Bird Sightings -- Winter, 2008-09
By Bob Boekelheide
Following a mild fall in 2008, the winter of 2008-09 has mostly been cool and dreary. The mid-December Arctic air that froze the Christmas Bird Count reprised itself in late February, bringing a one-night dump of eight to twelve inches of snow on 2/26 around Sequim and Port Angeles. Otherwise, this winter is renown for weeks of damp overcast typical of the Pacific Northwest. The wettest storms occurred in January, dumping lots of rain in the first half of the month, then leading to a relatively dry February. Thankfully, spring is just around the corner.
Trumpeter Swans continue to increase around Sequim this winter, perhaps the most seen here in recorded history. Denny Van Horn wins the Swan Observer Award, taking it upon himself to census the main swan hangouts at Schmuck Road, Port Williams Road, 3 Crabs, and Towne Road on 2/12. He counted 186 swans, composed of 31 juveniles and 155 adults. Thanks very much to the many others who reported swans this winter – those big white birds draw lots of attention! Of interest, Drew Wheelan also found 17 Trumpeters on the Hobuck River near Mukkaw Bay on 1/18.
Why more swans here this winter? Perhaps it’s overflow from the Skagit area, where a few thousand swans now gather in winter, continuing their spectacular recovery from near-extinction early in the 20th century.
Thirteen Greater White-fronted Geese flew around the Elwha River delta on 1/29, perhaps some holdovers from last fall’s extraordinarily big migration. Coincidentally, 13 white-fronted geese fed at Les Jones’ pond at 3 Crabs on 2/14, lining up to be counted for the Great Backyard Bird Count. Could they be the same birds?
Other interesting waterfowl: Roger and Cat Hoffman spotted a male Redhead swimming off 3 Crabs on 1/18, and Ken and Mary Campbell spotted a male Canvasback swimming at the mouth of Lees Creek on 2/2. Denny Van Horn found two Ruddy Ducks at the ponds along 3 Crabs Road on 1/27, and found a Common Teal, the European subspecies of the Green-winged Teal, at Washington Harbor on 2/9.
Following last summer and fall’s invasion, some Brown Pelicans lingered here through the winter. Rod Norvell watched a pelican in Dungeness Bay on 1/2, Drew Wheelan spotted one in Port Angeles Harbor on 1/14, Brad and Dan Waggoner found one at the mouth of the Hoh River on 1/17, and Mary Robson spotted one in Port Angeles Harbor on 1/30. When you see pelicans, try to age them by looking at head and body color. Adults have white heads and dark bellies, whereas immatures have dark heads and white bellies. Will pelicans become a year-round fixture of the Clallam avifauna, as they continue their return from egg-shell thinning?
Bald Eagles are courting and nest building right now, in preparation for egg-laying beginning in mid-March. Late winter is peak time for eagles in our area, including 72 observed by Denny Van Horn near the Olympic Game Farm on 2/14. At least 39 were visible for the Raptors in Winter class from Dungeness Landing Park on 2/21. If you live near an eagles’ nest or regularly see one, keep track of the major events at the nest this year, such as when the female first sits for long periods of time, when the chick(s) is visible in the nest, and when the chick(s) leaves the nest.
LeAnn Jenkins reported a possible Golden Eagle at the south end of Sequim Bay near Blyn on 2/2. Golden Eagles migrate north in late winter and early spring, quickly moving through on their way to mountain nesting areas, arriving as far as in central Alaska about mid-March. Watch for them soaring overhead, looking like a giant Red-tailed Hawk in silhouette, with a smaller head than Bald Eagles.
Denny Van Horn spotted a Prairie Falcon lurking at the Dungeness Rec Area on 2/2, always a good bird in winter. Denny also reported an nice mix of gulls at 3 Crabs and Washington Harbor in February, seeing Ring-billled, California, and Bonaparte’s Gulls, all of which may remain through the winter in our area in small numbers.
About the same time that the Raptors in Winter class watched a young Bald Eagle attempt to parasitize a field mouse from a female Northern Harrier on 2/21, they were surprised to see a dowitcher walking the shores of Helen’s Pond, presumably a Long-billed [Dowitcher] remaining through the winter. Ed Newbold located 5 Wilson’s Snipes and an American Dipper at Jimmycomelately Creek by the Seven Cedars Casino on 1/18, a spot where snipes nest.
Carolyn Cooper watched a Killdeer pair attempting copulation at 3 Crabs on 2/20, leading her to ask whether it’s too early for mating yet. Attempted copulations may help cement pair-bonding, so it may be a little early for sperm to fertilize eggs but clearly their hormones are flowing. Female birds do store sperm in their oviducts, where the sperm may survive for several days and possibly for several weeks before ovulation, but it’s likely these birds were just getting to know each other.
It’s owl time! The River Center’s Owl Prowl on 2/7 turned up 2 W. Screech-Owls and 2 N. Saw-whet Owls, but the big owls were quiet that night. Many owls like Great-horned Owls lay eggs in winter, so they may have chicks hatching by now, consequently they’re not real talkative. Ken and Mary Campbell report that N. Pygmy Owls have been visible throughout the winter perching in young clear cut trees along the Sol Duc River, and Dan and Brad Waggoner had a very cooperative Pygmy Owl tooting along the Cape Flattery trail on 1/17. Denny Van Horn watched a Short-eared Owl at Schmuck Road near Sequim on 2/9.
Winter is the time for Northern Flickers to hang out in the lowlands. We presume that some of the Red-shafted-type Flickers we see in winter are local breeders from the Olympic Mountains, where they are common in spring and summer. But we also see significant numbers of intergrade Red-shafted X Yellow-shafted Flickers this time of year, likely migrants from the Rocky Mountain Front Range in Canada. Brian Berg reported a Yellow-shafted Flicker in Happy Valley in mid-January, and two intergrade flickers hung out together at 3 Crabs on 2/21, seen by the Raptors in Winter class. One of these intergrades had red shafts and both a red nape crescent and red moustache, whereas the other was a female with a red-shafted head pattern and yellow shafts in its tail and wings.
Denny Van Horn also spotted two Northern Shrikes, a facultative raptor, near the corner of Schmuck and Woodcock Roads on 2/7 and 2/9. Bob Hutchison found a shrike on the west side of RR Bridge Park on 2/6. Karen Zook reported a shrike haunting their feeder off Old Olympic Highway east of the Dungeness River on 1/2 through 1/4, killing a Pine Siskin for a meal.
Warblers are a treat anytime of year, but particularly in winter. Bob Hutchison spotted a flashy male Townsend’s Warbler at the Dungeness Rec Area on 1/27. Chuck and Denise Conway found an Orange-crowned Warbler in their yard at Diamond Point on 1/28. Bob H also discovered 12 Cedar Waxwings along the Olympic Discovery Trail west of Carlsborg, an equally exciting treat.
Meadowlarks seem few and far between this winter, although the Winter Birds class from the River Center was surprised to see a flock of about 15 flying over farm fields near Towne Road on 2/12. Brad and Dan Waggoner spotted a lone Western Meadowlark at Hobuck Beach on 1/17. Denny Van Horn spotted 4 Savannah Sparrows at 3 Crabs on 2/2 and about 25 Am. Pipits feeding in the fields near Schmuck and Port Williams Roads on 2/21. And the Western Bluebirds continue this winter at Sara Blake’s home on the east side of Sequim, with three seen by Pat Anderson on 2/22.
The first Turkey Vulture award this year goes to… We don’t know yet, because no one reported one by 2/26 when I’m writing this report. The first swallow award goes to… We don’t know, because I have no reports yet. The first Rufous Hummingbird award goes to… No one yet. You could be the winner of these prestigious awards when you report them in early March. If you’ve had Anna’s Hummingbirds visiting your feeder this winter, take note when Rufous Hummers arrive to see how they interact with each other.
Thank you very much for your sightings! If you see anything noteworthy, please call Bob Boekelheide at 681-4076 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 1999-2013 Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society. All rights reserved.