There are times, especially in the spring, when writing this column is like having many, many eyes keeping track of the birds in this part of the state. Letters and e-mails from readers that share what they are seeing present a broad picture of what is occurring in the bird world. Many of these widely scattered reports paint a colorful picture and contain some interesting surprises.
A reader in Shelton recently described a bird she saw in her yard that she had never seen before. The next day, a reader from Port Townsend reported seeing the same species. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve seen yellow-headed blackbirds in my neighborhood. Even then, they weren’t in my backyard. Phone calls from where the birds were seen made it possible for me to go and see a bird usually found in Eastern Washington. It is rare to very rare on the West side.
One of the most beautiful rare or uncommon birds to visit Western Washington is the lazuli bunting. The males have a blue head, back and tail. Their upper breast is orange and their bellies are white. There is also some white on their wings. Females are a drab grayish-brown. Lazuli buntings are seen throughout the western half of the country but their numbers are small in our area. A few buntings nest in the Joint Base Lewis-McChord area. When the yellow-headed blackbirds were reported, a reader near Graham had buntings visit his yard. A few days later a reader in Steilacoom reported seeing several buntings at a feeder in Boise. That’s a long way for my “eyes” to reach but I enjoy hearing about other areas too.
The same letter described more bird action in Boise and it had me reaching far back into my crowded “memory banks.” The writer described what appeared to be two very tiny hummingbirds feeding on the yard’s flowers. Their actions resembled those of a hummingbird, but their coloring (light chartreuse with some dark around the eyes) and tiny size were the mystery. They looked to be about the size of a very large bumble bee and smaller than the smallest hummingbird (2 inches). The description rang a bell but I couldn’t remember where I had seen one. Enter the Web. Hummingbird moths look and act very much like hummingbirds and there are several colorful species. The mystery was solved.
Today’s digital cameras are wonderful when it comes to bird identification. Readers not only can get some good photos but they can e-mail them to me if they want a bird identified. Even a poor photo is a great help and better than a written description. Everyone sees things a little differently but photos tell the truth.
Yellow-headed blackbirds, lazuli buntings and hummingbird moths are a small sample of the interesting sightings that come across my desk. Many rare, uncommon or accidental bird species visit Washington state. The opportunity to see them is greatest during spring and fall migrations. When you think you can’t be seeing what you think you are, look again. Maybe you will share your surprise with me. If you can get some photos that’s even better. Most of all, be sure to tell me about your interesting sightings.
Write to Joan Carson, PO Box 217, Poulsbo, WA 98370. Include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. (or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org)