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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.

Grays Harbor Birds — Bewick’s Wren

One of two wrens common to Grays Harbor during the fall and winter seasons that charm us with their singing, the Bewick’s Wren is the larger and most often seen. The Pacific Wren is the other. The Bewick’s song contains more buzzes and burrs and is shorter in length than the Pacific, but is just as captivating and a real pleasure to hear. I often sit outside listening to “my” yard birds, and the Bewick’s Wren is one I see and hear nearly every time, though I confess I hear it scolding me more than singing. This photo was taken by Mike Hamilton.
 

Grays Harbor Birds — Cooper’s Hawk

This photo by Gregg Thompson is a newly fledged Cooper’s Hawk, closely watching something, probably a bug. Notice the total concentration, an intensity common to raptors, and youngsters learning what is edible and what may harm.

Grays Harbor Birds — Osprey

On July 11, 2010 my first Grays Harbor Birds column appeared in The Daily World, featuring the Osprey. The photo was about four inches high by five inches wide, and the statistics section was two columns wide and about 1 1/4 inches high, and I misspelled the first Latin name, paldion rather than Pandion. We have come a long way, covering 116 birds and a Leatherback Turtle in those five years. I appreciate having the opportunity to write this column and share my love of birds with you.

Grays Harbor Birds — Violet-green Swallow

Way back in 1965, my toddler-aged daughter and I visited my parents in their Boston Harbor/Olympia home for a week. While hanging diapers on the clothesline I was the object of intense interest by a large flock of Violet-green Swallows. They swirled around me and perched on the clothesline examining me, cocking their heads and chattering away, talking up a storm…discussing me I am sure. Thus began a love affair with these small, beautifully colored birds that has lasted all these years. According to one quote, “…we will call them children of heaven.” (Dawson 1923) I hope you like this photo by Mike Hamilton as much as I do.

Grays Harbor Birds — Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax trailii)

I know what you are thinking; this has to be a common bird to our area because we have a LOT of willow, we have a lot of water, and we have a lot of bugs…perfect, right? Not so fast bug-breath! It turns out they are fairly UN-common to the coast but can be found inland a bit. Still, I have heard their distinctive “FITZ-bew” call in the woods at Grays Harbor College, as well as in the red alder forest out at Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge; there is no other bird that sounds like that….well, unless a crow or a Steller’s Jay is now imitating them.

Grays Harbor Birds — Western Tanager

Western Tanagers are the only tanager regularly found in Washington and are common to our area throughout the summer. But if you see one you can consider yourself lucky; they are pretty hard to spot, despite the male’s brilliant plumage of yellow and black with a bright orange-red head.