[Tweeters] excellent birding in Skagit Saturday

Gary Bletsch garybletsch at yahoo.com
Sun May 8 09:33:19 PDT 2022

Dear Tweeters,
Saturday the seventh of May was a fine day for birding in Skagit County. A heavy rain squall moved through the Mount Vernon area in the morning, and it was very windy all day at every coastal spot I visited. I think the good birding was related to that weather. 
I ended up spending almost five hours at the Fir Island Game Range, AKA Wylie Slough. It took hours to relocate the LEWIS'S WOODPECKER that had been reported there on Friday. A handful of other birders and I observed it at the Dike Junction. That is what I call a very good birding spot that deserves a name. It is reached by walking south from the Headquarters area on a dike, past the so-called "viewing blind." That blind deserves a name, too, but in my estimation, "viewing blind" is a misnomer. Skull-cracking Blind would be better, since that is about all it is good for. Anyway, the dike junction is just south of that forehead-destruction unit, where a big new dike heads west from the old dike, making a junction of two dikes.
The Lewis's Woodpecker soon flew at least 500 meters northeast, and spent several hours flycatching from the area of the boat launch. I was able to see it there again later on. At one point the bird flew across the Skagit River, but soon came back to forage from perches about 80 meters east of the bathrooms.  A good observation point was the very muddy turnout on the south side of the boat launch itself.
A single BLUE-WINGED TEAL drake proved fairly difficult to observe. It showed briefly from the pond west of the Skull-cracking Blind, but spent more time foraging with a small flock of Green-winged Teal in a flooded corn-stubble field just west of there.
Early in the morning, Mike Nelson had found a VESPER SPARROW in the brush near the toilet at the boat-launch parking area. When I pulled up in my car there at 0900, an odd-looking sparrow hopped onto the roof of that bathroom, but disappeared before I could study it with binoculars. I spent quite a while searching that area, to no avail. However, after I gave up and started walking on the dike, the Vesper Sparrow turned up, foraging with about a dozen Golden-crowned Sparrows on a gravel roadway. This was right where the entrance road bends right and enters the Headquarters parking area. Unfortunately, cars, dog-walkers, and strollers soon flushed this flock, and I never had an unequivocal view of the Vesper again for the rest of my time there. This was a great find by Mike. The only previous record of a Vesper Sparrow at the Game Range, at least as shown on eBird, was a bird found there in the fall by Steve Mlodinow a few years ago.
A lone PURPLE MARTIN was a good find by Bob Kuntz, who had told me about it. I was able to see this bird later at the Dike Junction, only because it was chasing after a Peregrine Falcon that blasted by!
I tried birding Fir Island Farm Reserve and Jensen Access after leaving the Game Range, but the wind was howling, the tide was out, and I was able to see only a few birds.
At March Point, I was able to locate four AMERICAN WHITE PELICANS, but only at a distance. They were in the same place as last week, foraging in a small channel out in the middle of Padilla Bay at low tide.
Washington Park was very, very windy. Only by standing in the forest and scoping the water from that shelter was I able to hold the scope steady enough to ID any seabirds. The highlight was a beautiful PACIFIC LOON in breeding plumage. The inner forest was quite birdy and free of wind. Just as last week, there were Townsend's Warblers singing there. Here I also saw one of only two Oregon Juncos for the day; most of them have moved on. 
It was windy at Skyline, too, but there I was able to see the only Mew Gulls and Harlequin Ducks of the day. I also got to play a fun game of "find the cell-phone" there with a local resident who'd dropped one while beachcombing!
Similk Beach had lots of birds, including a big flock of Greater Scaup that will probably fly north any day now. The wind was still blowing, but had somewhat abated by then. I also saw the only Horned Grebes of the day here, plus the only Dunlin of the day, a single bird flocking with Western Sandpipers. The Dunlin have almost all moved north, I suspect.

On the Samish Flats, there was still a flock of about 500 Snow Geese along Bay View-Edison Road. Four of these were "Blue Geese." In the midst of this flock were 37 White-fronted Geese.
There has been a lone TRUMPETER SWAN at the Skagit Airport Ponds for some time now. I understand that this bird's presence is known to the Swan Powers That Be. Yesterday it was foraging as usual, alone on the east pond, showing no sign of distress or injury. The yellow neck band reads K44.
Green Road Pond on the Butler Flats was a good spot to bird at day's end. All six swallow species were here, plus lots of Canada Geese with babies, and two late CACKLING GEESE. Virginia Rails were calling, but the Sora that I'd heard here a week ago was not saying anything, if it was present. I tried to find a Bittern, but with no success. That species used to be reliable at Green Road Pond, until about fifteen years ago, when the pond habitat was "improved" or "restored."
Phew! I got home very pleased to have seen 107 species of birds in one day. Sitting on my porch at 2100, just after dark, I was astonished to hear a Western Screech Owl calling, a new yard bird! However, to my dismay, as soon as I walked closer to where the sound was coming from, I realized that my ears had been deceived. I did learn something, though. A distant, winnowing WILSON'S SNIPE can sound a lot like a Western Screech Owl, especially if one is very tired, and one's ears are not what they used to be. The snipe still made 108 species for the day.
Thanks to all the many birders who kept open the lines of communication at the Game Range, where so many of the good birds were yesterday.
Yours truly,
Gary Bletsch
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