Day 57 – A complete wash-out

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Jane on the National Wildlife Refuge board-walk at Grays Harbour this morning

We woke up this morning and it was raining – as I write this blog this evening, it’s still raining. This is the first whole day of rain we’ve had in over eight weeks of birding and the steady down-pour has significantly restricted our activities. As a consequence, for only the second day of GABRAT, we’ve failed to add a new bird to the trip list 😦 We did visit the near-by Hoquiam water treatment ponds a couple of times, the excellent (in better weather) Grays Harbour National Wildlife Refuge and, this afternoon, the agricultural areas around the Brady Loop Road. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve seen some nice birds, but we’ve got pretty wet doing so and our optics have remained covered up for a lot of the day.

Most interesting bird of the day was this bedraggled summer plumage Western Sandpiper

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Runner-up was this colour-ringed Raven – any help from American banders, on the origins / history of this bird, would be much appreciated. Seen at Hoquiam water treatment plant

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Day 56 – Quinault Rainforest & Grays Harbour

New birds: Sooty Grouse (confirmed)

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Yesterdays record of Sooty Grouse was premature, as we hadn’t fully considered Dusky – these are recent splits of Blue Grouse. Now confirmed by better views, range and call. This ‘psycho’ male kept us under constant observation

It’s a relief to be staying somewhere with reasonably good WiFi again.

This morning, after a relatively late start, we birded first around our accommodation – getting much better views of Rufous Hummingbird and then later birding along various walking trails in the temperate rain forest, on the western slopes of the Olympic National Park. Apparently, this area gets twelve foot of rain a year – no wonder everywhere is so green! Yesterdays report of Sooty Grouse was, on reflection, premature as we hadn’t fully considered Dusky Grouse. So this morning we drove back to the location where we’d had brief flight views of the grouse yesterday. As we approached the spot we commenced carefully scanning the adjacent vegetation in the hope of another glimpse – no need to bother! From behind us the ‘psycho Sooty’ dive-bombed our car and landed in a road-side tree, from where it kept us under close and constant observation. We later watched it do the same to a passing vehicle – flying along-side and hitting the drivers wing-mirror! This sort of behaviour of ‘hormonal’ males has been reported on more than a few occasions. Net result, we got excellent and conclusive views. After lunch we recceid the birding sites around Grays Harbour but, since it was low tide at the time and it’s now getting late for Spring migrants, we saw very few shorebirds. However, today was a day of extraordinary views of some of the more ordinary species.

Male Rufous Hummingbird – remarkably these little creatures breed right up into Alaska. This was the twelfth species of ‘Hummer’ we’ve seen on the trip

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The fascinating historic homestead at Kestner Creek, encountered on one of our walks this morning

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A young American Dipper, watched being fed by the adults

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For the past week or so we’ve been travelling with my brother Robin and his wife Gi. In the small hours of this morning we got the news that Gi’s Mum Gwen had sadly passed away. Not completely unexpected, Rob & Gi had already made plans to return home early to Australia, but a shock nonetheless. Our thoughts are with them..

Day 55 – Olympic Peninsular birding

New birds for the day – Hooded Merganser

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Hooded Merganser – Neah Bay harbour

Today we travelled down the west coast of the Olympic peninsular, from Neah Bay to Quinault. A brief stop at the harbour produced the first new bird of the day – Hooded Merganser. Another one of those birds we thought had got away from us. We had a very entertaining and illuminating coffee stop with a delightful member of the Makah tribe, before heading south. This afternoon we birded the temperate rain forest, producing another potential new bird – a probable Sooty Grouse, and providing much better views of American Dipper and Varied Thrush. Our motel room this evening is situated just a few hundred metres from the worlds largest Sitka Spruce – close on 1000 years old, with a circumference of 60 feet!

A slightly better photo of Varied Thrush – seen this afternoon in the Quinault rainforest

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Day 54 – More Cape birding

New birds: Red-throated Diver, Northwest Crow

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Northwestern Crow – Neah Bay

Woke up this morning, scanned the ocean from the chalet balcony and the first bird I found was a Red-throated Diver – new for the trip. Quickly followed by ‘crows on the beach’. In this remote corner of Washington State, the crows are considered to be Northwestern Crow, which breed from Alaska, south to British Columbia. A few have crossed the Straits of Juan de Fuca and colonised Neah Bay. Not reliably separable from American Crow, other than by location and something to do with bristle hairs! We did a nice six mile walk through the rain forest in a forlorn search for Pilated Woodpecker, before rain set in for the afternoon. On the drive back to our accommodation a very obliging Ruffed Grouse appeared at the roadside. 

A rather more obliging Ruffed Grouse than our first one at Hatfield Lakes

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Day 53 – Neah Bay, home of the Makah Tribe

The Indian Reservation on which we’ve been staying unfortunately lacked any effective WiFi, so I’m playing catch-up.

New birds: Rufous Hummingbird, Tufted Puffin, Ancient Murrelet & Red-necked Grebe

Record shot of Rufous Hummingbird – observed whilst checking in to our ocean-view cabin

This morning we drove west along the Straits of Juan de Fuca to Neah Bay – home of the Makah tribe. With the benefit of an early check-in at Holbuck Beach Resort – ticking up Rufous Hummingbird as we were filling in the Registration card, we unloaded our luggage and headed for the Cape Flattery trail in search of some oceanic species. Tatoosh Island, which lies just off-shore, is the most north-westerly point of the 48 (contiguous) States and practically our journeys end. With the aid of a telescope we could see several species of Alcids, off-shore, including Pigeon Guillemot, Common Murre, Marbled Murrelet and Rhinoceros Auklet. With a bit of persistence we did managed to find several distant Tufted Puffin, which breed in small numbers on the island. Perhaps the bigger surprise came when we drove back to Neah Bay and scoured the harbour and surrounding waters for possible sea ducks. We quickly found White-winged and Surf Scoter, Greater Scaup, Harlequin Duck, Common Loon and Red-necked Grebe, along with Pacific Cormorant and Rhinoceros Auklet. A quick look over the outer harbour wall and a ‘black and white’ auk-like bird immediately caught my attention. I was pretty confident that it was an Ancient Murrelet – the identification later confirmed from photographs. Although this species does occasionally turn-up along the coast it’s much more likely to be found out at sea on a pelagic. A very welcome and unexpected addition to the list. 

Tufted Puffin, seen off of Cape Flattery – record shot

Ancient Murrelet, Neah Bay, outer harbour

Day 52 – Hurricane Ridge & coastal birding

New species for the day: Varied Thrush & Pacific Wren

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The view from Hurricane Ridge towards Mount Olympic – before the weather closed in

We were up early this morning for our excursion to Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park – 5,242 feet above sea level. Within ten minutes of arriving at the top, we were ticking-up on our first additional species for the trip – Varied Thrush. What a bird – despite the difficult viewing conditions! The supporting cast on the  nearby alpine meadows included American Pipit – which we’d not seen since Big Bend, Horned Lark and Gray Jay.  As the weather  closed in we descended to Port Angeles and spent the afternoon visiting Mary Mere Falls and Elwha River estuary. At the former site we added another trip-tick – Pacific Wren and had better views of American Dipper, which we’d last seen in Yosemite NP. At the estuary we had a flock of Harlequin Duck off-shore and several migrating Cedar Waxwing. Tomorrow we’re in the Holbuck Beach resort at Neah Bay, with limited internet, so it may be a few days before my next post.

Record shot of Varied Thrush – what a stunner

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At Mary Mere Falls we added another trip tick – Pacific Wren

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Day 51 – Canada for coffee

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The Victoria waterfront, prior to disembarking onto Canadian soil – another stamp in the passport 

This morning we took the ferry to Canada. We did it mostly as a tourist thing rather than for birds, which we’d already been advised were likely to be few and far between. As it turned out it was uncharacteristically calm across the Straits of Juan Fuca and there were virtually no birds, certainly none that we couldn’t see from the shore, but the experience of disembarking onto Canadian soil and then standing in the US Customs line to get back was definitely worth it. I exaggerated when I suggested Canada for coffee – actually, by the time we’d cleared customs & immigration, it was too late to get coffee on the mainland so we had to have one on the boat on the way back! The afternoon was spent in a fruitless search for shorebirds along Three Crabs Road, Sequim. We also had an enjoyable walk around the National Wildlife Refuge at Dungeness, but again very few birds. It was only on our way back to the motel, to meet up with Rob & Gi, that we called in at Ediz Hook Road and found our new bird for the day / trip – Harlequin Duck.

Record shot of distant Harlequin Duck  – our new bird for the day

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