Bird Sightings -- Summer, 2008
By Bob Boekelheide
As predicted by Northwest weather prognosticators, summer didn’t start this year until after the 4th of July. Before the 4th it was cool and cloudy, but after the 4th the weather turned warm and dry for much of July and early August. But by the middle of August we were back to the usual passing weather systems and occasional showers – thank goodness for Pacific Northwest weather.
As a result, many local songbird species apparently started their nesting attempts late and ended them early this year, resulting in relatively poor nesting success and few chicks fledged. Unfortunately we have no data for most, but Violet-green Swallows never laid eggs in nest boxes by the Dungeness River Audubon Center and our backyard Song Sparrow only fledged one big chick in place of the usual two clutches.
Data for Purple Martins throughout western Washington showed horrible nesting success. Stan Kostka, the Purple Martin expert, reports dead martins in nest boxes all over Puget Sound, including Dungeness Bay. An elite group of OPAS folks plus Stan checked the 13 martin boxes at 3 Crabs on 8/16 and found 15 dead chicks in six boxes and dead eggs in three more. Only two boxes had live chicks, one apiece. Stan’s conclusion is that cool weather at critical times in the nesting cycle squashed aerial insect populations, dooming aerial insectivores that eat them.
Clearly, the place around here for summer bird watching is saltwater, where migrant shorebirds, gulls, and waterfowl returned from northern and inland nesting areas in abundance. It’s amazing how quickly shorebirds reappear from the Arctic. Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plovers, dowitchers, Sanderlings, Least and Western Sandpipers, and both yellowlegs have been visible around Dungeness Bay through July and August. There has been a flock of up to 18 Marbled Godwits in Dungeness Bay since at least June, apparent non-breeders that never left for the breeding season. With them have been one Long-billed Curlew (perhaps the same individual that spent the winter and spring wandering Dungeness and Sequim Bays) and up to five Whimbrels.
Not many sightings of unusual shorebirds so far this summer, with a couple exceptions. On 8/4, Bob Norton spotted a Buff-breasted Sandpiper at Blyn, which unfortunately flew away over Sequim Bay and hasn’t been seen since. On 8/15, Charlotte Watts photographed a beautiful juvenile Solitary Sandpiper visiting her pond at Chicken Coop Hollow, also near Blyn.
Speaking of Whimbrels, the College of Willliam and Mary Center for Conservation Biology has a fantastic website at http://ccb.wm.edu that uses satellite transmitters to track movements of Whimbrels banded on the east coast. One bird in particular, named Winnie the Whimbrel, was banded in coastal Virginia last spring. In late May 2008, Winnie flew 3200 miles over 146 hours (six days!), apparently non-stop, from Virginia to the MacKenzie River in northern Canada. Through June Winnie remained on the North Slope of Alaska, perhaps nesting, but by mid July it moved to western Alaska and then, over a four day period in early August, it flew non-stop from Alaska to Gray’s Harbor, WA. So much for regional populations and flyways -- Winnie is making a giant loop around North America!
There are a number of excellent websites available that track birds and other animals using satellite transmitters. One of the best is seaturtle.org/tracking, which not only reports on sea turtle migration, but also a host of birds from albatrosses to wood storks. Peregrine Falcons can be followed on the Falcon Research Group website, and shorebirds migrating to and from the South Pacific and Alaska can be followed on the Alaska USGS website, http://alaska.usgs.gov. Awesome stuff!
There is an interesting seabird mystery occurring along the Pacific coast of North America, namely where are all the Manx Shearwaters coming from? The most recent sighting was by Scott Downes, who reported a Manx flying by Cape Flattery with a group of Sooty Shearwaters on 7/25. Manx Shearwaters are renowned for breeding in the North Atlantic, particularly the British Isles, and up until about 10 years ago they were very rare around here. During the last decade, more and more Manx have appeared in the North Pacific, and now there’s speculation that they’re nesting somewhere between Alaska and Oregon. One suggestion is Destruction Island right off Kalaloch. Another is Triangle Island north of Vancouver Island.
This is the time of year for Brown Pelicans, which usually stay on the outer coast (look for thousands from Willapa Bay to La Push) but occasionally enter the Strait. Ken and Mary Campbell spotted a pelican at Ediz Hook on 7/29, and two subadult Brown Pelicans hung around Port Angeles harbor in August, seen by Michael Woodruff on 8/10 and by Bob Kiernan and Bob Boekelheide on 8/12.
Adding to last year’s discovery of Common Loons nesting at Lake Ozette is Jim Karr’s discovery this year of calling Common Loons at Wentworth Lake northwest of Forks on 6/8. Someone else reported that loons may nest at Lake Pleasant along Hwy 1010 north of Forks, so the loon plot thickens.
Right now is peak time for gull migration to the Olympic Peninsula, as they move here from breeding colonies throughout North America to feast on local forage fish populations. We are at the intersection of gull migration from many different directions: Black-legged Kittiwakes, Mew, Bonaparte’s, Herring, Thayer’s, and Glaucous Gulls from the north; Ring-billed and California Gulls from the interior; Heermann’s and Western Gulls from the south; along with our local breeding Glaucous-winged Gulls and Olympic Gulls (Glaucous-winged X Western Gull hybrids). Thousands of California and Heermann’s Gulls can be found roosting along the Olympic coast right now, and two early Mew Gulls have been hanging around John Wayne Marina, first spotted by Bob Sundstrom on 8/5. Check the big gull roosts at river mouths, floating log yards, beaches, and headlands for any unusual species.
Michael Woodruff hiked to Dungeness Lighthouse on 8/10, spotting a wonderful variety of sea and shorebirds, including 7 Black Oystercatchers, one Peale’s Peregrine Falcon (the coastal breeding subspecies), 2 Red-necked Phalaropes, a fly-by Tufted Puffin, and about 1200 Caspian Terns with nearly-grown chicks. Back on 6/5, I watched a coyote working the Caspian Tern colony on the spit, so their nesting success may not have been as good this year as in the past. Ken and Mary Campbell also reported 2 Red-necked Phalaropes off Port Angeles harbor on 8/14.
Rick Klawitter has been keeping track of ducks nesting up the Elwha River this summer, discovering a female Barrow’s Goldeneye with a flightless chick plus 8 other females and 3 males at Lake Aldwell in June. Rick also spotted a pair of Blue-winged Teals on 6/15, making us wonder whether they, too, nest in that area.
The best raptor news of the summer was a White-tailed Kite seen by Sherry and Angus Anderson near Robin Hill Park on 7/24. Other raptor news has been depressing, as this is the first year that Ospreys did not nest along East Sequim Bay Road where their nest blew down during winter 2006 and eagles harassed them off their new nest. Rick and Kathy Bush, who usually keep track of the nest, say they saw an Osprey flying off the north shore of Miller Peninsula on 6/25, so maybe the birds have moved to a better site with less harassment. Jim Karr reported an active Osprey nest at Wentworth Lake near Forks on 6/8, so hopefully some Ospreys are thriving somewhere in the county.
Summer is the time when Common Nighthawks appear, particularly chasing insects like winged termites in the evening skies. Bruce Moorhead saw a couple nighthawks over Lake Sutherland on 7/19, so possibly they nest nearby. BettyLou Doern-Zeff reported 4 nighthawks flying on the back side of Bell Hill on the evening of 8/4, the first she’d seen in three years in Sequim. Bill Huizinga spotted 15 more nighthawks over Sequim on 8/6. Also in the aerial flying department, the Wed AM bird walk at the River Center spotted 10 Black Swifts soaring over west RR Bridge Park on 8/20.
Eurasian Collared-Doves may be here to stay, with a pair consistently visible in downtown Dungeness and along Marine Drive and Twin View Drive this spring and summer, the third year they have been here. On 8/22, four collared-doves traveled together near the Dungeness Landing Park, including two birds that looked like recent fledglings.The collared-dove invasion of North America has been extremely fast, with the first imports occurring in Florida in 1982. Will collared-doves affect other dove and pigeon species? Curiously, they seem to occupy a niche between Mourning Doves and Rock Pigeons, both of which seem to be doing fine in our area.
Sara Blake, who lives near Carrie Blake Park in Sequim, has had incredible success with Western Bluebirds in her backyard, thanks to non-stop mealworms she places by her back door. Sara began putting out mealworms for bluebirds earlier this spring, and now has bluebirds finishing up their fourth clutch of the year in the two boxes she has available near her house. The first male appeared at Sara’s boxes in mid-February, then they fledged young in May, June, July, and August. It’s really quite an amazing story, showing what birds will do if food is available. The other bluebird story is a Mountain Bluebird seen by Ken and Mary Campbell at Salt Creek County Park on 8/20, an unusual summer record.
Steve Acker, while walking along Ediz Hook on 6/10, spotted a very lost male Lapland Longspur, perhaps the first ever June record for this species around here. In mid-June Lapland Longspurs should be in the peak of breeding activities in the high Arctic, not hanging around Port Angeles. Chipping Sparrows appeared in the lowlands in late spring, with Hary Bergtholdt seeing one along Towne Road on 5/26 and one on the OPAS field trip to Lost Mountain on 6/7.
Among finches, it’s been a great year for Red Crossbills, particularly in the mountains, but we’re very pleased that Bob Sundstrom discovered a flock of about 35 White-winged Crossbills at Hurricane Ridge on 8/4. White-wingeds showed up last winter in the Cascades, but this is the first we’ve heard of in the Olympics in a long time.
Much more late summer and fall migration is on its way. If you see something noteworthy, please call Bob Boekelheide at 681-4076 (w) or 681-4867 (h) (email at email@example.com). Thank you very much for your sightings.
Copyright © 1999-2013 Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society. All rights reserved.