Saturday, August 31, 2019


Tbe only shorebirds  we saw at the Westport Light State Park on 26 August 2019 were a few Sanderlings. As I have recently written, this species, after breeding in the Arctic, is common along coasts of the world. One way to identify them is to note their habit of running on the beach from on-coming waves, and then chasing the water as it flows back into the ocean—all the while hoping for some some hapless crustacean to poke its head out of the uncovered sand.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Variegated Meadowhawk

Erika and I observed numerous dragonflies during our walk on the beach at Westport, Washington, on 26 August 2019. Unfortunately, only one posed for a photograph—this Variegated Meadowhawk. We were surprised to see any dragonflies at all, since all but a very few of these insects breed in salt water. Variegated Meadowhawks, however, are known for their migratory behavior—thus this individual may have not have bred locally. This species makes complicated migrations. Northern breeders winter in the south, sometimes far from water. Huge fall flights are recorded along the Pacific Coast of the United States. Thousands have been counted along the coast, at rates of up to 500 per minute (Paulson 2009). Variegated Meadowhawks, whose breeding range is poorly known, has been recorded from southern Canada south to northern Central America.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Brewer’s Blackbird

I have written about Brewer’s Blackbirds in previous posts in this blog. This species was collected in Montana in 1843 by Audubon. He named it Quiscalus breweri. Brewer, was a friend, a Boston doctor and ornithologist. Unfortunately, the species had already been described in 1829 by Johannes Wagler. Thus Wagler’s scientific name, Psarocolius cyanocephalus, has priority. Now the bird is known as Brewer’s Blackbird,  Euphagus cyanocephalus (Martin 2002). Generic names can shift around, but their accompanying species names tend to be fixed.

Erika and I found several Brewer’s Blackbirds on 26 August 2019 in Westport, Washington. In most of  the western United States, this species is fairly common. We were surprised when eBird flagged it as infrequently reported from the Westport area, and so we made an effort to document our sighting with a photograph.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Black-bellied Plover

On Monday, 26 August 2019, Erika and I checked out Bottle Beach State Park on our way home from a walk on the beach at Westport, Washington. Our Westport trip produced relatively few birds, and the tide was well out by the time we hit Bottle Beach. The only birds of interest were about 30 Black-bellied Plovers. I suspect these birds are adults, molting into their drab, gray winter plumage. In the spring, the birds will sport black faces and underparts—only their vents remain white. Black-bellied Plovers breed in the Arctic in both the Old and New worlds. In North America, they winter along the coasts from British Columbia and Massachuetts south to Chile and central Argentina.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Townsend’s Warbler

We banded a immature, female Townsend’s Warbler on the afternoon of 25 August 2019. Not a too shappy looking fall bird, but the male is even more strikingly plumaged, with darker sides of the face, a dark throat, and more prominent side streaking—here is a link to one we saw in California on 28 March 2012. This warbler is a breeding bird of the Pacific Northwest, dropping south through the mountains of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. Here along Puget Sound, this bird is a migrant. They winter along our Pacific Coast south through Mexico and well into Central America. Vagrants show up across eastern North America. This individual is only the third I have banded—the first in Arizona on 1 May 1970, and an unexpected one in Aberdeen, South Dakota, on 30 October 1992.  

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Caspian Tern

Caspian Terns mostly eat fish. They usually capture their prey by diving into the water, but birds are not adverse to stealing fish from other birds and even scavenging dead fish.  This tern is just emerging from a dive, and may be carrying a small fish in its bill. This photo was taken at Olympia’s KGY Point on 23 August 2019. 

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned hawks can be hard to tell apart, despite their not overlapping in size. This large Cooper’s Hawk, accompanied by over a dozen angry crows, flew into a small grove of tall conifer trees at Olympia’s KGY Point on 23 August 2019. The dull, not bright orange eyes indicate that the bird is immature. Along with its large size, other field marks include the relatively long, somewhat rounded tail—the outer tail feathers are at least a centimeter shorter than the central ones; the breast streaks are thin; the head is more oval than it is round; and the legs are relatively large.

Cooper’s Hawks breed from southern Canada south through most of the United States and into Mexico. Northern birds move south in the winter through most of Mexico as far as  northern Central America. This hawk preys upon medium-sized birds and mammals and inhabit forestlands, including urban woodlands. This hawk was named after a New York ornithologist, James Cooper, in the early 1800s.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Semipalmated Plover

I have been getting almost daily eBird Alerts that Semipalmated Plovers are being seen at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. You may recall that Erika and I found this shorebird during our trip to the ocean on 20 July 2019—so we had this bird on our year and state lists, but not on our Thurston County list. Yesterday,  22 August 2019, we timed our refuge walk to coincide with high tide. High tide limits the area of mudflats the plovers prefer. Success! In fact, we made a conservative count of 17 individuals, a number eBird warned us was high for the county.

Two details of the photograph are of interest. First are the Semipalmated Plover’s semipalmated toes. This term refers to the bird’s partial webbing between its toes. These plovers don’t swim much, if at all, so perhaps semiplamated toes keep them from sinking into the mud. Second, I wondered if this bird could be the very similar, Old World Collared Plover. which very rarely strays to North American coasts. This is not a Collared Plover because the gape of the bill is surrounded by white. The dark sides of the face extend to the gape on the Collared Plover. The Eurasian bird also has brighter yellow legs. I will continue to carefully check the Semipalmated Plovers I see in the future. 

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Harbor Seal

Erika and I photographed Harbor Seals (and an attendant Double-crested Cormorant) at Woodard Bay Conservation Area on 15 August 2019. The seals appear to be unconcerned about the debate among Washington wildlife managers and legislators. This debate will greatly affect the seals. Both the seals and Orca Whales eat salmon. For a variety of reasons, southern resident Orcas are becoming rare—only 75 remain in Puget Sound, a record low number over the past 30 years. One of the proposed solutions is to cull seal populations, which would presumably increase salmon for Orcas to eat. The Washington legislature introduced a bill that would permit “maximum lethal take” of seals. An alternative plan calls for the removal of logs and rafts upon which the seals bask. One problem to finding a solution is that the situation involves more  than seal and salmon interaction. (For example, at Woodard Bay, abandoned piers provide roosting sites for large numbers of roosting bats.) For more information on seals and orcas, see

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Black-capped Chickadee

A Black-capped Chickadee on 19 August 2019 at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. I have been curious about this species’ migrations. Foote et al. (2010) write about what is currently known. Over 60,000 birds banded in Canada inicate that 90% of recaptured birds show no significant movements. Young birds (but few adults), apparently in response to seed cycles, irrupt from their nesting areas every two years or so. These irruptions can be aimless, but fall movements tend to be south and southwest and northeast in spring. Chickadees are reluctant to cross large bodies of water. In this situation, large numbers of chickadees can build up—36,000 chickadees were reported from the the shore of Lake Ontario. Perhaps this phobia explains why Black-capped Chickadees are common across most of northern North America but are not found on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Pied-billed Grebe

A Pied-billed Grebe taken on 15 August 2019 at Olympia’s Capitol Lake. Grebes are odd birds—they lack tails, have their feet so far back on their bodies that they can not stand on the ground, their toes sport flaps rather than being webbed together like duck toes, and they can control their buoyancy. Pied-billed Grebes are seldom seen flying, because they migrate at night.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Ruddy Duck

Two Ruddy Ducks appeared on my eBird needs alert for Thurston County, Washington. Several days of searching on Capital Lake had me contemplating the pitfalls of accepting eBird records as accurate. Ruddy Ducks are usually identified by their habit of holding their tails cocked above the water. Novice birders are often unaware that Hooded Mergansers, common on the lake, often share this trait. I should have not doubted the record. On 15 August, I spied a handsome, male Ruddy Duck among a large flock of mergansers. The Ruddy Duck was not even holding its tail in the air. I looked at my eBird records, assuming this bird was my first Ruddy Duck of the year—only to discover I’d seen one in Northfield, Minnesota, on  a frigid 1 January. So much has transpired in our lives since then—selling and buying a house, moving to Washington! This Ruddy Duck, however, does represent my first record for the species in our new home state.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Red-veined Meadowhawk

On 1 August 2019, Erika and I found an odd dragonfly at Olympia’s Priest Point Park rose garden. After considerable deliberation with our various dragonfly experts, we conclude this is a new dragonfly for us—a Red-veined Meadowhawk. The clinching identification mark is hard to see in this photo. The radial planate should contain double cells. The first problem was to figure out what is a radial planate. This structure is an oval area (but with a pointed apex and base) in the center of the upper wing. This structure is hard to see in this photo, but close examination seems to indicate this space is double-celled. (We have made repeated subsequent visits to the rose garden, which have yielded no or uncooperative dragonflies.) Other field marks of Red-veined Meadowhawks include red-veins that touch relatively long, dark terminal wing spots (the stigmata), the wings being almost entirely amber-washed, black legs, and dark reddish eyes.

Red-veined Meadowhawks are found from western Canada south through most of California and east to North Dakota, Colorado, and Nevada. Males perch on plant tops, usually near ponds or slow-flowing streams. They are not often found over open water, preferring wetlands that dry up by midsummer. Priest Point’s rose garden is near such ephemeral streams, and, other than those, lacks apparent wetlands.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Varied Thrush

Deep within the forest at Lake Sylvia State Park on 6 August 2019, Erika spied two robin-sized Varied Thrushes. The birds moved about a bit, never approaching too near, but not flying away. Between the poor light and the birds’ wariness, this was my best image.

I was not sure of the Varied Thrush’s summer range in Washington. The species breeds from Alaska south to northern California and in the Rockies in northeastern Washington, northern Idaho, and northwestern Montana. Most birds move south in the winter and also a few wander across most of the rest of the United States. All but three or four states have winter records. According to Wahl (2005), in western Washington, Varied Thrushes are fairly common residents and migrants in mountain forests. Apparently they once inhabited western lowland forests, but have retreated in the face of agriculture and deforestation. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Steller’s Jay

Erika thinks this young Steller’s Jay is a bird only its mother could love. This is the first Steller’s Jay that I have banded. We ringed it on the evening of 13 July 2019 in our Olympia backyard. The strange thing is that this bird is only the second Steller’s Jay we have seen at our feeders. We had no clue the species was breeding in the vicinity. This discovery is especially puzzling, since these jays are usually relatively tame, common and noisy. This bird, as might be expected at this time of year, is molting into its basic, non-breeding plumage.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Spotted Sandpiper

Because of its gray crown and forehead, brown breast, and complete lack of spots, this Spotted Sandpiper is probably a young bird. We found several of these sandpipers at Lake Sylvia State Park in Grays Harbor County on 6 August 2019. This gorgeous park contains a long, narrow lake surrounded by rainforest. Spotted Sandpipers are easily identified by their stiff, jerky wingbeats and their habit of bobbing their backends up and down as they feed. This species breeds across most of thge United States and Canada, and winter south to southern South America.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Pacific-slope Flycatcher

Last Friday, 9 August 2019, Erika and I watched a Pacific-slope Flycatcher bathe in the garden birdbath. The bird’s bathing strategy was unlike anything I have seen before. From a perch on a nearby garden trellis, the flycatcher  made repeated dives into the center of the birdbath. After belly-flopping into the water, the bird did not dally, but returned to its perch. There the bird shook off the water and preened, only to repeat the performance several times. Lowther et al. in The Birds of North America (2016) write that, in the ornithological literature, bathing has not been described for Western Flycatchers.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Black-throated Gray Warbler

Yesterday, 9 August 2019, we observed about a dozen bird species at our backyard feeders in Olympia, Washington. The most interesting birds were two Wilson’s Warblers and two Black-throated Gtay Warblers. All appeared to be immature birds, like this Black-throated Gray perched on our garden sculpture’s head. The bird was attracted to our water feature, from which it repeatedly drank. These warblers both breed in the area, but have not been seen in the garden since last spring. Perhaps they represented the very beginning of the fall migration.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Cliff Swallow

On 1 July 2019, Erika and I were surprised to discover Cliff Swallows nesting under the eaves of a covered, wooden picnic kiosk along a boardwalk in the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. We usually find Cliff Swallows nesting under bridges. Turns out that these swallows used to be birds of the Rocky Mountains, where they nested under rock ledges. Only during the past century have these swallows moved east, through the Great Plains and into the East. At this time, land was being cleared and highway culverts, bridges and buildings were being constructed. Even today, Cliff Swallows are moving into new areas (Brown et al. 2017). These authors also write that now Cliff Swallow numbers are declining in the Northeast due to competition from House Sparrows that take over the swallow nests.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskins visited our feeders all spring and summer. This photo is of a young bird in Olympia on 28 June 2019. The species breeds across the northern United States and southern Canada, and south through the Rocky Mountains into southern Mexico. But it is an unpredictable bird—it can be abundant one year and absent the next. Population size probably is defendant on the fluctuating abundance of the seeds the birds eat.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Sandpiper Search

An interesting eBird feature is their bird alert service, which is kind of like a bird-geiger counter. Assuming you entered your sightings into the app, you can sign up for hourly or daily alerts for species that other birders see but you lack. I signed up for hourly alerts for Thurston County, home of Olympia. As many of you know, despite this onslaught of species I need for my county bird list, Erika and I are not much for burning fossil fuel for chasing birds. We did, however, make four unsuccessful attempts to find a Red-necked Phalarope in a small puddle two miles from our house. Nothing is guaranteed in this birding business.

On 5 August, the pond did yeild a small mixed flock of Least and Western Sandpipers. The Least is recognized by its yellow-green legs and small bill. The Western Sandpiper has black legs, a longer and slightly down-curved bill, and lovely chestnut-chevroned shoulder feathers. We saw no phalaropes, but the Western Sandpiper was new for my county list.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Wood Duck

Wood Ducks are now common across most of eastern North America and along the Pacific Coast. They are resident in the West, and migratory elsewhere, many wintering in southeastern United States. They also occur across all of southern Canada, the northern Great Plains. and in scattered areas of the interior West.

In the 1800s, Wood Ducks were common. But their numbers plummeted due to over-hunting, deforestation, and loss of wetlands. Many people thought this elegant duck would be extinct by the early 1900s. The Migratory Bird Treaty of 1918 came to their rescue as did bans on hunting until 1941. Populations rebounded. Today hunters prize Wood Ducks, comprising about 10% of the ducks taken in the United States (Hepp and Bellrose 2013). These photos are of one male and two females taken on 17 June 2019. They inhabited a beaver pond at McClane Lake near Olympia, Washington.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Spotted Towhee

Spotted Towhees are found in Western North America south through Mexico. These noisy birds are one of the most common birds in our brushy backyard. Unlike the clear “Drink your tea” sung by eastern towhees, ours call a raspy “screee.” Birds in the northern Great Plains are migratory. Those in the Rocky Mountains show elevational movements, heading to lower elevations in the winter, but perhaps not longer distance travels. The birds here in the Pacific Coast resumably are year-round residents. It will be interesting if I get any recoveries from my banded birds. This male was photographed on 7 April 2019.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Blue Dasher

Except for the Northern Great Plains, Blue Dashers are common south throughout most of Mexico. They are found in a variety of wetlands. Many hunted among the berry vines along Capital Lake in Olympia on 29 July 2018. The dasher in the first photo is a male, the one in the second image is female. Unlike Western Pondhawks, they infrequently perch on the ground.

Although dashers eat smaller prey than do pondhawks, they are fierce predators, They take over 10% of their body weight in prey every day. They are aggressive towards competing males, often raising their blue tails at them. Females lay up to 700 eggs in only 35 seconds. Odonata Central maintains that Blue Dashers are largest in the spring, with subsequent generations becoming progressively smaller in the summer and fall.