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 lleach@peninsuladailynews.com.

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)

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