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Saturday, December 3


Well, hereís another report.† No, I didnít go out birding today, the bird came to me.


I noticed a bird at the suet feeder this afternoon, as I was talking on the phone, and it looked like a woodpecker.† While continuing to talk on the phone, I got the binoculars on it, and it was a Downy Woodpecker, the smaller cousin of the bird I was hoping for.† Iíve seen Downy Woodpeckers a number of times this year.


But, then the Downy flew away, and a larger looking bird took its place.† I got the binoculars on it, and sure enough, it was the one I have been looking for all year, a lovely male HAIRY WOODPECKER. †I could have seen one in any of the places I birded this year, but they had always eluded me.† Iíve seen them in the yard before, so I knew it was a possibility, and sure enough, here it was.


I couldnít break off the phone conversation, but I hustled downstairs and got my camera.† Standing at the back door, still talking on the phone, I got off a few distant shots of the bird.† None of them are any good, but they do show clearly that it was a Hairy Woodpecker, so Iíll show two of them here.† I was hand-holding the camera, while distracted by the phone conversation, so they are blurry, due to motion of the camera and the low light conditions.




The diagnostic features that set it apart from its cousin the Downy Woodpecker are that it is much larger and the bill is much longer, relative to the size of the head.† In a little while, it flew off and the Downy came back, and I got this blurry picture that doesnít show the smaller bill, but it does show the relative overall size.† Even though both birds arenít in the same picture, they are all taken from the same distance, and you can compare the relative size of the bird to the suet feeder.† I hadnít realized just how big a difference there was in size between the two species, until I saw these pictures.† Here is the much smaller Downy Woodpecker:



The Downy looks tiny, compared to the Hairy.† Size is always tricky when you donít have another bird of known size to compare to, but if you saw these two together, there would be absolutely no doubt which one is which.


So, that adds one more species to my year list.† Iím now at 423 for the year, of which 120 are lifers and 127 are new for my US list this year.† There are two or three more species that I could go look for in the mountains near here, and maybe I will do that.† Iím inclined to ďsaveĒ them for 2012, though, and go for them after the first of the year.† I expect to keep a year list again next year, and it will be a challenge to beat this yearís total, I think.† I have been very fortunate this year, and Iíve done a lot of traveling to get my 423 species.†


The one species that I still hope to add to my 2011 list is Snowy Owl.† It has indeed turned out to be an ďirruption yearĒ, when large numbers of Snowy Owls come farther south for the winter than usual, and they are showing up all across the country, much to the south of their usual winter range.† There are several down at Ocean Shores, several up near Mt Vernon in the Skagit River delta, and they are even being seen in the city and suburbs around here.† Eventually, I will probably chase one of them somewhere, unless one happens to show up here in the yard, like the Hairy Woodpecker.† A Snowy Owl even showed up at Honolulu airport last week, the first one ever recorded in Hawaii.† Unfortunately, they couldnít get it to move away from the runway, and the state wildlife people shot it, because they were afraid that it might get sucked into a jet engine and cause a crash.† As you might expect, the local Hawaiian birders were quite upset about that.† The poor bird got lost, it flew 2000 miles across the ocean, it finally found a place to land, and that is the reception it got.


In case I donít see any more new species this year, and this turns out to be my last report for the year, you should be warned that I plan to do this again next year, starting all over again on January 1.† If you donít want to be bothered with my emails all year, just let me know, and Iíll take you off the list, no offense taken.† I hope that there will be at least one more report this year, though, for the Snowy Owl.



Sunday, December 4


Hereís another report.† Iím cheating, as I didnít actually see a new bird for my year list today, but I searched, and I got some pictures I like, so I am going to share them anyway.


I saw a report on Tweeters about Common Redpoll being seen in my local Juanita Bay Park, in with small groups of Pine Siskins.† The redpoll would be a lifer for me, and the park is less than a ten minute drive away.† It was a beautiful, cold, sunny day today, so I decided to go on down and see what I could see.† No redpolls or Pine Siskins, but I got some pictures I like.


Here is a Red-tailed Hawk, posing in the sunshine.† Itís a very dark one.



I was hoping for a knock-your-socks-off shot, because of the lighting, and it isnít quite that, but I like it.


Here is a female Northern Flicker, high in a tree.† A male would have a red-orange moustache stripe.† A beautiful bird, I think; itís a member of the woodpecker family.



This next one is kind of a plain looking little sparrow, but I like the pose.† Itís an immature Golden-crowned Sparrow, in its first winter.† It is just starting to get the golden color on its head.



Next we have a male Downy Woodpecker.† You might remember that yesterday I got Hairy Woodpecker for the year, and I had a shot of the back of a Downy Woodpecker, too, which illustrated the size difference between the species.† Even in the absence of size information, you can tell the difference, though.† The bill of the Downy is shorter than its head, and the bill of the Hairy is equal or longer than its head.† Here is the Downy from today.



At the same place, there was a little Bewickís Wren flittering around, acting like a treecreeper on the trunk of a tree.† The white eyebrow stripe, plain back, and the barred tail are the diagnostic markings.



Next I went out on one of the boardwalks and saw this Bald Eagle on a post out in the lake, eating something.† What a beautiful bird.† Itís too bad it was so far away.† The yellowish color is due to the fact it was getting late on a winterís afternoon.† The temperatures were in the mid 30ís, but it was great out there, in the sun.



There were 21 Trumpeter Swans on the lake, too, and here is a shot of two of them, swimming behind the eagle.† You know how big Swans are.† This illustrates how big Bald Eagles are.



Lastly, there were some Buffleheads (a species of duck) out on the lake, and I got a picture of one of the males.† Normally, they just look black and white, but in this light, you can see the purple and green sheen that it has.



So, I didnít get anything for my year list today, but I had a great outing in the sunshine for about an hour and a half.† Maybe the Common Redpolls will hang around, and I can get them later.



Wednesday, December 21


Birders have been continuing to report Snowy Owls up near Stanwood, which is about a 50 minute drive north of my house, and today the weather forecast was good.† My non-birder friend Dan was coming over for lunch today, and he was willing to go along for the ride, so this morning we headed north, with our lunches, to look for the owls.


Before I get into that story, though, I have a couple of pictures to show from a week or two ago, taken here in our yard.† Lots of birds come to our suet feeder, but one day there was a little flock of Bushtits in our yard, and they liked it.† Here is a picture of several of them, feeding on the suet:



It was amusing to see so many of them using the suet feeder at one time.† Here is a picture that shows even more of them:



They looked like little bugs, swarming on the feeder.


Anyway, back to today, Dan and I got up to the area where the owls have been seen, and soon saw a bird on the ground.† It turned out to be a Short-eared Owl, and I took some pictures, but the light was poor and the bird was too far away.† We went back to the car and ate our lunches, and then we set off across the fields toward the dike that separates the ocean from the fields.† Thatís where people had been seeing the owls we were looking for.† There was a woman there who was also looking for the owls, and she set out in the same direction, ahead of us, while we finished our lunch.


On our way, we ran into a guy in camouflage who had a gun that was also camouflaged, and he told us that he wasnít really hunting, he was just using it as an excuse to walk around out there, on a beautiful sunny winter day.† He said there were three of our target owls that could be seen from the dike, and pointed us in the right direction.


We walked up onto the dike and almost immediately saw a white bird flying, and it was my SNOWY OWL, number 424 for the year for me.† It wasnít a lifer, but it was only the second Snowy Owl that I have ever seen, so that was cool.† It landed up the way a bit, and we moved up and got some pictures.† Dan has a small point and shoot camera, and he got a great picture by holding his camera up to my scope.† I just used my regular super-zoom camera.† We decided the owl was maybe 75 yards away.† Here are three pictures of that beauty:





We then moved down the dike and saw the second of the three that the hunter had told us about.† It was farther away, and my picture doesnít show much, but here it is anyway:



After all, that was only the third Snowy Owl I had ever seen, so it deserves a picture here.


Looking over the field, we saw other birds of prey.† Here is a female Northern Harrier, perched on a plastic post:



About that time, three swans flew over, and I got a picture of one of them in flight.† I later decided that they were Trumpeter Swans.



There had been Short-eared Owls hunting over the fields the whole time.† I saw at least three of them at one time, but there could have been more.† I took some distant pictures of them while they were flying, and Iím quite pleased with how they came out.† Here are some of them for your viewing pleasure.† This first one shows the color pattern of the wings and the tail.† I love the flat face of owls, and their yellow eyes.




This next one has motion blur on the wings, but it shows its face really well, and you can see the underwing white color.



This one also shows the underwing colors nicely.



We made our way back to the car, across the field with all its goose poop, and after cleaning our shoes as best we could, we headed for home.† But, almost right away, there was a Short-eared Owl sitting on the ground, not all that far from the road.† Unfortunately, the light was terrible, as we were looking right into the sun, so the bird was backlit.† Nonetheless, I took some pictures, as I hadnít ever gotten a decent picture of a Short-eared Owl while it was perched.† This isnít very good, but it does show the bird:



So, that was my birding adventure for today.† Species number 424 for the year, of which 118 have been lifers.† I doubt there will be any more this year, but the new year is less than two weeks away, and then I will start all over again and try to beat my totals in 2012.† I think I should be able to see more than 424 species, but I doubt that I will get more than 118 additional lifers next year.† I could get 80 to 90 new lifers next year, though, so it will be a nice challenge.† My US list (including Hawaii) stands at 450 now, and my life list (including birds seen in Australia and Britain) stands at 979.† It will be interesting to see what species is my 500th US bird and which is my 1000th life list bird, in 2012.


Next update will be in 2012, most likely, starting on the first.† It all starts over then, and even the commonest birds are ones for my list on New Yearís Day.† This Quest thing, keeping a year list for the first time, has been really fun, so I want to do it again next year.