September Pacific Northwest Sep 06—14, 2006

Posted by Bob Sundstrom

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Bob Sundstrom

Bob Sundstrom has led VENT tours since 1989 to many destinations throughout North America, as well as Hawaii, Mexico, Belize, Trinidad & Tobago, Japan, Turkey, Iceland,...

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Our September Pacific Northwest tour began just after Labor Day, timed to reap the rewards of the season's great southward migrations. We paid particular attention to bird movements along the shorelines, took a full day out on the Pacific by boat, and visited forest edges and the mile-high realms of the Olympic Mountains. From Seattle to the Washington coast to Victoria, British Columbia we traveled, with fine weather throughout.

A privately-chartered pelagic trip took us 35 miles out, on a remarkably balmy day for seafaring. The Pacific Ocean off Westport offered an outstanding series of highlights and unexpected sightings on this day; we had close views of two Laysan Albatrosses, a scarce and much hoped for species here, among over 30 Black-footed Albatrosses. A regionally rare Manx Shearwater showed up early in the day and we had close, sustained views of a Flesh-footed Shearwater, among four species of shearwaters. Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels flew close to the boat and all three species of jaegers were seen nicely, including over 25 Long-tailed Jaegers, a very high number. A few Tufted Puffins bobbed on the ocean's surface, one of six alcid species for the day, and scores of flashy Sabine's Gulls fluttered by. Three species of whales turned up, athletic Dall's porpoises swam at the bow, and?an event unprecedented in the history of Westport pelagic trips?a Mourning Dove flew around the boat 14 miles offshore!

Topping the rarity rating among 23 species of shorebirds was a handsome, tawny-brown juvenile Ruff seen feeding along a gravel beach with Black and Ruddy turnstones. Our group watched as the Ruff came ever closer, flying in from a boulder jetty and then working its way along the beach until it passed just below where we stood atop a low dune, not 20 feet away. Scaly-plumaged juvenile Baird's Sandpipers shared shorefronts with Pectorals, a Wandering Tattler methodically worked seaside boulders, and over 400 Marbled Godwits massed in close view at Tokeland.

Another lovely late summer made for a memorable walk in the Olympic Mountains at over 5,000 feet. A Sooty Grouse posed at the roadside not far from the trailhead. Along the level ridge trail, migrating "Sooty" Fox Sparrows chipped in the subalpine shrubs, as Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Gray Jays, accipiters, and other birds appeared against the brilliant mountain vistas. Back at sea level the same afternoon, we birded the shoreline at Pt. Angeles and Dungeness, where Harlequin Ducks and Red-necked Grebes bobbed near shore, and thousands of American Wigeons testified to the ongoing migration. A "Black" Merlin chased off another Merlin, and briefly perched just over our heads?another regional specialty.

An easy ferry crossing of the Strait of Juan de Fuca put us in Victoria, British Columbia, where we continued north toward the farm fields where North America's only long-term population of Sky Larks resides. After a bit of searching, we had good views of a number of Sky Larks as they fluttered up close at hand. Later that afternoon we ferried on for the B.C. mainland, a scenic passage among evergreen-covered islands. We would bird along the foreshore dikes of Boundary Bay until sunset, and revisit the area the following day, an area that offers a great diversity and vast numbers of waterfowl and shorebirds. Hundreds of Black-bellied Plovers?mixed with a few Red Knots?paced the tideflats, as thousands of Northern Pintails and other ducks massed along the water's edge. Peregrine Falcons made regular passes and flocks of American Pipits landed near the dike.

During the tour we also had fine views of Northern Pygmy-Owl, Virginia Rail, American Golden-Plover, Heermann's Gull, Mew Gull, California Quail, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Hutton's Vireo, Steller's Jay, Western Scrub-Jay, Northwestern Crow, Winter Wren, Marsh Wren, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Purple Finch, and Red Crossbill.

Take note of early September in the Pacific Northwest?excellent birding, fair weather, and fine food?a superb time to visit one of the most distinctive and beautiful regions of North America.