[Tweeters] Skagit Horned Puffin

Gary Bletsch garybletsch at yahoo.com
Sat Oct 9 22:46:44 PDT 2010

Dear Tweeters,

Today (9 October 2010) I braved some windy and rainy weather in Skagit County, and am jolly glad I did.

At Green Point (the seaside greensward at Washington Park in Anacortes), a Horned Puffin floated right by me at about quarter past three in the afternoon. This bird was with a Western Grebe, maybe eighty meters from my vantage point at the handicapped access and the display sign with the little (too little) roof over it.

It had been close to fifteen years since I had had the joy of simply stumbling upon a life bird, at least in Washington. So, I identified this bird with zero prior experience--unless I count standing around for four hours last Saturday on Whidbey Island and not seeing the Horned Puffin that had been found there on Friday the first.

I was so excited that I did not remember the camera in my pocket. After watching the bird in good light for about three minutes, through the scope, I then made a few phone calls. While I was fumbling with the danged new-fangled cell phone, I took my eyes off the bird, and it disappeared. By the time my friends the Armstrongs had raced out to Green Point, I had spent close to an hour trying in vain to relocate the bird.

With no recourse to a field guide, I did sketch the bird while looking at it. I also wrote this description at the time:

"Puffin sp, snow-white chest, black back; huge, dull-colored bill; dusky head with a pale area. Bulkier than WEGR, but much shorter-necked. Range 80 m. Light rain, but I can see the islands and the NWR rocks easily. Observed about three minutes. Bird did not flap wings or dive, just drifted with WEGR, right off the handicapped viewing area. Sun not a factor--overcast."

My sketch shows the huge honking bill, complete with the notch between forehead and top of the culmen ridge.

Ironically, the reason I was out there was to look for Bonapartes' Gulls, but I found none. I did see a nice Pacific Loon in breeding plumage here, plus several Marbled Murrelets and several Rhinoceros Auklets.

Later on, at Jensen Access on Fir Island, I spotted a handful of Bonaparte's Gulls.

Besides the excitement of the puffin, the bird of the day was a "Giant American Redstart." This is my personal nickname for a type of albinistic Red-winged Blackbird. Over the years, I have seen several of these birds, and once chased one on Guemes Island--a bird that had been reported as some exotic rarity. Today's oddball RWBL was on the Gardner Road near Burlington, in a big flock of Brewer's, Starlings, Red-winged Blackbirds, and B-h Cowbirds. It really did bear a more than passing resemblance to a male AMRE on a serious steroid regimen.

Also of note today were a score or so of Ring-necked Ducks at DeBay's Slough near Mount Vernon, and a hundred or so Dunlin on Alice Bay. One of the Dunlin still had a black belly.

On Fir Island this evening, the tide was very, very high. Hardly any shorebirds were in evidence. At the Game Range, I could not find a single shorebird. The water was extremely high.

Tomorrow will be the last weekend day for birding the Game Range, before the waterfowl hunt commenceth.

Yours truly,

Gary Bletsch   Near Lyman, Washington (Skagit County), USA   garybletsch at yahoo.com    

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