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Grays Harbor Birds — American Pipit

During the recent Grays Harbor Shorebird &Nature Festival, a woman showed me a photo she had taken of a non-shorebird that had dropped down in front of her out on the Sandpiper Trail. She wanted to know what I thought it was, and with just a short hesitation I blurted out “American Pipit.” It’s not that I have seen a lot of pipits, but they are fairly distinctive and unlike most other Grays Harbor birds with which I am acquainted. This photo by Gregg Thompson shows one in non-breeding plumage.

Grays Harbor Birds — Western Sandpiper

If there is one bird that epitomizes the birds of Grays Harbor, the Western Sandpiper would be the one. This bird is the most abundant shorebird in Washington, seen on most beaches on the outer coast from July through May. They are lumped into a group of small shorebirds called peeps, which includes the Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers. Add the larger and paler Sanderlings and you have the most common birds seen running in front of the waves on the beach.

Grays Harbor Birds - Pine Siskin

Here is a mystery; when doing the research on this bird I found Cornell Lab of Ornithology uses the Latin name Spinus pinus, while the western sources and one eastern (Crossley) use the Latin Carduelis pinus. Since I use all the references I can find I choose to use Carduelis, lacking any further information as to why they are different. Meanwhile, enjoy this lovely photo by Mike Hamilton.

Grays Harbor Birds: Greaer White-fronted Goose

While doing research on this goose I was struck by the range maps showing where it breeds and where it spends the rest of the time. This goose breeds on the tundra from Russia, Siberia, through Alaska, Nunavut, and into Greenland. Then it winters down the west coast into Mexico, and up the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

Grays Harbor Birds — Northern Shoveler

Once seen, this duck is rarely mistaken for any other thanks to its large bill; for those of you of a certain age or over, think Jimmy Durante. It may change plumage but that distinguishing bill is a dead giveaway no matter what season it is seen. The female’s plumage may appear drab, but again the bill gives a clear I.D. This photo by Mike Hamilton shows a male in breeding plumage.

Grays Harbor Birds — Trumpeter Swan

This is our largest native swan, and never fails to get the oohs and aahs deserving of stars of the fields. I used one of Mike Hamilton’s group photos to show you what to look for out in the fields. The adults are white and the immature swans are gray through spring migration of their second year. Aren’t they gorgeous?

Grays Harbor Birds — Whimbrel

Take a good look at Gregg Thompson’s great photo of this Whimbrel. What a noble-looking bird. One of the amazing thing about shorebirds is how each one has a bill specifically designed for the job of getting food; each one probes for food at various depths in the mud and sand, as well as nooks and crannies among the rocks. The Whimbrel is an interesting bird as well, as you will see.
 

Grays Harbor Birds — Dunlin

This time of year, winter, the shorebirds we see on the beaches and around the edges of the harbor are in what is often called “drab” plumage, non-breeding. So when you see a large number of shorebirds hunkered down at the waters edge, it is sometimes difficult to identify the species. This photo was taken by me just a few days ago and features just one species, the Dunlin.

Grays Harbor Birds — Barrow’s & Common Goldeneye

When Mike Hamilton sent out this photo of the two goldeneye females, I was immediately anxious to do a column on the two ducks. Unlike most birds, ducks breed in the winter, so these two females are in breeding plumage. According to most people I know, it’s pretty difficult to distinguish between the two kinds of goldeneyes, so if you think we have made a mistake, please let us know. The Barrow’s is on the left, and the Common on the right.

Grays Harbor Birds — Common Murre

Several times I have received a call from someone wanting to know about the “penguin” on the beach; they know it is bizarre, but that’s what it looks like. I then explain it is a Common Murre…I don’t even have to go see it, but I do anyway, usually to meet the person that has found it and to assess the condition of the bird. If it is standing around on the beach, it’s in trouble. As you can see in Gregg Thompson’s photo a healthy bird stays in the water.

Grays Harbor Birds — Western Scrub Jay

First, a disclaimer; when I moved to the Harbor in fall of 1998, I did NOT bring any of my favorite birds with me…honest! Those birds from California have made it up here on their own, and it does seem as though more and more birds native to SoCal are showing up in the Pacific Northwest. The Western Scrub Jay is one of them, and I am always thrilled when I see one. This handsome bird was photographed by Mike Hamilton.

Grays Harbor Birds — Peregrine Falcon

In my previous city life I used to watch a pair of endangered Peregrine Falcons hunting pigeons over downtown Los Angeles. From my second floor window across the freeway I could see the puff of feathers when the pigeon was hit and thought how lucky I was to get to see such a magnificent hunter. Little did I know that 13 years later I would move to the Pacific Northwest where I see these birds all the time, and they still amaze me with their fierce looks and intent stare. The subspecies out here on the beach are larger than their L.A. counterparts, and to see them up close is a real joy. I took this photo of an adult bird; I hope you enjoy it.