Friday, June 30, 2006


On the outskirts of Sequim, as I headed back to base, I noticed a Wildbirds Unlimited store as I sped past and quickly made a U-turn. I had been searching for a birdsong CD for the West coast all week. Surely, they had to stock one.

Found a Stokes version and grabbed it and decided to add a hanging platform feeder to the order as a souvenir. I asked about any bird sightings and noticed a feeder hanging just outside the back window. Siskins were there earlier, I was told, but things had quieted down as night drew closer.

I paid for my items and I almost drove away. Then I changed my mind and decided to look around back. Grabbing the camera, I jumped back out of the car and walked around to the side of the store. There was a lot of bird activity at that same feeder now.

There was a small light brown bird that I thought might be my missing Siskin. Later, after consulting more local birders, I have to conclude it must have been just another female House Finch. Oh, well.

Several Sparrows and a Spotted Towhee joined in to feed and then they were joined by many birds I had seen pictures of and knew immediately. Dark-eyed Juncos! Cool. No Siskin but Life birds just the same. They moved around to the other side of the building and I followed.

I discovered that there are 5 different divisions of Juncos and these were of the "Oregon" group.

Oregon Junco

I hadn't even noticed this side of the building when I drove up. It was a show area for the store's feeders, fountains and such. Birdy Heaven! Fox and Song Sparrows flew about and sang and the Juncos stopped by in waves. It was nice of them to pause every now and again so I could get a more natural background.

Oregon Junco

The sun had sunk behind the ridge across the road and lighting was not great, again, but I wasn't complaining since I was surrounded by small birds that were stopping within feet of me. Sometimes feeding, sometimes just hopping around and then flying back toward the bushes.

Most of the birds looked like the ones posted above. There was one, however, that looked a lot different in color. My mind tried to make it a "Pink-sided" version. Every book seemed to suggest it, too. I later got an email from a contact from a man who bands a lot of Juncos and he reported that is was just a variant of the "Oregons".

Oregon Junco

It was a fun way to end a long day in the area. There are still 3 or 4 other spots I would love to explore right in and around Sequim the next time we venture out there.


There are two types of Goldeneyes in abundance in the Northwest. The first, Common Goldeneye, I had a chance to see in Apopka in the Fall of 2005 in the form of a female that had wandered over to a retention pond to feed with some Hooded Mergansers. Many fellow birders were quite thrilled for this sudden, unexpected arrival. She stuck around for a month or so.

The second, Barrow's Goldeneye, were completely new to me. Only wish I could have gotten better shots than I did. Most were from very far away or from fast moving boats.

Here, a female Common Goldeneye floats on the waves.

Common Goldeneye

I took the trip to the west to find the male Common Goldeneyes. We found many pairs throughout the Seattle area.

Common Goldeneye

The first Barrow's were found from the boat trip we took around Bainbridge Island.

Barrow's Goldeneye

You can notice the more crescent-shaped white patch on the males of the Barrow's. Females of both species are nearly identical.

Barrow's Goldeneye

The best look I had of a pair were these two swimming in the calm waters around the boats docked at the John Wayne Marina.

Barrow's Goldeneye

Very pretty ducks. Hope I can find some on a nice calm lake some day.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Spotted Towhee

Banding Eastern Towhees here is so common it gets slightly boring after a while. Might not top the Catbird numbers during migration but there are days we don't bother taking a picture of Towhees for the banding website.

Still, Towhees were on my target list for the Northwest because they have a different version. The Spotted Towhee. Looks a lot like an Eastern Towhee...but with spots. We humans are so inventive, eh?

I actually found the first Spotted Towhee on the first morning of the trip but since it was at dawn there was almost no light to shot in. Most other finds were in and out of bushes so quickly that there was no time.

Then, on our way back down the trails at Nisqually, my wife found a bird that appeared along the river's edge. She stopped to get a shot and I proceeded to do the same. Our best view of the trip of the Towhee.

Spotted Towhee

Very pretty bird. One other difference from the western birds and our eastern species is that ours usually have more orange of 'straw' colored eyes. I have seen only one red eyed Eastern Towhee out at Wekiva during banding.

You can compare the Spotted Towhee to the Eastern Towhee by visiting the Towhee page of my photo web site.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Another bird I have failed to find in Florida in Winter is the Bufflehead. I have been able to help others find them but when it was my turn to go out when I had time, they had already moved on.

Finding them in the Pacific Northwest is a piece of cake! However, the weather was either really bad when I found them or the birds were very far out for any interesting shots. I got a few OK shots, anyway.

The closest we actually got was while exploring Alki Beach. The photos don't show too great a detail in the gloom but the pattern is unmistakable. Especially the males.


The females are a little more indistinct but that white cheek spot is another give away.


Or, you can always get to know the look of the females by finding her teamed up with a male. This pair spent a lot of time diving for food and riding the churned up Puget Sound as we tried to stay warm in the stiff wind.


After a few shots were in the camera it was time for a hot chocolate across the street from the beach. I look forward to finding them on a much warmer, sunny day here in Florida.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

House Finch

As darkness began to wrap the land around Bainbridge Island one night, I took one last stroll down the street. I noticed a fluttering in the branches and quick little bird darted into a nearby backyard followed by another small birds.

Peering over the fence I could just make out a bit of color in a Juniper tree. Moments later, both birds flew out and onto a fence directly across from me. House Finches!

House Finch

I kept hoping for a Purple Finch to fly into view the rest of the trip, but only had just a few more House Finches. The only other pair that even stopped for a minute near me was on the dead end road past Three Crabs Restaurant across from Dungeness Lighthouse.

House Finch

The House Finch is reported to be extending its range farther and farther to the South. Just this month I have had a male showing up at our backyard feeders. Kinda hoping he sticks around even though some don't like them.

I friend in nearby Altamonte Springs just North of Orlando has had them for at least 2 years. My first sighting was in Jacksonville near the beach last year in June.

More interesting is the variations in plumage in House Finches. Usually the males are brownish with a red crown and a red patch on the rear. Sometimes they are brown and yellow, instead. This yellow variant has started showing up in larger numbers. This past week there have been reports in Altamonte Springs, around Sea World, and I found one at the in-laws in Winter Park!

House Finch

This time of year I will take all the color variations as possible.

Monday, June 26, 2006

West Coast Grebes

We have two fairly common Winter visitors that belong to the Grebe family. Most common is the Pied-billed Grebe which are also being seen in local lakes as of yesterday so it seems some are sticking around into the Summer.

The other is the Horned Grebe which we hear reports of over at the Cape area first and then start seeing them more inland. Last year I found one smack dab in the center of the state in Winter Park.

Hard as I tried, I could not make any of the Horned Grebes into Eared Grebes. Trust me, I tried. Nothing but Horned Grebes for us.

Horned Grebe

I did finally find a new Grebe while we were about to leave the docks from one of the landings on the way to Seattle. I wasn't sure of the species for a while. Had to really go through many comparisons since I had never seen one but I finally settled on a Red-throated Grebe.

Red-throated Grebe

Every time I walked near a more open shoreline I kept looking for either a Western or Clark's Grebe. As usual, once you stop looking, there it is. On the walk back from Dungeness Lighthouse, up popped a Western Grebe not far from me!

Western Grebe

Never did find a Clark's but that Western was a real treat just the same.

Pigeon Guillemot

For the first ferry ride of the trip we rushed to the loading dock with mere minutes to go on the schedule but wound up with a slight wait as the boat was delayed across the Sound. We had a few more minutes to look around.

I grabbed the film camera and headed out to the dock to see what was what. There were a few gulls, Red-breasted Mergansers, Bufflehead. Most birds were too far out in the water for any satisfying shots so I headed back.

Not far from the shoreline I heard a high-pitched call from my left coming from the water below. I leaned over and found a pair of black birds I had never seen before.

Pigeon Guillemot

Definitely a new bird for me. I was very excited to see them and realized that I only had 2 or 3 frames of film to use in the camera. Should have brought the digital, too. Oh, well. With the ferry rapidly approaching the dock I didn't have much time to get back to the car, anyway. Time to focus for one more shot.

Pigeon Guillemot

Once we got loaded on the ferry I began to look for my new bird before I could forget the details. A Guillemot! However, there were 2 species: Pigeon and Black. According to the details, the Pigeon had a definite notch in their wing patch. Mine did not seem to. Mine seemed to match the description for the Black version.

Except the book says they are only found on the Atlantic. Only reports of an overlap were up in Alaska. I still didn't want to believe it. I tried and tried to make it a special sighting but finally had to give up once I got feedback from locals when I emailed them once back home.

I had seen birds I knew were Pigeon because I could clearly see the notch. Even caught a great example at deception Pass.

Pigeon Guillemot

In the end, I had to concede the simple fact that my first birds could not have been the Black Guillemot. Still a Life Bird for us. I'll wait to steal a headline later.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Glaucous-winged Gulls

For some reason, gulls were lower on my list of birds to track down. Maybe I figured I was bound to bump into several hundred along the way since we were next to the water. I do know I paid some rapt attention when they were around.

Half way through the trip I was starting to squint at gull hard to try and make one a Mew Gull, to no avail. The only unexpected gull was a single California Gull. Most were Western and Glaucous-winged with some hybrid of the two thrown in for good measure.

I think my favorites turned out to be the Glaucous-winged. This one was in part of a flock along Alki Beach Park on the Puget Sound across from Seattle.

Glaucous-winged Gull

There were a few Westerns there, too. I need to go back through my pictures to actually find them.

One of my favorite shots of a gull was from near the end of my Dungeness hike. I see a big pattern here. Dungeness enters into almost every post somehow!

Glaucous-winged Gull

Since there was a nice steady breeze after the storm passed through, the few gulls I saw would flap into the wind and often hung in the air for a while before moving on into the wind or wheeled back to rest up the beach.

More information on Alki Beach can be found here.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Jetty Hopping

When we arrived at Ocean Shores the weather was clear but crisp and pretty windy. Algae blooms had stained the Pacific waves a thick, rusty brown that lapped up the beach at low tide. Not that these Florida folks were about to dip into the cold waters here, anyway.

As we walked out on Damon Point the weather began to shift. The wind picked up even more and rain clouds began to push in from the West. We made our way back to the parking lot after exploring the now exposed wreck of the SS Catala and searching, in vain, for Snowy Owls which we later learned were hiding in the dunes just beyond that growing tide stream.

SS Catala

The planned birding tour of the area was cut short by that growing storm but I wanted to at least get out and scan the jetty back at the beach. I stepped out with my Pentax, which I use as a pretend telescope at times, and walked toward the jetty as a light rain began to blow in. I climbed up to the top of the jetty and stared down the jumble of rocks leading out into the Pacific.

I could see a LOT of birds floating in the waves at the very end of the jetty maybe 100 yards long ahead of me. If you know me well you know what happens next. I had to get out there, weather be damned. I began hopping from rock to rock as the family sat in the car.

In hindsight, it wasn't the smartest thing to do but I needed to know what those shapes actually were. Life Birds were at stake. The wind was gusting up to around 30 mph and the clouds were gaining strength and menace. 3 other foolish humans were well ahead of me and I was determined to reach the end as fast as possible.

I eventually made it to the end of the jetty just behind the other adventures and scanned the bobbing specs through the rain while nearly loosing my footing numerous times as we were buffeted by gust after gust. The waves were crashing hard by now, adding their spray to the light rain.

Most of the birds were not new as I had hoped. Surf and White-winged Scoters and a few gulls and a Pelagic Cormorant. Out on the edges of the flocks a lone, large Harbor Seal poked his head above the waves to scan the birds just as I was doing. Off to my left there was a flash of white feathers which was a Life Bird: Long-tail Duck. It dove twice and then flew off, avoiding my attempts to photograph it.

I looked behind me down the long stretch of now slick rocks and could just make out the headlights of the rental car. Besides the inclement weather, it was now getting dark. Time to head back past the gulls and Pelagic Cormorants. By now, I could notice some smaller birds at the base of the jetty. Here were my Life Birds, down dodging the waves below me.

The light was really fading now but I could make out one bird for sure. I had been thinking it would have been easier to find in other locations but I would take it here. Even at a distance in the gloom I could tell it was a Black Turnstone. This image was scanned in and cropped.

Black Turnstone

Other small birds were searching for food in the mess of waves and wind. Hard to make out at the time. Best I could do was try and grab any shot and review in the warmth of a hotel after the film came back. Turns out there were a couple more Lifers out there for me. One was a Surfbird.


What could these other birds be? Not sure. Had to ask for some help from the Tweeters in Washington. Helped confirm another new bird. In this shot we have Black Turnstone, Surfbirds, and Rock Sandpipers.

Jetty Birds

I was slowly making my way back to the point where I wouldn't be swept into the ocean when I saw one more odd little bird floating and diving. I knew the was light minimal but I tried to stand as still as possible to get something to image for me later. The wind wasn't cooperating too much. Managed to get enough to get verified by someone much more knowledgeable than me that it was my only auk of the trip. Rhinoceros Auklet in fact.

Rhinoceros Auklet

I only time I actually almost fell from the rocks was just at the end of my climbing but I managed to right myself one last time and jump down to the level plane of the beach. From there it was an easy walk back to the car and to comfort.

Thankfully, the rental car we had came equipped with a DVD player so the kids didn't complain much about the wait. They are quite use to Dad being distracted with birds from time to time. Fortunately, too, my wife is a saint. She patiently waits for my little bursts of craziness to ebb. She says we looked awfully funny hopping from rock to rock to rock.

The best part of this jaunt wasn't even bird related.

My head was all clogged up since we were on descent into Seattle 3 days before. I could hardly hear and my sinus pain was nearly constant and my ears just wouldn't pop and clear things up. Not long after I got back in the car and warmed up I realized things were clearing up.

Somehow, all that cold, wet, windy weather and exercise had burst through the roadblock in my head and I got the best sleep of the trip so far.

And at least 6 new birds in that miserable dusk. I would do it all over again. Probably will.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


Another bird that seems hard to get a good view of here in Florida would be the Loons. They stray down and around the state from time to time but usually stay out in the Gulf or Atlantic and don't afford good views. The best views I got of Loons in Washington was around Puget Sound and just beyond.

The species seen most turned out to be the Common Loon. I actually saw a few out around Merritt Island a year earlier but they were in their Winter plumage. Here, out West, they were molting out of that gray shade and becoming very black.

I always thought of Common Loons as those haunting callers more around northern mid-west lakes. In Washington, I only saw then in the salty waters around the Sound area. The closest approach was in the rapid outgoing tide flowing under the bride at Deception Pass at Whidbey Island.

Common Loon

Not a spectacular shot, like most of the offshore birds, but a good view of the checkerboard pattern returning to the back feathers. This bird was constantly diving in the churning water.

Other Loons were found out along Dungeness Spit. One of the many species diving for food that day was another Common Loon molting a bit more giving it a look of a graying man.

Common Loon

A bird I wasn't expecting to see was a bird that appeared along side the displaying Mergansers I posted about earlier. In the middle of the occupied Mergansers appeared a very gray bird which moved along parallel to the shore. Fortunately, it didn't stray too far while I was fascinated with the displays.

I caught up to the new arrival and managed a one clear shot between the rolling waves. Later, I discovered that this was a Red-throated Loon. Excellent.

Red-throated Loon

I will be monitoring the bird lists this Winter in the hopes of getting a closer look at the next Loon that wanders by.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


O.K. I'll admit something a little embarrassing.

These birds are uncommon around these parts. Once I figured that out I always went past that section of bird books quickly and on to something I could find locally. As I skimmed past those pages my brain always read the name as "Scooters".

As in, something that might scoot across the surface of the waves.

One day, as I was listening to a new podcast on birds called 'Ray Brown's Talkin' Birds' from Massachusetts, I heard someone actually say the name out loud. They had some BLACK SCOTERS out in the bay.

Ah. SCOT-ers. Alright then...

Not too long before that I had a twitcher moment when several Black Scoters were reported over in the Clearwater area. Just so happened to be Christmas coming up and I was going to be over there to visit the parents. I found those Scoters the next day but they were so far away that all I ended up with were some shadowy specs of birds which were only ID'd due to shading of the grays and blacks which is typical of winter plumage.

I figured that was the end of my Scoter encounters. However, the Washington trip provided a trifecta of Scoters.

Finally got a better view of the Black Scoters out on the Dungeness Spit hike. Nice view of the male and female resting in between dives.

Black Scoters

Early on in the trip, we took a boat ride with my wife's uncle out in the waters around Bainbridge Island. Once we were out of calm water and skirting the choppier waves in Puget Sound there were several black birds dropping in fairly close. We slowed for a look and there we had our first confirmed Surf Scoters. I had thought I spied some from the ferry the day before.

Surf Scoters

What I noticed from a distance on that first view was the bright white spot on the back of the neck of such a black bird.

Surf Scoters

The final Scoter on the list was found out at Grey's Harbor.

White-winged Scoters

Every now and then they would stop and flap to show those large white marks on the wings. Mostly they would dive and surface in various spots in the waves. The approaching storm and strong, cold winds didn't provide me with much time of good light. I see a theme on this trip.

White-winged Scoters

This year there have been reports of Scoters over at the Cape and surrounding waters of the Indian River. Could signal a large amount of them here this Winter? Hope so.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Common Mergansers

Don't let that name fools you. Took a week to find this so-called 'common' bird.

The last of my Life Birds for the trip turned up out of nowhere. We had passed this spot on the way into the area and only saw a Brown Creeper and Spotted Towhee. On the way out, running low on birding time, 8 Common Mergansers were just hanging out in a little bend in the Nisqually River.

The females were resting along the pebbles lining the river while the males cruised up and down in front of them. The rapidly changing light and lack of time, plus the birds being fairly far away, didn't allow for much time to get the exposure as nice as I would have liked, but...

This first shot was from the film camera and had a better overall tone.

Common Merganser

Still, it didn't capture the greenish hue on the male's feathers like the digitals did. The digitals were overexposed, though.

Common Merganser

As you can see here, one of the females joined the males in their single-file back and forth.

Common Merganser

A nice way to end the Washington birding for us. Even though we never found those Snowy Owls which turned out to be hiding not too far away.

Next time.

Still not the end of the birds from Washington here.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Red-Breasted Mergansers

One of the more interesting sights I found on my walk out to the Dungeness Lighthouse was a group of displaying Red-breasted Mergansers about 50 yards or so from the shoreline of the spit. Many birds came and went across the wave as I traveled but this bunch settled in after eating and began different dances along the surface of the waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

I had been searching for male Red-breasted Mergansers all week but only managed to find the females in various spots around Puget Sound. A few are reported every Winter along the Merritt Island area in Central Florida but I am never there at the right time.

That day there were several arriving just after the light rain and wind died down as I was halfway along on my way back from the lighthouse. It appeared to be 2 pairs resting near one another when the males began to move next to each other and started making bobbing movements with their heads.

Red-breasted Merganser

After several seconds they would change the dance and begin calling and motioning with their wings.

Red-breasted Merganser

As you can see from the distance photos, the females seemed not to be any real part of all this. Just hanging around waiting for them to wrap it up. The males would continue this set of motions as they paddled in small circles near the females but always seemed to end up in the middle of the dance floor.

Every now and then, the seeming civility of the displays would fall apart all together and one of the males would thrash about and run across the water in a brief shout.

Red-breasted Merganser

Not long after this outburst the males would settle back into a calmer posture and begin to nod and call in sequence as they had before.

It was similar to displays I have seen with Hooded Mergansers last Winter. I took a bunch of pictures of those displays one day and will post that in the near future. However, with the smaller 'Hoodies' the dance seemed more similar to a pair of rams challenging each other but not head-on.

This year I will try to get over to see any stray Red-breasted Mergansers over at the Cape. I doubt the displays happen in this wintering ground but you never know.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Canada Geese

One of the things I was missing from living a bit farther North as a young boy was the occasional sighting of Canada Geese. Whether it was a single bird walking by the edge of a lake or a flock in a flying 'V' heading south, I always had a liking for these large geese.

We don't get too many here in Florida. Maybe the rare stray or weather blown and tired migrating few but it is a special day if one is reported here.

Washington state, however, was chock full of them.

Canada Goose

Canada Geese would occasionally fly up from retention ponds just about everywhere around the Seattle/Tacoma area. We even found one standing on the shoulder of the road right at an exit ramp. Could have been hitchhiking the way he just stood there staring at the passing cars.

The pair above seemed to be arguing on which way to travel next. They were there to greet us as we stepped into the parking lot at Nisqually. Deeper into the refuge, hundreds of Canada and Cackling Geese could be seen and heard grazing in the meadow that lies between the trails.

Canada Goose

This shot shows another flock of hundreds that set down near the visitor center as we headed toward the exit. Geese were everywhere.

My favorite shot of the geese that day took place in the ponds that are surrounded by the boardwalk at Nisqually. The sun was beginning to set and this pair sat away from the throng of geese found in the rest of the refuge.

Canada Goose

I look forward to visiting the Canada geese again. Perhaps we can get there when the huge flocks of Snow geese are still hanging around and walking wing to wing with these black and tanned beauties.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

A New Flicker

Just after I had happened upon the Chickadees in Belfair, I headed back to the car and passed an open yard littered with Robins. Hopping in a different manner than the Robins was another pair of birds.

I tried to get a closer look and they flew up into a nearby tree and began some sort of either territorial or other display with one another.

Red-shafted Flicker

They bobbed and squawked at one another for a few minutes before heading off to the brushy edges of the yard.

The best part about this find was that these would be my first 'red-shafted' Northern Flickers. Here in the East I have only previously found the 'yellow-shafted' variety. Unlike the yellow-shafted, I couldn't usually see the red in the wings unless the birds were in flight. We found many in the days ahead.

Many near our house show the yellow on the edges of the wings and in the tail area even when stationary. Compare the red-shafted on this page to the yellow-shafted ones at my other web site.

Another distinguishing feature is that the yellows have a red patch on the nape of the neck and the reds have red "whiskers" on the face.

The most important factor, of course, is location. Reds stay in the Western U.S. and the Yellows stay in the East.