It’s January 2020 – the start of a new year and the start of a new decade. Lots of plans and no way to tell what really lies ahead, but I know 2020 will be quite different from last year and from many of the ones preceding it. Birds and birding will remain a big part of my life, but there is no birding “project” ahead. No 50 states to visit. No Big Year in Washington or anywhere else. Right now, I am feeling a bit of withdrawal and although I had a chance to write up a wonderful trip to San Francisco which had a little birding, in the following week I was in recovery mode from a bad cold and so did not really get out much. There was nothing current for any blog post. I like to write, though, and wanted to get back to it. This is a start – a retrospective on 2019 with just a little commentary and a photo or two for each month.
For most months I was birding somewhere outside of Washington – working on my 50/50/50 Adventure and/or chasing rarities in British Columbia. For at least a day or two I was also able to bird in familiar places in Washington. It was an excellent year in all respects. What follows is a month by month catalog of favorite photos – one from Washington and one from elsewhere when I birded in and out of state. A little background is added. It was often very hard to select only one photo to include – a nice dilemma to have.
Short Eared Owl Eide Road/Snohomish County January 15th
I had a great birding start to the month on January 1st with some birding in my home town of Edmonds, WA followed by time in Skagit County about 40 miles north. 76 species that first day highlighted by a Merlin, a Peregrine Falcon and 5 Short Eared Owls in Skagit County. I had good photos of the latter from that day but I have chosen an even better photo from Eide Road in Snohomish County – about 20 miles to the south from later that month.
End of Month total for Washington – 160 Species
Black Rosy Finch – Sandia Crest Scenic Highway, Cedar Crest, New Mexico – January 19th
I only birded out of state once in January 2019 – a great visit to New Mexico as part of the 50 state project. It was a fun 3 day whirlwind visit with 82 species seen highlighted by time at Bosque del Apache NWR and a visit to Sandia Crest in heavy snow looking for Rosy Finches. I had only seen a single Black Rosy Finch before – in Colorado in 2016 and had an awful photo. This time there were at least 75 Black Rosy Finches and the photos were much better.
End of Month total for ABA Area- 187 Species
Northern Mockingbird – Anacortes, WA – February 28th
Northern Mockingbirds are uncommon in Washington with maybe a handful of records each year. When one is reported, listers like me chase after them for year and county lists. This one was around for several days in Anacortes, WA and posed nicely for Ann Marie Wood and me on a sunny day. There were many other nice Washington birds from trips to the Coast and to the Okanogan area but nothing really rare and I like this photo. It was also the last bird seen that month.
End of Month total for Washington- 183 Species
Red Billed Leiothorix – Waimea, HI – February 8th
Hawaii always seemed like it would be the toughest state in which to find 50 species in a single day. I was able to join my daughter, son-in-law and grandson there on Maui in February and tacked on a couple of days on the Big Island to try for the targeted 50. With the help of excellent guide Lance Tanino, I just barely made it with 51 species on February 7th. The next morning I found the Red Billed Leiothorix that we missed on the Big Day and include the photo as it is a favorite although like most others in Hawaii it is an introduced species. All told, I had 60 species in Hawaii. It was the only state visited outside of Washington in February.
End of Month total for ABA (incl. Hawaii) – 250 Species
Harlequin Duck – Semiahmoo Spit, WA – March 17th
March was a very special month as it was the month I met Cindy Bailey who has become a most important part of my life. I hope and expect I will be able to acknowledge that in every year end retrospective I do in future years – a very good feeling. Not even two weeks after we met we went on our first birding trip – a visit to the Semiahmoo Spit in Whatcom County, Washington – a few miles from the Canadian Border. The first bird that turned Cindy’s head was a Black Oystercatcher, but it was this Harlequin Duck that hooked her. She may never be a hard core birder, and that is just fine, but her participation and support sure are appreciated. Not a lot of birding that month as much time was devoted to getting to know each other, but we did a first trip to Eastern Washington and there were no trips outside of Washington at all.
End of Month total for Washington- 206 Species
Elsewhere – (No Out of State Birding in March)
End of Month total for ABA (incl. Hawaii) – 268 Species
Laysan Albatross – Westport – Offshore Waters, April 20th
There are many diverse habitats in Washington with Puget Sound, big forests, high mountains, sagebrush and agricultural areas, and of course the Pacific Ocean. I usually try to go on at least two pelagic trips out of Westport, WA each year – once in the Spring and again in the Fall. In addition to great “regular” birds, there is always the chance for something special. Not too long ago sighting a Laysan Albatross was that something special. With the establishment of a breeding colony off the coast of Mexico, they are now fairly common on our trips – but still a spectacular experience. In April, I had an excellent pelagic trip combined with some “list building” at the coast and then I closed the month with another good trip to Eastern Washington catching some of the early migration.
End of Month total for Washington- 252 Species
Tufted Titmouse – Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary, MA – April 30th
My only birding outside of Washington in April was during a walk with my daughter in Massachusetts where the focus was on family and then getting ready for a multi-state birding adventure in May for my 50/50/50 project. Only a handful of species and I include the Tufted Titmouse because it was with her the previous year that I got my first ABA photo of this species. I would see many more in the months ahead.
End of Month total for ABA (incl. Hawaii) – 317 Species
Black Backed Woodpecker – Kittitas County – May 29th
With Spring migration in full force, May is generally the best month to bird in most states – including Washington. But in 2019, it was almost an afterthought in Washington as I was elsewhere through May 28th and only birded a single day in my home state. But it was a great day – again in Eastern Washington catching birds that had arrived while I was gone – and looking for a Black Backed Woodpecker in a burn area and then doing some owling at night. I had 84 species that day, somewhat making up for time lost.
End of Month total for Washington- 275 Species
Connecticut Warbler – Magee Marsh – May 15th
There is no good way to summarize the month of May “elsewhere – outside of Washington” or to select only a single photo to include. This was the month of the BIG TRIP for my 50/50/50 Adventure and I birded in 16 different states, saw incredible places and birds with incredible people. I have chosen my photo of a Connecticut Warbler to represent this amazing month in my birding life. I never expected to see let alone photograph one. Additionally it was at Magee Marsh, a famous birding location on Lake Erie in Ohio that I had never visited before. As I related in my blog posts on the visit there, I intersected with some extraordinary birders – new and old friends and was also joined by Cindy for part of a day. So that clinched the choice. It could just as well have been the Kirtland’s Warbler from Michigan, the Prothonotary Warbler from West Virginia, the Piping Plover from Connecticut, the Black Billed Cuckoo from Pennsylvania or any of many other great birds.
Altogether I saw 298 species in May one of my top 5 best months ever,
End of Month total for ABA (incl. Hawaii) – 443 Species
Marbled Murrelet, Edmonds WA – June 23rd
June was a fun combination of some more birding in Washington – a couple of chases but mostly in Eastern Washington on the way to and back from some 50/50/50 birding in the Mountain States. Hometown Edmonds, WA is situated on Puget Sound and has a public fishing pier that gives great access to some saltwater species that can often be seen close up. My Washington photo for June is of a Marbled Murrelet with a fish that it caught right off the Edmonds Pier. The Murrelet is one of 4 alcid species, adding Rhinoceros Auklet, Pigeon Guillemot, and Common Murre that are regularly seen off the pier, about a mile from my home. On rare occasions two other alcids have been seen here – Ancient Murrelet and Tufted Puffin and there have also been extremely rare sightings of a Horned Puffin and a Cassin’s Auklet.
End of Month total for Washington – 297 Species
Flammulated Owl – East Canyon – Big Mountain Pass, UT – June 12th
June brought me to Idaho where I added Cassia Crossbill to my life list and got 50 species in a day. Next up was Utah. I got 50 species in a day on my own and then joined Tim Avery to do it again, but far more importantly with his expert help, I finally got a lifer photo of a Flammulated Owl. I had heard dozens but this was my first good visual and photo. Cindy flew in to Salt Lake City and then we birded and played in Wyoming and Montana with visits to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone and some fishing on the Bitterroot River. An excellent month.
End of Month total for ABA (incl. Hawaii) – 443 Species
Rose Breasted Grosbeak – Seattle, WA – July 8th
The Rose Breasted Grosbeak was the last species I saw in Washington that was not on the Review Committee list. That first one was a female in Neah Bay in October 2016. Then a young male showed up in Seattle in December 2017 and remained for additional views in 2018. But the best of the lot was the bright male shown here that came to a feeder in Seattle in July 2019. In July, Cindy and I visited Sun Mountain Lodge and easily found numerous Dusky Grouse – a regular there.
End of Month total for Washington- 307 Species
Common Ringed Plover – Boundary Bay, B.C. Canada – July 15, 2019
Good friend Melissa Hafting from Vancouver, B.C. called me on July 14th and told me there was a Common Ringed Plover at Boundary Bay and that she and others would be searching for it the next day. A mega-rarity, I could not resist and joined her and others the following day for the search. It took some doing as it staked out an area that could not be seen from our first viewing spot. Eventually we hiked out to the other side of a little spit and found it in great light and very cooperative – an ABA Lifer for almost all of us.
End of Month total for ABA (incl. Hawaii) – 465 Species
Hudsonian Godwit – Crockett Lake, Whidbey Island, WA – August 5th
August is generally the beginning of good fall migration – especially for rare shorebirds in Washington. I was able to relocate the Hudsonian Godwit that had been reported from Crockett Lake on Whidbey Island. It had moved to a different spot that took some walking through the salucornia but fortunately remained there for several days and many others followed my footsteps out for the bird. Other good first of year shorebirds in the month included Solitary, Baird’s and Stilt Sandpiper. Frank Caruso and I also had some Gray Crowned Rosy Finches at Mt. Rainier – but no Ptarmigan.
End of Month total for Washington- 313 Species
Elsewhere (No Out of State Birding in August)
End of Month total for ABA (incl. Hawaii) – 467 Species
Flesh Footed Shearwater – Westport Pelagic – September 7th
Since much of September was spent in the Midwest, there was not much birding in Washington, but I was able to bird the Coast and then join Westport Seabirds for another pelagic trip. Among the FOY’s seen were South Polar Skua, Long Tailed Jaeger, Arctic Tern and Buller’s, Short Tailed and Flesh Footed Shearwaters. I also ended the month with a birding trip trying once again for a visual and photo of a Boreal Owl at Mt. Rainier – and yet again one heard but not seen – sigh!!
End of Month total for Washington- 323 Species
Krider’s Red Tailed Hawk – North Dakota – September 15th
My 50/50/50 birding took me to Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska. Many good times with new and old friends and many fun birds. I have chosen a photo of a beautiful very white Krider’s Red Tailed Hawk. It was a tough choice though as there were great birds and I got my best photo ever of a favorite – Red Headed Woodpecker.
End of Month total for ABA (incl. Hawaii) – 477 Species
Eurasian Tree Sparrow – Neah Bay, WA – October 26th
October was somewhat of a recovery month. I had only one more trip ahead to close out the 50/50/50 project and I had a lot of catching up to do with “normal life” matters left unattended from the previous months. I had a chance to go to Neah Bay the last week of the month. I missed a few specialties/rarities but did find the Orchard Oriole. I also found something else that was rare but I blew it big time. A flock of “sparrows” were feeding in brush at Butler’s Motel and then flew across the street to more brush. They were seemingly all House Sparrows. As I scanned the flock, one looked “different” specifically with a dark spot on the cheek. I told myself that it looked “kinda like” an Eurasian Tree Sparrow which is abundant in Europe but in the U.S. is found only around St. Louis, MO where I saw my first one in 2018. I also told myself that it was impossible for one to be here and then thought nothing of it, and as the flock flew off I moved on. Later that day I told the story to the person in Missouri who had shown me the Eurasian Tree Sparrow there. And that was that until the next day when someone reported seeing a Eurasian Tree Sparrow at Butler’s AND had a confirming photo. I had really blown it big time – pretty embarrassing. The photo above is of the Sparrow in Missouri. Sigh (again).
End of Month total for Washington- 326 Species
Yellow Browed Warbler – Panama Flats, Victoria, B.C., Canada – October 19th
In a replay of the Common Ringed Plover in July, I got a message from Melissa Hafting. Incredibly a Yellow Browed Warbler had been seen at Panama Flats, near Victoria, B.C. So off I went the next day and with dozens of others, including Melissa, was able to get a glimpse and pretty poor photo of this incredible mega-rarity. Fewer than a handful have ever been seen in the Western Hemisphere.
End of Month total for ABA (incl. Hawaii) – 480 Species
Mountain Plover – Griffiths Priday SP – WA – November 30th
I had finished my 50/50/50 Adventure in Arkansas on November 9th. I was not burned out but not real motivated. There had already been MANY birding days in Washington when I had seen 50 or more species, but I felt a need to have one more in the same month that the 50/50/50 Adventure had ended. A trip to the Coast on November 21st added a couple of species for the year and with a couple of stops elsewhere enabled me to have 70 species for the day. I didn’t know that I would be returning to the coast about a week later chasing a State Lifer. Carl Haynie had found a Mountain Plover at Griffiths Priday State Park just north of Ocean Shores. Jon Houghton and I went the next day, November 30th and found birding friend Scott Downs who was already on the Plover. Yay!! Jon and I added Rock Sandpiper (regular but uncommon) at the Point Brown jetty and then the Lesser Black Backed Gull (even more uncommon) at the mouth of the Cedar River – a great way to end the month.
End of Month total for Washington- 329 Species
LeConte’s Sparrow – Woolsey Wet Prairie – Arkansas – November 9th
Kansas was the last of the 50 states I had not ever visited. It is where I started my last 50/50/50 Adventure trek – a week-long trip to Kansas, then Oklahoma and then finally Arkansas. November is not the birdiest of months but with excellent help from some really super birders and very fun folks, I was able to find the targeted 50 species on single days in each state. The project was completed!!!!! There were many great birds and I have chosen a photo of a LeConte’s Sparrow. It’s orange tones are striking and beautiful. It can be a difficult bird to see let alone photograph as it skulks in heavy high grass. We had several without photos in Oklahoma and then a much more cooperative one in Arkansas.
End of Month total for ABA (incl. Hawaii) – 487 Species
Ross’s Gull – Union Bay, Seattle, WA – December 1st
What a way to start a month. Around 1:40 p.m. on Monday December 1st, Dennis Paulson posted on Tweeters that there was a Ross’s Gull in Union Bay in Seattle. Even though I was in the shower and 12 miles away when the post appeared, I was there by 2:30 p.m and joined another 10 birders drawn by the chance to see this mega-rarity. Birders continued to arrive and the Ross’s Gull cooperated until at about 3:15, it flew off its platform perch and within another 2 minutes it had been caught by a Bald Eagle and … was consumed. What a story!! After that hardly anything else would matter. I again had the Lesser Black Backed Gull and this time with a Glaucous Gull at the mouth of the Cedar River and then successfully chased a very rare Emperor Goose on Dungeness Spit in Clallam County before ending the year with a few days of birding in the Okanogan where birds were relatively scarce. A great month to end a very great year!!
With all the time spent out of state in 2019, I was pleased to end the year with 335 species in Washington even though that tied my lowest number of species in Washington for the last 8 years. I don’t expect to be anywhere near that number in years ahead.
End of Month and 2019 Year End total for Washington- 335 Species
Elsewhere (No Out of State Birding in December)
End of Month total for ABA (incl. Hawaii) – 494 Species
There is no way 2020 will compare favorably with 2019, but in birding you never know. It seems like there will be no irruption of northern species this winter and no Snowy Owls have been reported yet. I am still hoping that this will be the year that a Smew shows up — someday.
Yesterday (January 10th), Frank Caruso relocated a Northern Saw Whet Owl in Lynndale Park. It remained long enough for me to get there and see it and to take Cindy later – her third owl species as we had Short Eared Owls in Skagit County earlier in the week. How nice if a Snowy would be #4…
Northern Saw Whet Owl – Lynnwood, WA – January 10, 2020