Big September – Week 3 – Moving the Finish Line

Week 3 – Day 1 – Target Reached in Neah Bay

Given all the good birding I have had at Neah Bay, I thought it would be fitting to find species #200 for September there. I did but definitely not with a special species as I had envisioned. In the morning I returned to Bahokas Peak hoping that being there early would find a Sooty Grouse family gravelling on the road. I did find a new species on the road but not a Sooty Grouse – a Varied Thrush. It had been on my most probable list but had eluded me until this observation. Glad to get it.

After Bahokas I returned to Butler’s Hotel to get my bag and head off towards home first checking the bay again and the Wa’atch Valley. As I got to Butler’s I heard a familiar chirping as a small flock of Pine Siskins flew in. Not an exciting species for #200 but a goal is a goal and reaching one feels good. I would have preferred a Pine Grosbeak, but I gave a short sigh of relief and started looking for species #201.

Pine Siskin #200 – Butler’s Hotel

Finding nothing new I headed back to the West Twin River Mouth armed with better insight into where to look for the American Golden Plover. Armed with that information I scanned the rocks on the beach carefully and was able to find it and get good photos. I am almost certain it was there the previous day and I had overlooked it among the rocks. In any event, it was a great species to start the add-on count beyond 200 species. On the rocks there were even more Black Turnstones before – at least 70 and in the water again over 50 Harlequin Ducks.

American Golden Plover
Black Turnstone

I tried for Sora at Kitchen Dick Ponds in Sequim without success and made a couple of other stops along the way, but found nothing new for the month. Still 201 had me feeling pretty good.

Week 3 – Day 2 – A Fly By and a Sewage Pond

My morning started with a sound I had not heard for a while – the cackles of Cackling Geese as a flock of at least 40 flew by our condo in Edmonds. I had often checked out the window for geese – not the Cacklers but Brant which I see daily in the winter. I had expected them to be back in September but had not seen any yet. This flock was a good substitute.

One more species was on target for the day – Ring Necked Duck. I had expected to see them many times already but they had not cooperated. Scope in hand, I went to the Everett Sewage Treatment Plant. Later there would be thousands of ducks there of many species, but migration was just underway and neither numbers nor diversity were there yet. I had seven duck species fortunately including at least 5 Ring Necked Ducks. Again I tried and failed to find a Sora – getting its cousin Virginia Rail only. That was it for the day – 203 species in hand and ready for another trip to Eastern Washington the next day.

Week 2 – Day 3 – East Again

My routine on this trip departed from my usual forays into Eastern Washington as I made no stops in Kittitas County and went directly to Soap Lake in Grant County hoping to find some Eared Grebes and possibly a Semipalmated Plover which had been reported their earlier in the week. I arrived at 9:00 a.m. and found the lake full of birds. At least 150 of them were Eared Grebes in every plumage you could imagine and another 500 or so were Ruddy Ducks – none in full breeding plumage. Maybe some other species were mixed in but there were 150+ Ring Billed Gulls also. I am sure I undercounted the Killdeer at 18 but most importantly there were 2 Semipalmated Plovers with a small group of Killdeer that flew from the south end of the lake towards the north end where I lost them. How strange to miss the Semipalmated Plovers on the ocean beaches (and at some western Washington tide flats) and to find them in Central Washington.

Eared Grebe Still with “Ears”
Eared Grebes – Nonbreeding
Ruddy Duck

Still hoping for a Sora, I then went to Rocky Ford. I have had Sora there before but have probably visited there more often years ago fly fishing. There are some very large but also very picky trout there, assuredly there that morning also but no Soras at least for me – some Wood Ducks and Pied Billed Grebes. A Marsh Wren was buzzing and I added it to the Ebird list not realizing that somehow I had either not seen one earlier or had forgotten to include it on my report. It was on the list now. This is also a good area for Burrowing Owls. Fortunately I had one earlier in the month since I did not find one on this day. Throughout the morning I had also kept my eyes open for a Western Kingbird still dreaming – and still not finding it.

Pied Billed Grebe – Rocky Ford

I had seen recent reports of Clark’s Nutcracker and Cassin’s Finch from the National Fish Hatchery in Leavenworth. My debate was whether to go there via Highway 2 or return home via Interstate 90 and try again for the Cassin’s Finch in the Cle Elum area. The Nutcracker was the deciding factor so went to the Fish Hatchery an hour and a half away. I am not real familiar with the area around Wenatchee and Cashmere which were on the way to Leavenworth. If I had planned the trip better, I probably would have made some other stops and found something new, but lacking that experience I went directly to the Hatchery. While there can be good birding at the Hatchery itself, it is the connecting trails (used for X-Country skiing in the winter) that is the better territory. I spent an hour walking the trails and had little to show for it. There were no Nutcrackers but I finally found a Cassin’s Finch or at least so I thought. I heard what sounded to me to be something close to the “kee-yup” call of the Cassin’s Finch and finally tracked down and photographed a single bird. There was not a bit of red on it. Was it a Cassin’s Finch or the closely related and similar (in this plumage) Purple Finch. Not an area of my expertise. Review of the photo later – mostly by others concluded it was a Purple Finch – still new for the month but again a strike out on what I thought would be an easy to find Cassin’s Finch. Nothing else of note but a photo I really liked of a Red Breasted Nuthatch.

Purple Finch
Red Breasted Nuthatch

As it turned out I did return via Interstate 90 since Highway 2 was closed due to the continuing Bolt fire. This meant first going over Blewett Pass down to Cle Elum, a lovely route. I considered stopping at Liberty where I generally go for night birds earlier in the spring but which also has good habitat for grouse, thrushes and yes Cassin’s Finch, but with the additional time going this route and thinking I may already have had a Cassin’s Finch, I bypassed it and just headed home without another stop. Looking back, this was somewhat of a wasted trip despite adding three ever harder to come by species for the month. I could have spent more hours in good habitat looking for other species. I think it was a combination of being a bit tired and also not as motivated to add species after 200 – although that was going to change. I was at 207 species.

Week 3 – Days 4, 5 and 6 – “Chicago”, Football and a Big Surprise

It was Sunday September 18th and I had no plans to bird – nada -nothing. I was going to watch some football, do some laundry and scrounge up something to eat with nothing in the refrigerator and with Cindy still in Germany, no incentive to produce something really good. Our Condo has a great view of the Edmonds waterfront and Puget Sound but also overlooks a bit of wooded area and can even see the Edmonds Marsh. My only chore in Cindy’s absence was to be sure to water the plants on the balcony. As I was doing that I heard the familiar “Chicago, Chicago” call of California Quail. Interestingly I had only seen them once in the month previously, so not a new species for the month, but it was a new Yard Bird. I only wish that I had heard a Barred Owl or a Great Horned Owl – both of which I have heard from home in the past and still had not seen for the month. I did watch some football – a not surprising poor showing by the Seahawks getting stomped by the 49ers 27-7. I guess that was bird watching in a way.

These next days were going to be slow like Sunday. On Monday I was scheduled for my annual physical check up and later to get yet another Covid booster shot. On Tuesday Cindy and Greg would be returning home and I would get them at the airport. No birding was scheduled either day but on Monday morning I saw a real time post on the Snohomish County WhatsApp number that Steve Pink was seeing a Franklin’s Gull from the Edmonds Fishing Pier heading south. I was within a few feet of my spotting scope pointed in that direction and raced to it. I caught the Franklin’s Gull in flight probably less than 2 minutes after Steve’s post. A complete and very pleasant surprise checking off a species from the very “unlikely list” from my target projections. It was a really pretty day and I spent 45 minutes birding from the balcony. Including the Franklin’s Gull I had 15 species ranging from Anna’s Hummingbird to Merlin and Osprey and Heerman’s and Bonaparte’s Gulls and a Rhinoceros Auklet. It is a nice birding balcony.

Week 3 – Day 7One More for the List

The annual check-up went fine. I got boosted with the only reaction a little soreness that disappeared the next day and Cindy made it home safely and well from her trip. It would not have been fair to abandon her to go birding the day after she returned and I wanted to spend time with her and begin hearing stories. However, she slept in a bit so I snuck in some birding at the Stanwood STP hoping to find some new ducks for the month. I had 20 species in maybe 20 minutes of birding and added Bufflehead for the month. They were just returning to the area and would be easy for the rest of the year.

Bufflehead – Stanwood STP

This ended Week 3 of Big September and the count stood at 209 – only 11 new species for the week. But I had known this was to be the down week with Cindy’s return – better than seeing any new birds – and medical stuff. But I had hit and then went past the targeted 200 species. My pelagic trip was ahead and there were six more days after that. The next and last blog will cover those nine days – with a lot more species ahead.

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