Almost a Flop

Since we were out of town during most of the Spring Shorebird Migration, I have been trying to see the Fall Migration, but I’m not having much more luck than I did in the Spring even though we haven’t gone anywhere recently.  

Since we had seen some shorebirds on our walks at Theler Wetlands, I thought I would drive to the Washington Coast July 13th and see what we could see.  We started at Ocean Shores where we saw some Cormorants way out on the point, but they’re year-round residents so they hardly count.  We walked nearly two miles on the beach and all we saw were a few Seagulls, 

and, somewhat surprisingly, a small flock of Turkey Vultures that took off as we approached

except for a single one that refused to leave a dead Harbor Seal.

Luckily, the trip wasn’t a complete waste of time as we had some Delicious Sushi at Umi Sushi and finally got to visit Elissa Whittleton and her husband’s art exhibit at the Gallery of Ocean Shores.

We had slightly better birding at Westport where we spotted several Brown Pelicans fishing right outside the harbor.

A few even flew overhead, giving me a chance to practice my tracking skills.

 

We saw another small flock of Brown Pelicans at Tokeland — and an even smaller flock of shorebirds feeding on the mud flats.  

If our sole purpose of going to the beach was to get shots of birds, this trip was a FLOP, but a sunny day at the beach is always a treat, especially in the Pacific Northwest where such days are rare.  

More at Ft. Flagler

We may have gone to Fort Flagler to see shorebirds migrating, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t notice all the other birds that were there.

Though I’ve begun seeing them in other places, I have seen more Black Oystercatchers at Ft. Flagler than all the other places combined.  On this visit I finally got a picture of one with a catch, a small clam.    

Black Oystercatcher with Clam

A little research revealed that Oystercatchers eat all kinds of shellfish, not just oysters.

A Bald Eagle is also a resident of the park, and, though I would have preferred to not have seen it while birding the peninsula, there he suddenly was.

Bald Eagle

I suspect Mr. Eagle is the reason there have been so few Harlequin Ducks at Ft. Flagler the last two years, but this pair seems to still be hanging in there.

pair of Harlequin Ducks

It’s nearly impossible not to see birds when they’re this close (though a surprising number of the people walking the beach apparently don’t look at them), but, if you look out into the bay long enough, you’re sure to see even more birds offshore, like these three Red-Breasted Mergansers, 

Red-breasted Mergansers in the distance

and these Bufflehead ducks.

a small flock of Bufflehead ducks

Sometimes you even catch a glimpse of a different kind of wildlife even though you’re just focused on finding birds.

Loon and Harbor Seal

I suspect there might not be as many birds at Ft. Flagler in the summer but I don’t really know since we usually head up to the mountains then, but it has always been an awe-some place to bird when we’ve been there.

Whimbrel is the Bird-of-the-Day

Although I enjoyed seeing all the shorebirds in breeding plumage, the “Bird of the Day” had to be the Whimbrels we saw.   They were the largest of the shorebirds, nearly 6 inches taller than the Short-billed Dowitcher. 

When I saw something flying in the distance, I took this shot hoping to identify what I was seeing.  I’ll have to admit I wasn’t entirely sure what I had seen until I got home and put the shot up on the screen. Considering their size, they blended into the background better than I would ever have thought imaginable.

Whimbrels on the rocky coast

When I saw this one flying by, the long, curved bill made it clear that it was a small flock of Whimbrels I had seen on the rocky shore.

Flying Whimbrel

Later on, the birds seemed to accept us as part of the scenery, and I was able to get closer than I ever have before. They were fixated on finding enough food to continue their migration, far too busy to be distracted by people with cameras.  

Whimbrel foraging on the beach

This shot of one Tai Chi walking was my favorite of the day.  

Surprisingly, we saw even more Whimbrels later in the day when we visited North Beach.

I think I ended up seeing more Whimbrels in one day than I’ve seen in the rest of my life.

Dunlin and Short-billed Dowitchers

When it comes to camouflage, the Dunlin’s breeding plumage is nearly as good as the Black-Bellied Plover.  Though it’s not nearly as distinctive, its black belly and spangled back, made it hard enough to see that my auto-focus ended up focusing on the barnacled rocks rather than on the Dunlin. 

Dunlin in breeding plumage

Luckily, its habit of wading out into the water to feed makes it easier to get a good photo.

Dunlin

Although the Short-Billed Dowitcher has the same spangled back as the Black-Bellied Plover and the Dunlin, its rusty breast and long beak clearly set it apart from those two.

Short-billed Dowitcher

Although they’re called Short-billed Dowitcher, their bill is much longer than most shorebirds,  and watching them feed made me wonder what the heck they were eating.  

According to the Cornell Lab All About Birds:  “Short-billed Dowitchers restlessly probe muddy substrates with the bill held vertically, in search of buried invertebrate, especially marine worms, mollusks (small clams), crustaceans (fiddler crab, shrimp), and isopods and amphipods of various kinds. … When they detect prey beneath the mud, dowitchers consume it immediately with the exception of larger worms, which they pull from the burrow and consume above the water.”