The lure of two potential lifers (for me) and a laundry list of other potential state birds for Washington was too much for Shawneen and I to pass up, so we made the three-hour pre-dawn drive to Westport, Washington on Saturday 27 October. The presence of a Common Eider at Westport and a long-staying Wilson's Plover a few miles to south at Grayland had us already planning to go on this day, but the discovery of a Northern Wheatear at Westhaven State Park in Westport late on Friday afternoon sealed the deal. Despite a forecast that was at best bleak (100% chance of rain), we were undeterred.

We arrived shortly before birdable light. When we stopped to offload coffee at the public facilities near the Westport Boat Basin, we ran into Washington birders Steve Pink and Dennis Duffy. They knew exactly where the Common Eider was hanging out as Steve had seen it a week earlier, so we went with them out the raised fisherman's boardwalk to the mouth of the boat basin. Steve got on the eider almost immediately. It was already pretty breezy, but not raining yet, so we didn't tarry, knowing that it would be easier to refind the wheatear before the rain and the multitudes arrived. Google Map for Westport rarities (eider and wheatear).

Picture 5

Here's an aerial view of the Tokeland area, which shows where the Common Eider and Northern Wheatear have been seen. The link at the end of the top paragraph will allow you to zoom in on the map and get more detailed information of exactly where these birds are being seen.


Bird List

Westport, Washington

Oct 27, 2012

Common Name Scientfic Name Count Action
Common Eider Somateria mollissima 1 see note
Surf Scoter Melanitta perspicillata 24 ---
Common Loon Gavia immer 29 ---
Horned Grebe Podiceps auritus 1 ---
Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena 2 ---
Western Grebe Aechmophorus occidentalis 1 ---
Double-crested Cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus 4 ---
Pelagic Cormorant Phalacrocorax pelagicus 8 ---
Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis 185 ---
Semipalmated Plover Charadrius semipalmatus 16 ---
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 1 ---
Sanderling Calidris alba 80 ---
Least Sandpiper Calidris minutilla 2 ---
Bonaparte's Gull Chroicocephalus philadelphia 2 see note
Heermann's Gull Larus heermanni 14 ---
Mew Gull Larus canus 12 ---
Western Gull Larus occidentalis 170 ---
California Gull Larus californicus 21 ---
Glaucous-winged Gull Larus glaucescens 12 ---
Rhinoceros Auklet Cerorhinca monocerata 1 ---
Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe 1 see note
Lapland Longspur Calcarius lapponicus 1 see note
Savannah Sparrow Passerculus sandwichensis 2 ---
Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia 3 ---

By the time we left the eider the lighting conditions were good enough for passerine birding, so we headed directly to nearby Westhaven S.P., where we encountered several other arriving carloads of wheatear chasers. By now the forecast was manifesting itself, so the first order of business was the donning of full rain gear, which we would have on the rest of the day. After proper layering, we headed out through the dunes to the area along the base of the jetty where the wheatear had been seen the day before. Steady rain and 15-20 mph winds dictated that both spotting scopes and cameras were left behind in the car. It's bad enough to get soaked, but worse to do so while lugging around a bunch of extra gear that can't be used or, that might potentially get ruined (camera).

As we approached the base of the jetty a small group of five birders seemed to to be peering intently at something farther out the jetty. John Puschock and Guy McWethy had arrived early, refound the Northern Wheatear near the small hook point east of the jetty and then tracked down the bird after it flew out onto the jetty. Over the next several minutes the wheatear popped in and out of view as it fed among the boulders. This bird had proven to be somewhat skittish, so we were content to view the bird from a distance and not push it farther out the jetty. Eventually, it flushed and flew towards us low over the water. We all got nice views of the broad tail with its tell-tale inverted white "T" pattern. It landed back at the hook briefly, but then flew back out to the jetty again, providing yet another good flyby view. It hopped in and out of view several times, then moved farther out the jetty. All the while, groups of birders kept arriving. The combination of intensifying rain and a growing crowd convinced us that we'd probably had the best views that we were going to get.

Img_2427

The marina at Tokeland, Washington is a traditional high tide gathering spot for the Marbled Godwits that use Willapa Bay. It is not uncommon to find several hundred on the docks in the boat basin. Other rarer godwits occasionally join the assembled Marbleds. Bar-tailed Godwits, like the juvenile in the foreground of this image, are virtually annual in Fall at Tokeland. The bird in this photo was one of two seen at Tokeland on 27 October 2012. A Hudsonian Godwit had also been present in recent days, but was not around during our visit.


By 11AM the day had already been an overwhelming success, as I had seen the two birds (both lifers) that had inspired this trip and yet, several other good birds awaited. The Wilson's Plover was just nine miles down the road at Grayland, but the driving rain made a beach walk less than enticing. We hopskotched Grayland and went farther south to Tokeland instead. The marina at Tokeland is arguably the most reliable spot in the Lower 48 to see Bar-tailed Godwit. In recent days a Hudsonian Godwit had been there as well. The high tide godwit roost at Tokeland can be birded from the car if necessary, so we opted to dry out a little bit.  Google Map of the area

In Tokeland we were greeted with a break in the deluge. I actually got my camera out for the only time all day. Initially, only about 40 godwits (all Marbled) were on the docks in the boat basin, so we focused our attentions on blackbird flocks and trying to find a Tropical Kingbird that had been around for two days. I heard and then briefly saw the kingbird getting chased by blackbirds while Shawneen was moving the car from one end of the boat basin to the other. It flew up again briefly, then disappeared. Despite much searching, she never saw or heard it.

As we birded around the perimeter of the boat basin another large flock of godwits came in, quadrupling the size of the group on the docks. A smaller gray-brown bird at the edge of the flock was clearly an outlier among the larger warm cinnamon-brown Marbleds. I didn't have a scope, but from a distance I was pretty sure it was a Bar-tailed Godwit. Shawneen brought her scope over and we confirmed its identity.

We made our way down onto the docks and got within photo range of the godwit flock. These birds are accustomed to fisherman walking up and down the docks, thus they are much more approachable than they would be out on a beach or open mudflat. As we snapped off shots of the Bar-tailed, another group of 60 more godwits came in and landed right in front of us. This flock included a second Bar-tailed, but still not Hudwit! After getting our fill of godwit photos, we made another loop through the area in hopes of refinding the kingbird, but the strengthening winds seemed to have it laying low.

Picture 4

Here's a satellite view of the Tokeland Marina area. The top blue pin drop shows where the godwits often gather and the lower right pin drop shows where the Tropical Kingbird was seen. (sourced online from Google Maps)


Bird List

Tokeland Marina, Tokeland, Washington

Oct 27, 2012

Common Name Scientfic Name Count Action
Greater Scaup Aythya marila 1 ---
Common Loon Gavia immer 2 ---
Horned Grebe Podiceps auritus 1 ---
Western Grebe Aechmophorus occidentalis 3 ---
Double-crested Cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus 200 ---
Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias 2 ---
Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus 1 see note
Sharp-shinned Hawk Accipiter striatus 1 ---
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus 1 ---
Killdeer Charadrius vociferus 14 ---
Willet Tringa semipalmata 8 ---
Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica 2 see note
Marbled Godwit Limosa fedoa 160 ---
Least Sandpiper Calidris minutilla 2 ---
Western Gull Larus occidentalis 8 ---
Glaucous-winged Gull Larus glaucescens 4 ---
Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus 4 see note
Tropical Kingbird Tyrannus melancholicus 1 see note
American Crow Corvus brachyrhynchos 1 ---
Common Raven Corvus corax 1 ---
Pacific Wren Troglodytes pacificus 1 ---
Golden-crowned Kinglet Regulus satrapa 2 ---
American Robin Turdus migratorius 2 ---
European Starling Sturnus vulgaris 40 ---
White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys 4 ---
Golden-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia atricapilla 8 ---
Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus 10 ---
Brewer's Blackbird Euphagus cyanocephalus 120 ---
Pine Siskin Spinus pinus 12 ---
House Sparrow Passer domesticus 10 ---

Our last stop was Grayland Beach State Park. It was still dumping buckets, so we decided to wait for the rain to let up a bit before heading out to scour the large expanse of beach for the Wilson's Plover. This bird, which has been around for several weeks, is most often seen with or near the Snowy Plover flock that hangs out just beyond the end of beach trail #3. It finally lightened up to a sprinkle, so we made a quick dash or the beach. It only took about five minutes or so for us to find the plover, which was hunkering down behind a large clump in the wrack line.

Another birder was about a quarter mile down the beach from us and it seemed pretty obvious that he was still trying to find the plover. While Shawneen stayed with the bird, I ran down to give him the word that we had located the plover. It was Randy Knapp, who we'd met a few hours earlier while watching the wheatear. He had been out on the beach looking the plover for quite awhile and was soaked to the bone, so he was much appreciative for our help. As he and I walked back towards Shawneen, she began pointing and waving her arm as the bird was flying. I did a quick scan and got on the plover, which was flying down the beach towards us. It landed nearby, allowing Randy and I to get nice close-up views.

By now the break in the rain was over and it was raining as hard as it had all day. We made our way back to the trailhead and the car, where we met Randy's wife and their Cocker spaniel, who were both significantly drier than we were. Randy and his wife returned the favor of our help finding the plover by suggesting that if we wanted some good food we should try Bennett's Restaurant right in Grayland. A fine recommendation indeed. If you find yourself birding in this area, we can recommend it highly! We lingered long at Bennett's, savoring both the fine cuisine and the warm and dry indoor conditions before the long drive back to Portland. Of course, it absolutely poured the entire way home.

Bird List

Grayland Beach State Park

Oct 27, 2012

Common Name Scientfic Name Count Action
Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis 12 ---
Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus 1 see note
Black-bellied Plover Pluvialis squatarola 1 ---
Snowy Plover Charadrius nivosus 12 ---
Wilson's Plover Charadrius wilsonia 1 see note
Sanderling Calidris alba 50 ---
Least Sandpiper Calidris minutilla 1 ---
Dunlin Calidris alpina 15 ---
Heermann's Gull Larus heermanni 20 ---
Western Gull Larus occidentalis 12 ---
California Gull Larus californicus 120 ---
Pacific Wren Troglodytes pacificus 1 ---
Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia 1 ---
Dark-eyed Junco Junco hyemalis 2 ---
Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus 2 ---

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