Saturday, August 30, 2014

Aug 29 (Day 241) - Pacific arrival, new bird explosion, VERY disturbing find on beach

I have been waiting for a day like this for a long time. Much of the high elevation birding and "grousing" that I did in the last few months was painfully slow; Species diversity was often very low, and the species that were present were represented by exceptionally few individuals. These struggles evaporated today as I witnessed huge numbers of birds all day. Yesterday I surmised that it might be possible for me to add 10 birds today. This is exactly what happened today as I added ran the year's list from 530 to 540 species!

50 miles total with all the looping around!

I started the day by riding the  ~22 miles from Aberdeen, WA to Ocean Shores, WA. I got a very early start, and this ride was very short. I arrived at the Best Western Lighthouse Suites at 9:30am to find that my room was ready! This made my life super easy as I was able to ditch everything but optics in the room before I headed to the south end of the peninsula to start birding. It rained intermittently much of the morning, but I was able to carve out ~2 hours when the skies held back to do my first extended round of sea birding. As soon as I hit the Brown Point Jetty, new birds started to appear. In the first 5 minutes, I added Western gull (#531), Heermann's gull (#532), Wandering tattler (#533), Common murre (#534), Brandt's cormorant (#535) and Pigeon guillemot (#536). Turning my scope further towards the horizon yielded hundreds of Sooty shearwaters (#537). As I scoped the inlet over the next two hours, I was able to add Pelagic cormorant (#538), Elegant tern (#539), and 2 flyby Black turnstones (#540). All the views of all these birds were scope views, so unfortunately I don't have photos of any of them. That, and the light made photographing the gulls on the beach a waste of time anyway.

Video from this morning

There were hundreds of gull and murres, dozens of cormorants, and thousands upon thousands of shearwaters. I love seeing this much biomass from one spot. The thin times in the mountains really helped me to appreciate the incredible number of birds I observed this morning. I really thought that I had picked a Black-legged kittiwake at the end of this morning session, but I am only about 90% sure of the ID. This close call has motivated me to sea watch even harder and nail this bird down for real in the next few weeks. I actually missed this species in the northeast. Every time I went to search for it the weather was atrocious, and I eventually had to move south without it. It's been a splinter in my mind for the whole year. Getting redemption on the West Coast would be great!

It was very windy and cold, and by the time I left the jetty after my morning sea watch I was shivering very heavily. I rode back to town to get warmer clothes and eat lunch. After lunch I headed to the Oyhut Game Range (its just a big marsh/lagoon) to search for Pacific golden-plover. However, this place was dead, dead, and dead. It did full up with several thousand Western sandpipers as the 4pm high tide approached, but the species diversity for which I had hoped was nowhere to be found. Several Peregrine falcons kept the sandpipers on their toes, and this may have contributed to the absence of some birds. By 4pm the sun had come out in force and the heat shimmer over the shorebird lagoon made birding difficult. The warm clothes that I had fetched proved useless. I moved back to the jetty for a second, sunnier stint in the late afternoon and early evening. I was joined by Evan Houston (of Seattle Discovery Park fame a few days back) and his friends Scott and Dave. I will see more of them in the next few days as thy are staying in the area for the weekend. I did not add any new birds during the second jetty session, but I thoroughly enjoyed the sunny birding time!

Flock of Western sandpipers at lagoon

Tomorrow I am going to return to the lagoon just after the 5:30am high tide. From there I am going to return to the Jetty for a few more hours. After this I will need to start the ride ~55 mile ride around Gray's harbor to reach Westport where I plan to spend the next two days. Fingers crossed for the plover in the next few days, and maybe kittiwake.

Lastly, I am not sure what to make of this. There were several dozen dead birds piled up on the beach today. They looked as though they had been deliberately placed here. There were at least 3 gull species and a few alcids represented. All of the birds had 3 colored zip ties on their wings. If anyone knows anything about this, please let me know. It was really disturbing.


  1. I would guess that the dead birds have been counted as part of the COASST program:
    It's a program to track numbers of dead birds that wash up on the beach, and they tag birds to make sure they are not counted twice.

  2. the video says it's private