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Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Year List Ticks On

By late morning on the third I was ready to get out and do some more birding. Our first stop was an unusual one: one of my dad's bars in North Portland where an Anna's hummingbird (69) has been reliably spending her winter:

Being so close, we cruised by Vanport Wetlands, where the lighting was poor, but we were still able to turn up some ruddy ducks (70). At nearby Force Lake we weren't able to locate the recently reported palm warbler, but I did see a downy woodpecker (71). The great horned owl nest we've seen the last few years there appeared to be unused this year. The other notable sighting was four red tailed hawks soaring overhead.

From there it was onto Broughton Beach, where very cold and windy conditions kept us in the car. There were some California gulls (72) in the parking lot along with the glaucous-winged and ring-billed gulls, and we also found one common merganser (73) in the lee side of a houseboat taking shelter from the wind.

Our main destination for the day was Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, where we drove the S-River Unit. For the first half of the loop bird life was actually pretty sparse. Much of the refuge's water was still frozen over, meaning a lot of the waterfowl had moved elsewhere. One exception was the coot, who were mostly foraging in the marshy grasses, and would occasionally cross the ice to get from one foraging area to the next:

There were a lot of raptors around, too - we probably saw about 20 red-tailed hawks and half a dozen eagles, plus another half dozen or so northern harriers, like this one:

There were lots of nutria around, too. They would be more interesting to watch if they weren't so invasive:

On the far side of Rest Lake the bird life started picking up. We found a huge flock of song sparrows - probably 25 of them altogether. I don't think I've ever seen song sparrows flocking like that before. In among them was one savannah sparrow:

Behind the sparrows, hopping around on the grasses sticking up above the frozen waters, were about fifteen yellow-rumped warblers (74), the first year bird for the refuge coming about three-quarters of the way through the loop. While watching them a single tree swallow (75) also flew over. We started seeing more waterfowl over here, too, including huge flocks of cackling and Canada geese:

I was even able to snap this photo showing the two recently split species right beside each other:

I have actually never seen so many swans on the refuge. Some of them were congregating on the thawed middle part of the lake, and hundreds more were huddled together on the ice. We estimated they were probably about 1500 (!!) of them.

One of the red-tailed hawks we saw was a very pale Kreider's morph, and this one was unique too in that he seemed content to be sitting on the ground. He flew a couple of times and always landed on the ground again instead of one of the nearby trees or snags:

As we were trying to leave the refuge we got stuck behind a stopped train blocking the tracks we had to cross. The bright side of being stuck for a while meant we got to look closely at the river as we crossed the one-way bridge, having no where to go on the other side and no cross traffic to compete with. We added some double-crested cormorants and a belted kingfisher to our sightings list, as well as a pair of hooded mergansers (76).

Back at my parents' house on January 4th I finally saw a pine siskin (77) come to the feeder, and driving home from a dinner out with friends I got a huge surprise when I saw a tiny owl sitting in the road a few miles from my parents' house. Luckily it hadn't gone far when I turned around - it was sitting on the bank by the side of the road and let me shine my headlights on it. It looked right at me before taking flight a moment later, allowing me to identify it as a northern saw-whet owl (78)! This is a species I definitely did not expect to get on the year list. It's also the first time I've ever seen this bird; last year it was a life bird when I heard a couple of them calling while camping near Astoria.

Today, after an amazingly quick two weeks, it was time to start heading north back towards the San Juan Islands. On the way, I had to stop again at the Nisqually Reach Nature Center near Olympia where I had some good sightings on my way south. It was well worth the slight side trip as while standing in a single spot on the shoreline I quickly added five more year birds: a western gull (79), the same very distant snowy owl (80) across the river delta, one horned grebe (81), a flock of common goldeneye (82), and a couple of red-breasted mergansers (83).

Perhaps spoiled by last year's amazing snowy owl sightings at Boundary Bay, I wasn't quite content with the speck of a view of one through a scope at Nisqually. Being in no rush, we made another side trip near Ballard to look for the snowy owls that have somewhat oddly been hanging out right in an urban neighborhood not far from downtown Seattle. Luckily the neighbors and local dog walkers are very friendly to the "owl people" and they pointed us in the right direction. We spotted one of the two that have been hanging out in the same few block area since before Thanksgiving. I wonder what they're eating?

Tomorrow, it's time to head home and get ready to get back to work and the regular routine on the island. First, we've got one more overnight away and hopefully a little more birding to do tomorrow before catching our ferry....

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