Bird Sightings -- Spring, 2006
By Bob Boekelheide
What lovely spring weather! After weeks of overcast, we hit a stretch of beautiful days in mid to late April that turned our wintry landscape into leafy greenness in no time.
In reality, we haven't had an excessive amount of rain in Sequim this winter. Rainfall for January through March only totaled 3.41 inches at the River Center, but it was spread around enough to make it seem reasonably wet. Snow pack in the northeast Olympics is barely average as we finish the snow season, but at least we won’t need to worry about low river flows this summer.
California is where the real torrential rains occurred during the past two months, with many sites getting two to three times normal rainfall during late winter and early spring. Many of our early spring migrants that spend the winter in California seemed to arrive a week or two late this year, perhaps because they had trouble finding an open weather window to start flying north.
This year’s first local hummingbird award goes to... Gwen Pierce! Gwen observed the first Rufous Hummingbird at her home in Dungeness on 3/12. Gwen also had the first hummers in 2004, so this lady knows her hummers. But remember that they’re only here for just a few months - by mid-June the males will be gone and by late June and July the females and juveniles will hit the road.
Charlie and Karen Clanton continue to see Anna’s Hummingbirds, the wintering species, through April at their home on Bell Hill. At least two females and one male Anna’s continued visiting their feeder even after the Rufous Hummers arrived in March. We would love to know if Anna’s are breeding locally, since usually they fade away as soon as the nasty Rufous arrive.
The Early Spring Birds class from the River Center reported the first local migrant swallow on 3/9 at Carrie Blake Park, a lone Tree Swallow soaring overhead. Violet-green and Tree Swallows, the two cavity-nesting species, arrived in mass in March, but Barn and Cliff Swallows, who make their own mud nests, trickled in later, with Ken Wiersema reporting the first Cliffs at Dungeness on 4/21.
Once again we have a report of some Barn Swallows here during winter. Tom Butler saw 8 Barn Swallows flying over the Dungeness Recreation Area on 2/10, the time of year that they're supposed to be in Central and South America. This pattern of Barn Swallows in western Washington has occurred for several winters, which really doesn't make much sense for these insectivorous birds. How do they survive?
The same clear skies at mid-April produced a nice fallout of early spring migrants around Sequim, particularly Yellow-rumped, Orange-crowned, and Townsend’s Warblers. About 100 of these warblers flitted in the cottonwoods of RR Bridge Park on 4/21, and Dave and Julie Jackson reported similar numbers at the Towne Road Dike in Dungeness the same day. Larry Rymon reported a Chipping Sparrow at his home near Cassidy Creek on 4/18, always an interesting sight. Do any Chipping Sparrows nest around here? Both Larry and Ken Wiersema reported very early Black-headed Grosbeaks on 4/19, Larry's near Cassidy Creek and Ken's near the Dungeness Recreation Area.
Migrant Townsend’s Solitaires made their typical appearance this spring, both in the lowlands and in the mountains. Charlie and Karen Clanton saw one on Bell Hill on 3/5, and Dave and Julie Jackson saw one at the Towne Rd Dike on 4/17. John Woolley reported three on the east slopes of Mt. Townsend on 3/12, possibly already at breeding sites.
Hermit Thrushes also made an appearance in the lowlands, including one at Sheila Joyce's home by the Dungeness River on 4/14, one at RR Bridge Park on 4/17, and one near the Dungeness schoolhouse on 4/22. Look for Solitaires and Hermit Thrushes singing their melodic songs in the subalpine zone of the high Olympics this spring and summer.
Drama for the Ospreys at their nest by East Sequim Bay Road (at mile 2.5). Rick and Kathy Bush reported one Osprey at the nest on 4/7, and within a few days two sat and whistled around the nest. On 4/23, however, Dick Lindner reported a Bald Eagle sitting in the Osprey nest, with one Osprey circling overhead. Let's hope that Bald Eagles don't drive away the Ospreys.
Bald Eagle eggs are hatching right now, so be on the look out for bobble-head chicks in their nests. Charlie and Karen Clanton saw the earliest eaglet in the nest near John Wayne Marina on 4/20, happily being fed by its parents.
Other hawks: While standing on his deck at East Sequim Bay talking to squirrels, John Woolley heard a squeek on 4/4 and turned to see a Sharp-shinned Hawk with a freshly killed Spotted Towhee. Dick Watson watched an immature Peregrine Falcon dining on small birds at Blue Ribbon Farms on 4/9, and Don Cheesbro spotted another Peregrine Falcon near the Dungeness Schoolhouse on 4/12.
Turkey Vultures are a common sight overhead these days, including 10 seen by Terry Vogel on 4/11 flying over the Dungeness River at Old Olympic Hwy, 12 seen by Welden Clark about 4/18 over the foothills south of Sequim, and 15 seen by Sue Chickman on 4/23 circling over Port Angeles.
Owl news: The last sighting we know for local Snowy Owls was by Lee Bowen on 3/29, who saw the owl at 3 Crabs sitting east of the restaurant. Doug Schwarz saw a Snowy, perhaps the same one, near the Dungeness Community Church on 3/28. John Woolley reports hearing regular N. Saw-whet Owl toots near his home by East Sequim Bay in late February and early March. Judy Mullally had a Great Horned Owl west of Morse Creek on 3/7.
On 4/23, while scouting above the Dungeness Fish Hatchery at mid-morning, I heard both a N. Pygmy Owl and a Great Horned Owl hooting at the same time, with the GHO in the shadows of the Dungeness Canyon and the Pygmy in the bright sun on the east-facing slope. The Pygmy continued without pause for at least 20 minutes, with the GHO hooting off and on the whole time. Who was talking to whom?
Caspian Terns first arrived in Dungeness Bay on 3/31, seen by the BirdFest field trip. It will be very interesting to see how the Caspian Tern colony develops this year, so if any of you walk out Dungeness Spit this spring or summer please try to count the number of terns and see if you can see chicks running around the colony, which is found on the south side of the spit between Graveyard Spit and the Lighthouse.
Not much water bird news, as wintering loons, grebes, and ducks quickly filter back to the north. Gene Kridler reported a drake Redhead at Carrie Blake Park on 3/30, always a beautiful sight. Three gaudy male Eurasian Wigeons swam all by themselves on 4/22 off the mouth of the Dungeness River.
The spring migration of shorebirds happens very quickly in late April and early May, so you must get out right now to view their spectacular breeding plumages. Thousands of Western Sandpipers, Dunlin, Black-bellied Plovers, and dowitchers are passing right now, plus lots of other species. On 4/15, during the dedication of the observation platform at Dungeness Landing, we watched two Marbled Godwits, two Greater Yellowlegs, and one Lesser Yellowlegs forage on the mud flat along with all the other shorebirds. On 4/22, over 2000 Dunlin fed near the mouth of the Dungeness River, along with at least 400 Black-bellied Plovers, 50 Short-billed Dowitchers, 4 Western Sandpipers, and 3 Semipalmated Plovers.
It will be interesting to see how long the shorebirds continue to eat millet at Ediz Hook, where a gentlemen has been dumping grain to attract birds. On 3/14, Bruce Moorhead watched about 30 Sanderlings, 6 Black Turnstones, a Dunlin, and a Snow Bunting, in addition to House Sparrows and European Starlings, as they pecked in very unshorebird-like fashion.
As we approach the OPAS Birdathon, it’s very important that we keep track of unusual sightings. We see less than 10 individuals of many species in this count, so please let us know. Get out for the dawn chorus, to “see” what you can hear. If you see or hear anything unusual, please call Bob Boekelheide at 681-4076 (email at firstname.lastname@example.org) or Bob Norton at 928-3053 (email at email@example.com). Thank you for your sightings!
Graduate Student Needs Your Help
A graduate student from Western Washington University, Carly Gelarden, needs help doing bird surveys along the Elwha River between late May and July. He needs volunteers to help collect bird density data through point counts and habitat sampling. He will train you with his data collection protocol and distance sampling during May. His email contact is firstname.lastname@example.org if you can help.
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