This week’s guest writer is local birder Ken Hemberry. We recieved this dispatch via trained Carrier Pigeon. Ken’s whereabouts are unknown, but he is believed to be watching a brown bird in a clump of bushes with binoculars
Everyone knows that most birds fly south for the winter but how far do they go and what paths do their travels take them? A lot is predictable yet a lot is unknown, even by the experts. Sometimes during migration birds show up in strange locations.
Recently that was the case at Westport. My wife and I made a trip there the last weekend of October to look for some of the reported rarities as well as to view other more common birds.
Common Eiders are large oceanic ducks that dive for crustaceans and mollusks. They rarely come ashore except to breed which occurs along the coasts of Northern North America, Europe and Eastern Siberia. The down that they use to line their nests has long been prized for use in pillows and quilts. Despite the fact that the feathers of domestic ducks and geese are currently used for this purpose, eider down is still harvested from nests after the breeding season has concluded. These birds rarely show up off the coast of Washington but this first year male stayed for a couple of weeks at the Westport Marina before moving on. While you wouldn’t think it possible by looking at them, Eiders can fly at speeds up to 70 mph.
The Northern Wheatear migrates further than any other songbird. They nest in the far north from Alaska to Greenland and winter in Africa. This annual journey takes them up to 9000 miles each way crossing Siberia and the Arabian Desert. This bird which is a little smaller than a robin a weighs a little less than an ounce recently showed up at Westhaven State Park in Westport and has attracted many birders. Someone told me that it was one of three Wheatears known to be in the continental US.
Wilson’s Plover is small shorebird with an appetite for tiny crabs that breeds along both coasts of North and Central America, wintering into South America. On the pacific side, they are rarely seen north of Mexico. It is estimated that there are approximately 6000 individuals worldwide. One showed up this August at Bennington Lake in Walla Walla County. Later in the fall, another or more likely the same bird, took up residence a little south of Westport at the beach near Grayland. Prior to these occurrences there were no verifiable records of this bird every being in Washington State.
Palm Warbler’s nest in Central Canada and spend their winters in the southeastern corner of the continental US yet a few of them show up every year in Western Washington during the fall and winter.
Migrating is hard work. These Short Billed Dowitchers, with their long bills tucked away and posted on one leg, relax at Bottle Beach. These birds breed as far north as Southern Alaska and winter as far south as Brazil.
There are many hazards that birds encounter on their journeys not the least of which is the Peregrine Falcon that follows migration due to the abundant food source.
The plumage of fall and winter birds is typically drabber than that of breeding adults. With the exception of Wilson’s Plover and Peregrine Falcon, all of the birds pictured are much more colorful during late spring and summer. While they were not seen by this author, other birds rare to Washington State observed in the Westport area in the past 30 days include: Hudsonian Godwit, Marbled Godwit, Tropical Kingbird and Northern Mockingbird. Birders throughout Washington often post what they have seen. On the western side of the state you can view these postings at: http://mailman.uwashington.edu/mailman/listinfo/tweeters
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