Friday, July 29, 2011

Birding north of the border

Earlier this week, Sarah and I visited south central Washington to learn about the area's bird life.

We made Yakima our base camp for two nights and took trips to Toppenish National Wildlife Refuge, Fort Simcoe State Park, the Wenas Valley, and the Columbia River.

We compiled a modest bird list, but we had some great individual-bird observations including fantastic views of flycatching Lewis's Woodpeckers (one of my favorite species) at Fort Simcoe.

While driving gravel roads in search of birds, we enjoyed great scenery, including amazing views of Mount Adams, the the ghost-like dome pictured above.

Many of the farms along the roads were growing hops, our favorite ingredient in beer.

When it was too hot to birds, we visited several of the area's many wineries and orchards. We brought home several bottles of reds, which are much "bigger" than the whites and pinot noir grown in the Willamette Valley, which gets less sun that the Columbia Basin.

Yakima area birds:
American White Pelican
Double-crested Cornorant
Great Blue Heron
American Bittern
Canada Goose
Turkey Vulture
Northern Harrier
Red-tailed Hawk
Swainson's Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
California Quail
Ring-necked Pheasant
Spotted Sandpiper
Caspian Tern
Forster's Tern
Mourning Dove
Eurasian Collared Dove
Rufous Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Red-breasted Sapsucker
Northern Flicker
Lewis's Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Western Wood-Pewee
Eastern Kingbird
Western Kingbird
Willow Flycatcher
Say's Phoebe
Western Scrub Jay
Steller's Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Black-billed Magpie
Violet Green Swallow
Barn Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Bank Swallow
Loggerhead Shrike
Warbling Vireo
Black-capped Chickadee
House Wren
Western Bluebird
Mountain Bluebird
American Robin
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Yellow-breasted Chat
Black-headed Grosbeak
Lazuli Bunting
Spotted Towhee
Song Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Brewer's Sparrow
Brown-headed Cowbird
Western Meadowlark
Red-winged Blackbird
Brewer's Blackbird
Bullock's Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Garden update

After a seemingly late start, summer is now providing blue skies, warm weather, and growing plants.

This spring was colder than average, but not as rainy as last year's. We were therefore able to get outside and improve our gardens.

We added a new garden bed to our front yard, which we filled with six tomato plants.

We also added another blueberry shrub to our driveway berry patch.

We have the same beds in the backyard that we gardened last year.

The cedar bed has a variety of greens, beets, carrots, and a stupice tomato.

The fenced bed has lettuce, peas, and a few more tomatoes.

The brick bed has a hummingbird plant (mint family) ringed by bush beans.

We now have all lettuce greens we can eat, but we look forward to the late summer/early fall harvests of tomatoes and beans.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Independence Day weekend birding

This year's Independence Day weekend involved a lot of birding - much more than Sarah and I had originally expected.

We drove to Pacific City on Friday for what we thought would be four nights and five days at the beach.

On Saturday we drove south to Newport to visit the seabird colony on the rocks near Yaquina Head lighthouse. Despite problematic levels of predation on nests by Bald Eagles, Western Gulls, Common Ravens, and Turkey Vultures, dozens of Common Murres are hanging in there and raising their newly-hatched chicks. We also observed nesting Brandt's Cormorants, Pelagic Cormorants, and Western Gulls.

In terms of their populations, predation of Common Murre adults by experienced Bald Eagles is not a big deal because there are much more murres than eagles. The recent problems, however, result from immature eagles perching on the nest rocks after an unsuccessful attack. Their presence forces the adult murres to abandon their nest sites, leaving eggs and chicks vulnerable to gulls, ravens, and vultures. It was encouraging to see that at least some nests are active in the face of this complex disturbance.

After a near-sleepless Saturday night in Pacific City (too many illegally loud fireworks) we decided to spend the rest of the weekend in a place with tighter restrictions on fireworks.

We settled on Camp Sherman, where firework bans are enforced due to the surrounding National Forest land. A place where we and our dog could finally sleep in peace. On Sunday, we drove from Pacific City, across the Coast and Cascade Ranges to the dry side of the state.

On Monday, we birded a burned area south of the town and were surprised to find several Lewis's Woodpeckers, one of my favorite bird species. In addition to Lewis's Woodpeckers, we found American Kestrels, Rufous Hummingbirds, Olive-sided Flycatchers, Western Bluebirds, Lazuli Buntings, Green-tailed Towhees, and Chipping Sparrows nesting and foraging in the site. Further proof that wildfires are not always the catastrophes many make them out to be.

We then visited one of our favorite birding sites in the state, Cold Springs Campground.

We followed the sound of begging birds to an aspen near the springs. After waiting a few minutes, we watched a female Red-naped Sapsucker feed the nestlings from outside their cavity. Several minutes later, we were quite surprised to see a male Red-breasted sapsucker arrive for the next feeding. Hybridization in progress!

On Tuesday, we birded a few more locations and returned to Portland, which was much warmer than when we left. If this weather holds, we can look forward to a great harvest of tomatoes and other vegetables.