Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Dungeness NWR, WA - 14 Jun 2008

Robin and I flew into Sea-Tac Airport yesterday afternoon. While she’s attending conference this weekend I’ll be birding! The only highlight of our short trip from the airport to our hotel was a Red-tailed Hawk, Glaucous-winged Gull, and Rock Pigeon.
This morning I drove down to Pier 52 and took the 6:10am Seattle-Bainbridge Island Ferry across the Sound. From Bainbridge Island I headed north on Highway 305 to Highway 3 west in Poulsbo. While waiting to make a left turn I put the binoculars on a Pink-sided Junco perched on the fence to my right. From Highway 3 to Highway 104 I crossed over the Hood Canal Bridge. With no traffic on the bridge I was able to spot several Pigeon Guillemots swimming just below me. Slowing down I managed a hand-full of pics through the driver-side window.
Continuing on 104 to Highway 101 I headed toward Sequim. Just as Robin had predicted the cloudy, misty skies cleared once I reached Sequim. From there I followed the GPS as it took me to Carlsborg Rd N, Cays Rd. N, Hogback Rd W, Loetzgell Rd W, and finally to the entrance of Dungeness NWR at Voice of America Rd. Along the way I managed a photo of a Red-tailed Hawk perched atop a dead snag next to the road, and heard several California Quail belt out their “Chi-ca-go” call.

Just inside the refuge I pulled over to listen to the morning chorus of bird calls. A Bewick’s Wren belted out its continuous “zit-zit-zit-zee-zer-tweet-tweet-tweet-tweet” call as I watched a pair of male Rufous Hummingbirds chase each other among the blooming trees. As I tried to find the Bewick’s in the hedges, an Orange-crowned Warbler appeared in front of me and allowed several close-up photos w/ the D300 and Sigma 400mm f/5.6. In the morning sunlight I could even make out its orange crown patch that ever-so subtly appeared to glow. A Wilson’s Warbler was also singing nearby.
At the parking lot I loaded up the scope and camera(s) and quickly found myself surrounded by Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Pacific Slope Flycatchers, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Pine Siskins, Song Sparrows and Willow Flycatchers. Several more ‘green’ hummingbirds buzzed by unidentified. I tried to get some photos of the chickadees that fed in the cedars above me, but the shade made for slow exposures. Still, I managed a couple keepers.
I hiked down the trail to the 5-mile long ‘Spit’ that was exposed by the low-tide. Along the way a Spotted Towhee appeared along-side the road and flashed its spotted wings. At the shoreline I looked out into the distance and grabbed a few pics of the spit, and the shoreline to the west. Small rafts of Pigeon Guillemots were swimming 50-100 yds out from shore. Glaucous-winged Gulls and Caspian Terns flew up and down the shoreline. The miles of exposed mudflats were, unfortunately bare of any shorebird activity.
Hiking about 2 miles out I scoped the lighthouse area and found only Great Blue Herons and immature Bald Eagles roosting in the distance. Deciding not to continue on, I turned around and headed back toward the car.

As I reached the base of the spit I noticed that the small rafts of Pigeon Guillemots had converged into a single large raft that was now literally just a few feet from shore. As the black birds floated they opened their bright-red mouths and screamed out their cedar-waxwing-like ‘tseeeeeeeeeeeeeeee’ calls. A few birds waddled out onto shore and proceeded to mate for a few seconds before quickly scamper back into the water. It was a bit comical to watch as the incoming waves washed over them and send them down into the shoreline. One bird appeared to yell ‘hellllp!’ as it slid down a large wall of water. It was quite a rewarding moment for me as this was the first time I could get close enough to digiscope and photograph the birds after enduring several cruises where the birds could only be seen from scoping distance. I even managed a few images of the birds flapping their wings, giving opportunity to see their broken-white wing patches and dark underwings that separate them from the less-common Black Guillemots. Several hundred pics later, I headed back up the trail and to the car, where I headed back toward Seattle.

As I left the refuge I spotted a California Quail out the passenger side window, but had to settle for a pic through the windshield as it ran just ahead of the car. Warbling Vireos, White-crowned Sparrows, Savannah and sooty-colored Song Sparrows were actively singing in the distance. By noon the California Poppies had opened into full-bloom and provided some nice pics with the Coolpix. I drove back to Bainbridge Island and took the ferry back to Seattle, and was back in the hotel room by 3pm. A couple hours worth of image-sorting and I was ready for dinner w/ the wife.Tomorrow I head to the Big Four Ice Caves west of Seattle in the Baker Mountain-Snoqualmie National Forest!

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