"Our Birds" (Gazette)
Bird Sightings -- Spring, 2005
by Bob Boekelheide
As I write this in late April, the rain gauge at the Dungeness River Audubon Center has received only 3.86 inches of precipitation since January 1st. Even though both March and April brought more rain than February, and slightly more snow now covers the high Olympics, we’re still very far from making up our precipitation deficit. Just a few warm days in May and June and the Olympic snow pack will be history.
Bird migration provided a few surprises so far this winter and spring. Melanie Perry reported the first local swallows near Discovery Bay on 2/20, probably Tree Swallows, followed by Judy Mullally’s report from Port Angeles on 2/21, also of Tree Swallows. Melanie says this is the earliest arrival for swallows at her home in 8 years. By mid-March swallows returned in mass everywhere. If you’re ever awake at 3 a.m., listen for Violet-green Swallows chittering like overhead power lines in the pre-dawn sky, chasing moths and other night insects.
The first local hummingbird award goes to Kathy Bush, who eagerly called about a Rufous Hummingbird in her yard on 3/5. By now everyone has hummers buzzing their feeders. Powell Jones and the Birding by Ear Class at the River Center discovered a female Rufous Hummingbird picking lichens and webs off the bark of a Big-leaf Maple on 4/20, then watching her fly to a tiny nest precariously perched on an old limb hanging off another tree.
A couple clear nights in mid-March brought significant arrivals of White-crowned Sparrows plus Yellow-rumped and Orange-crowned Warblers. Late March and April brought big waves of Turkey Vultures over the Dungeness -- Gene Kridler recorded the highest number of Tvs on 4/1, seeing 34 flying over Keeler Rd and another 19 on the west side of Sequim.
The best migration day on Wed a.m. bird walks at RR Bridge Park occurred on 4/13, when we spotted the first Rough-winged Swallows, Black-throated Gray and Townsend’s Warblers, and Brown-headed Cowbirds for the season. Some late spring migrants are already here – a Wilson’s Warbler sang in the forest by the Dungeness River on 4/23 and a Pacific-slope Flycatcher called upstream of the Dungeness Fish Hatchery on 4/24.
Ruth and Patrick Sullivan photographed an unusual Loggerhead Shrike at 3 Crabs on 3/19. This species, which has only been documented a handful of times in Clallam County, is more typical of the dry shrub steppe in E. WA. The Sullivans also saw a more typical Northern Shrike at Jamestown on the same day.
Townsend’s Solitaires made an April appearance again, with two at RR Bridge Park on 4/15 chasing insects from log to log in the flood plain. Janine Anderson and Terry LeLievre also observed two Solitaires at the Fort Worden beach on 4/11. After watching the birds, Janine reports the Solitaires followed them up the beach during their walk, leading us to ask: Who is watching whom? Mid-April is clearly the time to watch for Solitaires in W. WA, as they move north to their high subalpine breeding areas.
Cassin’s Vireos once again made an April passage through our area. One sang at Powell Jones’ home near Gardiner between 4/9 and 4/14, and another sang at Sheila Joyce’s home by the Dungeness River between 4/12 and 4/22. This is the fourth year in a row I’ve had reports of Cassin’s Vireos arriving sometime between 4/8 and 4/12, just like clockwork.
House Wrens are back, noisy as ever. The first, heard by the Wed AM bird walk at RR Bridge Park, sang its buzzy song near the east end of Runnion Rd on 4/8. On 4/20, two males sang in the same area. Stu and Pat MacRobbie reported that the House Wren at their home near Carrie Blake Park arrived around the same time.
Western Meadowlarks made a brief appearance in mid-April – are they, too, just migrants in our area now? Robin Gerkitz heard one singing in a field west of Joyce on 4/9, and Bob Boekelheide heard one singing on 4/11 in the big oak tree at the Sequim Community Church, where they’ve briefly sung each of the last three springs. Way back on 2/24, 14 meadowlarks flocked near the mouth of the Dungeness River, seen by the Winter Birds class from the River Center. If you hear any meadowlarks singing in our area this spring, please let me know – is our breeding population now extirpated?
Bill and Barbara Vanderwerf spotted an unusual Chipping Sparrow in their backyard near the mouth of McDonnell Creek on 4/10, a species more typical of dry Ponderosa Pine forests in eastern Washington. Again, please be on the lookout for Chipping Sparrows this spring and summer, as there may be a small local breeding population waiting to be found. Remember that Chippers’ songs are very much like a dry single-pitch trill of juncos, so don’t assume that all juncos really are juncos.
Bill and Barbara also reported a Green Heron flying near the mouth of the Dungeness River on 3/27. This is another species for which we receive a few reports each year, almost always in riparian forests near estuaries along our coastline.
Nigel Ball, while munching a halibut dinner at a Neah Bay diner on 4/9, watched about 650 Sandhill Cranes in six different flocks sail past on their way north. Neah Bay is a great place to see cranes in the spring, as shown by the raptor observers there in the 1990s. At Neah Bay Nigel also saw a nice mix of gulls, including 2 Thayer’s, 1 Herring, 4 Californias, 1 Ring-billed, and many Olympic-type big pink-legged hybrids, plus 2 Am. Kestrels, 17 Am. Pipits, 13 Greater Yellowlegs, and 30 Marbled Murrelets.
Russell Rogers experienced a bluebird bonanza on 4/16, seeing one female and two male Mountain Bluebirds, plus one male Western Bluebird, at Schmuck Road. This is noteworthy for Mountain Bluebirds, a species that may have formerly nested in the Olympics, but whose closest breeding area is now on the east slopes of the Cascades, as far as we know. Dave Jackson found a female Mountain Bluebird at the same place on 4/21, perhaps a lingerer, along with a singing Common Yellowthroat.
Melanie Perry, who lives south of Discovery Bay, has had W. Bluebirds at her house since 3/1. If you live south of Hwy 101 in the fragmented forests and rolling hills of the Olympic foothills, please keep your eyes out for Western Bluebirds. Put out nest boxes if you haven’t done so already, then monitor them closely to remove undesirable House Sparrows and Starlings.
Also on 4/16, Russell Rogers spotted an American Kestrel at Schmuck Rd. and a Red-tailed Hawk at Dungeness, both with bands, possibly ones he banded two winters ago. Perhaps the same bird, a Kestrel has been in that area through the winter, seen by Ruth and Patrick Sullivan on 3/19 and the River Center Raptor Class in January.
John Woolley, while sitting on the north ridge of Mt Zion on 3/26, spotted a Golden Eagle soaring up in big spirals right in front of him. John reports that even though there was no snow below 4000 feet that day, it was still very icy, and he marvels at how a Golden Eagle can find food in the mountains in early spring.
At least one Merlin and one Peregrine Falcon remained at Dungeness Bay and 3 Crabs area through March into April, seen by Ruth and Patrick Sullivan on 3/19 and by the Olympic BirdFest field trip on 4/2. Another Peregrine sat in a big cottonwood near Old Olympic Hwy and the Dungeness River on 3/17, seen by Isaac and Bob Boekelheide. A female columbarius Merlin visited RR Bridge Park on 3/4, and another swooshed over Washington Harbor on 3/10, seen by the Early Spring birds class from the River Center. Kathy Bush reports Ospreys back at the nest along E. Sequim Bay Rd. on 4/9, where they have nested for the last several years.
Hot-tub owling is the way to be! Mike East, while hot tubbing at his home near Sunny Farms, reports hearing and seeing Barn Owls clicking in the sky after dark during much of Feb. through April. Barn Owls also have been hissing at night in the Heath Rd. farmlands, heard by the Boekelheide family. Willy Joslin and Robin Gilleland reported a Short-eared Owl flying the fields of Blue Ribbon Farms near the Dungeness Recreation Area in Feb. and March. The Early Spring Birds class from the River Center watched the Short-eared Owl flying over these fields on 3/21.
Riley and Virginia O’Neil heard a N. Pygmy-Owl tooting by the Dungeness River near Old Olympic Hwy on 3/27. John Woolley reports that Rich Tipps, who lives near the Louella Ranger Station on Palo Alto Rd., also heard a Pygmy Owl tooting on 3/2.
Owl Prowls in the Olympics were very successful this spring, having several W. Screech-owls and N. Saw-whet Owls on both 3/5 and 4/5. No Great-horned or Barred Owls tooted for us, later explained by Jamie Acker because the big owls were probably on eggs or chicks at that time, when they don’t make many sounds.
After the 4/5 Owl Prowl, I briefly whistled in my driveway by the Dungeness River at 1:30 a.m. and had a screech owl fly right up to me, tooting up a storm. John Woolley and Jadyne Reichner heard a Saw-whet tooting along the Gray Wolf trail on 3/12. A Great-horned Owl has been haunting the 3 Crabs area for several months, sitting on power poles in the evening, reported independently by Todd Beuke and Lee Bowen.
Among water birds, Scott Atkinson reported a very unusual Slaty-backed Gull at Graysmarsh on 3/12, hanging around with other large pink-legged gulls following a plowing tractor. Slaty-backed Gulls are native to eastern Asia, more typical of the Bering Sea rather than the Olympic Peninsula, although a few are seen in western WA every decade. It was still present on 3/17, seen by Richard Isherwood, Jesse Stewart, and Dick Johnson. It was a 3rd-year gull, still with black in the tail.
Beth Oakes reports twelve pairs of Wood Ducks at her pond near Joyce, all fighting over 6 nest boxes. Time for more boxes? Beth also reports a pair of Harlequin Ducks on 3/19 and a Dipper on 3/18, kind of a mini mountain river. Gene Kridler reported the largest number of Brant – 525 off Jamestown Beach on 3/8. On the same day Gene reported a male Common Teal, the Eurasian version of our Green-winged Teal, at Helen’s Pond, where Richard Isherwood also saw it on 3/17.
Swans have split for the spring, but they never amounted to much around Sequim this winter. Shirley Anderson reported 7 Trumpeter Swans at Woodcock Rd. by the Dungeness River on 2/27, and Todd Beuke observed 6 swans at 3 Crabs on 2/28. Ruth and Patrick Sullivan spotted 4 lingering Trumpeter Swans at Crocker Lake on 3/19, along with 15 Ring-necked Ducks and 12 Lesser Scaups.
Beth Oakes tells the best story this month. While standing at the kitchen window, Beth saw a “huge” adult Bald Eagle catch something out of her pond. She ran screaming out of the house, yelling ”Drop my Wood Duck, you *$#&@ eagle!” The eagle, scared witless by Beth, dropped its catch, a 5-lb. rainbow trout, almost on Beth’s head. Beth says the trout, mortally wounded by the eagle’s talons, provided a delicious dinner – for Beth, of course. I’ve heard of cormorants fishing for humans, but eagles?
Much more spring migration is on its way. The month of May brings new warblers, flycatchers, Swainson’s Thrushes, orioles, tanagers, and much more. When the snow melts, go to the mountains for pipits, Horned Larks, and rosy finches. Call Bob Boekelheide at 681-4867 (h) or 681-4076 (w) (email at email@example.com) or Bob Norton at 928-3053 (email at firstname.lastname@example.org) when you see something interesting or unusual. Thank you very much for your sightings.
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