The 2009 WOS Conference was held September 18-21, centered at the Red Lion Hotel & Conference Center in Kelso, Washington. The Red Lion served as our base for lodging, registration, receptions, and events, and as the starting point for all field trips.
By Gene Hunn
102 participants came from as far afield as British Columbia, Utah, and Oklahoma, and enjoyed 36 field trips led by 20 intrepid volunteers, with several “going home” trips Monday pushing the geographic envelope. The weather was mostly fine, but for a bit of rain Saturday morning, which affected the mountain trips somewhat. Jupiter lit up the evening and Venus the morning skies.
Friday evening, the WA Bird Records Committee put on an excellent workshop, and we wish to thank especially Kevin Aanerud, Dennis Paulson, and Ryan Merrill. They demonstrated the complexities of rare bird documentation and highlighted some of the pitfalls to be expected in the excitement of a rare bird encounter.
Saturday’s keynote speaker, Robert Michael Pyle (noted lepidopterophile and Zan natural historian) entertained us well. Robert and his wife have settled into a trim century-old house with a sweeping view of the Grays Harbor historic covered bridge and the valley below. He shared evocative experiences and observations through the years and seasons in the low-key landscape of the Willapa Hills of Wahkiakum County, one of the more out-of-the-way corners of our state and target of a series of conference field trips.
I have tallied the reports from the conference field trips. A grand total of 189 species of birds was seen (plus a few mammals, herps, and invertebrates). No great rarities turned up, but there were a number of surprises: a Gray Catbird, Nashville and Hermit warblers and a Yellow-breasted Chat, Vesper, Lark, and White-throated sparrows, for example. Sandhill Cranes were arriving for the winter, which is always exciting. Trip tallies included 33 species of ducks, geese, and swans, most of the ducks in challenging late-summer plumage. A Mute and a Tundra swan were staked out at Steigerwald NWR, while Post Office Lake near Vancouver offered an interesting assortment, including Wood Ducks, Eurasian Wigeon, Redheads, Canvasbacks, and Ruddy Ducks. Many Ospreys lingered; several reliable Red-shouldered Hawks were seen, but there were just two sightings of White-tailed Kites, which are quite difficult to find at this season. A fine adult Golden Eagle on Silverstar Mountain was unique.
Jamie Acker persevered two nights running, eventually recording four species of owls: Barn, Great Horned, Barred, and Northern Saw-whet. The mountain trips (St. Helens and Silverstar) offered brief sightings of Ruffed and Sooty grouse, and Wilson Cady’s group spotted Wild Turkeys while on their way home through the gorge. Oddly, no one noted California Quail.
The master list we prepared beforehand proved somewhat optimistic, as 63 species we thought might turn up didn’t, including the quail. Ah, the value of negative evidence. For perspective, 40 of the 189 total species were reported by just a single field trip, many of these by “going home trips” tapping the additional diversity of the Columbia Gorge (e.g. Acorn and Lewis’s woodpeckers) and the outer coast.
The going-home trip via Tokeland and Midway Beach located the famous godwit flock, 1,100 strong, including one Bar-tailed and 15 Willets as well as two nearby Long-billed Curlews. At Midway Beach, they watched as a Buff-breasted Sandpiper narrowly evaded a Merlin, and enjoyed close studies of Semipalmated, Baird’s, and Pectoral sandpipers, with two Lapland Longspurs in the dunes for a bonus.
Twenty-seven species were seen just twice, notably pelagic and other seabirds reported by the Ilwaco tours to the mouth of the Columbia. These turned up Sooty Shearwaters, a Parasitic Jaeger, Common Murres, Marbled Murrelets, and Wandering Tattlers.
At the other extreme, 23 species were seen on 25 or more of our trips.
Most widely noted were crows, robins, flickers, Song Sparrows, Turkey Vultures, Red-tails, American Goldfinches, Great Blue Herons, Cedar Waxwings, and Black-capped Chickadees. There were very few lingering flycatchers, mostly Willows and wood-pewees, and just the occasional warbler/vireo flock, but together we found nearly all the expected species, including American Bitterns, Great Egrets, several Eurasian Collared-Doves, the remnant flock of Monk Parakeets in Yacolt (which likely qualify as countable now, or will in the near future), the tail end of the Vaux’s Swift migration — particularly impressive at the summit of Silverstar — and the distinctive local race of White-breasted Nuthatch.
Thanks especially to Jack Stephens, Cindy McCormack, and the late Patricia Lott for bearing most of the organizational burden for this conference, which is considerable. Thanks also to local experts who generously volunteered time and hot tips: Wilson Cady, Bob Flores, Eric Anderson, Jim Danzenbaker, Andrew Emlen, and members of Willapa Hills Audubon.