Bird Sightings -- Fall, 2008
By Bob Boekelheide
The seasonal shift from summer to fall came quickly this year, with several passing weather systems in late September and October more reminiscent of larger winter storms. But despite big winds at times, rainfall amounts from these storms were low. September rainfall at the River Center was only 0.22 inches and October was only 0.74 inches, so it’s still pretty dry out there.
The bird of the fall is Greater White-fronted Geese, which appeared in big numbers all over western WA, including Sequim and Dungeness. Their numbers really picked up following the big westerly windstorms in late September and the first week of October, suggesting they were blown inland from their usual coastal migration route. Scott Atkinson set the high count, seeing 721 white-fronts at Graysmarsh on 10/6, but I received many other reports, including Anne Shaffer’s of approx. 100 at the Salt Creek estuary on 10/10, and Marlene Lambert’s of 22 at Helen’s Pond on 9/27.
The best white-fronted sighting of all, however, was by John Bridge. While standing on Graywolf Ridge between Tyler Peak and Baldy on 10/4, John watched flock after flock of white-fronted geese flying by, adding up to 15 flocks overall. John says the ridge is at about 6000 feet elevation and some of the geese flew at least 1000 feet higher over his head. These birds were most likely headed to wintering spots in the Central Valley of California, but hopefully some others will stick around for our Christmas Bird Counts.
Cackling Geese also showed up in good numbers in October, with 29 seen by Scott Atkinson at Graysmarsh on 10/6, 80 seen by Bob Boekelheide hanging out in fields near Schmuck Road on 10/11, and a flight of 120 over Hwy 101 near Sequim, also seen by Bob, on 10/25. A female Redhead, also seen by Bob, swam with a group of Mallards in a pond on the north side of Bell Hill on 10/25, the first Redhead reported this year by anyone named Bob in Clallam County.
In the exotic waterfowl department, Mike Stanope reports four Black Swans walking near Gehrke Road and Old Olympic Highway on 10/9, suggesting someone left the door open at a nearby aviary.
Brown Pelicans made an excellent show this year off the Olympic coastline, continuing their superb recovery from eggshell thinning in the 20th century. On 9/19, a NOAA seabird survey led by Barb Blackie tallied over 1000 pelicans roosting on offshore rocks and flying around La Push. Pelicans also appeared as far east as Dungeness Bay, including two juveniles spotted fishing there by Sue and Carl Christensen on 9/19 and others spotted by Rod Norvell.
The NOAA seabird survey on 9/19 also found huge feeding flocks of mostly tubenoses loosely associated with a few fishing boats over the Juan de Fuca Canyon, including thousands of Pink-footed and Sooty Shearwaters, Northern Fulmars, California and Heermann’s Gulls, and lots of other species like Black-footed Albatrosses, Buller’s Shearwaters, Cassin’s Auklets, Parasitic and Pomarine Jaegers, and South Polar Skuas. One of the highlights of the trip was seeing hundreds of Sabine’s Gulls within the feeding flocks, perhaps a big chunk of the Pacific population of this beautiful gull.
Sharp-eyed Shirley Anderson spotted a Green Heron at the Elwha River mouth on 9/18, while attending the gull and shorebird class from the River Center. Gary Husey spotted a flock of 7 Sandhill Cranes near 3 Crabs in early October, pausing on their long journey to areas south, and Pat Fletcher reported 5 cranes overhead at the same place on 9/19. A single Sora stood for a couple minutes in full view on the mud of Meadowbrook Creek on 9/1, seen by Bob Boekelheide.
In the raptor news, Pat Willits spotted a majestic Golden Eagle flying along the bluffs in Port Angeles on 10/8. John Bridge, while spending a cool night on Graywolf Ridge on 10/4-5, spotted two adult Bald Eagles flying by at 6200 feet elevation, along with a Kestrel and a Cooper’s Hawk. Scott Atkinson found a Harlan’s-type Red-tailed Hawk at Blyn on 9/20.
Ron Stecker, who lives south of Sequim, watched some serious drama in early September when two crows attacked a Sharp-shinned Hawk in his yard. The crows got the Sharp-shinned off-balance, grabbed its wings and pushed it into a bush, apparently going for the kill, but the hawk squirmed out of their grasp and barely escaped.
The shorebird migration passed by too quickly, with only a few treasures. A Long-billed Curlew hung out in Dungeness Bay in late August and early September, last seen on 9/11 by the River Center’s shorebird class. Four Red Knots also stayed in Dungeness Bay for about a week in early September. A Pectoral Sandpiper foraged in the tidal ponds near 3 Crabs on 9/1, and on the same day two Baird’s Sandpipers foraged with Westerns at Dungeness Landing Park, seen by Bob Boekelheide. Scott Atkinson spotted a late Semipalmated Sandpiper on the beach in Neah Bay on 9/20.
Ken and Mary Campbell, while fishing for salmon off Dungeness Spit on 8/31, saw hundreds of Red-necked Phalaropes flocking and feeding, the same time that others reported big numbers of phalaropes in inland waters of WA.
Speaking of gulls, Scott Atkinson located a third-year Lesser Black-backed Gull at Graysmarsh on 10/6, always a treat to see on the West Coast of North America. This is perhaps the third record for Clallam County, but unfortunately it wasn’t seen again.
Owls in the news: Judy Johnston watched a Barred Owl eating a rodent in East Sequim Bay Road on 9/21. Also at East Sequim Bay, John Woolley watched a Short-eared Owl watching the squirrels and chipmunks at his feeder on 8/28. On 9/21, Mary Mira reported a Northern Pygmy Owl attending her yard on the north side of Burnt Hill for several days, tooting at night and perching on bare branches in full view. Doug Davis, while hiking up the Elwha River on 9/24, heard a pygmy owl near Michael’s Cabin, tooting away between 10 and 11 a.m.
It’s been an outstanding fall for Anna’s Hummingbirds, which continue their long-term increase as a wintering species in western Washington. Anna’s aren’t just hanging around feeders this fall; they’re also staying on territories, such as a male at RR Bridge Park that continued its advertising flights for a real or imaginary female through October.
The most interesting bird of the month comes from Neah Bay, where Scott Atkinson found a real eastern Blue Jay calling loudly at the west edge of town on 9/20. As jays will do, this bird made all sorts of curious sounds, including some Steller’s Jay imitations and a Red-tailed Hawk scream. Scott also found a late Willow Flycatcher near the beach at Neah Bay the same day.
The final numbers are in for the nesting Western Bluebirds at Sara Blake’s home near Carrie Blake Park, and they’re truly amazing. Sara began leaving mealworms by the back door in February to encourage the birds to stick around when they first arrived, and did they ever! Through the summer the bluebird pair ate about 1000 mealworms per week, laid a total of 20 eggs in four different clutches, and fledged 19 chicks. Sara says the birds switched nests between three different boxes, but she’s certain the same male and female bluebird were involved in all the clutches because she only saw one other bluebird one time early in the spring, a male that got chased off by the territorial male. According to Sara’s records, the bluebirds laid their first clutch in late March and fledged those chicks in early May, laid the second clutch in mid-May and fledged the chicks in mid-June, laid the third clutch in mid-June and fledged them in early August, then laid the fourth clutch in late July and fledged them in early September. Notice the overlap between the third and fourth clutches – Sara say’s the male finished feeding the third clutch chicks in one box while the female started laying new eggs in an adjacent box. Sara’s bluebirds clearly show how incredibly productive birds can be if food is unlimited during the nesting season.
Larry Rymon says 4 Western Bluebirds came by to check out his boxes on 9/25, which they seem to do around here before migrating south. One Mountain Bluebird to report, seen by Ron Stecker on 8/20 at Salt Creek Park.
Scott Atkinson found a bonanza of passerines at Graysmarsh on 10/6, including a late Cassin’s Vireo and a Swainson’s Thrush, five species of warblers, and eight species of sparrows, including two White-throated Sparrows and one Swamp Sparrow, the first for the season around here. John Bridge also spotted a White-throated Sparrow in his yard in downtown Sequim on 10/10. The first Northern Shrike of the fall appeared at 3 Crabs on 10/17, spotted by Bill Parker.
The Christmas Bird Counts are coming up, so now is the time to be out birding, staking out unusual species for later. If you see something unusual, please call me at 681-4076 or email to email@example.com. Thanks very much for your sightings.
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