Friday, September 16, 2016

Where are we?

As you've probably noticed, we've fallen of the blogging bandwagon. The good news is we're still active on social media. You can keep up with our adventures with birds and beers by following these accounts:

Our Must-see Birds Facebook page
@mustseebirds and @empidomax on Twitter
@mustseebirds on Instagram 

See you soon!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Like Water Off a Puffin's Back

This year marks our 10th Birdathon to raise money for Portland Audubon. Hot weather had kept our last two trips under the 100 species mark, so we were excited to head to the coast and reach that magical number. Our group of ten started under cloudy skies at Gabriel Park, quickly adding must-have suburban birds like Lesser Goldfinch, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Bushtit, and Anna’s Hummingbird to our list.

Temporarily renaming our team “Grouse, Guns and Glory” we ventured, unarmed, up Storey Burn Road in the mist-shrouded coast range.  Success greeted us at our first stop, where our “target” bird, Sooty Grouse, boomed from the forest despite the nearby recreational shooting. Hermit Warblers sang, unseen, from the canopy, and a lone Varied Thrush made itself heard during a brief reloading period.
Tillamook Forest Center is well known for two things and it delivered on both: nesting dippers and the nicest bathrooms on Highway 6. The rain had turned soaking and our search for dippers was thankfully brief. As we continued west, we started wondering how long the deluge would last.

Our itinerary was set aside in favor of a drive out to Bayocean Spit, given the unceasing rain. The route turned up some Ring-billed Gulls in a dairy pasture and a single Belted Kingfisher on ancient pilings. A short, soggy hike produced a Bufflehead and a couple Common Mergansers. A tantalizing flock of dowitchers sped silently by, confounding our ID attempts. Swallows surrounded the van on the dike road, their migration slowed by the storm.

Despite almost comically bad weather, the intrepid team piled out of the van again at the Pacific Oyster Company along Tillamook Bay, finding Purple Martin, American Goldfinch, and California Gulls. We tried unsuccessfully to turn a Killdeer into a Semipalmated Plover.

Sodden and hungry, we drove north to Twin Rocks, where Sarah’s (fairy?) godmother offered up her house for our lunch break. We took our sweet time enjoying the hospitality and spotting Brown Pelicans and Pacific Loons flying over the sliver of ocean that was visible from inside the cozy living room.

As we drove up Highway 101 through Wheeler and turned onto Highway 53, the rain began to lessen and we found Black-headed Grosbeak and a flock of Whimbrels. Nehalem Meadows held Canada Geese with a Cackling companion, Turkey Vultures and more swallows. The Nehalem Bay Sewage Ponds were magical with Blue-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, Ring-necked Ducks, Gadwall, Cliff Swallows, Spotted Sandpipers, and Lesser Scaup.
With over 75 species on our list, we felt optimistic about making it to 100. We made a beeline for Cannon Beach and found our lucky parking spot, right in front of Haystack Rock. Under slightly brighter skies, we tallied up the bounty of birds: Tufted Puffin, Common Murre, all three Cormorants, flyby Harlequin Ducks, Bald eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Surf Scoter, and a distant Black Oystercatcher.
Trees full of spring migrants lined the parking lot of the Cannon Beach Sewage Ponds. Recently-arrived Western Tanagers, Western Wood Pewees, and warblers of all kinds foraged in the spruces. Duck diversity was low, but Northern Rough-winged Swallows posed cooperatively on the fence and Vaux’s Swifts twittered overhead.

It was getting late, but we were over 90 species, so we decided to race up to Seaside to squeeze a few more birds out of the coast. In a bizarre turn of events, Max turned onto a gravel road to see if the tall, long-necked bird he’d seen from the highway was really an emu, which would have netted the team an extra $5 pledge. Alas, the mysterious bird was a Canada Goose perched on a small hill. On the plus side, we found our only Orange-crowned Warbler and Purple Finch of the trip without even leaving the van.

Seaside Cove held plenty of surfers but no shorebirds at all. Diligent scoping of the ocean was rewarded with two more new birds: Red-throated Loon and White-winged Scoter. Sitting at 96 species and hoping for shorebirds, we made quick stops at the Necanicum Estuary and Stanley Lake. Greater Scaup, Least Sandpiper and Greater Yellowlegs brought us up to a tantalizing 99 species, with a long ride back toward Portland to plan our final strategy.

Dawson Creek Park is best known for one particular species that is as close to a sure thing as birds can ever be. We made this our last stop and headed for the cluster of snags along the creek. Acorn Woodpeckers didn’t keep us in suspense for long. As we celebrated bird #100, two of them peeked around trees, showed their white wing patches, and made their distinctive laughing calls.

After an awards ceremony in the parking lot for the best fundraisers and bird spotters, we returned to our starting location, adding a Mourning Dove on a power line for species #101. Birding for 13 hours on a day with an inch of rain is not for wimps. We are extremely proud of our intrepid team for keeping their spirits and binoculars up all day long. We raised thousands of dollars for Portland Audubon and enjoyed some wonderful birds. See you next year!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Hello shorebirds, goodbye winter

We've had some periods of rain this winter that made us consider a move from the Pacific Northwest to a desert locale. If there's one benefit of our soggy climate, however, it's that it's mild enough to keep shorebirds around all year.

We were reminded of this when we birded the Oregon Coast last weekend and found a surprising number and variety of shorebirds.

We found our first shorebird at Bayocean Spit on Tillamook Bay.

It was a lone Long-Billed Dowitcher, in appropriately gray plumage. It will be nice and orange when it migrates north in a few months.

Just a few yards north, the ground was crawling with small sandpipers, aka "peeps".

The vast majority were Least Sandpipers, a few were Western Sandpipers, and three were Dunlins. Can you tell which is which in the above photo?

The Least Sandpipers are small, but feisty and charged the Westerns and Dunlins when they got in the way.

On Saturday we scouted Cape Kiwanda near Pacific City for a seabird field trip for the upcoming Birding and Blues Festival. Once again, the shorebirds stole the show, distracting us from the parade of morons and their dogs who were enthusiastically ignoring the fences intended to keep them from the deadlier areas of the cape.

Black Oystercatchers called loudly, chased each other through the air, and did their thing on the sandstone bluffs. They are one of the few shorebirds that will be sticking around to breed on the Oregon Coast, earning them a spot in our book.

Black Turnstones clung to the slippery rocks at the edge of a churning pool, frantically fleeing the occasional tidal surge. Do not attempt.

Un-photographed shorebirds include big flocks of Sanderlings, some black-armpitted Black-bellied Plovers, and a random Killdeer. Nine shorebirds total! Not bad for winter.

We're eagerly anticipating the arrival of spring migrants, but last weekend was a great reminder of what's been here all winter.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Birding our public lands

 If there’s one thing we’ve learned this month, it’s that we can’t take our public lands for granted. Several national wildlife refuges are a quick drive from our home in Portland and we find something unexpected and unforgettable every time we visit one.

 During each visit, we can bird by car, scope birds from one spot for hours, or hike several miles. Our refuges help us stay sane when life does its best to make us crazy. 

We gave ourselves some much-needed Refuge Therapy this weekend, starting with a trip to Tualatin River.

We came to see a lone Ross’s Goose and, as usual, found much more.

Many of the refuge units were flooded, to the delight of thousands of ducks and geese.

Up on a dike, a coyote snacked on a vole and chased some geese. While watching all the birds and mammals, we chatted with birding friends and absorbed a rare dose of sunshine.

The next morning we met with Nick and Maureen in Salem and drove to nearby Baskett Slough. 

Again, the water was high and waterfowl were everywhere.

We cruised the roads along the north edge of the refuge and found some Killer Birds: Bald Eagles, Red-tailed Hawks, a Rough-legged Hawk, a Sharp-shinned Hawk, American Kestrels, a Prairie Falcon, and a Northern Shrike. They were too far for decent photos but perched nicely for us to watch as long as we liked. 

If you're a fan of public lands (and we know you are), tell your friends, tell your senators and representatives, and thank those who work for the Forest Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and other agencies.

Stay tuned for more public land adventures!

Friday, January 15, 2016

In Hot Pursuit

"Chasing" birds doesn't involve running across a field, binoculars bouncing, in search of some feathered prize. At least most of the time. Chasing is what birders call the birding trips we take that are focused on seeing a rare bird that someone else has already spotted and publicized the location of. Detractors say that it's a waste of gas and no fun. You should go out and find your own birds every time. Enthusiasts say that we can find more birds together than we ever could on our own, so why not share the wealth and see something special? I fall into the latter camp. Being the 53rd person to see an individual Snowy Egret doesn't take away anything from its awesomeness in my eyes. The few times that I've found my own rare bird, the stress of documenting it took some of the fun out of it, anyway. There's also the communal aspect of helping others (and being helped) to re-find a bird.  Discoveries of the rarest birds end up being impromptu reunions of all the local birders that you haven't seen since the last rarity.

These are the ups and downs of chasing, illustrated by the birds that Max and I chased in 2015.

Black-headed Gull, Umatilla Co.
Downside: Took hours to find. Only got a brief look before it flew to an inaccessible field. No pics.
Upside: We were already "in the area" on our way to Wallowa Co. Life bird for both of us.

Burrowing Owl, Lincoln Co.
Downside: Dog freaked out about being left in car. Made a break for it across the parking lot.
Upside: Found the bird quickly after getting pointers from friendly Yaquina Head Visitor Center staff. Bird was super chill and looked quite at home. Owls always make my day.

Pine Grosbeaks, Linn Co.
Downside: Spent hours hiking and listening VERY carefully, found zero grosbeaks. Other people found them right by the parking lot. Nemesis bird for me.
Upside: Gorgeous day in the Cascades. Found a Mountain Bluebird. Went to Bend afterward, where breweries abound.

Blue-winged Teal, Clackamas Co.
Downside: Took us two trips to Clackamas Co. to find him.
Upside: Blue-winged Teals are gorgeous! Saw three teal species at once. Brown's Ferry Park is so cool we later led a bird walk there. County listing.

Blue Grosbeak, Washington Co.
Downside: Almost too easy. So dumb it repeatedly had near misses with cars. Didn't stick around (survive?) for our Birdathon a week later.
Upside: Saw it from the car before we even parked. So blue!

Hudsonian Godwit, Marion Co.
Downside: A little far away out in the wetland. No chance to gaze into its eyes.
Upside: Got to rendezvous with our buddies, the Hipster Birders. Saw cool godwit foraging behavior.

Solitary Sandpiper, Tillamook Co.
Downside: Got shut out for the year after missing this one in Rockaway. The festival going on at the time probably kept it away from the small pond just off the main drag where everyone else had seen it.
Upside: No such thing as a bad trip to the coast.

Elegant Terns, Clatsop Co.
Downside: People that let their dogs chase wildlife on the beach.
Upside: Their beaks are so weird and wonderful! Also saw thousands of Sooty Shearwaters streaming by Seaside Cove.

Snowy Egret, Tillamook, Co.
Downside: Not really. Left Seaside in a hurry after hearing about it while watching the terns.
Upside: Found at Whalen Island with a bunch of Great Egrets. The yellow feet!

Stilt/Curlew Sandpiper, Tillamook Co.
Downside: Heard that a Stilt Sandpiper had been seen near the Snowy Egret. Didn't find it. Phone died as I was trying to phonescope what we did find...
Upside: Found a Curlew Sandpiper instead!! Rare as hell but hanging out with a bunch of Least Sandpipers right in front of us.

Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, Clatsop Co.
Downside: No. Joyous from start to finish.
Upside: Life bird for both of us. The pair hung out close to the trail so we got to watch them forage for quite awhile. So easy to see, even our dog put these on her list. It was hard to leave. Finally got to visit the mitigation wetlands that we had heard so much about. Reason to go to Astoria.

Tropical Kingbird, Lincoln Co.
Downside: Dog whimpered the whole time. Hates flycatchers.
Upside: A rare bird alert nearby when we are already out birding? Yes, please. A flycatcher that looks like an adorable cartoon character? Even better.

Common Ground-Dove, Lincoln Co.
Downside: Kind of a long drive, I guess.
Upside: This is a dove that is tiny and pink. Need I say more? Had a very fun day, including seeing a Clay-colored Sparrow that other birders had found while checking out the dove. We love any excuse to stay in Yachats and visit our favorite breakfast spot and favorite farmstore/brewery.

Brown Booby, Lincoln Co.
Downside: Saw better views of one last year in this exact spot in Yaquina Bay.
Upside: On our way home from the Ground-Dove. Boobies are so goofy/graceful.

Mountain Chickadee and Pygmy Nuthatch, Multnomah Co.
Downside: Found in our neighborhood park, but not by us.
Upside: Got to see them on the way to work one day. New for western Oregon. Stuck around for awhile.

Dickcissel, Tillamook Co.
Downside: Torrential rain while searching. Duck hunting day on Meares Lake. Brief looks at this cool bird.
Upside: Exciting life bird for us. Kind stranger pointed it out to us when we were getting discouraged. Bonus Northern Mockingbird to enjoy while we searched.

Cattle Egret, Tillamook Co.
Downside: Couldn't find the damn thing after driving every farm road in the area. It was found later that day by others. Ended the year of chasing on a low note.
Upside: Got to watch White-tailed Kites eat a snack.

And now to end this post the way we ended many of our bird chases: with a beer.

Places we drank beer after chasing birds: Embers in Joseph, Worthy Brewing in Bend, Seven Brides Brewing in Silverton, Fort George Brewery in Astoria, Yachats Farmstore/Brewery in Yachats, Pelican Brewery in Tillamook.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Beach birding bonuses

December was an extremely slow month of birding for us, so we couldn't wait to get out for a three-day New Year's Weekend at the coast. The weather was nearly perfect on the first two days of the year, so we got to spend some quality time with the birds.

We scoped some Surfbirds at the north jetty of Tillamook Bay,

found a harlequin duck upstream near the Three Graces,

and sneaked up on a female Kestrel at Nehalem Sewage Ponds.

While walking the beach at Manzanita, we found an interesting character in the driftwood.

It was a big, pale first-winter Glaucous Gull, feasting on a dead seal. 

After filling its belly with seal meat, the gull flew down to the surf to wash up, and then stood on the beach, ready to chase away any other birds that showed interest in the carcass. Apparently this species doesn't share.

We'd planned to go Newport on the 3rd to look for the Mountain Plover that's hanging out with Snowy Plovers, but found ourselves iced-in at Pacific City. We learned that Portland was still encased in ice, so we had to spend an extra day at the coast. The roads thawed overnight, so on the 4th we had no problem getting to Newport and finding the plovers.

 The Mountain Plover pecked at things in the sand while showing off its lovely toasted marshmallow color and plush tummy. Watching it explore the wrack line was definitely more fun than going to work.

Next, we looked for an apparent Orchard Oriole at the Hatfield Science Center. Again we had no problem finding our bird. At least its tail-end.

And its head-end too.
There's some debate, however, about whether this is an Orchard Oriole, a Bullock's Oriole, or a hybrid.  For now we're remembering it as a sharp-looking youngster that we enjoyed watching.

The last bird that we'd hoped to see was a Long-tailed Duck at the south jetty of Yaquina Bay. Again, we found it easily. But getting it in the scope was tricky because it kept diving on us.

It eventually surfaced long enough for a photo.

 Behind us, a Western Meadowlark kept a wary eye on a marauding harrier.
We saw some great bird behavior and have already found several species that we missed in 2015, so the weekend was the perfect antidote to the long dark December we endured. Wishing all of you you a very happy and birdy New Year!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The last counties

Up until last weekend, Sarah and I had birded all but three Oregon counties together.


We'd planned a trip in June to visit the last three counties in the southeastern corner of the state, but weather and other logistics kept us home. We finally had an opportunity to take some time off and make the big drive last Friday. Here are some highlights of our tri-county quest.


Grant County

Our plan was to leave Portland Friday morning and make our way to Grant County, bird a while, and then head south to Burns where we would spend the night. We made several stops along the way, which of course took longer than expected, and did not arrive in Grant until sunset. This was our only chance to get at least one bird in the county, so we were afraid we might miss out. We drove through the Silvies Valley, which was very quiet. As our anxiety grew, we spotted something on a utility pole. 

We've never been so exited to see a Red-Tailed Hawk!

We also stopped at an old school house and spotted a Northern Harrier hunting among a herd of cattle.

Just down the road, we found a small flock of Mallards feeding in a flooded field.

Three species in Grant county and a jaw-dropping sunset. We'll take it!

Harney County

We woke Saturday Morning and drove south from Burns to bird a very dry Harney County.

Harney Lake and other water bodies are on hiatus this year, but we managed to find some waterfowl here and there.

Raptors were plentiful, however, including a Prairie Falcon terrorizing the local songbirds,

and several Ferruginous Hawks looking sharp on power poles and sprinkler structures.

We had some memorable mammal encounters too. This mule deer buck was steeped in rutting hormones and staring us down. We gave him plenty of personal space.

Malheur County

On Sunday we visited the last county on our list, Malheur (not to be confused with the wildlife refuge). It's the big one in the corner of the state.

As soon as we crossed into the county, we were greeted by hundreds of American Robins, who, along with Townsend's Solitaires, were feasting on a bumper crop of western juniper berries.


At an old ranch house, a Merlin and a Sharp-shinned Hawk fought for the right to perch in the poplars.

We eventually made it to our main destination, Beulah Reservoir.

We scoped the water and found it covered with waterfowl.

In addition to ducks and geese, we saw several rafts of Tundra Swans.

We returned to our home base of Burns with a respectable number of species from Malheur County.

It was hard to return to Portland after such a great long weekend adventure. We look forward to returning to the area in the spring or summer when the days will be longer, the temperatures warmer, and the birds a little more abundant. We didn't miss the mosquitoes, though.