Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Semipalmated Plover

Erika and I found several Semipalmated Plovers at the Nisqually national wildlife refuge on 24 August 2021. This plover is a common shorebird, which breeds across arctic and subarctic Canada and Alaska. The species migrates across most of Canada and the United States, and winters along the hemisphere’s coasts, from Oregon and New Jersey south to Chile and Argentina. A very similar bird, the Common Ringed Plover, occurs in Eurasia. The two species are difficult to tell apart. When I have a photograph, I always look carefully—the Eurasian species is occasionally reported in North America. The birds we saw are definitely Semipalmated Plovers. The dark-color on their lores, the area between their bills and eyes, does not extend to their gapes at the base of their bills.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebes tend to be uncommon in western Washington in the summer. Erika and I photographed an adult on 9 July 2021 in Capitol Lake in Olympia. The name “Pied-billed” refers to the spot on the bill. Actually we took this image because we had never really noticed the dark stripe across the grebe’s hind end. The second image is from the same location on 19 August 2021, this time, judging by the striped sides of the face, an immature bird. We have no evidence that this species breeds locally. In any case, in Olympia, Pied-billed Grebes become fairly common in the winter.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Virginia Rail

Virginia Rails are common, but, due to their marshy habitat, hard to see summer residents in Washington. We searched for one, finally listing this bird on 20 July 2021. One highlight of the summer was our finding a black, downy young bird on 27 July. The young bird was one of three with an adult in the Billy Frank Jr National Wildlife Refuge. Note the white tip to its bill. The young ran this way and that, making a decent photograph almost impossible—the last image was the best I could do. This record may be a first for us for a such a young bird. The species molts into a plumage similar to the adults when the young are 12 to 14 weeks old by mid to late fall (Conway 2020).

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Green Heron

Erika and I went to Capitol Lake in Olympia on 28 July 2021 with hopes to find our first Green Heron of the year, and we did. We knew they appear along the lake, especially in the late summer and fall. Despite widespread habitat destruction, Green Herons appear to be increasing in Washington (Wahl et al. 2005). This individual is a young bird, judging by its streaked neck and spotted flight feathers, that probably wandered to the city from wherever it hatched.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Yellow-faced Bumble Bee

Being both allergic to bee venom, Erika and I usually give bees and wasps a wide berth. This Yellow-faced Bumble Bee seemed intent on feeding on a Dahlia near the Washington Capitol on 19 August 2021. This species is the most common bee along most of the West Coast, from British Columbia to Baja California. It can be found in agricultural and urban areas and is important for plant pollination, including greenhouse tomatoes.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Barred Owl

Erika and I occasionally stroll down the Chehalis Bike Trail, as it traverses both forest and fields.  I think that Washington contains more birders than other places we have lived. On 13 August 2021 a gentleman noticing our birding gear, but without binoculars himself, said, “there is a beautiful Barred Owl just down the trail.” “Exactly where?” we asked. “You can’t miss it. The bird is perched low, right over a sunny part of the trail.” And that is just where we found this young-looking Barred Owl. We meet birders everywhere we go. These encounters are to be expected at the national wildlife refuge, where it seems most of our encounters are with people with very expensive optical equipment around their necks. But even in less populated areas, often people have binoculars and even eBird bumper-stickers on their cars. Perhaps the sport of birding is on the rise. I wonder what ever happened to my eBird bumper-sticker...

Monday, August 23, 2021

Pigeon Guillemot

Pigeon Guillemots are common in Puget Sound. I suspect they breed under the piers in the Olympia harbor—you can usually see a few there. I was surprised on 3 August 2021 when two guillemots popped out of the water onto a log. The birds reminded me of penguins jumping onto icebergs. Guillemots, however, are closely related to gulls or skuas. I noticed that initially these guillemots stood on their “ankles,” like people. Later one of the birds adopted a more typical pose, standing on his toes, like most birds.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Red-necked Grebe

For almost a week, a Red-necked Grebe appeared on eBird from Capitol Lake in Olympia. On 19 August 2021, Erika and I finally stopped to take a look. Amazingly, although distant, the grebe swam out on the lake when we arrived. Although Red-necked Grebes are common migrants and winter visitors to Washington, this record is only my second for the species here. Red-necked Grebes breed across much of northern parts of the Old and New Worlds. Most winter along the coasts of the northern Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Red-necked Grebes from North America and eastern Asian are larger than those in Europe and western Asia. Until 1957, Ornithologists considered these larger grebes to be a separate species called the Holboell’s Grebe (Stout and Nuechterlein 2020).

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Brown Pelican


A flock of five immature Brown Pelicans were reported on the two days prior to 17 August 2021 off North Point, Olympia. Erika and I, busy with other endeavors, did not initially chase after these wonderful birds. We saw pelicans during our recent trip to the beach, and we encountered one in Olympia once before. We found ourselves near North Point on the 17th, so we stopped there. Birding can be so frustrating—but these pelicans surprised us by how easy these big bird were to see—they were right in front of a parking area. Brown Pelicans wander into Washington waters after breeding in California. They become common on the coast. Most return to California in the fall. I suspect that young birds like these, at the base of Puget Sound, may find it difficult to find their way back home.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Autumn Meadowhawk

Bad news. On 15 August 2021, this Autumn Meadowhawk visited Erika’s garden. Note its yellow legs. This species is one of the last dragonflies to appear in the year—a first sign of fall. These meadowhawks have a kind of strange range, being found in most of eastern North America east of the Rocky Mountains and in the Northwest, from southern British Columbia and western Montana south to central California—with none between the two populations.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Bonaparte’s Gull

The most interesting bird we saw on our 12 August 2021 cooling-off visit to the beach at Ocean Shores was this Bonaparte’s Gull. The bird gave me pause, because neither of my go-to bird guides shows this plumage. They both show these gulls in winter and breeding plumage, but not a bird like this one, halfway in-between. (Breeding Bonaparte’s Gulls have black heads—winter ones have white heads with a single black spot behind their eye.)


Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Anise Swallowtail

One of the highlights of our 12 August 2021 stroll on the beach near Ocean Shores, Washington—an Anise Swallowtail. These large butterflies are common across most of western North America. They enjoy a variety of habitats, from mountain tops to ocean beaches. They are not strangers to urban gardens. They are absent only in the driest of deserts and the deepest forests. Surprisingly, this Anise Swallowtail is a first for us.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Sanderling


On 12 August 2021, Erika and I decided to try to beat the 93° heat and drive the 75 minutes to the beach at Ocean Shores. I am not sure why we don’t do more beach birding. I guess traffic tends to be a bit heavy and the shore is crowded in the summer. During our two-hour stroll, we listed at least 80 Sanderlings, the bird I’d recently spent so much time searching for in Olympia. Winter-plumaged Sanderlings are clearly quite different from the little brown shorebirds I photographed back home. Sanderlings run along the wet sand, ofter chasing waves back toward the sea, then running away as new waves crash towards them. In-between waves, these little sandpipers frantically search for a wide variety of small invertebrates.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Least Sandpiper

The most common shorebirds, on my 3 August 2021 North Point Sanderling search, were about a half-dozen Least Sandpipers. Their yellow legs are a key to their identification, as is their dark brown backs. In season, I see lots of Least Sandpipers around Olympia. This species breeds across Arctic Canada and almost all of Alaska. The winter range includes most of the southern United States south through Mexico and Central America to northern South America. During our graduate research in Ecuador, Erika and I saw Least Sandpipers in October 1975 and in August 1976. We also recorded one on the coast of northern Peru on 1 November 1973. A Least Sandpiper was one of my first birds as a birder, on 19 May 1962 in northern Virginia.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Western Sandpiper

On my 3 August 2021 North Point, Olympia, Sanderling search, I fount several Western Sandpipers. They are common here, and fairly easy to identify—they are small sandpipers with reddish-brown scapular (shoulder) feathers. They have black legs and relatively short, often down-curved bills. 
One of the Western Sandpipers gave me pause. It was quite pale compared to the others. Was this a Sanderling? No, the reddish scapulars are evident on this young bird. Western Sandpipers are not really so similar to Sanderlings, which are much more of a gray, black and white bird. Western Sandpipers are far more often confused with Semipalmated Sandpipers, which lack the scapular color and which usually have even shorter bills.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Spotted Sandpiper

On 3 August I checked out North Point, a peninsula lying north of downtown Olympia. eBird reported someone’s seeing Sanderlings there. No Sanderlings, but I did add this Spotted Sandpiper to my ever-growing Thurston County year bird-list. They are fairly easy to identify. They bob their back ends up and down and fly with jerky wingbeats. No spots, however, in the winter.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Merlin

Erika and I photographed this Merlin on 23 July 2021 at the Billy Frank Jr National Wildlife Refuge just east of Olympia. When we took these images, we assumed that we had one bird, but our pictures look like we found a male and a female. The second photo appears to be quite dark, a field mark of the black race of Merlin, Falco columbarius suckleyi. This race breeds Washington, British Columbia, and southeastern Alaska. The race is usually nonmigratory, although some individuals wander as far as California and New Mexico. The species used to be known as the Pigeon Hawk. I always assumed this name was due to the falcon’s feeding preferences. In fact, the name derives from the bird’s pigeon size. They take small to medium-sized birds. The name Merlin was adopted for this falcon since, technically, it is not a hawk. Merlin comes from the bird's traditional French name, esmerillon (Warkentin et al. 2020).

 

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Bar-tailed Godwit

Among the 500 Marbled Godwits loafed a slightly smaller, definitely paler individual. “Bar-tailed Godwit!” shouted our boat bird spotters. I still don’t understand how they found this needle among the godwits. The guides must have known vagrant Bar-tailed Godwits are a slim possibility along the Washington coast—and they knew just what to look for. 

Bar-tailed Godwits breed across the Eastern Hemisphere arctic. A few breed in western Alaska. The Alaskan birds undergo an elliptical migration. In the fall, they fly non-stop to New Zealand and eastern Australia. In the spring, they likely have a two stage migration, stopping once along the coast of China. This southbound migration is the longest nonstop light of any bird, and the total distance for their annual flight is some 25,000 km (McCaffery and Gill 2020). Instead of flying to New Zealand, a few of the Alaskan birds wander south along the west coast of North America.

This sighting is my first from North America, but I have seen a Bar-tailed Godwit before—on the Somali coast in Mogadishu on 21 August 1962—but that, I think, is another story.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Short-billed Dowitcher

At the end of our 29 July 2021 pelagic trip, a few Short-billed Dowitchers strolled among the Marbled Godwits at the Westport, Washington, marina. Compare this bird to Long-billed Dowitchers Erika and I saw at the Nisqually national wildlife refuge on 16 July. Telling the dowitchers apart is difficult. I could do it in Minnesota, but here in Washington I am dealing with unfamiliar races. Adult western Short-billed Dowitchers have densely spotted breasts. Short-billed Dowitchers have white bellies, while Long-billeds have rufous bellies. The two dowitchers were once thought to be but one species, but the two populations have different calls. This Short-billed Dowitcher is the first of the species for my Washington bird list.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Marbled Godwit

At least 500 Marbled Godwits greeted us upon or return to the Westport marina after our pelagic trip on 29 July 2021. Marbled Godwits breed in the prairies of the Northern Pains of the United States and southern Canada (isolated breeding populations also exist near James Bay and in Alaska). These large shorebirds winter along the coasts of North America, south to Mexico and northern Central America—a short distance compared to many other godwits and curlews. (The two white birds in this image are Heermann’s Gulls.)

Monday, August 9, 2021

Common Murre


My pelagic trip companions laughed at me when I announced my goal of photographing a Common Murre. These alcids are one of the most common species in the world’s northern oceans. Its just that in my travels I have only one very poor Common Murre image. Our captain informed me that we did not have time to slow down for such a common bird—I was on my own. We saw at least 209 murres, as they dove (to depths down to 100 meters) for invertebrates and fish. They tended to fly or dive at our approach, which made photography difficult. As we disembarked, our guides asked me, “did you get your murre?” “We’ll see,” I replied. Across their range, Common Murre populations face predation by humans, other mammals, and birds of prey. Murres also face toxic chemicals, oils spills, commercial fisheries, trash in the ocean, and habitat degradation.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Tufted Puffin

Our 29 July 2021 pelagic expedition listed a couple of Tufted Puffins. Photographing a puffin was one of my trip goals. Tufted Puffins in non-breeding plumage, like this one, can be told by their dark bodies. Tufted Puffins range across the North Pacific, from islands off California, though Alaska and the Aleutians, and south again to Japan, When not breeding, they disperse across deep water of the Pacific, where they consume invertebrates like squid, crustaceans, and fish.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Short-tailed Albatross

In the late morning of 29 July on our pelagic trip we came upon several Black-footed Albatross. A much larger, all dark albatross flew out of the fog. Note that this bird did not have a white rump and had a large, pinkish bill. Our bird spotters yelled, “Short-tailed Albatross!” With the enticement of some fish offal, the albatross landed next to our boat. We were thrilled!
Now fewer than 5000 individuals breed on four islands off Japan and the species has bred at least once on Midway Island. After breeding, this albatross disperses across the North Pacific—most are seen among the Aleutian Islands. This record is the third Short-tailed Albatross seen in Washington waters this year. Immature birds, like the one we saw, take several years to mature. Adults are a rather spectacularly plumaged black and white and sport rusty-colored heads. Seeing this bird is a bit like seeing an Ivory-billed Woodpecker! They were once thought to be extinct, but this judgement did not take account of several immatures out at sea, away from their nesting islands. Today longline fisheries and volcanic activity on one of their breeding islands are their biggest threats. Other threats include environmental contaminants and storms.

Friday, August 6, 2021

Black-footed Albatross

The Black-footed Albatross breeds in the Hawaiian Islands during the winter and spring, and then wanders across the North Pacific Ocean to Alaska, California, and China. This species is the only albatross seen regularly off the Pacific Coast of North America—we counted 20 during our 29 July 2021 pelagic trip out of Westport, Washington. Black-footed Albatrosses eat squid and flying-fish eggs, but also often follow shrimp and other trawlers hoping to feed on waste thrown overboard. Albatross are tube-nosed seabirds that are able to smell food in the ocean. During both of my Westport pelagic trips, albatross appeared quickly after the crew tossed out fish scrum. These magnificent birds also ingest floating plastic trash and they are listed as Near Threatened by the IUNC Redlist (Awkerman et al. 2020).

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Northern Fulmar

Northern Fulmars joined the shearwaters near our boat. Judging by their tubed noses, fulmars are related to shearwaters and storm-petrels. Northern Fulmars are abundant in Alaska and the Canadian Arctic east into northern Europe. In the New World, fulmars breed in remote areas and are seldom seen except at sea. European populations have greatly increased and are said to be “ubiquitous.”
Fulmars are polymorphic. They are usually dark in Washington seas, but also come in white and intermediate plumages. The significance of this polymorphism perplexes ornithologists. Although different morphs interbreed indiscriminately, many colonies are made up of the same colored birds. Fulmars delay breeding for their first decade, and then lay but one egg per year. One result is that fulmars are among the longest-lived of birds. Once fledged, fulmars often live to 40 or more years. Fulmars do most of their foraging at night, finding their invertebrate prey by smell  (Mallory et al. 2020). They often scavenge from fishing boats, and were quick to check our little boat on 29 July 2021.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel

Storm-petrels are small, tube-nosed seabirds that are found in most of the world’s oceans. They do most of their foraging in flight, fluttering over the water, their feet dangling behind them, as they eat zooplankton, small fish, squid and small crustaceans. Their feet often dangle behind them and, consequently, storm-petrels are often called “Jesus Christ Birds.” 

Photographing a storm-petrel was one of my goals on my 29 July 2021 venture out to sea. On a foggy, windy day like this one, a photographer has to be satisfied with what he can capture. Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels are abundant breeders in Alaska casually south to northern California and along the northeast Asian coast. After breeding, these storm-petrels disperse across the North Pacific Ocean.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Pink-footed Shearwater

Among the Sooty Shearwaters we found following a shrimp boat on a foggy 29 July 202l, we frequently spied Pink-footed Shearwaters, Shearwaters can be recognized by their odd, tube nostrils, evident in the lower photo. Tube-nosed seabirds are in the order Procellariiformes. The two species can be told apart by the Pink-footed Shearwater’s white underparts (and also by its larger size). Unlike the Sooty Shearwater, the Pink-footed does not have a world-wide distribution. They breed on the Juan Fernandez and Mocha Island off central Chile, and migrate across the whole eastern-Pacific Ocean during the southern winter. Pink-footed Shearwaters feed on fish, squid, and crustaceans, both by plucking them off the surface and by diving from the air. Both shearwaters readily flew up to our boat as the crew chummed miscellaneous fish-bits into the sea.