Up until last weekend, Sarah and I had birded all but three Oregon counties together.
We'd planned a trip in June to visit the last three counties in the southeastern corner of the state, but weather and other logistics kept us home. We finally had an opportunity to take some time off and make the big
drive last Friday. Here are some highlights of our tri-county quest.
Our plan was to leave Portland Friday morning and make our way to Grant County, bird a while, and then head south to Burns where we would spend the night. We made several stops along the way, which of course took longer than expected, and did not arrive in Grant until sunset. This was our only chance to get at least one bird in the county, so we were afraid we might miss out. We drove through the Silvies Valley, which was very quiet. As our anxiety grew, we spotted something on a utility pole.
We also stopped at an old school house and spotted a Northern Harrier hunting among a herd of cattle.
Just down the road, we found a small flock of Mallards feeding in a flooded field.
Three species in Grant county and a jaw-dropping sunset. We'll take it!
We woke Saturday Morning and drove south from Burns to bird a very dry Harney County.
Harney Lake and other water bodies are on hiatus this year, but we managed to find some waterfowl here and there.
Raptors were plentiful, however, including a Prairie Falcon terrorizing the local songbirds,
We had some memorable mammal encounters too. This mule deer buck was steeped in rutting hormones and staring us down. We gave him plenty of personal space.
On Sunday we visited the last county on our list, Malheur (not to be confused with the wildlife refuge). It's the big one in the corner of the state.
As soon as we crossed into the county, we were greeted by hundreds of American Robins, who, along with Townsend's Solitaires, were feasting on a bumper crop of western juniper berries.
At an old ranch house, a Merlin and a Sharp-shinned Hawk fought for the right to perch in the poplars.
We eventually made it to our main destination, Beulah Reservoir.
We scoped the water and found it covered with waterfowl.
In addition to ducks and geese, we saw several rafts of Tundra Swans.
Thursday, October 1, 2015
Last week we really needed to get out of the house and go birding, but we couldn't decide on a direction to take. We received some inspiration on Tuesday, when two Sharp-tailed Sandpipers were spotted in Astoria. When Thursday produced more sightings and striking photos, we starting packing to go look for these occasional Eurasian vagrants. In the morning we realized we were driving into a gamble because a rain storm was approaching. We've driven to the coast and missed our target species while being unhappily drenched on several occasions.
The gamble paid off! Not only did we easily find the birds we were looking for, but it stayed dry in Astoria while it rained in Portland much of the day.
The sharp-taileds were feeding among several dowitchers and snipes in the Astoria Mitigation Bank Wetlands. They took flight when the occasional harrier cruised by, but we could always find at least one to admire.
If more shorebirds were as colorful and cooperative as this pair of youngsters, the family would have a much better reputation among novice birders.
After viewing the shorebirds, we birded Wireless Road, which had a Stunning Red-Shouldered Hawk that was unfortunately un-photographed. We also saw smaller birds flitting around the farm equipment.
Can you spot the bird?
We visited the Hammond Boat Basin too. One of the pelicans there did not look like the others. Though it seems weird to see a White Pelican at the coast, they are regulars just up the Columbia. Heermann's Gulls were also present in big numbers with their pelican "buddies."
We celebrated our finds, as usual, at Fort George Brewing, and then ended the day with a walk on the beach at Seaside. It may look like the forest was burning on Tillamook Head, but it was just a roiling fog bank.
There's no such thing as a bad trip to Astoria, but this was an especially rewarding one: life bird, fresh hop beer, and a sleepy dog too.
Tuesday, September 8, 2015
We traveled to the coast on Friday to look for a few more southbound shorebirds. At Ecola State Park near Cannon Beach, we found our first Wandering Tattler of the year working the offshore mussel beds. We did not get a photo of the tattler, but I did zoom in on Tillamook Head Lighthouse, which was looking creepy as ever.
Also in the park, an big, peaceful elk munched on roadside elderberry leaves.
On our way south to Pacific City, we learned that two birds we'd yet to see this year, a Snowy Egret and a Stilt Sandpiper, were hanging out near Whalen Island.
We drove straight to the Island and quickly found the Snowy Egret, fishing among twenty or so Great Egrets.
We also found a small group of shorebirds, which appeared to be the ubiquitous Least Sandpipers. When we walked closer, however, we noticed that one was not like the others.
It had a drooping bill, like a Stilt Sandpiper, but, unlike a Stilt Sandpiper, it had dark legs, white wingstripes in flight, and a peachy wash on the neck and breast. After checking our field guides, we decided that it had to be a Curlew Sandpiper, a rare visitor from Eurasia!
We only managed a few photos before the phone batteries died, but we were able to spend plenty of time observing the bird before the rising tide chased us back to the car.
We returned the next day with our phones fully charged, but could not relocate the Curlew Sandpiper. Instead, we took nice pictures of some very cooperative juvenile Least Sandpipers.
Saturday, August 29, 2015
Last weekend we headed to the coast and the birding and air quality were so bad that we took only a single photo.
The "view" from Cascade Head
This weekend we stuck closer to home and went looking for shorebirds at Tualatin River NWR. The nice thing about birding somewhere that isn't tidally influenced is that you can eat coffeecake for breakfast first and take your time getting there.
The ponds had much more water in them than we'd seen in recent years, but with a nice ring of mud at the edges.
We scanned the ponds, finding lots of waterfowl, phalaropes, and a few peeps, before finally setting eyes on our target bird: Pectoral Sandpiper. These shorebirds look like a bigger, chunkier Least Sandpiper, but move more like a yellowlegs, covering a lot of ground while actively feeding. They favor the drier mud up into the vegetation, which is exactly where we found this one and its buddy.
Photo taken with Celestron scope and iPhone adapter.
The refuge was surprisingly birdy for late August, and before we left we had great fly-bys from both an American Bittern and a Peregrine Falcon. As we walked the dike back to the Visitor Center, I gazed wistfully into a duckweedy canal and said to Max: "Looks a great place for a Green Heron." Then I turned to look at the other side of the canal and saw this little guy scrambling down the culvert.
Green Heron photo taken with iPhone
Once we got a better look, we realized this was a juvenile Green Heron, which might be why it tucked up a foot and chilled out instead of flying away. The spotting on the wings is a good fieldmark for telling the ages apart.
Green Heron photo taken with Celestron scope and iPhone adapter
You can see why I'm happier with our new photography setup every time we go out. You can even make out the duckweed on its stubby little leg! Hoping for more photos of this quality in the future.
Saturday, August 1, 2015
We brought along both our old scope and our shiny new Celestron one. (Thanks again, Celestron!) After some initial sibling rivalry, they're getting along quite well.
The cloudy coolness was a nice break from the broiler-like weather we've been having, but the dark skies didn't make for great phone-scope photography, at least that's my excuse. Can't wait to bring our Celestron gear out for more "fall" shorebirding.
Saturday, July 18, 2015
Just as Timber Press promised us, writing a book has led to some wonderful opportunities over the last couple years. We've given talks everywhere from Bellingham to Othello, and Charleston to Sisters. We went out on a day cruise as naturalists. We've used our minor celebrity to raise money for Portland Audubon and its important work. Then, a few months ago, things took an even more exciting turn.
I sent the following (mostly joking) tweet to Celestron, not really expecting a result.Yes, that's electrical tape.
By delightful coincidence, the person in charge of the Celestron Twitter account was none other than John Riutta, fellow Oregonian and (positive) reviewer of our book for Birdwatcher's Digest. He had an idea for a partnership with Celestron, which is known for its telescopes, but makes a large range of optics. Fast forward to this week, when Max's sad binos were joined by this good-looking Granite 10x50 and a 10x42 for me. To state the obvious, these new binoculars are a huge improvement and we love them.@CelestronBinos Thanks for following! You guys do pro deals?— Must-see Birds (@MustSeeBirds) March 4, 2015
Definitely an improvement over our previous birding and photography set up. Can't wait to get out again, especially when it isn't blazing hot.