[Tweeters] SAS Birdathon King Count Big Day - May 4 2014 [long]

Matt Bartels mattxyz at earthlink.net
Mon May 5 05:43:38 PDT 2014

Hi Tweets -
Yesterday, Michael Hobbs & I led our 10th annual King County Big Day for Seattle Audubon's Birdathon. We were joined by Brian Bell, Sharon Cormier-Aagaard, Bob Asanoma, Paul & Barbara Webster and Fredianne Gray for a great day of birding around the county. The weather wasn't great, but it could have been a lot worse: rain cells moving through to soak us all day, but they seemed outnumbered by breaks --- Unlike a lot of previous iterations, we didn't hit any really slow spots during the day, with new birds and birdy stretches popping up throughout the day.

We ended up with 117 species for the day -- that's right on our 10 year average, nine short of our record of 126 species.

Highlight birds:
GRAY FLYCATCHER - one at Lake Fenwick in Kent, calling from the frisbee golf course - it was at approximately the NE corner of the pond, flycatching and calling from various branches in clear view -- we got great looks at its bill [long, with the orangy-yellow base and clean line separating the black tip of the bill, overall color, and dipping tail action.

YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD - a male at 204th street fields/ponds in Kent, as reported on e-bird from the day before

SEMIPALMATED PLOVER - 3 in the fields n of Sykes Lake in Carnation

The day:

We began in the dark in Redmond, at Red Brick Road Marsh at 4:30 where AMERICAN BITTERN was pumping away. A BARN OWL flew by while we listened for other owls from across the marsh. After picking up a few more pre-dawn singers, we headed to Marymoor. Marymoor is our 'home turf' and the 2+ hours we spent was great with birds popping up at a regular pace despite some rain. Highlights included our first GREEN HERON of the year at Marymoor, perched high across the slough and making a lot of noise; our first WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE of the season, sitting in the cottonwood forest on a short snag; Warbling Vireo + six warblers [Orange-crowned, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow, Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Gray, and Wilson's Warblers]; A female Western Tanager & a bright male Black-headed Grosbeak were great additions along the way as we checked off swallows, hummers, sparrows & such. Before heading into the Snoqualmie Valley, we stopped by a viewpoint off E.Lake Sammamish Rd. to pick up Purple Martin at the gourds on the NE corner of Lake Sammamish -- a Common Loon was a pleasant surprise at this stop as well.

Next up, the Snoqualmie Valley: Out on Woodinville-Duvall Rd., we picked up Greater Yellowlegs at the ponds viewed from the Duvall welcome sign. A trip up W. Snoqualmie River Rd., we were unable to relocate the 2 Western Kingbirds I saw on saturday, but we did find several other nice day birds including Ring-necked Pheasant, Northern Harrier, Brewer's Blackbird & House Sparrow.

We moved up into the forest along Stoessel Creek, where we finally added MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLER to our cumulative Big Day list -- several were singing, and after lots of patience with one, everyone got decent looks. Pac-Slope Flycatcher & Pacific Wren, Evening Grosbeak, Hairy & Pileated Woodpecker, Band-tailed Pigeon & Common Raven all showed up as we waited. Lake Joy was pretty quiet, with just swallows and a lot of Buffleheads. At the Moss Lake parking area, we heard, then saw our only Varied Thrush for the day.

We were running ahead of schedule we spent extra time walking the Stillwater trail -- Bullock's Orioles were very vocal and visible, a great recent returnee to find on our big day. A Sora 'queeped' from the marsh along the way, and an overdue Red-breasted Sapsucker & Downy Woodpecker finished off our woodpeckers for the day.

Sykes Lake gave us our first Least Sandpipers of the day, along with 3 SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS, in the field North of the bridge, on the west side of the road. We tried for Bank Swallows at Chinook Bend, but only could find N.Rough-winged Swallows out over the water.

Moving south, we stopped at Tokul Creek in Fall City, where an AMERICAN DIPPER was sitting out and waiting for us to come along. This year, given the reports that the nesting Peregrine's at Snoqualmie Falls has been pretty inconspicuous and probably weren't nesting, we opted to skip the stop and move south to the Kent Valley.

As we moved into Kent, our count was 91 species -- not bad, but a bit lower than desired, and also lower than the birdy nature of the day felt to us.

Emerald Downs in Auburn was our first stop, where we quickly picked up Northern Pintail, American Wigeon, a flock of LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER, and overhead, great looks at a PEREGRINE FALCON, harassing a Bald Eagle. At Lake Fenwick over the gold course, we quickly called in BARRED OWL - one flew in and another called from a distance. After enjoying close looks at [until-then heard-only] Pac-Slope Flycatcher, we heard another flycatcher calling and tracked down the GRAY FLYCATCHER -- it was quite a treat to pick up a county rarity during a big day, and to have it perch up for close enough looks to really confirm the field marks. In less exciting finds, we picked up Eurasian Collared Doves [Smith Brothers Dairy and at the usual Frager Road spot] and Western Scrub-Jay [true to form, the Frager birds didn't respond on Big Day but those across 64th from the Grassy Knoll @ Kent Ponds did].

At Boeing Ponds , we picked up Spotted Sandpiper, but the biggest event was our biggest downpour of the day. Paul claimed it was 'an active cell moving through' -- but mostly we were just caught out in a downpour that paused briefly, then recommenced as hail. Thoroughly soaked, holding foggy optics, we moved onwards -- The fields at 200th Street had a nice flock of GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE [15 or so], and one CACKLING GOOSE. The flocks of Least Sandpipers here were close in, and we were able to pick out several WESTERN SANDPIPERS. At 204th St., our highlight was a male YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD out to the south of the road. The ponds at 212th had both Sora & Virginia Rail vocalizing.

Our total moving to West Seattle was 106 species.

The run around the West Seattle shoreline felt a bit slow, but probably included a relatively normal amount of new species as the light disappeared -- Pigeon Guillemot at Herring House Park; Brandt's Cormorant & Barrow's Goldeneye at Jack Block Park; Surf Scoter, Pelagic Cormorant, Western & Horned Grebe along Duwamish Head/Alki Beach; Brant & Red-necked Grebe along Constellation Park & MeKwaMooks, and a Common Goldeneye and three Rhino Auklets at Lowman Beach Park for the day's last species additions.

6 of the birds we saw were new for our King Co Big Day 'life list' -- Sharp-shinned Hawk, Semipalmated Plover, Western Wood-Pewee, Gray Flycatcher, MacGillivray's Warbler & Yellow-headed Blackbird. Notable misses for the day included: Ring-necked Duck, scaup, Harlequin Duck, White-winged Scoter, Solitary Sandpiper, Caspian Tern, Great Horned Owl, Hammond's Flycatcher, Hutton's Vireo, and Pine Siskin.

The rainy weather really didn't slow us down much, and the well-spaced surprises along way made this one of the more steadily exciting Big Days of our 10 year run. Thanks to all the participants for tolerating our puns and joining in the fun.

Matt Bartels
Seattle, WA

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