Bird Sightings -- Fall, 2004By Bob Boekelheide
The drought of summer has faded away, thanks to moderate rainfall at times through September and October, with more on the way. Songbird migration has similarly faded away, as the turnover from breeding to wintering species is essentially complete. Fall land bird migration turned out to be relatively uneventful here this year, with barely discernable waves of western migrants in our area. Funny how they just seem to fade away, particularly this dry year.
There’s talk of a weak El Nino brewing in the central Pacific, perhaps not strong enough to create havoc with our winter weather, but time will tell. Climate change, specifically global warming, seems to be reality these days, despite what some politicians think, as glaciers and ice caps shrink and some birds change their habits.
An interesting note from Great Britain says that some owl species there are breeding much earlier than ever recorded, including Barn Owls and Tawny Owls that now lay eggs during early winter rather than later in the winter or early spring. Last year some of these owls even began egg laying around Christmas-time. It seems that warmer winters permit higher survival and earlier breeding by rodents, so if their prey are available the owls begin breeding. The British Trust for Ornithology also says that fully one-third of songbird species in Britain now breed earlier on average than they used to.
Make sure you hear Philip Mote, Washington State Climatologist, when he discusses the consequences of climate change for the Pacific Northwest, at the Dungeness River Audubon Center on Wed., Dec. 8th, at 7 p.m.
Todd Beuke, who lives near 3 Crabs, reports that a Great Horned Owl perches on a neighboring pole nearly every evening, apparently part of its hunting fly-way. Mary Porter-Solberg heard and saw at least 2 Great-horned Owls flying and hooting around her home on the Miller Peninsula on 10/14. A Great Horned Owl also hunted along Hendrickson Road west of Sequim before dawn on 10/18, seen by Bob Boekelheide driving to work. A GHO pair also dueted in the forest by the Boekelheide residence near the Dungeness River on 10/4, so it seems these big guys are doing quite well around here.
Scott Atkinson reported 5 owl species heard at the upper Palo Alto Road area on 9/4 before dawn, including 2 Barred Owls and 4 N. Pygmy-Owls. Bob Iddins saw a single Pygmy Owl at Ruby Beach on 10/1. Judy Mullally sighted a single Barred Owl on the east side of Port Angeles on 9/9 and 9/11.
Other raptors: Bruce Moorhead observed a lone Osprey flying over the Elwha River on 10/20, about a mile south of the park entrance, which is a late date for Ospreys here. Bruce also had a subadult Peregrine Falcon zip about 10 feet over his head at Ediz Hook on 9/30. Jerry Freilich reports a Northern Harrier flying over Obstruction Point on 8/22, where they, along with Kestrels, apparently move up-slope in late summer to harvest grasshoppers. One Kestrel was at Graysmarsh on 9/7, reported by Scott Atkinson. Rose Forbes saw a dark Merlin flying over Mains Farm on 9/28, and at least one Merlin has been hanging around 3 Crabs, with one there throughout the period, last seen on 10/22 by the River Center Fall Bird Class.
By now, loons, grebes, and waterfowl have arrived in good numbers, but expect more as freezing weather chills the north. Apparently snow and cold weather came early to parts of Alaska, as Anchorage received an early record of 6 inches of snow on 9/26, which might explain early arrival of our waterbirds. Mike Crim, while sailing between Kingston and Port Angeles , reported two Yellow-billed Loons about 4 miles W of the Dungeness Lighthouse on 10/21, plus 4 delightful minke whales nearby. On the same day Mike said there were LOTS of scoters by the Ediz Hook fish pens.
In the weird goose category is a hybrid Canada X White-fronted Goose flying around Dungeness Bay on 8/30, seen by Randy Hill. Scott Downes reported two flocks of White-fronted Geese, one of 25 birds near Lake Crescent on 10/6 and one of 30 birds south of Port Angeles on 10/7. Judy Mullally saw 4 White-fronteds fly past her home on the east side of Port Angeles on 9/19, and Judy also reported the first Trumpeter Swans for the fall, 4 flying east on 10/27. Scott Atkinson saw 5 Snow Geese at Graysmarsh on 10/24, always a good bird in Clallam County. Sue Chickman reported the first group of Brant off Jamestown Beach, with 19 there on 10/13.
Harlequin Ducks seemed to have a fine year, with good numbers visible at most local gathering spots. Steve Mlodinow reported high numbers of 63 visible in Port Angeles Harbor on 8/23, with 32 more visible at the Elwha River mouth. Gadwall continue to increase in our area, with Pat Holden reporting an extraordinary 40 at her pond in Dungeness on 10/1.
Brown Pelicans continued to be visible at the west side of the Olympic Peninsula during late summer. Jerry Freilich saw 8 flying near Mora on 8/21. Sherry Anderson reported the only Brown Pelican of the period from the northern Peninsula, one feeding near 3 Crabs on 9/6. Bob Norton had the high count from shore of Brandt’s Cormorants, seeing 12 at Port Angeles Harbor on 10/12.
It was an excellent fall for Great Egrets in western Washington, mostly to the south of our area, but Dick Johnson saw one at Kah Tai Lagoon in Port Townsend on 9/4. It was also a good year for Green Herons – two were present near the east end of 3 Crabs Road on 8/30, with one staying for several days, reported by Gary Hussey. One other stayed at Quilcene Bay for over a week in early September, reported by Karen Wyman.
The huge summer and fall passage of California and Heermann’s Gulls is mostly history now, but several hundred still hang out at some spots, such as the Elwha River mouth, seen by Bob and Barb Boekelheide on 10/16. Among the thousands of Cal Gulls at Neah Bay on 9/19, Nigel Ball spotted 20 Herring Gulls, detectable by their very pale eyes. Thayer’s Gulls are back, particularly at the Elwha River, where 8 roosted with other gulls on 10/16, along with 2 Herring Gulls.
By now most of the fall shorebird migration has happened, leaving our mudflats with the big three wintering species – Black-bellied Plover, Sanderling, and Dunlin. But the migration gave us many thrills before it was over. The juvenile Ruff observed in late August by Russell Rogers at 3 Crabs remained well into September, until at least 9/6. One of the two Long-billed Curlews that arrived at 3 Crabs in May remained until at least 9/3, seen by Scott Atkinson.
Scott Atkinson also reported a Pacific Golden-Plover at 3 Crabs on 9/3. On 9/5 Bob Kiernan and Bob Boekelheide saw one juvenile American Golden-Plover mixed in with 140 Black-bellieds and 25 Short-billed Dowitchers at Dungeness Landing, and one Sharp-tailed Sandpiper mixed in with 2 Pectoral Sandpipers east of Helen’s Pond at 3 Crabs. There were also a couple of Red Knots visible at Dungeness Landing on 9/9. Bob Norton and Judy Mullally saw at least 2 Rock Sandpipers at Fort Flagler on 10/23, plus 5 Marbled Godwits on the Blyn mudflats.
Steve Mlodinow had the high count for Black Turnstones for the fall, seeing 170 near the Port Townsend Marina on 8/23, along with 2 Surfbirds. Steve also saw 2 Baird’s Sandpipers and a very unusual Franklin’s Gull at Discovery Bay the same day.
It was an excellent fall for Pectoral Sandpipers, which were usually visible at 3 Crabs throughout September and October. Five still remained at Helen’s Pond on 10/22, along with 47 Long-billed Dowitchers. The high count for Pectorals comes from Russell Rogers, who saw 12 Pectorals at Helen’s Pond on 8/31, along with a juvenile Stilt Sandpiper and the Ruff mentioned above.
Scott Atkinson did his September survey of Graysmarsh on 9/7, seeing, among other shorebirds, a Semipalmated Sandpiper, a Baird’s Sandpiper, 156 Red-necked Phalaropes, and one early Red Phalarope. He also saw 4 Parasitic Jaegers trying to steal food from local birds, including a very unusual Forster’s Tern.
The only report of Sandhill Cranes this period comes from Ben Crusan, who saw 4 flying west of Sequim on 9/16. The high count of Turkey Vultures comes from Jerry Freilich, who saw 50 flying over Port Angeles on 10/5.
Anna’s Hummingbirds are around now, so keep an eye out. Dick Monroe, who lives near the south end of Sequim Bay, had an Anna’s in his backyard on 10/27, although Dick says it was much more interested in his blooming Fuchsias than the hummingbird feeder right next door. Another Anna’s visited the Boekelheide backyard on 9/9.
It’s nice to see Black Swifts, fliers par excel lance. Jerry Freilich observed 2 above Deer Lake in Olympic National Park on 8/16. Russell Rogers sighted 12 flying over Sequim on 9/18. Two more lazily flew over RR Bridge Park in Sequim on 9/1.
Scott Atkinson saw a wonderful variety of land birds at Graysmarsh on 9/7, including one Bank Swallow and a Nashville Warbler, two very unusual species for our area. On a return trip on 10/24, Scott found a lovely Palm Warbler and a late Yellowthroat.
A distinct wave of western songbird migrants at RR Bridge Park occurred on 9/17, when a lovely flock of western warblers and vireos mixed in with the usual chickadees and kinglets. In the flock were at least 6 Black-throated Gray Warblers, 8 Townsend’s Warblers, 2 Orange-crowned Warblers, one Yellow Warbler, and 2 Warbling Vireos. A Wilson’s Warbler graced our Wed AM Bird Walk on 9/22, along with a late Pacific-slope Flycatcher. Yellow Warblers seemed to linger longer this fall, including one seen on the Wed. morning River Center bird walk on 10/20.
Townsend’s Warbler and Hutton’s Vireo numbers seem high this fall, with both species consistently present in RR Bridge Park. The 10/20 bird walk turned up 4 Townsend’s Warblers, with Hutton’s just a short Pygmy-owl toot away. John Woolley, while lazing in his Adirondack chair along east Sequim Bay on 10/21, watched 5 Townsend’s and 2 Hutton’s join the usual kinglets and chickadees. John also had one last Black Headed Grosbeak visit him for the summer on 9/7. Like many others, John noticed a peak in Robin numbers from late September through mid-October, including some “singing like a Saturday night binge,” possibly drunk on fermented madrona berries. As John says, “No drinking and flying!”
Western Bluebirds again made a mystery appearance at Lyn Muench’s home up O’Brien Road, where 5 appeared on 10/3 near where they nested in nest boxes earlier in the year. This seems to be a consistent story, in that bluebirds disappear after nesting but reappear sometime during the fall. Scott Downes also saw a male bluebird at Lost Mountain south of Sequim on 10/11.
Mountain birds in the news: Scott Downes had a calling Clark’s Nutcracker at about 1000 foot elevation south of Brinnon on 10/13. Tom Butler and family saw 2 Pine Grosbeaks when climbing Mt. Townsend on 9/26, always a good bird. Beth Oakes had one more Pine Grosbeak in her orchard between Port Angeles and Joyce also on 9/26, walking within 6 feet of him for a great look. Bob Norton reports a Gray Jay visiting his feeder near Joyce between 10/24-26. On 10/24 Scott Atkinson noted a Mountain Chickadee at Graysmarsh, a species having a phenomenal “eruption” in western Washington this fall (caused by Mt St.Helens?), being seen throughout the lowlands, particularly in October. Take a close look at all the chickadee flocks for little gray jobs with distinct white eyebrows, particularly during the Christmas Bird Count.
If you’re at the right place, even sparrow migration can be spectacular. Nigel Ball reported over 1000 Savannah Sparrows feeding on the beach at Neah Bay on 9/19, including 330 seen in a single scan. There were also 5 Lapland Longspurs and 9 American Pipits in the group, plus Nigel reported a lone Western Kingbird nearby on the same day. Lincoln Sparrows made a nice showing around here in late September and early October, including 5 seen on the 10/13 RR Bridge Park bird walk.
Bob Norton had two White-throated Sparrows at his feeder in Joyce before 10/26. One other White-throated appeared for the River Center Wed AM Birdwalk on 9/29. The Boekelheide family feeder is again hosting a White-throated Sparrow this fall, first seen this year on 10/16. This is the fifth year in a row a White-throated Sparrow has been at our feeder.
Demarie Wood, who lives in Port Angeles, called about a likely partial albino Dark-eyed Junco at her feeder, with white head and all-white tail. This time of year, after juveniles have fledged, is when we get reports of albino birds, particularly juncos, robins, and blackbirds. A partial albino Black-capped Chickadee is also visiting the Boekelheide feeder, with a shiny white back and white flecks in the head.
Winter will be here soon. As the Christmas Bird Count approaches, please let us know of something noteworthy; please call us: Bob Boekelheide at 681-4076 (w) or 681-4867 (h) (email at firstname.lastname@example.org) or Bob Norton at 928-3053 (email at email@example.com). Thank you very much for your sightings.
Copyright © 1999-2013 Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society. All rights reserved.