Friday, December 20, 2013

Happy Owlidays!

Last week, Sarah and I waited for the snow to melt and the roads to thaw so we could return to the southern Willamette Valley to see some owls. 

We stopped at a field outside of Corvallis where several Short-eared Owls had been seen a week earlier. We arrived just in time to see one flying away. It was the first, and is still, the only Short-eared we have seen in the state. 

We next drove along Brandon Road, which is occasionally home to a burrowing owl. We cruised along slowly and, sure enough, there was one perched on top of a culvert. 

This was a bird worth celebrating, because (a) Burrowing Owls are awesome and (b) this was Sarah’s 300th species seen in Oregon this year. It was only my 298th because, earlier in the year, Sarah saw a Solitary Sandpiper when I was out of town and, at Summer Lake, she heard a Sora and I did not. No hard feelings, I swear.


After leaving the owl, we continued south to Alvadore, home to a wintering Northern Mockingbird.We walked up to a holly tree where the bird is usually seen and found the fellow perched on the top. 301 for Sarah and 299 for me!

A day later, we drove to the coast to get my 300th species. We looked for Palm Warblers near Astoria, but a steady rain kept the birds inactive and our patience short. With daylight fading, we stopped by Tillamook Bay to look for Black-bellied Plovers, a winter resident shorebird that had somehow escaped us this year. We pulled into Goose Pointe, near Bay City and hurried to the water's edge. 

The mudflat was full of shorebirds, including a bunch of Black-bellied Plovers. With at least 300 species for each of us, it has been a wonderful year of Oregon birding. Who knows what will show up in the next two weeks?

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thanksgiving week birds

Sarah and I have a lot to be thankful for, including a great week of Oregon birding.

On Tuesday we took what will probably be our last trip to eastern Oregon this year. We drove from Portland to La Grande and back to see a Red-bellied Woodpecker, the first confirmed record of this species in the state.

It took about two minutes of searching to find her working her way up a large cottonwood trunk.

We then checked out the small town of Cove to look for another typically eastern bird, a Blue Jay, that had been hanging around. We failed to find the jay, but on our way out of town Sarah spotted a bump on a willow branch and we pulled over to get it in the scope.

 A Great Horned Owl! Sarah won the eagle-eye award for the day.

We had also hoped to see American Tree Sparrows, so we drove along Peach Road to the Ladd Marsh Wildlife area.
We were able to spend  several minutes watching a pair pick through the gravel of a parking area. A great way to end a successful day of birding!

After two days of cooking and eating, we resumed birding on Friday. We didn't need to leave our house to find the first cool bird.

An immature Cooper's Hawk perched near our feeder, keeping it free from songbirds and squirrels.

After watching the hawk, we took a trip to Dawson Creek Park before watching the Oregon vs.Oregon State football game with Sarah's family.

We finally saw the Rusty Blackbird that has been there for nearly a month.

 Also at the park: a Hooded Merganser drake swam with his blurry-headed hen,

a pair of Wood Ducks perched on a rail,

a Great Blue Heron slept in a Doug-fir,

and an Acorn Woodpecker investigated a cavity in a birch tree.

It was nice to spend some time outside before the rain returns.

Go Ducks!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Lark Bunting!

 Sarah and I spent a wonderful couple of days birding the farms and coastal areas of Tillamook County. The highlight birds included a Rock Sandpiper, Tropical Kingbirds (perching near the barn above), and a Swamp Sparrow. 

The most unexpected bird, however was this immature male Lark Bunting, a pretty rare species in Oregon, at Bayocean Spit. 

We were following a tip on a Lapland Longspur and it turned out to be a bunting. It perched conspicuously on the branches of shrubs and foraged on the upper and lower spit roads. It was by far the coolest bird we have ever seen in ten years of birding this area.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The pursuit of rustiness

Last Thursday, a Rusty Blackbird was spotted at one of our favorite birding spots, Dawson Creek Park in Hillsboro. Neither Sarah or I had seen this species before, so we hatched a plan to drive out there and find it as soon as we finished work. Since it was Halloween, I also planned to wear a Rusty Blackbird costume that night.
The first plan failed. By the time we got to the park, the bird had moved on for the day.

I wore my Rusty Blackbird costume anyway. I didn't scare any of the trick-or-treaters that came to our house, but I'm sure they all walked away confused.
On Friday morning, we tried Dawson Creek again. Again, we missed the Rusty, as did everyone else who looked that day. Later that night, we learned of a second Rusty hanging out at the Monmouth Sewage Ponds, about an hour south of our house. Decided to try our luck there the next morning.

The treatment plant workers left a gap in the gate for birders to wiggle through and view the main pond. After a few minutes of looking, we finally found our bird!

This female was not as rusty as the one in Hillsboro, but we had a great time watching her just the same. She acted just like a shorebird (which I had been told Rusties do), walking along the edge of the pond from rock to rock, eating whatever it is that lives in a sewage pond. We were eventually joined by other birders, who were delighted to see the Rusty, and a police officer, who had been told we were trespassing. We assured him that we had permission to wiggle through the gate and had not climbed the fence (this was apparently an important distinction), so he left us to our blackbird-watching.
As we drove back to Portland, we learned that the Hillsboro Rusty had returned to Dawson Creek that morning. Of course it did! Maybe we'll look for that one again. Maybe I'll wear my costume.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Osprey watch

During our latest stay at my in-laws' beach house, we enjoyed several days of beautiful weather and the company of one of our favorite fish-eating birds.

We first saw the Osprey on Saturday, when it landed on a nearby snag and we noticed that it was holding a fish. We scoped it through the kitchen window and identified the fish as a cutthroat trout, probably plucked from the Nestucca River just east of the property.
A day later, the Osprey returned to the snag with another fish, on which it dined until a Bald Eagle showed up to collect its daily fish tax. A brief chase ensued, and the Osprey surrendered what was left of its catch before flying off to the south.

A few hours later, the Osprey returned, this time with a starry flounder, a flatfish that she probably captured downstream in the Nestucca Bay estuary. We watched our new friend consume its flounder, bony fins and all, with no trouble from the eagle. We even filmed some footage of her ripping pieces from the fish she gripped tightly in her long, curved talons. After finishing the meal, she spent another hour perched on the snag, digesting and enjoying the view.
As we were packing to leave on Monday morning, the Osprey was back with yet another fish. We could not identify the fish species this time, but we enjoyed watching her grip it and rip it just the same.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Perfect birding weather

We've been spoiled by several weeks of sunny weather, the kind that makes it hard to stay inside and work.

 On a Monday, Sarah and I escaped to Smith and Bybee Lakes in North Portland.


We had yet to see a Red-shouldered Hawk this year, so we were delighted to find two very vocal youngsters calling repeatedly from the willows near the inter-lakes trail.

A week later, we were scheduled to lead a field trip at Dawson Creek Corporate Park in Hillsboro. Sarah developed a nasty cold the night before, so I was on my own.

The day started off foggy, but we managed to find plenty of Acorn Woodpeckers and another Red-shouldered Hawk. The skies finally cleared as I led the group to a place we call the Wood Duck Pond. I hoped it wouldn't be empty, as it was on our last field trip there in April.

Success! Dozens of Wood Ducks and Mallards were illuminated in the sunshine. We listened to the Wood Duck' squeaky calls, and admired the crisp plumage on both species. It was tough to tear ourselves away from the ducks, but we had to look for more birds and finish the walk. We missed a few species we'd hoped to see, including the ever-elusive White-breasted Nuthatch. But, with blue skies, blazing leaves, and a pond full of ducks, it's hard to complain!