[Tweeters] Thick-billed Murre at Port Angeles Harbor...again

Boekelheide bboek at olympus.net
Sun Jan 4 06:31:42 PST 2015

During yesterday’s Port Angeles CBC, for the third year in a row, the Ediz Hook party located a Thick-billed Murre swimming in Port Angeles Harbor.

The bird was swimming and diving with Common Murres in the middle of the harbor, in about a straight line between the pilot station on Ediz Hook and the city pier on the south side of the harbor. It was only visible with a scope, but we watched it over about 15-20 minutes at 1:30 pm as it dove several times. It clearly stuck out every time it surfaced, fairly easy to separate from the Common Murres. Fortunately for us the light was perfect, with high overcast and no glare, along with calm winds.

It is a nice basic plumage Thick-billed Murre, distinctly blacker than the Common Murres, with clean unstreaked sides and a clearly different shape to the bill that it held horizontal to the water unlike the angled-upward bills of the Commons. It has a totally dark face and head above a line going back from its bill, with a distinct white chin and throat below its face that circles around on the foreneck. The bird was too far to see the white tomial line on the upper mandible. The Common Murres it was swimming with were in a variety of plumages, from basic to alternate to splotchy in-between molt, so the Thick-billed requires caution to separate from the Commons.

We had searched the same area earlier in the day, but there were relatively few murres in the harbor during the morning. From 8-9 am there were hundreds, probably thousands, of murres swimming and flying in the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the north and northwest of Ediz Hook. By early afternoon there were many more murres in the outer half of the harbor, some loafing on the water and some diving, and fewer visible in the Strait.

Since this is the third year in a row we’ve found a Thick-billed Murre in Port Angeles harbor on the CBC, it makes you wonder whether it’s the same bird coming back to winter in the same area. Some people have discouraged this idea, but I suspect that murres may be as faithful to wintering sites as they are to nesting sites, so it is certainly a possibility.

The two Snow Buntings are also still at Ediz Hook, in just about the same area where we located the murre offshore, so look for them if you go that way.

Bob Boekelheide

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