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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Part 2: The Sequim Coastline

After visiting Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, I wanted to visit several other places along the shoreline near Sequim that I had read about. The first couple of stops were along Dungeness Bay. One of the neatest places was Oyster House Road, which provides the closest view of the protected Graveyard Spit that juts off of Dungeness Spit. The parking lot at the end of this road also gives you a chance to scan Dungeness Bay and its associated mudflats. When we pulled up, I was delighted to see a flock of shorebirds not too far away. There were over a hundred dunlin, and mixed in were about twenty black-bellied plovers (133). I was excited because, along with the brant, this was one of the two species that I really thought I had a good chance to see while in Sequim.

Above Oyster House Road we spotted a bald eagle perched on a snag. Nearby was a tree full of bustling European starlings, but one starling was perched right below the eagle, singing his heart out. Maybe they're too small for eagles to bother with? I still think he was pretty brave. It was quite a sight!

Many of the rural roads also had productive birding, with lots of ponds filled with a variety of ducks. Along Jamestown Road we found a nice mix of non-aquatic species. While there were no raptors perched in the "Jamestown snags", we saw our only Steller's jays of the day and a mix of House sparrows and golden-crowned sparrows. In an orchard were a flock of California quail (134), my first of the year. A little further on in the same field was another flock, this time of eight Eurasian-collared doves. I don't think I've ever seen more than two at a time before.

Marilyn Nelson County Park was one of the biggest highlights of the afternoon. This park is situated near the mouth of Sequim Bay and you can walk down the rocky beach of the half-mile Travis Spit. From there you also get a view of Protection Island, a national wildlife refuge in the Strait of Juan de Fuca that is one of the most productive breeding seabird colonies in the state. I've read about it so much that it was nice to finally see it, even from two miles away!

There was surprisingly little activity out on the water, but I realized shortly that was because all the birds were right along the shoreline! This female bufflehead was one of the few diving ducks present:

Up one direction of the beach I spotted an immature bald eagle feeding on something. At first I thought it was a dead harbor seal, but upon closer inspection I realized it was actually what looked like a deer carcass. The deer are known to swim across some of the channels in the region...maybe this one drowned and washed up? I didn't want to get too close to examine it more carefully, since it was pretty clear it "belonged" to this eagle:

Along Travis Spit were about a hundred brant right along the beach. After seeing them only way in the distance from Dungeness Spit, it was nice to get a closer look. They were actively feeding on eelgrass, their primary food source, in the shallows. These are the typical black brant of the west coast. The brant on the Atlantic are gray, and were formerly considered a separate species.

After stopping a couple more places along Sequim Bay, we headed over to the Dungeness River Audubon Center which has a trail over a railroad bridge and through the woods. The feeders near the visitor center were very active. We saw both black-capped and chestnut-backed chickadees, red-breasted nuthatches, and more golden-crowned sparrows. There was also a pair of Anna's hummingbirds taking advantage of the hummingbird feeders. You can only barely make it out on this lower resolution version of the photo, but she's actually sticking her tongue out a little bit:

By this time we had been birding for 7 hours straight and I was famished. The trail mix and bananas we had been subsiding on all day weren't quite enough to keep me going, so we headed back to Sequim for an early dinner. After having some great Mexican food at Las Palomas (an appropriate restaurant for the day - la paloma is Spanish for dove), it was still light out so we headed out for one more short excursion back to walk on the trails we didn't have time for at Dungeness Recreation Area in the morning. I wondered if we would be able to add two more species to the day list? 

The best part of this trip actually turned out to be on the drive there, when we pulled off on a side road to where a huge flock of several hundred wigeon had just landed. The pond was very active, and within the American wigeon I found two male Eurasian wigeons - a new species for the day list. There were also a pair of Canada geese, a small flock of ring-necked ducks, and along the edges a pair of pied-billed grebes - another day list species! 

The grebe turned out to be the last new species for the day, and when I tallied it up at night back at the hotel, we reached a nice even 60 species for the day. Not bad at all, and definitely better than the 39 species recorded the day before. It was an awesome day - one of those real breaks from everything else that goes on in life, and a chance to just explore a new area and look at birds. Can't complain one bit.

1 comment:

Warren Baker said...

sounds like my kind of day Monika! Birds, birds , birds and walking in the fresh air :-)

I try for 60 species in a day, normaly in april / may, but have only achieved it once. I'll have another try this year no doubt :-)