Monday, November 23, 2009

Birding the coast near TACOMA, WA.!!!!!!!!!!!!

I love my mother. First, she is very supportive of my passion for birds and birding, and secondly she has a "job" that seems to have meetings and conferences in very, very birdy spots. She once took a ministry trip to Peru and Israel. Unfortunately, I wasn't old enough to tag along, and ever since I was, she hasn't gone on any great adventures. She has, although, been invited and traveled in the country. This November, she had a gig in Tacoma!! What a birdy area!! Next summer we might go to eastern Oklahoma, and again to Puget Sound!

The 20th, 21st, and 22nd my family and I would be driving to, hanging around and driving back from TACOMA, WA!!! Luckily her deal was a women's thing, so my dad, little sister, and I had a whole day to "wander" around.

We arrived at Dave and Diane Norman's house ( the very kind folks, and friends of moms, that we stayed with) after dark, so the morning was when I would see Tacoma for the first time.

The first Washington bird that I would not see in MT was an ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRD!!! Yearbird!! I was informed that Bushtits frequent their feeders, but we had other birds to see, and couldn't wait for the Bushtits to show.

Our first stop was the Des Moines Marina, and fishing pier. The sound area is COVERED with Glaucous-winged Gulls. That was a very cool thing. I had only seen one before this.

The next few shots are of the various ages of gull present.
^^ Third cycle Glaucous-winged Gull
^^ Head shot of a first-year bird
^^ Wing tip study shot
^^ wing pattern shot. Great stuff, these birds.
Also, there was one Glaucous winged X Western Gull hybrid. Not the DARK EYE, LIGHT back, and FADED-like wingtips.

I was really hoping to see a Black Scoter at this spot, as in the Birdfinders guide to Washington noted that this spot was great for scoters. It was!! There was a large flock of SURF SCOTERS!! This was great! I had only seen one juvenile last year, and now I got to see adult males!! Next to the Surfs, were 3 WHITE-WINGED SCOTERS!!! Again, this was GREAT to see the males!! I absolutely love those marvelous birds. I got this crummy shot with my phone's camera through my spotting scope.
^ male White-winged Scoter
The pier extends out a ways past the rocky levy, or what ever you call that thing ( we have very few oceans in MT, and thus my ocean-life vocab is a bit lacking) so, I could view the group of cormorants roosting on the back side. Scanning, they all seemed to by Double-crested, but one bird pulled his head out from under his wing and, sure enough, he had a DARK bill, and a creamy throat patch!! WOO HOO!! A BRANDT'S CORMORANT!!!!! The first lifer for the trip!! I could not get a good enough phonedigiscope shot, so I drew a quick field sketch of the head region. Very cool!! I love getting new birds! Not for the one digit on the tally, but for the intimate moment my mind is racing and gathering all the first-hand knowledge possible from this encounter. There is something magical about getting a lifer. Finally, all you read is put to the test, and you can finally judge which field guide paintings most accurately depict this bird. I LIVE for those moments, where you can match what you have seen in books to the real thing, and sometimes, it is a great surprise. When I got my lifer Northern Gannet, I was shocked!! I didn't realize how massive those birds are!!! I cherish those moments.

After my sister and dad had their fill of "seagulls and water" (which didn't take long) I was ushered to the car, and we zoomed off to the next stop along the sound.
Saltwater State Park: temperate, and magic rainforest meets the sound. Cool stuff. In the brush and forest, I searched for Golden-crowned Sparrows, but didn't find any. I did, however, get some AMAZING looks at Winter Wrens. Good Stuff.
On the water, there was the usual. Well technically, I can't say that. I have no idea was the usual is. They were just the same species I saw at the last stop, and seem common. Nothing wrong with those species, but I could see the same mix back home (save the 2 common scoters). Just before we left, 2 ladies carrying binoculars and a scope walked up. This might not totally point to birders, but when I saw they investigated an odd Song Sparrow song, I felt I must introduce myself. They were very kind, and we talked local birds as we scanned the water.
^^ I got this shot of a crow after meeting the two ladies. It was a "northwestern" crow, but I am not sure whether to count it as a separate species. Sibley indicates Am. Crows in that area sound deeper and hoarser then eastern ones, getting dangerously similar to the Northwestern, thus brushing up against the question, should it be a separate species? I will create poll for my blog, and I will go with the majority vote.
Again, I was about to depart the locals, when I spotted a small bird buzzing off the waters surface. Thinking it was a Bufflehead, I drew my binoculars and saw that I was wrong. AN ALCID!! I quickly got on it with my scope as one of the gals says there is an alcid flying left to right. Through my scope I could easily tell it was a PIGEON GUILLEMOT!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Another lifer!!! This is fantastic!!! I was thinking I wouldn't get an alcid (birder slang short for the family Alcidae - containing Puffins, Auklets, Murres, Murrelets and Guillemonts)
^^Field sketch of a nonbreeding bird, same as we saw
Our next stop was Point Brown's Lighthouse, nearing the Port of Tacoma, and Commencement Bay. This place was pretty bare, not even scoters. The only interesting bird was an especially interesting bird in my mind. A lifer in fact!!!!!! A PELAGIC CORMORANT!!! This was cool. This bird was close, and I got to view the details of its head and bill that made it what it was. Here is a sloppy picture, again with my phone, and a sketch following it of the bill and head. The bird I saw was an immature bird.

I was being rushed once again, I long for the day I can travel interstate with my own schedule.
The last stop was my most anticipated. The pullouts along Marine View Drive, over looking the log booms in Commencement Bay.
The first new animal was a small group of NORTHERN SEA LIONS hauled out on a buoy!! Much cooler then some of the birds, as the sea lion can't be blown off course in migration and end up in MT like the scoters ( I have seen the 2 common ones on the same lake here)
At the first stop, viewing the main log booms there was HARBOR SEAL hauled out on the logs!!!!!! Even cooler then the Sea Lions!!! I can;t express how amazing these animals are!!
Back to the birds: I scanned the logs leading up to the main area filled with birds. Along the smaller logs, I found a BLACK TURNSTONE!!!!!!!!! This, along with Golden-crowned Sparrow was my most wanted bird for the trip. I got another crummy phone photo.
On the main part, many more Harbor Seals were hauled out, and HUNDREDS of gulls were roosting along with a few Double-crested and Brandt's Cormorants. (I did indulge in gawking at the Brandt's again, such cool birds) The gulls were mostly Mew and Bonaparte's Gulls. We rarely ever get Mew Gulls, so this aspect was also very cool!!
At the next long boom, which was much closer, there was MANY more Harbor Seals, and almost NO birds. My sister, dad and I got to look at the seals through the scope until we had our fill. I got some semi decent shots of them, along with another Black Turnstone!!! In all, I saw maybe 6 Black Turnstones!!! A total blessing in my book.

At this pull-out, I heard a chickadee-like call note. It sounded sharper, and less varying. I turned, and saw a BUSHTIT just feet from me!!! Great looks at another lifer!!!!!!! I ran to get my camera, and nabbed a shot before it disappeared across the street and up the hill.
This was the last pure birding stop of the day. We visited the Point Defiance Zoo/Aquarium and I got my lifer Pacific Octopus!! Very amazing! No new birds around Point Defiance Park and 5 mile drive, although it was getting very dark and late. Our hosts were totally delighted to see and hear about my adventures that night.
We were to leave in the morning, and thus I only had on more chance to get my lifer Golden-crowned Sparrow. I NEEDED that bird. I love sparrows and that was my last Zonotrichia ( a group of similar and large American sparrows) to get.
That morning it was raining off and on (a surprise for western WA, not!). I could not travel by car so walking around the neighborhood was my last hope. Luckily they live in a VERY birdy area south of Tacoma called Parkland. Not even one block away, I heard some sparrow chirps. In the coarse of my investigation, I discovered a BEWICK'S WREN in the same tree!!!!!!!! LIFER!! For some reason, no matter what new area I go to, I always get at least one unexpected lifer. Last July in New Hampshire it was White-winged Scoter, now this. Of course I knew it was a possibility, but it wasn't very common, and I didn't visit any "suitable" habitat.
Just minutes after seeing the wren, I finally located the mysterious sparrows. GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROWS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 2 first-year birds just sitting in the open for minutes on end, letting me examine them intricately!!!!! Mission a success!!!!!! Now, I can leave Washington, for now. I will be back. . . . . .

We went through Seattle on our way home. ^Seattle Space Needle.

Something about birding the coast. . . . . . . it is mystical to me. I can feel the fact that most coasts have a higher chance of holding a mega-rarity or an intercontinental rarity more common then a mega. I am not sure, but I know I want to live on/near the coast. Doesn't really matter what coast, just some coastline.


  1. I saw your posts on Tweeters which led me to your blog. Great stuff! I'm a bird and wildlife watcher too - I grew up in Portland, Oregon, but have been living in the San Juan Islands a little north of Seattle, and I blog a lot about all the birds and wildlife I see in the Pacific Northwest.

    I know exactly what you mean about seeing a new life bird and finally getting to compare all the photos and drawings in the different field guides to what you saw. It's an exciting moment! You describe it well.

    Your enthusiasm is awesome, and it helps me not to take for granted the species that are common in my world like the scoters, cormorants, and guillemots. As far as the American/Northwestern crow, I look forward to the results of your poll. Many species distinctions are very gray anyway, but it is near impossible to tell these two apart. My opinion is the Northwestern is just a race of the American crow, and not even a distinct race at that.

    Happy birding!

  2. Hi Josh,
    I also saw your Tweeters posts and was delighted by your enthusiasm. The blog is wonderful and you have a real drawing talent. Keep up the great work!
    -Alex MacKenzie, Seattle

  3. Hi! I found information about Talent migration on the website of a company called Ascentador