Bird Sightings -- Spring, 2004By Bob Boekelheide
If you’ve looked at songbirds in our area during the last month, you must have noticed that this is a banner year for both Orange-crowned and Yellow-rumped Warblers. Orange-crowneds arrived in big numbers during the last week in March, and on 4/7 we set an all-time record for RR Bridge Park when we counted 14 Orange-crowns, mostly singing males on territories. The north Olympic Peninsula is alive right now with the trilly songs of Orange-crowned Warblers.
Similarly, a significant arrival of Yellow-rumped Warblers occurred after a weather front passed through on 14-15 April. Many of the Yellow-rumps lingered for at least a week, foraging and singing throughout the riparian forest.
Nearly all the Yellow-rumps were beautiful spring males, with white-throated Myrtle-types outnumbering yellow-throated Audubon-types by at least 4 or 5 to one (remember that Yellow-rumped Warblers were “created” in 1973 by lumping Myrtle and Audubon’s Warblers). This ratio of Myrtles to Audubon’s is particularly interesting because all the breeding Yellow-rumps in Washington are Audubon-types, including the ones breeding on the north Olympic Peninsula. Myrtle-types do not nest in Washington, instead traveling north to breed in the Canadian Rockies, northern B.C., the Yukon, and Alaska.
Orange-crowned and Yellow-rumped Warblers are two of the most abundant warblers in North America, and it leads one to wonder why these two species are so successful when many other bird populations are declining. The answer seems to be that these species are among the most ecologically generalized of all warblers. Other than during the breeding season when these species are restricted to specific habitats, they are otherwise very catholic in their habitat choices during the rest of the year. They seem right at home foraging in human habitats, such as parks, neighborhoods, and backyards, so they thrive as habitat changes have occurred in North America during the last 200 years.
Their diets are also very diverse, not only feeding on insects, but also on a wide variety of berries, fruits, and occasionally suet and seeds. Even their choice of insects is generalized; they may prefer caterpillars when feeding young, but they also feed on a wide variety of ants, beetles, bugs, flies, scale insects, and spiders. Orange-crowned Warblers have even been known to feed on tree sap left by sapsuckers. Early ornithologists used the name “Myrtle” Warbler because this species feeds on wax myrtle and bayberry fruits during winter along the east coast, the only warbler that can digest the waxes found on these berries. So their success seems to be due to their adaptability; these are incredible native species that are thriving despite many changes in their world.
The results are in -- this year’s first local hummingbird award goes to.... Gwen Pierce! Gwen observed the first Rufous Hummingbird at her home in Dungeness on 3/8. By now the hummer gals are feeding the first round of chicks, or maybe getting ready to lay their second clutches. The little guys are sitting around surveying their kingdoms. Don’t get used to them – by mid-June the males will be gone and by late June and July the females and kids will be right behind.
All the early spring migrants have either passed by or have settled in for breeding. Ken Wiersema reported the first local Violet-green Swallows on 3/8 near the Dungeness Recreation Area. The first report from west of Port Angeles came from Beth Oakes near Joyce, who had Violet-greens arrive on 3/22, immediately visiting their nest boxes.
We had a good lowland spring passage of Townsend’s Solitaires witnessed by several folks. Judy Mullally saw a Solitaire by the old Kmart store in Port Angeles on 3/28, and another one near Morse Creek on 4/7. Sue Skubinna observed a Solitaire at Mains Farm on 3/30, and Bruce Moorhead had another one up Old Mill Road in PA on 4/4. Look for Solitaires in May singing their melodic songs in the subalpine zone of the high Olympics.
Stu MacRobbie reported a very early House Wren singing in the oak woodlands north of Carrie Blake Park on 3/28. The clear skies of mid-April brought a few early arrivals of typically later species. Judy Mullally recorded the first Wilson’s Warbler singing by Bay View Drive in Port Angeles on 4/19. Judy also had a singing House Wren on 4/20. Bob Boekelheide heard the first Pacific-slope Flycatcher calling in the forest by the Dungeness River on 4/16, which was also the first day that Black-throated Gray Warblers returned to RR Bridge Park.
Western Bluebirds appeared at their usual haunts -- at Bob and Jean Hays’ home up O’Brien Road on 2/10 and at Lou and Lyn Muench’s home up Blue Mountain Road on 3/3. Bob Hays reports his bluebirds laid their first egg on 4/11 and had a big clutch of 6 eggs by 4/20. Bob Norton reported the first Band-tailed Pigeons came to his feeder near Joyce on 3/2, and Doug Monroe reported the first pigeons at his home near Sequim Bay on 3/11. Gene Kridler banded perhaps the last Northern Shrike of the season near Carrie Blake Park on 3/12, commenting that their claws are like needles.
Chrilo Von Gontard, while driving by Discovery Bay on 3/6, saw the first local Turkey Vulture, a solitary bird, soaring overhead. Many people saw Turkey Vultures soon thereafter, including Powell Jones, who saw 10 kettling over Robin Hill Park on 3/16. Those of us working at RR Bridge Park on the evening of 3/17 witnessed 31 TVs roosting in the cottonwoods, the largest roosting group seen around Sequim in a long time. Mary Porter-Solberg saw 3 TVs roosting in a tall hemlock on the Miller Peninsula on 3/21, including two that played “king-of-the-mountain” for the highest branch of the tree, landing on each other in a comical way. A few TVs are still around, but the last of the big groups have moved north, such as the 14 seen circling by Pat Holden’s house on 4/12.
We love data! Two years ago, on the morning of 4/11/02, we had a Cassin’s Vireo singing in RR Bridge Park, a species we know little about in Clallam County. I noted the bird as an early spring migrant and after a couple days the bird took off, never to be seen again that year. Then another one showed up singing at RR Bridge Park on 4/9/03, and I began to wonder whether this brief passage of these beautiful little birds in April is an annual thing. Well, lo and behold, this year Sheila Joyce, who lives just downstream of RR Bridge Park, reported a Cassin’s Vireo singing its lazy question-answer song over and over at her house between 4/11 and 4/20. Not only that, Judy Mullally had a Cassin’s Vireo singing at her house above Morse Creek this year on (you guessed it!) 4/11. So please listen for Cassin’s Vireos next year between 4/9 and 4/11.
Sandra Cripe observed a Merlin hanging around Lost Mountain between 4/6 and 4/14, casing out birds at her feeder. A month earlier, on 3/12, Bob Boekelheide watched a Merlin zip through downtown Sequim, then perch at the top of the famous grain elevator for several minutes scanning the town for prey. Neil Holcomb, volunteer caretaker at Protection Island for the USFWS, observed a large adult Peregrine Falcon flying around the island on 3/28. In Port Angeles, Linda Fleming heard a persistent Screech Owl tooting almost nightly between February and April at Country Club Lane near the golf course.
If you drive East Sequim Bay Road, look for Ospreys on their nest at about mile 2.5. Rick and Kathy Bush have been sending in regular reports since first seeing the Ospreys visit their nest in the first few days of April. By 4/21 the female was sitting faithfully on the nest, apparently on eggs.
Bald Eagles are ready to hatch their eggs, so be on the look out for bobble-headed chicks in their nests. An interesting eagle note comes from Jim Bates, who saw an eagle feeding on a dead coyote just across the road from Sunland on 4/8. Apparently the coyote was a roadkill victim and the eagle couldn’t pass up a free meal.
Most waterfowl have moved north to their breeding haunts, but some interesting ones have been seen. The last Trumpeter Swan report came from Bruce Moorhead, who saw 10 swans (8 adults and 2 immatures) at the pond at the north base of Bell Hill on 3/23. Pat and Jack Fletcher reported the first local Cinnamon Teal, a male and female, at Three Crabs on 4/9. On 3/31, Neil Holcomb, saw 2 very strange geese at Protection Island, apparently hybrids between White-fronted Geese and something else.
Caspian Terns first arrived in Sequim Bay on 4/2, seen by Kirsten Bixler, a researcher from Oregon State here to study the new tern colony on Dungeness Spit. In case you haven’t heard, in 2003 apparently as many as 300 Caspian Terns begin nesting on the south shoreline of Dungeness Spit just beyond Graveyard Spit, according to Pam Sanguinetti, Refuge Biologist. It will be very interesting to see how this colony develops this year.
In other seabird news, Neil Holcomb observed 2 immature Glaucous Gulls at Protection Island on 3/6, a species that has been very scarce this winter. Neil also reported the first local Tufted Puffin, curiously still in winter plumage, just east of Sequim Bay in early March.
While visiting Kalaloch on 4/3, Bob Boekelheide observed 8 species of gulls roosting at the mouth of Kalaloch Creek, including Western, Glaucous-winged, Mew, California, 25 Herrings, 18 Thayer’s, 5 Black-legged Kittiwakes, and one Bonaparte’s Gull. On 4/4 several large flocks of Bonaparte’s Gulls flew north offshore of Kalaloch, numbering over 200 total. Also quickly flying towards the north were all three scoter species and flocks of Pacific Loons.
The 4/22 Birding by Ear Class from the Audubon Center had an excellent field trip up Palo Alto Road into Olympic National Forest. Highlights included several singing Hutton’s Vireos and Townsend’s Warblers, a loose flock of Red Crossbills shredding cones near the Louella Ranger Station, and Wilson’s Snipes winnowing over the big pastures. We were especially excited when a Pygmy Owl answered our toots and landed in full view for all to see, but it got even better when a huge Pileated Woodpecker “mobbed” the little Pygmy Owl, strafing it as it sat tooting in the tall snag. We closed out the field trip by visiting the Dipper nest under the bridge near the Dungeness Forks campground.
Despite dry conditions, Sue Chickman’s marsh by Jamestown is cookin’. The American Bittern is there, galumping away, and the Virginia Rails are there, kadekkiking up a storm. Sue – we need those birds on the Birdathon!
The spring migration of shorebirds happens very quickly in late April and early May, so you must get out right now to view their spectacular breeding plumages. Thousands of Western Sandpipers, Dunlin, Black-bellied Plovers, and dowitchers are passing right now, plus lots of others in lesser numbers, so don’t delay.
The strange bird story of the month comes from Don Myers, who watched a male House Finch feed sunflower seeds to a Pine Siskin several times at his feeder on Towne Road on 4/7. Don is now preparing his Ph.D. thesis on Interspecific Altruism in the North American Fringillidae.
As we approach the OPAS Birdathon, it’s very important that we keep track of any unusual sightings, raising the chances of adding species to our count. We see less than 10 individuals of many species in this count, so please keep track until then. Get out for the dawn chorus, to “see” what you can hear. If you see (hear) anything unusual, please call Bob Boekelheide at 681-4867 (email at email@example.com) or Bob Norton at 928-3053 (email at firstname.lastname@example.org). Thank you for your sightings!