WHAS - Bird Lists and Wildlife Sightings

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Sandhill Crane (WDFW Image)


2021 Cowlitz County Bird List - March Update

Great Gray Owl - Image courtesy of Wikimedia/jok2000
Great Gray Owl - Image courtesy of Wikimedia/jok2000

By Russ Koppendrayer

The annual smelt run took place almost entirely in March this year. The hordes of these tiny fish coming up into the rivers of Cowlitz County to spawn is an extravaganza of the natural world. Though tiny the smelt provide the nutrition for waves of sea lions, hundreds of Bald Eagles and tens of thousands of gulls. Among these gulls, in recent years birders have been finding the occasional Lesser Black-backed Gull, a species associated with Europe and Asia. The east coast of North America has seen an increase in appearances of this gull species over the last few decades, In more recent years there have been a few found in Washington as well, including individual birds following the smelt here in 2016 and again in 2020. Imagine our surprise this season when at least three Lesser Black-backed gulls were found among the massive gull roosts. A winter plumage adult was photographed at Willow Grove, and both a juvenile and a breeding plumage adult were spotted in the Woodland area. The adult was enjoyed by numerous birders as it roosted on the roofs of Woodland businesses while not dining on smelt in the nearby Lewis River.

Just as astounding was the first county record of Great Gray Owl, submitted with photographs to eBird. While eBird does not publish locations for records of this sensitive species, we do know that they like to hunt in open meadow areas surrounded by forest. Known Pacific Northwest nesting areas are the Okanogan Highlands east of the Cascades in northern Washington, the Blue Mountains in southeast Washington and Northeastern Oregon, and the Cascades in southern Oregon. Occasional birds seeking new territory or on some other pursuit are found outside of those areas and it is always wise to be on the alert for this possibility, although thorough documentation is best if you want to be believed.

Spring migration is going to really ramp up in the next couple months with new species arriving almost every day, one of the more exciting times for birding. Hope you enjoy.

Download the pdf here.


Midwinter Bald Eagle Survey

By Darrel Whipple

"Well, eagles aren't going to like this place!" remarked Mike Tweedy as we turned around in disappointment at the gate of the county shooting range near the mouth of the Toutle.

Indeed. The place was loaded with dozens of vehicles apparently owned by recreational shooters, but also by folks plying their skills -- well, actually their kids' skills -- at moto-cross, creating an insufferable din as the bikes bounced and flew around a course over the extensive mound of sand dredged from the Toutle and Cowlitz rivers.

No sooner had we started back toward the Cowlitz River to continue the Midwinter Bald Eagle Survey, when we saw two bright adult eagles posting watch in the two nearest trees to the moto-cross cacophany! What. were. those. eagles. thinking?

It reminded me of Prof. Mayhew's Second Law of Animal Behavior: An animal will be where you find it. (Mayhew's First Law was: An animal will do what it damn well pleases.) Go figure.

Anyway, it was a great day to run the survey -- Saturday, February 20, 2021 -- and we had a respectable final count of 21 eagles. Seven of them were sub-adults, birds still in their first three years of life, not having attained adult plumage. It's good to see that the population may be replacing itself in our region, after many decades of nesting failure attributed to DDT or PCBs in the food chain. The Silver Lake nests are notably successful recently, as five of our observed sub-adults today were found there.

Most of our sightings were near nests or territories where I had found them in prior years' surveys, even though we often had to scan distant conifers to find them. Mike was good at spotting that little speck of white on a hillside of green.

Other species that were highlights of this day's outing were American Kestrel, Bufflehead and Tundra Swan.

We were conducting the 43rd Midwinter Bald Eagle Survey sponsored by WHAS, roughly following a vehicle route that was prescribed in 1979, when WDFW and other entities kicked off a ten-year eagle population study in the state. This year's survey yielded 11 adults and 5 sub-adults in the north latitude-longitude block (Coweeman mouth to the I-5 bridge over the Cowlitz) and 3 adults and 2 sub-adults in the south block (Coweeman to Kalama Marina).

Each block is about eight by twelve miles in size, and the route covers approximately 120 miles. The survey hours were 7:45 am to 3:30 pm, with temperatures in the 40s and an occasional shower.

The total of 21 eagles has been par for the course over the last few years. (Last year was a notable exception: we had 74 eagles on February 25, 2020, attracted from all over the region by the late smelt run!)


37th Cowlitz-Columbia Christmas Bird Count Results

By Bob Reistroffer

On Friday, January 1, 2021 the 37th Cowlitz-Columbia Christmas Bird Count (3CBC) was conducted. We had 18 field observers and 2 feeder watchers out for the day peering through rain and low clouds. They found 103 species and 18,048 individual birds. The count this year was in the normal range for this count. 2021 brought some changes for counters. Rather than groups covering 6 large areas we had groups covering 12 smaller areas (6 individuals and 6 “Social pods).

We recorded some all-time high individual counts;

  • 4,528 Cackling Goose,
  • 1332 Mallard Ducks,
  • 19 Canvasback,
  • 56 Anna’s Hummingbird,
  • 35 Common Raven,
  • 18 Brown Creeper,
  • 24 Bewick’s Wren,
  • 2 White-breasted Nuthatch,
  • 33 Cedar Waxwing, and
  • 202 Golden-crowned Sparrow.

Also, we had 6 count week birds Pileated Woodpecker, Wood Duck, Northern Harrier, Western Meadowlark, Horned Grebe, and Common Loon.

Thank you to all our field observers and feeder watchers.

This is the final I think after making a few changes due to feedback I got from the first draft. A few miss-placed numbers meant that I had to take away the Band-tailed Pigeon and White-tailed Kite but added a Green Heron.


2020 Leadbetter Bird Count Results

By Robert Sudar

The Leadbetter Point Christmas Bird Count was held on December 19th, 2020. Nationally, it was the 121st Christmas Bird Count. The Leadbetter count has been held each December since at least 1978, except for 2008, when it was cancelled because of heavy snow that made travel to the coast treacherous.

The count "circle" is centered in Willapa Bay and includes areas on both sides of the Bay, plus part of the Long Beach coastline including the Point itself. There are 8-10 "sectors" assigned to different counting teams, depending on how many counters are available and whether all areas are accessible.

For instance, the northern half of Long Island is within the count circle, but no one has counted it for many years because it's harder to reach. This year, COVID-19 created some challenges trying to make sure counters from different family groups weren't mixed, so there were fewer counters overall and each group had to be from the same household.

Some counters also chose not to participate because of health concerns, and some were unable to travel. But organizer Suzy Whittey, who lives on the peninsula, was able to recruit enough counters to get the job done. Counting is done from cars and on foot, depending on the location.

Many homeowners open their yards for counters, while others greet the slow-moving cars with questions, good wishes and the occasional tip as to where birds were recently seen. The weather was dry and adequately calm despite the storms that week until around 1PM, when the rain and wind returned. Still, the temperatures were moderate which made the work more enjoyable.

Overall, almost 18,000 individual birds were seen comprising 88 different species, which is a little lower than normal but still good results considering the challenges of staging the count at all.

The most unusual bird was a Bar-tailed Godwit spotted in the Oysterville area. Pine Siskins were definitely more abundant, often in a flock of over 150 birds.  And there were over 80 Anna's Hummingbirds.  They were rare at this time of year 40 years ago but are becoming increasingly common on the Leadbetter Count, just as they are in many local areas during the winter. There were also six American Dippers, a bird that likes to forage along fast-moving streams but can be challenging to see.

On the disappointing side of the count, there were no Brants, no Greater White-fronted Geese, no Gray Jays, no Snowy Plovers, no Northern Shovelers, no owls of any species, no Coots, no Bitterns, no Sapsuckers and only Common Loons this year. That doesn't mean there weren't some in the area, but they weren't seen on count day. It's not atypical to have some variation from year to year in what is seen but that doesn't lessen the disappointment for the counters! Brants and Snowy Plovers, for example, are species that have been rebounding a bit in numbers during the winter count in recent years and it would have been good to have recorded them again this year.

It was rewarding for all the counters to be able to spend the day recording birds and helping to maintain the continuity of the data set for the Leadbetter Christmas Bird Count. Hopefully, it will be less of a challenge in 2021!


2020 Wahkiakum Bird Count Results

By Andrew Emlen

The Wahkiakum Christmas Bird Count circle straddles the Columbia River, including Cathlamet, Puget Island, Elochoman Valley, and parts of the Skamokawa Valleys in Wahkiakum County, Washington; and Westport, Brownsmead, and Knappa in Clatsop County, Oregon. The Julia Butler Hansen National Wildlife Refuge and most of the Lewis and Clark Refuge are also within the circle.

For the 23rd annual Wahkiakum CBC on December 29, 2020, 19 volunteers counted 60,501 individual birds representing 109 species (there were two additional count week species). This is close to average - pretty good, considering that we had half a dozen fewer participants than usual.

The most abundant species this year was Cackling Goose at 19,750, followed by Greater Scaup (14,531), European Starling (4235), and American Coot (3297). Unusual species include the first White-tailed Kite on the count since 2012.

When I started the Wahkiakum count in 1998 White-tailed Kites had been expanding their range northward and were regular here through the early and mid 2000's, with the population peaking at 11 for the count circle in 2006. Their population in Washington plummeted after the heavy snow of 2008-9, and our numbers for the Wahkiakum count dropped to 4, then 2, then 1 for 2011 and 2012 before they were gone. The present individual can still be found along North Welcome Slough Road, Puget Island, where many birders have gone to view it. Puget Island also had three Turkey Vultures on this year's count - this is the fourth year in a row Turkey Vultures have wintered on Puget Island, after no previous Wahkiakum CBC records. 

New high counts were set this year for eight species (for each I have this year's numbers, followed by the previous high count in parentheses):

  • Mourning Dove 66 (64)
  • Northern Flicker 67 (64)
  • Black Phoebe 12 (11)
  • Horned Lark 58 (44)
  • White-crowned Sparrow 139 (97)
  • White-throated Sparrow 9 (6)
  • Western Meadowlark 65 (41)
  • Brown-headed Cowbird 22 (13)

Notable among these are the large number of "Streaked" Horned Larks. Since this subspecies was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in October 2013, the Army Corps of Engineers has been managing their dredge spoil islands to maintain habitat for the larks, and it appears to be helping them.

Also notable is the increasing number of Black Phoebes, which have been expanding their range northward and have been breeding successfully in Wahkiakum and Clatsop counties in recent years.


Read more: 2020 Wahkiakum Bird Count Results


Upcoming Events

Dec 17;
Leadbetter CBC
Dec 29;
Wahkiakum CBC
Jan 01;
Cowlitz Columbia CBC