Saturday, July 4, 2015

Seattle to Westport (June 22)

After a lengthy delay for my connection in Chicago, I finally landed at SeaTac in the early morning hours of the 22nd. A night near the airport, then off towards the town of Westport on the Pacific coast. On my way, I stopped by the port of Tacoma (definitely the least scenic part of the journey) to check for an adult Slaty-backed Gull that may still be residing in the area. Ryan had suggested that I take a look for this bird, a full adult that had wintered here for at least a few years, since I was passing by Tacoma. Last year it was first seen as early as August and lingered at least into May of this year, recorded in every month except June and July, raising the possibility that it might just be there year-round. However I was unsuccessful in finding the bird among the loafing/nesting Glaucous-winged and "Olympic" Gulls. Ryan and Charlie Wright later wondered aloud whether the bird, thought to be a female, could be sitting on a nest somewhere nearby. Now that's a cool, but scary, thought...

A quick check of the nearby Gog-Le-Hi-Te Mitigated Wetlands yielded no gulls but had a few interesting passerines such as Willow Flycatcher, Marsh Wren, Savannah Sparrow and Spotted Towhee.

Song Sparrow

On the approach to Westport I passed through Aberdeen (home of Kurt Cobain) and decided to take a spin through town in search of Western Scrub-Jays, which I eventually located. Along the way I also came across Anna's Hummingbird, my first Pacific-slope Flycatcher of the trip, and a calling Red Crossbill (Type 3).

Western Scrub-Jay

Pacific-slope Flycatcher




"Type 3" Red Crossbill spectrogram

I reached Westport during early afternoon and decided to check out Westhaven State Park before checking into my motel. A group of lingering ducks were in the sheltered bay near the parking lot, consisting of a Red-breasted Merganser, a Harlequin Duck, and several Surf Scoter.

left to right: Surf Scoter, Surf Scoter, Harlequin Duck, Red-breasted Merganser

A stunning breeding-plumaged Pacific Loon was just offshore. One or two rather pure-looking adult or near-adult Western Gulls were evident among a large flock of messy hybrids and California Gulls. Several White-crowned Sparrows of the pugetensis subspecies were singing from various posts along the shore. But the most impressive sight of all was the mass of Sooty Shearwater offshore, feeding and rafting by the thousands. I conservatively estimated 14,000 birds in one sweep. They weren't close, but it was a very welcome sight nonetheless.

pugetensis White-crowned Sparrow

Next up came a quick look from the nearby marina into Grays Harbor. Here were my first of many Heermann's Gulls and four species of alcid: Rhinocerous Auklet, Common Murre, Pigeon Guillemot, and a surprise group of three distant Ancient Murrelets, a species that is usually seen here during the colder months but not summer.

Westport Marina

I planned on spending the last few hours of daylight along the coast south of Westport, as far south as I would get on this trip, at Grayland and Midway Beaches. The weather was pretty amazing, which is something that held surprisingly steady this week.

My target bird at Grayland Beach was Snowy Plover, one of the northernmost breeding locations for this species on the Pacific coast. I pretty easily found five adult birds.

Snowy Plover

Snowy Plover

Snowy Plover

A mixed flock of about 100 gulls held some nice variety, including 4 first summer Black-legged Kittiwakes and a first-summer Herring Gull, which I am told is barely annual in the state during summer.

Heermann's Gull

first summer Herring Gull

first summer Herring Gull

first summer Black-legged Kittiwake

first summer Black-legged Kittiwake

small jellyfish

to scale

Dungeness Crab, one of a few freshly dead ones washed onto the beach

31st summer Nick Bonomo, allegedly approaching maturity

A freshwater marsh adjacent to the ocean was the main draw for me at neighboring Midway Beach, thanks to a tip from Ryan.  This place looks amazing, like anything could drop in during migration. Even on this June day it was birdy...overrun with Marsh Wrens, swallows of a few species, and at least one Virginia Rail was calling.

freshwater marsh at Midway Beach

Midway Beach satellite view

The Olympic Peninsula is at its best where the forest meets the ocean. Luckily, that describes most of the outer coast. This is evident even as far south as the Westport area. (Perhaps not technically still the peninsula this far south? I am unclear on the southern boundary). Here, you will be scoping Sooty Shearwaters on the ocean while "Russet-backed" Swainson's Thrushes, "Oregon" Dark-eyed Juncos, "Western" Purple Finches and Pacific Wrens sing behind you. It is one of the most beautiful settings in the country.

"Red-shafted" Northern Flickers


Night in Westport.

 - NB

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