A Siberian Accentor in Washington – Thank You Russ Koppendreyer

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

Siberian Accentor1

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)

Russ Accentor

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

Acc Tree

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.

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

Great Egret

Great Egret

California Scrub Jay

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!!

Siberian Accentor

Siberian Accentor

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.

Mt. Hood

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My Two “Girls” – Cindy and Chica

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

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

Accentor Book

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.

 

An Ivory Gull at Flathead Lake – What’s Behind a Complicated Chase

On January 31st, the following was posted on the Montana Rare Bird Alert:  “WOW!! This immature Ivory Gull, a state first, was photographed by Craig Barfoot yesterday (January 30th) at Blue Bay, Flathead Lake.”  It was reposted on the Facebook ABA Rare Bird Alert where I saw it.  The gull had originally been found on the 29th.  It was found again on the 31st so maybe it would stay.

On Cornell’s All About Birds website the Ivory Gull is described as “A small white gull of the high Arctic, the Ivory Gull only rarely comes south of the Bering Sea or the Maritime Provinces. In fact, it rarely is found away from pack ice, spending the winter on the ice north of Newfoundland.”  There have been a number of sightings in New England and very rarely in the Midwest and even as far South as Alabama BUT it is a VERY rare bird and is very much sought after by birders.  It had never been seen before in Montana.  There are two singular observations in Washington; none in Idaho or Oregon and only a couple in California.  I wanted to see it.

Here it is again, Rule 1 for a chase – GO NOW!!  It was already two days after the first observation.  Flathead Lake is 520 miles from Edmonds.  When I checked on the 31st, I found an “almost affordable” flight from Everett, WA to Kalispell, MT.  It is another 55 miles from there to the hotspot.  Not a great departure or return schedule so an overnight and two days were probably necessary. Not ideal…BUT IT WAS AN IVORY GULL!!

Map

And oh yeah, there was that Super Bowl Party thing.  Cindy and I had committed to attending it on Sunday February 2nd.  Rule 1 was NOT going to be followed.  I contacted some Edmonds birders with a plan.  If the Gull was seen again on Saturday the 1st and Sunday the 2nd, I would fly out on Monday hopefully see it then and then fly back on the morning of the 4th or if not seen on Monday, then try again on Tuesday.  They all had conflicts and could not go.

The fundamental basis for Rule 1 is that things change.  And change they did.  The area was hit by a big wind storm with winds exceeding 60 mph on Saturday February 1st.  Many disappointed observers failed to find the Ivory Gull.  Ken Trease from Edmonds had made the long drive and was one of them.  OK, so as of Saturday night – I was not going to go.   On to Super Bowl Sunday, still keeping an eye on Ebird reports.  And there it was…the Ivory Gull was seen again Sunday morning.  In fact Ken had stayed over on Saturday and fortunately was able to see the Ivory Gull Sunday morning.  As I said things change.  Another one.  The price for what had been a sort of affordable flight had doubled.  I really wanted to see the Ivory Gull BUT not at that price.

All day Sunday, I watched the bird reports on Ebird and related sites – continuing to do so as the Super Bowl started.  The Ivory Gull was seen in the morning and again in the afternoon.  Time for Plan B:  Make the drive and keep fingers crossed that it would return again on Monday.  If I left around 2:00 a.m. after a few hours of sleep, maybe I could get there by 11:00 a.m. Monday…but uh-oh that would actually be 12 p.m. as the time zone changed.  The bird’s pattern seemed to be to show in the morning with the afternoons being more questionable.  I adopted Plan B-2, paying somewhat delayed homage to the Go Now directive of Rule 1.  I would leave before the Super Bowl was over and drive as far as I could, sleep a few hours in the car and get to Flathead Lake as early as I could on Monday morning.   There were several mountain passes on the route and reports for all were good.  That too could change – I went now!!

I was on the road before 8:00 pm.  According to my GPS, allowing for gas stops etc. a non-stop drive would get me to the Lake before 6:00 a.m. Mountain Time.  Possible, but I knew that some sleep would be beneficial AND I expected I could make better time than that without getting a ticket along the way.  I drove through to Coeur d’Alene, ID making good time and found a Rest Area to try for a bit of sleep in the car.  Not super comfortable and it was very cold (in the teens) but I got a couple of hours of rest/sleep and was back on the road.  It had been dark the whole trip and dark in Idaho and Montana is very dark.  The roads were clear but there was snow everywhere and it was hard to ignore the warning signs to look for ice.  Either there was none or my Jeep handled it easily.  Not a single slip or slide.  It was also very cold.  Going over Lookout Pass between Idaho and Montana, it dipped down to 5 degrees.  I stayed in the car; the heater worked.

It helped that there was almost no traffic.  At one point I had traveled over 100 miles without passing a vehicle going in my direction or overtaking one either.  Gas stations in Idaho were “open” but only for gas – no food or services – after 11:00 p.m. on Sunday – no 24 hour availability.  Leaving the rest stop early on Monday morning around 2:00 a.m. a warning light came on my dashboard – low tire pressure.  Maybe just a result of sitting in the cold air, but I would have liked to get some air.  I checked at 6 gas stations in Idaho and then later in Montana.  Not a single one had air available.  Oh well what was the worst that could happen…on slippery roads, in the cold, in the dark, alone…  I left that thought and carried on.

Adrenaline is a wonderful thing.  The drive to get to Blue Bay and a chance for this amazing life bird was more than enough to get by on less than 2 hours of sleep.  I found some coffee at a truck stop in Montana.  Later there was a bathroom run at an open early McDonald’s with a “something McMuffin” and before 6:30 a.m. Mountain time, I was at the Blue Bay Campground at Flathead Lake.  There was a tiny hint of light and no one else was there, and it was windless and cold and clear.   I was surprised that no other birders were present.  Had I missed a post somewhere that the Ivory Gull had died?  There are terrible moments on a chase – especially a long one, and especially for a very special bird, when the doubt seeps in.  There is so much investment.  Was I at the wrong area even at the right place.  The bird had been reported “on the dock” but there were several docks including some much further down the lake.  There were NO birds.  Well there was one.  I heard the distinctive call note of a Townsend’s Solitaire.  It was atop a light post.  Barely visible as it was almost completely dark still.   It flew off.  Then I saw movement on the shore next to the boat launch.  Had the Solitaire just landed in the water?  No it was a second bird – an American Dipper.  Don’t know where it came from but I was interested in much bigger prey.  A few minutes later there was something the right size, but definitely the wrong color – a black Raven not a white Gull.

Dock at Blue Bay – Flathead Lake. Montana

Blue Bay2

I waited alone as the light improved but no birds were seen.  An hour passed – nada.  I walked out onto two of the docks – maybe it was there but hidden from my view from the shore.  Nope.  I returned to the car to turn on the heat and warm up a couple of times.  I texted Ken Trease around 7 a.m. Edmonds time and got a kind call back and Ken confirmed I was in the right place.  About 8:20 a.m. Mountain time, I emailed friend Melissa Hafting in Vancouver, B.C.  We had not been able to work out a combined trip – disappointing to both of us but moreso to her as she had missed an Ivory Gull in Nome by moments and very much wanted to see this bird.  I told her that so far it was a no-show.  The light was good and I was more than ready and getting a bit anxious.  I was beginning to think that I would have to abide by Rule 2 for a chase:  “If you do not follow Rule 1 and go now, you are not allowed to whine about it.”  I thought about whining but determined to just wait.

Seemingly out of nowhere 10 minutes after I had emailed Melissa, a gull was flying towards me from out on the Lake.  It passed by the large dock at the Marina and flew towards the smaller dock near the entrance to the campground.  It seemed too big for an Ivory Gull – more like the somewhat larger Ring Billed Gull which would not be surprising at this location.  I did not see dark wing tips – maybe, maybe, maybe – please, please, please.  I got a quick photo as it flew by.  It did not land on the dock.  It turned and flew towards me – right at me – and landed not more than 100 feet away on the shore.  It was without doubt the Ivory Gull and without doubt I was ecstatic!!

Ivory Gull – First View in Flight

Ivory Gull Flight2

Like the Ross’s Gull, Ivory Gulls in their native habitats rarely see any people and are not at all concerned about us.  It truly was as if I was not there as the Ivory Gull paid me no mind whatsoever.  About 5 minutes after first spotting the gull, another birder arrived parking on the boat launch ramp which was between the two sets of docks.  I later learned that this was Eric Rasmussen, an excellent birder/ornithologist from Missoula.  He had been scanning the area from outside the park and now he had his scope on it in front of me.  I made sure not to startle the bird, but approached for better photos walking onto one of the docks to get closer as the gull remained on the shore and this would give me a great angle.  I need not have worried.  The Ivory Gull kept foraging and kept coming towards me – getting to within less than 25 feet.  My camera could just barely focus it was so close.

2P5A9858r

The water close to the shore and next to the dock was partially frozen and my favorite photos were of the Ivory Gull standing on the ice – almost as if it was on its usual frozen habitat in the far north.

Gull on ICe

After many shots, I left my post and went to see who this other birder was.  Eric had driven in from Missoula and it was from him that I learned of the big windstorm on Saturday that explained the absence of observations that day.   Eric is a Field Ornithologist/Naturalist at MPG Wildlife which is a very interesting organization that stewards and manages a 15,000 acre ranch for wildlife preservation and study.  As with almost all other birding adventures, there is a likelihood of finding great people and places along with the great birds.  We shared many stories including about having partners who are not birders but are interested in birds – well at least the charismatic ones.

We stood on the boat ramp and watched the Ivory Gull continue to forage and then it flew off for a second – and then returned and landed 20 feet away from us – completely ignoring our existence.  The photo below is not high quality – but it was taken with my phone.  I never expected to see an Ivory Gull and certainly would never have expected to get a photo of one with a cell phone – unless I was on some inflatable on a high arctic adventure which was not going to happen.

Cell Phone Photo

Phone Picture

The Gull foraged on the shoreline to the left and right of the ramp.  We took hundreds of photos in the hour or so that we enjoyed this incredible opportunity.  Finally I had to leave as I wanted to get back to Edmonds.  As I returned to my car another car pulled in and they could immediately see the Ivory Gull on the rocky shore and they sped off on foot for better looks.  It did not seem like they had paid their proper dues with the instant gratification, but I have been in that spot myself so I was just happy they were able to see the gull.

2P5A9872r

The return trip was much different than the journey to start the chase.  For one thing it was bright sun and all of that unseen territory in the darkness of the night was now visible – and gorgeous.  Snow on the beautiful mountains and incredible lakes and rivers which made me think of flyfishing and trout.  I was able to stop at a Les Schwab Tire Center and get air into my tires and I had a nice chat with the guy there who actually appreciated hearing about my trek and the rare bird nearby.

Scenery

Mountains1

Mountains2

As I was reveling in my good fortune and the marvelous Ivory Gull, a sign caught my eye with the promise of coffee and a bakery.  I felt a celebratory reward was in order so in I went.  This was not some urban and urbane frou frou bakery.  The cinnamon rolls were large enough for a hard working cowboy’s appetite – too big for me even for a grand celebration.  I found a nice looking confection with sliced almonds on top that looked manageable (and yummy).  It was only after my first bite that I found the cream filling which I am sure doubled the calories.  Nevertheless I did finish the whole thing.

Coffee and a Dessert

Coffee

So sustained, I drove all the way back with a brief stop for a 20 minute cat nap outside Post Falls, ID and then a little bit of birding at a favorite spot near Suncadia in Washington.  To avoid traffic into Seattle, I stopped for dinner in Issaquah – a good decision as afterwards it was clear sailing home.

It was quite a trip.  Over 1000 miles in less than 24 hours and an incredible encounter with a rare and beautiful bird that I never expected to see.  When I set off, I figured the trek would give me a story to tell one way or the other.  The story is oh so much better having seen the Ivory Gull but just making the effort and pushing on with almost no sleep was yet another confirmation of participating in the adventures that life – and birding – have to offer.   The photo was the 710th ABA species photographed.  More ahead I hope, but I have been very fortunate to have had many great adventures lately – mostly involving more birds of the North.  In just the last two months, I have seen a Ross’s Gull, a Glaucous Gull, a Dovekie, a Barnacle Goose, a Gyrfalcon and now an Ivory Gull.  I think I would still decide to trade them all for a single Male Smew but adding the Ivory Gull makes it a tougher decision.

Last

Familiar Targets in Familiar Territory

The cold and accompanying cough and congestion had been with me for 32 days.  Maybe it was a second one as I thought I was over the one acquired on the San Francisco trip as I left for Boston two weeks ago.  Grandson Griffin had a cold and he is a sharing kind of guy.  And I am sure birding in the New England cold with temps in the 20’s and single digits with wind chill did not help.   In any even I had been almost entirely indoors for a week and needed to get out.  I had hoped for company but did not want to share germs so I headed off alone on Tuesday, January 28th to look for birds on familiar turf in Snohomish and Skagit counties.  Not going to be doing a big Washington list this year, but there will still be a list to keep.

My first stop was at Tulalip Bay to see if Maxine Reid’s pet Ruddy Turnstone was still around.  Not really her pet of course, but she discovered it a year or two ago and reports it frequently – sharing with us all.  It was not at my first stop – the spit, but I found it with Dunlin and Black Turnstones on the logs at the marina – another of its hangouts.  Seeing one in Washington always reminds me of how birding is so different on the two coasts.  Ruddies are abundant in the East and regular but uncommon here where Black Turnstones are abundant.  If a Black Turnstone ever showed up on the East Coast it would be a mega event.

Ruddy Turnstone (from the spit – too distant for photos this day)

Ruddy Turnstone

Next was a visit to Stanwood.  Yellow Headed Blackbirds had been seen near the same area on 98th Avenue where the Vermilion Flycatcher had been seen in 2018.  The area had tons of casual water in the fields and there were many ducks including my FOY Eurasian Wigeon.  There were also many blackbirds and Starlings.  As is soften the case, the flocks would form, fly off and reform within minutes.  I was able to see a single male Yellow Headed Blackbird on the ground in shallow water on a flagged off area for a second before a tractor came by and sent them all off to the trees.  I settled for that brief glance.

Target number 3 was a Wild Turkey on Hanstad Road on Camano Island.  There is a small flock that is regular there but I have missed them as often as I have seen them.  This was another miss.  I had not been to Eide Road since its major “remodel”, so I stopped on my way back.  Complete redo and not very birder friendly.  LOTS of water and very few birds.  Since it was raining I did not walk out along the dike, but was mostly sad to not find the old familiar place that I loved.  So much for Snohomish County.  I continued north.

No matter what else is going on, at this time of year on the Skagit and Samish flats, it is always fun to look for the big flocks of Swans and Snow Geese in addition to other waterfowl and raptors.  I decided not to make the usual stop at Wylie Slough and went straight to Hayton Preserve on Fir Island.  The main hope was for a Northern Shrike but there were other possibilities and one never knows what might be there.  No Shrike, buts lots of ducks and shorebirds.  Many hundred Mallards and American Wigeon, thousands of Dunlin and a dozen plus Black Bellied Plovers and Killdeer.  The shorebirds and many of the ducks took flight suddenly and I watched for a falcon, expecting Peregrine but hoping for a Gyrfalcon.  It was the former and I saw it grab a shorebird – probably a Dunlin.  Just before that I was able to get a distant photo (from the car as it was raining) of another Eurasian Wigeon – one of at least two or three that I saw in the mixed foraging flock.  There had also been small flocks of both Canada and Cackling Geese.

Eurasian Wigeon

Eurasian Wigeon1 Eurasian Wigeon Getaway

I continued my visit driving around familiar areas on Maupin, Rawlins, Moore and Fir Island roads.  Swans were everywhere in numbers and I stopped at one small group that I had heard whistling instead of trumpeting and the yellow at the base of the bill confirmed that they were Tundra Swans.  If I had to guess I would estimate that I saw at least 1500 swans for the day with the very large majority being Trumpeter Swans.  When I first started birding in Washington in the mid 1970’s, swans were rare indeed in Western Washington and seeing a Trumpeter was a treasured moment.  Good riddance to lead shot!!

Tundra Swan

Tundra Swan1

Also seen in big numbers were Bald Eagles.  There seemed to be an even split between juveniles and adults.  I stopped counting at 175 for the day – with 10 at a time being the biggest concentration.  Far less common than I think is more often the case were Red Tailed Hawks.  I did not keep a running count but do not believe I saw more than 8.  There were a half dozen or so Northern Harriers and only a single Rough Legged Hawk.  But there were other raptors and these proved to be the highlights of the trip.

Bald Eagle

Immature Bald Eagle

In the past few days, there had been reports of a Prairie Falcon, a Golden Eagle and a Gyrfalcon.   They would all be first of year birds for me.  The Golden Eagle favored a particular group of trees at the intersection of Josh Wilson and Avon Allen Roads, a bit further north.   I did not have specific info for either of the others.  Still on Maupin Road I saw a smallish raptor on a distant tree.  It was an accipiter.  My first guess was a Cooper’s Hawk as it seemed too big for a Sharp Shinned Hawk especially at that distance.  This is where photography really helps.  It was a distant photo from the car – again in the rain, but the small head seen in the picture was proof positive that I was wrong and it was a Sharp Shinned Hawk.

Sharp Shinned Hawk

Sharp Shinned Hawk

A short while later in the same general area I saw another raptor perched alone in a distant tree.  This one seemed much larger but determining size at distance is tricky.  Again the camera saved the day.  My first thought had again been a Cooper’s Hawk female, much larger than the male.  But something was not right.  The photo proved it to be the Gyrfalcon seen in the area earlier in the week.  In the poor light through the rain, I thought it was too brown for that ID, but lots of input from others and photo comparisons on the internet support the conclusion.  A very nice new bird for the year!

Gyrfalcon

Raptor

Jon Houghton, who I ran into later in the day, had shown me a favorite brushy area just off of Moore and Best Roads that was good for sparrows and we had birded there with mixed results in the past.  I saw some movement in the brush and was able to call in a Lincoln’s Sparrow.  Being protective of my camera, I had left it in the car to avoid getting wet.  But I love the subtlety of this sparrow so I retrieved it and returned to the spot.  It had moved deeper into the woods and would not make another appearance.  I thought I might come back later in the day if I retraced steps.  It was my first one of the year.  I am including an older photo wishing that I had a new one.  The pose in the briers is exactly the same as this day.

Lincoln’s Sparrow

lincoln's sparrow

It had already been a great day despite no Northern Shrike as the Turnstone, Eurasian Wigeon, Yellow Headed Blackbird, Cackling Goose, Sharp Shinned Hawk, Gyrfalcon and Lincoln’s Sparrow were all new for the year.  Time to look for the Golden Eagle.  The small grove of evergreens at the Southeast corner of Josh Wilson and Avon Allen Roads was impossible to miss.  So, too, was the eagle perched atop one of the conifers.  It was also impossible for it to be a Golden Eagle as it had a fully white head and tail.  An adult Bald Eagle.  But wait, there was a second eagle in an adjoining tree visible from my parking spot on Josh Wilson Road.  No golden nape and too large a head and beak.  This was an immature Bald Eagle.  Maybe the Golden Eagle was off hunting and would return.  When I walked around to Avon Allen Road, I saw a third eagle, somewhat buried in the branches.  This was the Golden Eagle indeed.  Even in the dim gray light, the smaller beak and flatter head and a golden cast to the head and nape were readily seen.  Juvenile Bald Eagles without white heads and tails are often misidentified as Golden Eagles and on the Samish and Skagit flats, Goldens are very unlikely.  Nobody knows why this one is here or why it returns consistently to this perch, but we are all glad it does.

Golden Eagle

Golden Eagle

I still wanted to find a Northern Shrike and figured the East and West 90’s on the Samish Flats would be as good a spot as any and there was always the chance of finding Short Eared Owls.  The latter put on a good show at the East 90’s with at least three there.  Two were interacting and I do not know if it was a breeding display, hunting competition or what.  My photos just show two owls in flight.  There was a third Short Eared Owl there as well and it landed on the ground not too far away giving me a chance for a decent photo.  And then another as it flew away.

Short Eared Owls

Short Eared Owls

Short Eared Owl

2P5A9741

A smaller bird landed on a wire and at first I thought it was my Shrike.  Nope – an American Kestrel – often seen here.

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

It was then on to the West 90’s where I ran into Jon Houghton and Bev Bowe who were scouting for the field trip Jon would be leading the following day.  They had seen a Northern Shrike at the dike on Fir Island.  I had forgotten to look there and thought I might return.  We watched a single Short Eared Owl and over 30 Western Meadowlarks, the most I had ever seen there.  They took off and I hiked out into the fields hoping for more Owl shots.  Nothing close, but as I returned to the parking area, a Northern Shrike perched briefly.  It was the 9th FOY for the trip.

Northern Shrike

Northern Shrike

Time to go.  I was still coughing a bit and congested, but how much better to be out birding doing that than staying home.  I am closing with two Snow Geese photos as they are quite the show in the area.  One a close up and one a distant shot of thousands of them off Fir Island.  Wish I had seen the Prairie Falcon but no complaints…

Snow Geese

Snow Geese

Snow Geese1

 

 

A Dovekie after the Goose and a Great Cormorant after the Dovekie

It has been a great trip to Massachusetts indeed.  In early planning I thought there was at best a 50% chance for a Dovekie and a 50% chance on top of that for a decent photo.  Then that Barnacle Goose showed up and became the priority.  Per my last blog post, the second time was the charm for that.  ABA Lifer and ABA photo #709.  It was cold today – mid-teens and wind chill in single digits, but the sun was out and I rented a car and headed to Gloucester hoping for that Dovekie.

Fisherman’s Memorial Monument

IMG_9501

First stop was the Fisherman’s Memorial Monument.  Dovekies had been seen from there.  There were lots of Common Eiders.  Wait what is that?  A small black and white alcid.  Could it be?  A quick photo and it disappeared in a deep and very long dive.  And I never saw it again.  My first look at the photo almost had me believing.  But almost is not good enough.  I had a Razorbill.  Nice but NOT a Dovekie.

Razorbill

Razorbill

Several more stops including the breakwater at the Eastern Point Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary/Lighthouse.  Lots more Common Eiders, some Harlequin Ducks, Common Goldeneyes, Scoters, Scaup, Buffleheads and Mergansers.  I hiked out the length of the breakwater and flushed a Purple Sandpiper but no alcids.  The light was great for some Eider photos though.

Common Eiders – Male and Female

Common Eider Male

Common Eider Female

It was cold in the wind and I needed every layer – and I had brought many.  The breakwater was an easy walk but it was very exposed.  If the wind had been high, it would have been impossible.  It was manageable.

Gloucester Breakwater

About half way back, it happened.  Another black and white form was in front of me and it was not one of the many male Buffleheads.  In excellent light and not more than 50 feet away a Dovekie swam and dove and allowed me to get my life view and my life photo.  They are incredibly small.  It was a very nice moment.

Dovekie

Dovekie

Dovekie1

At best I had expected a distant view and without a scope that might have been impossible even if some were present.  This was as good as it gets.  I forgot the cold for at least a while.

It was just after noon.  I wanted to miss the traffic returning to Newton, but there was time for one more quest.  Not quite at the top of my worst bird photos, but right behind Winter Wren, Sinaloa Wren and American Woodcock is a terrible photo of a Great Cormorant.  I spent the next hour plus looking for them in the harbor, on rocks, on islands – in Rockport and back in Gloucester.  Nada.  One more try – Bass Rocks in Gloucester.  As I headed north on the beautiful road with beautiful houses with beautiful views, just before Bass Rocks, numerous dark forms were on a relatively flat rock about 200 yards out.  Up until this day I had seen a total of 4 Great Cormorants in the ABA area and had that one awful photo.  I had also seen them in Africa, and Asia.  On this one rock were 13.  Too far out for great photos but not too bad and an enormous improvement.  A great end to a great day and great trip.

Great Cormorants

Great Cormorants Best

Great Cormorants on Rock

Two life birds and two life photos and the third one may as well have been one as well.  Sign me up for this anytime.

Wild Goose Chases – Second Times a Charm

It is January 20th and I have just returned to my daughter’s home in Newton, MA after a second attempt to find a pair of Barnacle Geese that have been seen in Bristol and Plymouth counties over the past week.  Since this was my second attempt, you can probably guess that the first attempt was not successful.  Thankfully the second was and I now have Barnacle Goose on my ABA Life list.  The experience is reminiscent of other “wild goose chases” where the targeted rarity was not seen until the second attempt.  It is also a reminder yet again to follow Rule #1 on a chase – Go now!!

The main purpose of my visit to Boston was to see my daughter and son-in-law and my grandson who will soon be 2 years old and whom I have not seen nearly as often as I would like.  The visit was long enough to include some birding time and the plan was to get to the coast and try for a Dovekie, which would be a life bird as well.  Two days before I departed Seattle, however, I saw that a Barnacle Goose had been seen in Plymouth County and I figured if it was seen again the next day and again when I was flying out then if weather permitted, I would try for it.  It was seen both days in the same general vicinity so I gave it a go the day after I arrived.

I got to the field on Vaughn Hill Road where it had been reported and there were no geese whatsoever but there were other fields and at one I saw a large flock of geese, and more importantly, several birders with scopes were parked nearby.  It was only 15 degrees so I figured if they were not in their cars this was a good sign.  Unfortunately though, as I parked I got the thumbs down signal.  They had been there for 2+ hours and there were only Canada Geese – hundreds of them.  Disappointing to all of us and somewhat moreso for them as the earlier observations had included two other rarities for the area – a Snow Goose and a Greater White Fronted GooseSnow Geese are abundant in my home state of Washington and Greater White Fronted Geese are common as well.

I hung around for another couple of hours and tried some other fields and ponds nearby, but found no rare geese.  Several new birds for the year since this was a very different habitat than Washington.  My favorite was probably the Mute Swans but I also very much enjoyed a Red Bellied Woodpecker, found not in a tree but seemingly pecking on a cornstalk.

Mute Swan

Mute Swan

Red Bellied Woodpecker

Red Bellied Woodpecker

There were some other consolation prizes as well including nice chats with local birders including some who knew Edmonds birding friend Frank Caruso from his earlier days on Cape Cod and one who was the brother in law of a well known Seattle birder – small world.  I also learned of a great birding site – birdfinder.net – which displays Ebird checklists in pretty close to real time.  Two hours after I got back to Newton, I learned that the Barnacle Geese had been found in a different location – several miles from where we had searched.  Too late to return.  Maybe another chance would come – but a snowstorm was predicted that night.  I had some other species as well including my first Eastern Bluebirds for Massachusetts and several White Throated Sparrows.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird2

White Throated Sparrow

White Throated Sparrow

The snow came but they definitely know how to deal with snow here.  Sunday was a day with the family including a visit to the Boston Children’s Museum – a terrific place and some local dining including a lobster roll – yummy.  As an aside, with the promise of a Kouign Amann, we also stopped at a Nero Cafe.  These are a favorite pastry (as I have written) at the Breadfarm in Edison, WA, so this was a not to be missed comparison opportunity.   It was tasty, but the Breadfarm’s is WAAAAY better!!  Meanwhile I kept my eye peeled on Ebird reports and saw that the Barnacle Geese and the other rarities had been seen by many at several times on Sunday.  I planned another attempt on Monday.

Grandson Griffin and Bubbles at the Boston Children’s Museum

bubbles

The original plan was to leave around 1 p.m. and get to the new location a bit after 2 p.m. but my obsession with the Go Now Rule 1 changed that to a planned departure at 11:00 and then a great conversation delayed that until 11:15 a.m. – which became an almost disastrous delay.  I got to the new location on Golfview Road in Acushnet, MA around 12:15 p.m. and saw two birders there with scopes.  One was a gentleman I had met two days earlier when the Barnacle Geese were missed.  There were hundreds of geese on a pond in front of them.  Just as I pulled up, a portion of the geese took flight, circled and landed behind some reeds at the back of the pond – now invisible.  Uh-oh.  Yep, that group included the Barnacle Geese which had been in the open moments before.  The Snow Goose was still visible as was the Greater White Fronted Goose but no Barnacle Geese – the only ones I cared about.

Maybe 5 minutes later, a group of geese from behind the pond took flight and headed north.  I saw the Barnacle Geese clearly in my binoculars.  I did not have my regular camera with me – only my back up Canon SX70.  It is much harder to focus and does not reload quickly for a series of shots.  I aimed and took two photos.  Would I get lucky?  Not a great photo but lucky enough.  One of the Barnacle Geese was captured in flight.  Had I gotten there 5 minutes earlier, I would have had a nice photo.  Had I gotten there 5 minutes later – no observation at all.

Barnacle Goose in Flight

Barnacle Goose in Flight (2)

Snow Goose (Blue Form)

Snow Goose

Not a great photo but the smaller size, white face and black breast confirm the ID.  I was then a happy birder.  Later I explored the area and found a field with many geese behind a house that had some bird feeders around it.  I knocked on the door and got permission to walk out into the field for a look.  There were hundreds of Canada Geese and when I got relatively close I found the Snow Goose and got a quick look at one of the Barnacle Geese before it disappeared over small hill.  I pressed on a bit and all of the geese took off.  I saw both Barnacle Geese in flight but there was no chance for a photo.  All of the geese returned to the original pond on the golf course.  I returned as well but could not view the Barnacle Geese which I believe were behind the reeds and hill again.

Bottom line is that it was another successful wild goose chase.  In November 2016, I had a somewhat similar experience.  Mike Resch and I tried in vain to find a Pink Footed Goose that had been seen off and on near Artichoke Reservoir near Newburyport, MA.  It took a second try the next day for me to find that lifer as well.   A few months later I had two – with photos – with Melissa Hafting near Victoria, B.C.

Pink Footed Geese (Victoria, B.C.) – March 2017

Pink Footed Geese

In November 2018, I dipped on a Tundra Bean Goose in at the William R. Finley NWR in Oregon.  Again it took a second try as I found it the next week.  Another lifer and another successful wild goose chase.

Tundra Bean Goose – Finley NWR, Oregon – December 2018

Tundra Bean Goose Flight1

In December 2019, Jon Houghton and I chased an Emperor Goose that had been seen in Sequim, WA.  Again it took two tries – although both on the same day.  We missed it at the Dungeness Landing site but found it later at the base of Dungeness Spit.

Emperor Goose – Dungeness Spit – December 2019

Emperor Goose2

And to complete the Wild Goose chases which needed two attempts, there was the Ross’s Goose (uncommon in Washington) at the Ocean Shores Golf Course in January 2018.  Again it was on the same day, but the initial attempt at the wrong spot on the golf course failed.  As it is said, “the second time is the charm” I guess.

Ross’s Goose

Ross's Goose

I have written that I now so enjoy the chasing that it is not so disappointing when the target bird is not found.  Truth in birding though, I was really disappointed in not finding the the Barnacle Geese on the first attempt.  Not nearly as disappointed as I would have been if I had missed them by 5 minutes today.  I guess Go Now includes not waiting even another 5 minutes.

 

Birds and Birding Month to Month – 2019

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.

January

Washington

Short Eared Owl  Eide Road/Snohomish County January 15th

short eared owl eyes closed

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

Elsewhere

Black Rosy Finch – Sandia Crest Scenic Highway, Cedar Crest, New Mexico – January 19th

Black Rosy Finch 2

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

February

Washington

Northern Mockingbird – Anacortes, WA – February 28th

Northern Mockingbird1

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

Elsewhere

Red Billed Leiothorix – Waimea, HI – February 8th

Red Billed Leiothorix

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

March

Washington

Harlequin Duck – Semiahmoo Spit, WA – March 17th

Harlequin Duck

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

April

Washington

Laysan Albatross – Westport – Offshore Waters, April 20th

Laysan Albatross2

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

Elsewhere

Tufted Titmouse – Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary, MA – April 30th

Tufted Titmouse

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

May

Washington

Black Backed Woodpecker – Kittitas County – May 29th

Black Backed WP at Nest1

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

Elsewhere

Connecticut Warbler – Magee Marsh – May 15th

Connecticut Warbler3

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

June

Washington

Marbled Murrelet, Edmonds WA – June 23rd

Marbled Murrelet with Fish2

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

Elsewhere

Flammulated Owl – East Canyon – Big Mountain Pass, UT – June 12th

Flammulated Owl

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

July

Washington

Rose Breasted Grosbeak – Seattle, WA – July 8th

Rose Breasted Grosbeak1r

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

Elsewhere

Common Ringed Plover – Boundary Bay, B.C. Canada – July 15, 2019

Common Ringed Plover2

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

August

Washington

Hudsonian Godwit – Crockett Lake, Whidbey Island, WA – August 5th

Hudsonian Godwit Crockett3

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

September

Washington

Flesh Footed Shearwater – Westport Pelagic – September 7th

Flesh Footed Shearwater Gaping

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

Krider's Takeoff

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

October

Washington

Eurasian Tree Sparrow – Neah Bay, WA – October 26th

eurasian-tree-sparrow.jpg

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

Elsewhere

Yellow Browed Warbler – Panama Flats, Victoria, B.C., Canada – October 19th

Yellow Browed Warbler Flight

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

November

Washington

Mountain Plover – Griffiths Priday SP – WA – November 30th

Mountain Plover

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

Elsewhere

LeConte’s Sparrow – Woolsey Wet Prairie – Arkansas – November 9th

LeConte's SparrowR

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

December

Washington

Ross’s Gull – Union Bay, Seattle, WA – December 1st

Ross's Gull1

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

NSWO2

 

 

Back to the Bay – San Francisco Bay – Christmas 2019

As written in the headers for all of my blog posts, I conceived of this site as a place to “share pictures, stories, and reflections of my birding adventures – past and present…”  There have been a couple of exceptions but otherwise all of the posts, and this one will be post number 233, have had birds and birding as the main focus.  To be sure there has been much more with some history, psychology, politics, geography and what-not thrown in.  And of course many of the best times have been with wonderful people that I have tried to include.

Although there is an important connection to my birding past, indeed the very beginning of that history, this post will be very different.  It relates and reflects on a relatively short trip to San Francisco over Christmas 2019 with Cindy Bailey, the special lady that came into my life earlier this year and who has made my life immeasurably happier and better with her support and company.  We covered a lot of ground in just 4 days ending at Baylands Nature Preserve in Palo Alto, California, the largest tract of undisturbed marsh land in the San Francisco Bay and the place where I started my birding life.  The experience was so full and so fun that I wanted to memorialize it in one place – why not here?

The Flight

680x232_A320

Alaska Airlines flight flight 1794 was scheduled to leave SeaTac Airport at 8:00 a.m. on Monday December 23rd.  Travelers were warned that due to heavy traffic at the airport, being there two hours early was advised.  So given the distance from Edmonds, the need to park the car and then shuttle to the terminal, we planned to leave Edmonds not later than 5:15 a.m.  Maybe it is from all the early morning risings for my birding adventures or maybe because I have no hair on my head to wash, dry and attend to, but I can be ready to go within 15 minutes of waking up.  It helped that we had packed everything except incidentals the night before.  Cindy has many fine qualities, but she does have that hair thing to deal with and is generally not quick to get going in the mornings in any event.  So the alarms were set for 4:00 a.m.  I was showered, dressed and had eaten breakfast and was ready to go at maybe 4:20.  Cindy skipped any breakfast and really made good time, so we were out the door not much after 5:00.  We needn’t have hurried.

The security lines at the airport were long but for some reason, the TSA line was as short as I could remember it.  We were through in just moments and were at the gate well before 7:00 a.m.  The plane was a little late to load but about 8:20 a.m. we were all onboard and ready to go.   Alas, there was no go as we sat there waiting to taxi off for at least 25 minutes.  Finally we backed away from the gate and got in line.  Sometime around 9:00 a.m. we were on the runway apron ready to get into the queue.  The attendants announced there were a lot of planes in line ahead of us and it would take awhile.  But even though we could see the line of planes, we never moved to take our place.  We sat…and sat…and sat.  Maybe thirty minutes passed – no movement and little information other than that there were problems in San Francisco to the extent that “they were not letting any planes land”.  Huh??

We were told we would head back to the terminal to … well it was not sure what.  We got to the terminal and were at first told we could get off and then moments later were told to stay onboard and wait to see what might happen.  Well, you could get off – but then would not be able to reboard.  At least they allowed access to the bathrooms on the plane.  As you can imagine there was not much happiness among the holiday travelers on board.  This certainly included Cindy and me as we had non-refundable tickets for the musical Hamilton that night – not a cheap date.  If this flight was canceled we would not be able to find another (assuming any planes would be landing at SFO) to get there that day.   The odds were not good on finding a flight the next day either.  We agreed that a 2.5 day trip without the theater was not worth the airfare, hotels, car etc.  We would cut our losses and celebrate – somehow – in Seattle. (There was much cursing under our breaths.)

Then news came that the SFO airport was open again and we would be leaving soon – not sure what soon meant.  Out to the apron again to get in line.  It seemed to take a long time but finally we moved into the queue and around 10:30 a.m. we headed off.  This was significantly later than we were originally scheduled to arrive in San Francisco.  Now that landing would be 3 hours late…BUT our theater tickets were still good and it was going to be a great holiday after all.  The SFO airport was a zoo as hundreds of flights had been canceled or delayed.  We heard many reasons for the delays – internet problems, a runway reconstruction project, mechanical failures and weather problems including fog and wind, but the weather was fine when we got there – sunny skies and 52 degrees.  No longer our problem in any event.  We took BART to Union Square and then walked over to the Staypineapple Hotel – yes that really is the name.  We had wondered about an early check in but with the flight delay, there was no need to worry as it was after 2:00 p.m when we got there.

San Francisco

Located at the corner of Geary and Jones, the Staypineapple Hotel is self described as an “elegant hotel”.  We agree.  It is fairly small and every detail is thought out and designed around the “Pineapple” theme.  We are probably too old to understand the full hipness of the name, but we loved the look.

Location

Location

Staypineapple Hotel (Exterior)

stay-exterior.jpg

Staypineapple Hotel (Interior) – Over the Top Design

Staypineapple Interior

interior

The cookies awaiting us in the lobby – pineapple shaped and flavored, of course – were a bonus.  Our room was fairly small but very attractive and the bed – with pineapple pillow was appealing.  And he tree in the lobby was a must for a photo.

Cookies

Pillow

Staypineapple Tree

Although there were few specific details, our original plan had been to be in downtown before noon and then check out some touristy spots before heading off to dinner and then the show.  There had been a fair amount of stress with the flight situation and we had been up early so we just took it easy and had a short cat nap in the room.  We expected to do a lot of walking during this visit in part because we knew there would be a lot of food consumed (even without those pineapple cookies).  Hamilton started at 7:00 and the Orpheum Theater was maybe 15 minutes from the hotel.  We had found an appealing restaurant that was somewhat in the same direction as the theater and it was also about 15 minutes from the hotel and then there would be another 10 minutes or so to the theater.  We had a dinner reservation for 5:15 and got there a few minutes early.  There was a long line and staff was not real helpful in explaining the check-in process, but they found us a table and we were set.

Max’s at the Opera Restaurant on Van Ness Avenue

Max's

Our restaurant, Max’s at the Opera, was like a glorified deli with many theater goers in attendance.  Not haute cuisine, but that was not the goal this night in any event.  Service was excellent and our waiter affirmed that their featured Reuben Sandwich really was excellent.  Why not? We were on vacation.  It really was excellent and we dismissed any caloric calculations for it or our drinks that preceded the meal.

Cheers

At Max

The Reuben

Reuben

My son Alex was visiting Seattle and we had a chance to have lunch with him before leaving for this trip.  It was the first time he and Cindy had met.  Much of our talk had been about his life in the world of specialty coffee and a potential change in employment, but we also talked about San Francisco as he had been there recently.  He is very urban and urbane and loves the city but called it a dystopia with the overwhelming homeless situation on many streets.  We had not seen that walking to the hotel, but it was very apparent walking to the restaurant (through the edge of the Tenderloin district) and then to the theater.  Very depressing indeed.

We were now off to see Hamilton.  It is always exciting to be in a theater crowd before a performance especially so with the anticipation for this much loved production at a very nice theater.  Our seats were excellent (at the price we paid they should have been) – about 20 rows up in the orchestra.  I won’t go into details about the show.  Incredible performances and an amazing conception and production.  As much as the main characters were terrific, it was the excellence of the many smaller players in the highly complicated choreography that stood out most to me.  I had mixed feelings on how the story was related and the music.  Rap is not my favorite and we often could not hear/understand the words, but there was no missing the incredible force and energy of the production – especially in the first half.  Not so much in the second half and especially the ending.  Production and casting (deliberate I am sure) definitely made it easy to not like Jefferson and Madison.  We were glad we went but are not members of the Hamilton as Best Musical Ever fan club.

Hamilton

Hamilton Close

It was nice to have the hotel well located to get to Union Square, restaurants and the theater, but that central in the heart of the city location also meant lots of noise at night with traffic, sirens etc. – a reminder that I am not an urban type especially as a light sleeper.  The (only) other less than appealing part of our hotel stay was a very limited breakfast menu at the “Bistro+Bar”.  The only fruits available were apples and bananas.  A few pastries (good) and some limited other options.  Not a big problem but especially with local markets and delis closed on the day before Christmas and Christmas day – not great.  Of course there was a Starbucks and a Burger King (or was it a Jack in The Box and aren’t they the same?) within a couple of blocks – so much for trendy San Francisco.   We survived and began a very full day of exploring the city as tourists.

We started at Union Square – with yet another Christmas Tree photo op.  The weather was perfect, cool, dry and windless with bright blue skies, and the crowds were not yet out in force – except for the lines for the the Cable Car which we had hoped to take to Fisherman’s Wharf.  We waited for 20 minutes just north of Union Square as two cars came by too full for us to board.  So we hiked down to where the cable car starts but found hundreds of people already in line – looking like an hour plus wait.  Not keen on lines anywhere so we started off relying on “shank’s mare” – as in walking (I have always wanted to use that term).  We casually walked through the shopping areas around Union Square.  Fashions, jewelry, art, more fashions and more fashions – many high end Italian and French designers as well as Bloomingdale’s and Saks.  Our shopping was all of the window kind, keeping our wallets tightly closed, but it was fun.  Cindy liked one dress or coat but not the other and so on and we usually agreed.

U Sq

Next was a walk through Chinatown with lunch an objective at some point.  The ethnic diversity of San Francisco was hard to miss and almost everywhere we went, Asians were by far the most visible – of course much moreso in Chinatown itself.  But there as well as everywhere else we heard many languages – Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Russian, French, Spanish, German, Arabic, Hindi, Bengali and Hebrew as well as many other Eastern and Northern European and Southeast Asian ones that we could not identify.   As much as Seattle at least sees itself as a big and cosmopolitan city and I have seen it become moreso in my now almost 50 years there, there is simply no comparison with San Francisco.

Chinatown Gate

Chinatown Gate

There were LOTS of people and lots of small stores offering goods cheap and expensive and food and groceries to feed visitors and residents alike.  Many were familiar and others were not.  Lots of fish, poultry, pork and vegetables as well as herbs, spices and sauces.  We were not sure if some of what we saw was to be eaten or… We had recently joined friends Randy and Janice Leitzke for dim sum at a small restaurant in Edmonds.  Pretty good, but we figured we could do better here.  Hawkers handed out pamphlets for competing restaurants and we chose one on a side street that looked just right – the Grant Place Restaurant.  A little bigger than a hole in the wall and definitely not design conscious, but the food in the window looked good and there were many Asian couples and families and groups inside enjoying their fare.

Grant Place Restaurant

Grant Place

The food and service were both great and the only problem was that we ate too much.  Back onto the street we continued north up Grant Street towards North Beach.  Now there were even more people and we were amazed how every little shop seemed to be selling the same foods and all were jammed.

North Beach is famous for Italian restaurants, cafes and bakeries.  We were already way over our theoretical calorie counts for the day but we figured we were doing a lot of walking so maybe a dessert would be okay.  First however, we were enticed by Goorin’s  Bros. Hat Shop on Stockton Street.  An awesome collection of hats that were really fun to try on.  There were definite temptations but I just could not see myself wearing the top hat that I liked best or the blue fedora that Cindy preferred.  One of the best parts of this day was that nothing was really planned and we could just react to whatever appealed to us.  The hat shop was fun, but the next stop was even more appealing.

Goorin’s  Bros. Hat Shop

Hat (2)

Molinari Delicatessen was established in 1896 and is one of the oldest delicatessens in the U.S.  It was mobbed and everybody seemed to be buying something.  If we had not already had our lunch, we would have been happy with any of a number of things offered.  We moved on – reluctantly.  But then we found Mara’s Italian Pastries and Gelato and this time we could not resist.

Molinari Delicatessen

Molinari

Deli

Mara’s Italian Pastries

Mara's

Pastry

We got a wonderful poppy seed confection and a chocolate mousse to be eaten later.  Both were excellent and not terribly expensive.  I would be in serious trouble if I lived anywhere near either Molinari or Mara’s.  Happy but in serious trouble…

We headed back to the Staypineapple returning again through Chinatown.  There were easily a thousand or more people shopping.  Root vegetables seemed to be particularly popular.  Unlike the pastries or the deli, for these there was no appeal.  We took a little different route to check out the garage where we would be picking up our rental car the next morning on Bush Street.  We got back to our room while it was still light.  Being much further south and finally getting past the winter solstice, it was not dark as early in San Francisco as it had been when we left Seattle.  The skies were turning gray, however, a portent of things to come.

Recognizing that we had eaten a lot this day and the previous night, but had not had much of a breakfast, we had omelettes at a delicatessen a block from the hotel.  It was Christmas Eve and a lot of places were closed.  Not fancy, but not bad and we were back to the hotel and turned in early.  We had walked over 5 miles that day and were feeling pretty virtuous.  It was not as noisy as the previous night — until a major storm hit the area.  The rain pounded on the windows of the hotel.  Somehow Cindy slept through it but not me.  I was getting into serious sleep deprivation mode but could hardly feel sorry for myself thinking about what it must have been like for the homeless people on the streets.  Sigh…

Christmas Day was to be our day out of the City.  Cindy’s cousin Lisa and family were celebrating at their second home in Inverness, California in Marin County on Tomales Bay and near Point Reyes National Seashore.   About 50 miles away, it would be about a 90 minute ride without stops.  Our plan was to pick up the car early and drive to Inverness with some stops at Point Reyes, have lunch with the family and then return to San Francisco for a 7:00 dinner returning the car that evening.  That’s what the online rental arrangement said, but we were thrown a major curve ball when I was informed – only at the time that I picked up the car at 7:30 a.m. – that the car office would be closing at 3:00 p.m. and there was no way to drop the car off until the next morning – unless we wanted to take it to the airport. WTF!!!  There was no way we could be back by 3:00 p.m. and no way to go the airport – and then have to get back to our hotel – a two hour ordeal.  So our option was to keep the car overnight – pay (exorbitantly) for parking at the hotel and then to return the car the next morning.  To say we were unhappy would be a major understatement.  There being no other option, we carried on.

Inverness and Point Reyes – about 50 Miles Northwest

Inverness

Another curve was that instead of the small SUV that I expected, we were “upgraded” to a very racy Chevy Camaro.  It was a fun car but with very low clearance and there were a couple of spots where this might have been an issue – especially with the somewhat flooded roads we would encounter in Marin County.  I can only imagine what the traffic would have been like if it were not Christmas day, but we had very little traffic getting out of San Francisco, and our only issues were that every intersection seemed to have a stoplight and each one of them was red for us – timed terribly.  But it was lovely.  The storm from the night before was nowhere to be seen and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge is a spectacular ride.  And Marin county is like a world apart compared to San Francisco – beautiful with its big trees, cypress, eucalyptus and others.  The roads were winding which thrilled me and frightened Cindy a bit.  It was a fun trek as we got more and more remote covering territory I could barely remember from early birding days in California almost 50 years ago.

We stopped at a really funky little coffee shop in Olema and felt like we were back in the Hippie days of the 1960’s.  Not a whole lot has changed since then probably.  Then we went to Point Reyes National Seashore stopping for a few birds on the way.  One was a very close in Red Shouldered Hawk, a new bird for Cindy.  It was close enough for an ID quality picture with my phone.  Birding friend Ann Marie Wood in Washington has been trying to see one there for months without success.  I could not resist sending her the picture.  I wish I could have brought it back for her.  We would see several Red Shouldered Hawks and more Red Tailed Hawks but the most common raptor were American Kestrels.  We probably saw two dozen.

Red Shouldered Hawk

Red Shouldered Hawk

We saw some of these and some of those species but mostly we were there to enjoy the spectacular scenery along the coast.  Mark Tomboulian later advised me that the ice plants that were everywhere are invasive, but they were nonetheless beautiful in many shades of red, gold and green and even purple.

View from North Beach at Point Reyes

Icicle

We left the beach and joined cousins Jimmy and Lisa, her husband John and their kids Alec, Alana, and Sean, and their kids Arden and Coral and spouses Craig and Clare, for a relaxed visit at Lisa and John’s Inverness home.  More food and good company.  I had met Lisa in Edmonds but everyone else was new.  It was a good way to spend Christmas.

Around 3:00 p.m. we left to get back to the City.  We had dinner reservations at 7:00 at Tuba, a Turkish restaurant, but since it was a ways from our hotel and we could not return the car until the next morning anyhow, we drove to the restaurant and found nearby on street parking.  Although they were quite busy the restaurant was able to take us early and we had a good meal with some wine.  I had salmon and Cindy had lamb.  The ambiance was good and the service was excellent.

Tuba Restaurant

Tuba Outside

Cindy Toasting the Holiday

Tuba Cindy

My Salmon

Tuba1

Back to the hotel parking at the “reduced” overnight rate for hotel guests of only $30 for the night.  It was convenient, though.

Before the surprise on the rental car return, our plan had been more sightseeing in San Francisco all day on Thursday and then flying home on a 7:25 flight.  Since we still had the car, I called Alamo to see what it would cost to keep it and drop it off at the airport instead.  Here was the second disappointment with Alamo.  We were told it would only be another $6.95.  When we actually did drop it off, we were charged a lot more.  I will not go into details because I want to keep my blood pressure low.  Oh well, we had the car and changed our plans to drive around in San Francisco to see where Cindy had lived in the Marina District and then to see some of the beautiful homes and scenery at Sea Cliff and then the Presidio ending at Cliff House.  It was all beautiful.

I had never gone through the Presidio or gone to Seal Rock or Cliff House.  The Presidio was incredible and the view of the sea breaking in waves over Seal Rock was spectacular.  And I had no idea that there was so much sandy beach on San Francisco’s ocean side.  Cindy said that the wind and fog could be pretty awful and that cars were sand blasted by the wind blowing the sand from the beach which significantly depressed its desirability for permanent residence, but none of that was evident on this lovely day.

Seal Rock from Cliff House

seal-rock-1.jpg

Cindy with Our Camaro Parked at the Cliff House

Camaro

We continued south along the Junipero Serra Freeway down the Peninsula heading to Stanford University.  Cindy had never been there and I am not sure if I have been back since Law School in 1973.  Rolling along on Highway 280 it was hard to believe that dense population was so close by.  Very light traffic on the day after Christmas certainly helped.  Stanford was as I remembered it – times 10.  There were many new buildings and the campus is truly awesome with magnificent palms, eucalyptus and open space.  We parked at the main quad and found ourselves with maybe several hundred other visitors.  No students as school was in recess for the Holidays.  It seemed that at least 90% of the people there were Asian, many families with children maybe with hopes to be accepted and enrolled someday.  It was really gorgeous.

Memorial Church at Stanford

Stanfo

We walked over to the Law School – its location changed from long ago when I attended.  A placard on the building showed donors whose contributions had made it possible.  I don’t know when the donations were made, but my name’s absence was evidence of how detached I am from those days.  It has been almost 40 years since I practiced law at all.  We had a nice lunch at a pizza place at Town and Country Village and then searched for the place I lived when I first arrived for law school – an apartment over the garage behind a modest home in Menlo Park.  I could not recall the street address and despite a diligent search, we could not find the place although I am sure we were close.

There would be one more stop before returning to the airport.  This was Baylands Nature Preserve, the place where I first became interested in birding back in those law school days.  That interest was sparked by seeing – yes actually seeing a Black Rail – an extremely secretive species I have not seen or heard since.  The marsh land is awesome, a great place for shorebirds, ducks, waders and many others.  Cindy is not a birder (yet) but has joined me on some of my trips.  I wanted her to see this special place.  It was not overflowing with birds but we had good looks at a bird we had seen the previous day on our visit to Marin County – a Long Billed Curlew – and also saw a few other shorebirds including Killdeer, Least Sandpipers, Black Necked Stilts, Greater Yellowlegs, Willets and Dunlin.

Long Billed Curlew

Long Billed Curlew 2 Bottle Beach

There were many duck species, some American Coots and numerous gulls, but by far the species of most appeal to Cindy were the Egrets, a couple of Great Egrets and several Snowy Egrets including one that came quite close and splayed its beautiful feathers and plumes for us.  At one spot both egrets stood together giving Cindy a great comparison and an appreciation of the very significant difference in size.

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

I had to have a picture of me there to memorialize the return visit.  Many hours were spent there back in the old days.

Baylands

We said goodbye and went to the airport.  Returning the car with the surprise additional charges was no fun but we did not let it ruin our wonderful trip.  We were a couple hours early for our flight and tried to get on an earlier one, but prior delays and cancellations made that impossible, so we waited…and waited…and waited some more as the congestion caused our flight to depart an hour later than scheduled.  I have flown Alaska Airlines many times in the past few years and have never had problems.  I am chalking the ones this time up to San Francisco Airport problems compounded by travel during the Holidays.  It was almost midnight by the time we were back in Edmonds.  Unfortunately we both picked up colds the last day we were there – maybe on the flight, maybe in any of the crowded venues we visited.  Not how you want to end a trip, but we were fine while we there and had a great time.  It was especially nice to be able to share all of the experiences together.

 

 

 

 

Emperor Goose at Dungeness NWR

A very quick post.  Today Cindy Bailey, Jon Houghton and I traveled to Sequim, WA hoping to find the Emperor Goose that has been seen intermittently in the area including specifically yesterday at Cline Spit viewable from Dungeness Landing Park (Oyster House).  No luck at that spot.  There were many hundred birds including many American Wigeon, Common Goldeneyes, Buffleheads, Brant, Dunlin, Black Bellied Plovers and Gulls.

Later at another stop we ran into Jon Anderson from Olympia who was also looking for the Emperor Goose.  No luck but we exchanged numbers and later when Jon located it on Dungeness Spit, he called to inform us.  We were just finishing lunch in downtown Sequim and rushed out to join him.  He told us that a seaplane had flushed it a few minutes before we arrived. Damn!!

But after lots of looking Jon found it again and we all got great looks.  YES!!  A juvenile bird with a heavy molt but no doubt on ID.  Lots of good photos.  We also had a cooperative Red Throated Loon, two Marbled Murrelets and a Black Scoter among other species.  It was a beautiful place with nice weather – no rain and no wind.  A beautiful day.  Thank you Jon.

Emperor Goose

Emperor Goose with Gras

Emperor Goose1

 

Red Throated Loon

Red Throated Loon Wings

Marbled Murrelet

Marbled Murrelet

So the good chasing streak continues:  Rock Sandpiper, Mountain Plover, Lesser Black Backed Gull, Ross’s Gull, Glaucous Gull and Emperor Goose.  I am off to the Okanogan tomorrow and hopefully good fortune will be with me.

50 Birds on 50 Days in 50 States – Birding in the United/Disunited States of America – Summary

A Project Is Born

In these past few years our nation has often seemed to be made up of states that are more Dis-united than United.  Rather than read about it in the news or hear about it on the radio or television or take it in through social media, I wanted to see for myself – to get out of my own bubble and with a mind that I hoped I could open further, expand my horizons and get real time, real life input.  Maybe I would understand better.  Maybe I could appreciate differences but still hopefully find common ground.  Maybe I could make sense of it all or find peace in the process.

I had often thought about a long road trip just getting in the car and without much planning heading off to enjoy whatever followed.  I have tried to become more spontaneous but I do better with some structure and I also do better when I have set goals and put my energy into meeting them.  Birding has often helped me get out of the doldrums when things seemed bleak personally – a soothing and restorative distraction.  In addition to the political landscape there had been some personal downers as well, so a plan came together fairly quickly:  a road trip  that would use my passion for birds to explore the diversity of our country and experience both the differences and the commonality and also to sustain me in these crazy, confusing and chaotic times.  It needed some structure and being a compulsive lister and liking round numbers and patterns, I came up with the idea of birding in every state with a goal of finding 50 species on single days in each of them.  I liked the symmetry of 50 states, 50 days and 50 species – an affirmation of something shared in and by each state no matter the differences in geography, habitat, weather, or cultural and ethnic diversity.   Finding 50 species on a single day is not necessarily a difficult thing to do – certainly not so when weather cooperates and it is not in the dead of winter.   It is certainly easy to do in the month of May almost anywhere as migration is in full swing, but there is only one month of May each year and I was somewhat concerned whether I could plan visits to be in each state when there would be sufficient species around to make reaching the goal likely.

That objective would get me to the diverse places I wanted to experience, but there was one more critical need.  Birds?  Yes, I could find them.  Places?  Yes, many great places to visit.  What was missing were people, local people who shared the connection with birds but also had the special history, knowledge and perspective of all of these places I would experience, many for the first time in my now over 70 years.  They would add immeasurably to my birding experiences but far more importantly would add immeasurably to my personal experiences.  Finding and coordinating with the right people was at times a complicating factor, another challenge to logistics and planning, but it was by far the most rewarding part of the adventure.

What an adventure it has been – far beyond anything I dreamed of when I started out.  It has been barely a month since my last trip that concluded in Arkansas – the last of the 50 states where in the company of new friends, I have been able to find the 50 species in a single day.   I am still digesting all of the experiences and planning some next steps that I hope will be meaningful to me and to others.  Blog posts have been completed  for all of the visits – more than 400 pages with about the same number of photos.  I expect there will be more as I slice and dice the experiences, but here I wanted to share a mostly statistical summary and overview leaving out the personal intersections and the details of each visit.   Lots of numbers.  Here goes.

The Calendar

I first came up with the specific goal of 50 birds in each state on individual days in late August 2018.   At that time there was no time line in mind for completing the project.  It was not intended to be a form of a Big Year.  Certainly too late to start one for 2018 and I wanted to get going not wait.  First though, I looked back on some birding trips earlier in 2018 that had been spectacular – especially for target birds.  These were trips to California and Texas in March and April respectively.  I found that I had seen 50 or more species on singular days in each state and the birding was with others.  I elected to include these trips in my saga retroactively as the plan was not driven by a need to do them all in one year or for that matter in any particular time frame.

So I want to be clear from the start that this adventure was not completed in a single calendar year.  Yet, although there was no planning to do so, as it turns out, each of the 50 official 50 species days was completed on a unique day of the calendar.  The visits were not all in the same calendar year but if one looked at the days of the month only, they could have been.  (More on that later.)   The map below shows for each state the day of the year that the 50 species were seen color coded by month.

By Date

One state was done each in January, February and March.  Three were done in April and 16 in that migration rich month of May.  Another 6 were done in June and none were done in July.  A single state was done in August and then 5 in September, 6 in October, 8 in November and 2 in December.  My general approach was to schedule trips to multiple adjoining states allowing on average two days for each state to cover travel time between states and to provide a potential insurance day in case 50 species were missed on any one day.  I generally started with a travel day to get to the target area then rented a car and birded the next day, traveled a day to the next state, birding the following day, continuing for as many states as made sense and then flying home the following day.

Fourteen states were done on a one off basis (including the ones added retroactively).   I had two 5-state trips, a single 4-state trip, two 3-state trips and one 2-state trip.  My longest trip was a nearly month-long visit to 14 states in May 2019.  While the simplistic look at calendar dates indicates 50 states done on 50 different days of the year, as I said, they were not in the same calendar year and a deeper look shows that the 50 states could not have been visited on those same days in just the one year.  Take for example the states completed in the Month of November.  The last states in the Adventure were Kansas on November 5th, Oklahoma on November 7th and Arkansas on November 9th – all in 2019.  In 2018, I had visited states adjacent to those three – Louisiana on November 2nd, Alabama on November 4th and Alabama on November 6th.  While it would not have been possible to be in each of those states on those days between November 2nd and 9th in a single year, I am sure that by changing the order and stretching it out by another few days, it would have been doable.

The next map shows the years in which each state was done.  I chose to include several states retroactively both as a logistical benefit and also because I wanted to share some of the specific experiences, people, places and birds.  This map, too, is color coded – this time by year – a unique color for each of the 7 years included.  Two states, Maryland and Wisconsin went way back to my first years of birding – included for reasons very meaningful to me.  Maine was the single state for 2015 since I really wanted to include that experience.  Alaska, Colorado and Washington were in 2016.  Colorado was a very special trip chasing (and finding) many gallinaceous birds.  The Alaska trip was a magnificent trip – my only serious birding there – too good to leave out.  Finally there is my home state of Washington.  There have been well over 100 days where I have had 50 species or more in a single day in Washington maybe several times that many.  I could have selected a terrific day in either 2018 or 2019 but a day in 2016 was most meaningful to me because of place, birds and especially the person I birded with and a story I wanted to tell, so I went retroactive.

I chose visits to Florida and Arizona in 2017 again because of place, birds and people but could have included a different visit to Arizona in 2018.  The remainder of the visits were in 2018 (16 states) and 2019 (26 states).  Again  with the adjustments suggested above, I am sure that it would have been possible to have kept the dates and do them in a single year BUT Alaska would have been tight AND more importantly it simply was not what I wanted to do – committing so much time energy and money to a single year doing it.  That said, it is definitely possible and I hope someone else may do so in a single year someday.  Might that be me?…well…

By Year

Quantity and Quality – Numbers and Favorites

In each state that I visited the critical objective was to find the 50 species in the single day and only after that maybe to include some species that were either new ABA Life birds or ABA Life photos when possible.  It was also essential to be birding with others and that coupled with logistics favoring areas of one state proximate to specific areas in another further coupled with choosing what may have been less than optimal times (e.g. October as opposed to May) meant that there was not an emphasis on doing a Big Day in each state maximizing the numbers seen on that day.  In most of the states, choosing a different time or place would have increased the species counts – perhaps substantially.

The following two maps shows the number of species seen in each of the 50 states ranging from a “we barely made it” 51 species in Hawaii to 110 species seen in Maryland.  The second map gives a further slice color coding the number of species as in 50 to 60, 60 to 70 etc.

By Species Count Blue

 

By Species Count

Half of the states were in the 50’s and 60’s species range, 14 were in the 70’s, 7 in the 80’s, 2 in the 90’s and 2 over 100.  Altogether on the Official 50 Species days only I observed a total of 491 species in the 50 states – excluding Hawaii the number in the ABA Area drops to 462.   Many of the days I used were parts of longer trips some with a week or more of birding.  Including all species seen on the full trips, 660 species were found – 629 if Hawaii is excluded.  I do not have a full list of ABA Life Birds seen or new ABA Life Photos on either the official days or during the longer trips, but it would be difficult to know in any event since I have included the trips to Maryland and Wisconsin from my early days and many of the species from those trips were ABA Lifers.  As for ABA Life photos, definitely over 100 and maybe 150.

I also have not kept track of miles traveled.  Certainly more than 12,000 by car and three times that much by plane.  Another important number is that all told I birded with more than 500 other birders along the way – every age, color, skill level, religion, gender and many nations of origin.  That has been the best part of the adventure without question.

Favorite Photos

I will probably do a longer post about favorite species with photos.  For this post and summary I have chosen my all time favorite as the featured image on top – the Swallow Tailed Kite seen in Florida with Paul Bithorn.  I am closing with my favorite 12 species seen and photographed after that one.  Some were rare and/or Lifers, others just loved even more than the others.  In no particular order.

Flammulated Owl – Utah with Tim Avery

Flam2

Prothonotary Warbler – West Virginia with Beth Poole

Prothonotary Warbler1

Whooping Crane – Texas with Carlos Sanchez, Barry Zimmer and Victor Emanuel

Whooping Crane5

LeConte’s Sparrow – Arkansas with Vivek Govind Kumar

LeConte's SparrowR

Connecticut Warbler – Ohio with Danno Gesualdo, Laura Keene and David and Tammy McQuade

Connecticut Warbler3

Kirtland’s Warbler – Michigan with Sam Burckhardt and Cindy Bailey

Kirtland's Warbler

Nazca Booby – California with Doug Schurman

Nazca Booby7

Rufous Capped Warbler – Arizona with Jon Dunn and Dorian Anderson

Rufous Capped Warbler

Bananaquit – Florida with Paul Bithorn and Frank Caruso

Bananaquit Best

Willow Ptarmigan – Alaska with John Puschock

Willow Ptarmigan 2

Greater Sage Grouse – Colorado with Frank Caruso and Stephan Lorenz

24-Greater Sage Grouse 3

Piping Plover – Connecticut with Mike Resch

Piping Plover1

Final Words – (For Now…)

More than anything else this experience has been how my passion for birds energized me to get off my butt and have an incredible adventure full of memories and stories.  It has also been about community – a birding community that is readily found in every state.  Similar experiences and similar communities are available to all who follow their passions – whatever they may be.  Go for it!!

Two Extraordinary Days Featuring A Ross’s Gull and a Mountain Plover

As Jon Houghton and I left the Mouth of the Cedar River late on the afternoon of Saturday, November 30 and reflected on an incredible day, we wondered if anyone in history had ever seen the three special species we had seen that day.  It started when we left Edmonds early in the morning to chase the Mountain Plover that had been discovered the previous day by Carl Haynie.  Paul Baerny was going to join us but fearing he was coming down with a cold, he felt it better to go it alone.  Everyone would agree, Paul is a sensitive and thoughtful guy…good birder too.

We arrived at Griffiths Priday State Park just north of Ocean Shores and parked on Heath Road near the bridge over the creek and began the hike out to the mouth of Connor Creek where the target had been seen the previous afternoon.  There was a single car parked at the road end.  Was this another birder?  We soon found out.  After walking less than a mile on the open beach, I spied someone with a spotting scope and his binoculars were trained on a something on the wrack line maybe 100 feet up from the waves.  Jon was walking along the dunes hoping for a Lapland Longspur while I walked the open beach.  As I got closer, I recognized the birder to be Scott Downes, an excellent birder and lister from Yakima, Washington.  As I got closer, Scott asked: “Do you see it?”  I did not until I looked where he was pointing.  There was a single bird on the beach and it was the Mountain Plover.

Mountain Plover

Mountain Plover6

Rule 1 on a chase is “Go now”.  We had followed Rule 1 and now we would benefit from another rule on a chase – look for another birder and hope he/she has found the quarry.   He had and now we had it as well.  The Mountain Plover was a state life bird for all of us.   It is extremely rare in Washington.  One was seen in 1968 in Spokane.  Another was seen in Pacific County in 2000, a third in Ocean Shores in 2011 and another one had been seen there by a single birder in 2014.  I had not known about any of those others, so this had been an important opportunity and seeing this lovely bird on the beach was a joyous moment.  It had taken us less than 15 minutes from our arrival to find it.  I called Paul.  He was only 10 minutes behind us.  We watched the Plover scurry along the wrack line – a continuing photo op as the light was perfect and behind us.  Many pictures were taken.  Paul joined us and it was a state life bird for him as well.  It was state bird #445 for Scott – awesome!!

Mountain Plover

Mountain Plover

We watched the Plover for another 15 minutes.  Another friend Mark Tombulian had arrived and was walking up the beach toward us just in time … to see the bird fly off and disappear over the waves heading south.  He had seen the shape but certainly not a chance for a real ID.  This miss took some of the happiness out of the moment.  We hiked back to the parking area hoping the Plover had somehow returned to the beach and land giving Mark a chance.  It had not…sigh!!

It was not even 10:30.  Now what?  We drove the open beach near the casino at Ocean Shores and saw an almost continuous line of white shorebirds – thousands of Sanderlings foraging in the surf.  There were also hundreds of Dunlin and numerous Black Bellied Plovers.  We checked each one of the latter hoping maybe it would be the Mountain Plover.  No such luck.

Sanderling

Sanderling

Black Bellied Plover

Black Bellied Plover

The weather was beautiful with bright sunshine even if it was a little cool.  So far there was not much wind.  That would change at our next stop – the Point Brown Jetty at the southern end of Ocean Shores.  The hope was for a Rock Sandpiper – which would be a new year bird for Jon.   Rock Sandpipers, Surfbirds and Black Turnstones are together known as “Rockpipers”.   Rock Sandpipers are uncommon in Washington but this is probably the best place to find one.  I had 4 there the previous week.  The other two are common.  A flock of Rockpipers flew off just as we reached the rocks.  I was pretty sure I had seen two Rock Sandpipers in the mix of 40 plus birds.  Would that be it? Fortunately they all returned and for the next 20 minutes we watched them dodge the waves and forage on the rocks in great light and often no more than 40 feet away from us.  There were 20+ Surfbirds and 30+ Black Turnstones but where were the Rock Sandpipers?  And now the wind was picking up and the wind chill was pretty bad.  Still we waited.

Surfbird

Surfbird11.30Best.jpg

Black Turnstone

Black Turnstone11.30

Patience paid off and the Rock Sandpipers did return.  Not as rare as the Mountain Plover, but an excellent bird for the day.  Now what?

Rock Sandpiper

Rock Sandpiper2

The next “what” would be a stop at the Mouth of the Cedar River in Renton to see if the Lesser Black Backed Gull was still there.  Not nearly as rare as the Mountain Plover, but a Lesser Black Backed Gull is quite rare and is a great bird in Washington.  Jon and I had each already seen it here, but I had not gotten a photo and we both felt it would be a great way to end this special day.  We found it quickly.  Later we were joined by another birder who had missed it on 5 earlier tries.  We made his day when we showed it to him as soon as he arrived.  I got my photo and as I said at the start, we wondered if anyone anywhere had ever seen a Mountain Plover, a Rock Sandpiper and a Lesser Black Backed Gull on the same day.

As we pondered that question, we got the great news that the Mountain Plover had returned to the beach at Griffiths Priday.  It was seen and photographed by Mark and many others. A very happy ending and Jon and I were pretty full of ourselves thinking we had an incredible day – one that would last in memory for quite awhile.

Little did we know…

At 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, I finally got around to taking a shower.  At 1:33 p.m. Dennis Paulson posted this on Tweeters, the Washington Birding Community’s main listserv: “Adult Ross’s Gull on platform N side of Marsh Island.”  It was not until 1:50 that I checked my emails and saw his message. OMG!!!!!  As I was getting dressed I called friends to tell them about it.  Ann Marie was on it and was waiting for her ride.  Jon Houghton was returning from West Seattle but was up for the chase.  I could not reach Mark.  Paul already knew about it too.  I even called friends David and Tammy McQuade in Florida who are doing a Big Year and had not seen a Ross’s Gull.  Jon said he could pick me up in 15 minutes.  I told him unless it was 10 or fewer, I would just go and see him when he got there.  RULE 1 – GO NOW!!  He said he could.  Traffic was not horrible and we made it to the trail leading to Marsh Island by about 2:30.  We met John Puschock coming to us on the trail.  He gave a thumbs up.  It was there…OMG!!!

We raced out to the platform.  Dennis was there as were at least another 10 birders.  All were looking out at the swimming platform – about 50 feet away – respecting its space and not wanting to scare what was there.  It was the adult Ross’s Gull sitting there quietly, its back to us.  A quick first photo and then I sat down to wait hopefully for it to turn and give us a better view.  But even if there had not been more, this was incredible.  A Ross’s Gull is iconic for a sought after mega-rarity.  This was only the third record for Washington State.  The last one was one at Palmer Lake in 2011.  There was another in 1994 in Benton County.

Ross’s Gull – Palmer Lake December 2011

Ross's Gull 2

Ross’s Gull – December 1, 2019

Ross's Gull Back

More people continued to come in.  Maybe 25 in all.  The Gull remained still for 15 minutes and then turned to give a profile view.  The light was not great, but the pink tinge which is one of the Gull’s famous fieldmarks was quite visible – more vivid in the scopes that were trained on it than in our photos.  Everyone was in awe of this occasion.  And everyone was happy – very, very happy.

Ross’s Gull

Ross's Gull1

Without any warning or any provocation from its admirers, after another 10 minutes, the Ross’s Gull took off and flew off the platform and out onto the water – maybe 50 yards out.  Some of the viewers and I then moved out onto the platform to see the Ross’s Gull on the water.  Then it happened…  A Bald Eagle swept in low and headed right for the Gull.  It lowered its talons and to our amazement and horror, it  snatched it and took off, the Ross’s Gull dangling behind it.  OMG!!!  It was like a scene from “Nature” or “National Geographic“.  The Eagle flew into a nearby Cottonwood tree and devoured what is probably the second rarest bird that has ever been seen in Seattle.  The rarest has to be the Swallow Tailed Gull found by Ryan Merrill at Carkeek Park in 2017.  [See my earlier blog post  https://wordpress.com/post/blairbirding.com/18247]

Bald Eagle with Ross’s Gull

Eagle with Gull3

Eagle Perched for Its Feast

Eagle in Tree

The lucky birders filed out and passed the unlucky ones who had arrived too late.  Many of the birders who had seen the drama unfold searched under the eagle tree for feathers or bones from the eaten Ross’s Gull.  Some were found and will make their way to local museums.  If ever there was a case in point supporting the Go Now Rule 1, this was it.  A delay of even 5 minutes had been the difference between success and failure for many this day.

Dennis Paulson – Searching for Remnants

Dennis Paulson

These past two days have probably been the best two consecutive days of birding in Washington that I have had.  As I said Jon and I had wondered if anyone had ever seen a Lesser Black Backed Gull, Rock Sandpiper and Mountain Plover on the same day ever before.  Add to that list a Ross’s Gull and I am positive that nobody has ever had those four species within any 30 hour period – anytime, anywhere.  Extraordinary is an understatement.

Earlier in the day Sunday Bill and Nancy LaFramboise had posted that they had a Brambling coming to their feeder in Benton County in Eastern Washington.  Almost as rare here as the Mountain Plover or the Ross’s Gull.  And they were the ones who had the Ross’s Gull in Benton County in 1994.  I write often about our amazing birding community.  These two days make the case.  The Mountain Plover was seen by Carl Haynie as he was working on a coastal survey.  He reported it on the Facebook where I saw it and then Ian Paulsen reported that on Tweeters.  Carl later posted on Tweeters and Ebird with great details so others could look for it.  The Ross’s Gull was reported on Tweeters by Dennis Paulson, but the underlying story is amazing.  His partner Netta Smith was walking the trail on Marsh Island and somehow noted an unusual gull on the platform.  She did not know what it was but knew enough to know it was different.  She took a photo with her phone and sent it to Dennis who of course knew immediately and took off to join her.  His report brought many others there quickly.  I had been able to get the word on both birds to some others who also made the trip.  Later Bill and Nancy reported that the Brambling had not been seen again.  I had considered a chase – but now would not.  And it all happens so quickly…

The best way to end this post is with another photo of the Ross’s Gull.

Ross’s Gull

Gull Face