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?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Bean-goose on the loose!

We were nearing the end of a lovely beach weekend when Sarah received a potentially year-changing message on Facebook. "A possible bean-goose is in a field at Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge. If you're still at the coast, could you bring your scope and check it out?" Of course we could.

We brushed our teeth, packed our birding gear, and drove 5 miles south to the refuge, half-expecting to find a misidentified Greater White-fronted Goose. We were met there by Lee, the sharp-eyed refuge caretaker,  and she showed us the goose in question.

 With bright orange legs and an orange spot on a dark brown bill, It was indeed a bean goose!

But which kind? We took some photos and shared them with others and, based on the size and shape of the bill and neck, we determined that is most likely a Tundra Bean-Goose (Anser serrirostris), which is smaller-billed and shorter-necked than the Taiga Bean-Goose (Anser fabalis). As far as we know, this is the first Tundra Bean-Goose recorded in Oregon, if not the Lower 48. Way to go Lee!

We put our observation on the Oregon listserve and several other birders soon joined us and took better pictures than ours. Some non-birders stopped by and, after we showed them the goose, suggested that we name it Chester.

During the three hours that we watched the bean-goose (Chester?), it dined on tall grass, occasionally chased Dusky Canada Geese and Cackling Geese out of its personal space, and sat down for a few short naps, revealing its pale eyelids.

The bean-goose has been seen at the refuge today (Monday), so if you want to meet the region's rarest goose, call in sick and get yourself  to the coast!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Return to the South Coast

As our lack of recent posts indicates, Sarah and I have been doing a lot of non-birding work. That changed last weekend when we visited the always-stunning South Coast to take part in the 28th annual Oregon Shorebird Festival. It had been several years since we'd birded the area, so we could hardly wait for the trip to begin.

The organizers put us up in a lovely guest house at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology, where Sarah had worked and taken classes in her undergrad days. In return, we spoke about our book on Friday night and led some day-long field trips on Saturday and Sunday. This hectic schedule left us little time for photography, but we managed a few iPhone photos.

We arrived at OIMB on Friday afternoon and spent a few hours exploring the beach before our presentation. We found some sandy green anemones

and some big volcano barnacles in the tide pools near the house.

The guest house provided a wonderful view of Coos Bay, which was busy with fishing boats, Pacific Loons, and Elegant Terns.

In the mornings, we picked up our scopes and visited several sites around the town of Bandon.

Though it was hot in most of Oregon, it was much cooler at the coast. We did our best to identify the shorebirds lurking in the foggy distance at Bandon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge.

It was much easier to see the Black Turnstones and Wandering Tattlers that were roosting on this old boat ramp at high tide. This is a popular spot with local birders and the local Peregrine Falcon, the later of which grabbed a tattler for lunch as we were leaving the site on Saturday.

We ended each trip with a search for Snowy Plovers at the China Creek beach access. We hiked less than a mile to the south and found a few of the threatened but adorable birds on Saturday. On Sunday we hiked twice as far but couldn't turn up any. Oh well, batting .500 isn't bad.

We returned to Portland on Sunday night thoroughly wiped out from all the public speaking and trip leading. It was an excellent weekend nonetheless. In addition to shorebirds, we saw loads of seabirds and waterfowl in the ocean and bays and there were flocks of migrant songbirds in the trees. This is the perfect time of year to bird the south coast, so be sure to mark next year's festival in your calendar!

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!