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Thursday, September 8
OK, time for another report.† Before I get into todayís activity, though, I have to retract my call of Cassinís Auklet (lifer) from my August 17 report.† I heard from the guy I had met on the way down the road from Hurricane Ridge, and I did further research when I got home, and I became convinced that the birds I had called Cassinís Auklets were actually Rhinoceros Auklets, based mostly on where they were Ė namely, in the harbor area.† Other birders had been in that area that same day, and they only reported Rhino Auklets in the Port Angeles harbor.† The Rhinoceros Auklet has an orange bill, and I donít understand why I canít see that in any of my pictures, but I guess I was just too far away.† In addition to that, I checked my counts in my notebook, and I had made an earlier error and was counting one too many lifers as well.† So, after that August trip, my actual numbers were 374 species for the year, of which 109 were lifers.
So, this evening, Christina and I drove up to Monroe, which is a town about 15 miles north of here.† There is an old school chimney, not currently in use, and birds roost in it during migration, in the spring and fall.† They sleep there all night, then fly out in the morning and are gone all day long.† So, we went up there to see them come in for the night.
We got there about 7:10 or so, and sunset was supposed to be at 7:35 tonight in Monroe.† Here is the school and the chimney where they roost:
There were two or three dozen people there, eventually, many with their chairs and dinner.† I had brought a couple of chairs, so we took our seats and waited for the swifts.† About 7:20 or so, we started to see birds gathering in the area, up high.† I had another species for my year list, VAUXíS SWIFT (lifer).† (Vauxís is pronounced to rhyme with ďboxesĒ, in case you care.)
They flew around overhead for the next 20 or 25 minutes, increasing in numbers and eventually forming swirling clouds of birds.† Here is an early picture of some of them:
They look somewhat like swallows, but fly rather stiffly.† They canít fold their wings back, so they are either flapping them, or soaring with the wings outstretched.† Their feet arenít strong enough to perch on anything or land on the ground and take off again, so they spend their whole day in the air, and then come in to roost at night.† They fly into the chimney backwards and then cling to the bricks on the inside of the chimney, forming rows.† There are a couple of webcams, one that shows the inside of the chimney from the top, and one that shows the exterior.† They can be seen, along with a lot of other information at this website:† http://monroeswifts.org/ †You can click on the link on that page to see the streaming live video from the cameras.† Actually, I guess the video feeds are on this page:† http://wdfw.wa.gov/wildwatch/vauxcam/
As it got darker, the swifts swirled around more and got closer and closer to the chimney.† Here is a picture of some of them actually going into the chimney:
They didnít go in all at once, but over a period of maybe 10 minutes.† Some would go in on each pass, and the rest would circle again.† At the peak of migration, there can be thousands of them, I guess.† I wouldnít want to guess at how many were there tonight, but tomorrow there will be numbers on one of those websites, as they count them and report it each night.† [2500 to 3000 was the official count for the night we were there.]† These birds breed in Canada and Alaska, and spend the winter in South America.† They migrate up and down the west coast, and there are volunteers all up and down the coast who watch the known roosts and count them each evening and morning.
It was a fun outing.† People were having a great time, with kids running around and people seeing friends there.† There is a celebration this Saturday evening, with food and entertainment, but we are busy that evening, so we went tonight instead.
Finally, here is a closeup of some of the last ones in.† Sorry the picture are so poor, there wasnít much light and the birds were moving fast all the time, of course.
That thing above the chimney is one of the video cameras, looking down in to the chimney.
So, that puts me at 375 species for the year, of which 110 are lifers.† I have an eight day trip to Orange County and San Diego planned for early October, and I hope to pick up a couple more species on that trip.† If I do, Iíll write a report and maybe have more pictures.† After that we have our three week trip to Hawaii, and I hope to pick up another 25 or 30 species on that trip, so stay tuned.
Monday, September 12
Here is a report, out of the blue.† I have been reading about various sandpipers migrating south through Washington, and Iíve been thinking I ought to go try to see some of them.† The places they are seen are mostly kind of far away, though, like Eastern Washington and the Ocean Shores area.† Over the weekend, there was a report on the local bird mailing list (Tweeters) about sightings up in the Skagit Valley, though, which is only about an hourís drive north of here.† Four different species of sandpipers were seen on Saturday, all of which would be lifers for me.† Two of the species are pretty uncommon, and at least two of them would be difficult for me to identify, because they look so much like other ones.† But, I thought I would give it a go anyway.
So, I set out about 10 AM, timing my visit to the low tide, which was due at 12:15 PM.† At the first place I stopped, called the Jensen Access, I found that the water was a very long way away from the dike where you could conveniently get to, and with the tide out, it was even farther away.† I donít really understand how people see small sandpipers from there, unless they walk out across the marshy looking verges to the edge of the water.† I did get very distant views of a few shorebirds, but they all appeared to be Black-bellied Plovers, and none were small sandpipers, like I was looking for.† If they had been small sandpipers, I seriously doubt I could have identified them anyway, at that distance.† I suppose if I had a top of the line scope, maybe it would be possible, but my scope, while very nice and adequate to my needs so far, is not as good as the really top ones, which cost $2000 to $3000.† The difference is that mine is sharp at 20X, but loses resolution when zoomed in to the maximum of 60X, and the best ones are sharp all the way to 60X.
So, I moved on to the North Access site, and the water was even farther away.† Next was the place where all four of the target sandpipers had been seen on Saturday, Channel Drive, which runs along the Swinomish waterway.† It wasnít clear to me where I was supposed to access the waterway, as it was all private waterfront, but I found a couple of places that were close enough to the road to see the muddy margins of the waterway.
No birds at all, though.† No sandpipers, no plovers, no nothing, except a few gulls and maybe a couple of crows.† I donít know if I was in the wrong places or if there just werenít any birds there today, but I came up completely empty.† I tried accessing Channel Drive from the north end, but there was no road there, although it did show a road on Google Maps.
I did see several Eurasian Collared-Doves, though, in the area.† That is the introduced species that has been spreading across the country and that I have seen in many places this year, for the first time.† Here is a picture of one:
By this time, it was past time for lunch, so I drove on up to Bay View State Park and had my humble lunch, which I had brought from home (salmon, cheese, cucumber, plums, and a peach).† I ate it on a beach, but one without any shorebirds at all.† There were a couple of birds offshore, possibly Red-necked Grebes, but no shorebirds.
So, I headed for home, pretty discouraged, although still glad that I had given it a go and put myself where the birds could be.† I stopped at the trailhead for the Padilla Bay Interpretive Trail, and walked a little way along it.† It went along a creek or slough, and since the tide was out, there were wide muddy margins.† I finally saw some birds anyway.† There were four Killdeer, which is not exactly exciting, but it was birds!† The Killdeer flew around a little, and while I was trying to get a picture of one flying, there was suddenly a much smaller shorebird flying also.† It landed, but I didnít see exactly where.† Walking a little farther along, I saw a small shorebird, and I got good looks at it with binoculars and got some pictures.† I was quite excited for a while, as it didnít seem to be any of the expected shorebirds.† Eventually, it showed itself better and started bobbing its tail up and down, and I realized it was a Spotted Sandpiper, in its winter plumage.† In the summer, they have spots on their underside, but in the winter, it is just white underneath.† Here is a picture of the little guy (or gal):
I kept taking picture of it, and suddenly, in one of the pictures, there was another shorebird.† This one was smaller and was probably the one I had originally seen flying with the Killdeer.† Here is the picture of them together, the larger Spotted Sandpiper and the smaller unknown ďpeepĒ.
At the time, the legs looked black to me, and I assumed it was a Western Sandpiper, which would be the most common shorebird of that size with black legs.† When I got home, the legs appeared more yellowish, though, in this picture especially.† That would make it a Least Sandpiper, another common shorebird.
I took a lot more pictures, though, and Iíll show a couple of them in a minute.† Here at home, I looked in four field guides, and I started noticing things that werenít consistent with Least Sandpiper.† The bill seemed too thick, the colors and amount of streaking on the upper breast seemed to be too little, and the color of the back seemed to be not red enough.† I found another sandpiper that fit better, except for the leg color, or so it seemed to me.† It looked to me like a juvenile SEMIPLAMATED SANDPIPER (lifer), and that is what I am calling it.† The scaled appearance of the back, the amount of color on the upper breast, the thickness and length of the bill, the length of the wings (just short of the tail Ė see the next pictures), the dark patch behind and below the eye, and the dark crown (seen in the picture that shows the top of its head) Ė those all said Semipalmated Sandpiper to me.† The legs should be black, but one of the photographs in one of my field guides shows a leg color very close to this oneís.† Some expert birder might tell me someday that I am wrong, but I am going with Semipalmated Sandpiper.† I thought of sending the pictures to the guys who reported seeing them in that area over the weekend, but after seeing all four field guides, I am comfortable making the call myself.† I have had to retract two calls so far this year, and maybe this will end up being another, but for now, I am adding a lifer for today.
Here are a couple more pictures:
And one more, for good measure:
Along the same stretch, I got this picture of a Great Blue Heron flying:
So, after that excitement (thinking I had only seen a Western Sandpiper, since I didnít reach the decision to call it a Semipalmated until I got home and saw the pictures), I headed for home.† I stopped at Channel Drive along the Swinomish Channel, but there still werenít any birds there, and I also stopped at the Jensen Access again, and although the tide had come in a lot, the water was still very far away, and this time I saw nothing but distant gulls.† All in all, it was a very disappointing day of birding, although it did feel good to get out and about, and I saw a number of places I hadnít seen before.
With the Semipalmated Sandpiper, I am now at 376 species for the year, of which 111 are lifers.† I doubt I will go looking for the migrating sandpipers again, unless I decide to make an overnight trip to Eastern Washington or Ocean Shores, and I donít feel inclined to do that.† Iíll be in Southern California in early October, and maybe Iíll add something there, or maybe something unusual will come through our yard one day.
Wednesday, September 14
Ok, here is the retraction report.† It wasnít a Semipalmated Sandpiper after all, it was a Least Sandpiper.† It kept nagging at me, and I finally put up a post on the local birding mailing list and asked for opinions.† The yellow legs are the real tipoff, and the bill isnít right for Semipalmated either.† The other features are quite variable among individual birds, it seems, although the other things are also more consistent with Least.† One helpful individual sent me links to some of his pictures of juveniles of both species, and now I think I would be more able to distinguish the differences.† I have a good chance of seeing the Semipalmated in Texas in April of next year, as they migrate up the coast, and now I should be more able to identify them.† For now, I am reverting to 375 species for the year, of which 110 are lifers.
Tuesday, September 20
Today I decided to go on a twitch, down to Commencement Bay in Tacoma.† There has been a rare gull hanging around there for the last four or five days, and it has been seen every day.† I got out of here about ten oíclock and got down to the site about 10:45.
When I got there, there were 5 or 6 people there, with three scopes set up, pointing at the gulls out on the log boom.† I walked up and asked about the gull, and a guy said it was in his scope and invited me to look, and just like that, I had a new bird Ė BLACK-TAILED GULL (lifer).† This is an Asian gull and only shows up over here every now and then.† I hadnít ever even heard of this species, so it wasnít even in my spreadsheet for the year Ė a complete bonus bird.
I got some pictures, and things got a little complicated later, as Iíll explain, so Iíll show the pictures, even though they are pretty distant and not very good.
Here is a picture that shows several gulls.† The Black-tailed Gull is on the left (with its bill open), in front of another gull.† There are also two gulls on the right.† I think the ones on the right are California Gulls.† The closer California Gull has its head tucked in, and the head you can see is the head of the one behind it.
Some of the key points of identification for the Black-tailed one are the black band across the bill, near the end, the size is smaller than the California Gulls, and the legs are shorter.
Here is a picture of the same gull that shows the black tail band, although at a poor angle.† The wings are lifted, and you can see the tail.† When the bird is sitting normally, the wings are longer than the tail, so you canít see the tail.
Hereís one more, that shows the bill size and shape, and the black band on the bill:
Isnít this exciting?† Isnít it fun?† It is like a mystery that you have to figure out.† Iím quite sure I would never have noticed this gull on my own, and Iím not even sure I would have found it today, even knowing it was probably there.† It is a very uninspiring lifer, I know.† This is the 14th species of gull I have seen this year, and 5 of those 14 have been lifers.† Who would have guessed there were so many different species of ďseagullsĒ, especially when you consider I have not been out of the American West?† To make it even more complicated, gulls take two to four years to mature completely (depending on the species), and their plumage is different each year.† Many of them are also a bit different in the summer and the winter.† I donít even try to keep track of immature gulls; it is too much for me.† I often have to look up even the common adult ones, too.† You look at things like the size, the leg color, the bill color, the back color, the head color, and even the eye color sometimes.
Anyway, I stood and sat there for 20 or 30 minutes, talking to the guy with the scope and taking pictures to look at later.† Eventually, the gull flew and the scope guy said he saw the black band on the tail clearly.† Unfortunately, I was fiddling with my camera at the time and didnít see it while it was flying with my binoculars binoculars.† Still, I left there satisfied that it was the Black-tailed Gull, mostly based on the size and the black band on the bill.† There should be red on the bill, too, but I canít detect any red in my pictures, and I didnít see when I was there, either.† It bothered me that I hadnít seen the tail band (I hadnít seen the picture above that shows it, at that time), but I was planning on counting it.
It was only about 11:30, so I decided to head farther south to the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.† I had visited it in the winter, but since I was there, they had opened a new boardwalk, and people have been reporting various shorebirds there, including some of the sandpipers I have never seen.
So, I drove down there, just north of Olympia, and took my humble lunch with me and headed out on the reserve.† I decided not to carry my scope, and that turned out to be a good decision.† It is heavy and cumbersome, and I knew it was a bit of a walk.
I saw a couple of interesting birds near the start of the walk.† I believe they were both juveniles, hatched this year.† The one on the left is a Hooded Merganser, I think, and I believe the one on the right is a young American Coot.
I had my lunch when I got to some tables Ė beef, cheese, some cucumber, some tomato, and a nectarine.† Much better for me than a fast food lunch, and it satisfied me.† After lunch, I continued out onto the boardwalk.† The new boardwalk goes out onto the Nisqually River delta, toward the mouth of the river.† The tide was high, unfortunately, so there werenít any shorebirds, as I had hoped for.† Here is a picture of part of the boardwalk:
One downside to going today was that the Tacoma teachers are on strike, so there were a lot of screaming kids out there, but I endured.† Why is it that little kids have to yell and scream all the time?
It was a really beautiful sunny fall day, and the temperatures got up into the 70ís eventually.† I really enjoyed the walk, even though I didnít see any new birds and not many birds at all.† Mount Rainier was visible in the distance.† Here is a picture:
There were tons of Great Blue Herons out there, and I couldnít resist taking pictures.† The ones I got pictures of were all immature ones, first year birds, for some reason.† The adults have a completely yellow-orange bill, and the juvenile ones have a dark upper mandible.† The head coloring is a bit different, too.† Here are some pictures of different juvenile birds:
Now for the part of the story where the gull sighting earlier got complicated.† As I walked out on the boardwalk, there were a lot of gulls, and they all were Ring-billed Gulls.† I had forgotten that Ring-billed Gulls lived around here, and they have a dark band on their bill and are about the same size as the Black-tailed Gull.† When I saw them, I started wondering about the one I had seen that morning at Commencement Bay.† I hadnít seen the black tail band, and I was putting a lot of faith in the dark band on the bill.† Here is an adult (three years old or older) Ring-billed Gull:
I hadnít seen my pictures of the morning gull yet, but I was concerned.† When I got home and saw the pictures, I could see that this gullís black band on the bill was significantly back from the tip, while the one at Commencement Bayís was closer to the tip.† The shape of the bill seemed different, too, and the back of this Ring-billed Gull was much lighter gray than the other one, too.† So, I was feeling confidant in the Black-billed Gull again.
Then I saw this picture:
The black band on the bill was right out at the tip.† Consulting my field guide, I decided that this one is a second winter Ring-billed Gull, meaning it was hatched in 2009.† The back is still the light gray color, though, and the streaking on the head and neck are different from the Black-tailed Gull, too, so although it worried me at the time, the pictures tell me that my sighting of the Black-billed Gull is still good.† Maybe someday a more expert birder than I am will come along and tell me that Iím wrong, but I feel pretty confidant at this time.† Iím not sure what I would have done if I hadnít had the pictures, though.† The one showing the black on the tail is the most persuasive one Ė there is no getting around that, I think.
I got some more pictures I like, so I will put them here, too.† Here is an adult Ring-billed Gull as it was landing.† You can see that there is no black at all on the tail, only on the wings.
Here is the same bird, perched:
And here is another one flying.† I love getting decent pictures of flying birds.
There were some little songbirds flying around and feeding in small groups, and I wasnít sure what they were, so I took some pictures.† Eventually I got enough looks at them, including the white on their outer tail feathers when they flew away, and I decided they were American Pipits.† The pictures confirmed that.† Here is one of the little sweeties:
By that time it was after two oíclock, and I was concerned about traffic on the way home, since I had to go through Tacoma and up I-405 through Bellevue, and the traffic during the rush hour is horrible.† I hustled back to the car, but I was dragging for the last half a mile.† It was a four mile walk, round trip, to the end of the boardwalk from the parking lot, and I had done it all.† I decided I would have paid ten bucks to have a ride the last half mile, but I had to walk it.† I was hot and sweaty by the time I finally got to the car.†
I considered stopping at Commencement Bay again, as I was feeling dubious about the Black-tailed Gull at that point, not having seen my pictures yet.† But, the fear of the traffic stopped me, and Iím really glad I didnít stop.† As it turned out, the traffic slowed and stopped several times on the way home, and it took 10 or 15 minutes longer than it would have taken in mid-day.† I got home about 3:45, so the rush hour starts early, I guess.† I rarely drive at that time of day, so I wasnít sure what to expect.
So, thatís the long-winded story of my twitch today.† I learned some things about gulls, I had a great outing on a beautiful day, I got some pictures I like, and I added a lifer to my list.† An excellent day.† That brings me to 376 for the year, of which 111 are lifers.† What a life!
Friday, September 30
When I got up this morning, I had no plans to look for birds, but then I read a post on Tweeters (the local birding mailing list) from a guy who had been birding at Ocean Shores yesterday.† He had seen six species that I havenít seen yet this year, and it got my juices flowing.† The weather forecast looked good, and I had nothing else planned, so I packed up and headed out.† The guy had invited phone calls to ask for information, so I did that first, so I knew exactly where to go.† It was 11 by the time I got on the road, and Ocean Shores is almost three hours away.
I got here about 2 or so, and I proceeded to the sewage works, which is where one lifer had been seen.† Upon arriving, I checked in at the office, as is expected, and found my way to the ďthird pondĒ.† Almost as soon as I got there, I saw a number of PECTORAL SANDPIPERS† (lifer).† This day of birding was starting out just fine.† Here is a picture of a couple of the little beauties:
Here is a picture of one showing his wings:
There were little ďpeepsĒ in the same pond, and I determined that they were Least Sandpipers, based on their yellow legs.† Here they are with the larger Pectoral Sandpipers:
Here is a Least by itself:
The guy yesterday saw one Sharp-tailed Sandpiper there, too, but I never saw it.† It would look very much like the Pectorals, but I have decided I didnít see that one.† I might go back tomorrow, if the weather is cooperative.† It rained off and on while I was driving down here, but no rain this afternoon, after I got here.† Tomorrow will be another story, I expect.
On another pond, I saw a couple of Long-billed Dowitchers.† They look almost exactly like Short-billed Dowitchers, but have a different call.† I actually heard these birds call, and listened to my phone app to determine they were Long-billed Dowitchers.† Check out the long bill.
Here is one of them, flying:
After about an hour at the sewage works, I drove on over to the other place that the guy had mentioned, the back of the Game Range.† It involved walking across the sand for a ways, and I ended up feeling it in my ankles, by the time I got back to the car.† I am sadly out of shape, Iím afraid.
I walked out to the beach and went west to the lagoon.† As soon as I approached the lagoon, I saw a little flock of birds, and got good looks at them, perched on some driftwood that had been piled up.† I wasnít positive at that point, but later got more looks at them and eventually decided that they were LAPLAND LONGSPURS (lifer).† [ Note:† I later discovered that I had seen Lapland Longspur way back in 2000, on a trip to Minnesota.† I wonít bother correcting the totals shown here, until the end of the year. ]† No pictures, as they never stuck around for long, but I am satisfied that is what I was seeing.† The best field mark was the thick, wedge-shaped bill and the colors and streaks on the upper breast clinched it.† Also, they showed white on the tail as they flew away.
I went on out to the lagoon, and there were a lot of shorebirds out there.† Here is a Black-bellied Plover in its winter plumage Ė very black and white:
I have seen them a number of times this year, but today I was hoping to see some Golden-Plovers, which are pretty similar, but with a golden wash to them.† There are two species of Golden-Plover that are possible here, and the guy from yesterday had reported both of them at this location, so I had a challenge for myself.
Meanwhile, there were Least Sandpipers scurrying around like bugs out in front of me.† Here are a couple of them.† Note the yellow legs, which distinguish them from Western Sandpipers.
At the shore of the lagoon, there were a lot of shorebirds, and here is a picture that shows a Dunlin.† Note the downturned bill, and the bird is larger than the little peeps around it.
The birds were pretty flighty and kept taking off and flying around, but I was still able to approach them pretty closely.† Here is a shot of a group of them.† It gives the idea of how close I was able to get.
My target was Golden-Plovers, though, and I think I saw some, but I need to study my pictures more.† I could end up counting one or even two species, but I need to do my studying before deciding that.† I also sent off four of my pictures to the guy who was here yesterday, hoping he will give me his opinions on some of them.
OK, I just got a reply from my ďexpertĒ, and he said none of my pictures were Golden-Plovers; they are all juvenile Black-bellied Plovers.† He also gave me a link to some of his pictures of the ones he saw yesterday, and I can see that mine are not nearly as ďgoldenĒ colored.† If it isnít raining in the morning, Iíll go look for them again.
He also told me that one of the birds in two of my pictures I sent him is a RED KNOT!† That isnít a lifer, but I need it for my year list, so I will count another one today.† The bird at the far right side of this picture is the Red Knot, and the plovers to the left of it are Black-bellied Plovers, first year.† They arenít golden enough to be the Golden-Plovers.† The one in front is a Dunlin, with the slightly downturned bill.† Note that the Red Knot is larger than the Dunlin and smaller than the plovers.† I had known that Red Knots came through here in the fall, but I had forgotten it while I was out there today, so I wasnít looking for them.† Some birders wonít count a bird that they identify later from a picture they took, if they didnít recognize it at the time, but that doesnít bother me.† I saw it, and the picture proves it, even if I didnít realize it at the time.† Iím counting it.
I finally left the lagoon, and on the way back I saw some Semipalmated Plovers in a little group.† They are cute little birds, a little bigger than the ďpeepsĒ and with distinctive markings.† Here is a picture:
Here is a picture of one of them with a slightly smaller Western Sandpiper (black legs).
So, it was a great day of birding, although pretty short, since I got here about 2 and knocked off by 5, so I could check into my motel and have my drinkies.† I have had my humble dinner, here in my room (brought from home), and once I get this sent off, it will be time to settle down for the night.† I had a lot of photo work to do tonight, and I chatted with Christina and Fred on AIM as well.
So, I added three to my year list, of which two were lifers.† An excellent day for so late in the year.† That brings me to 379 species for the year, of which 113 are lifers.† Outstanding!† What a life!