It’s a great time of year for birders in Snohomish County

  • Fri Dec 2nd, 2011 5:23pm
  • Life

By Sharon Wootton

Birding action has been hot and heavy up and down the coast this fall: snowy owls around Ocean Shores, Skagit Flats and Stanwood; black-bellied plovers, long-billed dowitchers and Bonaparte’s gulls at Hayton Preserve and Fir Island; and Eurasian collared doves in Bow.

Birder extraordinaire Dennis Paulsen saw hundreds of dunlins at the Hayton Preserve on Fir Island last Sunday. But it was the interaction with three immature Bonaparte’s gulls that was more interesting than the numbers.

The dunlins were feeding in a flooded field with the three gulls among them.

“When one would see a dunlin pulling a large earthworm out of the ground, it would immediately give chase and would usually get the sandpiper to drop the worm fairly quickly, then gobble it up,” Paulsen said in a post on an email birding listserv. This went on for a half-hour.

“I had never seen Bonaparte’s gulls in these fields and never seen them as kleptoparasites, but there they were, a very special occasion.” (A kleptoparasite is an animal that steals food from another animal.)

Reader Tina Dickson emailed about a surprise sighting Nov. 25.

“We saw a pelican flying along the waterfront by the ferry dock in Mukilteo. We have never seen any this far north. Have you heard of that?”

White pelicans and brown pelicans come in limited numbers to Western Washington, the white seen more often east of the Cascades, the brown most often on the wet side of the mountains.

The vast majority of sightings in Western Washington are of pelicans along the coast from Grays Harbor south to the Columbia River.

Dickson’s pelican was probably a wanderer, according to Paulsen.

“A few come in through the Strait of Juan de Fuca and can turn up anywhere,” he said.

Traditions: December means Christmas, New Year’s Eve and … the Pilchuck Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count.

The north Snohomish County count will be held Dec. 17; the south county count on Dec. 26. Although bird-watchers will be scattered within a 15-mile diameter circle, Pilchuck also will be collecting feeder counts.

Observers over 18 years of age pay a $5 fee that supports compilation and publication of the data. Feeder watchers report for free.

For general information, go to For information on counting in north county, email; for the south section,

Playing in the Olympics: Hurricane Ridge’s winter activity schedule soon will be in full swing. Snowfall permitting, Hurricane Ridge Road will be open 9 a.m. to dusk daily except Dec. 25.

All vehicles must carry chains, including four-wheel drive vehicles, when traveling above the Heart O’the Hills entrance station.

Tubing and sliding is permitted only for children age 8 and under in a specified location. Ranger-led 90-minute snowshoe walks are offered at 2 p.m. Fridays through Mondays and holidays starting Dec. 10. Snow riders can play on the downhill ski and snowboard area through from today through April 1, except for Dec. 24 and 25.

For more information, check

Road and weather conditions are updated daily and posted on the Olympic National Park website, Or call the hotline, 360-565-3131.

On the bookshelf: British Columbia has long been a star in protecting wilderness and other wild areas. James Anderson’s “British Columbia’s Magnificent Parks: The First 100 Years” ($45), honors that tradition.

It’s a tribute to the foresight and passion of the parks’ founders and protectors and a paean to the stunning beauty and ecosystems of almost 1,000 provincial parks and protected areas.

Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or