South County Bird Binge Trip Report
By Paul Hicks – Our South County “bird binge” found more than 80 species by 12:30 — not bad for a long morning’s work! We added several more in the afternoon extension. I thought I’d try to capture some of the highlights, at least those that struck me.
At our first stop (Scatter Creek behind the rail trestle) three Wood Ducks flew over. We found five Turkey Vultures roosting high in a cedar tree — not a common sight. We saw several vultures throughout the day. I’ve seen more around this year than ever before.
Along Scatter Creek behind the high school our attention focussed on two dark swifts. At least one lacked the typical pale contrast in the throat, appearing more like Sibley’s depiction of Chimney Swift, a dark chocolate brown in coloration. A lovely pair of chattery Bullock’s Orioles made a brief appearance. Two male hummingbirds, Anna’s and Rufous, duked it out for territorial dominance.
A quick stop at the city park produced the day’s only Yellow-rumped Warbler singing high up the fir trees and a Red-breasted Sapsucker working a maple. Towhee, junco, and siskin were vocalizing, plus a Swainson’s Thrush in full song.
At the Mull Street marsh we were treated to the sight and sound of a Wilson’s Snipe’s “winnowing” flight display, a first for several. A Virginia Rail sounded off from somewhere in the tall grasses. A Red-winged Blackbird was observed apparently “hiding” the orange-red shoulder patch and showing only the yellow. A Willow Flycatcher was heard, likely a migrant that had just arrived several hours earlier. The big surprise here was a single Red Crossbill giving its characteristic “kip kip kip” call as it flew high overhead.
Vantine Road offered tons of diversity: warblers, sparrows, vireos, grosbeaks, tanagers, chickadees galore. Perhaps the highlight here was getting a good listen and decent view of the skulky MacGillivray’s Warbler. I was surprised how many were singing. Plus an Olive-sided Flycatcher struck a nice long pose atop a conifer. Further up we coaxed a Downy Woodpecker to pay a visit.
We took the opportunity to study some birdsong: The erratic, burry notes of Warbling Vireo versus the smooth, rich warble of Purple Finch; the simple and straightforward slurred-together couplets of the Robin compared to the Black-headed Grosbeak’s delightfully creative and complex improv.
Bob and Sally Sundstrom’s garden is like nature lovers’ eye candy. A feast for birds and birders and gardeners alike. Lots of colorful (and vocal) Purple Finch, American Goldfinch, and the occasional Steller’s Jay and Black-headed Grosbeak came to the feeders. A House Wren sang his little heart out near the doorway of his birdhouse. Perhaps the “best” bird here was a Cassin’s Vireo delivering its leisurely “question-and-answer” song from the ridge above. Our only Cliff Swallow for the day was spotted nest-building on the well house in the back fields. An unexpectedly “late” Golden-crowned Sparrow looks to be still recovering from an ambush at the hands (talons) of the local Sharp-shinned Hawk.
We were surrounded by active Yellow Warblers in the swampy area a short distance out the Yelm-Tenino Trail. (This connects with the Chehalis-Western Trail to Lacey and beyond.) Gorgeous birds! Here we found the only Cedar Waxwings of the day.
After encountering Brown Creepers singing nearly everywhere the day before, we couldn’t come up with a single one until a pair showed up right at our cars parked at the bottom of Blumauer Hill.
A Lazuli Bunting put on a grand show out Skookumchuck Valley. This was the consensus must-see bird for this trip, and no one was disappointed. Two or three Bald Eagles showed up, probably attracted by the freshly mowed hayfields revealing a crop of rodents to eat. A side-by-side comparison with a Red-tailed Hawk showed just how huge these majestic birds of prey really are! At the bridge we found some very cooperative Northern Rough-winged Swallows and a Red Crossbill.
Our biggest surprise of the day was a thrush foraging like a bluebird on open ground from a wooden rail fence across a pasture field from us. The uniform, warm reddish-brown above, lack of spots below, and the “uncharacteristic” foraging and habitat point toward Veery (!). I will probably make a report.
Update: I reported our observations to the Washington Rare Bird Committee. The initial response is positive; however Veery is not subject to review because it is common in other parts of the state. This would be only the second sighting in Thurston County. Very (Veery?) cool!
We added a few nice species at our final stop on 180th: Chipping Sparrow, Western Bluebird, and an American Kestrel stooping onto a meal from a snag.