Monday, April 20, 2015

Big finds in Linn County

Linn County, Oregon prides itself on being the Grass Seed Capital of the World. While birding the county on Saturday, we found that the area has much more to offer than nasty allergy attacks.
Linn County stretches from the floor of the Willamette River east to the crest of the Cascade Mountains. Our plan for the day was to bird our way from the valley floor wetlands up into the forest and back.

Our first stop was Talking Waters Gardens in Albany. The gardens are a series of water treatment ponds surrounded by a nice trail system and a lot of wetland vegetation. Here we got the day off to a momentous start when Sarah spotted a small rail just off the trail.

It was a Sora. This is a species we've heard calling plenty of times but had never actually seen and there it was right in front of us!

After leaving Albany, we drove past Sweet Home and visited the South Santiam River at Cascadia State Park and River Bend County Park. We enjoyed the scenery and spent a lot of time chasing birdsong so we could add a Black-throated Gray Warbler to our list.

With that accomplished, we returned to the valley floor near Brownsville for another avian milestone.

In a restored grassland, we found at least four Western Meadowlarks singing away. This was the first time we've heard our state bird's rich bubbly song in the Willamette Valley, where breeding populations have become quite rare. Vesper Sparrows and Grasshopper Sparrows nest here as well, but we'll have to find them on another trip.

Linn County: Come for the Grass Seed, Stay for the Grassland Birds!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Friday the 13th Birding

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This week we are participating in a nature blog scavenger hunt. Win prizes! Find new cool blogs about nature in the PNW! Head to Metro Field Guide to find instructions and links to participating blogs.

We left home on Friday morning with two goals: 1. Find a Blue-winged Teal at Brown's Ferry Park and 2. Get our Clackamas County bird species total as close to 100 as possible. At the start of the year, we realized that our Clackamas County list was shamefully short, given how close the county is to our home in southwest Portland.
A few minutes after arriving at Brown's Ferry Park, we realized that, despite the day's date, our luck was running high. The weather was dry, the temperature mild, and we just kept finding great things at this little park in the middle of the city of Tualatin. Here's a sampling:

The teal we were looking for

Some Cinnamon Teals too!

A sleepy grebe

A western painted turtle

A Wood Duck in perfect light

And a pair of Bushtits building a nest (in the branches in front of Sarah)

We made a few more stops, including the industrial chic site of Willamette Falls

And the tranquil Willamette River at Molalla State Park. That night, we tallied our species from the day and found that our Clackamas county list now stands at 101, thanks to the 18 county birds we'd acquired. Apparently, we should bird on every Friday the 13th!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Columbia County Quest

On Friday Sarah and I wanted to see some Columbia County birds, so we headed west on highway 30 out of Portland. About 60% of this county is covered by freshwater (I think), so we expected to see some waterfowl and shorebirds. We were not disappointed.

The ponds of Scappoose Bottoms had plenty of ducks, along with a few shorebird species.

At least nine Wilson's Snipes were resting at the edge of a pond.We've never seen so many just standing around.

At Carr Slough Wetlands, we found the mother lode of big white birds.


There were over 350 Tundra Swans, a dozen Great Egrets, and a handful of Trumpeter Swans doing their thing while we watched from the road.

We could have practiced our identification of swan skills all day, but another challenge awaited at Prescott County Park.

Here a big skein of scaup was resting on the Columbia River.

For the most part, it was easy to distinguish the greater from the lesser by looking for the curvy peak on the lessers' head, which were noticeable even when they were sleeping.

While we sorted through scaups, Andie dug herself a comfy beach bed. She relaxed for a few minutes but was freaked out by the wake of a small boat and had to leave the beach. She's a sensitive dog.

Our Columbia County excursion was otherwise a big success. We can't wait to return in the spring or summer to get some breeders!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Get the gull and retrieve the rosy-finch

We made a big weekend trip to northeast Oregon to see the area's birds, but there were two species we really hoped to find. The first was a Black-headed Gull (typically an East Coast Bird) that had been hanging out near McNary Dam.


We spent at least an hour below the dam watching dozens of gulls fly from the Columbia to a frozen pond and back. Unfortunately, none of them were Black-headed. Some other birders eventually showed up and told us that our target gull was roosting on a driving range.

We hurried up to the range and after a few minutes of scanning we found the Black-headed roosting among the Ring-billed Gulls.

People were actually teeing off at the range, but the gulls didn't mind. We were only able to see the Black-headed Gull for a minute or two before it flew off to someone's backyard. It was high ratio of search time to watch time but we'll take it.

The second species we pursued was a Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, which we'd never seen seen in Oregon. We drove to Wallowa County to search for flocks along the dirt roads outside of Enterprise.

On Saturday the thick fog kept us from seeing many birds.

We did see lots of frosty livestock, however, including this friendly horse.

A day later the fog cleared and we received word that rosy-finches were feeding near an abandoned ranch house.

We gunned it to School Flat Road and sure enough there they were. Twenty Rosy-Finches! Unlike with the Black-headed gull, we were able to spend some quality time with the rosy-finch flock. The members foraged on the ground, defended their personal space, and preened in a tree. Eventually, the flock flew behind a hillside and it was time for us to return to Portland, another successful trip to northeast Oregon in the books!

Misc. trip info

Number of bird species: 75

Dog-friendly lodging: Mountain View Motel

Best beer: Dargonstooth Stout at Embers Brew House

Best meal: brunch at the Red Rooster Cafe

Monday, January 5, 2015

The year in birding

On a soggy morning in the farmlands of Washington County, we searched for a Clay-colored Sparrow in a foggy blackberry patch.

As soon as we arrived, we started seeing dozens of sparrows among the blackberry canes. Amidst the dozens of Golden-crowns and White-crowns was the Clay-colored were after. It was a rare bird easily found in a beautiful location! The perfect note on which to end the birding year.

We had many great experiences during our travels through Oregon in 2014. Here's a look back at a few:

In January, we traveled to Newport to see a female King Eider that was wintering with a flock of Surf Scoters and Black Scoters.

We pulled into a sketchy little parking spot and found her in the waves before we left the car.

In March we stopped at a field near Tangent in the Willamette Valley hoping to see some Short-eared Owls. We were far from disappointed.

As the sun set over Mary's Peak, one owl after another flew in to hunt the field. A few minutes later, several began calling to one another and performing their courtship display: a rapid in-flight wing clap that we had never seen or heard before and we will never forget.

In April we traveled to Bend and viewed a Greater Sage-Grouse lek for the first time in Oregon. So worth getting up before sunrise!

We also found a cooperative pair of Sagebrush Sparrows.

 In June we made a trip to Union County to look for Great Gray Owls and other birds.

We missed the owls, but we did see a young black bear in the Blue Mountains and our state-first Veery and Gray Catbird in Rhinehardt Canyon.

In October and November, two completely unexpected species showed up at the coast.

First, a Brown Booby perched and foraged for all to see from the Bayfront in Newport.

A week later, a Tundra Bean-Goose was spotted at Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The goose became an instant celebrity and has attracted birders from as far away as Massachusetts and Georgia.

It's hard to top a Bean-Goose, but here's to great birding in 2015!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

3 for 3 in Astoria!

Sarah and I visited the fine town of Astoria last Friday to seek treatment for symptoms of birding withdrawal. There were three bird species we'd hoped to find, but we kept our expectations low after a recent trip in which we failed to find two rarities we pursued in the Willamette Valley. 

Our first stop in Astoria was a pizzeria on the southern edge of town. After a few minutes of looking, we found a Tropical Kingbird perched in the cedars behind the building. The slippery fellow flew off before we could attempt a photo, but it was captured by Jen a few days later.

We then visited the Riverwalk, a gorgeous paved path along the Columbia River Estuary. We hoped to find a Snow Bunting, but instead the Snow Bunting found us, hopping out from the train tracks and spooking our dog, who alerted us to its presence.

While the adorable bird harvested tiny seeds at the edge of the path, it seemed unconcerned about the nearby humans and dogs.

The Riverwalk also featured a Great Blue Heron preening itself atop a spectacular steampunk installation.

Before leaving town, we celebrated our finds at the Buoy Beer Company, which I'd say has the best view from a brewpub in Oregon.

We had just enough daylight to look for one more species, so we drove to the south jetty of the Columbia at Fort Stevens State Park. We figured that Red Phalaropes, normally out to sea this time of year, would have been pushed inland by the recent storm. Sure enough, we found a small flock of them in the ponds north of the jetty rocks. We managed to find all three of our target species. That never happens!

It was the perfect start to a great beach weekend. With our recommended weekly allowance of birding exceeded, we managed to return to work on Monday. Is it time for another beach trip yet?