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Monday, November 10, 2014


Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, Washington.


Iím on the road again.† I had only birded one time since my Bird-A-Day thing ended in late August, but this morning I headed out for the San Juan Islands, which are also San Juan County, a Washington county I hadnít visited since I started birding.† The idea was to have a nice two night getaway on the road and also add San Juan county to my Washington county lists.


I drove up to Anacortes, which is about an hour and a half north of home, to catch a 12:35 PM ferry.†† I was early, so I stopped at Washington Park in Anacortes to look for birds.† I had three species that would be year-birds that I might see on this trip, and I could potentially see any of them at Washington Park.† As it turned out, I didnít see any of them, but I did add four species to my Skagit county list, to bring it to 69.† It was a lovely day today, with not a cloud in the sky, although the high temperature was only in the low 50ís, and it was breezy most of the time.† I bundled up, though, and the cold didnít bother me.


Here is a picture of Mount Baker, in the Cascade Range, from the Anacortes ferry terminal.


Because of the way the ferry schedules worked out, I stopped on Lopez Island first.† I only had about two hours there, but I managed to do quite well for my San Juan county list.† I had seen a couple of species from the ferry, and then I picked up 8 ducks species, as well as several other ďgoodĒ birds.† Among the good birds were Fox Sparrow, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Pileated Woodpecker, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Common Raven, and Bald Eagle.


At one point I happened to notice a couple of birds at the top of a tree, and they turned out to be a year-bird species, RED CROSSBILL.† Hereís a picture of the male at the top of the original tree.


I should mention that I forgot to charge the battery in my camera before I left.† To make matters worse, it had gone completely dead since I last used it in August.† Then, to make matters worse yet, I canít find either one of my two spare batteries for the camera.† I know I left one at home, but I donít know where the second one is. †Could it get worse?† Well, yes, I also forgot to pack the USB charging cords for both my camera and my phone.† Note that the charging cord is also the cord I use to download my pictures, from the camera to my computer.† So, you are now wondering how I managed to post the preceding pictures.


Well, I happened to still have my old 30X optical zoom camera my backpack.† I had taken it to California in August, just in case the new one (50X optical zoom) failed.† Wonder of wonders, the battery in the old 30X camera still had some juice in it, so I used it today.† I uploaded the pictures to my computer using a USB card reader that I bought a couple of years ago, just in case I was ever in this situation, without a cord.† So, I did have a camera today, although I sure would have liked to have had my new one.


Here is another picture of the male Red Crossbill, in a closer tree.


There was a female with him, and they both flew down to the gutter on a roof that was even closer.† Here is a picture of the male and female Red Crossbills.


So, that was the big excitement for the day Ė a year-bird.† I caught the 3:50 ferry from Lopez Island, and after stops at Shaw Island and Orcas Island, I got to Friday Harbor (San Juan Island) at about 5:10.† It was really beautiful out on the water, sailing among the various islands.† At Orcas Island I saw a couple of sea birds, and one of them I havenít been able to identify.† Here is a picture of the mystery bird.† Maybe someday Iíll be knowledgeable enough to identify it.


My guess would be Common Murre, but Iím not sure enough to count it.† It was near where I had seen a Pigeon Guillemot, but this is a different bird, I believe.


So, when I got to Friday Harbor, I found my way to my humble motel, which turned out to be a lot harder than I expected, and now Iím settled in for the night.† I plan to stay here for two nights, and tomorrow will be all San Juan Island birding.† I still have two target species for my year list, but neither one is likely.† If I get some good pictures tomorrow, I might write a report anyway, but we will see how it goes.


My Red Crossbills today bring me to a total of 444 species for the year, of which 17 are lifers.



Tuesday, November 11, 2014


Veteranís Day.† I never did any military service, but I do appreciate the sacrifices that so many have made for the rest of us in the country.† I didnít support all the wars we have been involved in during my life, but I do support the people who have served us in the military.† I think we should do more for our veterans.


OK, back to the birding and travelogue.† I didnít see any year-birds today, but Iím writing a report anyway.† I have one picture I really like, and some others that are simply OK.


I started the day by driving to False Bay, to look for shorebirds.† I had read that the time to go was when the tide was almost high.† I guess todayís tide was too high, as there wasnít really any beach for shorebirds.† I did see a couple of them, though, and it took me a while to figure out that they were Dunlin.† I didnít attempt any pictures at that time, but I came back later and did get a distant picture of a little group of Dunlin.


I picked up my first crows there, too.† Most birders say that the crows in the San Juans are Northwestern Crows, so that is how I am counting them.† The crow situation in this area is controversial.† Up in Canada, they are definitely Northwestern Crows, and in Seattle almost all birders say they are American Crows.† In between is kind of a gray area, and the two species do interbreed, I guess, which makes it even harder to separate the two species.† Iím going along with the majority and calling my San Juan County crows Northwestern Crows.


I moved on south, through American Camp National Historical area, to Cattle Point.† It was very windy, though, and the temperature was in the low 40ís, so I didnít spend much time there.† I did pick up European Starling there, though.


Heading back north, I stopped at Jakleís Lagoon trail.† I walked a bit, and eventually, I decided that the habitat was perfect for a particular little wren, so I played the song.† Sure enough, two of them responded and flew out where I could see them.† They constantly moved around, and I only managed to actually shoot one picture, but it is the one I especially like from today.† Here is a Pacific Wren (formerly it was a subspecies of Winter Wren, but it was split out as a separate species a couple of years ago).


Is he (or she) a little cutie, or what?† The light was very poor, and I used my flash, as the bird was only about ten feet away.† I was sure glad to have my new camera available today, after not being able to use it yesterday because I had forgotten to charge the battery.


Here is a view of Old Town Lagoon and the bay to the north of American Camp.


You can see the whitecaps on the water on that side of the island.† It was quite chilly in the wind.† I saw my first San Juan county Red-tailed Hawk there, soaring overhead in the wind.


I drove down to the beach on the other side of the island at American Camp, too.† No birds, but here is a picture of the beach there, at South Beach.


Next I headed back north and west, to go up the west side of the island.† I went by way of False Bay again, and thatís when I got that picture I showed earlier of the Dunlin flock.† In that same place was a little group of Bonaparteís Gulls.† They are small gulls and in the summer, they have black heads.† In their winter plumage, they have a small spot of black behind the eye.


Those birds were a long distance from me, and I wouldnít have even attempted a picture with any of my previous cameras.† The picture isnít great by any means, but it does record the species adequately.† You can see the black spots behind the eyes, and you can see the birds are much smaller than the gulls in the background.† I picked up my first Belted Kingfisher for San Juan county there, too.


My next stop was Lime Kiln State Park.† I ate my lunch at a picnic table there.† I brought all my food from home on this trip, and lunch today was ham, cheese, mini peppers, sugar snap peas, Cheetos, and a Diet Coke.† The temperature was in the mid 40ís, and it was chilly sitting at the table.† No birds for my county list there.


On my way to my next stop, I saw some ducks on a little pond, so I stopped to see what they might be.† Most of them were American Wigeons, which I have seen a lot of on this trip.† Here is a picture of a female and male American Wigeon.


I always look carefully at the wigeons, because there is a separate similar-looking species called Eurasian Wigeon that finds its way here in small numbers.† They say that about 1% of the wigeons in the northwest are Eurasian Wigeons, so l always look.† So far, no Eurasian ones on this trip.


There was a female Hooded Merganser on that pond, though, which was new for my county list.† Here is a picture of her.


I also had my first county Pied-billed Grebe there, and got this picture.


I always like pictures that show two species for size comparison, and here is a picture of the Pied-billed Grebe with the Hooded Merganser.


Here is a picture of that productive little pond.


The birds were in the water on the far side, in the middle of that picture.† You canít even see them in that picture, but my 50X optical zoom camera brings them right in.


My next stop was San Juan County Park, a lovely little park on the water with very nice camping sites.† I carried my scope over to the edge of the grassy area and looked out on the water.† I didnít see many birds, but I picked up Harlequin Duck almost right away.† Then I saw a loon out there, and decided it must be a Red-throated Loon, a good one.† Then were a couple of Pacific Loons, another good species to get for the county.† Finally, I was able to complete the cormorant trifecta with a couple of Brantís Cormorants, to go with the Double-crested and Pelagic Cormorants I had already seen.† It was a very productive stop.† As I was about to leave, a couple of Bald Eagles flew in and landed on a little offshore island.† Here they are.


Iíve had much closer and better pictures of Bald Eagles, but I was pleased to be able to get this picture at all, because of the distance.† Here is the island they were perched on.


It never ceases to amaze me that I can get pictures of birds that I canít really even see with my naked eye, or just barely see.† OK, the pictures arenít great, by any means, but just getting an identifiable picture at that distance amazes me, time after time.† My camera is an extremely important tool for my birding hobby.


After that, I moved on up the west coast, stopping a couple of places, but not seeing anything interesting.† On my way back to town, I saw a couple of Trumpeter Swans on a little lake.† I visited Argyle Lagoon, just south of Friday Harbor, which I had read about.† I didnít see any birds at the lagoon itself, but I did well looking out over the bay with my scope, from up on the hill above the lagoon.† I guess I was looking out over North Bay.


I picked up Horned Grebe and Red-necked Grebe there.† I also saw a number of Red-breasted Mergansers, the third of the three merganser species that occur here.† There were a lot of Pacific Loons there, too.


I next went on out to Roche Harbor, but didnít see anything interesting, other than a Belted Kingfisher, which I had already counted earlier today at False Bay.


It was time to quit for the day; the sun was going down, but I stopped in town to take this late afternoon picture of Friday Harbor harbor.† You can see the ferry dock on the right side of the picture.


So, that was my day on San Juan Island today.† I added 17 more species to my San Juan county list, bringing it to 48.† Thatís a respectable total, and Iím satisfied.† I could add one or two more tomorrow, on my way home, but probably not.† It has been a nice little trip and this is one more county ticked off my Washington county list.† What a life!



Wednesday, November 12, 2014


No new year-birds today, but I'll send this report anyway, for my own records.


I had an hour to spare this morning, before catching the ferry back to Anacortes, so I went birding.† Before I even got in the car, I saw a woodpecker in the front yard of my motel.† It turned out to be a Red-breasted Sapsucker, and here is a picture.


There are a couple of things about that bird that don't seem completely right to me, and the Red-breasted Sapsucker hybridizes with the Red-naped Sapsucker.† Red-naped is very rare in San Juan county, though, so I'm going to assume it is a pure Red-breasted with plumage a little out of the ordinary.


I drove south around the airport, and at one point took a small side road that ended up getting to the bay.† I was pleased to see a Greater Yellowlegs there, and here is a picture.


I always struggle to distinguish Lesser Yellowlegs from Greater Yellowlegs, but I had already decided this was a Greater when I noticed a Killdeer on the beach nearby.† With that size comparison, there was no doubt that this bird is a Greater Yellowlegs.† Here is the Killdeer.


As I returned to the main road, I saw a dove on a wire, and it was a Eurasian Collared-Dove, another great one for my county list.† In fact, when I got home and entered my sightings into my county spreadsheet, I found that there were fewer than five records of Eurasian Collared-Dove in the county, through the end of last year, supposedly.† That species has been expanding its range at an amazing pace, and I would bet that there will be plenty of records in the county soon.† In fact, I looked on eBird and there have been reports for the last three years.† The county spreadsheet info is obviously out of date.


I went back to my motel, packed up, loaded up, and took myself to the ferry waiting line.† Here is the ferry coming into Friday Harbor.


It was a lovely ferry ride back to Anacortes, about an hour and ten minutes.† I stood outside as long as I could stand it, but the temperature was about 40 and it felt colder.† I finished the trip inside, looking out a window.† I saw some interesting birds on the crossing, but the only one I could identify was Common Murre, my last one for my San Juan county list.† I had added five more to my county list this morning (I saw some House Sparrows on my drive around), to bring my total to 53 for the county.† There are only four Washington counties with higher totals than that for me, so it was a very successful county birding trip.† I've seen birds in 32 of Washington's 39 counties now, since I started my county listing in 2012.† Seven more to go.


When I got back to Anacortes, I drove to Washington Park and ate my lunch in the car, with the heater running.† While eating I kept watch for Ancient Murrelet, which would have been a year-bird.† I saw murrelets several times, but they all turned out to be Marbled Murrelets.† Here is a picture of two of them.


Ancient Murrelet is very similar, but the bill would be different and they would have black on their chins.† The also wouldnít have the white patches on their wings.† The birds were constantly diving, looking for food, and they would only stay on the surface for a few seconds, so it was a challenge to ID them and to get a picture.† This pair was pretty far offshore, maybe 50 to 75 yards.


I also got a picture of some Surf Scoters there.† The males are the black ones with the goofy bills.


So, that was my birding adventure for this week.† I had two nights away and added another county to my Washington county lists.† The weather was great and the countryside was beautiful, although I wouldnít have minded it being a bit warmer.


This could be my last report for the year, or maybe I'll get lucky.† We shall see.



Wednesday, November 19, 2014


I've been reading about some birds seen down south of here, in Pierce county, and I've also been thinking I should add to my Washington State county lists for some Western Washington counties, and Pierce county is one that needed help. †I only had 14 species in Pierce county before today, so it seemed like a good idea to try to add to that count and also look for a couple of birds for my year list - ones which have been reported this month around Dash Point, which is just north of Tacoma, barely into Pierce county.


It was about an hour's drive to get there, and I pulled in to the Dash Point County Park at about 10:30.† There is a fishing pier there, and I gathered up my binoculars, my camera, and my scope and headed out onto the pier.† The weather was warmer than it has been lately, about 50 degrees when I got there, and there were high clouds with the sun trying to break through from time to time.† Here's a picture from the pier, looking north.


I saw Horned Grebe, Rhinoceros Auklet, Pelagic Cormorant, and Bufflehead while walking out to the end of the pier, where there were half a dozen people fishing.† I no sooner got out to the end of the pier than my first target bird showed itself, right out in front of the pier.† Here is a picture of a female LONG-TAILED DUCK, one for my year list.


I had only seen this species three or maybe four times before, and this was by far my closest view.† It was almost too close to take pictures, right down in the water in front of us.


It was diving all the time, and would stay down for a long time, maybe a minute or more.† Here is another picture.


So, that was most satisfying.† I hadn't expected to see a Long-tailed Duck this year.† Here is a picture of a Horned Grebe.


There were at least three of them there, and they were constantly diving for food.† Here is another one that looks somewhat different.† It just goes to show the individual variation you can get within the same species.


Horned Grebes have a completely different plumage in the summer, and these two are at different stages of their molt, I guess.


Here is a picture of a female Surf Scoter.


I left that park and headed down the coast a couple of miles to Brown's Point Lighthouse Park.† On the way I stopped at the end of a street that overlooked the bay, and I picked up four "Common" birds there, for my Pierce county list.† Common Goldeneye, Common Murre, Common Merganser, and Common Loon.† That was a great haul for a short stop.


At the lighthouse park I saw a number of other species for my Pierce county list.† I was especially pleased to get Barrow's Goldeneye, Bonaparte's Gull, and Mew Gull.† That last one sort of extended my "Common" run, too, as that species is called Common Gull in Britain and Europe.


Then came the topper, though, a distant scope view of an ANCIENT MURRELET, another one for my year list.† I had seen a number of the more common Marbled Murrelets on my San Juan Island trip last week, but this one was clearly different.† It didn't have a white patch on its wing, its chin was black, the bill was short, and the black cap on the head contrasted with the gray back of the bird.† Bingo - ancient Murrelet.† Too bad it was too far away for pictures.† I did see a whole group of them after that, though.† I counted 16 birds; again, they were too far away for pictures.† I saw them on the water and was able to study them carefully through the scope - all Ancient Murrelets, for sure.† They took off and flew around the bay in a large circle and landed again in the same area.† I had probably only seen 3 or 4 Ancient Murrelets before in my life, so seeing 16 in a group was great.


I heard a kingfisher, and looked around.† Here is a picture of a Belted Kingfisher, another good one for my Pierce county list.


I also got a picture of a Red-necked Grebe in winter plumage.


When I left that park, I drove on around Commencement Bay, to the Port of Tacoma, to find a birding place I had read about but had never visited.† On the way, I stopped at an overlook and got this picture of Mount Rainier.


I calculate (from Google Maps) that the mountain was about 40 miles away from where I was.† At that same stop I picked up Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Great Blue Heron for my county list.


Continuing on around the bay, I stopped where I could see those log booms in the left side of that last picture.† As expected, I saw Black Turnstones there, on the logs, where I've seen them before.† It seems strange to me to see a shorebird that normally is found on rocky coasts, running around on logs in a log boom.† There were also a lot of Harbor Seals around, and here is a picture of a couple of them.


I found the place I was looking for, Gog-Le-Hi-Te Wetlands.† It turned out to be a disappointment, but now I have seen it, and when I read about it online, I'll at least have a picture of it in my mind.† I did pick up Green-winged Teal there, and as I left, I played the call of Virginia Rail and got a reply.† Since I count "heard only" birds now, I counted it, even though it wouldn't come out of the reeds.† It was about 1:30 by then, so I headed for home, eating my lunch as I drove.† I had brought leftover pork loin, chicken breast, cheese, and sugar snap peas, which made great munching food while I drove.


So, it was a very successful birding day.† I added 24 species to my Pierce county list, to bring me to 38 there.† I also added two species to my year list, and both were excellent ones that I hadn't expected to see this year.† That brings me to 446 species for the year, of which 17 have been lifers, plus one more that was new for my US list.


I have two realistic possibilities left now for my year list - Pine Siskin, which is normally common around here, but they have been absent this year so far, and Snowy Owl.† A Snowy Owl was seen today up in Edmonds, just north of here, so maybe one will show up somewhere close on a day I can chase it.† We will see.


What a life!



Monday, November 24, 2014


A report on Tweeters this morning stirred me out of my routines at home, and I headed up to the Edmonds waterfront.† Here is a picture of the Edmonds marina from the end of the fishing pier, looking south.



In the middle of that picture, just to the right of center, sitting on the breakwater, is the bird that got me out of my warm house and onto the chilly, windy fishing pier, a lovely SNOWY OWL, which was new for the year for me.† I think it was only the fourth time I've ever seen Snowy Owl.


I hung around for almost an hour, taking pictures of other birds, and kept going back for more pictures of the owl.† Here is a sideways view.


I love the way they have feathers on their legs and feet.† Here is one more shot.


Based on how much dark brown there is on it, it is probably a first year bird, hatched earlier this year.† At one point, some crows were harassing it, flying around and making a racket.† They would make passes at the owl, but the owl didn't pay much attention to them.† Sometimes they would land nearby, and here is a picture of the owl looking at a crow.


Here's one last owl picture, with a couple of crows nearby.


Crows are pretty good-sized birds, but you can see that the owl is much larger than they are.


So, that was satisfying and exciting.† There were at least a dozen people who saw the owl while I was there.† The post I saw from this morning said it was there at 8:30 am, and I just saw another post on Tweeters that said it was still there at 2:30 this afternoon.† It has been seen around Edmonds for about a week now.


There was a good variety of other birds there today, too.† Here is a Pacific Loon that was in nice and close.


At the time, I thought it was a Common Loon, but after seeing my pictures, I believe it was a Pacific Loon.† Here it is flapping its wings.


There was also a Western Grebe there, along with a Common Murre.† Here is a picture of them together.


Here is the Western Grebe on its own.


And here is the Common Murre by itself.


Here is a Horned Grebe, one of several in the area today.


Here is a Rhinoceros Auklet.


There were a bunch of Surf Scoters hanging around one end of the pier, and I got this picture that I call Parade of Scoters.


They appeared to be led by a couple of Common Goldeneyes, but I think that was just coincidence.† Here is a closeup of a Common Goldeneye.† You can see how the species got its name.


Here is a picture of a male Surf Scoter.† I think it must be just about the most homely bird I've seen.† What on† earth could the purpose be for such an ugly bill?


In with the Surf Scoters was another bird that was different.† Here is its picture.


At the time I thought it was a female of one of the other two scoter species seen at Edmonds, and now I think it is either a juvenile or female Black Scoter.† The official name of the species was changed to American Scoter a few years ago, but I've never heard or read of anyone calling them anything but Black Scoter, including today.† Here is another picture, possibly of the same bird, or maybe it is second one.† This one looks more like a juvenile male to me, due to the yellowish thickening at the base of the bill.


So, that was my birding adventure for today.† One more species for my year list.† Just about the only one I have left to hope for now is Pine Siskin, which is now being reported in the area, after an absence for the rest of the year.† Last year we had a small flock of them in our yard just about every day, and this year, nothing.


I'm now at 447 species for the year, of which 17 have been lifers.