Bird Sightings -- Spring, 2009
By Bob Boekelheide
Winter is past and a beautiful spring has arrived. It was one of the coolest, wettest winters in the lowlands in recent memory, with substantial precipitation in either the form of rain, hail, or snow every month. Precipitation at the River Center this water-year: Oct 08 – 0.77”, Nov 08 – 3.01”, Dec 08 – 2.17”, Jan 09 – 2.36”, Feb 09 – 1.35”, Mar 09 – 1.80”, totaling 11.46” for the first six months, which is as much as the annual total during some drought years of the last decade. Despite lowland precipitation, mountain snows are barely approaching average.
Fall-winter-spring 08-09 progressed in fits and starts. Last fall was very mild until a large winter blast with snow descended upon us in mid-December, lasting until the end of 2008. January warmed with lots of rain early in the month, psychotic February varied between lovely and snowy, and finally March was just rainy and cool. Then, like magic, our BirdFest in early April brought spectacular spring weather, which has continued ever since with occasional record high temperatures for western Washington.
What do these weather patterns mean for plants and birds? Initially, spring appeared late, particularly for flowering shrubs like Indian plum and red-flowering currant. Leaf emergence of cottonwoods and maples at RR Bridge Park was about the latest anyone can remember. Some early spring migrants, like Orange-crowned Warblers and White-crowned and Savannah Sparrows similarly appeared about a week late this year.
The first swallows weren’t particularly late, appearing over the Dungeness River Audubon Center on 3/2. The first north Olympic Rufous Hummingbird award goes to BettyLou Doern-Zeff, who spotted a male Rufous at her feeder on the south side of Bell Hill on 3/4. Chrilo Von Gontard spotted the first Turkey Vultures over Happy Valley on 3/12. Quenn Charrier reported the first Band-tailed Pigeons at the Quimper Peninsula on 3/23.
Not much diurnal raptor news. The best is a Prairie Falcon spotted at Blue Ribbon Farms at the north end of Kitchen-Dick Road on 4/22 by Connie Engvall, who clearly saw the black axillaries as it flew by. An Osprey soared over the Wed. morning bird walkers at RR Bridge Park on 4/22, migrating north.
Owls have been visible and vocal this spring. Chrilo Von Gontard is lucky to have Great Horned Owls nesting close by her home in Happy Valley, where she often heard them hooting at night during March. Dawn Webb heard a W. Screech Owl tooting in Monterra between 3/14 and 3/17. A lovely little screech owl sat on cedar limb in full view for the Wed. morning bird walk on 4/22, first spotted by Ken Campbell. Powell Jones heard a N. Pygmy Owl tooting away on the Miller Peninsula at 11 a.m. on 3/21. A Barred Owl hooted in Graysmarsh off Holland Road on 3/24, heard by Bruce Paige, and another hooted along Bay Road on the east side of Port Angeles on 3/18, heard by Pat Willits.
Other than owls, we have reports of other hooters out there. The first Sooty Grouse hoots this year came from Jan Sleight, who heard them hooting on Mt. Walker on 2/28. Betty Kramp was very lucky to hear Am. Bitterns galumping in her backyard at the west end of the Kitchen-Dick ponds this spring.
Late April and early May are shorebird migration times, but the birds pass by so quickly on their way north that I haven’t had any recent reports. Time to go watch shorebirds in Dungeness Bay! Snipe have been visible and audible, including 6 spotted by Bill and Karen Parker in the wetlands near John Wayne Marina on 4/12.
Purple Martins arrived at Three Crabs pilings by 4/25, in time to have their pictures taken by Dow Lambert while they sat on their nest boxes.
Just as we hoped, Sheila Joyce heard a Cassin’s Vireo singing by Cat Lake on 4/15. Cassin’s Vireo’s almost invariably show up somewhere around here in the middle of April, so thank you Sheila for continuing the tradition. A Cassin’s Vireo sang in RR Bridge Park for the Birding by Ear class on 4/23.
Speaking of RR Bridge Park, the Wed AM bird walk on 4/22 found 53 species, two short of its all-time record, including Hammond’s Flycatcher, Townsend’s and Black-throated Gray Warblers, Lincoln Sparrow, and Brown-headed Cowbird, plus all the other residents and early migrants.
Bluebirds frequently make news in the spring. Michael Barry discovered 4 W. Bluebirds at Anderson Lake in Jefferson Co. on 3/20, where they hung around nest boxes by the ranger’s house. Ken and Mary Campbell spotted 2 bluebirds in a regrowing clearcut on Mary Clark Road near the Sol Duc Fish Hatchery on 4/8, suggesting they might be nesting nearby.
Ruth Messing wrote about a Brown Creeper at Diamond Point on 3/27 that had a very buff, almost yellow-brown breast and belly. This is interesting, since they are renowned for their bright white breasts and bellies that reflect light into furrows in the bark. Its coloration reminds me of our Pacific NW Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers with their yellow-buff bellies – perhaps some convergence is happening here? Or maybe it rubbed against some pollinating tree or bush?
Bob Iddins, who moved to Diamond Point within the last year, spotted one Chipping Sparrow there on 4/11, 4/13, and 4/14, perhaps the same bird. Ken and Nancy Wiersema, by the Dungeness Recreation Area, spotted one Chipping Sparrow on 4/19, 4/20, and 4/22, perhaps the same bird. Chipping Sparrows are an enigmatic species around here – I receive tantalizingly few reports of them, no reports of them singing, but they might be nesting, so watch and listen very closely for the lovely red-topped adults.
Other emberizid news: Bob and Janet Mullen, while walking out Dungeness Spit, spotted two Snow Buntings about three miles out on 3/14. Bruce and Carol Von Borstel, who live along W. Sequim Bay Road, had a Slate-colored-type Dark-eyed Junco at their feeder on 3/29-30.
Evening Grosbeaks have picked up, with flocks visiting Helga Montgomery’s home on Bell Hill starting in mid-December. Eve Beaks have called regularly at RR Bridge Park since early April, along with the beautiful spring weather.
We’re in the midst of late spring migration, so get out there and find some birds. The flashy neo-tropicals come next, like tanagers, Black-headed Grosbeaks, more warblers, and Swainson’ Thrushes, so find them for the Birdathon and let me know what you see by calling 360-681-4076 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for your sightings!
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