By Jack Stephens
The 2011 WOS conference was held on the Olympic Peninsula, August 19-22nd with the Red Lion in Port Angeles serving as the home base for most of the field trips and presentations.
There was a great turn out for the conference, over 115 of you attended, from all over Washington as well as British Columbia and Florida. While the Friday field trips dealt with fog and the Monday field trips with rain, we had very good weather for the weekend days.
As at previous conferences, we combined daytime field trips with evening presentations. Friday evening, Kevin Aanerud gave examples of some of the issues that the Washington Bird Records Committee has faced when deciding whether or to accept or reject records submitted for their review. He focused not so much on issues of identification, but whether or not the birds are escapes, wild birds who came to Washington with human assistance, or truly wild birds. I came away with a new appreciation of the amount of thought, effort and study that the members of the WBRC puts into their reports, and just what a difficult job it is.
Saturday night’s presentation was given by Scott Gremel, a wildlife biologist who has studied Spotted Owls in the Olympic Nation Park for many years. While habitat preservation remains very important, he presented data that strongly suggests that the Spotted Owls are being displaced by Barred Owls, even in areas of good habitat. We are left with the difficult decision whether to attempt to removed Barred Owls by lethal means, a difficult effort that would never end, and may not succeed, or letting the contest between the two species play out without human intervention. Scott was clear, concise and a great speaker.
The field trips covered the northern coast of the Olympic peninsula and with some adjacent inland areas, from La Push and Neah Bay in the west to Port Townsend and Marrowstone Island in the east.
As expected with the coastal location of most of the field trips, waterfowl, loons, grebes, herons and cormorants were well represented. Thirty two species from these groups were seen, with notable sightings being a Great Egret at Marrowstone Island on the 20th, and a Green Heron near Neah Bay on the 21st. It was nice to see so many Common Murres, Pigeon Guillemots, Rhinoceros Auklets, and Marbled Murrelets in both alternate and early basic plumage.
Although it was early for peak shorebird migration, 22 shorebirds species were seen. There were many Western and Least Sandpipers, both yellowlegs, both dowitchers, and a few Semipalmated Plovers. More unusual sightings including Marbled Godwit, Baird’s Sandpiper and Red Knot at several locations, and a Stilt Sandpiper near Three Crabs Restaurant in Sequim.
An iconic bird for the area, Tufted Puffin was hoped for by many, and thankfully was seen at Neah Bay (both the pelagic trip and the sea watch from Cape Flattery), at Cake Island off of La Push, and soul-satisfying looks on the Protection Island cruise on the 21st.
Although August is a very slow month for owls, Bob Boekelheide drew from his knowledge of the area to come up with 5 owl species on the night of the 22nd, including Barn Owl, Western Screech Owl, Barred Owl, Northern Pygmy Owl, and Northern Saw-whet Owl.
While it was late for song birds, inland locations did yield 4 species of flycatcher, 2 vireos, all 6 species of swallow, and 8 species of warblers. Notable sightings were Cassin’s Vireo and Bank Swallow at Marrowstone Island, Hermit Thrush near Port Townsend, and MacGillivary’s Warbler on Hurricane ridge.
Several of the field trips were so unique they merit special mention.
We had planned for three trips out of La Push to go to Cake Island off shore for puffins. Unfortunately the trips on the 19th and the 22nd were cancelled due to weather, but the lucky few who went out on the 20th got great looks at this beautiful alcid. There was great interest in this trip, far more than we could accommodate. For those interested on arranging something on your own, contact Top Notch Charters out of La Push. All it takes is six total to put a trip together, and Jim Richeson will be happy to take you out.
George Gerdts was instrumental in organizing a trip to Protection Island on Sunday. This a trip that in my opinion every Washington birder should do at least once. It is an amazing place, George’s enthusiasm is contagious, and we were rewarded with fabulous looks at a Tufted Puffing very close in very good light. Many photos were taken, and a good time had by all.
A key part of the conference for many was the pelagic trip we arranged out of Neah Bay. Ryan Merrill lead this trip. They headed west to Swiftsure Bank and the near edge of the Juan de Fuca canyon, and were reward with good looks at Northern Fulmar, Pomerine Jaeger,Sooty and Pink-footed Shearwaters and a large raft of Sabine’s Gulls.
Brian Bell and company took the Black Ball ferry to Victoria and back, and had looks at large rafts of the more common sea birds as well as two Fork-tail Storm Petrals.
Randy Hill’s “Going Home” trip along the outer coast added Whimbrel and Common Tern to the list, along with fly-by puffins at Kalaloch.
Many thanks go to those who helped put this conference together. Bob Boekelhiede played a pivotal role with local knowledge of both places and people. He provided invaluable help with planning field trips, and recruited the local trip leaders. We utilized many local birders as trip leaders and this conference, and our thanks to them for their efforts. We had many tried and true established WOS trip leaders as well, these conferences would not happen without their willingness to lend a hand. George Gerdts and Jaime Acker helped with the Cake Island trip arrangements, and George organized the Protection Island trip. Adam Sedgely made up a very professional master trip list. More than anyone, thanks go to Cindy McCormack for the work with registration. Lists of participants and field cards for every trip, name badges for everyone, trip list signs, refunds and missing payments, cancelling and adding field trips all are handled by Cindy with unwavering competence, cheerfulness and caring for making eveyone’s experience the best possible. If you were at the conference, I am sure that you agree that the experience exceeded this brief description. If you were not able to make this one and are feeling a bit left out, set time aside in June 2012 for the WOS conference, in Spokane.
Best to all, and good birding,