Bird Sightings -- Summer, 2007
By Bob Boekelheide
Imagine buzzing along Highway 101 on a nice summer evening and catching a fleeting glimpse of a strange bird sitting on a barbwire fence next to the road. Are you the sort who would drive on by, saying to yourself that it couldn’t possibly be what you think, or would you slam on your brakes and rush back to see what the heck it is?
Fortunately for us, Russell Rogers did the latter on 7/2, and his alertness resulted in the first record of a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher for western Washington and only the third record for the whole state. The bird fortunately hung around one more day, allowing several people to confirm the sighting.
What a gorgeous bird! It was likely an adult male, with fantastic long tail feathers that floated along behind it when it flew. It was largely whitish-gray on its head and body with darker wings, but it had a lovely pink wash below its wings and across its belly. When it opened its wings it showed the most intense pinkish-orange underwing color. This is the sort of bird that when you see it there is no doubt what it is.
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher is really a kingbird of the genus Tyrannus, the state bird of Oklahoma, at home in the dry prairies of the southern plains. Why did it show up in Clallam County? This species is renowned for records outside its home range, including nearly every state in the country and several provinces of Canada, so one was likely to show up sooner or later. Thanks to Russell, this one didn’t leave without being tallied on our local list.
It’s been an exceptional summer for shorebirds, particularly at Dungeness Bay. The Long-billed Curlew first spotted by Scott Atkinson on 5/5 was still present in Dungeness Bay as of mid-August. The post-breeding migration arrived early, with George Gerdts and Jamie Acker seeing one adult Semipalmated Sandpiper mixed in with Western Sandpipers on 6/24, along with a fine mix of Black-bellied Plovers, Marbled Godwits, and Whimbrels. Another Semipalmated was present on 7/19 at 3 Crabs for the Shorebird class from the River Center, and one more on 8/3 at Les Jones’ pond, seen by Bob Boekelheide, Ken Madsen, and Malkolm and Wendy Boothroyd while bicycling through Dungeness.
Whimbrels peaked as early as late June, with 28 present on 6/22 at Dungeness Landing. Marbled Godwits peaked in July, with 25 present on Dungeness Spit on 7/26, seen along with many other shorebirds by George Gerdts and Jamie Acker. George and Jamie also found 150 Dunlins already present on the outer Dungeness Spit, quite early for these typically later shorebirds. High count for Ruddy Turnstones at Dungeness occurred on 7/29, with 23 incredibly flashy alternate-plumaged adults walking the mudflats. At least 3 Lesser Yellowlegs visited 3 Crabs, including one seen by the Boothroyds while bicycling and birding on 8/3 and 2 seen by the OPAS field trip to Dungeness Bay on 8/11
While leading the Boothroyd family on 8/3, Bob Boekelheide noticed a small, shorter godwit hanging out with Marbled Godwits near the mouth of the Dungeness River. Unfortunately, we were never able to get the definitive look for absolute proof, but it had all the signs of being a Bar-tailed Godwit. While watching the suspected godwit on 8/4, a Red Knot in fading alternate plumage also walked nearby.
Red-necked Phalaropes are here in large numbers this summer, both in saltwater habitats and freshwater ponds. On boat surveys from Port Angeles to Green Point on 7/19, Drew Wheelan found 36 Red-neckeds in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. On the same trip he found 95 Marbled Murrelets, an astonishing 279 Cassin’s Auklets, and 4 Ancient Murrelets, many more than are typically seen in the Strait. Red-necked Phalaropes were reported all over the Pacific Northwest in August, including at 3 Crabs, where 24 were present in the small pond east of the restaurant on 8/12.
George Gerdts and Jamie Acker tried to count Caspian Terns while they walked Dungeness Spit on 7/26, coming up with an amazing 1200 pairs. This is far more than recorded last year, showing that the colony is still growing very fast. George and Jamie also found 2 pairs of Black Oystercatchers nesting by the tern colony, plus saw 3 adult Arctic Terns carrying fish, confirming that they are nesting this year as well. Sarah Moculeski, working for the USFWS, reported 2 pairs of Arctic Terns displaying over the colony on 5/21 and 6/23.
The Lavender Festival Puffin Dinner Cruises to Protection Island found lots of Tufted Puffins, with at least 24 spotted on 7/20 and at least 20 on 7/21. Due to time and weather constraints, the boat could not circumnavigate the island, so it’s likely that even more were present. The colony is reputed to have 10 to 12 nesting pairs, so we may have seen the entire breeding population.
Ryan Merrill spent some quality birding time on the outer coast in July. He found 10 Brant south of Destruction Island on 7/4 and one more near the Quillayute Needles on 7/11, interesting records for the summer. He found an astonishing 3 Manx Shearwaters west of Alexander island on 7/4, one flying past Cape Flattery on 7/18, and a Manx-type Shearwater west of Alexander Island on 7/11, greatly increasing the number of Manx seen off the Olympic Coast. He found an Ancient Murrelet near Cape Alava on 7/13, perhaps one of the suspected local breeders. He spotted one Horned Puffin flying past the Quillayute Needles and La Push on 7/13. At Cape Flattery he watched over 1000 Cassin’s Auklets flying north in small flocks at early dawn, plus had an unusual sighting of a Leach’s Storm-Petrel, usually only seen flying far offshore. He also noticed several Black Swifts flying about in the early morning light, always a treat.
Brown Pelicans are back in big numbers on the west coast. Along the Strait, Bob Iddins reported one flying by Dungeness Spit on 8/3, and Judy Mullally saw 3 fly by Morse Creek on the same day. Along with the pelicans are many Heermann’s Gulls, with their red bills and dark feet.
The most interesting waterfowl news comes from Rick Klawitter, who spotted two immature Barrow’s Goldeneyes at the Lake Mills log boom in early July. Will we lose Barrow’s as a breeding species in Clallam County when the Elwha River dams come out? Bob Kiernan and Bob Boekelheide spotted 7 fledgling Hooded Mergansers near the mouth of Meadowbrook Creek on 8/12, suggesting that these cavity-nesting ducks had been raised somewhere along the lower Dungeness River.
Many people have commented about how many Canada Geese have been flying around Sequim and Dungeness in August, including 350 to 400 that feed and loaf on the mudflats of Dungeness Bay at low tide. These are likely local breeders and their fledglings, rather than migrants from the north. The average Canada Goose clutch is 4 to 8 chicks, so if only 100 pairs of geese in our area fledged 4 chicks per nest, that could account for all the geese.
Great news for Purple Martins nesting in boxes at 3 Crabs. On 7/13, Ken Wiersema, Eftin Strong, and others checked the boxes, finding that 9 out of 10 boxes either had eggs or chicks. While they were there, at least 16 adults flew around chortling their protests, including 2 banded adults that were likely banded by Stan Kostka at Whidbey Island or points east.
Thank you for your sightings! Fall migration is upon us; so if you see or hear anything unusual, please call Bob Boekelheide at 681-4076 (email at email@example.com) or Bob Norton at 928-3053 (email at firstname.lastname@example.org).
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