainly see them elsewhere.

American Avocet – County Line Ponds
Red Necked Phalarope – County Line Ponds

It was 11:00 a.m. and I had added 9 species for month to get me to 128. The target list for the day was much longer though and hopes were high for my next stops – at or near Potholes State Park. But there was one concern – it was really really windy. This was probably part of the problem earlier at Bullfrog Pond and Getty’s Cove – the birds inactivity may well have simply been that they were hunkered down. Among the targets ahead were possibly three terns and some grebes and wind could be a challenge. When I arrived “could” changed to “would” as it was blowing really hard and terns were not to be found at places near the boat launch where I usually find them and also were not seen off O’Sullivan Dam Road. There were lots of grebes but mostly pretty distant and I found only one Clark’s Grebe with the dozens of Western Grebes. American White Pelicans were huddled together and not flying around. It was only at the semi-protected area at Lind Coulee where I found a single Forster’s Tern – no Common Terns and definitely no Black Tern. There were several Northern Pintails, 15 Great Egrets and finally some Western Meadowlarks. The other terns would have been nice but I added 7 species for the month and especially under the windy conditions was pretty happy about that. I had thought – hoped – that maybe I would find some good passerines in the campground and picnic areas at Potholes State Park, but it was just too windy.

Great Egret
Western Grebe
Western Meadowlark

Even though there were a number of species that might have been seen that day, the new for the month list was now at 16 and the total for the month was 135. It felt like there was some momentum for the first time in the month and at my next stop that continued when I found 4 Burrowing Owls at a rock pile on D Road Northwest in Grant County. This species had been harder to find this year at go to spots this year than last, so I had them on my not for sure list and was pleased to check them off – an excellent #136 and now it was off to meet Phil Bartley and continue birding with more eyes and great local knowledge.

Burrowing Owl – Road D Northwest – Ephrata Grant County

The first place Phil and I visited was Bateman Island. I had birded there before but was not that familiar with its intricacies. Phil was. No expertise was needed to find my first of month Greater Scaup. Phil’s sharp eyes were key to finding a Black Crowned Night Heron and his intricate knowledge was definitely the key to finding a Gray Catbird. Phil also knew a roosting spot for Great Horned Owl. Unfortunately the only Great Horned Owl we found was a dead one on the ground in the copse of trees where they regularly roost. Now what? Off to Lisa Hill’s house next to W.E. Johnson Park. I had been there before during my Big March this year adding a Blue Jay. The target there was a Black Chinned Hummingbird that had been regular at her feeders. It appeared as soon as we arrived. Lisa, a top birder in the area, came out and said hello and told us a Calliope Hummingbird had been coming in that day as well. Boom – there it was. Just for fun there was an Anna’s Hummingbird as well.

Black Chinned Hummingbird (Phil Bartley Photo)

Next was dinner and then we would return to Lisa’s house hoping for the Western Screech Owl that was in the adjacent park. It was barely dusk when we arrived and in less than a minute we heard the Screech Owl. This owl had been only a “maybe” on my planning list whereas the Great Horned Owl was thought to be “for sure”. Today was a welcome reversal as I figured there would be Great Horned Owls elsewhere in the future. So Day 1 of Week 2 was done. The 23 adds to the month’s list brought the total to 142 – a bit ahead of what I thought was likely. The next day had fewer prospects but included the visit to Bassett Park in Washtucna where anything was possible.

Week 2 Day 2 – Great Birding on Unfamiliar Territory

We got off to an early start and added the first new bird, a Horned Lark near Lind on Highway 26. We were at the Washtucna Sewage Treatment Plant pond just after 6:45 a.m. and among the 13 species seen there were three that were new for September – a Common Goldeneye and a Ruddy Duck, and a Savannah Sparrow good omens for what was to come. Washtucna is remote and with a population of 208, it is a town in decline with an uncertain future. For birders it is a magnet in the fall just as it is for birds migrating south. The trees and brush in and around Bassett Park are safe havens for birds on the move and the little drips and drabs of water are magnets within the magnet. Washington birders would drool for this list of rarities seen at this location: Bell’s, Blue Headed and Philadelphia Vireo, Northern Parula, Magnolia, Blackpoll, Chestnut Sided, Black and White, Tennessee, Mourning, and Black Throated Green Warblers, Rose Breasted Grosbeak, and Indigo Bunting. I have a pretty good life list of species seen in Washington (in top 15 for the state) and have only seen 6 of these species in the state. It can very hot there but this was a beautiful morning with temperatures comfortably in the high 70’s. No rain and no wind – an excellent day for birding.

Common Goldeneye – Washtucna STP

We spent three and a half hours in Washtucna covering and recovering the ground. Other birders arrived including friend Vic Hubbard also from Tri-Cities – a good birder and an even better photographer. We birded together and also crossed paths when we sometimes separated – sharing information and combining eyes to sort through the birds active in the trees – too often buried or high up. Including birds seen at the STP, we had 50 species at this location. In addition to the two new duck species and the Savannah Sparrow at the STP, I added 15 new species for the month in the town itself, the first Wild Turkey as small groups were constant company during the morning, and all the others in the trees or brush in and next to Bassett Park.

Wild Turkey – One of Many
Welcoming Committee

Many of the birds seen were buried in foliage so not always the greatest photos, but photos proved useful even when not perfect. We kept seeing a “different” warbler but never real well. It is always a challenge to decide whether to look more thoroughly with binoculars or to try for a photo trying to find the bird again through the camera viewfinder. Often the picture is of something barely seen but then when the image is checked, an important field mark is evident establishing the identification. Such was the case with this find. Phil got several decent photos that established the ID of a very rare for Washington Magnolia Warbler. I had seen the bird and noted its “difference” but did not get a photo. It was my second Magnolia Warbler in Washington, the first seen at the Gingko Ranger Station on June 5, 2013 – a breeding plumage male with a photo. The picture below is the best of Phil’s.

Magnolia Warbler – Bassett Park – Photo by Phil Bartley

All told we had 8 warblers that morning – 5 of which were new for the month for me: MacGillivray’s, Nashville, Wilson’s, Townsend’s and Magnolia. Actually Phil had 9 warblers. After we left, we heard from Vic that a very rare Blackpoll Warbler was being seen. When Phil checked his photos, he found a picture of the Blackpoll. I probably saw it but with no awareness of it and no photo, sadly I could not count it since it would have been new not just for September or 2022 but a new species for me in Washington…sigh. This is not my best kind of birding as I have difficulty picking a bird out of foliage and even more trouble getting my camera on it. I am including a few photos – nothing to be proud of.

Wilson’s Warbler
Townsend’s Warbler
Yellow Rumped Warbler

In addition to the 5 new warblers, I also had three new flycatchers for the month – Western Wood Pewee, Hammond’s Flycatcher and Pacific Slope Flycatcher and two wrens – a surprising Pacific Wren and a House Wren, plus Ruby Crowned Kinglet, Townsend’s Solitaire, Lesser Goldfinch and Golden Crowned Sparrow.

Pacific Wren
Pacific Slope Flycatcher
Western Wood Pewee
Townsend’s Solitaire
Golden Crowned Sparrow

We left Washtucna on a high after a very productive morning. Now I was in Phil’s hands as we tried for targets on my list one by one. Some of it was luck but mostly due to Phil’s knowledge of his turf we did very well and found Ring Necked Pheasant, Chukar, Gray Partridge, Sagebrush Sparrow, Loggerhead Shrike and White Throated Swift. All were great additions but three need special mention. I had all but given up on White Throated Swift as they were no longer being reported at my go to places. Phil thought there was a chance for one at Palouse Falls – Bingo!! We went looking for Loggerhead Shrike at an area with good sage. No Shrike but we found a very unlikely juvenile Sagebrush Sparrow. They are among the first of the sage birds to arrive and the first to leave. This was an excellent late record and we found a shrike later elsewhere. Lastly we came to a spot where Phil said he had sometimes found Gray Partridge. This had been a nemesis for me at go to places in Okanogan and Chelan counties earlier in the year – missed everywhere. No sooner had Phil said the word “Partridge” than a small flock flushed and flew off.

Sagebrush Sparrow

It had been a long and extremely productive and fun day. By 5:00 p.m. we had run out of targets and I had a long drive home. We returned to Phil’s place and with great gratitude for his efforts I headed back. We had added 25 species for the day and I had added 48 for this two day Eastern Washington trip. The total for the month was now at 167. Before the trip I had had my doubts. Now I was back to being confident that I would make 200 – especially since I had not yet been to the Coast and there was that pelagic trip ahead – probably. Buoyed by the success of this trip I agreed to a change of plans and committed to join friend Jon Houghton as a “co-leader” on a boat trip to Smith Island as part of Edmond’s Birdfest on Sunday September 11 rather than heading to the Coast for two days. But after this long trip the next day would be mostly one of rest.

Phil Working the Fields

Week 2 – Day 3 – Close to Home Again

After the two great days in Eastern Washington with early starts, this was an easy slow day around home. No Black Scoters or Brant visible from Sunset Avenue, but I did get my first Pelagic Cormorant. I went to Southwest County Park hoping for Barred Owl and maybe a couple of “easy” passerines that had eluded me until then. No owl but I finally got a Chestnut Backed Chickadee and a Pileated Woodpecker not believing it had taken more than a week. At Scriber Lake Park I added a Golden Crowned Kinglet. Four new species and the day was done. The list was now at 171. Wow that was easy…

Chestnut Backed Chickadee
Golden Crowned Kinglet
Pileated Woodpecker

Week 2 – Day 4 – Puffin Cruise for Birdfest

Hoping to find the ever elusive Horned Puffin that has been a tough find at Smith Island, Jon and I convinced the organizers of the boat trip to head to Smith Island instead of Protection Island which was what had been advertised. Since Tufted Puffins were also much more likely at Smith, it was an easy sale. The cruise would be on a high speed boat leaving from Edmonds with a capacity of maybe 100 travelers. It was scheduled to leave at 2:00 p.m. and that gave me enough time to try for a Solitary Sandpiper at the Redmond Retention Ponds where it had been reported the day before and where I had seen it last years. Since I had missed it at Smithson Road in Ellensburg this was a chance to make up for an earlier miss.

As I parked on the road next to the path into the ponds and saw a birder I did not know getting into her car. I asked how she had done and got an earful – those dang photographers getting too close to the birds and flushing them. Too many people now coming here since Ebird reported “Everything”. And there were just too many people now anyhow – depriving her of her private spot – not her exact words but pretty close. And no she had only seen a Greater Yellowlegs, no Solitary Sandpiper – again those photographers. OK, thanks, have a nice day… I had not taken my camera out of the car before this intersection – whew! As she drove off I got the camera and walked in. There was nobody else at the first pond and the first bird I saw was a medium sized shorebird that sure looked like a Solitary Sandpiper. I got closer, and yes, took a picture. Bingo – a lovely Solitary Sandpiper. Maybe it had just flown in. Maybe the other birder had gone to the second pond only (although you have to walk past the first one to get there). Maybe she did not know the difference between a Solitary Sandpiper and a Greater Yellowlegs. Maybe she will come back and there will be nobody else around and she will see it. Whatever. This was species #172 and atonement for earlier failings.

Solitary Sandpiper – Redmond Retention Pond

Phil Bartley had contacted me and asked it there was room on the Birdfest trip. There was and he came over to join us. Reciprocating his hospitality I invited him to spend the night in our spare room and that worked out perfectly. Jon and I met the boat crew a bit early and went over procedures essentially how we would be onboard naturalists to call out species and share our experiences and knowledge about the birds we would see. There was a company naturalist on board as well and he was great as was the weather and as was the boat – the Swiftsure operated by Puget Sound Express primarily for whale watching. Here is how the company describes the vessel: Built in 2022, the Swiftsure is a catamaran with 2 asymmetrical semi-planing hulls, and an articulated hydrofoil that allows the boat to efficiently travel at 35 knots (40mph). This propeller-less design, coupled with finely-tuned, wave-piercing bows, allows the boat to travel through both calm and rough water at speed, while keeping underwater noise to a minimum. It was indeed a smooth ride and the speed allowed us to get to Smith Island in less than half the time it takes with other vessels leaving from Anacortes the normal way to get there.

The “Swiftsure”

Jumping to the bottom line at the start, once again there was no Horned Puffin – my third miss in three chases. But we had great weather, calm seas and good birds with super looks at many Tufted Puffins in various plumages. It was the first time most of the people on board had seen this species. Our trip was high speed until pretty close to Smith Island and then we skirted the island slowly outside the kelp beds looking for puffins. Everyone had great looks at White Winged and Surf Scoters, Rhinoceros Auklets, Heerman’s and California Gulls, Common Murres, Tufted Puffins and Brandt’s Cormorants. Additionally on a small nearby spit/island there were distant views of Short Billed Dowitchers, Dunlin, Harlequin Ducks and Sanderlings. All but the gulls, Rhinoceros Auklets and Surf Scoters were new for September for me – making it 9 new species for the day bringing me to 180 species – 90% of the way there and although I would have traded them all for the Horned Puffin, I was feeling good. Phil spent the night and then he went off to the Redmond Retention Ponds the next morning and had a great visit, including the Solitary Sandpiper.

Common Murre
Brandt’s Cormorants
Tufted Puffin with Tufts
Tufted Puffins – No Tufts
White Winged Scoter
Distant Harlequin Ducks

Week 2 – Day 5 – First Trip to the Coast

For a trip to the Washington Coast there is always at least one critical decision – head to the Ocean Shores area or head to the Westport area. Both are possible in a long day and then the decision is where to go first. Fresh off our shared duties on the Smith Island trip, Jon Houghton and I were off again, joined by Tom St. John, we were going to get an early start and visit both areas. Just after 8:30 a.m. we were driving the open beach just north of Ocean Shores. Lots of Sanderlings and Western Sandpipers, some Least Sandpipers, various gulls including some first of month Western Gulls and a number of American Pipits – again new for the month, but no other shorebirds – a disappointment despite the two new species.

Western Gull

Undaunted we re-entered the open beach south of the Ocean Shores Casino and found even fewer birds and most notably no Semipalmated Plovers – which I had thought were guaranteed. Still lots of opportunities though and although they were far out at the end of the jetty, we had scope views of Black Turnstone and Wandering Tattlers – but no Surfbirds which are often there. We added a Red Throated Loon further out and as a bonus had some Brown Headed Cowbirds in the dunes – 4 more new species for the month. 186 species, smiling and counting!

Brown Headed Cowbird
Red Throated Loon

Over the years the Oyhut Game Range has had many great rare birds including Emperor and Ross’s Geese, King Eider, Lesser Sand, American Golden, Pacific Golden, and Mountain Plovers, Eurasian Dotterel, Upland, Buff Breasted and Sharp Tailed Sandpipers, Hudsonian and Bar Tailed Godwits, Ruff, Little Gull, Snowy Owl, McKay’s Bunting, Smith’s Longspur, Bobolink, and Clay Colored Sparrow – an incredible group. I have seen more than half of those species there and would have been happy for any of them on this visit. We thought there was at least a chance for the Golden Plovers and a Buff Breasted had been seen there the previous week. We trudged out into the salicornia and mud and unfortunately it was not a great shorebird day and although Jon got his First of Year Pectoral Sandpiper, there were no really good or even almost good shorebird species. We did have a lot of American Pipits and I will swallow my pride and admit that I also had a Lapland Longspur which I did not know it until someone reviewed my American Pipit photos and found that one was a Lapland Longspur. Shame on me…Three Red Breasted Mergansers in the bay were also new for the month.

Pectoral Sandpiper
American Pipit
Lapland Longspur

Time to head south – to the Westport area, about an hour away. How much better that drive would be if it did not include driving through the very depressed and depressing towns of Hoquiam and Aberdeen – hard hit by changes in the timber business and the opioid crisis. They are reminders to me of how good my life is and that birding like we do is a luxury to be appreciated no matter what birds are seen. We were back on the open beach at Midway south of Westport again looking for Semipalmated Plover but also for Snowy Plovers which we had missed on the Ocean Shores side. And again we found neither. But again there was a consolation prize as we had a single Whimbrel standing out on the beach which was my first for September and Jon’s first for the year. We also had much better (although not terrific) looks at Short Billed Dowitchers than we had on the Smith Island Cruise the previous day.

Short Billed Dowitchers

A visit to the Westport side always includes a visit to the Tokeland Marina, the go to spot in Washington for Willets and in the last few years also for Godwits – mostly Marbled but sometimes the much rarer Bar Tailed or Hudsonian. My first Washington Willet was at the Marina on September 8, 2010 and felt fortunate to see 2. In 2012 I saw 6 there. The next year I saw 8. Since then I have seen more than a dozen and as many as 24 every year. On this day we had 15 and also had a small flock of 40 Marbled Godwits. Jon was the first to notice that one of the Godwits looked different. They were close and in good light and I got a photo. Bingo – we had a Bar Tailed Godwit, the first report of one there this year and a new bird for the year for all of us. [After our report on Ebird, dozens of birders have seen it there and it remains still.] All three of these larger shorebirds were new for September and added to the earlier finds brought the total for the day to 12 and my month total to 192.

Marbled Godwit
Bar Tailed Godwit

We made a final try for Snowy Plovers in the dunes near Grayland Beach State Park – and were not successful. I have had really good luck the last few years finding this often hard to find species and had put it in my “not for sure” group only because it can hide in the dunes and not be seen even though present. But I had been confident that I would find one. I f the pelagic trip happened I would be back at the coast, so put it on my “get it later” list. More surprising to me was the absence of Semipalmated Plovers. I thought they were a certainty. Looking over my Ebird reports, I found that I had over 100 observations of this species. While there were a few for Septembers in years past, the greater majority was during Spring migration or in August, so maybe some bad projections on my part.

Week 2 – Day 6 – Focused Birding

On April 14th this year I birded on C-Post Road in Eastern Snohomish County and had both Sora and Red Breasted Sapsucker – in fact 3 of them. These were both species I needed in September and I had missed them in some other locations where they had been seen recently – or for the Sora, had been heard. This would be my only birding this day as I had personal appointments. It was another beautiful day. Some enforcement officers from one of the wildlife organizations drove up and got out of their truck just as I started birding. They walked what I think is north on the road and disappeared. I heard some rhythmic tapping but it was too fast for a Sapsucker. A Downy Woodpecker flew over head. It was just birdy enough to keep me checking every few minutes. I did not know what might be there but was willing to be surprised. I had some sparrows, a Warbling Vireo and Black Throated Gray and Orange Crowned Warblers. A few minutes later I heard another woodpecker – this time a Northern Flicker. I tried playback for Sora at the spot I had them earlier in the year and again at some similar habitat further down the road. I kept going until I came to the river where an American Dipper was playing in the river – a much better photo than earlier.

American Dipper

At the river, I found the Fish and Wildlife officers. They were looking for illegal fishing, something they told me happened all too often there and at many other places in the area. We talked a little about birds and they wished me well. I mention this only because I had never seen this before and it saddened me to know that this was apparently a big problem. .Just as we parted ways, I heard the familiar “piterick” call of a Western Tanager. It made a brief appearance and flew off. I don’t know if it was migrating through or if it had found a good place to stay the winter. Then some more tapping and this sounded like the cadence of a sapsucker. It had been in the same tree as the tanager but had not started tapping until the tanager flew off – causation or coincidence. No matter, the Red Breasted Sapsucker posed nicely and I had one of the targets for the day and species #193 for the month. It had been a very pleasant hour. I wondered what I would have thought or done if I had seen someone fishing. I wonder what they would have thought or done if they saw me me birding.

Red Breasted Sapsucker

Week 2 – Day 7 – Heading to Neah Bay

Without question Neah Bay is near the top of my list of favorite birding spots in Washington. Located at the northwest tip of the Olympic Peninsula with the Pacific Ocean on the west and the Straits of San Juan de Fuca on the north, it is both a great spot for water oriented birds and also for rarities in migration or almost any time. The Covid 19 pandemic had closed the area for a couple of years as the Makah Tribe was devastated by the disease and closed the area off to visitors to prevent more problems. I felt bad for the birders who did Big Years in Washington in 2020 and 2021 as this resource for many incredible rarities was unavailable. I normally make at least two visits to Neah Bay each year often chasing rarities reported the day before. This would be my first visit in two years with the possibility of finding species #200 for the month there or on the trip.

I caught the 5:35 a.m. ferry from Edmonds to Kingston. With each passing day the sunrise came later and later and it was completely dark on the passage across Puget Sound – no birding at all. From Kingston I headed north and a bit west taking the road to Hansville and Point No Point. Although there were other possibilities, the main target here was Bonaparte’s Gull. I had probably seen one scoping the Sound from my condo but if so it was too far out for a positive ID. At Point No Point there can be hundreds or even thousands of them. Often Parasitic Jaegers are mixed in and I have seen a very rare Little Gull there. As expected Bonaparte’s Gulls flew by in groups ranging from one or two to many dozens. I conservatively estimated the count at 400 and moved on. It was still pretty gray at 6:35 a.m. so visibility was low and no decent photos.

I back tracked to Highway 104 and continued north and east by passing usual stops in the Sequim area as I was headed to Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park. The good news was that the road to Hurricane Ridge was open but the bad news was that it was scheduled to close for maintenance work beginning the next day and everyone seemed to know this and was visiting this day as their last chance. The fact that it was a beautiful day drew even more crowds. There were three specific targets on this visit with the chance for some others. The targets were Canada Jay, Clark’s Nutcracker and Sooty Grouse. I parked at the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center and walked a number of the trails. There were people everywhere, not obnoxiously so but noisy and I am sure that is the main reason that I saw no grouse and only a single Canada Jay. There seemed to be Dark Eyed Juncos everywhere – flushing from the ground as people walked by, then returning as they passed, only to be flushed by the next group of walkers. I gave it an hour and then left hoping for better luck at the Hurricane Hill trails where I have almost always had Sooty Grouse.

Of course to find a Sooty Grouse on the trail you have to be on the trail and that would mean finding a parking space. There were none and at least a half dozen cars were waiting for a space to open. It was 10:30 a.m. and more cars were streaming in. I gave up and continued my trip west heading to Neah Bay. Alex Patia had reported an American Golden Plover at West Twin River Mouth on Highway 112. I had not knowingly stopped at this spot before. There is an easy pullout off the highway. A camper was there, but lots of room, so I grabbed my scope and headed to the water. There were lots of birds including more than 50 Harlequin Ducks and 25 Black Turnstones. It was a roosting and bathing spot for gulls including more than 250 California Gulls and a dozen Short Billed Gulls (sure wish they were still called Mew Gulls). I did not find the Golden Plover but stay tuned for a return visit. I left at noon and by 1:30 p.m. I was birding in Neah Bay. It seemed super quiet in town with very few passerines in trees near Butler’s or on the road (closed) out to the jetty. I watched continuously for birds perched on wires hoping for Tropical Kingbird – still a little early but a possibility.

Harlequin Ducks

In the Bay itself there were the usual suspects but nothing really exciting except for a single female Black Scoter – new for the year. Much better views of White Winged Scoters and lots of Hooded Mergansers.

White Winged Scoter
Hooded Mergansers

I birded the Sewage Treatment Plant and the Wa’atch River and added only a Lesser Scaup. I spent much of the afternoon hiking out to the end of the trail at Cape Flattery where fortunately I found a flock of 18 Black Oystercatchers – a species I thought was likely on the Birdfest trip but was missed and also could have been seen at any of a number of spots along Highway 112. I drove up onto Bahokas Peak hoping for Sooty Grouse where I have seen them before or maybe a Northern Pygmy Owl. No go.

Black Oystercatcher

Honestly it may have been the quietest day of birding ever at Neah Bay. Also honestly it would have been nice to find some other birders there, but I did not. Surprising. I spent the night at Butler’s, happy to bring some revenue to Nancy who survived the pandemic and was booked solid for the next day so still in business. All in all it had been a pleasant but relatively unproductive day at least compared to possible additions. For the day I had added 6 new species and was at 198 for the month. Nothing rare and there had been some misses that would have brought me to my goal. I had added 79 species for the week aided immensely by the two excellent days in Eastern Washington. I had ended Week 1 a bit unhappy. Now my spirits were high and I began thinking of what about more than 200. But that would just have to wait.

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