Saturday, June 28, 2014

La Grande Old Time!

Last week we made our annual trip to find birds that do not nest in the Portland area. We drove to the northeastern corner of Oregon and discovered the many great birds that Union County has to offer.

On the way to La Grande, we first stopped to let Andie cool her paws in the Umatilla River.

Next, we searched for Great Gray Owls in pine forests of the Blue Mountains.

We struck out on owls, but we were able to watch this young black bear from the safety of our car. Not a bad consolation!

Upon arriving in La Grande, we visited Trent Bray at his birding shop, The Bobolink. Trent's shop doesn't have much of on online presence but he really knows the birds of Union County, so stop and pick his brain if you are passing through. He directed us to Rhinehardt Canyon on the Grande Ronde River.

Here we instantly heard Veery and Gray Catbird songs. These are two species we'd never before seen or heard in Oregon. Additional catbirds, Eastern Kingbirds, and Willow Flycatchers were all over the place!

Ladd Marsh Wildlife Management Area was wonderfully productive as well. Yellow-headed blackbirds sang their goofy songs and Black-necked Stilts were busy chasing other marsh birds away from their long-legged, newly-hatched chicks. All three teal species were present as well.

The last bird on our wish-list was, of course, a Bobolink. We followed Trent's precise directions to this field and found three displaying males. They were so far from the road that we could not photograph them, even if we owned the proper equipment. We'll still take em! Bobolinks favor tall grass and the grass in this field was tall enough to hide a few lurking Sandhill Cranes.

With wetlands, forests, and other habitats packed into a relatively small area, Union County is a must-visit for birders. Visit soon and talk to Trent at the Bobolink to get the most out of your trip!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Birdathon #2

Less than one week after our first Birdathon, we rallied the troops for another. Eight of our friends gathered at Vanport Wetlands in North Portland for what would be a 13-hour cruise to the east end of the Columbia Gorge and back.

Vanport was a great starting point thanks to the brilliant Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Cinnamon Teals, Ruddy Ducks, and Redheads that were on display.

Just beyond the fence, a Pied-billed Grebe incubated two eggs that will soon produce two stripey nestlings.

Our first stop in the Columbia Gorge was the Eagle Creek Hatchery and trailhead. We crowded onto a swaying suspension bridge to listen for songbirds and scan the water for American Dippers and Common Mergansers.

When it came time to bird the dry country, we visited the Tom McCall Nature Preserve. It was pretty quiet there, but we eventually found the bird we came for: a singing Ash-throated Flycatcher!

The birding may have been thin, but the views made the winding road and hot sun bearable.

The most surprising bird of the day was an Eastern Kingbird hanging out at this vineyard near the mouth of the Deschutes River.

The temperature rose quickly up in the afternoon, so, after driving as far east as John Day Dam, we replenished our water supplies in Biggs Junction and made one more stop on the Oregon side of the Gorge.

Along Highway 197 outside the Dalles, we visited a road cut that has been colonized by Bank Swallows. We watched the small swallows zip in and out of their nest burrows while making their harsh, froglike calls.

Our last stop was Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Washington. As you can tell by the dazed look on my face, we were getting tired at this point. Nonetheless, we marched on and found a few more species including a spectacular American Bittern. After making our final species tally in the refuge parking lot we returned to Portland.

Our group total of 92 species was quite respectable given the hot afternoons on the east side and the unfamiliar terrrain. Big thanks go out to Andrew and Brian from Timber Press, Annie, Enid, Greta, Jackie, Jay, Lisa, Maggie, Mary, Susan, and Wendy for pledging Sarah and I and helping us make this our best fundraising year yet!

Now that our Birdathoning is complete for 2014, it's time to start planning for next year!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Birdathon #1

Note: This blog post was co-written by Sarah and Max. It was a fun flashback to all the writing we did together for our book.

We did two day-long birdathons for Portland Audubon last week. We must be gluttons for exhaustion. Our first was a trip through Tillamook, Clatsop, and Washington Counties for Jen's Bloggerhead Shrike virtual team.

We started in Pacific City and drove north to Seaside, stopping at some of our favorite spots along the way.

In the hills near Sand Lake,we got off to a great start with a singing Hermit Warbler that actually stayed in one place for long enough that we got a (distant) photo.

 The next spot was Goodspeed Road and the surrounding wetlands outside of Tillamook.

 Here we found out best bird of the day: a Black-crowned Night-Heron hiding in the shadows of a slough. Sadly, an approaching tractor kept us from sticking around for better views. Also in the area was a White-tailed Kite, always a good bird this time of year.

A stop along Tillamook Bay yielded a bunch of Purple Martins checking out the nest boxes and bring mouthfuls of leaves.

 Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach never disappoints.

We found nesting cormorants, puffins, guillemots and gulls,

loafing Harlequin Ducks,

and a pair of Wandering Tattlers looking snazzy in breeding plumage.

At the Seaside Cove, Glaucous-winged Gulls seemed to have been spending too much time in the sun with their washed out plumage. A few grebes and loons lurked behind the breakers.

 A weasel at the Necanicum River Estuary competed fiercely with a Long-billed Curlew for our attention. At first it seemed cute, but then we saw how creepy its predatory eyes looked. "Excuse me, do you have a baby bunny I could kill?"

After birding Seaside we turned to the east and drove through the Coast Range to Killin Wetlands and Dawson Creek Park. As is often the case, we took many photos at the beginning of the trip and stopped taking pictures as we grew tired and desperate to find certain birds.

Not pictured as we scrambled to get more birds: Lazuli Bunting, Cinnamon Teal, calling Wilson's Snipe, Acorn Woodpecker. As dinnertime neared, we needed one more species to reach 100. On an anticlimactic note, we found Bushtits that we could hear, but not see. Good enough. We ended the day with celebratory Chinese take-out and cold beer.

Glad we could raise some money for all the great work that Portland Audubon does and be in the virtual company of some other awesome bloggers.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Birdathon 2014 (we need your help!)

The folks at the Audubon Society of Portland our great friends of ours. They helped to promote our book and they've even employed us in the past. Their staff and volunteers work ridiculously hard to protect natural areas and get people of all ages outside to enjoy the natural world. 

For these reasons, Sarah and I lead a Birdathon fundraising trip each year. Our team, "The Murre, the Merrier" usually spends a full day birding from Hillsboro to the Oregon coast and back. This year, however, we are mixing things up. 

We’ll be leading TMTM again, but we’re taking the team east to bird the Columbia Gorge and surrounding areas.

We are also joining a new team and this is where you, the blog readers come in. Our virtual Birdathon team, known as the Bloggerhead Shrikes, will be looking for birds in great outdoors but requesting pledges over the internets. Our friend Jen is the Virtual Team Leader and she has a great description of the team at her blog

Sometime between now and Memorial Day, Sarah and I will travel our traditional route to the coast and find as many species of birds as possible in a 12-hour period. We ask you to pledge us in support of the wonderful conservation and education work that Portland Audubon does for the great state of Oregon. You can pledge us an amount per species (we’ll be trying to break last year’s mark of 120), or you can get creative. 

How about $5.00 for every species of flycatcher we identify (empids included)? 

Or $1.00 per individual Great Blue Heron?  You can also pledge a flat amount of $10.00 or more.

Pledging us is easy! Just visit our Must-see Birds pledge page
and follow the directions. Everyone who pledges will get a shout-out on our blog and/or Twitter and Facebook and the satisfaction of donating to a great cause.

Thanks and we’ll keep you posted!

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!