Smallest to Biggest

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This week’s photo, taken May 17, 2015 in the Wenas area of Yakima County, WA, features a male CALLIOPE HUMMINGBIRD.

My fellow students and I are sad that our Master Birder class is concluding after many months of informative lectures, exciting field trips and lots of laughs. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been so sorry to see a class draw to a close. The good news is that several of us will probably get together in the future to co-lead local bird walks.

This past weekend during our final Master Birder outing, the program ended in a big way – after a reminder that little things also count. First, the small stuff: in the mountains west of Yakima, we stumbled upon the incredibly tiny CALLIOPE HUMMINGBIRD. Later that afternoon, while we were driving through a rural area of Eastern Washington on our way back to Seattle, we passed a ranch where two OSTRICHES were lounging in a sizable fenced-in yard. So, in a span of 2 hours, we saw the smallest bird in North America, and then the largest bird in the world. (I strongly suspect the ostrich is not native to this continent).

I read it on the internet (therefore, it must be true) that a Calliope Hummingbird weighs one-tenth of an ounce, while an ostrich can weigh as much as 345 pounds. According to my calculation, that means it would take about 55,000 Calliope Hummingbirds to equal the weight of one Ostrich. If that sounds unbelievable to you – then do the math.

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Stare Down

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This week’s photo, taken May 8, 2015 from Cape Flattery, WA, features a NORTHERN SEA OTTER, also known as a tangled mass of fur, as it engages in a stare down contest with me.

Recently, I returned to Neah Bay and the northwesternmost corner of the contiguous United States. As a former hang glider pilot, I was flying vicariously while watching the steady stream of raptors (including several BROAD-WINGED HAWKS, a rare species here on the west coast), as they circled high above Bahokas Peak, trying to gain as much altitude as possible before continuing their northerly migration across the Strait of Juan de Fuca and into Canada.

The next morning, from Cape Flattery, I counted at least 30 TUFTED PUFFINS bobbing far off shore in the waters near Tatoosh Island.

The hawks were inspiring, and the puffins were cute, but my finest moment of nature occurred at Cape Flattery, when I noticed a SEA OTTER floating on its back while cruising by in the strong ocean current. The hyperactive otter was keeping busy as it drifted by. It used its front paws to scrub the back of its head for a few moments, then it worked its core with some serious belly-rubbing. A big believer in cross training, the otter then alternated back and forth with head and belly scratching. All the time, this highly entertaining critter behaved quite human-like.

Then it began to perform forward somersaults, over and over again; that is, until it noticed me! The gymnastics came to a screeching halt, as the otter devoted its attention to staring up at the human that was staring down at the otter. I held the otter’s interest for about 20 seconds. Then it resumed its floating-on-the-back position and continued to go with the flow of the current, not bothering to look my way again.

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Shorebirds!

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This week’s photo, taken May 3, 2015 at Bottle Beach, near Westport, WA, features a SEMIPALMATED PLOVER in flight.

Our Master Birder class headed over to the coast for the weekend. We wished to witness the spring migration of shorebirds, and a cast of thousands did not disappoint us. At Bottle Beach, the time of year is important, and also the time of day. We arrived a couple hours before high tide, and since shorebirds feed at the shore (imagine that), as the tide moved in, the birds also moved in, closer and closer to us.

Just at Bottle Beach, we observed dozens of Semipalmated Plovers, hundreds of BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS, at least a thousand DUNLIN, and many more SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHERS and WESTERN SANDPIPERS.

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Leaving Soon

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This week’s photo, taken April 18, 2015 from the rock jetty in Westport, WA, features a COMMON LOON bobbing on the surface of the Pacific Ocean. It probably has spent the winter here along the Washington coast. Now that it’s mid-April, and this loon has acquired its lovely breeding plumage, soon it will migrate north, most likely to a lake somewhere in Canada, where it will nest and raise its young.

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Cancel My Flight

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This week’s photo, taken April 18, 2015 at Westhaven State Park in Westport, WA, features a LAPLAND LONGSPUR, an adult male in breeding plumage.

When I lived in San Diego, I saw a few Lapland Longspurs during the winter months, but they were always sporting a drab combination of mostly light and dark brown feathers. In Washington state, a Longspur will likely show up as an uncommon migrant in the fall, and it will be wearing those same dull colors. It’s considered rare here during spring migration, which is unfortunate for bird-watchers since spring is when the adult male displays its most vibrant colors.

When I look at photos on the internet of Longspurs on their breeding grounds, I think how neat it would be to see those beauties when they are decked out in their flashiest outfits. But since they breed up around the Arctic, I’d have to fly to Alaska to view them at their best.

Surprisingly, last Saturday, while we were enjoying a family weekend at the Washington coast, I stumbled upon a male LAPLAND LONGSPUR in breeding plumage. I took some photos of this handsome fellow, and then I cancelled my flight to Alaska.

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Formal Attire

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This week’s photo, taken April 13, 2015 from Edmond’s Pier in Edmonds, WA, features an adult HORNED GREBE in breeding plumage.

I’ve been birding regularly from the Edmond’s Pier for 6 months now (2 – 3 days a week), and lately I’ve observed that some of the regular species are beginning to dress up for the spring season. Until about a month ago, HORNED GREBES wore their drab gray and white outfits, displaying no vibrant color other than a bright red eye. Well, that’s all changed now. A Horned Grebe swam directly towards me the other morning. Perhaps it never noticed me, or maybe it wished to show me its flashy threads. Whatever its intentions, I was impressed.

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Cranky

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This week’s photo, taken April 2, 2015 at a private residence on Whidbey Island, WA, features a brilliantly handsome adult male RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD.

The RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD breeds farther north than any other hummingbird. After wintering as far south as Mexico, many Rufous Hummingbirds migrate as far north as Alaska, with many of them either passing through or nesting in Washington state.

Whether protecting a sugar-water feeder or a flowering plant, this fiery red and feisty hummer doesn’t like to share its food; so, it often chases other hummingbirds from its food source. Perhaps if you were traveling a couple thousand miles, and you didn’t know where you would find your next meal, you might also be feeling a bit cranky and less than generous.

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