March 1, 1998

1998 Winter-Spring Bulletin

Crested Caracara Shows Up In Neah Bay

The Crested Caracara (Polyborus plancus) is a species normally found in Latin America from Mexico south to Tierra del Fuego, although a few are seen in south Texas and Arizona. This winter, on 4 January, Jim Burlingame of Clallam Bay found a Caracara hunting in downtown Neah Bay in coastal Washington. A beginning birder, Mr. Burlingame had a difficult time convincing everyone that he really had a Caracara. There have been only two prior records in our state, the first at Westport in 1936, likely an escaped bird. The second was seen on 13 August 1983 at Ocean Shores by Doug and Chanra Bruce. It may be significant that it was also seen in an El Nino year.

We sent Jim Shiflett out to check on this bird on 22 January and he confirmed it was indeed a Crested Caracara. I consider this to be the second record for our state. Note also that all three records have occurred along the Pacific coastline, a natural leading line north. Jim Burlingame reports that his last sighting occurred in mid-February.

Another Sharp-Shin Band Return

An adult Sharp-shinned Hawk, banded in the mountains above Ellensburg by Jack Bettesworth on 29 September 1995, was found dead near Petaluma in the Sonoma Valley of California, just north of the Bay area, on 19 January 1998. The bird was at least four years old. From this recovery, we have learned that some of our fall migrant Sharpshins are wintering in central California. In fact, Jack tells me that this is his third Sharpshin recovery from the Petaluma area. These birds probably have no need to go further south than the warm climate and dense bird populations of the Bay area.

And Yet Another Peregrine Shot

Once again, someone has shot a Peregrine Falcon. This time an adult male was blasted near the Georgia Pacific Mill in downtown Bellingham. The adult lived, although it is now a cripple for life. Incredible! Some eyrie somewhere will now pass on to the next haggard tiercel.

I don't really want to get on a holy crusade here, but you know the only way this type of thing is going to stop is if we all teach our friends, relatives, students or whomever how remarkable and wonderful these birds are. It doesn't have to be a big deal, but I believe it is important to just reach out a little with your love of and knowledge of raptors. The only reason someone shot that Peregrine is that no one ever taught him or her about the incredible beauty and majesty of birds of prey. So when you have a chance, put in a good word. You never know where it will stop.

The Arrival of Black Bart

Last November, Wendy Gibble, Jack Bettesworth and I found a beautiful dark morph Roughleg on the Samish Flats at Darcy and Bayview-Edison Roads. We noticed that it was an immature because of its yellow eyes. It has been hanging out there ever since and has been seen by many hawkwatchers. What is nice about this bird is that we have found it in its first winter. Based on other observations of Roughlegs on the Skagit system, it will probably come back to the same location for the rest of its life, probably over 20 years. So, we've decided to have annual updates in our newsletter on this bird from now on.

We've named him Bart after local Whidbey Island artist, Bart Rulon, who was with us on the hawk census, and Black Bart because it is a dark morph. we'll have to wait until next year to tell if it is a male or female.

Seattle Peregrine Project

As I write this newsletter, we are gearing up for another year with Bell and Stewart (the peregrines nesting on the Washington Mutual Tower). Bell is already making scrapes in her gravel and vocalizing. Ray Congdon was over the side changing light bulbs and gravel in the nest box recently while she sat there just staring at him from about 2 feet away. She is such a remarkably tame falcon. On 12 March, we installed a new Sony S-VHS camera on the ledge. It should improve the image slightly over previous years. For those of you who watch the monitor in the Washington Mutual Bank branch each year, you'll also notice a different, higher camera angle. we're experimenting to see into the box better. Ruth Taylor is ably coordinating the study again this year and already has all seven daily team leaders lined up. If any of you are yearning to help out on this project, please call her at (206) 525-6345 and volunteer. I know space is limited, so you may want to be quick about it. She only has a few vacancies.

By the way, our friend and communications expert, Mark Prostor, who has helped us out tremendously, has arranged to put an on-going video image of Bell and Stewart on the worldwide web. we're hoping this image (focused on the nest box) will change approximately every 15 seconds. Look for it at

White Redtails

A friend of mine, Henry Kendall, is writing an article on the occurrence of white Redtails in the United States. I want to help him by asking for information from our membership for his paper. If you have observed an albinistic or leucocistic Redtail here in Washington, please pass along your information to me and I'll get it to him. For starters, I'm aware of white birds over the last 20 years near Everson, Sedro Woolley (current), Lopez Island, Whidbey Island, Graham, Grays Harbor and Ellensburg. Any of you have other sightings?

An Update on the San Juan Peregrine Project

Good news for the intrepid San Juan Peregrine Team as we begin our fifth year. Mr. George Lundgren, owner of Workskiff, Inc. has arranged for us to obtain a 21' marine aluminum boat for our project. This is going to upgrade our survey efforts of endangered San Juan peregrines tremendously. As you may recall, there are currently 13 pairs in the islands. In the past, at 7 pairs, it was fairly easy to cover them all, but with new pairs showing up every year, the logistics of 3 visits per site were becoming really tough. Not only that, but at one site last year, a pair nested on a 50' cliff, the lowest discovered nest in the San Juans. So now, every year, we need to survey all cliffs 50' and over in the entire archipelago, a major task. For these reasons, we really want to thank you George, and acknowledge your most generous help. We all appreciate it greatly. We also thank Russ Amick, Joe Langjahr of Foss Maritime, Wendy Gibble, Dave Schmalz of North Cascades Audubon, Barb Jensen and Bob Myhr of San Juan Islands Audubon for their financial assistance with the funding for the boat and motor and the combined San Juan Team for buying the boat trailer.

Skagit Winter Raptor Census

This was the ninth year for our winter hawk count. The survey area includes 27 routes extending across the Skagit River Delta. It stretches from the Chuckanut Mountains in the north, to the Stillaguamish River in the south, and from March Point in the west, to Sedro Woolley in the east, an area of 159.68 square miles. This winter we had 87 participants who generously helped out on the count. A big thank you to them all, especially to Bob Merrick and Pat Cozine who helped so much in organizing the count in 1998.

Here is what we found during the 2-hour count:

number (percent)
1. Bald Eagles 430 (53%)
2. Red-tailed Hawk 211 (26%)
3. Northern Harrier 73 (9%)
4. Rough-legged Hawk 46 (5%)
5. Peregrine Falcon 12
6. Merlin 10
7. Short-eared Owl 7
8. Coopers Hawk 6
9. American Kestrel 5
10. Sharp-shinned Hawk 4
11. Common Barn Owl 3
12. Golden Eagle 2
13. Snowy Owl 2
14. Prairie Falcon 1
15. Gyrfalcon 1
16. Unidentified Buteo 4
17. Unidentified Accipiter 1
Total 818

The total count was 818 raptors, involving 15 species. As usual, the Big four (Balds, Reds, Harriers and Roughs) accounted for the majority (93%) of the total. By the way, this translates into an average winter density of 5.12 raptors per square mile!

Next year we plan to extend this survey to include the Lummi Flats in Whatcom County to compare winter density. We also have aspirations to get the Canadians going up on the Fraser Delta.

Snowy Owl No. 11 Returns to the Flats

You may recall that during the big Snowy invasion last winter, we color-tagged 10 Snowy Owls on the Skagit Flats. At least 7 of these birds were immature, having come down to Washington for their first year.

By late March, Bob Merrick found that most of these birds had left the flats, although Steve Mlodinow reports seeing two near Edison as late as 6 April.

Remarkably (and atypically) almost no Snowy Owls returned to western Washington this winter. Usually a certain percentage will come back year after year. No such luck for us. Let's blame it on El Nino.

However on 14 February , during the 1998 Washington Ornithological Society annual meeting in Mt. Vernon, two Snowys were seen by Jan Wiggers, Keith Wiggers and Bob Kuntz near Edison where we had tagged our birds. On closer inspection, they saw and read the wing tag. It was No.11, trapped on 1 March 1997 by Mark Gleason, a member of the Skagit Snowy Team.

So this bird left the Skagit last spring, flew up to the Arctic somewhere for the summer, and then motored on back down to the Skagit again this winter. This nicely proved our hypothesis (confirmed by others in both Minnesota and Massachusetts) that some Snowys here in western Washington do come back to the exact same wintering grounds, just like Peregrines and Gyrs. The owl is still present as I write this. Bob Merrick saw him again on 8 March.


Thank you to everyone who sent in their $25 dues. I appreciate your kindness, support and generosity.

FRG Tour to Veracruz, Mexico

This is quite simply the biggest hawk migration in the world! Every fall, approximately 4 million raptors migrate along the gulf coast of Mexico en route to Central and South America. The majority are Broad-winged Hawks, Swanson's Hawks and Turkey Vultures.

This fall, the FRG will sponsor our first ever international field trip to Veracruz, lead by international raptor ID expert Bill Clark. Bud will be along as a rather inexperienced co-leader. The week-long trip will take place from 26 September to 4 October. In addition to watching the huge migration, We'll be taking field trips to the adjoining countryside to see many Mexican specialties such as: Aplomado Falcons, Bat Falcons, Laughing Falcons, 3 species of kites, White Hawks, Gray Hawks, Short-tailed Hawks, Great Black Hawks, etc.

Cost of the tour is $1,250 (double occupancy) plus airfare. Space is limited to 6-12 people, so sign up early. We're currently working on finding the lowest group air fare possible. We expect it will be between $550-$600. If there are any travel agents in our membership with expertise in this area, please call Pat Hitchens at (206) 282-3033. Bill wants to coordinate the sign-ups locally, so if you would like more detailed information about the trip, or want to sign up immediately, call Pat Hitchens directly.

The Veracruz phenomenon is still relatively pristine in that it hasn't been discovered yet by commercial tour groups. It is, however, starting to become a legend among hawkwatchers. So I'd suggest that now is probably the best time to go, and if you want to join us this year, I suspect it would be wise to sign up soon. The trip is limited to 12 people maximum.

Practical Hawkwatching Series

"Beyond the Checklist"

I'm pleased to announce that I will be offering two new classes on advanced hawkwatching in Washington in 1998. There will be a class on nesting birds of prey, beginning this spring, and a class on fall migration beginning in early autumn. All of these classes, including the traditional winter hawkwatching course will now be included under our new title, Practical Hawkwatching.

The main purpose of these classes will be to introduce you to more advanced topics about raptor biology and also to allow you to contribute to the overall knowledge of birds of prey in Washington. The new classes are meant to bridge the gap between purely recreational hawkwatching and a more contributive type of field work. In other words, it will make greater use of your involvement with hawks.

These classes will be very different from the winter course. They will be smaller in size, include less class time and far more field trips, feature guest lectures, and require a greater commitment from each student.

If this sounds like something you'd be interested in, please read the following class descriptions. Enrollment will begin when I return from the Cape Verde Peregrine Survey on 17 April. First come, first served.

Beginning Nesting Raptors in Washington

In this class, you will learn more about the breeding behavior and distribution of diurnal raptors in western Washington. This is going to be an active, hands-on type of course limited to 10 people in the Seattle area and 10 in the Mt. Vernon/Bellingham area. Since this is an advanced class, students must have already attended the winter hawkwatching class and show a proficiency in hawk identification to enroll. The course will consist of the following three segments:

1. A two-part introductory lecture series describing the basic nesting biology of raptors in our state, including what species, when, where, how to find nests, avoiding disturbances, etc. The same classes will be held concurrently in Seattle (Center for Urban Horticulture) and Mt. Vernon (Padilla Bay Center) area to accommodate students in both areas.

2. A six-part guest lecture/discussion series presented by six local raptor experts including Jack Bettesworth on nesting Harriers, Ruth Taylor on the Seattle Peregrine Project, (tentatively) Tom Gleason on nesting Merlins, Jim Fackler on nesting Accipiters, Jim Watson on his Bald Eagle work including satellite telemetry, and Steve Layman on whatever he wants. The first three of these presentations will be held in Seattle and the last three in Mt. Vernon.

3. A series of field trips including visits to the U.W. Suzallo Library, the UPS egg collection, a nesting raptor recon trip to the Yakima Canyon, Kestrel banding with Tom Everell and Joan Christ, a visit to the Seattle Peregrine Project, and trips to several local raptor nests, possibly including a Coopers Hawk and Peregrine nest.

In addition, each student will be required to select a raptor species, do a basic literature review on that species, find and monitor their own raptor nest (establish hatching, fledging, productivity) throughout the 1998 breeding season, write a nest description, keep a field journal, fill out/submit a breeding bird survey card, and write a one-page summary report at the end of the season. Now don't let this intimidate you. I'll be helping you the whole way.

Finally, we are also going to try and have the class participants visit all of the nest sites located by each student during the fledging period.

Dates: Classes (attend 2)

Seattle: 22, 29 April Mt. Vernon: 23, 30 April

Lectures (attend all)

Seattle: 6, 13, 20 May Mt. Vernon: 7, 21 28 May

Cost: $225.00

The Fall Hawk Migration in Washington

This class is going to focus on the fall hawk migration here in Washington state, with both a national and international overview. During two evening lectures in August we'll discuss the dynamics of hawk migration, including what drives it, which raptor species migrate through our state, where you can go to observe migration, what the best times are, where these birds are going, and finally, the importance of hawk banding.

As a special addition, we'll have Jack Bettesworth describe the results of his five-year banding study at Diamond Head, a Cascade site first discovered by Al Ingram. I'm also working on one or two other guest lecturers.

This course will include a minimum of three migration field trips during September. The first will be a 3-day campout at Hart's Pass, near Winthrop, on Labor Day weekend (5-7 September). The second will be a weekend at Diamond Head and Red-top Mountain (12-13 September). We'll also include a third exploratory trip to an as yet undetermined eastern Washington ridge. We may even try to band some of the migrants. Please keep in mind that fall hawkwatching is extremely weather dependent. Daily counts, for example, can range from 0 to 100+ birds. Therefore, it can be both very boring and extremely exciting.

There is a slim chance for an optional weekend to Pt. Diablo, a famous site overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The trip would be in association with Allen Fish of the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory. We'll discuss this further as the class approaches.

This class will be an excellent introduction to the Veracruz trip. As with the breeding class, lectures will be held concurrently in both Seattle and Mt. Vernon.

Dates: Class lecture dates: TBA

Cost: $125.00

Final Note

Please hold your calls concerning these classes until 17 April. I will be out of the country until then and will be unable to answer your queries.