On Saturday, July 16, birding guide Scott Atkinson gave my dad and I a fantastic full-day birding tour of the north Olympic Peninsula, in search of specific target birds I needed for my life list. Scott turned out to be an absolutely fantastic guide, and an extremely interesting person as well (he has traveled across the world, and even is the #1 eBirder in Russia!).
Our first birding location was a forest road on the northeast side of the Olympics, in search of Varied Thrush, Black & Vaux's Swift, and our main target bird for the morning: Hermit Warbler.
The views were beautiful from the road, and I fairly quickly heard my life bird VARIED THRUSH singing its eerie whistle on a distant ridge.
Failing to hear any warblers (usually one would expect to hear at least Townsend's Warblers), we scanned through flocks of CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES like this little guy:
Female HAIRY WOODPECKER:
Suddenly, I heard a warbler's "chup!" call and saw some movement in the trees at one of our roadside birding stops. Scott picked out a warbler that flew across the road, and after "pishing" to get the bird's attention, it popped into view. Amazingly, it was our very uncommon target bird, a first-year male HERMIT WARBLER! This is the furthest northern point of its range, and on the Olympic Peninsula, Hermit Warbler commonly hybridizes with the more abundant Townsend's Warbler. Hybrids can be differentiated by a black patch near the eyes & black streaks on the flank, and because this bird showed no black patch near the eye and no streaking on its sides, it was certainly a pure individual. Scott was amazed this was the first warbler we saw because usually he says he will pick through dozens of Townsend's and hybrid warblers before he comes across a pure Hermit. Very cool!
At one point, we hoped for a view of a Varied Thrush, and although we were unable to find one, we did admire these towering Douglas-Fir trees.
The next stop was Hurricane Ridge. At a short stop along the way, Scott & I walked along a road in a subalpine area and we found this ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER:
The forest alongside the road was beautiful:
Singing HERMIT THRUSH, which is my favorite song in the avian world:
The views from Hurricane Ridge, once again, did not disappoint!
Juvenile LINCOLN'S SPARROW, a rather uncommon find:
My life-bird AMERICAN PIPIT amongst the alpine wildflowers! Scott and I hiked the Hurricane Hill trail again in search of American Pipit, Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, Black & Vaux's Swifts.
In this photo, the flycatcher (photographed) was chasing a Western Kingbird (unphotographed), which is apparently an extremely rare find for the peninsula, and especially in an alpine area such as Hurricane Hill:
Male AMERICAN KESTREL:
BAND-TAILED PIGEONS flying away, the only other time I have seen this species is a brief sighting last year in Costa Rica!
We searched this lingering snow patches for Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, a species typically associated with alpine snow, and although Scott definitely heard one and I may have heard it, I am not counting it for my life list since it was such a distant identification.
Very cute juvenile Mountain Goat along the trail:
This is an Olympic Marmot, an extremely rare & endangered species, and Hurricane Hill is one of the only places in the world to reliably find this animal. Super cool to be very close to it!
Next, we drove along the Strait of Juan de Fuca toward our final destination of Cape Flattery, the northwesternmost point in the lower 48 and possibly the best place for seawatching in Washington state.
We made a few intermediate stops, and we were successful in finding many birds including my life bird BRANDT'S CORMORANTS:
Life bird MARBLED MURRELETS:
Life-bird BLACK TURNSTONE:
Flyby BALD EAGLE:
The trail out to Cape Flattery went through an amazingly lush rainforest, where there were even ferns growing out of the trees!
The birding from the cape was awesome, there were seabirds flying by all the time, and it was just super cool to be at the northwesternmost tip of the lower 48! Many of the birds were found and identified with the help of the long zoom ranges of my camera and Scott's spotting scope.
Life-bird PELAGIC CORMORANTS:
At one point, I watched SOOTY SHEARWATERS flying by in the distance through Scott's scope. It was so cool to see a pelagic (seafaring) species from land, and the only other time I have seen this bird was on the "Albatross Encounter" pelagic tour off the coast of Kaikoura, New Zealand in January 2014!
This is a PIGEON GUILLEMOT, one of the common alcids in the area:
BLACK OYSTERCATCHER, life bird:
TUFTED PUFFIN, a SUPER SUPER cool life bird that was probably my #1 or #2 target bird for the trip, along with Hermit Warbler. We watched a total of 16 of these fly by during the hour we were birding at the cape.
CALIFORNIA GULL, uncommon for the area:
RHINOCEROS AUKLET carrying fish:
Beautiful HEERMAN'S GULL:
Far-away island with sea lions:
COMMON MURRE, awesome life bird!
CASSIN'S AUKLET, very uncommon life bird and one I had really been hoping to find! With that auklet, we had successfully found all of Washington's summer Alcid species in one day! An Alcid sextuplifecta if I may say so myself!! (Guillemot, Murrelet, Murre, Puffin, Cassin's & Rhinoceros Auklet)
It was a FANTASTIC, FANTASTIC day! One of the best days of birding of my life, with so many life birds and so many neat experiences.
Bird-of-the-day for Saturday, July 16 will be a tie between the Hermit Warbler, Tufted Puffin, & Cassin's Auklet with runners-up to Marbled Murrelet, Western Kingbird, & Sooty Shearwater. All were life birds for me except for the kingbird and the shearwater.
Great, great birding! And a big thank-you to Scott for an awesome tour and extending our birding to be all-day long!
World Life List: 925 Species (30 life birds on the Olympic Peninsula trip)