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.

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