Bird Sightings -- Summer, 2006
By Bob Boekelheide
Following a moderately rainy winter and spring, this summer may go down as one of the driest ever in western Washington, particularly on our rainshadow side of the Olympics. Total precipitation at the Dungeness River Audubon Center was only slightly over a quarter inch for both July and August, but August’s woeful rainfall came in at only 0.07 inches of drizzle. The last time we recorded over a tenth of an inch of rain in one day was way back on June 12th.
The mountain and lowland forests are parched right now, causing songbirds to disperse widely in the pursuit of food. Even native plants that usually tolerate dry summers look stressed this year. Wild berries near the Dungeness River quickly became raisins, forcing waxwings and robins to search elsewhere for food. If you have a stocked feeder and keep water available for the birds, your yard is probably very popular right now.
You may have heard that seabirds on the outer Olympic coast experienced difficult conditions once again this breeding season, with late upwelling, poor feeding conditions, and “dead zones” due to low oxygen concentrations.
Despite conditions, several parties searched for birds from the Cape Flattery overlook this summer, seeing a potpourri of seabirds not usually seen from shore. Steve Mlodinow, Brad Waggoner, and Doug and Pipper Watkins did a 3-hour seawatch at Cape Flattery at daybreak on 7/29, seeing, among the usual birds, 2 possible Manx-type Shearwaters and 2 possible Xantus’s Murrelets.
A few days later, Jeff Bryant did a 6-hour seawatch from Cape Flattery on 8/3, seeing one Manx-type Shearwater, 4 possible Xantus’s Murrelets, 3 Parasitic Jaegers, and a small group of storm-petrels. Not to be outdone, Charlie Wright did a 4-hour seawatch at Cape Flattery on 8/11, seeing, in addition to the regular birds, one Black-footed Albatross, 2 Buller’s Shearwaters, one Manx-type Shearwater, a Red Phalarope, 8 Pomarine Jaegers, 18 Parasitic Jaegers, one Sabine’s Gull, and one Ancient Murrelet.
Jamie Acker went salmon fishing from La Push on 7/16, spotting a very unusual Layson Albatross about 18 miles offshore, along with at least 250 Cassin’s Auklets and many other species. Barb Blackie, Scott Mills, and Bob Boekelheide did an Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary seabird survey on 8/2, traveling west from La Push to the Juan de Fuca Canyon, counting many Black-footed Albatrosses, fulmars, shearwaters, murres, Rhino Auklets, Red-necked Phalaropes, Tufted Puffins, 2 Cassin’s Auklets, 2 Pomarine Jaegers, one Parasitic Jaeger, and a big South Polar Skua chasing shearwaters and gulls.
This has been a good year for Brown Pelicans, not only on the outer coast at places like La Push, but also inside the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Lee Robinson noticed the first pelican on 6/3 in a feeding flock with other birds between Diamond Point and Protection Island. Ruth Erskin spotted a Brown Pelican off Travis Spit on 6/23. Next, Charlie Wright counted 25 from Cape Flattery on 8/11.
A big push of Brown Pelicans occurred in the Strait between 8/17 and 8/22, reported by many people. Kathy Shoaf saw a pelican at John Wayne Marina on 8/17, then Rick Klawitter spotted 19 pelicans flying west at sunset from Ediz Hook on 8/18. The same day Claudia Eklund spotted two pelicans in Discovery Bay near the Gardiner boat launch. Doug Schwarz photographed two pelicans in Sequim Bay on 8/19, both immatures. Kathy Bush spotted 2 pelicans off Travis Spit on 8/20. An immature swam in Dungeness Bay on 8/22, seen by the River Center shorebird class.
Following Margaret Levitan’s sighting of three White Pelicans over the Dungeness River on 5/31, there was another unusual sighting of White Pelicans by Richard Isherwood, when he saw 2 from the Port Townsend ferry on 6/18.
Ruddy Ducks are breeding in Clallam County!! At least three broods were raised at Kitchen-Dick Ponds, with the first reported by Steve Mlodinow on 7/29. Later, Bob Norton spotted two broods there in early August. Then a River Center gull class spotted a female Ruddy with 6 small downy ducklings on 8/26, along with 4 other female/immature types. This is noteworthy, perhaps the first ever recorded breeding of Ruddys in Clallam County. Clara Mason also reported two pairs of Ruddy Ducks at Kah Tai Lagoon in Port Townsend in mid-June, where they likely have nested in past years.
Arnold and Debbie Shouten spied a female Barrow’s Goldeneye with 3 ducklings at Lake Mills on 8/6, along with other female goldeneyes. Barrow’s Goldeneyes have nested for at least several years at the Elwha River lakes; when the dams come out we may lose Barrow’s Goldeneyes as breeders in Clallam County.
A very unusual summertime Black Scoter swam off Ediz Hook on 7/29, seen by Steve Mlodinow, Brad Waggoner, and Doug and Pipper Watkins.
As always, the change from spring to summer shifts our attention to migrant shorebirds. July brought mostly adult shorebirds as they made their exodus from Arctic breeding areas – Sanderlings, Western and Least Sandpipers, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, dowitchers (mostly Short-billed), Whimbrels, Marbled Godwits, Ruddy Turnstones, and Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plovers.
The River Center shorebird class spotted a Red-necked Phalarope strangely onshore at Helen’s Pond on 8/3, along with 2 Semipalmated Sandpipers at 3 Crabs. Rick Klawitter also spotted 2, maybe 3, Semipalmated Sandpipers at Helen’s Pond on 8/2, and Jeff Bryant spotted one on 8/3.
Other shorebirds that usually show up here every year haven’t been seen yet, such as Pectoral Sandpipers. Only two Baird’s Sandpipers have been reported, one seen by Brian Bell at 3 Crabs on 8/12 on a Seattle Audubon field trip, and one seen on 8/22 at Dungeness Landing by the River Center shorebird class. Brian Bell had the high count for Black Turnstones at Ediz Hook so far this summer, with 20 on 8/12, and the River Center gull class had the high count of Black Oystercatchers, with 12 roosting on the logs in Port Angeles harbor on 8/26.
It’s been a fairly good year for Pacific Golden-Plovers, or perhaps one bird decided to stick around the area for awhile. One Pacific was spotted by Steve Mlodinow, Brad Waggoner, and Doug and Pipper Watkins in Dungeness Bay on 7/29. On 8/17, Bob Norton, Diane Mulholland, and Cate Hopkinson saw another, this one a fading alternate-plumaged adult, at Blyn. On 8/26, the shorebird class from the River Center spotted another at Dungeness Landing Park, again a molting adult. In every case, the golden plover was hanging out with Black-bellied Plovers.
In the raptor department, I received two reports of Golden Eagles this summer. Brian Bell spotted one at Hurricane Ridge on 8/12. Mahde Riehlein had another fly overhead when she climbed Mt. Townsend on 8/19.
Peregrine Falcons have been hanging around Dungeness Bay, including one regularly seen by Mary Mira while she stayed at the Dungeness Spit lighthouse for a week. Two peregrines struck fear in the hearts of shorebirds in Dungeness Bay on 8/20, one adult Anatum and one immature, seen by Barb and Bob Boekelheide.
Kathy and Rick Bush kept tabs on the East Sequim Bay Osprey nest this year, reporting that probably only one chick fledged from the nest. This is the same nest that had several dramatic episodes earlier in the year, including both adults being chased out of the nest by an immature eagle. Perhaps they were lucky to have any chicks. Kathy also reported that they saw 3 adult Ospreys and one chick in the nest in late July – perhaps an immature from a previous year passing by?
Coincidentally, it was neat to see an Osprey fishing at the Carrie Blake Park water reclamation pond in late June and early July, easily snatching up the big trout planted for kids’ fishing over the Fourth of July. Thank you, City of Sequim, for feeding the Ospreys!
Doug and Spencer Chisnall reported 4 Am. Kestrels sitting on wires by Schmuck Road on 8/24, suggesting the tantalizing possibility that kestrels bred in the area this year.
The big post-breeding migration by gulls is upon us, easily led by California Gulls. During the River Center gull class on 8/26, we counted about 3500 California Gulls in Dungeness Bay, about 6000 roosting on the logs in Port Angeles Harbor, and another 3000 at the Elwha River mouth, making a conservative estimate of at least 12,000 Cal Gulls in our area that day. Many more certainly pass our way every summer.
While traveling by B.C. Ferry from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay on 8/11, I was very impressed by the numbers of California Gulls streaming from the Fraser River mouth across the Strait of Georgia towards the Strait of Juan de Fuca, apparently coming from breeding sites in Alberta and Saskatchewan. I bet that most of the California Gulls breeding in the interior of Canada fly past our doorsteps at the end of the breeding season.
The Caspian Tern colony on Dungeness Spit had another spectacular year. Probably over 1000 terns attended the colony, with many fledglings out and about starting in early July. Two pairs of Arctic Terns again nested near the Caspians, this year successfully fledging chicks. We hope to get the final numbers from the USFWS for our next report.
Eurasian Collared Doves continue their invasion of North America, including two that hung out at Jim Richard’s feeder just north of Sequim from 8/16 to 8/23. If you see what might be collared doves or Ringed Turtle Doves, look closely at the undertail coverts, which are noticeably darker on the collared doves.
Ron Sikes spotted a possible juvenile Calliope Hummingbird sitting on a clothesline near Port Townsend on 7/19. This is a very interesting record, considering that the nearest known Calliope breeding site is probably on the east slopes of the Cascades. Ron said that he saw it from 5 feet, and it was clearly smaller than juvenile Rufous Hummers, had no rufous in the tail, and had long wings extending significantly longer than the tail.
Charlie and Karen Clanton continued to have Anna’s Hummingbirds at their feeders on Bell Hill until at least the end of June, including two females and one male. Since Anna’s are typically only seen around here in fall and winter, this is a noteworthy sighting, suggesting that at least some nest in our area.
Purple Martins successfully used the nest boxes at 3 Crabs again this year, with at least 10 birds flying around or sitting on the boxes on 8/3. At least 4 fledglings flew around and sat on nearby power lines in mid-August.
Amy Schillinger, while hiking at Marmot Pass near the upper Dungeness River on 7/21, spotted 6 Clark’s Nutcrackers, a probable family of adults and fledglings. This area has consistently turned up more nutcrackers than any other in the northeastern Olympics, where stands of white-bark pines occur near tree line.
A Western Scrub-Jay occurred at a feeder on the east side of Port Angeles from 7/4 to 7/8, reported by Judy Mullally’s neighbor. Two Gray Jays visited Beth Oakes’ feeder at 750 feet elevation between Port Angeles and Joyce on 7/6.
Good bluebird news! Melanie Perry reports that 6 Western Bluebirds fledged from her nest box south of Gardiner this summer, and that the birds probably started a new clutch. Millie Marzec had bluebirds all summer long at her home southwest of Sequim up Hooker Road, seeing 2 juveniles with parents on 6/17 and an adult male carrying food on 7/29.
Perhaps the most interesting songbird sighting of the period was a Rock Wren heard singing and briefly glimpsed by Russell Rogers while bicycling early on the morning of 7/10 on Bell Hill. Rock Wrens only occasionally show up around here, typically in the winter, so this was most interesting.
The summer is winding down and fall migration is upon us. Maples are already losing their leaves. You must remain vigilant, watching closely for migrants passing our way. When you see something good, call Bob Norton (928-3053) or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call Bob Boekelheide (681-4076) or email email@example.com. Thank you very much for your sightings!
Copyright © 1999-2013 Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society. All rights reserved.