Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas Break Highlights: A Few Days in Northwestern Washington

Jen and I began our break travels by heading to her home town of Coupeville, and we have had a nice, relaxing week of spending time with family. I really felt like I was home when Jen's mom asked me the first morning if I wanted to borrow her car to go look for birds. Nothing like marrying into a family that accepts your birding passion. We had wonderful weather most of the week, and experienced several breathtaking sunrises and sunsets over rocky peaks, doing very little to abate my already unwavering home state pride. So good to be back.

When birding on the west side of the state, I'm always at the disadvantage of not having a scope. This is particularly difficult because much of what I want to do there involves sea watching. I always go out knowing I'm going to miss some stuff, and just take what I can get. I wound up getting quite a bit this week. The diversity of winter birds in this region is incredible, and makes for some really enjoyable outings. I tallied 84 species on the week and had some unexpected highlights along the way.

The nearby Crockett Lake held the usual Trumpeter Swan, large flocks of waterfowl (this time dominated by pintail, gadwall, and wigeon), and plenty of active Bald Eagles and Northern Harriers. A beautiful adult Peregrine Falcon was a nice treat, as was the huge flock of Dunlin it was hunting. Black-bellied Plovers and a few Western Sandpipers were present too, the latter of which was #217 for my WA list this year. For sure the most exciting bird I found there this week was a hybrid Golden-crowned x White-crowned Sparrow, amidst a nice mixed flock of both sides of its ancestry.

Golden-crowned Sparrow
Crockett Lake, Island Co, WA

A harrier doing its part to promote bird conservation:

Northern Harrier
Crockett Lake, Island Co, WA

Golden-crowned Sparrow
Crockett Lake, Island Co, WA

Golden-crowned x White-crowned Sparrow Hybrid
Crockett Lake, Island Co, WA

White-crowned Sparrow
Crockett Lake, Island Co, WA

Dunlin and Western Sandpipers
Crockett Lake, Island Co, WA

The adjacent Keystone Ferry Landing provided some nice opportunities for studying gulls, as usual. I'm nowhere near gull expertise, but I am getting increasingly comfortable with noticing the relevant subtleties that separate species from one another. A pretty little first cycle Mew and several sharp looking Thayer's were my favorites this time around - I didn't realize how many Mews I would end up seeing on the week.

Mew Gull
Keystone Ferry Landing, Island Co, WA

Dark and light-eyed Thayer's together:

Thayer's Gulls
Keystone Ferry Landing, Island Co, WA

At Jen's parents' house, great looks at Spotted Towhees, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Golden-crowned Kinglets, "Red-shafted" and "Integrade" Northern Flickers, and a couple snappy Fox Sparrows were consistent throughout the week. One evening we watched a female Northern Harrier feeding over a field from the dinner table.

Spotted Towhee
Island Co, WA

Fox Sparrow
Island Co, WA

Jen's dad and I took what is turning out to be an annual day trip to look for birds. He enjoys it because my birding interests lead us to little nooks and crannies that he's never been before in his lifetime of living in the area. I enjoy it because there are usually plenty of interesting birds to be seen, and such was the case again this year! We took the early Keystone ferry to Port Townsend, dropping off Jen and her mom for a day of shopping up a storm in this cute little seaside town. Most of the ferry ride was in the dark, but I was outside the moment there was enough light to see things flying by. Quite a few Common Loons were present, and a flock of Brant flew past as rich pink tones began peaking through the cloudy skies. Ted and I then headed west towards Sequim. We checked a number of places I hadn't been before and in the process padded my Jefferson and Clallam County lists. I'll let the pictures do the talking.

Jefferson Co, WA

Harlequin Duck
Diamond Point, Clallam Co, WA

Pacific Loon
Diamond Point, Clallam Co, WA

Marbled Murrelet
Diamond Point, Clallam Co, WA

After seeing many "Olympic" Gulls (Glaucous-winged x Western hybrid) and a handful of Glaucous-winged Gulls, the dark upper parts and jet black wingtips of a pure adult Western Gull were quite striking:

Western Gull
Three Crabs, Clallam Co, WA

Mew Gull
John Wayne Marina, Clallam Co, WA

Eurasian Wigeon
John Wayne Marina, Clallam Co, WA

Our most westward stop of the day was Dungeness Spit, which is a truly remarkable place. The five mile piece of land extends out into the Puget Sound. Here's a view from the overlook:

Dungeness Spit, Clallam Co, WA

We hiked out on the spit a little ways, and here's the view looking back inland:

Dungeness Spit, Clallam Co, WA

Oh, and there were some birds too. As we walked out on the spit, I was thinking about how I still needed Black Scoter for the day and week. Not long after I was looking at this beautiful male:

Black Scoter
Dungeness Spit, Clallam Co, WA

That male was joined by two others, and as I was enjoying the sight, a light-faced loon in the foreground caught my attention right before it dove. I waited anxiously for it to come back up, and sure enough, it was what I thought! In just a couple minutes I had filled out all three scoters and all three loons for the day.

Red-throated Loon
Dungeness Spit, Clallam Co, WA

Ted got a couple pics of me in action through a cool stump with a hole in the middle.

We headed back to Port Townsend, grabbed ice cream with the family, and hopped back on the ferry, where White-winged Scoters were abundant.

White-winged Scoter
Island Co, WA

And one of those incredible sunsets rounded out the day:

The next morning, I headed down to Penn Cove to look for any interesting shorebirds that may be hanging around. I didn't find any, but had a couple nice consolation surprises:

Anna's Hummingbird
Penn Cove, Island Co, WA

And this little guy was Washington bird #218 for 2013!

Lincoln's Sparrow
Penn Cove, Island Co, WA

Finally, this morning's ferry ride to Mukilteo was pretty quiet, but I did have Red-necked and Western Grebes, added my first Rhinoceros Auklets of the trip, and got incredible looks at the standard flocks of Barrow's Goldeneyes and Surf Scoters at the ferry landing.

Surf Scoter
Mukilteo Ferry, Snohomish Co, WA

Surf Scoter
Mukilteo Ferry, Snohomish Co, WA

Surf Scoter
Mukilteo Ferry, Snohomish Co, WA

Barrow's Goldeneye
Mukilteo Ferry, Snohomish Co, WA

Jen's brother then dropped us off at Sea-Tac, and now we are safely into Spokane where another week of Christmas, time with family and friends, and birding lies ahead. Gotta love Christmas break!

Total list to this point:
85 Brant
2 Trumpeter Swan
700 Gadwall
1 Eurasian Wigeon
1975 American Wigeon
147 Mallard
13 Northern Shoveler
1703 Northern Pintail
4 Green-winged Teal (American)
2 Ring-necked Duck
12 Greater Scaup
50 Lesser Scaup
100 Greater/Lesser Scaup
11 Harlequin Duck
460 Surf Scoter
34 White-winged Scoter
3 Black Scoter
1 Long-tailed Duck
323 Bufflehead
356 Common Goldeneye
90 Barrow's Goldeneye
151 Hooded Merganser
38 Red-breasted Merganser
12 Ruddy Duck
2 Red-throated Loon
3 Pacific Loon
35 Common Loon
2 Pied-billed Grebe
34 Horned Grebe
8 Red-necked Grebe
12 Western Grebe
37 Brandt's Cormorant
190 Double-crested Cormorant
125 Pelagic Cormorant
27 Great Blue Heron
8 Northern Harrier
12 Bald Eagle
4 Red-tailed Hawk (Western)
135 Black-bellied Plover 
1 Killdeer
6 Greater Yellowlegs
512 Dunlin
5 Western Sandpiper
8 Common Murre
53 Pigeon Guillemot
13 Marbled Murrelet
2 Rhinoceros Auklet
27 Mew Gull (American)
3 Ring-billed Gull
11 Western Gull
12 California Gull
13 Thayer's Gull
11 Glaucous-winged Gull
418 Western x Glaucous-winged Gull (hybrid)
3 gull sp.
140 Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)
3 Mourning Dove
1 Anna's Hummingbird
12 Belted Kingfisher
2 Downy Woodpecker (Pacific)
2 Hairy Woodpecker (Pacific)
8 Northern Flicker (Red-shafted)
2 Northern Flicker (intergrade)
1 Peregrine Falcon
2 Steller's Jay
29 American Crow
19 Northwestern Crow
4 Common Raven
4 Black-capped Chickadee
11 Chestnut-backed Chickadee
4 Pacific Wren
32 Golden-crowned Kinglet
96 American Robin
8 Varied Thrush
479 European Starling
9 Spotted Towhee (Pacific)
6 Fox Sparrow
27 Song Sparrow
2 Lincoln's Sparrow
12 White-crowned Sparrow
44 Golden-crowned Sparrow
1 White-crowned x Golden-crowned Sparrow (hybrid)
41 Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon)
15 Red-winged Blackbird
1 Western Meadowlark
200 Brewer's Blackbird
13 House Finch
2 House Sparrow

The primary mammals seen throughout the trip were the small Black-tailed Deer and Harbor Seals, though Ted and I did have a porpoise of some sort swim by at Gardiner Beach, always a cool sight.

Good night!