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Unsolitary Solitaires

Spring migration delivered some excitement this month with two groups of Townsend’s Solitaires showing up in north Vashon yards.  These birds are rare migrants on Vashon and usually make very brief visits.  Amy and Alan Huggins found two perched high in fir trees on the 13th.  The birds than dropped down to a garden fence and begin catching flying bugs on the wing, “flycatching.”  Solitaires, part of the thrush family that includes robins, catch insects in a variety of ways.  They also inspect yards and gardens for berries and other small fruit.  A group of 5-6, came into Kathryn True’s north Vashon garden on the same day and fed on the blossoms of her pear trees.  Insects and spiders provide most of their food in the breeding season and berries serving as the majority of their food in winter.  Solitaires defend winter territories that have the best berry locations as much as many birds protect breeding season areas around their nest.

Townsend’s Solitaire breed in dry coniferous montane forests in Washington.  Most Washington breeders nest east of the Cascade crest, but a few try out edges of clear cuts in the northeast Olympics and some on the western slopes of the Cascades.  They pass through Vashon in April, usually seen flycatching along the edges of woods as they head back to nesting territories from wintering farther south.  Most winter and year-round birds are found in Eastern Washington.  Three winter Vashon records exist and two in fall migration.  Joe Van Os had one stay through the winter one year at his office in south Vashon Island.  Sightings of solitaires range widely across Vashon in the last few years, though Pt. Robinson provides the most consistent single location.  

A couple of other fun recent sightings involved birds that stick around all year.  Friday the 11th, Susan McClellan watched a Barn Owl hunting at dusk at the field along Old Mill Road just north of Ernst Pond and south of 220th (the usual site for the sheep dog trials).  Checking all of the Old Mill Road, Wax Orchard and 232nd Rd fields might prove successful at dusk for the next several months. Last year as many as four at a time were seen in the fields on either side of 232nd at the end of the runway at the end of May and early June.  Also on Friday the 11th, Bob Hawkins got a visual of two Virginia Rails at the end of Monument Road where it runs into Quartermaster Drive. These birds take extra luck to see at any time, being so non-descript and secretive, but an afternoon sighting is even more unusual.

If you have a question about Vashon birds or an interesting sighting to report, email me at or call at 463-7976.  I’m available also as a guide for bird watching on Vashon and trips to birding hot spots around Puget Sound.  Right now, my second edition of The Birds of Vashon Island is selling fast.  Sales will soon surpass the number for the whole first edition.  Order on-line by credit card from my website at or mail a check for $31.45 (book and tax) to Ed Swan, 11230 SW 212th Place, Vashon, WA  98070.  If you’re on Vashon, I’ll deliver books personally to your door.  Off-Island delivery requires a total check of $35.50 in order to include shipping and handling.