The last two months has been highlighted by a couple of flycatchers. A Black Phoebewas found in the north end of the Woodland Bottoms in mid-September and has been seen sporadically since. While both our neighboring counties (Clark and Wahkiakum) have had nesting records of this species making its northward expansion, this is only the second record for Cowlitz. It is very possible this bird could over winter at this spot.
The Tropical Kingbirdfound at Willow Grove in late October was a much bigger surprise. While a small number of this species head north instead of south each fall in migration, they are typically found only on the outer coast in Washington and British Columbia. Finding one even this far inland is quite unusual and was a first record for Cowlitz. Unfortunately, it didn't stay around for many to see.
Image Tropical Kingbird, source: MDF CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
The Marbled Murrelet is a robin-sized bird that was listed as threatened in 1992 under the Endangered Species Act. This bird spends most of its life on near-shore waters from northern California to Alaska. It flies inland to breed high in the canopy of old-growth forest within sixty miles of shore.
The NW Forest Plan was created in 1993 to protect breeding habitat for Marbled Murrelet and Northern Spotted Owl. Without this plan there would now be no old-growth forest on state or federal lands; however, private landowners can cut any timber.
This August shocking news was published on the status of Marbled Murrelet after 20 years of the NW Forest Plan. The science report said:
In Washington State the Plan has not been successful--the population of Marbled Murrelet has declined 48% since 2001.
This decline in numbers is tied to decline in breeding habitat, mostly due to timber harvest of habitat on nonfederal lands. Marine conditions were not an important factor.
At current rates of decline there will be no Marbled Murrelet in SW Washington within 15 years! If the SW Washington population disappears, the northern population of birds in Washington, Canada and Alaska will be genetically isolated from the southern population in Oregon and California. This genetic bottleneck could quickly lead to species extinction. The situation for Marbled Murrelets is critical.
BUT YOU CAN HELP THIS OCTOBER! To find out how, click the read more below.
Fall migration of neotropical species winds down in the first half of September, but we should have some spurts of these birds for a couple of weeks. Shorebird species have about the same time frame, but they can be extremely difficult in Cowlitz during the fall as all the shallow ponds tend to dry up leaving very little appropriate habitat. The former Longview Sewage Treatment Ponds out at the west end of town (Ocean Beach Highway at Coal Creek Rd.) seem to be worth checking however. These have been decommissioned and the edges offer a bit of mud for shorebirds as they dry out in late summer. Be warned that a spotting scope is really needed to thoroughly check this site from the pull-out along Coal Creek Rd and walking along the gated dike.
This August marks the 70th anniversary of the devastating bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, during World War II. Hanford produced the plutonium for “Fat Man,” the nuclear bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. Watch Columbia Riverkeeper's newest short film, “Hanford: A Race Against Time” showing how Hanford’s nuclear legacy poses an ever-present threat to the Columbia River and river communities.
Columbia Riverkeepers are also collecting signatures for a petition to President Obama about Hanford cleanup. Go here for more information.
In the last few years with the growing breeding colony of American White Pelicans on Miller Sands Island in the Columbia estuary coupled with the frequent sightings in the Ridgefield and Sauvie Island areas and into some Portland/Vancouver sites, I assumed these were some of the same individuals. It seemed they needed to be passing through along the Columbia here in Cowlitz County as they traveled between locales, but we had only a couple of reports. That changed this year in an interesting way. We've had a number of reports and over half of them are of someone checking out a soaring raptor and noticing a flock of pelicans high above the raptor. When they pass through they are soaring at altitudes where they are not noticed with the naked eye. Keep your eyes skyward in locations near the river for a chance to see this impressive species.
There are only a handful of records of Swainson's Hawk for Cowlitz County and we can go years between sightings. In early May there was an adult of this species at the south end of the Woodland Bottoms and amazingly a yearling at the same spot in late May.
Possibly more interesting than the rare bird sightings this spring has been the nesting Great Egrets along Kuhnis Road in the Woodland Bottoms. The only previous western Washington nesting records for this species are from the Port of Kalama for a number of years, but not 2014 or 2015. The Great Egrets join the already nesting Great Blue Herons about a month later and build nests above and alongside just as the trees begin to leaf out, making observation a bit difficult. It appears that there are as many as 10 Great Egret nests this year and can best be seen with a scope from a pull out along Dike Road west of Kuhnis Road near the house boats in the Lewis River.
In April many of the neotropical migrants were making their return earlier than normal by as much as two weeks. This was most likely due to the lack of any weather systems that would ground the birds on their trip between here and their wintering areas. The most unusual appearance was made by a Sage Thrasher which apparently took a wrong turn on it's way to the shrub-steppe habitats of eastern Washington. The bird put in a one day showing at the Longview Mint Farm where it was seen by at least seven birders. This species seems to be found in one or two western Washington locales each spring, but this was the first ever record for Cowlitz County.