[Tweeters] Tokeland Environs - 10-6-2004 - Gull and Godwit (long)

Desilvis, Denis J denis.j.desilvis at boeing.com
Thu Oct 7 09:41:23 PDT 2004

I'm not a "chaser" but yesterday I drove to the Tokeland area to see the
BLACK-TAILED GULL and the BAR-TAILED GODWIT. Success! In addition, I saw
two Palm Warblers at the first part of the trail to Bottle Beach. Here's
a bit of story to go with this.

Many years ago, a friend--Tony White (A Birders Guide to the Bahama
Islands; ABA Director)--once told me that if you're looking for a rare
or target bird that's supposed to be in a particular area, you'll
undoubtedly find it. The message was clear: it's easy to mistakenly
identify a bird to change it into the rarity you want. I quite possibly
had this experience yesterday and gave myself a 2-stroke penalty, even
though I managed to get a "birdie" anyway.

I arrived at the North Cove turnout along SR 105 (many thanks to several
of you that gave me explicit directions) at just before 8am: still
rather dark, high tide, sun just coming up over the hill behind me, and
an absolutely gorgeous day at the beach. LOTS of gulls in the shallow
water and on the sandbars. Almost immediately I latched onto what
appeared to be the Black-tailed Gull bathing with Heermann's,
Ring-billed, and California Gulls. The sun was just starting to hit the
bathing area, and the light was changing rapidly. I was SURE that this
was the bird, even though I couldn't quite see the wing projection, eye,
or legs. Suddenly, all the gulls took flight--the reason: a Bald Eagle
coasted over and headed north along the shoreline.

After about 10 minutes, the gulls started coming back, with the bulk of
them landing on the sandbar. After a several-minute scan, I spotted the
Black-tailed Gull among a small group of Heermann's Gulls (and one
California Gull). All the right fieldmarks, and excellent front-sunlit
view. I spent about 15 minutes observing the bird preening and loafing.
At 8:45am, all the gulls lifted off and headed out into Willapa Bay,
affording me a great view of the black subterminal band on the tail of
the aptly named gull.

The 2-stroke penalty: While the gull I originally saw bathing could
possibly have been the Black-tailed Gull, it may have been more the
result of expectation than reality. Lesson learned, once again.

My first stop after the gull experience was the Tokeland Marina, but no
godwits were around, so I headed to Bottle Beach. (It would have been
great to run into another birder, but during this whole experience, the
only birder I talked with was Rose (?last name?) from the Grays Harbor
Audubon Society, who stopped briefly and chatted while I was at North
Cove.) It was beautiful at Bottle Beach: about 10:15am, clear skies,
quite warm, and tide just going out. Lots of LEAST SANDPIPERS, a modicum
BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS (was that a golden plover of some kind in the
distance? I learned my lesson on the gull!), a lone LONG-BILLED
DOWITCHER, all feeding along the edge of the retreating tidewater. Many
other songbirds (American Goldfinch, Spotted Towhee, Bewick's Wren,
etc.) were along the pathway to the shore.

When I returned to my truck, I grabbed an apple from my lunch-stock and
walked the trail back toward the beach. Two PALM WARBLERS flew into the
tree above me, and I had brief, but excellent, views of both. My first
Palm warblers in WA!

Returning south, I went to Midway Beach, where I sat on the back of my
truck, ate lunch, and watched some Song Sparrows interact. Off to

I parked just above the Tokeland Marina, and immediately saw a group of
about 40 godwits and a dozen WILLETS on the floating "pier." Going up
toward the edge of the bank overlooking the marina, I then saw at least
300 godwits below me: I retreatedly quickly before they got too edgy,
and went to the walkway to the "crab" dock to observe from there. Nearly
all the godwits were roosting, heads turned back and bills tucked in. It
was almost impossible to sort through to identify the Bar-tailed from
the Marbled Godwits. To get another view, I went to the main pier and
set up shop there. (To the north, 24 BROWN PELICANS coasted by; six
pelicans, two PELEGIC CORMORANTS, and one COMMON LOON fished along the
shore; seven WILLETS and two WHIMBRELS roosted near the pier on that
side.) Still no view of the "target."

But then Fate, in the form of a Great Blue Heron, literally stepped in.
The heron had landed on the roof of the abandoned building next to the
pier. It stayed there for a while, then flew down to the marina mudflat
about 10 ft to the east of the roosting godwits. I started sorting
through the godwits once again with bins, when suddenly the bulk of the
birds moved to the south. The heron had strolled down toward the
shoreline, and the roosting godwit "waters" had parted to let it pass. I
looked up, and the Bar-tailed Godwit was at the edge of the southern
godwit group. Bins down, scope up and BINGO! The light body color and
white supercilliary stripe were immediately evident. The size
differential was more apparent with the naked eye.

When all the godwits were roosting, I found I could not sort the
Bar-tailed Godwit from the Marbeled Godwits. I believe that was mostly a
result of viewpoint (above), lighting conditions (bright), and tight
compactness of the roosting flock. When the heron disturbed the godwits,
the compactness dissolved, allowing me more of a view into the interior
of the flock.

A note about North Cove: road crews used the turnout from about noon
until I left as a staging area for their work on the east bank of the
road. Lots of heavy equipment was parked there, and SR 105 was reduced
to one lane. I don't know for how long this activity will take place,
but do keep it in mind if you go there and find work still ongoing.

A note about Grayland: the Cranberry Festival will take place this
weekend in Grayland. I saw one sign that indicated delays up to one hour
might take place on Oct 9 along SR 105.

May all your birds be "correctly" identified,

Denis DeSilvis
Seattle, WA
mailto:denis.j.desilvis at boeing.com

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