Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Pelagic Cormorant

One bird I had figured would be an easy find was the Pelagic cormorant. After all, we would be near the water often and many spots would have some rocks or pilings. Perfect settings for cormorants. Right?

However, it took 3 days longer than I thought it would. Add to it that I found the first one out on the Ocean Shores jetty in the rain, 30 mph gusting winds, and approaching nightfall and I couldn't even get a picture. Decided to keep my footing on the slick rocks, instead.

A few days later, again on the Dungeness hike, around midday I spotted a flying bird just above the waves. Far off but became the first ID photo.

Pelagic Cormorant

A little while later I found another Pelagic Cormorant. This one was in breeding plumage which it noticeable by the white patch on the sides of the bird. Compare to no patch on the photo above.

Pelagic Cormorant

It was on the way back to the house that I got my closest view. It was during a stop at the John Wayne Marina just outside of Sequim. Yes, THAT John Wayne. He, or part of his family, used to own it and you can find Duke souvenirs in the store.

I grabbed some more film, a hat pin and a postcard and headed out to the view of the docks and the jetty. The water was running fast past the marina and fishing in the current was my last Pelagic Cormorant of the trip.

Pelagic Cormorant

I could finally see some of the shiny blue feathers with the bird this close. It is also very thin-necked and slender-billed compared to the common views of Double-crested Cormorants in Florida.

An almost elegant looking member of the Cormorant family.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Bewick's Wren

Actually one of the last of my Washington Lifers, the Bewick's Wren was way down on my "must-have" checklist. Not seeing any in a week, I had given up. We know what usually happens next.

Just as we headed up the gravel part of the trail just off of the first part of the wooden boardwalk at Nisqually, we had a mixed flock of birds, mainly Golden-crowned Sparrows, make a blur of feeding feathers and song.

Out of the bushes next to the creek popped the Bewick's Wren about 30 feet away from us. I am used to Carolina Wrens here at home and the Bewick's is fairly similar. Eye-line seemed a bit more distinct and they weren't quite as Rufus.

The first one we saw didn't stick around too long but we found a second, also hanging near Golden-crowned Sparrows and some Chickadees. The rain had returned for another wave and had just started to back off when I spotted a Bewick's dancing through the branches.

Bewick's Wren

Ended up being the only photo I was able to get as they headed to the back side of the tree which was blocked off by blackberries and marsh.

We were left with some Marsh Wrens here and there and other locals but the Bewick's were out of sight for the rest of the walk. At least they gave us a quick glimpse.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Fox Sparrow

Which will it be first? The good news or the bad? O.K., the good.

The good news is that I was able to find many Fox Sparrows out in Washington. Even got some really good close-up photos one early morning just outside the hotel we stayed in over at Ocean Shores. Witnessed all their funky scratching jumps while they forage in the underbrush.

Even had a nice comparison between the Fox and Song Sparrow as they sat just a small branch apart. Fox Sparrows foraged just feet in front of me and then would travel by in single-file lines. It was awesome.

The bad news? The digital card that I took all the photos on went circuits-up when I tried to download the pictures. I have tried 12 different ways to rescue them but the danged thing just won't mount anywhere. I have decided they are lost forever.

Then again, there was that "We recover pictures from digital cards!" sign up at the local photo and hobby store. Hmmmmmm...might be the final try. I just can't convince myself to throw the thing away.

SO! All I have left of the Fox Sparrow are a couple fairly horrible photos from the end of my hike out to Dungeness Lighthouse. They are from a good distance so I had to enlarge them but they are Fox Sparrows.

The first bird I saw near the maintenance building was a Junco but there were other birds flying to and from the bird feeder set up outside so I stopped to rest and see what I could see. After the Junco caught my eye, a Spotted Towhee hopped out to pick up seed from the ground and was soon followed by a Fox Sparrow.

Fox Sparrow

It would grab something and fly back to the brambles to eat and then come back out again after a couple minutes. Every now and then it would jump up on a nearby stump and do a display of some sort by flaring out its tail every now and then.

Fox Sparrow

Then it would fly back into the brambles. Interesting. I still had a half-mile to get back to the car for some Gatorade so I headed on.

If there is some miracle that resurrects the fallen digital card I will update this species account, but I have a feeling that the cold science of the situation will prevail.


Still, I have the memory of that morning by the Pacific in my brain. It was a warming time on a chilly day.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Golden-crowned Sparrow

In the top ten of most wanted to see birds on our Washington trip was the Golden-crowned Sparrow. I had seen photos that others had taken and decided I needed to see one up close and personal.

We didn't see a lot of them but they were found in several locations throughout the week. The first possible sighting was a small flock quickly crossing the road as we went around Brady Loop toward Ocean Shores. They dashed into some blackberry bushes and refused to come back up for a positive ID.

So, I would have to wait until my Dungeness hike to find them for sure. It was a cold, windy morning but at the edge of the bluff near the entrance to the park there were a lot of Golden-crowned Kinglets and just beyond them the sparrows appeared.

Unlike the Kinglets, which flitted around and past my head so fast I could not get a got photo, the sparrows were a little more bold and stopped out on the grass to peck at seeds. It was the best place to get a shot of the male to show the crown.

Golden-crowned Sparrow

So, a definite ID and bird added to the list. We found one more flock the next day out at Nisqually. The males were ahead of the females and did not want to pose here. A female did stop in a small tree in the marsh and seemed to freeze as if trying to hide from me. It stopped long enough for a closer shot.

Golden-crowned Sparrow

I would like some better chances for photos, of course, but it was nice to see them several times in different habitats.

Now I needed to find a Fox Sparrow...

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Song Sparrows

One of the species I am working on improving ID skills on is the Sparrow and its many groups. Most of the Orlando Sparrows are of the House variety. Those are easy. Several other types live in the state but they are usually in most rural areas until Winter when we get a few new birds hanging out for a while.

In Washington, Sparrows seemed to be everywhere. I added a few new Life birds on the recent trip including some of the Sparrows that are most common in the state. First up for discussion is the Song Sparrow.

Song Sparrows were the most frequently viewed Sparrow on our trip and I already miss them. They are much more likely to pop out of the bushes for good looks and photos and have a wonderful song. Naturally.

The first confirmed sighting came after I took a wrong turn looking for a store and ended up 15-20 miles away in the town of Belfair. I found a trail that was mentioned by my brother-in-law a day or two before. I didn't have time to explore it but I stepped out to listen and look for a minute.

Beyond the flock of Black-capped Chickadees, another new Life bird for the day, was a bird calling from a small tree. I had to scoot around the back side of tree and managed to walk up fairly close to the bird. Wasn't sure what it was at the moment but the shot made the ID pretty easy later.

Song Sparrow

The next morning, I was able to find them all over the Port Orchard neighborhood and I showed one photo at the feeder spot in the previous post about the new feeder I placed before we left.

We also saw them on every stop throughout the state. Even when I tried to make them into something new like a Lincoln's Sparrow. No luck on that but seeing so many Song Sparrows was and fun bonus.

Last big bird site of the trip was Nisqually and the Song Sparrows were all over the place, too. The first pair were inspecting the reeds in the small pond in front of the visitor center.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

We reached the limit of our walk thanks to time constraints so we looped back and I heard a really loud song that ended with a rather metallic ending. I couldn't find the bird but knew it had to be very close. I started to give up the search and nearly walked into the singing bird.

It stayed and sang some more and let me get in one last shot.

Song Sparrow

Like I said, I miss them already.

There were other birds around that day such as the Golden-crowned Sparrows and I will talk about them next time.
For more info and a sample of the Song Sparrow's song head over to the page for them at the USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter.

Once I get through all of the Washington birds, I will try to remember to discuss some of the Florida sparrows including the Grasshopper and Henslow's Sparrows. After all, those are what I wanted to start this blog experiment with in the first place!

You never know which direction the birds will lead you.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

American Wigeons

So, we covered the smoking Eurasian variety. The Washington trip was also the first time I got fairly close to some of the more common American versions. Most of them were off in the distance but close enough to pick out with binoculars.

At Nisqually, however, they were right next to the boardwalk that guides visitors on a 1-mile trek around the first part of the property. We had rain showers that were sweeping through in waves but being closer made for some nice photos. The first shot was with the film camera as a few birds picked along the duck weed in the canals.

American Wigeon

Here, a male and female give a good look at their different plumage types.

American Wigeon

It was nice to see the bold green stripe that goes along the head of the males as they cruise through the water.

American Wigeon

A final shot and then we would leave them to feed and relax in the light rain and cool forest canopy.

American Wigeon

We had other birds to find but I hope that I can get some closer looks here in Florida next Fall or Winter.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Unexpected Wigeons

I wasn't paying attention to the fact that Wigeons would be out in the Washington area. We get a smattering of American Wigeons in places like Merritt Island in the winter and I guess that in my mind that's where they would be still and yet to move back north.

All of the Wigeons I have encountered in Florida have been, oh, 100 yards away or more. Here they were much closer in various locations. Most were off to the side of the road in small ponds or in waterways leading in from the ocean but always in spots I couldn't just stop and view them easily.

The first place I did find a spot to view them I almost didn't.

After my 10 mile hike out to Dungeness I decided to stop at some of the spots mentioned in the Washington bird finding guide. Most were directly across from the Dungeness Spit and past Sequim (pronounced "Squim") on the way back to homebase in Port Orchard.

One of these spots was by the Three Crabs Restaurant. It overlooks Dungeness Bay and was marked for numerous chances to see some birds. As I parked in the gravel parking lot I had noticed some ducks to my left but didn't really think too much about it. Some were Mallards for sure, so...

I headed up the dead end road noticing American Wigeons in the ponds and a House Finch pair on the fences. Heading back toward the restaurant and curiosity got the better of me and I parked in the lot again and got out to check out the Mallards I had seen earlier. Good thing I did. It got another Life Bird for me.

Among the Mallards and American Wigeons was one rarer bird: Eurasian Wigeon. Easily told apart from the American variety by the Rufus head feathers, even in the fading light, it was dabbling back in forth in the mixed flock. Still a little too far out for a great picture but fine for ID.

Eurasian Wigeon

I also like the small group of American Wigeons doing some sort of display in that shot. In the next shot you can see the Eurasian in the middle, Mallard behind him and an American Wigeons surrounding them.

Eurasian Wigeon

There was still one more unexpected Wigeon to be found. Rather shocking to find this behavior. Maybe they figured some square like me being so far away couldn't get to them in trouble so what the heck...

If I ever do find this little rascal's parents you bet I will tell them that their precious baby is being a bad influence on his peers. I mean, I never even knew Wigeons COULD do such a thing. Imagine the surprise, finding a duck that can smoke!

Eurasian Wigeon

With all the wind that day I am can't fathom how he even got the thing lit.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

My Port Orchard Alarm Clock

Beginning with Day 2, the first morning after the flight in, of our Washington trip I started hearing one of the most wonderful songs I have ever heard. Loud, crisp, wandering all over the scale and lasting several seconds at a time.

I scanned the towering trees in the pre-dawn gloom and failed to find the singer. One moment the song would be off to the side of the house and the next it would seem to be quite close. Every silence-shattering song would send me searching in a slightly different direction. Even when it seemed the song was coming from a nearby, leafless tree I failed to find the bird.

I made a mental note to remember the song and track down a CD of western bird calls A.S.A.P.!

The following morning brought the same situation. Dark, cold, misty morning with those wondrous songs all over and a lone guy in his PJs and leather jacket searching the trees with binoculars. The Spotted Towhees, Varied Thrushes, and Hairy Woodpeckers (all Life birds) were nice, but I needed to find this crooner.

Just as we were wrapping up breakfast I stepped out back to inspect the scene. At the bottom of the stairs was a small brown bird searching around a small wood pile. Knew by the size and actions that it was some sort of Wren. I ran back in to get the camera hoping it would be something new for me.

Got a couple quick shots in the gloomy morning rain. Better yet, it sang! I had finally found my new alarm clock. The Winter Wren.

Winter Wren

Soon, I was seeing them all over the place. Mainly in the underbrush and skipping from low branches to leafy piles. Every now and then they would pause and emit their song then continue foraging.

To here this song for yourself and read a little more about Winter Wrens, click here.

Now, off to search for an actual alarm clock that I might be able to arm with that song...