I had a magazine assignment that took me over to the Olympic Peninsula yesterday. It was not for any publication you've ever heard of, because it's a trade magazine that only goes to lumberyard owners. They're a long time client, they pay well, and I do 3 or 4 assignments a year for them, whenever they have a Northwest story. The trade pubs are a secret sector of editorial photography. There's a gazillion of them and they're all obscure as get out. I've done one-off assignments for mags you'd find on your newsstand—Smithsonian, Discover, Bon Appetit—but for regular, reliable, loyal clients, look to the trades.
But really I want to write about the birds I saw. A favorite spot when I'm in the area is the beach by the 3 Crabs Restaurant near Sequim. A few years ago there was a rare Asian stint here that drew hundreds of birders. This time there were several thousand California Gulls on the beach, right at my feet, as it was high tide. These breed inland, on saline desert lakes (California Gulls are the Mormon Air Force, the flock that ate the locusts back in 1848). They take a summer vacation after breeding season, and come to the coast. A man came to scatter bread for the gulls, but the only ones who came in to feed were juvenile Glaucous Winged Gulls, which formed a noisy rugby scrum. The Californias just sat and watched, too haughty to demean themselves. “We're above such things,” seemed the mood of the flock.
Inland a hundred feet there is a small pond, which had a small flock of migrating shorebirds, just the right amount to sort through thoroughly with a spotting scope. They were tame little peeps mostly, Western Sandpipers. I also saw both species of Yellowlegs, Greater and Lesser (if it calls tew-tew, it's a Lesser; if it's tew-tew-tew, it's a Greater), as well as a few annoyingly shrill Killdeer, which call for no apparent reason.
There were a few peeps, though, that looked different, paler, with a slightly shorter bill. Semipalmated Sandpiper, I thought? I'm really just a so-so birder, and I can't say I've ever identified this bird in migration without help (though they were abundant at our camp in the Arctic, the summer I did breeding bird survey work in ANWR). They're the East Coast equivalent of our Westerns, but a few straggle through every year and can be expected if you're on the lookout.
I took photos, and this morning posted them to Tweeters asking for ID help, and within an hour I had a half dozen confirmatory emails. This is a gang that could ID not only the bird, but the sex, graduating class and astrological sign if required. “Best photo of a juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper I've ever seen,” said one. Someone else explained the etymology of the name: “If the bird had angled its foot a little, the semipalmated (partially webbed) area between the toes would be visible.”