Bird Sightings -- Spring, 2008
By Bob Boekelheide
I receive phone calls and emails about unusual birds almost daily, but lately I received some reports that left me puzzled and frustrated. The puzzling reports were by people claiming to see extremely rare birds, including species never before recorded in Washington or species that occur so infrequently that they should be documented for the Washington Bird Records Committee, who keeps the official state list. When I asked for details about the sightings, however, either the people declined to provide information or their descriptions were very incomplete.
Like any full-fledged birder, I’m very interested in birds outside their normal ranges, but please forgive me if my initial response to such reports seems at first to question the sighting. I am not questioning people’s veracity or intelligence, but I must ask the requisite questions to make sure that they have considered all the possibilities, like important field marks, other possible species, and how unlikely it is that the reported bird is anywhere near Sequim or Port Angeles.
I’d love for all these strange bird sightings to be true! But over the years I have followed up many reports of rare birds, and I know that people sometimes make honest mistakes. Reported Smith’s Longspurs turned into female Black-headed Grosbeaks. Reported Smews were really basic-plumaged Pigeon Guillemots. Even experts make mistakes, so it is very important that all the bases get covered and multiple observers see unusual birds to verify the sightings.
Here are a few pointers for reporting unusual birds:
Report the bird as soon as possible. Please don’t wait four or five days to call! The sooner you report the bird the sooner it can be verified, before it leaves or ends up in the gizzard of a Peregrine Falcon.
Take photographs (even poor ones) and/or write down as many field marks as you can right away, preferably before you consult numerous field guides. This includes field marks that are obvious, like overall size and shape, characteristics of bill, wings, and tail, and basic colors, but also field marks that may not seem particularly important, like variation in colors, where different colors and shades occur on the bird, and particularly behaviors.
One lethal remark that people make about rare birds is “it looks just like the field guide.” When you really study birds, you realize that nearly all birds, particularly those outside their normal ranges, have individual markings that differ from the field guides. Some of the best descriptions point out how the bird in question doesn’t fit the field guide.
Get the whole picture of the bird. You may focus on a bird’s head, or colors on the chest, but its tail or bill or feathering on the rump are equally important field marks.
Think local birds before exotic birds. Exhaust all possibilities of likely species before going straight to the rare bird.
Please be honored to write a report about your sighting. Writing a report is not a test of your truthfulness, but it does show that you have conscientiously studied the bird and that identification is likely. Without a written account, photographs, or sightings by multiple observers, records of very rare birds die a certain death.
This year’s first local swallow award goes to... Ken Wiersema! Ken reported a probable Tree Swallow by the Dungeness Rec Area on 2/25. This year’s first local Rufous Hummingbird award goes to… Kathy Bush! Kathy spotted the hummer at her home on the Miller Peninsula on 3/8. This year’s first local Turkey Vulture goes to… Dick Conger, who spotted 4 TVs circling over Sunland on 3/4.
Anna’s Hummingbirds continued in good numbers in our area this winter and spring. Charlie and Karen Clanton on the south side of Bell Hill had a male and female Anna’s visiting their feeder all winter, and Joan Bakeman in Sunland had an Anna’s do the same from late December into March. Millie Marzac along Hooker Road watched a courting male Anna’s do its acrobatic flight on 2/18, and on 2/23 watched a female Anna’s gathering nesting material. Robert Danks reported an Anna’s by the Bluffs in Port Angeles on 2/10.
One male Anna’s staked out a territory at RR Bridge Park through February and March, but by April he was displaced by a male Rufous. We would love to know if Anna’s breed successfully around here, since they usually fade away as soon as the pugnacious Rufous arrive.
Trumpeter Swans are moving back to the north by now, but peak numbers along Schmuck Road hit 32 on 3/6, seen by the River Center class. Michael Hobbs spotted one Cackling Goose hanging out with Canada Geese at the pond along Boyce Road. Charlotte Watts had a Cackling Goose visit her pond at Chicken Coop Hollow, appearing to be the taverner subspecies. Ken and Janie Leuthold found 8 White-fronted Geese hanging out at Neah Bay on 3/17. One female Canvasback swam at the Kitchen-Dick Ponds on 3/27.
Bald Eagle eggs are hatching right now, so be on the look out for bobble-head chicks in their nests.
Other hawks: Bob Norton and Judy Mullally spotted an immature Rough-legged Hawk flying over Bahokus Peak at Neah Bay on 4/12. A male Am. Kestrel continued through the winter along Old Olympic Highway by Kitchen-Dick Road, last reported by Terry Vogel on 3/12 and Bob Iddins on 3/20. Bob also spotted a Kestrel at Sequim-Dungeness and Woodcock Roads on 3/14.
Turkey Vultures are a common sight overhead these days, including 10 seen flying over Sequim by Nydia Levick on 3/10, two pairs seen by Terry Vogel on 3/12 over Carlsborg, and four seen soaring over Sequim on 3/23 by Alyssa Sampson.
Single Sandhill Cranes have been seen around our area, including in the city of Sequim. John Aho reported a crane flying by SARC on 3/17, Verla Priest spotted one at Carrie Blake Park on 3/18, and Trudy Davis reported a lone crane hanging out with swans in the Chimacum Valley on 3/18. Carolyn Iddins and Shirley Anderson reported a single crane in the fields off Cays Road from 4/4 to 4/11. Could these all have been the same bird? Bob Norton and Judy Mullally saw 22 cranes flying past Cape Flattery on 4/12, a more typical migratory flock.
The spring migration of shorebirds happens very quickly in late April and early May, so you should get out right now to view their spectacular breeding plumages. Some winter holdovers include one Long-billed Curlew, which has been present since last October, recently seen by Dave Jackson and the Beginning Bird Class at Washington Harbor on 3/18. It was also at Dungeness Landing on 3/27 along with a Marbled Godwit.
Gwen Pierce, who faithfully visits Dungeness Landing Park, spotted an immature Glaucous Gull on 3/6-7, very big, almost pure white, with a two-toned bill.
Owl news: Mary Whitmore reports vocal W. Screech Owls in the riparian forest by the Dungeness River south of Old Olympic Highway, hearing two calling back and forth during evenings in February and March. Connie Hyatt reports Great Horned Owls hooting in Sunland during February and March, although breeding GHOs are likely feeding big chicks by now.
It appears to be a good year for woodpeckers in our area, as they have been very apparent on bird walks in RR Bridge Park. Sheila Kee watched a big Pileated Woodpecker peck away at her suet feeder in Agnew on 4/11.
Townsend’s Solitaires were not as numerous this winter as last, but Charlie Clanton reports that one stayed around the south side of Bell Hill through this winter.
Two female Mountain Bluebirds caught caterpillars in a field by Anderson Road on 3/27, seen by the Early Spring Bird class from the River Center. Lee Bowen found a lone female Mtn. Bluebird at 3 Crabs on 4/4, then Dave Jackson found another at the Dungeness Rec Area on 4/5, where it performed for BirdFest field trips. The same bird?
Millie Marzac has had Western Bluebirds visiting her boxes up Hooker Road since February, so the breeding season looks promising. Larry Rymon watched 2 W. Bluebirds visit his boxes near Cassidy Creek on 3/27, but they apparently left. Dierdre Cahill also spotted male and female W. Bluebirds by the Sol Duc fish hatchery on 4/3, where we would love to know if they nest.
Gary Lange spotted the first Yellow-headed Blackbird of the season on 4/10 at 3 Crabs, the usual spot for Yellow-heads around here. Gretha and Doug Davis, lucky enough to spend a week at the Dungeness Lighthouse in the first week of March, found up to 6 W. Meadowlarks singing every morning. Michael Hobbs also found 11 meadowlarks at the Graysmarsh beach access on 3/2. Three more meadowlarks flew by Anderson Road on 3/27, seen by the River Center’s class. If you find breeding meadowlarks around here in May or June, please let us know, as this species is seriously declining as a breeder in our area.
Many spring migrants are passing through right now, and the best is yet to come. Bob Hutchison noted Yellow-rumped Warblers flitting through the trees at the Towne Road dike on 3/15. Ken and Janie Leuthold spotted a lovely breeding-plumaged Chipping Sparrow in their yard by Spyglass Lane on 4/13. During the BirdFest, notable birds included a Lapland Longspur found by Scott Atkinson at Graysmarsh on 4/4, and a Snow Bunting found by Rich Barchet at Ediz Hook on 4/5.
I received two intriguing but unsubstantiated reports of very rare birds this month -- an adult male Scarlet Tanager by Morse Creek (which would be a first for Washington), and a male Vermillion Flycatcher in Carlsborg (fifth or sixth for Washington?). Unfortunately, both sightings were fairly short and neither bird could be found again. I’m struck by the similarities of these birds, since both are red with dark wings. What’s going on here?
As we approach the OPAS Birdathon, it’s very important that we keep track of unusual sightings. If you see or hear anything unusual, please call Bob Boekelheide at 681-4076 (email at firstname.lastname@example.org). Thank you for your sightings!
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