Thursday, December 18, 2014

3 for 3 in Astoria!

Sarah and I visited the fine town of Astoria last Friday to seek treatment for symptoms of birding withdrawal. There were three bird species we'd hoped to find, but we kept our expectations low after a recent trip in which we failed to find two rarities we pursued in the Willamette Valley. 

Our first stop in Astoria was a pizzeria on the southern edge of town. After a few minutes of looking, we found a Tropical Kingbird perched in the cedars behind the building. The slippery fellow flew off before we could attempt a photo, but it was captured by Jen a few days later.

We then visited the Riverwalk, a gorgeous paved path along the Columbia River Estuary. We hoped to find a Snow Bunting, but instead the Snow Bunting found us, hopping out from the train tracks and spooking our dog, who alerted us to its presence.

While the adorable bird harvested tiny seeds at the edge of the path, it seemed unconcerned about the nearby humans and dogs.

The Riverwalk also featured a Great Blue Heron preening itself atop a spectacular steampunk installation.

Before leaving town, we celebrated our finds at the Buoy Beer Company, which I'd say has the best view from a brewpub in Oregon.

We had just enough daylight to look for one more species, so we drove to the south jetty of the Columbia at Fort Stevens State Park. We figured that Red Phalaropes, normally out to sea this time of year, would have been pushed inland by the recent storm. Sure enough, we found a small flock of them in the ponds north of the jetty rocks. We managed to find all three of our target species. That never happens!

It was the perfect start to a great beach weekend. With our recommended weekly allowance of birding exceeded, we managed to return to work on Monday. Is it time for another beach trip yet?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Bean-goose on the loose!

We were nearing the end of a lovely beach weekend when Sarah received a potentially year-changing message on Facebook. "A possible bean-goose is in a field at Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge. If you're still at the coast, could you bring your scope and check it out?" Of course we could.

We brushed our teeth, packed our birding gear, and drove 5 miles south to the refuge, half-expecting to find a misidentified Greater White-fronted Goose. We were met there by Lee, the sharp-eyed refuge caretaker,  and she showed us the goose in question.

 With bright orange legs and an orange spot on a dark brown bill, It was indeed a bean goose!

But which kind? We took some photos and shared them with others and, based on the size and shape of the bill and neck, we determined that is most likely a Tundra Bean-Goose (Anser serrirostris), which is smaller-billed and shorter-necked than the Taiga Bean-Goose (Anser fabalis). As far as we know, this is the first Tundra Bean-Goose recorded in Oregon, if not the Lower 48. Way to go Lee!

We put our observation on the Oregon listserve and several other birders soon joined us and took better pictures than ours. Some non-birders stopped by and, after we showed them the goose, suggested that we name it Chester.

During the three hours that we watched the bean-goose (Chester?), it dined on tall grass, occasionally chased Dusky Canada Geese and Cackling Geese out of its personal space, and sat down for a few short naps, revealing its pale eyelids.

The bean-goose has been seen at the refuge today (Monday), so if you want to meet the region's rarest goose, call in sick and get yourself  to the coast!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Return to the South Coast

As our lack of recent posts indicates, Sarah and I have been doing a lot of non-birding work. That changed last weekend when we visited the always-stunning South Coast to take part in the 28th annual Oregon Shorebird Festival. It had been several years since we'd birded the area, so we could hardly wait for the trip to begin.

The organizers put us up in a lovely guest house at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology, where Sarah had worked and taken classes in her undergrad days. In return, we spoke about our book on Friday night and led some day-long field trips on Saturday and Sunday. This hectic schedule left us little time for photography, but we managed a few iPhone photos.

We arrived at OIMB on Friday afternoon and spent a few hours exploring the beach before our presentation. We found some sandy green anemones

and some big volcano barnacles in the tide pools near the house.

The guest house provided a wonderful view of Coos Bay, which was busy with fishing boats, Pacific Loons, and Elegant Terns.

In the mornings, we picked up our scopes and visited several sites around the town of Bandon.

Though it was hot in most of Oregon, it was much cooler at the coast. We did our best to identify the shorebirds lurking in the foggy distance at Bandon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge.

It was much easier to see the Black Turnstones and Wandering Tattlers that were roosting on this old boat ramp at high tide. This is a popular spot with local birders and the local Peregrine Falcon, the later of which grabbed a tattler for lunch as we were leaving the site on Saturday.

We ended each trip with a search for Snowy Plovers at the China Creek beach access. We hiked less than a mile to the south and found a few of the threatened but adorable birds on Saturday. On Sunday we hiked twice as far but couldn't turn up any. Oh well, batting .500 isn't bad.

We returned to Portland on Sunday night thoroughly wiped out from all the public speaking and trip leading. It was an excellent weekend nonetheless. In addition to shorebirds, we saw loads of seabirds and waterfowl in the ocean and bays and there were flocks of migrant songbirds in the trees. This is the perfect time of year to bird the south coast, so be sure to mark next year's festival in your calendar!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

La Grande Old Time!

Last week we made our annual trip to find birds that do not nest in the Portland area. We drove to the northeastern corner of Oregon and discovered the many great birds that Union County has to offer.

On the way to La Grande, we first stopped to let Andie cool her paws in the Umatilla River.

Next, we searched for Great Gray Owls in pine forests of the Blue Mountains.

We struck out on owls, but we were able to watch this young black bear from the safety of our car. Not a bad consolation!

Upon arriving in La Grande, we visited Trent Bray at his birding shop, The Bobolink. Trent's shop doesn't have much of on online presence but he really knows the birds of Union County, so stop and pick his brain if you are passing through. He directed us to Rhinehardt Canyon on the Grande Ronde River.

Here we instantly heard Veery and Gray Catbird songs. These are two species we'd never before seen or heard in Oregon. Additional catbirds, Eastern Kingbirds, and Willow Flycatchers were all over the place!

Ladd Marsh Wildlife Management Area was wonderfully productive as well. Yellow-headed blackbirds sang their goofy songs and Black-necked Stilts were busy chasing other marsh birds away from their long-legged, newly-hatched chicks. All three teal species were present as well.

The last bird on our wish-list was, of course, a Bobolink. We followed Trent's precise directions to this field and found three displaying males. They were so far from the road that we could not photograph them, even if we owned the proper equipment. We'll still take em! Bobolinks favor tall grass and the grass in this field was tall enough to hide a few lurking Sandhill Cranes.

With wetlands, forests, and other habitats packed into a relatively small area, Union County is a must-visit for birders. Visit soon and talk to Trent at the Bobolink to get the most out of your trip!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Birdathon #2

Less than one week after our first Birdathon, we rallied the troops for another. Eight of our friends gathered at Vanport Wetlands in North Portland for what would be a 13-hour cruise to the east end of the Columbia Gorge and back.

Vanport was a great starting point thanks to the brilliant Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Cinnamon Teals, Ruddy Ducks, and Redheads that were on display.

Just beyond the fence, a Pied-billed Grebe incubated two eggs that will soon produce two stripey nestlings.

Our first stop in the Columbia Gorge was the Eagle Creek Hatchery and trailhead. We crowded onto a swaying suspension bridge to listen for songbirds and scan the water for American Dippers and Common Mergansers.

When it came time to bird the dry country, we visited the Tom McCall Nature Preserve. It was pretty quiet there, but we eventually found the bird we came for: a singing Ash-throated Flycatcher!

The birding may have been thin, but the views made the winding road and hot sun bearable.

The most surprising bird of the day was an Eastern Kingbird hanging out at this vineyard near the mouth of the Deschutes River.

The temperature rose quickly up in the afternoon, so, after driving as far east as John Day Dam, we replenished our water supplies in Biggs Junction and made one more stop on the Oregon side of the Gorge.

Along Highway 197 outside the Dalles, we visited a road cut that has been colonized by Bank Swallows. We watched the small swallows zip in and out of their nest burrows while making their harsh, froglike calls.

Our last stop was Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Washington. As you can tell by the dazed look on my face, we were getting tired at this point. Nonetheless, we marched on and found a few more species including a spectacular American Bittern. After making our final species tally in the refuge parking lot we returned to Portland.

Our group total of 92 species was quite respectable given the hot afternoons on the east side and the unfamiliar terrrain. Big thanks go out to Andrew and Brian from Timber Press, Annie, Enid, Greta, Jackie, Jay, Lisa, Maggie, Mary, Susan, and Wendy for pledging Sarah and I and helping us make this our best fundraising year yet!

Now that our Birdathoning is complete for 2014, it's time to start planning for next year!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Birdathon #1

Note: This blog post was co-written by Sarah and Max. It was a fun flashback to all the writing we did together for our book.

We did two day-long birdathons for Portland Audubon last week. We must be gluttons for exhaustion. Our first was a trip through Tillamook, Clatsop, and Washington Counties for Jen's Bloggerhead Shrike virtual team.

We started in Pacific City and drove north to Seaside, stopping at some of our favorite spots along the way.

In the hills near Sand Lake,we got off to a great start with a singing Hermit Warbler that actually stayed in one place for long enough that we got a (distant) photo.

 The next spot was Goodspeed Road and the surrounding wetlands outside of Tillamook.

 Here we found out best bird of the day: a Black-crowned Night-Heron hiding in the shadows of a slough. Sadly, an approaching tractor kept us from sticking around for better views. Also in the area was a White-tailed Kite, always a good bird this time of year.

A stop along Tillamook Bay yielded a bunch of Purple Martins checking out the nest boxes and bring mouthfuls of leaves.

 Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach never disappoints.

We found nesting cormorants, puffins, guillemots and gulls,

loafing Harlequin Ducks,

and a pair of Wandering Tattlers looking snazzy in breeding plumage.

At the Seaside Cove, Glaucous-winged Gulls seemed to have been spending too much time in the sun with their washed out plumage. A few grebes and loons lurked behind the breakers.

 A weasel at the Necanicum River Estuary competed fiercely with a Long-billed Curlew for our attention. At first it seemed cute, but then we saw how creepy its predatory eyes looked. "Excuse me, do you have a baby bunny I could kill?"

After birding Seaside we turned to the east and drove through the Coast Range to Killin Wetlands and Dawson Creek Park. As is often the case, we took many photos at the beginning of the trip and stopped taking pictures as we grew tired and desperate to find certain birds.

Not pictured as we scrambled to get more birds: Lazuli Bunting, Cinnamon Teal, calling Wilson's Snipe, Acorn Woodpecker. As dinnertime neared, we needed one more species to reach 100. On an anticlimactic note, we found Bushtits that we could hear, but not see. Good enough. We ended the day with celebratory Chinese take-out and cold beer.

Glad we could raise some money for all the great work that Portland Audubon does and be in the virtual company of some other awesome bloggers.