[Tweeters] Lake Washington Marbled Murrelet (long story)!

Evan Houston evanghouston at yahoo.com
Sun Oct 23 14:30:12 PDT 2011


Hi Tweeters,

I had a pretty surprising and fun experience with the subject-line alcid at Magnuson Park this morning (10-23).  Before I share the story, I should say that Ryan Merrill was able to photograph it and determine that it is not a Long-billed Murrelet.

The cloudy skies and calm lake made for nice scoping conditions, and during one scan I picked up a small lump on the water (I have since determined this was at least a mile away).  At first, I wasn't entirely sure it was a bird, but eventually I was able to determine that it was an avian lump, and I zoomed in and studied it.  I could see it was a small bird, much smaller than the nearby Mew Gulls and Western Grebes, that it had basically no neck, and was dark above and light below.  
I decided it really looked like an alcid, which was pretty crazy since this was fresh water, so I studied it some more, and determined that it had 2 patches of white on its otherwise dark upperside.  At that point, I got kind of excited, and with my iPod Touch Sibley guide, determined that it really had to be a Marbled, or Long-billed Murrelet, but there was still a twinge of uncertainty given the distance.

I called Ryan Merrill, and he agreed that it did not seem that I was forgetting to consider a more common fresh water denizen.  In a stroke of luck, Ryan was at home in Kirkland, on the other side of the lake, and he said he was going to kayak out to the area I was viewing with his nice camera.  

While I waited close to an hour for him to get to the proper area, I kept the bird in view, studying it, and hoping that I could see enough to distinguish between the 2 possibilities above.  I realized that it had been stormy last night, good conditions for an alcid to become a little displaced, and I also reflected on what I knew about the alcids, and came up with the recollection that Long-billed was a really uncommon bird in the state, but that it did seem more prone to being found on fresh water than Marbled.

Finally Ryan got into proper position, called me, and I hoped he would tell me he was photographing a Long-billed Murrelet.  Instead, he wasn't able to see the bird, as the lake was turning from smooth to choppy, and in my attempts to give Ryan directions, I managed to lose the bird!

So quickly from an anticipatory excitement to a sinking feeling of being left with no confirmation!

To finish the story, about 15 minutes later Ryan re-found the bird, it had flown off from the original location, and he said that it was a Marbled Murrelet - a bit of a bummer that it didn't turn out to be the more unusual one, but waaay better than not having any confirmation, not to mention having your much more experienced friend kayak out on a lake and come up empty-handed!

Ryan last saw the bird flying towards the north end of Lake Washington.  Who knows if it'll stick around, but it might be worth keeping an eye out for anywhere in Lake Washington in good viewing conditions and calm water.  In a little bit of internet browsing at home, it does appear that Marbled Murrelet has been seen, albeit very rarely, on fresh water, though of course they do breed in old-growth forest in the summer.

Other highlights this morning at Magnuson included:
- 3 Bonaparte's Gull way out on the lake and a couple of Herring Gulls on the swim platform
- 1 Eurasian Collared-Dove near the boat launch
- a Townsend's Warbler on Promontory Point
- seeing an accipiter nail a Cedar Waxwing near the boat launch - there had to be about 200 waxwings feeding on berries here, and I wouldn't be surprised if Bohemians turn up in the flock if it sticks around for several more weeks.
- couple of Horned and Red-necked Grebes on the lake, and probably close to 250 Western Grebes, but as usual, virtually all were too far away in the middle of the lake for me to try to see if a Clark's was among them

Good birding,
Evan Houston
Seattle, WA
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