Monday, September 30, 2013

Birding and books in central Oregon

A little over a week ago, Sarah and I drove to the dry side of Oregon to visit one of our favorite bookstores, Paulina Springs Books in Sisters. We visit the store whenever we are in the area and we usually find it hard to leave purchasing something from their excellent selection of regional nature guides. This time, we were invited to talk about our addition to the field.


We delivered our presentation to a packed house on Friday night. In the photo above, we appear to be giving serious thought to one of the many great questions we received from the audience. The crowd seemed happy with our responses and enjoyed our stories about the book-writing process. How crazy is that? 


On Saturday night, we spoke to another great audience at Paulina Springs' other store in Redmond. This newer branch is an excellent addition to a revitalized downtown. Be sure to stop in and say hi on during your next trip to central Oregon. 


In between the readings, we visited the Green Ridge Hawkwatch site, northwest of Sisters, with our friend Jill. The site is staffed by local birders and operated by the East Cascades Audubon Society. Thunderstorms were expected for the day but, lucky for us, they never materialized. 


We saw raptors in the skies, songbirds in the trees, and outstanding scenery, including a recently snow-dusted Mount Jefferson. We stayed at the site for four hours and helped count about 40 species of birds. 

On Sunday we returned to the Soggy Side, where we have additional readings and other events scheduled for September and October. Click on the events tab above for more details!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Waxwing invasion!

Our southwest Portland neighborhood has been invaded by fruit-eating birds. Flocks of American Robins, Lesser Goldfinches, House Finches, and Evening Grosbeaks are swarming from tree to tree this week.

 The most abundant bird, however, has been the Cedar Waxwing, which we profiled in the Colorful Birds section of our book.

Our backyard pyrocantha trees, which usually annoy us with their sharp spines and rapid sucker growth, produced a bumper crop of little orange fruits this summer. Yesterday, the big waxwing flock descended on our backyard to relieve the trees of their burden.

Many were in juvenile plumage, like the one on the right, or molting adults, so they were not looking their sharpest. Still, they were a joy to watch.

Each bird would pick a berry, squeeze it a few times in its bill, poke it with its tongue, and then reject or swallow it. The flock must have been hungry. The berry clusters in the photos above are now gone.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Must-see Sea Birds

By the time we'd finished our book, Sarah and I had seen 84 of the 85 species we profiled. 

Photo by Greg Gilson

The one bird we had yet to see live, in person was the Black-footed Albatross. This long-winged beast is often abundant off of the Northwest coast, but stays too far out for us to see from land. On Saturday we joined a pelagic birding trip from Newport, OR to finally get our albatross. 

As we crossed the bar from Yaquina Bay into the Pacific Ocean, the sky was foggy and the swells were moderately high. 

Eventually the fog cleared and conditions were perfect for spotting birds. We cruised parallel to the coast to look for Marbled Murrelets and Rhinocerus Auklets and then motored 27 miles west to the edge of the continental shelf. 

Here our guides chummed the water with fish oil and beef suet. In a matter of seconds, the Albatrosses arrived. 

So many albatrosses!

Photo by Jill Nelson-Debord

A Long-tailed Jaeger joined the feeding frenzy. We never thought we'd see a jaeger so close to the boat. 

We saw many more birds and some spectacular marine mammals on the trip, but we lacked the sea legs necessary to photograph them. After eight hours on the water, we returned to Newport, thrilled to have seen our albatross and happy that we did not contribute to the chum.

Now that our pelagic trip is in the books, we can turn our attention to the land-bound birds we have not yet seen this year. Stay tuned!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

It's a book!

In May of 2011, an editor at Timber Press asked a friend of ours if she was interested in writing a birding guide for the Pacific Northwest.  Our friend said no thanks, but she knew of a husband and wife team that may be interested.
So out of nowhere came an opportunity for us to write a book and learn more about our favorite birds and our region in the process.  Neither of us worked a 9 to 5 job at the time, so we accepted the offer as fast as we could.

Once the deal was finalized, we selected 85 species that anyone interested in birding can find and enjoy watching, with a little direction.

We brainstormed a colorful description of each bird’s personality and gleaned information about its life history from our field notes and scientific literature.

We also tapped into online resources to choose specific locations to find each bird in Oregon and/or Washington.

In 2011 and 2012, we loaded up the old Subaru and visited as many of these places as possible to confirm that the birds were, in fact, where we said they would be.
We visited rocky beaches on the Oregon coast,
the waterways that compose Washington’s Salish Sea,

the pine forests of central Oregon,

central Washington’s wine-and-canyon country,
and the chilly Skagit Valley in northwest Washington.
Whenever we confirmed a bird’s presence, celebrations ensued. 

During this time, we added over a dozen species to each of our life lists, visited more than 200 birding sites, and tasted many local beers. 

We bundled groups of our favorite places into a chapter of weekend birding trips. We hope that readers will have as much fun visiting these areas as we did.


Timber Press combined our text with beautiful work from local photographers to build a stunning book. We are thrilled that our two-year birding odyssey, with its joys of travel and challenges of writing, reached a successful conclusion and resulted in a tangible product. Though the book is out, our work continues. We will be traveling the region once again this fall to promote Must-see Birds of the Pacific Northwest at a variety of venues. We look forward to revisiting our favorite birds and birding spots, and we can't wait to share what we learned about them with others.