Thursday, 6 December 2012

Our first major dip.... well, nearly!

Flew up from Long Beach to Seattle, as we landed the plane was travelling sideways due to cross winds and being tossed around like a feather in a gale. Really uncomfortable a veritable white-knuckle ride.

The weather didn't improve. We were collected by Knut Hansen our host and were taken down to Ocean Shores on the coast. The rain continued and indeed got harder, the wind was blowing hard in off the the sea. The first rocky jetty we looked at seemed at first to be empty of birds, the rain was coming sideways and the waves crashing over the jetty, we weren't hopeful. But soon we saw a couple of birds hopping about the rocks nearest the water line on the protected side of the jetty. The first bird we identified was Black Turnstone, excellent, a much anticipated species and then immediately after a Surfbird, two of the big three we were after, but at least for me (Rick) the key bird was the Rock Sandpiper.  It didn't show, it was not there.

Surfbird and Black Turnstone
Wet and cold we returned to the car and drove to another site that Knut knew the other side of the bay. The time in the car was an agreeable respite from the wind and rain.

Surfbird

We stopped on the way for a look at a sewage treatment plant where we came across two Grey Phalaropes that had been blown in by the storm.

We arrived and climbed the rocky sea wall, and scanned the jetties, nothing! Not a single rock dwelling wader was seen, we got soaked through, literally to the skin, and returned to the car a little downhearted to say the least. There was one more place to try. Along the approach road we found four more Grey Phalaropes on puddles by the road, so severe was the weather there seemed to have been a wreck of these birds and we were seeing plenty of sea ducks and divers along the shoreline too.

Grey Phalarope on roadside puddle in the torrential rain
At the last site we climbed down a muddy bank to the beach and then scrambled across some slippery rocks to get to where we needed to be which, due to this and a previous storm, was being eroded away and the authorities had posted a No Trespass sign. Normally such things can be ignored but not when there is a policeman sitting watching it! That is why we couldn't simply walk the trail and had to circumnavigate the sign. The sea side of the land spit was like hell on earth if hell were cold and wet and not hot and fiery. We got blown and buffeted by the wind and the rain penetrated our clothing with ease building on our previous misery. Worse still, no Rock Sandpipers. We did see a few Dunlin, and a pair of Semipalmated Plovers. We decided to call it a day as it was getting too dark to bird due to the weather, it was too dark to photograph the phalaropes without a flash.

Westport Red Phalarope - 2
Grey Phalarope taken with flash; photo by Knut Hansen
The weather forecast for the next day did not fill us with any optimism, the same but worse, we were told.

We awoke to a calm and rainless morning and set off at dawn for the site along the marina at Westport where we had got so wet the previous evening. We split up and started to check the jetties, it was unexpectedly quite pleasant, no wind, no rain, indeed it was actually sunny. Of course it was Elis who came up trumps with a flock of rock-dwelling waders. I rushed to her side just in time to see a group of birds flying off the jetty, but thankfully they returned and the first two birds I looked at.... Rock Sandpipers, Bingo! The overwhelming sense of relief was palpable. We spent the next hour watching these and the other rock waders, Black Turnstone and Surfbird at close quarters. It was a truly magical time and we stayed with them until they moved off up the jetty.

Five Rock Sandpipers and two Black Turnstones as we first saw them.
Rock Sandpiper

Rock Sandpiper eating barnacles

Rock Sandpiper
Knut photographing the the rock dwelling waders
Elated we now settled in for a day of general birding and little expected that we would still get another wader tick.

We went to a small reserve along the coast a little, and suddenly Knut flushed a Wilson's Snipe, neither Elis nor I saw it, but by the end of our stop at the reserve we had seen four of them, a very welcome addition to the WQ list.

We had a great end to the day, we went to Damon Point in Ocean Shores in search of a Snowy Owl. I know this is not a wader but I couldn't resist posting a photograph of one of the 8 birds we saw. To salve my conscience I have also put two photos of waders taken at the same place.

Sanderlings

Dunlin

Snowy Owl, we couldn't believe how close were able to approach these
magnificent birds. a great end to a brilliant day.
Knut had done us proud, we would never have got the Rock Sandpipers if it were not for his kind offer to pick us up at the airport and more importantly the free (except for taxes) standby tickets he arranged for us with JetBlue Airways (for which he is a Captain) from Long Beach California to Seattle Washington. Thanks Knut you are a superstar!

WQ list 72.

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