Bird watcher Sally Harris stands next to a blind she uses to photograph birds at a nearby feeder at her home outside of Sequim. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Bird watcher Sally Harris stands next to a blind she uses to photograph birds at a nearby feeder at her home outside of Sequim. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Rare red-naped sapsucker photographed near Sequim

SEQUIM — Sally Harris had her camera focused on a Stellar’s Jay when she saw a flash of red out of the corner of her eye.

“It was a red-breasted sapsucker, only the second time I’d seen that in my yard,” said Harris, who lives near Sequim. “I was really excited, but couldn’t turn my camera and focus in time.”

As she turned back to the Stellar’s Jay, she caught a glimpse of another bird, one she had never seen before.

“I thought, oh my gosh, what is this?”

She snapped a photo and then checked the Olympic Peninsula Bird Book to identify it.

It wasn’t in the book.

Christie Lassen at Wild Birds Unlimited in Gardener referred Harris to area bird expert Bob Boekelheide, the former director of the Dungeness River Audubon Center who is currently serving as the bird sightings editor for Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society.

He confirmed that the photo Harris took on Dec. 14 was of a red-naped sapsucker, a woodpecker rarely seen this far west.

“There are less than 10 records of red-naped sapsuckers in Clallam County,” he said Friday.

Boekelheide characterized it as a rare sighting.

“It is out of its range,” he said.

The National Audubon Society places the red-napped sapsucker as common to the Rocky Mountain and Great Basin regions.

Its breeding range extends into British Columbia but its winter range is considered to extend only as far north as southern Nevada into Mexico, according to an Audubon Society map.

It is generally found in eastern Washington or in Montana and Wyoming, Boekelheide said.

The bird has been seen twice in Clallam County in the past year, but that could be because “more people are out there looking,” he said.

“There is not enough to data to say the species is extending its range,” Boekelheide said.

Rarer birds have been spotted in Clallam County, he added.

A rustic bunting — a species common in Asia that recently has strayed into Alaska — was spotted in Neah Bay in November and December.

In September, a ruff and a sharp-tailed sandpiper — both Asian species — were spotted in the 3 Crabs area.

Boekelheide terms birds out of their usual haunts as vagrant birds. He said such birds may have a genetic reason for migrating in an odd direction.

“Young birds leave the nest and travel — 99 percent travel in a certain direction, a small percentage in another direction,” he said.

He said vagrant birds generally migrate in a mirror image of where the rest of their species fly, describing what sounds like a form of avian dyslexia.

In any case, Clallam County is “a great spot for seeing unusual birds. We have the highest number of species seen in any county in Washington state,” Boekelheide said.

More than 300 species have been spotted in Clallam County this year, he said.

Numbers across the North Olympic Peninsula are not yet in from the annual Christmas count — Port Angeles’ count was Saturday — but in the Sequim-Dungeness area, which had its count Dec. 19, 140 species were sighted, Boekelheide said.

“That number is low for us,” he said. “The record was last year at 154 species.”

Just over 65,000 individual birds were seen, he said, adding that 126 people participated.

The red-naped sapsucker was not among them.

Harris’ photo was taken before the day of the count.

The photo was among those that earned her the Olympic Peaks Camera Club’s award as Photographer of the Year.

Harris, a retired certified dental assistant, has published three children’s books — among them “Caterpillar’s Dream” — a coloring book and a book of poetry, “Another Springtime.”

Her first photography was of flowers.

“I started noticing the birds in my yard and then I researched how to get good photos of them,” she said.

She set up a camouflaged dome tent in her yard as a bird blind, and put out food and water to attract them.

Harris sees similarities between writing and photography.

“It’s the anticipation of a gift to be revealed,” she wrote in an email. “Whether it’s listening inwardly for the perfect word or idea, or waiting patiently for an unexpected bird to land on a nearby branch. There is a rhythm to creating and a rhythm of nature. I like to ride the crest of these waves to find the gift.”

This was her first year taking photos of birds. She is working on a book of them.

“My mom passed away in April. The last thing she said to me was ‘keep taking those bird pictures,’ ” Harris said.

“I have these birds come to my yard, and I say ‘this one’s for you, Mom.’ ”


Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at

Red-naped sapsucker (Sally Harris)

Red-naped sapsucker (Sally Harris)

Bird watcher Sally Harris holds her photo of a rarely seen red-naped sapsucker as her cat, Ginger, clammors for attention. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Bird watcher Sally Harris holds her photo of a rarely seen red-naped sapsucker as her cat, Ginger, clammors for attention. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

More in News

Port Angeles School Superintendent Marty Brewer, second from right, speaks with members of the Port Angeles Parents for Education, on Friday about the Port Angeles Paraeducation Association strike. Assistant Superintendent Michele Olsen stands at right. (Paula Hunt/Peninsula Daily News)
District, PAPEA to pick up bargaining Sunday

Parent group presses officials for answers on strike

Instructor Josh Taylor, left, points out the workings of an electric vehicle on Wednesday at the Auto Technology Certification Program at Peninsula College. Nick Schommer, center, and Brian Selk get ready to do some testing on the electric auto’s parts from underneath the vehicle. (Dave Logan/for Peninsula Daily News)
College’s automotive technology program gets a reboot

Students can earn a certificate separate from two-year degree

Port Townsend transportation tax dollars to be put to work

Benefits district to raise $400,000 to $600,000 in first year

Retired teacher Nancy McCaleb speaks in support of striking paraeducators in the Port Angeles School District as Port Angeles Paraeducators Association President Rebecca Winters listens during a rally on Thursday at Shane Park.
About 130 rally in support of paras

District officials say funding is statewide problem

Mark Nichols.
Proposed changes to public defender caseloads could hurt rural counties

Annual limits starting in 2025 may create staffing issues

Fernando Cruz of Auburn, an employee of Specialized Pavement Marking in Pacific, cleans off a sign he used to paint a bicycle lane on Sims Way and Kearney Street, the site of the new roundabout. The workers needed at least two days of 47 degrees or above in order to paint the pedestrian crosswalks and other necessary markings. (Steve Mullensky/for Peninsula Daily News)
New bike lane in Port Townsend

Fernando Cruz of Auburn, an employee of Specialized Pavement Marking in Pacific,… Continue reading

Two-lane bypass to be installed Monday

Contractor crews working for the state Department of Transportation will… Continue reading

Twice daily bridge inspections start next week

Bridge preservation engineers from the state Department of Transportation will… Continue reading

Funding farm-to-school programs

In the 2021-2023 state budget, Washington set aside money specifically for the… Continue reading

Gus Griffin, 11, second from left, and classmates dig up weeds in one of Port Townsend’s three gardens on March 28. (Grace Deng/Washington State Standard)
Farm-to-school programs flourish in Washington

Demand from school districts outpacing state funding

Jefferson enacts 1-year moratorium on STRs

County wants to consider possible regulations for rentals