It was 46º F and overcast at today’s 7:25 Sunrise, as a dozen-and-a-half Birders met at the Nisqually Refuge Visitors’ Center at 8:00 for a morning/day in the field. The tide was ebbing from a 13.62-foot High Water at 5:30 this morning to a +7.03-foot Low tide at 10:53 a.m., and flooding again to a 14.09-foot high at 4 p.m.
Refuge Volunteer Rob Chrisler led the group for most of the walk, with participants either enjoying a few hours or putting in a full day. The Visitors’ Center pond had MALLARD, RING-NECKED DUCK, AMERICAN WIGEON, and AMERICAN COOTS, while the surrounding vegetation held several PACIFIC WRENS. Hundreds of AMERICAN CROWS staged in the woods as they came off their roost east of the Refuge.
With a favorable mid-day tide, we opted to follow the ‘usual’ route starting through the Heritage Orchard and around the service road. Although the orchard was quiet for sparrows, but provided views of BUSHTITS, RUBY-CROWNED and GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLETS, PACIFIC WREN, and an immature RED-TAILED HAWK. The service road had our first GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROWS, SPOTTED TOWHEE, and BROWN CREEPER. A close flock of nearly 1,000 “minima” CACKLING GEESE allowed comparisons with several dozen “Taverner’s” CACKLERS.
Continuing along the west side of the boardwalk loop, our sole SOOTY FOX SPARROW, doing its scratch-and-hop feeding ‘dance’, foraged with SONG SPARROWS. A PEREGRINE FALCON watched the proceedings from the snag-topped Douglas Fir above the pond.
With little activity at the Twin Barns area, we continued onto the North Dike, where we heard the screaming call of an adult RED-SHOULDERED HAWK, then found the bird perched in a cottonwood along the River. Further along the dike a LINCOLN’S SPARROW perched up for great views. Other birds along the way included NORTHERN HARRIER, MARSH WRENS, a vocalizing VIRGINIA RAIL, a distant SHARP-SHINNED HAWK, and BALD EAGLES. A mixed-species flock consisted of AUDUBON’S YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS, a pair of ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLERS, BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES, AMERICAN GOLDFINCH, BEWICK’S WRENS, more KINGLETS, and a pair of NORTHERN FLICKERS - one of which was a YELLOW-SHAFTED x RED-SHAFTED INTERGRADE. At the entrance to the Estuary Boardwalk, a flock of YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS and GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROWS included a pair of immature GAMBEL’S WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS.
As we walked out onto the Estuary Boardwalk, the tide was still a bit low and much mud was to be seen, but the flooding tide pushed waterfowl and shorebirds from the edge of the Reach to where we could see them. It was fairly quiet for gulls, with only RING-BILLED and GLAUCOUS-WINGED & “OLYMPIC” GULLS seen. The slough and McAllister Creek had lots of BUFFLEHEAD, COMMON GOLDENEYE, a pair of RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS, HORNED GREBES, and DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS. Among the dabbling ducks (MALLARD, PINTAIL, NORTHERN SHOVELER, AM. WIGEON, AND GREEN-WINGED TEAL), we scoped out a few GADWALL and two drake EURASIAN WIGEON. Shorebirds included GREATER YELLOWLEGS, LEAST SANDPIPER, three SPOTTED SANDPIPERS, and BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER.
While we were out on the dike, one of the birders leaving for the morning texted us to let us know a drake BLUE-WINGED TEAL was in the pond west of the service road, south of the Twin Barns (Thanks, Jen!). A late-comer reported that a NORTHERN SHRIKE was perched out in the surge plain north of the dike.
As we returned along the east side of the boardwalk loop, we watched as a RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER inspected its sap wells in a hawthorn tree, as a RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET kept close watch over the sapsucker’s shoulder. While we were discussing woodpecker vocalizations (“Is that a Flicker or a Pileated?”), a RED-SHAFTED FLICKER flew from a large cottonwood, while a female PILEATED WOODPECKER remained on the bole. We returned to the Visitors’ Center pond overlook to tally our species, where a WILSON’S SNIPE awaited us.
It was another good day of Birding at Nisqually Refuge, and reminded us that our days together in the field are truly something to be Thankful for!
Please feel free to join the group for the weekly Wednesday Walk, where birders of every level of skill and expertise - from beginner to expert - meet at 8 a.m. at the Visitors’ Center.
Happy Thanksgiving, all -