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Friday, January 28, 2011

Whidbey Island

I'm giving a talk tomorrow on orca vocalizations at the Way of Whales Workshop on Whidbey Island, and decided to come down a little earlier today to do some bird-watching. The weather wasn't the greatest: very windy, and drizzly off and on. Still, I had some places scoped out that I hadn't visited before and decided to see what I could find.

The first stop was Deception Pass State Park. Bird-wise it was fairly quiet other than a trio of loons and a pair of brown creepers, but looking at the Deception Pass Bridge is always impressive:

Next up was Windjammer Park in Oak Harbor, aptly named apparently because the wind was certainly jamming today. There wasn't much visible in the choppy water and walking the boardwalk would have been a very chilly endeavor, so I just spent some time surveying the large flock of gulls near the parking area. Most of them were glaucous-winged gulls, but there were some other types in there. After reading and re-reading the field guide, I didn't trust my ability to tell a western gull from a Thayer's gull from a glaucous-winged x western hybrid, so I just took some photos to look at again later with more clarity. I'm still working on the others, but as I agreed with my ID at the time that this is a western gull (114):

The mantle is fairly pale, but the further north you get on the west coast the paler western gulls become. The black primaries rule out the glaucous-winged gull, which also has pink legs and a dark eye, but I concluded it was a western gull and not a hybrid because of the thick, bright yellow bill.

As for the other gulls, maybe I'll return to them in a future post after I've spent some more time with the field guides!

Nearby at the Oak Harbor marina were some scaup, bufflehead, common goldeneye, and a single Barrow's goldeneye - here's my first-ever photograph of this species:

An unplanned stop that turned out to be a pleasant surprise was Fort Ebey State Park. The beaches there were beautiful, looking over towards Admiralty Inlet and bordered by tall eroding cliffs.  Here's the view across the sound:

 It was difficult to pick out the birds among the bobbing kelp beds just offshore, but I did find a couple of surf scoters, quite a few red-breasted mergansers, a group of four harlequin ducks, and a few more bufflehead. Plus this beach oddity, which looked to me like a bird that had been blown away and left only its feet behind:

After leaving Fort Ebey, the clouds really moved in and it got dark in a hurry. Along with the wind it was difficult to turn up much at Ebey's Landing or Fort Casey State Park, other than a couple bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, and northern harriers along the way. The day list was a little shorter than anticipated, but with another year bird added to the list I can't complain. Plus now I'm familiar with some more good birding haunts on Whidbey Island!


Vera said...

Can you guess what kind of bird the last one was, based just on the feet and legs? You made me laugh!

eileeninmd said...

Monika, looks like you hit some great places for birding. Love the photos. I would like to see the Barrows.

Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

Cracking Western Gull there Monika - for some reason the Pacific seems to 'suffer' more gull hybridisation than the atlantic and ours arew tricky enough!!! Looking forward to the rest of the gull pics. Maling Olsen & (now my mate) Larsson covers NA as well - great reference book.
Super missing bird? shot - wonder what happened to it???



Andy said...

That bottom photo sure is interesting.

Mark Lewis - Birding in the San Juan Islands said...

Hi Monika: That gull looks like a Thayer's to me. Its bill isn't as thick as a typical Western. Also, the head is quite rounded without the steeper forehead of a Western. Thayer's are quite common gull in the winter months in the San Juan Islands but they are severely under-reported due to ID difficulties! Mark Lewis

Monika said...

Hi Mark - Thanks for that. Any tips you (or anyone else!) has for identifying western vs. Thayer's vs. western-glaucous hybrids would be much appreciated. I had noticed the same thing about the beak, but I didn't know about the forehead shape. I'll have to take a closer look. I can definitely see how they go under-reported.