Click here to return to 2011 Quest for Birds:† http://www.barry15.com/2011_Quest/
This is to be a chronicle of my 2011 Quest for Birds.† I plan to try to see as many species as I can in the Western US this year.† Species in CAPS are new ones for the list, and I will note the lifers, too, with parentheses.
I made a spreadsheet of all the species of birds that I thought I had any decent chance of seeing in the Western States, and then assigned a percentage to each one.† I then added up those percentages, to get an ďexpected valueĒ of what I might see in the whole year.† That number came out very low at first (about 220), but as I did more research and thought of new places to travel and bird, I kept raising it, and eventually it came to a total of about 275 species, of which 70 would be lifers for me.† The heart of the year will be the Southeast Arizona trip I plan for early May, especially for the lifers.† I had a guide booked for two days and one evening of owling on that trip, and I upped that to three days and an evening, once I got this Quest idea.† Having a professional guide in that particular area is going to be a huge help.† I tend to be conservative with estimates, but some of my estimates for that trip seem awfully high to me, so we will see how accurate my numbers are, at the end of the year.† There are about 420 birds in my spreadsheet, so there is room to improve on the official target of 275 species total, including 70 lifers.
So, here goes:
Saturday, January 1
I managed things so my first bird of the year was an ANNAíS HUMMINGBIRD.† When I got up, I shielded my eyes and went downstairs and had Christina and Johanna call me when a hummer came to the feeder.† Within a couple of hours, I had added STELLERíS JAY, FERAL PIGEON, STARLING, BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE, HOUSE SPARROW, DARK-EYED JUNCO, NORTHERN FLICKER, SPOTTED TOWHEE, SONG SPARROW, HOUSE FINCH, AMERICAN CROW, and an unusual (for winter) AMERICAN GOLDFINCH, to bring me to thirteen species without leaving the yard.† A great start.
It was cold, but not raining, so I went on down to Juanita Bay Park, to see what was around.† The first birds I saw there were a number of TRUMPETER SWANS, which I had never seen at the park before. †There were up to sixteen of them, and six of them later flew around, including right over our heads, which was impressive.
I was alone at the end of the boardwalk by the nesting platform when I got there.† The little bay was iced over, so the ducks were all farther out.† I rapidly picked up DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT, MALLARD, BUFFLEHEAD, PIED-BILLED GREBE, RING-NECKED DUCK, WOOD DUCK, GADWALL, AMERCIAN COOT, and COMMON MERGANSER.† There was even a pair of CANVASBACKS way out there.† I donít see them at the park very often, and later where other people were there, they were interested in seeing them, too.
With the arrival of other people, someone pointed out the BALD EAGLE sitting in a tree.† Later, a second one joined him, and still later, the two of them went hunting over the lake.† One harassed a coot until finally he caught it, and the other caught a ten inch long fish.† They proceeded to eat their catches on pilings, sitting next to each other.† I had really great scope views of them.† The sun was shining and they were really stunning.
I spotted a goose across the lake and decided it was a CACKLING GOOSE (lifer), which had previously been a subspecies of Canada Goose.† This one was quite small and had a short stubby bill.† I showed it to another birder there, and he agreed that it was not a ďregularĒ Canada goose.† That was my fist lifer for the year, as I had not counted Cackling Goose as a species before.† That and the Trumpeter Swans added two to my park list, too, to bring it to 80 species.
Later I spotted some GREEN-WINGED TEAL way across the lake, and I counted HERRING GULL, too.† As I was about to leave, a BELTED KINGFISHER showed up, bringing my park count to 17 species for the day.† My total after the first day of my 2011 Quest was 30, with one lifer.
Sunday, January 2
Not a birding day at all.† The night before, C had had a lot of pain in her lower abdomen, right side,† with feelings of nausea, and I took her to the ER at about 11:30 PM.† They diagnosed appendicitis and she had her appendix out laparascopically on Sunday morning at about 7:30.† I only got about three hours of sleep, and I slept a little during that next day, too.† They kept her in the hospital until Monday.† On one of my trips to the hospital, I did see a couple of AMERICAN ROBINS, though, so I did add a species to my list, without actually doing any birding.
Monday, January 3
First thing that morning, I saw a VARIED THRUSH at our feeder.† We see them sometimes, but not often, so that was good.† We were waiting for the doctor to come see C in the hospital, hoping he would release her, and I went to get the oil changed in my car while waiting.† From the Jiffy Lube place over on Bothell Way, I saw some gulls, and one of them was a GLACUCOUS-WINGED GULL.† When the car was ready, I went on over to Log Boom Park, at the top end of Lake Washington, to see what was around.
The first new one was a COMMON GOLDENEYE, and that was followed by some HOODED MERGANSERS, looking really great in their full breeding plumage.† There were some scaup there, too, and I put the scope on them.† The sun was shining, and I was able to clearly see that some of the males had a greenish sheen on their black heads (GREATER SCAUP), and some had a purplish sheen (LESSER SCAUP).† You need really good light to see that, so I was very fortunate.† There are other subtle differences, but I have never felt confident in distinguishing them from each other.† It was a real coup to get both of them so early in the year.† It will save me a lot of agonizing over the subtle differences, when I see them for the rest of the year.† I had had Greater Scaup at only 20% in my spreadsheet, for the whole year, because of the difficulty of the ID, plus the fact that the Lesser is much more common in the west, for most of the year.
Finally, while I was leaving, I saw a couple of different looking birds fly up from the grass at the condos next to the park.† I went over to the fence and there on the grass, much to my surprise, was a WILSONíS SNIPE.† The ones here in the US were previously considered to be a subspecies of the Common Snipe, which I saw in Britain last year, but now they are a separate species.† So, it wasnít a lifer, as I had seen them before over here, but not very often and not for years.† Before I left, I saw 7 or 8 of them around the little pond in the yard of the condos.† That was more snipe than I had seen in my whole life, in total, up to then, I think.† I had that species at only 30% in my spreadsheet, for the whole year, so seeing them was great.
When I got home, I found a message on the machine from C.† She had been waiting for an hour and a half to come home, while I was out on a snipe hunt.† Oops.† She wasnít very pleased, and I couldnít blame her.† (I was still really glad to have seen the snipe and the scaups, though.)
Total after 3 days was 38 species, of which 1 was a lifer.
Tuesday, January 4
I had originally planned to go up to Fir Island, Anacortes, and the Skagit Flats with my friend, Dan, on Monday, but Cís appendicitis had changed that.† Instead, since the weather was holding, and C was doing great, we went on Tuesday.† Dan isnít a birder, but he is a good sport, and we enjoyed talking in the car all day.† It is a little over an hourís drive to get up into the area.
I was hoping to see Snow Goose and Tundra Swan, but dipped on both of those.† We saw tons of Trumpeter Swans, but I had seen those at Juanita Bay Park on Saturday.† I soon picked up my first GREAT BLUE HERON for the year, as well as my first RED-TAILED HAWK.† Iíll see hundreds of both of those this year, but they went onto the list on that Tuesday.† We stopped to scope another perched hawk, and I decided eventually that it was a COOPERíS HAWK, mostly based on the size and coloration.† There were tons of Bald Eagles around, too, which is always great to see.
We stopped at Subway and got sandwiches for our lunch, and then went on to Washington Park in Anacortes, to look for sea birds.† I got PIGEON GUILEMOT in its winter plumage, and saw some loons that I ended up deciding were RED-THROATED LOONS.† There were also SURF SCOTERS around.† There werenít as many birds in the water as I had expected, though.
Next we went up toward the Skagit Flats, to check out a place I hadnít been before.† We were running short of time by then, so we hurried along.† On the way there was a hawk in a tree, near the road, so I stopped.† At first I thought it was a Red-tail, but upon a closer look, I consulted my book, and it was a ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK (lifer), one of the birds I had hoped very much to see that day.† Later we saw a couple more and I even got some rather poor and distant pictures of them.† Here is one:
Not long after that, I pulled over the side of the road and Dan asked why I was stopping.† I had seen a whole herd of shorebirds out in a flooded field, which turned out to be frozen.† They were all standing together, and he had thought it was just an island in the pond.† They turned out to be DUNLIN, most with their heads tucked in, just snoozing away, on the ice.† Dan did an estimated count and came up with more than a thousand in the flock.† There were others flying around and feeding on the edges of the frozen pond, as well.† It was a much much bigger flock of Dunlin than I have ever seen before.
Finally we got to what is called the Samish T and the Samish West 90, on the road to Samish Island.† That is where I was headed, because there were supposed to be owls there.† There were tons of NORTHERN HARRIERS around, and lots of eagles and Great Blue Herons, but we couldnít see any owls.† It was quite cold, and eventually Dan got cold enough to get in the car and turn on the heater.† Right after that, a couple of different birds flew up in the field out in front of us, and they were a beautiful pair of SHORT-EARED OWLS (lifer), looking just like their descriptions and pictures.† That capped my day off great, and we headed for home, in the gathering gloom.† I also added CANADA GOOSE that day, bringing me to 49 species, of which 3 were lifers.† A great day of birding, and some new territory for me.† Here is a rather poor picture of a Great Blue Heron:
Wednesday, January 5
Not a birding day, and it was raining all day, but I went to lunch with my friend Chris, and across the street from the Factoria Mall, while driving him back to work, I saw a little flock of BUSHTITS, thus keeping my string alive, of seeing a new species on each day of the year.
Thursday, January 6
Because of my Quest, I have been doing tons of reading and online research.† I have been planning trips, researching birding sites, making target lists for the various places I would like to visit, and reading four different birding mailing lists (Seattle, San Diego, Sacramento, and Monterey).† One of the places I had read about but had never stopped at was the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), down just north of Olympia.† Someone put up a post on Tweeters, the Seattle mailing list, about birds he had seen there, giving very explicit directions to where he had seen four different species that I would really like to see.
It was raining at the time, but the forecast said it would stop by about noon, so I got in the car and drove the 50 minutes or so to the refuge.† I stopped at Subway and got a sandwich, which I ended up eating in the car when I got there, as it was too cold outside.† No rain, though, so that was good.
It is a nice reserve, but it was pretty dead in the middle of winter.† There is a day use fee, but my federal Golden Age pass that I bought to get me into Yosemite (and all other national parks) for free, worked there, too, so I didnít even have to cheat the system or pay.† There is a boardwalk and some trails, and they are just about finished with a new boardwalk that will go right out to the edge of the bay.
Right off the bat I got the male EURASIAN WIGEON (only 50% in my spreadsheet) that was in the pond right behind the visitor center.† They breed in the far north and are meant to migrate down to Europe or Asia, but a few usually come down the west coast of North America.† I had only ever seen one twice before.† A good start.†
I couldnít find any of the other three he had mentioned, but I did manage to pick up a female BARROWS GOLDENEYE (only 40% in my spreadsheet for the whole year) in the river, with some Common Goldeneyes.† The orange bill was the giveaway, and it turned out to be diagnostic, when I got back to the car and looked it up.† I also got a very brief partial look at a bird in the undergrowth, and I wasnít sure what it was.† My first impression was FOX SPARROW (only 60% in my spreadsheet), and that is what I eventually decided to call it, mostly based on its behavior, scratching around in the leaf litter.
There was also a pair of PEREGRINE FALCONS perched in trees.† I had that one at only 50% in my spreadsheet, so I was getting some good ones that day.† I only added those four that day, but they were all quality ones, so the trip to Nisqually was well worth it.† It was nice to see the place, too.† I will have to go back when the new boardwalk opens and I have time to walk out there.† Maybe in the spring or summer, when there are supposed to be a lot more birds there.
Total now is 55 species, with 3 of them lifers.
Friday, January 7
In December, there had been a report of a sparrow that is a rare visitor to the west coast.† It was seen up in Bothell, just north of here, and there were very explicit directions to where it was hanging out.† It was seen by a number of people, for several days in a row, and I had resolved that if it was still around in 2011, I would ďtwitchĒ it.† Birders call it twitching or going on a twitch when they go looking for a rare bird that has been reported in a particular place.
Well, on that Friday morning, there was another report on the sparrow, and the rain seemed to be lessening, so I headed up to north Bothell, to see if I could find it.† The location is only about 15 minutes north of here.† I parked in the parking lot of the Northshore School District, in the middle of a business park, and found my way to the designated path on a dike next to a little pond or wetland area.
I had no sooner gotten there when I saw a little group of birds feeding on the ground, right where they were supposed to be.† I had read that they were rather flighty and spooked easily, so I went back to my car and got my scope.† It was drizzling by then, but a little water wouldnít hurt me, and both my scope and my binoculars are waterproof.
I set up my scope and saw a great little mixed flock feeding.† I got my first WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW, my first GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW, and my first RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD of the year, but didnít see the target sparrow right away.† I kept looking, though, and after about 15 minutes, a beautiful little HARRISíS SPARROW (lifer) hopped out onto the path and stayed for a few seconds before flying away.† It was a good enough view to identify and count it, but I wanted to see it better, so I hung around another 20 minutes or so, and eventually it came back and I got long looks at it through the scope from about 75 feet away.† It was a great experience, to successfully twitch a lifer so close to home.† The sparrow wasnít even in my spreadsheet, as it is supposed to be in the lower Midwest at this time of year, and it breeds in northern Canada.† This one was a juvenile one (the plumage showed that), and obviously got lost on its first migration.
The count stood at 59 species, of which 4 were lifers.
Saturday, January 8
This Quest thing was turning out to be a whole lot of fun.† I was pleased to keep my streak of not being skunked on a new species going for so long.† Obviously, there will be many many days in this year when I wonít see a new species, but here at the first of the year, everything is new.
One of the local places I wanted to visit is a place called the Montlake Fill, near the University of Washington campus, on Lake Washington.† I am actually reading a book about a local birderís year at the Fill, as it is called.† She lives nearby and goes there very often, and the book is mostly kind of philosophical, but it has a theme of birds at the Fill.
Well, that woman happened to post to Tweeters, the local birding mailing list, about some birds she had seen at the Fill that day, and she mentioned she had seen 60 species there this year.† I had only seen 59 so far, with all my traveling and twitching, so I thought I ought to check out the Fill.† She offered to send a list of the ones she had seen this year to anyone who wanted it, so I emailed her and asked for it.
The weather was dry, although cold, so I went on over, late in the morning, not the best time of day to bird.† I actually saw the woman author there, but being me, I didnít approach her or tell her I had emailed her.† It seemed pretty dead to me.† There were a lot of ducks out on the lake, but I had seen most of the ducks already, and I hadnít lugged my scope out there.† I walked around the paths and the only new thing I saw was a single RUDDY DUCK on one of the ponds, so at least I hadnít gotten skunked for the day.† I had also seen the Fill, although I wasnít terribly impressed, frankly.† It seemed to me like Juanita Bay Park was a lot better, although in the middle of winter, there isnít much there except ducks, either.
60 species, of which 4 were lifers, and my streak of a new species every day was still alive.
Sunday, January 9
I didnít know where I might look for birds that day, but I got the list of birds that Connie had seen at the Fill this year, and of course, there were a lot of them that I had not seen.† The weather was holding dry, so I hopped in the car and went on over again.† It is only about a 20 minute drive when there isnít traffic, and on the weekend, parking is much easier.
Soon after getting there, there was a hawk in a tree, and I approached for a closer look, along with a couple of women who were out there walking a dog.† It turned out to be a Red-tail, but a very dark one.† That took me to the edge of a pond I had not gone to the day before, though, and there were three or four KILLDEER on a little island, so my streak was alive.
One of the birds that Connie had mentioned seeing was a sparrow that I have never seen in Washington, only seeing them in California up until now.† I took a different path along one of the ponds, and I saw a couple of LINCOLNíS SPARROWS, feeding on the ground and flitting up into some blackberry vines from time to time.† At the same place, I got a really close look at a WESTERN MEADOWLARK, which is another bird I had never seen in Washington before.† To be fair, I havenít done much actual birding in Washington before this year, so the fact I hadnít seen these birds here isnít especially significant of anything, but it was interesting to me.
A little later, much to my surprise, I saw still another bird that I hadnít known lived around here, a WESTERN SCRUB-JAY.† It had also been on Connieís list, and I had mentioned in my email reply to her that I had never seen one here, and also the same about the Lincolnís Sparrow.
On my way out of the parking lot, I picked up RING-BILLED GULL as well, bringing me to a total of 65 species, of which 4 were lifers.
Monday, January 10
My streak of seeing a new bird every day was still alive, but obviously it wasnít going to continue much longer.† I had been thinking that I wanted to go to the ocean and/or the Sequim area on the Strait of Juan de Fuca this week.† There are some winter birds in those places, and I have never birded in either place.† At first I was going to go on Sunday and visit both places, but the weather forecasts changed and I delayed the trip until Monday, and also decided to just go to Ocean Shores on this trip, saving Dungeness/Sequim/Port Angeles for another trip, maybe in February.
So, I made a reservation for a room in Ocean Shores and headed out on Monday morning.† On the way to Ocean Shores, I stopped at what is called the ďBrady loopĒ, near the towns of Elma and Brady.† I didnít see much there, in the middle of winter with the water in the fields mostly frozen, but I did see a field of swans.† I expected them to be Trumpeter Swans, like I had seen at Fir Island with Dan, as they seem to be much more common, but by golly, when I got my binoculars on them, they were TUNDRA SWANS.† At least, the four of them closest to the road were (two adults, two juveniles), so I was very pleased.† This will save me another trip up to the Skagit area to try for them in February or November/December.† It was raining/snowing, so I didnít get out the scope to check out the more distant ones.† The temperature was about 34 degrees, according to my car thermometer.
I got to Ocean Shores about noon and had a gut bomb at McDonalds, then went on to my motel, the Comfort Inn.† It was too early to check in, though, so I drove on down to the jetty along the entrance to Grayís Harbor.† My main target species of the trip was Rock Sandpiper.† They are pretty uncommon, but there are usually a couple of them on the jetty somewhere, I understand.† They forage on the rocks, along with a couple of other similar species.
Well, it was damn cold, about 37 degrees, with a stiff wind blowing, but I bundled up and lugged my scope out onto the beach next to the jetty.† What you are supposed to do is make your way out onto the jetty, but it turned out that there is no path at all on the top of the jetty Ė it is just a jumble of huge rocks, all piled every which-way.† I very quickly realized I couldnít possible handle my scope while clambering over the rocks, so made my way to the top of the jetty with my binoculars only.† I soon decided that this fat old man wasnít going to be making his way out onto the jetty Ė maybe twenty years ago, or even ten, but not now.
I went back down to the beach and was able to scope some PELAGIC CORMORANTS out on the jetty.† There were also some ďrockpipersĒ flitting around, but I couldnít tell what species they were from that distance, through the afternoon cloudy gloom and the spray from the waves crashing on the rocks.† I decided that Rock Sandpiper just wasnít going to happen for me, at least not that day.
Before giving up completely, though, I made my way up onto the jetty at a couple of other places that looked kind of easier than others, and at the second one, I actually got excellent close looks at SURFBIRD and BLACK TURNSTONE, the two similar species that are there in the winter.† I see them both in California, but the Surfbird isnít a slam dunk, and I donít always see the Black Turnstone either, so it was great to knock them both off on the Ocean Shores jetty.
I also saw three BROWN PELICANS flying, and got a perched WESTERN GULL, too.† I drove around the spit that Ocean Shores is on, and I picked up YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER, and MOURNING DOVE along the way.† I hadnít ever seen Mourning Dove in Washington, either, and hadnít been looking for them at all.† They are listed as uncommon in Grayís Harbor County in winter.
I finally checked into my motel and spent a nice evening in my room, having some beer and one of my Hormel microwave dinners, along with some roast beef I had brought from home to supplement the protein, which I need to keep my body chemistry in balance.† I donít keep my food spreadsheet when I travel, but I do try to eat in such a way to keep myself in some kind of balance, so I donít start feeling yucky, which happens when I get too far out of balance.† I had deliberately picked a motel with a little fridge and a microwave oven (as well as internet access, of course), so I could have my dinner in my room.† I have actually bought a little microwave oven to take with me on later trips, when I plan to stay at Motel Sixís a lot, but I didnít need to bring it on this trip.† I had a great nightís sleep, as I usually do when traveling.† Someday I would like to figure out why I sleep so much better when on the road than I do at home.
Total 73 species, of which 4 are lifers.
Tuesday, January 11
I have finally caught up to today.† I decided today, on the drive home, to chronicle this 2011 Quest for Birds, and now I am almost caught up.
I had been watching the weather forecasts closely.† Snow is coming.† According to the forecasts, though, it wouldnít hit the coast until afternoon, and wouldnít get to the Seattle area until the late afternoon.† So, I figured I would take one more shot at the Rock Sandpiper and do a little drive around before leaving.
I had a great breakfast, which was included in my room rate.† A nice waffle, with a couple of hard-boiled eggs and a toasted bagel with some cream cheese on one half and some peanut butter on the other half.† To give myself enough protein (ok, more than I strictly needed, but anything worth doing is worth overdoing, you know?), I had some more roast beef from home.† The water was incredibly bad at the Comfort Inn, but when I asked about it, the woman on duty told me the whole town was that way, and that the hotel actually filtered their water!† She had given me two bottles of water when I checked in, though, for free, so at least they are dealing with it in a reasonable way.† The cranberry juice I had at breakfast was obviously made from that water, though, and I couldnít even drink it, after the first ill-advised sip.† Coffee had a strong enough flavor that it didnít seem affected, but maybe it was made with bottled water.
So, after my hearty breakfast, I set out to look for birds.† To quest for them, I guess.† On the way to the jetty, I drove along the golf course, and I was rewarded with a little flock of GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE, which was just what I was looking for.† They are listed as rare in Grayís County in the winter, but I had read that they hang out at the golf course, so my research paid off.† So, now, no matter what happened, my streak was alive.
I went on to the jetty area, and I lugged my scope out onto the beach.† It was very damn cold!† My car thermometer indicated 33 degrees, and there was a regular gale blowing, from the east.† I had forgotten to bring my wool cap that covers my ears, and my whole face and especially my ears were burning from the cold.† I set up my scope, which was moving from the wind, and tried to see what I could see out on the jetty.
There was nothing interesting on the jetty, but I did see a couple of WESTERN GREBES in the water. †I now can see that Rock Sandpiper is going to be very tough to get.† There is a chance at a jetty in Port Angeles, Ediz Hook, and I hope to try there in February or March.† Rock Sandpiper is only at 20% in my spreadsheet, so missing it would not be not a huge blow.
After that, I drove around the spit some more.† At one point, I saw some ducks out on a lake, and I stopped and backed up to get a better look, as I had done a number of times.† This time it paid off, as there was a single HORNED GREBE, diving and surfacing, right out in front of me.† I didnít even have to leave the warmth of the car.
I drove around some more, but saw nothing else new.† I checked out and drove home, leaving by just after 11, to beat the forecasted snow.† I stopped on the way out of town at the Ocean City State Park.† No day use fee, which surprised me.† I saw a little mixed flock of Fox Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Varied Thrushes, and a Spotted Towhee, all scratching away at the leaves, finding their daily sustenance.† It was more Fox Sparrows than I had seen cumulatively in my whole life, maybe 7 or 8 of them.† I have also seen more Varied Thrushes this year than I have seen all together in my whole life.† I guess that really focusing on birds and visiting Washington birding sites is paying off for me.
So, after 11 days of 2011, I am at a total of 76 species, of which 4 are lifers.† I am now caught up with this chronicle, and Iíll try to keep it going.
As I was driving around Ocean Shores today, after getting back in the car from the absolutely frigid jetty experience, I asked myself ďWhat the hell am I doing?Ē† It is a question I have asked myself often in my life, actually, but in this case, the idea of spending a year questing for birds seemed kind of bizarre.† Still, it has been very rewarding so far, weird though it may be.† What a life!
Wednesday, January 12
I thought that today was going to be my first day without a new species to add to my Quest list, but that turned out to be wrong.
It snowed overnight, and the forecast was for rain all day, but during the night I thought of a place I might go today to look for birds.† Edmonds.† There is a fishing pier that runs along the edge of the Sound, and there are various water birds there in the winter, they say.
By ten oíclock this morning, the rain had stopped, the snow was melting fast, and it was in the high 40ís, so I decided to drive on up to Edmonds to check out the place.† In addition to the fishing pier, there is also a marsh nearby that has a boardwalk.† Edmonds is about 20 or 25 minutes from here, when there is no traffic.
It was pretty windy, but this time I had my wool knit cap that I can pull down over my ears, so I bundled up and it wasnít too bad.† Of course, it was 47 degrees, compared to 33 in Ocean Shores yesterday morning, and that helped, too, I would guess.† It was windy enough that it was hard to hold my binoculars steady, and I didnít even try to carry my scope out onto the pier, because of the wind.† There were nice open shelters that shielded me somewhat from the wind, though, and that was nice.† Next time Iíll take my scope out there with me.
Almost as soon as I got there, I saw a female merganser out in the water.† I had previously seen two of the three merganser species, but this one turned out to be a RED-BREASTED MERGANSER, the third species.† Later I saw a couple of males, too.† Score!† Another day of not getting skunked.† Amazing.
There were other birds there, too.† Western Grebes, Horned Grebes, Surf Scoters, Pelagic and Double-crested Cormorants, and a Common Goldeneye.† I also saw several grebe-like birds, pretty far out, and they seemed different.† They were larger than the Horned Grebes and smaller than the Western Grebes.† I got several good looks at them, and decided they were another one for my list, RED-NECKED GREBES.† I confirmed that when I got back to the car and looked in the book.
There was also a little bird that was clearly some kind of alcid, not a duck or grebe.† I got good looks at it, between its dives, and it was a RHINOCEROS AUKLET.† I thought it might be a lifer, but when I got home, I consulted my record book, and I had seen one once before in California, way back in 2001, in Monterey Harbor.
After that success, I checked out the Edmonds Marsh.† It was pretty dead in mid-winter, although there were a few ducks and 15 Great Blue Herons there, which is a lot of Blues in one place.† I talked to a photographer there, and he told me about the Marsh and the area on the other side, where there is a trail to a little stream and another trail along the bluff, overlooking the marsh.† I stopped briefly at the stream, but Iíll go back in the spring or summer, perhaps, and see what might be around.
So, my string continues, and now I am at 79 species, of which 4 are lifers.† Twelve days in a row of at least one new species to start off the year.† I have no idea how I will follow this act tomorrow, but we will see.
Thursday, January 13
Well, today was the inevitable first day of getting skunked on a new species for my list.† There will be many more, I know, so it is no big deal.† I probably wonít add anything new until I go on the road again.† We had planned to head to San Diego for four nights, leaving tomorrow, but that plan has been changed, and now we arenít going until the first weekend in March.† That might be too late for San Diego winter birds, I donít know.† On the other hand, the swallows and some hummingbirds should be around at that time.
I would like to make a quick trip over to Sequim and Port Angeles in the next week, but the weather would have to cooperate.† Other than that, I plan to head for California for a visit to Ted in Monterey and a reunion with my old high school buddies in Sacramento.† That trip will add some species for me, no doubt.
Back to today, it rained all morning, so I couldnít even get out and look, but when the rain stopped in the afternoon, I went on down to Juanita Bay Park, to try my luck.† It wasnít likely that I would see anything new, but it was still nice to get out and bird.
It was really dead, other than ducks, one eagle, and a couple of Red-tailed Hawks.†† There was a group of 7 Pied-billed Grebes, which is a lot of them in a group, in my experience.† There were also 7 Trumpeter Swans; I guess they are hanging around for the winter.
I saw a couple of little grebe-like birds way out on the water, diving.† I hadnít lugged my scope along, but they seemed to have thinner necks that the Pied-billed Grebes, so I was thinking Eared Grebe.† I remembered that one had been reported at the park a couple of weeks ago, but I didnít think they were very common there.† It would have been one for my list, though.
Before heading for home, I drove around to a dead-end street that is closer to where the birds were, and I found an opening between houses that I could look through with my scope.† I saw a thin-necked grebe out there, but on closer inspection, it was a Pied-billed one.† I would have liked to see the others, but this one seemed to have quite a thin neck for a Pied-billed, so that is probably what I saw.† I decided not to count it.† When I got home, I looked it up, and my list for the park says that Eared Grebe is very rare there, so I feel satisfied that what I saw were most likely Pied-billed ones.
So, I am still on 79 species, of which 4 are lifers.
Friday, January 14
Last night there was a post on Tweeters (Seattle area bird mailing list) about Marymoor Park, which is only about 20 minutes away from home.† The ďMarymoor bird guyĒ, Michael, mentioned some excellent birds that they have seen there this year already, including some of them seen yesterday.† I emailed him last night with some questions, and I got a reply this morning.
On his advice, I went out this morning and bought a cheap pair of rubber boots for my winter birding in Washington.† Then this afternoon, I went on over to Marymoor, to scope it out.
The bird I was especially interested in is the Northern Shrike, which would be a lifer for me.† It seems to be resident there this winter, and the place it hangs out is near Parking Lot G, so I went there first.† Unfortunately, that parking lot is currently closed for some kind of construction, or maybe it is because the park is semi-flooded from all the recent rain.† Any, I couldnít park anywhere nearby, and it was drizzling, so I didnít feel like hiking across the fields to look for the shrike, which would be a longshot anyway.
So, I went around to the rowing club entrance and tried to find the Green Heron that lives over there.† Well, there is also construction going on over there, and I had forgotten to bring the email that gave detailed instructions on finding the heron.† So, I wandered around, trying out my new boots, but I didnít see anything interesting, and I donít think I found the pond where the heron lives.
The drizzle had stopped by then, so I went over to the area where they see Purple Finches, and I walked around for 20 minutes or so, but saw zilch.
So, Marymoor was a total bust today, but at least I got out and about, and I know the lay of the land over there now.† Michael runs a bird walk every Thursday morning, and if the weather is decent and I can get myself up that early, maybe I will go on over next week.
Saturday, January 15
It wasnít raining this morning, so I went back over to Marymoor Park.† First I went to the pond near the rowing club, to look for the Green Heron.† I looked and looked, but couldnít see it anywhere. †I thought I might have seen it at one point, and went back to the car and got my scope, but I ended up deciding that what I saw was just a stump or a branch.
There were a few birds around today, anyway, but nothing new for me, at first.† There was a woman with binoculars, looking up at the trees, though, and at one point, she mentioned she had a woodpecker, and showed me where.† Sure enough, a male DOWNY WOODPECKER was flitting around, high in a distant tree.† So, at least I had one for my year list.† She said she had seen a Ruby-crowned Kinglet around, too, but I wasnít able to find that, only a couple of chickadees and a Stellerís Jay.
Next I went over to the East Meadow, where the shrike has been hanging out, supposedly. †Today Parking Lot G was open, so I could access the trail around the meadow.† The East Meadow is adjacent to the off-leash dog park area, and the number of people with their dogs was amazing.† I counted over one hundred people, just in the big meadow, and Iím sure that many more were on the trails through the marsh and along the river.† They must come from all over the Eastside.† A Saturday morning with no rain really brings them out, I guess.† The dogs were running around like mad, chasing balls and having a great time.
I walked around the East Meadow, but saw almost nothing.† Certainly no sniff of a shrike.† Some crows started calling at one point, and other crows came flying in from all directions, until there were several dozen of them in the area.† I couldnít see what had them so agitated, but they hung around for as long as I was there.
On my way out of the park, I saw some gulls on the horse show field, so I pulled into the adjacent parking lot and checked them out.† There were some larger gulls and a couple of smaller gulls that turned out to be Ring-billed Gulls.† I got out the scope and they all flew closer, and I saw one smaller gull that wasnít a Ring-billed one, and sure enough, it was a lovely little MEW GULL.† That is what I had been looking for, as The Marymoor Park guy, Michael, had mentioned that there were Mew Gulls at the park.
So, I added two common birds to my list today, bringing me to 81 species, of which 4 are lifers.† Better than getting skunked again, I guess, and it got me out of the house for a little exercise.
Sunday, January 16
A very brief report today.† The weather cleared this afternoon, so I went on over to Marymoor again, mainly to look for the Green Heron.† Like the last two times, no sign of it, and no other birds of interest either.† I walked around the East Meadow again, too, and down the blacktopped path beyond that to the start of the boardwalk (which had a couple of inches of water on it), but saw nothing at all.† It is hard to imagine that Michael has seen 72 species there in the first two weeks of this year, and 54 of them this last Thursday, in the rain.† I have maybe seen 15 species total, in my three visits.† If it isnít raining on Thursday, I would like to make the effort to get up early and be there at 8 for the weekly walk.
Thursday, January 20
Today I was up at 6:30, to go on the Thursday morning bird walk at Marymoor Park, which is led by Michael, whom I had exchanged emails with last week.† I got there just before 8, and the road to the parking lot where they meet was blocked off with traffic cones† A sign directed dog walkers to use lot G instead.† There was an opening in the cones, though, so went on through, bought a parking ticket from the machine ($1), but no one was at the designated spot to meet.† It was just 8 oíclock, so I drove on around to the other lot, and no one looking like a birder was there either.† Back to the designated lot, and five other cars were there now, at 8:05.† So, I put on my rubber boots that I had bought last week and joined the crew.
Most of the time there were 11 people, about equally men and women.† Most were in their 40ís and 50ís I would say, with maybe one or two as old as me.† Before we even left the parking lot, one of the guys spotted a GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET, and I had my first bird for my year list.† An auspicious start.
We set out on the walk and didnít see much at first.† It was cloudy and about 40 degrees, but not windy and not raining for the first two or three hours.† The next bird that was new for my year list was a RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET, followed soon by a MARSH WREN.† These were common birds that I was bound to get sometime, but now they are on the list.
By that time we were coming to the area where one of the birds on my wish list hangs out, and sure enough, we got onto a whole little group of PURPLE FINCHES, both males and females.† They look very much like House Finches, and I figured it would be hard for me to ever identify any on my own, although once I got good looks at these, they were fairly obviously not House Finches Ė especially the males.† They arenít very common, and I had them at only 10% in my spreadsheet for the entire year, so knocking them off in January is outstanding.† Now I can stop scrutinizing every House Finch I see.
We crossed an orange plastic fence that had been put up to keep the dog walkers (we were in the off-leash dog area at this point) off the flooded parts of the trail, and saw a lot of other little birds, not new for me, but good birds, like Fox Sparrow and Spotted Towhee.† Lots of Golden-crowned Sparrows, too.† Then someone called ďcreeperĒ, and I got excellent close looks at an active BROWN CREEPER, making his way up a tree trunk.† That was only 50% in my spreadsheet, for the whole year, as I havenít seen one for several years.† Later we saw a couple more, too.
The water got pretty deep over the trail, at least 10 or 12 inches deep, but everyone had boots, and my new ones took care of me fine.† Most of the boardwalk was also under water, but only maybe 4 to 6 inches most of the way.† There has been a lot of rain, and Lake Sammamish is very high right now.
After the boardwalk, which was maybe 2 Ĺ hours into the walk, we came to the field where the shrike I especially wanted to see hangs out.† We had just gotten there when someone spotted it, and I added NORTHERN SHRIKE (lifer), to my list.† Excellent.† Now I had two of my top four target birds of the day.
At about the three and a half hour mark, we were back to the cars, but there is another loop they walk, so I tagged along.† We saw more small birds, especially in the area around the park office, where there is a bird feeder.† I added CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEE, PINE SISKIN, and WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH to my list for the year.† I was really cooking now.
It was well past noon when we again got to the cars.† Next, most of the crowd headed over to the area I had visited last week three times.† When we got to the pond, the target bird wasnít there, but then Michael spotted the GREEN HERON flying low over the small pond across the road.† I saw it briefly, but then after it landed, I got a good ten second look at it, perched in the bushes.† Beautifully colored bird.† Fantastic to see it so well.† It was only at 30% (for the year) in my spreadsheet, so it was another really good one to get.
As if that wasnít enough, there was one more on my target list for the day.† I had told them about it, and we had tried for it several places, but finally we got good looks at a PACIFIC WREN (lifer)! ††It was only at 40% for the year in my spreadsheet.† †Absolutely outstanding.† I got all four of my primary target species and I added a dozen birds to my year list, including two lifers.† I was on my feet for almost 5 hours, and we must have walked about 3 miles, I figure.† My legs were a bit tired, especially my hip joints.† Iíll probably feel it tomorrow.
So, that was an extremely successful birding outing.† I had to get up early and spend all morning at it, but it paid off with 12 species for my year list, including the two lifers and some great, low-percentage birds.† The group saw over 50 species on the walk, and I saw most, but not all, of them.† I saw all the ones I needed for my year list, though, which was my primary focus.
So, now I stand at a total of 94 species for the year, of which 6 are lifers.† Tomorrow I head out on the road for a two week plus trip to California, and I expect to bird on about half the days, maybe.† I put together a spreadsheet just for that trip and estimated the percentages for each species.† There are 112 species on the list, and the total estimated number is 59 more for my year list, of which about 2 lifers would be expected.† It will be interesting to see how I do compared to that estimate.
Friday, January 21
Today was a travel day for me.† I drove the all-freeway, easy 6 hours to Sutherlin, Oregon, on my way to California.† I got in about 4, and I went for a walk, just to stretch my legs.† Of course, I took my binoculars, since you never know.
Well, to my surprise, I not only got a bird for my year list, it was one I hadnít expected to even see on this trip.† Not only, that, it was a lifer, of all things!† As I left the motel parking lot, there were a couple of doves on a wire.† I looked at them, expecting to see Mourning Doves, which I had unexpectedly seen already on my Ocean Shores trip.† But, these were not Mourning Doves, they were EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVES (lifer).† As the name suggests, they are not native to this country, having been introduced some time ago to the southeast.† They have been expanding their range, but this is the farthest north and west that I have heard of them.† I fully expected to see them in Arizona later in the year, but it was a surprise to see them today.
This puts me on 95 species for the year, with 7 of them being lifers.
Saturday, January 22
Another travel day today.† I had about 7 hours of driving to do, from Sutherlin to Sacramento.† It was good weather and easy driving, and I picked up a few birds from the car along the way.† I saw BREWERíS BLACKBIRDS along the road and at a gas stop.† Then I saw several TURKEY VULTURES along the way, soaring in the sky.† Lastly, there was a GREAT EGRET in a field in Northern California.† So, that brought me to 98 species, of which 7 were lifers, and the real California birding was about to start.
Sunday, January 23
I was in Sacramento that day, and set out with my friend Fred to look for some key birds in the area.† The first target bird was a gull that had been seen at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery on the American River for a couple of weeks.† We got there about 9:30 am, and when we got to the visitor center, which is where the bird had been seen, there were a couple of other birders already there.† One of them had already spotted the gull, and I added LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL to my year list.† I had seen this species in Britain last year, but this was a new one for my US list.† It is a European bird and sometimes shows up on the East Coast of the US.† It was very unusual for one to be found in Sacramento, maybe the first time it has been identified there.† I didnít even have it in my spreadsheet, as it never occurred to me that I might see one this year.
At the same site, people had reported that there was a Peregrine Falcon feeding on some swifts that live under the bridge there.† We looked around and soon saw the falcon flying, which was cool, as they are not a common bird.† I had seen a couple of them earlier, at Nisqually NWR, but it was still a great bird to see.† After a while we saw some of the WHITE-THROATED SWIFTS flying around and got good enough looks at them to identify them.† I had only figured I had a 40% chance of seeing one of them this whole year, so that was very good.† There were other birds on the river, and I added SNOWY EGRET to my year list.
Next we set off to look for a thrasher that had been reported to the south.† We found the spot easily and soon after getting there, we saw a little bird that superficially resembled the species that had been reported, but as we looked at it, we kept seeing things that contradicted the identification.† Eventually, we concluded that the bird we were watching was a HERMIT THRUSH, a difficult bird to see.† We think the people who reported the thrasher were mistaken, and they saw the same bird, as there is a superficial resemblance.† At that same location, we saw an ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER and a NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD.† I had figured I only had a 50% chance of seeing the warbler this year, so that was a gratifying one to get.
We headed down to Cosumnes Preserve and got AMERICAN KESTREL on the way.† At the preserve, we got views of dozens of SANDHILL CRANES, a bird I expected to see, but one that I probably wonít see anywhere else this year.† They winter in California and summer in the inland areas of Idaho, Montana, and Canada.† Really beautiful birds.
I ate my Subway Black Forest ham sandwich there at the visitor center at Cosumnes, and then we added BLACK-NECKED STILT, LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER, CINNAMON TEAL, BLACK PHOEBE, and GREATER YELLOWLEGS.† Leaving the main area of Cosumnes, we got good looks at a BLACK-SHOULDERED KITE (also called White-tailed Kite) and our first of three or four RED-SHOULDERED HAWKS of the day.† We also picked up LEAST SANDPIPER and our first of several LOGGERHEAD SHRIKES of the day.
Next we tried for Tricolored Blackbird, by driving by a couple of dairies, but didnít ever see any.† We got good looks at a couple more Red-shouldered Hawks there, too.
After that, we went looking for some owls.† I had emailed a Sacramento guy who had posted on the Sacramento birding mailing list about a Burrowing Owl conference, and I had asked him where to look for Burrowing Owls in that area.† He had given me very explicit directions to a site on the campus of Cosumnes River College, so Fred and I went there next.† The directions said to drive through a gate into a parking area, but that gate was closed on that day (Saturday).† I walked out along the street so I could see the area mentioned.† Sure enough, I soon saw three BURROWING OWLS sitting in front of a burrow on the hillside.† I was amazed, and it was a really good view.† I went back to the car and Fred mentioned that the gate wasnít actually locked, only closed, so I opened it and we drove on in.† As a result, we got even closer views, maybe 30 feet away.† They are a really cute little bird, and it was great to see three of them so well.† That was more Burrowing Owls than I had seen in total in my whole life up to now.
At the same place, we saw a bunch of birds out on an athletic field, and many of them were LONG-BILLED CURLEWS, another new one for my year list.
At that point, it was getting late, so we headed for home.† Along the freeway, we saw two batches of WILD TURKEYS.† We decided to stop at the American River and look for woodpeckers and other birds.† Almost right away we got ACORN WOODPECKER and soon after that got NUTTALíS WOODPECKER, which only lives in California, so I was glad to have seen one.† We also picked up YELLOW-BILLED MAGPIE.† They also only live in this part of California, so it was good to get that taken care of, too.
When we got back to Fredís house we tried for some backyard birds, but didnít get any.† So, the total for the day was 23 new species for my Year List, one of which was new for my US list.† That brought me to a total of 127 for the year, of which 10 are new for my US list and 9 are lifers.
Monday, January 24
Monday was another travel day.† I needed to drive from my friend Fredís house in Sacramento to my friend Tedís house in Monterey.† It is about a three hour drive, but I decided to take an indirect route in order to look for some good birds that had been reported in the Panoche Valley.
I had intended to get a sandwich in Santa Nella at the Subway there, but it was closed for remodeling, so I headed off into the hills with only my little bag of Fritos and some string cheese.† I also had a number of different kinds of ďbarsĒ that I could eat if needed.
Leaving the central valley floor, I soon had my first year list bird, GREATER ROADRUNNER.† They are fairly common and I expect to see them a number of times on my southwest trip later in the year, but they are a cool bird, and it was great to see one scamper across the road in front of me.† As I slowed down, I got a look at him by the side of the road, too, before he darted into the undergrowth.
Next I stopped at Mercy Hot Springs.† There are a couple of abandoned buildings that you see from the road, but I had never stopped there before.† It turns out that it is a private campground, and they seem to have some little cabins for rent as well.† I had gone there because of several reports of owls there.† There is a $5 day use charge, and as I walked up to the little office building, wearing my binoculars, the guy in charge said to me ďIíll bet you are here looking for owlsĒ, so I guess that other birders have been reading the same birding mailing list that I have.† I paid him my five bucks and he directed me to a tree about 40 feet from the office.
Sure enough, almost immediately I saw a LONG-EARED OWL (lifer) perched on a branch, in plain sight and wide awake.† Here is a picture of the handsome fellow:
After taking a number of pictures of him, I looked around and found seven more of the same species roosting in the same tree.† It was an odd way to get a lifer, and it cost me five dollars, but it was great to see them so well and to get pictures of them.
I ate my string cheese and Fritos there, and then went the rest of the way up to Shotgun Pass.† There were a lot of little sparrow-like birds on the fences along the way, and I kept stopping to look at them.† There were a lot of White-crowned Sparrows at first, and then they seemed to change to Lincolnís Sparrows, which I had seen already this year at the Montlake Fill in Seattle.† Eventually I decided that they were actually SAVANNAH SPARROWS, so I added one more to my year list.
At the pass, I stopped and scoped the hillsides for Chukar, but didnít see any.† At one point I saw a distant flock of birds landing.† When I scoped them, I thought at first they were Mountain Plovers, but decided after more looking that they were a less desirable species, HORNED LARK.† Still, it was another one for my year list.
Descending into the Panoche Valley, I continued to see various birds, and added COMMON RAVEN to my year list.† There were tons of sparrows on the fences, but they always turned out to be the Savannah Sparrows, although a couple of other species have been reported from there.† Other people had all reported seeing both species of bluebird (Western and Mountain), too, but I didnít see either one of them.† People had also reported a particular hawk species, two falcon species and Golden Eagle in that valley, all of which I would have loved to see, but I didnít see any of them.
I was running way behind my original over-optimistic schedule by then, but having gone this far, I turned left on Panoche Valley Road, rather than go to the right, which is the way I had to go eventually to get to Tedís house, north of Monterey.† I was looking for a couple of species that had been reported out there, especially Mountain Plover.† I went to the end of the pavement and backtracked a little, which is where the plovers had been seen repeatedly.† I looked around but only saw a huge flock of Horned Larks, foraging on the ground.† It was easily a couple of hundred birds, which was many times as many as I had ever seen in my life, in total.
It was getting late by then, and I had to be on my way to Tedís, but I stopped one more time.† I didnít see anything at first, but just as I was ready to give up, I did see a distant bird, and by golly, it was a MOUNTAIN PLOVER (lifer).† I moved down the road a bit to get a closer look, and there were at least a couple of dozen of them, spread out quite a bit over the field.† I didnít have time to try to do a complete count, as I had to get going.
I didnít see anything else on the way to Tedís, so I ended up adding six species to my total that day, and two of them were lifers.† That was an excellent result for a travel day, although I would have liked to have seen some of the desirable raptors that had been reported from that area.† Grand total was then 127 species, of which 10 were new for my US list and 9 were lifers.
Tuesday, January 25
Ted and I set out about 10 AM to see what we could see around the Monterey area.† Our first stop was a place I had read about on the Monterey birding mailing list, a place with a view out over Monterey Bay.† It had been reported that a lot of sea ducks and loons could be seen from there.† Sure, enough, there were a lot of birds out in the water.† Most were Surf Scoters, a sea duck that I had seen off the coast at Anacortes in Washington, but we soon found several WHITE-WINGED SCOTERS (lifer).† Ted and I have seen hundreds of Scoters in Monterey Bay over the years, but this was the first time I had been able to identify this species, so that was exciting.† We also soon identified a number of PACIFIC LOONS, which was great.† There were also a number of Red-throated Loons, but I had seen that species off Anacortes, too.† There were also some little shorebirds called SANDERLINGS chasing the waves on the beach.
Then came more excitement.† I thought I had found a male White-winged Scoter (we had only seen females up to then), and I turned the scope over to Ted with a description ďno white on it (sometimes the White-winged Scoters donít show any white on their sides), but the bill is orange at the base and black at the tipĒ.† He looked at it, and as I thought about it, I realized that my description was wrong for White-winged Scoter, but was exactly correct for another species, AMERICAN SCOTER (lifer) (formerly called Black Scoter).† The bird then dove, and we werenít able to ever locate it again.† The birds were a couple of hundred yards away, with the waves raising them up and hiding them from sight, alternately, and they also are divers and go under for a minute at a time, coming up some distance away often, so it wasnít surprising that we couldnít find it again, but it was frustrating nonetheless.† I counted it, but would have liked to get a longer look at it, especially since it was a lifer.
From there we moved to a little park we like to stop at in downtown Monterey and picked up HEERMANíS GULL and BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON for my list.† Next we went out on the fishermanís pier and got BRANDTíS CORMORANT, EARED GREBE and COMMON LOON.† We were also surprised to see a COMMON MURRE in the harbor, as they are normally a sea bird that doesnít come into harbors.
We picked up sandwiches at Subway and moved along the rocky shore to the west of downtown Monterey.† We got our target bird there, the BLACK OYSTERCATCHER, and we ate our sandwiches in the sunshine on a bench, looking at the sea and the various birds.
Having picked up the target birds for the Monterey Harbor area, we backtracked and went to the Moonglow Dairy, back near where Ted lives.† The owners of the dairy allow birders to come onto the property as long as they stay out of the way of the working operations, and there are often good birds there.† It is a very well-known birding site in the Monterey area, and we have seen a lot of good birds there over the years.
The dairy is on the south shore of the Elkhorn Slough estuary and overlooks the whole estuary area.† We saw a flock of FORSTERíS TERNS flying up and down the slough, which was great, as they normally are only a summer bird in California, but a few do over-winter at the Elkhorn Slough.
Our main goal at the dairy was to look for blackbirds, though.† For some reason, all the various blackbird species like to hang around cattle.† We soon got BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD (a species of blackbird that lays its eggs in other birdsí nests), and then to our very pleased surprise, we saw large numbers of TRICOLORED BLACKBIRDS.† Tricolored Blackbirds are not very common, and they tend to hang out in groups.† They only live in California, so I had especially wanted to see them on this trip.† As we drove out of the dairy we also saw another good bird that we have seen there before, SAYíS PHOEBE, so the dairy visit was a big success.
Next we moved along to other parts of the Elkhorn Slough, picking up AMERICAN AVOCET and WILLETT, along with a lot of other birds I had already listed this year.† Our last productive stop of the day was at the State Park at Moss Landing harbor, where we got MARBLED GODWIT.† We missed the two target species, Brant (a goose) and American White Pelican, which we sometimes see there.
All in all, it was another successful day of birding.† We saw a respectable 66 species on the day, of which 18 were new for my year list and two were lifers.† The grand total was then 145 species, of which 12 were new for my US list and 11 were lifers.
Wednesday, January 26
This day was a ďpick upĒ day, meaning that Ted and I were planning to try to find some specific species that I still ďneededĒ for my year list, rather than make any attempt to keep track of how many different species we saw.
I started before breakfast, going out onto the beach in front of Tedís condo on the beach, and got SNOWY PLOVER immediately, as I had expected.† It is an uncommon bird, but I knew they lived on that beach.† I wonít see them anywhere else this year, so I wanted to get them here.† I saw two birds, with no effort at all.
After breakfast, we drove up Dolan Road toward the Moonglow Dairy, to look for a bird that had been reported along the road there.† We missed it at first, but on our way back, I saw a lone MUTE SWAN quite near the road.† We had to turn around to be able to get close views, and we watched it as it took off in front of us.† It is a very large bird and had to run a long way to get airborne, but once in the air, it was very graceful and beautiful.† It is marginal whether I should actually count it or not, as it is no doubt either an escapee from someoneís collection or a descendent of an escapee.† The Mute Swan is a European bird, but there are a number of them living on the East Coast of the US, as well as scattered populations here in the west.† The ďruleĒ for escapees or released birds is that you canít count them unless they are part of a self-sustaining population that has been established for at least ten years.† There have been Mute Swans in the Monterey area that long, and I presume they are breeding there, so I am going to count it.† Some purists no doubt wouldnít.† It wasnít a lifer or a new bird for my US list because I have seen them in Redmond, Oregon, where they have been established for years, as well as in Britain last year.
Going on to the Moss Landing State Beach area, we got WHIMBREL, a shorebird with a long, downcurved bill, and then BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER, in its winter plumage, which does not include a black belly.† We saw some little sandpipers, and upon examination with the scope, some of them had yellow legs (which would indicate Least Sandpiper, which I already had for the year) and some had black legs, which meant I could now add WESTERN SANDPIPER to my list.† I noticed the plumage coloration difference in the two species, too, with the Westerns being pretty much shades of gray and white, and the Leasts being much more reddish brown.† Iíve always relied on leg color to tell them apart, but the ones that day could be easily distinguished by the color of their plumage.† Iím learning a lot about various birds this year, with this Quest.
After that, I spent some time inspecting the gulls at the gull roost in Moss Landing Harbor.† I eventually was able to confidently identify both CALIFORNIA GULL and THAYERíS GULL (lifer).† I knew that both were supposed to be there, and I learned how to identify each species.† I am sure I had seen Thayerís Gull before, at some point, but I had never been able to identify it before.† This is another example of what I am learning this year.
We moved on to Zmudowski Beach and walked down the sandy road looking for California Thrasher, which had been reported to be there, but never saw one.† We did pick up several other species I already had, including Sayís Phoebe, but nothing new.
We got lunch in Castroville, with me loading up on beef and fat at Burger King and Ted getting a vegetarian sandwich at Subway and adding his vacuum packed salmon to it, as he likes to do.† Then we drove out to Toro County Park, to look for some ďbushĒ birds, as opposed to the shore or beach birds we had been seeing.† We saw some of the usual birds there, but missed a couple of others.† We did add CALIFORNIA TOWHEE to my list, at least.† We went back to the beach sites after that, but didnít pick up anything new.† So, I had added 8 more species to my year list, bringing me to a grand total of 153 species, of which 13 are new for my US list and 12 are lifers.
Thursday, January 27
This was a travel day, back to Sacramento.† I didnít do any birding that day, except to stop at the Burrowing Owl site in south Sacramento, to take pictures.† I got some good pictures of the little darlings.† The one that shows the chain link fence shows how small they are.† Here are the pics:
Saturday, January 29
I didnít do any actual birding for several days, as we were having one of our ďReunionsĒ of old high school and college buddies, and three of us were having a great time playing cards at Fredís house in Sacramento.† On Saturday, I did manage to see an OAK TITMOUSE in the back yard, though, so my list grew.
Sunday, January 30
On this day, as I walked around the neighborhood with my old friend Chris, I saw a couple of LESSER GOLDFINCHES, thus adding another species to my list.† This brought me to 155 species for my year list, of which 13 are new for my US list, and 12 are lifers.