Monday, August 22, 2011

8/19 - Half of the fun: Getting to the WOS Conference, Clallam County

I packed up Friday morning, and left after lunch with the kiddos to drop them off with Bre and catch a ferry to Bainbridge Island.  I was headed off to my first conference with the Washington Ornithological Society.  I started a lot of this birding on my own, and only started getting connected with other birders in the last couple of years.  Even going into this trip, there were really too many people that I only knew by email contact, or less. 

A lot of my plans were kind of last-minute, but I was still excited to spend some time with some experienced birders, and explore some beautiful places in Clallam County.  The ferry ride was not all that birdy, but the weather was awesome, and I enjoyed hanging out on the front deck watching Bainbridge Island approach.  My plan today was to head directly up to Clallam County - one of only two counties I hadn't yet visited this year (Island is the other one). 
Near Diamond Point

My first stop was at Diamond Point.  This is on the western opening of Discovery Bay, which is split by Clallam and Jefferson Counties.  There had been a post from two days before of a Tufted Puffin fairly close to shore.  These are birds that are so much easier to see if you "just" drive the extra three hours to the far end of Clallam County to Cape Flattery and take a boat to some of the islands off-shore.  I was happy to hear that I might be able to get a lifer with a little less effort! 
First Clallam County bird for the year - Chestnut-backed Chickadee, calling from Douglas Firs along the road.  I picked up a few more before I got down to the point.  This area is full of private beaches, but there is one house that had this sign, welcoming bird watchers.  I walked up towards the beach and four birds flew off to the water.  Harlequin Ducks.  Dang!  Would've been nice to see them up closer.  Another step, and another bird flew.  Pigeon Guillemot!  I waited, and peeeeked around the corner and set up my scope.

Distant Pigeon Guillemot
Pigeon Guillemots ended up being the more interesting birds for me out there for a bit.  Some of them were still in breeding plumage - black with prominent white marks on the sides - while others had started to take on winter plumage - white mottled with black.  These, along with puffins, penguins, murres, murrelets, auklets, um... dovekies... maybe other things I've never seen... are all members of the alcid family.  I saw another alcid quite far out, this one was medium sized with a heavy yellow bill - Rhinoceros Auklet. 
Harlequin Ducks at Diamond Point

I got distracted for a little bit by two Common Loons a couple hundred feet out.  They were getting knocked around by some kind of porpoise-y thing (asking around later, I think I'm going with Harbor Porpoise) that kept surfacing beneath it.  After watching this bizarre punching match for a bit, I turned and saw a Tufted Puffin.

Now, of the birds out there, this is one that may be my wife's favorite.  She calls them "Rock-star birds", and they really are pretty stunning.  It sure wasn't a problem identifying this one!  But then I went for my camera and it dove.  Noooooo!  I waited, and it stayed down - seemingly longer than other alcids will do - before popping up 30-40 feet farther away.  I brought the binocs up for another look, then went for the camera, and down it went again, not to be seen by me again. 
Three Crabs Restaurant near Dungeness

I smiled, did the lifer dance, and packed up my scope.  Once in the car, I gave Guy McWethy a call.  Guy is also from Renton, and we had talked about trying to get a little birding in.  We agreed to meet out at a restaurant called "Three Crabs" in Sequim.  This restaurant actually is situated in excellent shorebird habitat, with mudflats on the water nearby, and flooded fields on the other side of the road.  Even the little stream that runs along the other side of the road had some shorebirds running around on its miniature sand bars.

Unfortunately, today, I wasn't able to see much beyond some Western and Least Sandpipers, and one Spotted.  Other birds were mostly blackbirds and some swallows, including Purple Martins (my first of the year).  The highlight of the stop?  Pan-fried oysters! 

Over our dinner, Guy and I talked about our trips and goals, and the birds we'd seen lately.  I treated, because, well... in the course of our birding at Three Crabs, I realized that I had forgotten something that would make it a bit challenging to camp... a sleeping bag!  Additionally, it seemed that every campground I had passed on the way in was full on this gorgeous weekend.  Guy offered a spot on his hotel room floor, which I was happy to have.

Gulls from the Oyster House - Dungeness
New Dungeness Light at the end of the 5 mile spit -
an awesome walk if you have the time!

We finished the evening with a not-that productive stop at the Oyster House nearby.  Similar to the last stop, the tide was just not great for the birds.  Because it was high, the mud wasn't exposed here, which meant that they... disappeared into thin air until the mud was better?  That's always been a puzzle for me.  "It's a bad time of day for shorebirds" means it's bad for shorebirds where you are, but they've got to be somewhere, yeah? 

After a stop at the hotel for registration materials, I made a run for a sleeping bag for the floor, and squeezed in a little search for owls.  Although I didn't hear or see a thing bird-wise, the sky that night was stunning.  I've spent so many nights stargazing, and this may have been one of the 4-5 darkest, clearest skies I'd been under.  Not a bad way to spend the time looking for owls. 

Getting there was, indeed, half of the fun.

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