Tuesday, April 15, 2014

To Bend!

Last week I attended a fire science conference in Bend and Sarah and the dog came along to enjoy the change of scene.
We stayed at Entrada Lodge on the southwestern edge of town. This is a favorite place of ours because the rooms are just a few steps from the Deschutes National Forest and its inhabitants.

A few minutes after checking in, we found these mule deer and a flock of Pygmy Nuthatches. The deer were much easier to photograph.

At the end of each day, we sampled the town's growing brewpub population. The patio at 10 Barrel was a great place to enjoy the 70-degree weather.

We woke early on Thursday, bundled up, and drove east of Bend for the trip's marquee attraction: Greater Sage-Grouse.

We found the Millican Lek and watched the males puff up to display and fight with one another at sunrise (see Jen's blog for better photos). While we watched, a few hens wandered into the lek and selected some genes to pass down to the next generation.
I had not watched a sage-grouse lek since 2001 when I worked on a grouse study, so I  could hardly sleep the previous night. Though we were too far from the grouse to take decent pictures (what else is new?), their morning performance on the sagebrush stage was well worth the sleep deprivation.

On our way back to Bend we did manage a photo of this Sagebrush Sparrow, one of three individuals perched high on shrubs near the road, just begging to be seen.

Our final birding stop of the trip was new one. The flooded meadow around Barclay road outside of Sisters was busy with birds and quite scenic. We found nesting geese, displaying snipe, and our first Common Yellowthroats of the year. We'll be back!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Crane Fest!

A few months ago, Sarah and I were invited to talk about birds at the Sandhill Crane Festival in Othello, Washington. Prior to hearing about this event, I knew very little about this town (it's southwest of Spokane and north of the Tri-Cities). Sarah and I delivered a presentation about our book last Friday night and I gave a lecture on hummingbirds on Saturday morning. Both events were filled to capacity and we had a great time answering questions and sharing stories.

We also spent much of the weekend driving farm roads and exploring the beautiful broken country of the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge.

With excellent directions from the local crane experts, we found this pair and hundreds more among the corn fields outside of town.

We'd also hoped to see Burrowing Owls and Long-billed Curlews. After a little driving, we found a roped-off road along an irrigation ditch.

Sure enough, a pair of owls were hanging out near their nest burrow.

In an adjacent field, several long-billed curlews were displaying in the air and resting on the ground. Success!

We can't overstate how much we enjoyed taking part in the festival. It was well-oiled machine fueled by friendly volunteers and was well-attended by enthusiastic folks of all ages. There was a lot to do both indoors and out.
A small army of experts gave lectures and tours on topics ranging from ground squirrel reintroductions to the legacy of ice age floods. Though we experienced a small portion of what was offered, we learned a lot about a part of Washington to which we can't wait to return.

Thanks Othello!

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Wonderful World of the Willamette Valley

On Friday we drove south from Portland in search of woodpeckers and owls.

We found our woodpeckers in some big oaks outside of Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge.

 A Lewis's Woodpecker flew from this club-shaped branch before we could take a picture.

This Acorn Woodpeckers was much shyer than the ones we know in Washington County.

After Ankeny, we walked the dog through Willamette Park in Corvallis. This big, lovely park had an active Great-blue Heron Rookery in the tall cottonwoods across the river.

We then paused for happy hour on the third floor of Sky High Brewing in Corvallis. The views and beers were terrific.

Our last, and best, stop of the day was off a road by the Bald Eagle roost near Tangent. The eagles roost in this stand cottonwoods during the winter and we counted at least 25 adult and immature eagles perching for the night. The real attraction, however, was the abundance of Short-eared Owls working the fields on both sides of the road.

We've never seen so many owls doing so many things! They rested on the ground, hunted from the air, and communicated by clapping their wings together beneath their bellies and making hoarse, cat-like calls. We counted six short-eareds at one time, but there were probably more. We also heard a Great-horned Owl and a Western Screech-Owl calling in the distance.

We watched and listened to the owls until the sun set behind the coast range and the moon rose over the Cascades.

This early evening show was easily one of the best birding experiences we've ever had in Oregon.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Motorless March

A few months ago, our blogging friend Jen inspired us to start a motorless birding list for 2014. This is list will include all of the bird species we see while traveling from our house without the aid of an internal combustion engine. These lists have been the rage of eco-minded birders for several years, but we'd resisted the idea because of the geography of our neighborhood. We have plenty of trees and songbirds, but there is not much water or wetlands around here to attract waterfowl and fish-eating birds. We have only one bike between the two of us, so we figured that building a good motorless list would require some long hikes.

We took our first big motorless hike on Tuesday afternoon. We left Multnomah Village and headed west down Vermont Road, crossed Oleson Blvd, and continued on to the Oregon Episcopal School Wetlands in Beaverton.

This pond, two miles from us as the Merlin flies, is the closest that we know of and it did not disappoint.

We found dabbling and diving ducks, a kingfisher, a heron, and the first Turkey Vulture and Tree Swallows of the year. The biggest surprise was a White-breasted Nuthatch, a species we usually only see near large oak trees.

We added 17 species to our motorless list, so the hike was a big success. Next, we'll see if we can find the Willamette River.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Slow February

I haven't updated the much because February was a pretty quiet month of birding. At the start of the month, we were trapped in our neighborhood by a snow storm, but we had lots of fun slipping and sliding around the neighborhood.

The snow eventually melted and we ventured out and found some signs of bird life:

A pair of Bald Eagles near their nest on Sauvie Island.

A Harris's Hawk near Highway 79 (work trip to Arizona)
A tiny Bufflehead swimming near a pier in Astoria

Last week, we toasted the end of February with stouts from Fort George Brewery in Astoria

 Here's to a March that will be birdier than February!

Friday, January 17, 2014

The year's first chase

Unseasonably warm weather and reports of a wayward eider inspired a mid-week trip to the coast.

We pulled up to a beach on the northern edge of Newport and quickly found a flock of Surf Scoters and Black Scoters that have been associating with the Eider.

A few seconds later, we spotted the female King Eider, the first eider of any sort that Sarah or I had ever seen. That's her to the right of the Surf Scoter in the above photo.

We watched for several minutes as she floated and preened, seemingly oblivious to the waves frequently crashing on top of her. She eventually moved on to another location and we proceeded north to Pacific City.

A few days later, we took a detour along the Tillamook River on our way back to Portland.

The weather was spectacular and we found our first Eurasian Wigeon and Black Phoebe of the year.
 The region could use more rain, but we'll enjoy the sunshine while we can!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Our new favorite bird

The Palm Warbler has been a nemesis of ours for several years now.This species nests nowhere near Oregon and, as its name suggests, most winter in tropical or subtropical locations. A tantalizing few, however winter on the West Coast. The occasional reports of Palm Warblers on the Oregon coast are usually in areas where shrubs and small trees co-occur with barbed wire fences and pieces of unused heavy machinery. Here they seem to have traded palm trees for rusty objects. We visited many of these sites in recent winters, often in the wind and rain, and found plenty of Yellow-rumped Warblers and sparrows, but no Palm Warblers. We had hoped to add this species to our Oregon list this year, but after a bleak trip to Astoria two weeks ago, we had made peace with throwing in the towel for 2013.

Our outlook changed on Saturday night when very precise directions to a Palm Warbler were posted online. We followed the directions to the northeast corner of the Seaside water treatment plant, which had plenty of barbed wire and rusting objects

It was a nice sunny day and songbirds were active, raising hopes that the Palm Warbler would be out and about.

In no time, an energetic little bird flew up to the fence and then perched on a railing, revealing the diagnostic yellow feathers on the underside of its tail. We watched for several minutes as it bobbed its tail and plucked insects from the air. Palm Warblers: they do exist!

A little later in the day, we visited the Nehalem Sewage Ponds to help a friend find a Lincoln's Sparrow for her year list. As I narrowed in on the Lincoln's, Sarah shouted "two Palm Warblers!" Sure enough, a pair called frequently and darted out to capture insects from the wire fence in the photo above.
We saw many great birds in 2013, but Sunday's three Palm Warblers may be the most memorable of all.