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Fitting finale to the fling

It's 5:30 a.m. on Sunday, May 10, the morning after our marathon Birdathon day I described here last month. My wife, Julie, and I are seeking the same birds we found yesterday. The occasion is a new monthlong fundraiser for the Dungeness River Audubon Center, Spring Fling, which ended June 10. Our target is to find 200 unique species. Too bad we aren't allowed any

carryover of the many species we found in Birdathon.

I feel the press of time as we are leaving town in three days for a long-planned two-week trip. By the time we return, many remaining water birds will have flown north to breed.

We find many of the same birds as yesterday, but the snipe that was careening noisily about the sky is nowhere to be found. The lone whimbrel is no longer at John Wayne Marina, but later we find it on the strait. And we find two blue-winged teals, which we knew about but couldn't locate yesterday.

We quit at mid-day, due to prior plans, as I gamble that the water birds to the west still will be around on Tuesday, it being my remaining time window. Our species count is 80.

Tuesday is a birding disaster, however, as strong winds on the strait have whipped up waves so high I see no birds on the water and abandon birding for the day. Nevertheless, thanks to the regular Wednesday morning bird walk near the River Center and some birding on my own, my count reaches 105 before leaving town.

The target of 200 is looking comfortably reachable because we are heading for an Elderhostel in a world-famous birding location, Cape May, N.J. Arriving a couple of days early, we find another 31 species on our own.

We only find 13 new species on the first two days of the Elderhostel, albeit two are life birds for us (northern gannet and blackpoll warbler). The low total is not a good sign as the early field trips in an Elderhostel usually provide the most new birds.

Four field trips on the third day add 10 more. On the last trip, off by myself at the edge of a beach, I spot a least tern standing with a morsel of food dangling from its bill, swinging its head back and forth. A nearby least tern ignores him. Later our leader amplifies on this male courting behavior. A receptive female will mimic the head swings. The male will then drop the food and as she bends down to pick it up, he hops onto her back ... and you know the rest.

On the way to dinner, a chance encounter with a couple we accidentally met before the Elderhostel leads to a plan to capitalize on a window in the class schedule.

The four of us get up early and drive to a distant forest. Bonanza - 20 new species. The afternoon group boat ride in the salt marsh takes us past a heron rookery, where we see both black- and yellow-crowned night-herons. As the Elderhostel ends, my total is 181 species.

A subsequent three-day swing with friends down the coast into Virginia brings our third life bird of the trip, a seaside sparrow, and 14 other new species. Our highlight is seeing masses of horseshoe crabs laying eggs at high tide under a new moon. Some migrants, notably the red knot, totally depend on these eggs to refuel for a nonstop flight to the Arctic.

Back in Sequim, two more species bring my total to 198 on May 28. Then life intrudes, leaving no time to chase new species. Surprises come from several people whose Spring Fling biking and hiking performances Julie and I are supporting with pledges exceeding $50 each. They disregard requests to pledge $2 for my Spring Fling birding. I find this remarkably shortsighted, which leads me to ponder how one would measure shortsightedness in birds.

I'm still at 198 species and Julie is at 195 on June 9, the day before Spring Fling ends. We go seeking our targets of 200. Mine is a horned lark, singing atop Hurricane Ridge mere minutes before the park service finishes plowing snow and opens the road toward Hurricane Hill. We conclude our day with Julie at 199, having missed seeing the harlequin duck I found feeding on the Elwha River while she hiked to see a waterfall.

The next day, on the Wednesday walk, a golden-crowned kinglet comes close to us. This gives Julie 200 species, a fitting conclusion to our Spring Fling birding.



Dave Jackson is "Our Birds" series editor and Web master. Send comments to him at editor@olybird.org or 683-1355. Details of field trips and final results for Spring Fling are on the Web site www.olybird.org.



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