Bird Sightings -- Fall, 2005
By Bob Boekelheide
Thanks to Les and Roberta Jones, the weather station at the Dungeness River Audubon Center has been in place for over three years, helping to build up data about seasonal and yearly trends in local weather. Unfortunately, we’ve had drought for much of the working life of the station, showing how little rain may fall in Sequim.
Our data show that the last three “water years” have been way below average (a “water year” extends from October 1st to September 30th, based on seasonal patterns in rainfall and river flows in the Pacific NW). During the 2002-03 water year the Center’s rain gauge received 10.85 inches of precipitation, during the 2003-04 water year the total was 12.36 inches, and during the 2004-05 water year, just concluded, the total reached 11.40 inches. Clearly the last three years have been extremely dry even for Sequim, well below our town’s 16.3 inches average precipitation for the previous 70 years.
What do these values mean for birds? It depends on the bird. For breeding songbirds, research has shown that low precipitation generally means lower insect populations, limiting the birds’ reproductive effort and success. For wintering insectivores such as kinglets, chickadees, and creepers, it might mean that insects are less available and winter flocks must travel further afield to find food, possibly lowering winter survival. Freshwater ponds may dry up, causing migrant waterfowl and shorebirds that use these habitats to go elsewhere. Low precipitation stresses plants as well, particularly species at the margin of their preferred rainfall amounts, such as Western Red Cedars around Sequim, many of which are dying from lack of water.
On a brighter note, once again a bird class from the Dungeness River Audubon Center has found a noteworthy bird. On 10/1, Dave Jackson and the Beginning Birds Class discovered a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper at Helen’s Pond, conveniently standing with 2 Pectoral Sandpipers and several dowitchers for comparison. Like the Red-necked Stint seen in August, Sharp-tailed Sandpipers nest across the northern Siberian tundra and spend the winter in southeast Asia and Australia. Helen’s Pond has become one of the best places in the Pacific NW to see Sharp-taileds, where they’ve occurred several times during fall migration.
As always, a few other exciting shorebirds showed up for fall migration. Scott Atkinson and Anne Winskie, while doing bird surveys at Graysmarsh on 9/25, spotted a juvenile Ruff and a Pacific Golden-Plover, along with 10 other shorebird species. Scott and Anne had the high count of Pectoral Sandpipers for the fall, seeing 14 at Graysmarsh on the same day. Scott and Anne also found 6 Baird’s Sandpipers and 2 Semipalmated Sandpipers at Graysmarsh on 9/4.
Scott Downes, also birding on 9/4, saw 4 Marbled Godwits and a Semipalmated Sandpiper at 3 Crabs. The high count for Marbled Godwits goes to Bill Morris, who counted 15 at 3 Crabs on 9/21. Stu MacRobbie reported a high count of 75 Killdeer at Carrie Blake Park on 9/22, undoubtedly migrants. Ann Peterson has the high count of Black Oystercatchers, seeing 8 at Ediz Hook on 10/7. Many people reported Wilson’s Snipes this fall, but the strangest observation came from Rosie Sharpe, who watched a snipe lurking in Port Angeles on 10/12, near the corner of 9th and Laurel.
Annette de Knijf of the US Fish and Wildlife Service provided some final numbers for Caspians Terns on Dungeness Spit during the 2005 breeding season. The maximum high counts were 655 adults and 459 chicks, of which the researchers, led by Kirsten Bixler, banded 109 chicks. There were also 2 Arctic Tern pairs, one of which fledged 2 chicks but the other failed. These are quite remarkable numbers, considering the first known Caspian nesting occurred on the Spit in 2003.
It continues to be a great year around here for Green Herons. Corky Muzzy and Margie Fort saw one at the Gardiner boat launch on 9/10, Sherry Anderson spotted one at the Dungeness Meadows Pond on 9/17, Pam and Ted Bedford watched one hang upside down in the trees at Lake Pleasant on 9/22, and Mark Freed reported one at the Elwha River mouth on 10/13. Along with several earlier sightings in spring and summer, this has been the best year in the last decade for Green Herons. Watch for them to nest here real soon.
I received two Golden Eagle reports this period. Hank and Raedell Warren, while hiking at Hurricane Hill on 9/2, watched a Golden Eagle chase a fawn, shadowing it over the top of the hill but never actually attacking. John Woolley, while hiking at 3000 feet on Snider Mountain in the Sol Duc Valley on 9/11, watched a Golden Eagle nonchalantly soaring over. John wonders whether Golden Eagles in the Olympics eat many Aplodontia, or Mountain Beavers, whose signs were obvious in the area.
Barred Owls continue to haunt, including one that sat on Powell Jones’ bird feeder in broad daylight near Chicken Coop Road on 10/21, allowing Powell to snap several pictures. Scott Atkinson also found a Barred Owl at Graysmarsh on 9/25.
Mourning Doves continue to increase in our area. Ann Peterson, at her home just east of Morse Creek, was shocked to see 11 MODOs at her feeder on 10/12, a new bird for her neighborhood. MODOs have skyrocketed around Sequim during the last 10 years. Prior to 1995 MODOs were frequently missed on our CBC, always numbering less than 20 birds. In the last three years their numbers have consistently been over 200, with a peak of 474 in 2003. Like Rock Pigeons, Mourning Doves thrive in human habitats, so their future looks very bright on the north Olympic Peninsula.
Have you said goodbye to the birds of summer? Julie Jackson reported at least 500 swallows, mostly Barns, hanging out on power lines along Evans Road north of Sequim on 9/12. They gang up in these multispecies flocks prior to and during migration, and now they’re long gone. If you happen to see a swallow between now and next February, please give me a call.
Another summer species, a Common Nighthawk, came to visit Sue Christensen along Marine Drive in Dungeness on 9/12, where it sat on her fence in the middle of the day. The last Black Swift of the summer was seen by Scott Atkinson at Graysmarsh on 9/4, along with 2 Purple Martins. The swifts were the first ever for Graysmarsh and the martins were only the second sighting.
Now is the time to watch for Anna’s Hummingbirds, who might spend the winter if you entice them with full hummingbird feeders. One Anna’s has repeatedly visited just east of Railroad Bridge Park, first at Ed and Linda Holden’s home and then at Sheila Joyce’s home, both about 1/4 mile apart. Is it the same bird? A young Anna’s briefly visited the Boekelheide home west of the Dungeness River on 10/5, more interested in the flowers than the feeder. Again, if you have hummingbirds at your home in the next couple months, please let me know.
Large numbers of Western Scrub-Jays have appeared in western Washington this fall, possibly because of acorn failures in Oregon oaks, causing the jays to disperse widely looking for food. Terry Vogel reported a Scrub-Jay at her home on the west side of Sequim on 10/18. More undoubtedly lurk in our area, so keep an eye out for them.
Western Bluebirds did reasonably well this year, and many continue to visit nest sites during fall. Lou Muench reported 5 bluebirds visiting his boxes up Blue Mountain Road on 9/16, where they hung out near a box that successfully fledged chicks earlier this summer. Larry Rymon, on Cassidy Creek Road, observed 4 bluebirds visiting a box on 10/12, where 2 chicks fledged in June. Bob Hays, chief bluebird watcher off O’Brien Road, still has up to 12 bluebirds visiting his boxes in late October, even though he knows that only one pair fledged 6 chicks from one box earlier this year. This dispersal and box visitation pattern occurs every fall, when birds revisit nesting sites with juveniles prior to migration. It seems like many bluebirds from an area form roving family groups in the fall, checking out present and future nest sites together. If you know any more about bluebird nesting or visits this year, please call and let me know.
As usual, there have been some unusual passerine migrants this fall. At Graysmarsh, Scott Atkinson and Anne Winskie spotted a Bobolink on 9/25, the second record we know about for Clallam County (the last occurred there on the 1999 Christmas Bird Count). On 9/4 Scott and Anne recorded 9 warbler species, including a MacGillivray’s Warbler and an unusual Nashville Warbler. It was a great fall for Lincoln’s Sparrows, with 16 at Graysmarsh on 9/4 and 6 on the Wed AM birdwalk at RR Bridge Park on 10/12. White-throated Sparrows occurred at Graysmarsh on 9/25 and at the Boekelheide home on 10/4. This is the 6th year in a row that White-throated Sparrows have visited the Boekelheide home west of Sequim in the fall – hopefully this one will stick around for the CBC. Lastly, a Lapland Longspur visited Salt Creek County Park on 10/ 5, seen by Diann MacRae while looking for vultures to fly over.
It’s time to prepare for the Christmas Bird Count. Don’t let the cool weather keep you inside – get out there and look for birds! When you see something noteworthy, call Bob Boekelheide (phone 681-4867 (h), 681-4076 (w), or email:firstname.lastname@example.org) or Bob Norton (928-3053 or email: email@example.com). Thank you for your sightings.
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