[Tweeters] Neah Bay pelagic and Grays Harbor Shorebirds-Labor Day weekend

Andy Stepniewski steppie at nwinfo.net
Thu Sep 4 07:23:57 PDT 2014



Ellen and I hit the Washington coast over Labor Day weekend, taking in the Neah Bay pelagic trip, followed by shorebirding around Grays Harbor. In all we tallied 118 species of birds, including 24 species of shorebirds, plus a great selection of seabirds, raptors, and songbirds.

29 August. Approaching Neah Bay, in beautiful afternoon sun, we stopped by Seal & Sail Rocks. These offshore rocks, or “sea stacks,” provide seabirds with nesting sites. We had several notable sightings here. An adult TUFTED PUFFIN perched near the top of Sail Rock, on a grassy edge of the precipitous ridge facing us, presumably by its nest burrow. An impressive 17 MARBLED MURRELETS, youngsters and adults, peppered the waters just beyond the kelp line. BLACK OYSTERCATCHERS and BLACK TURNSTONES called from the rocky shores below. Landward, we heard and saw BLACK SWIFTS against the hillside uphill from the pullout, along with fluttering swallows. I was first alerted to these magical “cloud swifts” by their calls, a staccato call vaguely like a distant Red Crossbill. Ellen and I never tire of watching these birds rocket through the skies, in stark contrast to the twinkling flight of accompanying swallows. Mammals put on a show here, too. A SEA OTTER gracefully plied the placid, kelp-choked bay, while several score HARBOR SEALS were hauled out on the rocks.

30 August. Before our pelagic trip, Bob Boekelheide, Chazz Heiselman, and Gary Bletch birded the alder thickets and Sitka spruce forest around Hobuck Beach. We enjoyed observing some of the common Pacific Northwest forest species. In the Waatch River were HOODED MERGANSERS, not very common on the outer Washington coast.

The Neah Bay to Swiftsure Bank Pelagic boat trip with leaders Bob Boekelheide and Denny van Horn headed out to the buoy on the international border. This journey is distinctly different from the Westport Seabirds cruise 100 miles to the south. Westport, with its miles of sandy beaches and development is in stark contrast to the rugged cliffs at Cape Flattery. Deep water is encountered closer to shore off Cape Flattery, too. Motoring west, we cruised to the buoy marking the international boundary between the United States and Canada. There were a number of Canadian fishing boats on the Canadian side and we stayed just inside the United States. We encountered a fair selection of the expected pelagic species. The most notable miss was Black-footed Albatross. A distant “white bellied albatross” never came close enough to cinch its identification, though it was probably a LAYSAN. An adult ANCIENT MURRELET posed nicely right off the boat, my best view ever of this species on a pelagic trip. Other birds we observed out in deeper waters included: NORTHERN FULMAR, (1), PINK-FOOTED (800), BULLER’S (6), and SOOTY SHEARWATERS (only 225), RED PHALAROPE, PARASITIC JAEGER, and a good variety of alcids: COMMON MURRE (1000+), PIGEON GUILLEMOT, CASSIN’S and RHINOCEROS AUKLETS, and TUFTED PUFFIN. In the larid family, CALIFORNIA GULLS were the most abundant species, followed by WESTERN/GLAUCOUS-WINGED. We had a sprinkling of the beautiful SABINE’S GULLS, too. Terns were few. We bumped into one flock of confusing, distant terns, probably all COMMONS not far north of Neah Bay in the straits.

31 August. We hit Ruby Beach first thing in the morning targeting Manx Shearwater. We might have seen one zip by but confirmation eluded us. Shearwaters were not close to shore while we were scoping the waters off Ruby Beach so it was difficult trying to pick out features on birds flying perhaps a half mile out.

Then, we headed straight south to Ocean Shores which once again lived up to its reputation for great shorebirding. A juvenile RUFF posed nicely on the east side of the main lagoon and we admired this striking wader, with its multi-hued scaly back pattern contrasting with beautiful buff tones. This was probably the same bird as first seen yesterday by Eric Heisey. We also found the “continuing” STILT SANDPIPERS on the west pool on the game range. One or two RED KNOTS, in worn adult plumage, were nearby. Both AMERICAN and PACIFIC GOLDEN PLOVERS foraged in a loose flock on the Salicornia flats at the west end of the “east” lagoon. We had great studies of these beautiful birds. With patience, we were able to count their primary projections. Several birds were worn adults, so their identity was quite easy, too. Other shorebirds of the 16 species we observed here or at the base of the jetty included: SEMIPALMATED PLOVER, GREATER and LESSER YELLOWLEGS, RUDDY and BLACK TURNSTONES, SANDERLING, LEAST, PECTORAL, and WESTERN SANDPIPERS, SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER, and RED-NECKED PHALAROPE.

Waterfowl were about, too, including a lone GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE. Finally, raptors put on a show with NORTHERN HARRIER, SHARP-SHINNED HAWK, and PEREGRINE FALCON catching our eye.

1 September. First thing we hit the edge of Westport Harbor, seeking rocky shorebirds. It was high tide and we thought we might score big with this clan. WANDERING TATTLER was the only shorebird we noted.

The tide at Bottle Beach had raced out faster than we had predicted so shorebirds were distant when we arrived. Though there were lots of waders, we couldn’t pick out anything unusual. Especially conspicuous were BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS. We added this and MARBLED GODWIT to our growing list of shorebirds. Since our visit 10 August, waterfowl have appeared in numbers, especially MALLARD, CANADA GOOSE, and NORTHERN PINTAIL.

We turned our backs on Grays Harbor and had pretty good warbler watching in the shore side willows and Sitka Spruce: ORANGE-CROWNED, YELLOW, BLACK-THROATED GRAY, WILSON’S, and COMMON YELLOWTHROAT.

Tokeland proved great for the usual contingent of big shorebirds. We added WILLET, WHIMBREL, LONG-BILLED CURLEW, and more MARBLED GODWITS to our trip list, now 24 species. We searched for Elegant Terns both here and at North Cove without success.

Midway Beach was next. We drove beach south from Cranberry Avenue and encountered a dead “baby” HUMPBACK WHALE, perhaps 20 feet-long. This very stinky carcass was probably the same whale found dead by Bill Tweit on a recent Westport Seabirds pelagic cruise. TURKEY VULTURES, 13 in all were on the carcass or nearby. Four COMMON RAVENS and an immature BALD EAGLE were also taking in big meals. Offshore SOOTY SHEARWATERS passing at ~ 6 birds/second were streaming north just off the breakers.

We scoped four flocks of loafing pelicans, gulls, and terns on the beach before finding ELEGANT TERN (8), which have appeared in small numbers this summer in Washington. We watched one young bird begging from its presumed Mom or Dad. To cap off our birding here, we watched an immature PEREGRINE FALCON chase every bird in sight, including passerby CALIFORNIA GULLS and an immature BALD EAGLE.

Andy Stepniewski

Wapato WA

steppie at nwinfo.net

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