Bird Sightings -- Spring, 2007
By Bob Boekelheide
It’s spring, when we turn our attention to colorful migrant birds arriving in our backyards everyday. But before we look ahead to spring, let’s look back one last time to the fall and winter, because it’s my impression that the winter just past was not particularly friendly to small flocking birds in our area.
Following the big windstorm and snows of November and December, we noticed a substantial drop in small forest birds on our Wednesday morning bird walks at Railroad Bridge Park, particularly kinglets, chickadees, and Bushtits. For most of the winter, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, typically a common wintering species, dwindled to only an occasional individual on our walks. Golden-crowned Kinglets, who in past winters usually formed flocks of 20 to 40 birds bouncing through the firs, never numbered more than 4 on Wednesday walks by March this year. Bushtits, who numbered two or three nesting pairs in RR Bridge Park every spring for the last five years, now have only one pair that we can find this year. Did these birds move somewhere else this winter to avoid the bad weather, or did they suffer higher mortality because of the weather?
It’s well known that kinglets and other small birds join in communal roosts during winter, cramming themselves together into giant fluffballs at night to conserve heat. Perhaps the Railroad Bridge Park flocks didn’t reach the critical mass needed to maintain their temperature, so they either moved elsewhere to find other flocks or they perished from the cold. It shows that we need far better data to understand the lives of these little birds in winter.
The winner of the prestigious First Local Rufous Hummingbird Award goes to … Sheila Kee, who spotted one at Diamond Point on 3/8. The first Orange-crowned Warbler sighting was an early 3/6 bird seen by Mary Mira on the lower slopes of Burnt Hill. Now the Orange-crowneds’ up-and-down trill can be heard all over Clallam County.
Exciting news from 3 Crabs. Great Blue Herons have built two well-built nests in snags south of Helen’s Pond, in place by 4/19. Les Jones and Charlie Clanton both spotted the nests, first reporting them during nest building in early April. It’s hard to imagine that the herons would be successful with all the eagles about, but they’re trying.
Scott Atkinson found some extraordinary rarities around Sequim during his visit on 3/31. At Kitchen-Dick Ponds Scott found a cooperative western Palm Warbler still in non-breeding plumage, chipping away in the willows. This is the first Palm Warbler we know of in Clallam County since one appeared at the DRA in the mid-1990s. At Graysmarsh, Scott spotted an Arctic Loon offshore, a species split from Pacific Loon in the 1980s. Arctic Loons are Siberian breeders, larger and with more white on the sides than Pacific Loons. There are only a handful of definitive records for Arctic Loon in the lower 48 states.
Once again, Cape Flattery provided interesting sightings for those willing to travel that far. On 3/31, Drew Wheelan reported 48 Tufted Puffins, over 2000 murres, many Rhinoceros Auklets flying by, and lots of Pacific and Red-throated Loons visible from the overlook.
Charlie Wright visited Cape Flattery and vicinity on 4/2-3, seeing a basic-plumaged Horned Puffin flying by, a northerly species that appeared in much higher than normal numbers along the Oregon coast this winter, including large numbers that washed up dead on beaches. Charlie also reported 2 Ancient Murrelets and a Cassin’s Auklet, a very unusual species to see from shore.
More than just seabirds were at Cape Flattery. On 4/3, Charlie spotted migrating raptors overhead, including 48 Turkey Vultures, 22 Bald Eagles, 18 Red-tailed Hawks, 2 Peregrine Falcons, and a Sharp-shinned Hawk. Allison Warner visited Cape Flattery on 4/4, seeing flocks of about 75 Sandhill Cranes migrating north. Norrie Johnson watched about 100 Sandhill Cranes fly over the Sol Duc River on 4/19, plus watched a Common Loon in the river several miles inland from saltwater.
The spring shorebird migration is in full swing, with thousands of shorebirds prowling the mudflats of Dungeness Bay. Dunlin, Sanderlings, Black-bellied Plovers, Short-billed Dowitchers, Greater Yellowlegs, and Semipalmated Plovers reach peak spring numbers in late April and early May, many of whom have molted into their flashiest breeding plumages. On 4/8, Drew Wheelan last saw the lone Marbled Godwit that spent the winter in Dungeness Bay. The spring shorebird migration is a quick one, so make sure that you visit your local mudflat before the birds are off to the north.
Ruddy Ducks are back at Kitchen-Dick Ponds, where they raised at least two broods in 2006. Keep an eye on these birds and let me know if they have chicks again this year. John Bridge was surprised on 3/20 to find two female Common Goldeneyes swimming in the Dungeness River near the old schoolhouse bridge, quite a ways upstream of their usual saltwater haunts. Could they be looking for nest holes?
Lots of Turkey Vultures passed overhead during the last month, with the highest number reported by Charlie Clanton on Bell Hill, who watched 52 sail over in about half an hour on 3/19. The Trumpeter Swans have now left for the north, but as they were leaving Charlie counted a flock of 21 flying north on 3/21. The highest local swan count in March was by Sue Chickman, who spotted 34 swans flying over fields in Jamestown on 3/12.
We get few reports from Lake Leland in Jefferson County, but Mike and Joy McFadden watch a regal Golden Eagle land on a log in the lake on 3/15. March is migration time for Golden Eagles, when I usually hear about people seeing them in the lowlands.
April is arrival time for Ospreys. Kathy Bush reported one Osprey flying around the nest site at East Sequim Bay on 4/19, which is the nest that got blown down in the big December windstorms. It will be most interesting to see if the Ospreys rebuild this nest, since the tree is only half as tall as it once was.
The first-winter Heermann’s Gulls continued at Ediz Hook through at least the Olympic BirdFest on 3/31, the first time we know when this species has over-wintered in Clallam County. Drew Wheelan reported a first-winter Glaucous Gull at the Elwha River mouth on 2/24, and another first-winter Glaucous Gull provided great looks for the Olympic BirdFest at 3 Crabs on 3/31.
It’s been a busy owl month. Sue Skubinna reported a lofty Short-eared Owl flying around Main’s Farm in Dungeness on 3/11, and another Short-eared Owl surprised Barb Vanderwerf near the mouth of McDonnell Creek on 3/19, first appearing like “a strange-looking Northern Harrier,” according to Barb. Short-eared Owls may be nesting around here this spring, so keep an eye out.
Chrilo Von Gontard, who lives near Happy Valley, had a pair of GH Owls hooting with “great gusto” on 3/4 and Cathy Shoaf heard Great Horned Owls hooting away near Cassidy Creek on 3/9. Drew Wheelan, while driving up the Tumwater Truck Route in Port Angeles on 2/23, was escorted by a Barn Owl for about a half mile on 2/23, as the owl flew in front of his car up the hill. John Bridge heard the first N. Pygmy Owl of the year at about 5000 feet while on an early spring backpack near Marmot Pass on 4/4.
Chrilo Von Gontard has a pair of W. Screech Owls in the woods by her home near Happy Valley, tooting several times during March. Jerry Freilich, while walking his mutt near Peninsula College on 3/24, also heard a little Screech Owl tooting away. The Early Spring Bird class, while birding the DNR land off Olson Road on 4/12, had a Screech Owl respond to tooting at 11 a.m. The River Center’s Owl Prowl on 3/4 had a very tooty night, with at least 7 Screech Owls tooting along Woods Rd. and upper Palo Alto Rd. It’s good to hear all these Screech Owls, since they seem to be declining in other areas of Puget Sound, perhaps because of Barred Owl predation.
Demi Wood reported the earliest sighting of Band-tailed Pigeons since she moved to Port Angeles in 1998, seeing them at her feeder on 3/7. The first Band-tailed Pigeons didn’t appear on Wed. morning birdwalks at RR Bridge Park until 3/28 this year.
The Olympic BirdFest turned up perhaps the last Northern Shrike of the winter along Schmuck Rd. on 3/31, along with a small flock of 4 W. Meadowlarks. Melissa Coughlin spotted a meadowlark along Cameron Rd. on 2/28, and another sang above Dungeness Landing Park on 3/22.
It was a good spring for Mountain Bluebirds, particularly at Hobuck Beach. Charlie Wright found 10 foraging on beached logs at Hobuck Beach on 4/2, and Allison Warner spotted three Mtn. Bluebirds at the same place on 4/4. Scott Atkinson, while touring Graysmarsh beach on 3/31, spotted two male Mtn. Bluebirds. Jessica Coyle, on the staff of Graysmarsh, saw a Mtn. Bluebird there on 3/23.
Western Bluebirds are back. Millie Marzec had at least two visiting her boxes near Hooker Rd. on 3/12. Stirling and Jean Epps, who live near Atterbury Rd. not far away, spotted two W. Bluebirds near their home in early April.
Pine Siskins have returned with a vengeance this spring, following very low numbers for the last two years. The chittering of Pine Siskins has become a common sound in the riparian forest by the Dungeness River this spring. Of great interest, I received two independent reports of Common Redpolls traveling with siskin flocks in early April. On 4/1, Peter Downey reported a redpoll with siskins visiting his thistle seed feeder at Cape George near Port Townsend. On 4/2, Nancy Wiersema spotted a redpoll with siskins feeding on thistle seed near the Dungeness Recreation Area. This is very late for redpolls to still be in our area, but redpolls were much more common than usual this winter around Puget Sound, so maybe some stuck around with siskins after the rest moved north. Or could the same bird have shown up at two different feeders?
Evening Grosbeaks have also returned in better numbers. Jane Stewart reported that 16 Eve Beaks spent an hour at McComb Gardens Nursery on 3/4. Eve Beaks have been raucously calling in the riparian forest near the Dungeness River through April, perhaps preparing to nest in the tall deciduous trees.
Much more spring migration is on its way. The month of May brings new warblers, flycatchers, Swainson’s Thrushes, orioles, tanagers, and much more. When the snow melts, go to the mountains for pipits, Horned Larks, and rosy finches. Please plan on helping with the Clallam County Bird Count on May 12th. Call Bob Boekelheide at 681-4867 (h) or 681-4076 (w) (email at email@example.com) or Bob Norton at 928-3053 (email at firstname.lastname@example.org) when you see something interesting or unusual. Thank you very much for your sightings!
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