[Tweeters] Two and a half strikes in Marysville
xjoshx at gmail.com
Mon Oct 28 22:47:12 PDT 2013
Although I knew I was working with slightly old data, I couldn't resist
chasing Scott Atkinson's reports from this weekend.
I started out at the Snipe location, a small retention pond next to Allen
Creek Elementary School. I made a little miscalculation here and forgot
that a grown man walking around an elementary school with binoculars and a
large camera might be looked at a little suspiciously so I tried to be as
inconspicuous as possible and left my camera in my bag for the moment. When
I had looked at the satellite photos of the pond in question I had thought
you might be able to glass the whole area from outside the fence without
too much trouble, but in person this idea is ludicrous. The whole area
inside the fence is filled with thick willows. To add insult to injury, one
whole side is covered in a mural that covers the entire fence. I've said it
before and I'll say it again: our government just does not take Eurasian
rarities into account when they design our public spaces and it's a damn
When I arrived the playfield was occupied by elementary school kids so I
stuck to the other three edges, but I lucked out as school apparently ended
early today and the kids all cleared out. I was about to give up when a
bird flushed nearly at my feet just inside the fence. It was quickly
obvious it was a snipe with a strongly marked back. Unfortunately, it flew
about 5 feet before dropping down into the thick brush I complained about
earlier leaving me with only a fraction of a second to make observations.
About the only observation I could make was that the back was very well
marked. My impression was that the lines down the back were thicker than
I'm used to seeing, but the visual was so short I can't say that with much
conviction. Head, bill, wing shape and all the other applicable field marks
were not visible to me. Size was very hard to judge, but looking at The
Shorebird Guide it lists Wilson's Snipe as being 17.25-19.5" and
15.25-16.75". If Sibley's measurement of an America Robin's wingspan as 17"
is accurate then it makes a nice dividing line. The bird seemed smaller
than a robin in wingspan (although obviously proportioned much different),
but again I was only working with a matter of milliseconds.
When I got home this evening I started pouring through all the literature I
had on Jack Snipes. What I found gave me pause. I've flushed a fair number
of Wilson's Snipe in the last couple of years and I don't think I've ever
had them flush without making their usual alarm call. This bird was
completely silent. Wilson's Snipe typically let you get somewhat close to
them before they flush, but not much closer than ten feet in my experience.
I was within about a yard of this bird and had already walked that close to
it at least once previously and it didn't flush. The spot it flew out of
was some low brush with lots of dead leaves in it, and really not an area I
would think a bird as large as that would be able to hide in. The bird flew
only a few feet before dropping back to the ground. I haven't seen a
Wilson's Snipe do this before, but with the thick growth present it's
possible that a Wilson's might not be able to vacate the area the way they
usually do. I say all this because when I started reading the accounts for
the species these characteristics are called out explicitly. Collins Bird
Guide for instance states the following:
"Flushes only when almost trodden on, flies silently, showing more rounded
wing-tips, pointed tail, less erratic flight than [Common] Snipe. Usually
landing not far away."
The other books I consulted, Birds of East Asia and The Shorebird Guide say
I must admit I went looking for this bird with a lot of skepticism, but the
circumstantial evidence is somewhat persuasive since Scott apparently got
much better looks than I did. I really hope someone goes out and gets a
better look and hopefully a photo of the bird on the ground. If you do go,
I would go as slow as possible and scan every inch of visible cover before
After departing the school, I headed to the meadow Scott mentioned seeing a
Palm Warbler in. I wasn't shocked to find the mixed flock he found on
Saturday was no longer present. There were, however, a pair of the mangiest
looking Coyote's I've ever seen trying to stay away from me.
Third spot was the Grackle location. This seemed like a shot in the dark at
best, given the bird's behavior, and I didn't really give the location the
time it probably deserved before departing.
The highlight of my day happened I stopped in Mukilteo on my way home and
someone mentioned I'd just missed a pack of Orcas moving south through the
ferry lane. I've lived in the Puget Sound area my whole life, but it's been
thirty plus years since the last time I saw an Orca. This wouldn't be so
bad, but I'm only thirty-two so I have no memory of the pod I apparenly saw
as a toddler. I pulled out my phone and looked at the Orca Network facebook
page and realized I'd have to high-tail it south to try to intercept them.
I high-tailed it as fast as I could in rush hour traffic and eventually
pulled up at Haines Wharf Park, a little known spot with a great overlook
of the sound and a fantastic gull roost, just before sunset. From here I
was able to scope distant spouts of the pod as they moved between the south
end of Whidbey Island and Point No Point. I even got to see a few jumps. On
a bird note, there were 2-300 Heerman's Gulls on the wharf, by far the most
I've ever seen there.
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