Washington: September Migration in the Pacific Northwest Sep 19—27, 2016

Posted by Bob Sundstrom


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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The ongoing migration of September concentrates birds along Washington and southern British Columbia’s mountain ridges, forest edges, coastal shorelines, and along the ocean’s near waters. Our September Migration in the Pacific Northwest tour takes full advantage of nature’s timing to go in search of shorebirds, seabirds, and songbirds in the midst of southward migration. Participants on our 2016 tour enjoyed superb weather, an admirable list of birds, plus great food and a memorable journey through the scenic Northwest. We birded from Seattle to the Pacific Coast and then north along the Olympic Peninsula before crossing the border to the British Columbia mainland—a loop that ran all the way from Seattle to Willapa Bay in southwest Washington to Boundary Bay in southeast British Columbia, before heading back south to Seattle.

The first morning of the tour was devoted to inland birding, beginning along Scatter Creek south of Olympia, Washington. At our first stop at the bird feeders in leader Bob Sundstrom’s yard, we saw a nice array of birds for the first time on the tour: Purple Finches, Golden-crowned and “Sooty” Fox sparrow, Spotted Towhee, and Band-tailed Pigeons. When we returned to picnic in the yard, a Red-breasted Sapsucker worked sapwells in the front yard birch tree, and a singing Cassin’s Vireo perched up for all to see. Just a mile or two from the yard in the foothills forest, we turned up another nice bunch of birds including Northern Pygmy-Owl, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Pacific Wren, and Hutton’s Vireo.

By noon we were headed west to near the coast for first views of shorebirds on the tide flats of Grays Harbor. And at Westport, hundreds of Marbled Godwits shared a roost with a few Black Turnstones.

On the second day of the tour, a private charter boat took us for a full day in the pelagic zone more than 35 nautical miles into the Pacific, off Westport, Washington. The weather was sunny and the swells were low, a superb day to be on the water. The waters well offshore were productive on this day, as they often are in September out of Westport. We saw dozens of Black-footed Albatrosses, some right next to the stern and, as well as Northern Fulmars, Pomarine and Parasitic jaegers, and beautiful Sabine’s Gull. The 70 Red Phalaropes during the cruise were a September record for this long-standing pelagic voyage. Other birds included many Cassin’s Auklets, Pink-footed Shearwaters, and several very close Short-tailed Shearwaters. Marine mammals put on a good show too, as a Humpback Whale rolled at near distance, and we cruised through shoals of Pacific White-sided Dolphins (numbering more than 800) as they rolled and leapt from the ocean.

The following day we focused on shorebirds at several coastal sites, finding a nice range of species from turnstones to godwits to peeps, and watched both a Peregrine Falcon and a “Black” Merlin blast by in quest of a meal. Lapland Longspurs turned up in the dune grass at Ocean Shores too. On Day #5 we headed north up the Olympic Peninsula and followed the Dosewallips River inland to the foot of the Olympic Mountains. While enjoying the lush fern- and moss-covered forest along the river, we came upon several American Dippers foraging and “dipping” atop rocks in the rushing stream. A bit later, we had a close encounter with a Sooty Grouse on the roadside in Olympic National Forest, and even closer encounters with curious Gray Jays.

In Olympic National Park we enjoyed spectacular scenery and nice views of Varied Thrushes. The same afternoon near Port Angeles, we watched intricately patterned Harlequin Ducks, a Black Oystercatcher, our first Thayer’s Gulls, and a trio of now endangered Marbled Murrelets.

Day 7 took us north toward British Columbia, via Whidbey Island. With a full day to bird near Boundary Bay south of Vancouver, B.C., we covered some of the best shorebirding spots in the Pacific Northwest. No rarities were lurking this day in the flocks of shorebirds we found, but we had great studies of brightly plumaged juvenile Pectoral Sandpipers, lots of dowitchers and yellowlegs, huge flocks of Black-bellied Plovers, exquisite Wood Ducks and other dabblers, and a nice mix of migrating birds. The next morning we crossed back south into the States then on toward Seattle and the airport. It had been a superb tour—many wonderful examples of migration in action, many fine birds, wonderful meals, and great company—all set in one of the most distinctive and beautiful regions of North America, at an ideal season.