Bird Sightings -- Winter, 2007-08
By Bob Boekelheide
The cold, snowy winter of 2007-08 seems to have eased up a bit, leaving behind lots of snow in the mountains and no worries about enough water runoff next summer. Snotel stations at Mt. Crag in the upper Quilcene and at the Waterhole on Hurricane Ridge both recorded over 100 inches of snow on the ground at various times during the winter. Hopefully it will melt off gradually rather than all at once.
It’s been a wonderful winter for owls. Shirley Anderson watched a single Short-eared Owl flying around the fields in Dungeness during the Great Backyard Bird Count on 2/16. Barb VanderWerf reported two Short-eared Owls in the hayfields above McDonnell Creek on 1/23. Perhaps the Short-eareds will stick around to nest this year.
Lots of N. Saw-whet Owls tooting their frequent toots. Powell Jones says that at least 3 Saw-whets tooted over and over near his home in Gardiner in mid-February. Another Saw-whet tooted in the evening of 2/6 for Judy Mullally at the Morse Creek Bluffs east of Port Angeles.
The Owl Prowl in the Owlympics had a very successful night on 2/16, first hearing a nice W. Screech Owl pair tooting together at one of the usual spots. Later, a pair of Great Horned Owls responded very well, including a male that sat in a tree right over our heads and wouldn’t stop his hoots. Then, while the GHO continued his hooting, two Saw-whet Owls started their repetitious toots at the same time. Later, another pair of Saw-whets tooted back and forth to each other then gave the blood-curdling challenge call. Scary! Other than owls, it was a beautiful night, with bright moonlight on the snow-capped Olympics.
Barred Owls were quiet during the Owl Prowl, perhaps because they had already laid eggs, but a Barred Owl treated Powell Jones with its Who-Cooks-For-You over and over near the bluffs of Miller Peninsula on the night of 1/24. Powell also heard a Barn Owl hissing in the sky at his home in Gardiner on 1/21.
This is the time of year for swans, so make sure you look for them at their usual haunts along Schmuck Road, Port Williams Road, Towne Road, and Three Crabs. Look closely for Tundra Swans mixed in with the Trumpeter Swans, as Bob and Janet Mullen spotted 5 Tundras with their yellow-spotted bills mixed in with 15 Trumpeters along Port Williams Road on 2/5. Many more Tundra Swans than normal have been reported in the Skagit Valley this winter as well. The OPAS field trip on 1/12 also spotted 15 swans swimming in the Strait of Juan de Fuca off Port Williams, not their typical habitat, as pointed out by Dave Jackson.
Chrilo Von Gontard reports a flock of 8 Snow Geese in Happy Valley on 2/20. It’s curious that thousands of Snow Geese spend the winter in the Skagit Valley, but very few ever show up on the Olympic Peninsula.
Kurt and Marianne Beattie watched 2 male and one female Ruddy Ducks swimming in Sequim Bay near John Wayne Marina on 2/11. Pat Schoen saw 2 pairs of Ring-necked Ducks swimming on a shallow water pond near the Dungeness Rec Area in late January, making you wonder how deep these diving ducks need to feed.
Rick Klawitter, who lives off Place Road west of Port Angeles, has been studying the breeding behaviors of Buffleheads and goldeneyes off the Elwha River mouth, watching lots of head-bobbing, hunch-whistles, copulations, and other mating rituals, even though the Buffleheads don’t nest anywhere near here. Rick did see several male Barrow’s Goldeneyes and a couple females on the Elwha near the Hwy 101 bridge, so they have apparently made their move to fresh water for the breeding season.
Not much raptor news, other than exciting stories from Beth Oakes who lives near Joyce. Beth had a pony die in January at the bottom of her pasture, and quickly Bald Eagles showed up to feed on the carcass. Four eagles hung around for several days feasting on the remains, including crawling inside the body cavity for goodies. Once, while Beth was watching, all the eagles shrieked and flew up as two coyotes appeared at the carcass. The eagles sat in overhanging branches for awhile, then one dive-bombed the coyotes to chase them away. Beth reports one coyote jumped up at the eagle, almost grabbing the eagle’s tail feathers. What drama!
The other interesting raptor news is about a special male N. Harrier that is teaching us a lot about movements of these birds. This bird was marked by Jack Bettesworth, who is studying N. Harriers in the Northwest, with a patagial tag WRL (white, right wing, with an L on the tag) as a chick in June 2001 near Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island. During its first couple years it traveled around the Skagit Flats, seen twice north of Mt. Vernon. Its first breeding attempt was back near Oak Harbor in 2003, when it raised 3 chicks. It again nested in 2005, when it raised another 3 chicks, and again in 2006, when predators apparently took its nest. The bird was seen twice on the 2004 Sequim-Dungeness Christmas Bird Count, first at 10 a.m. near Greywolf School, then at 4 p.m. in the fields above Cline Spit. It was seen again in winter 2005 flying around Dungeness. Well, it’s back again, this time reported sitting on a post near the Sequim Wal-mart on 2/6/08. So the harrier you see flying around your back-40 one winter day may be flying somewhere completely different real soon, not only next year, but also the next day!
Anna’s Hummingbirds are becoming more common here in the winter, with many reports from the north Olympic Peninsula. Anna’s occurred on three consecutive weeks of Wed AM birdwalks at RR Bridge Park, including two chasing each other on 1/30. John Woolley even reported one in the dark woods near East Sequim Bay on 1/27. Robert Danks spotted one along the bluffs in Port Angeles on 2/10. But the best report comes from lovable Howard Krutolow, who spotted an Anna’s on Bell Hill on 1/28. Howard said, after I asked how he knew it was an Anna’s: “It was a big one. It was as big as an eagle. Well, maybe a small eagle.”
While walking along Bay Road in Port Angeles on 1/31, Judy Mullally spotted a very unusual sapsucker without the totally red head of our usual Red-breasted Sapsucker, apparently a Red-naped Sapsucker. Red-naped is the sapsucker species of the Great Basin and Rocky Mountains, much more migratory than our local sapsuckers, usually spending the winter in the Southwest and Mexico.
Other woodpecker news: Be on the lookout for intergrade Red-shafted X Yellow-shafted Flickers, which winter in our area from their nesting areas in Canada. Sheila Kee spotted an intergrade flicker looking like a Yellow-shafted but with a bright red moustache of a Red-shafted in Agnew on 2/4. Similar birds have appeared on the Wed AM bird walk at RR Bridge Park, with combinations of orange wings, red nape markings, and mixed black and red moustaches.
It’s turning into a good year for Western Bluebirds. Sara Blake, who lives just north of Carrie Blake Park in Sequim, had a male bluebird show up on 2/18, the first she’s seen in 15 years of having bluebird boxes around her home. Curiously, the bluebird was as interested in Sara’s house as it was in a nest box, landing on the screen door and looking inside. A few days later a female showed up, much to Sara’s delight. Might baby bluebirds be next?
Judy Mullally also delighted to see 10 W. Bluebirds near the old K-Mart building on the east side of Port Angeles on 1/29, feeding on the ground, then flushing into flight. Nancy Goldstein also delighted to see 12 W. Bluebirds by her home on Spyglass Lane east of Sequim on 1/14. I have one report of Mountain Bluebirds, a lone male seen at Marrowstone Island by Kurt and Marianne Beatty on 2/10. Bluebirds are such a delight, so be on the lookout for them this breeding season.
It’s been a good year for Varied Thrushes in the lowlands, pushed downslope by snow in the mountains. But even better is the Hermit Thrush reported by John Woolley at East Sequim Bay on 2/2, lurking in the shadows trying to go unnoticed.
Townsend Solitaires continue through this winter, with one seen on the OPAS field trip at Blyn on 1/12, reported by Dave Jackson and Judy Mullally. Another hung around above the Nippon Mill in Port Angeles between 1/12-28, seen by Laurine Drinnen. Judy Mullally spotted another Townsend’s Solitaire (the same one?) on 1/29 at Peabody and 12th St in Port Angeles. Jim Bates reported another solitaire at Sunland north of Sequim on 2/1.
Kendra Donelson had a treat on 2/8 when a flock of 19 Cedar Waxwings landed in a tree near her on Cedar Street in downtown Sequim.
It’s a fantastic finch invasion year. Pine Siskins are thick, particularly if you have a thistle feeder in your backyard. Jim and Reva Bates reported 200-300 siskins invading their Sunland backyard in Sequim on 2/7, so thick that they looked like a swarm of insects as they picked up spilled seed on the ground.
Red Crossbills, even though not abundant around Sequim, seem to be everywhere else, particularly in the foothills of the Olympics. The Winter Birds class from the River Center watched several crossbills at Crocker Lake in Jefferson County on 2/21, to the delight of several class members who had never seen one. Be on the lookout for White-winged Crossbilll, which have been seen in other parts of Washington.
Ken and Mary Campbell watched one Common Redpoll and 5 Evening Grosbeaks at their home in Port Angeles on 2/4. Finishing off the finches, Purple Finches are sometimes as abundant as House Finches on Wednesday AM bird walks at RR Bridge Park.
Spring is springing! Time to get those hummer feeders ready! Who will win the prestigious first Rufous Hummingbird award? Or the first Swallow award? Or the first Turkey Vulture award?
Thank you very much for your sightings! Olympic BirdFest is right around the corner, so let us know if a different bird comes to visit. If you see anything noteworthy, please call us: Bob Boekelheide at 681-4076 (w) or 681-4867 (h) (email at email@example.com) or Bob Norton at 928-3053 (email at firstname.lastname@example.org).
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