You Just Never Know

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This week’s photo, taken June 17, 2015 from the pier in Edmonds, WA, features the first HORNED PUFFIN ever reported from that area.

During the past nine months, I’ve spent a lot of time bird-watching from the fishing pier in Edmonds. I’m attracted to that spot for many reasons. The local people are friendly, the views are spectacular, it’s a terrific outdoor classroom for studying sea birds, the bird photography opportunities are excellent, and there are clean restrooms at the nearby ferry terminal. In addition to all that, you just never know what might fly by the pier.

Birdwise, June is one of the slowest months of the year. Nevertheless, this past month I made 10 trips to the pier, each time putting in 3 hours of avian observation. Heck, you just never know what might show up.

Tufted Puffin is high on my dream list of rare birds I hope to see someday from the pier. Two weeks ago, I was there scanning the vastness of the Puget Sound, when I noticed something “different” approaching from the north. The unidentified bird was flying very fast. With my binoculars, I couldn’t tell what it was because it was so far away. Instead of examining it through my spotting scope, I aimed my long camera lens at it and took several photos as it sped by.

Not until I looked at my images a few hours later on my computer, did I realize that it was a puffin! Amazingly, it was not a Tufted Puffin, the expected puffin in our state. It was a HORNED PUFFIN, a species that’s usually found in Alaska, rarely seen in British Columbia, and hardly ever spotted in Washington waters.

July is historically another slow month for viewing birds from the pier, yet I plan to make the 20-minute drive from our house as often as I can. After all, you just never know what you might see from the Edmonds Pier.

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Teen Trip

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This week’s photo, taken June 23, 2015 outside Choteau, Montana, features an adult LONG-BILLED CURLEW, the largest shorebird in North America. Two adult Curlews were walking the fields, accompanied by two adorable short-billed babies that spent most of their time hiding in the tall grass.

I just returned from a 5-day, 4-night camping trip with a small group of teen bird-watchers from Seattle Audubon. As one of three adult chaperones, I was the most experienced birder in the group (in other words, the oldest), and my main assignment was to help the teens find and identify avian life during our travels by van across Washington, Idaho, and into Montana. Fortunately, I didn’t have to work too hard, since the energetic teens, equipped with the keen eyesight and good hearing of youth, found many of the bird species before I did.

Great fun was had by all. Some of the highlights of the trip (besides the showers in the Choteau campground), included:

REDHEAD

RUDDY DUCK

BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON

AMERICAN AVOCET

WILSON’S PHALAROPE

FRANKLIN’S GULL

BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD

CASSIN’S VIREO

CANYON WREN

AMERICAN DIPPER

McCOWN’S LONGSPUR

BOBOLINK

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Red, Yellow and Black

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This week’s photo, taken June 14, 2015 along the Carlson Canyon trail north of Cle Elum, WA, features a male WESTERN TANAGER.

When bird photographers approach, Western Tanagers often play hard to get. Maybe these strikingly gorgeous tanagers keep their distance because they are tired of the constant barrage of paparazzi that seem to follow them everywhere.

Fortunately, during our Seattle Audubon field trip last Sunday to the Teanaway River Basin on the east side of the Cascades, 3 brilliantly colored male WESTERN TANAGERS were so busy chasing each other that they seemed unaware of our presence. They might have been involved in a territorial dispute regarding breeding rights. Whatever their issue, one of them was distracted enough that it briefly landed near me, and I quickly grabbed a few images before it resumed its role as chaser or chasee.

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State Bird

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This week’s photo, taken May 24, 2015 at Magnuson Park in Seattle, WA, features a nicely framed AMERICAN GOLDFINCH, the state bird of Washington state.

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A Mouthful

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This week’s photo, taken May 30, 2015 at the Union Bay Natural Area in Seattle, WA, features a male COMMON YELLOWTHROAT, preparing to deliver an insect to the nest.

The female COMMON YELLOWTHROAT builds the nest and incubates the eggs, but at least the male brings food to the female while she is on the nest, and he also helps feed the young. After the hatchlings fledge in 8-10 days, the adult pair of Yellowthroats may not remain “empty nesters” for long. Many Yellowthroats raise another brood in the same season.

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Who Am I?

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This week’s photo, taken May 17, 2015 along the Umtanum Creek trail in Kittitas County, WA, features a YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT.

“Who am I?” might be the question the YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT is asking itself these days. It’s classified as a warbler, but it has always been a mystery to me why the warbler affiliation. Except for its yellow plumage, the Chat doesn’t look like a warbler. A Chat is significantly bigger than any other warbler, and its bill is thicker. The Chat has spectacles that resemble a vireo, and its song is unlike any other warbler vocalization. In fact, its song is unlike any other bird song I’ve ever heard.

Perhaps it’s been lumped in with warblers because the so-called “experts” didn’t know where to put it. I think I know where this magnificent bird belongs. It belongs in a family of its own.

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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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