Sunday, November 20, 2011

Snowy Owl Invasion? 11/20 Sequim Trip (Clallam County)

Wait!  There's no Snowy Owl pictures in here!  I had to throw that in here before anyone read on.  Randy and I got out today chasing the Snowy Owls that had been seen the day before in Sequim, out on the Olympic Peninsula.  (Fun fact - it is against the law for it to rain in Sequim... not sure how that is enforced, but there ya go!) 

Dungeness Spit - Admiralty Light in the distance

Insert Snowy Owl here
Four total Owls had been seen here, two more in Stanwood, and at least two more at Ocean Shores.  How do you decide which owls to chase?   While the Stanwood owls were closer to home, it seemed like these would be closer to us once we got there.  The Stanwood owls were seen at a distance by people who found them, whereas there were two Snowy Owls on Dungeness Spit alone.  This 6 mile (or so) long sand spit is extremely narrow, meaning that any owl on it is going to be approachable within 30 feet or so.  With the weather so beautiful today, we had visions of beautiful owls perched on driftwood against the blue sky.  :)

I met up early with Randy in Federal Way, and we drove out to Sequim, with only two brief stops.  Once on the Hood Canal Floating Bridge (which sounds like a very bad idea... but there was no traffic for minutes!), and once in Jefferson County to look for a Great Egret that has been seen off and on there since August (no luck there).  We got to Three Crabs Restaurant at about 8AM, and started our search!
Trumpeter Swans and Greater White-fronted Geese

Randy had only visited the pelagic waters of Clallam County, and I had been only between July and September, so we both were able to find a lot of birds we hadn't seen before throughout the day.  The Clallam count actually started soon after we crossed the county line, with Trumpeter Swans in a pond off of the road.  At Three Crabs, we encountered a bazillion American Wigeon, and quite a few shorebirds as well (mostly Dunlin, with some white-ish Sanderlings mixed  in.)

Northern Harrier flying away
We rolled down Three Crabs Road, peeking in the ponds and checking the rooftops for a Snowy Owl.  Bald Eagles and Northern Harriers were the highlights on this stretch, which ended at a dead end fairly quickly.  We were not too discouraged at this point - the owls on the spit seemed like they'd be easier to locate anyway, and it was still early.  We made our way through town for coffee, and then started out towards the spit. 

I've walked Dungeness Spit a handful of times.  We have been out here for 9th grade trips in the past, and have done the walk all the way out to Admiralty Head Lighthouse at the end.  I love being able to see the end of the hike almost as soon as you start.  I end up wanting to yell - Look!  We're almost there! and break into a sprint for the lighthouse.  If I ever failed to resist that temptation, I'm sure the sprint was short-lived relative to the 6 mile hike out!

Randy definitely came out with one bird in mind - the Snowy Owl - and it was difficult to convince him of the existence of other birds as we traveled.  I came out looking for 20 birds - the 20 I needed to bring my Clallam County life list to 100.  I hadn't planned on doing that this year, but it was hard to pass up an invitation to head out to Clallam.  At any rate, it was probably just as difficult at times to get me away from watching American Wigeon and moving farther down the spit to find the owls.

A couple of the Long-tailed Ducks we saw on the way
The ducks out here were pretty awesome though... by the time we were done on the spit, we'd had Hooded and Red-breasted Merganser, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, Harlequin Ducks, Long-tailed Ducks (the best views Randy or I had ever had of so many - even though it was only a dozen or so!), Surf Scoters, White-winged Scoters and Buffleheads. 

Red-throated Loon
The loons were the highlight of the walk - especially the Red-throated Loons that came so close to shore.  We were able to get some nice shots of them (and I should mention that nearly any bird seen here was shot a little better by Randy and will probably end up on his flickr site - Randy Bjorklund if you want to look up.)

Dang!  Not as sharp as I wanted, but nice to have Baker
and Admiralty Head like this in one shot.
Black-bellied Plovers and Black Turnstone
In Dungeness Bay, there were hundreds of Brant, and some shorebirds as well, including some Black-bellied Plovers, Sanderling, and a Black Turnstone.  But... no Snowy Owls!  At one point, we gave ourselves 30 more minutes to walk, checked one more time down the spit, and peered over to the East side - nothing!

On the way back, it was more loons (including Common), all three species of Cormorant, and more Long-tailed Ducks (probably a good dozen by the end of the day.  We were a little footsore and hungry when we got back to the park entrance, and had about an hour left to search before we needed to get going back home.

One of these ran in front of the car for 200
meters or so on the way out... now that was
fun to watch. :)
We gave the area one more search at the spots we'd visited before, and came up with bubkis.  Beautiful, beautiful day, but no Snowy Owls!  I was able to finish the day with a life list of 105 species for Clallam, but Randy missed a life bird on this trip.  All in all, I thought it fair that he should no longer owe me an adult beverage for the 99/100 fiasco back in August in Whatcom County! 

Here were some of the other highlights of the day:

Brant in Dungeness Bay

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