Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Get the gull and retrieve the rosy-finch

We made a big weekend trip to northeast Oregon to see the area's birds, but there were two species we really hoped to find. The first was a Black-headed Gull (typically an East Coast Bird) that had been hanging out near McNary Dam.


We spent at least an hour below the dam watching dozens of gulls fly from the Columbia to a frozen pond and back. Unfortunately, none of them were Black-headed. Some other birders eventually showed up and told us that our target gull was roosting on a driving range.

We hurried up to the range and after a few minutes of scanning we found the Black-headed roosting among the Ring-billed Gulls.

People were actually teeing off at the range, but the gulls didn't mind. We were only able to see the Black-headed Gull for a minute or two before it flew off to someone's backyard. It was high ratio of search time to watch time but we'll take it.

The second species we pursued was a Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, which we'd never seen seen in Oregon. We drove to Wallowa County to search for flocks along the dirt roads outside of Enterprise.

On Saturday the thick fog kept us from seeing many birds.

We did see lots of frosty livestock, however, including this friendly horse.

A day later the fog cleared and we received word that rosy-finches were feeding near an abandoned ranch house.

We gunned it to School Flat Road and sure enough there they were. Twenty Rosy-Finches! Unlike with the Black-headed gull, we were able to spend some quality time with the rosy-finch flock. The members foraged on the ground, defended their personal space, and preened in a tree. Eventually, the flock flew behind a hillside and it was time for us to return to Portland, another successful trip to northeast Oregon in the books!

Misc. trip info

Number of bird species: 75

Dog-friendly lodging: Mountain View Motel

Best beer: Dargonstooth Stout at Embers Brew House

Best meal: brunch at the Red Rooster Cafe

Monday, January 5, 2015

The year in birding

On a soggy morning in the farmlands of Washington County, we searched for a Clay-colored Sparrow in a foggy blackberry patch.

As soon as we arrived, we started seeing dozens of sparrows among the blackberry canes. Amidst the dozens of Golden-crowns and White-crowns was the Clay-colored were after. It was a rare bird easily found in a beautiful location! The perfect note on which to end the birding year.

We had many great experiences during our travels through Oregon in 2014. Here's a look back at a few:

In January, we traveled to Newport to see a female King Eider that was wintering with a flock of Surf Scoters and Black Scoters.

We pulled into a sketchy little parking spot and found her in the waves before we left the car.

In March we stopped at a field near Tangent in the Willamette Valley hoping to see some Short-eared Owls. We were far from disappointed.

As the sun set over Mary's Peak, one owl after another flew in to hunt the field. A few minutes later, several began calling to one another and performing their courtship display: a rapid in-flight wing clap that we had never seen or heard before and we will never forget.

In April we traveled to Bend and viewed a Greater Sage-Grouse lek for the first time in Oregon. So worth getting up before sunrise!

We also found a cooperative pair of Sagebrush Sparrows.

 In June we made a trip to Union County to look for Great Gray Owls and other birds.

We missed the owls, but we did see a young black bear in the Blue Mountains and our state-first Veery and Gray Catbird in Rhinehardt Canyon.

In October and November, two completely unexpected species showed up at the coast.

First, a Brown Booby perched and foraged for all to see from the Bayfront in Newport.

A week later, a Tundra Bean-Goose was spotted at Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The goose became an instant celebrity and has attracted birders from as far away as Massachusetts and Georgia.

It's hard to top a Bean-Goose, but here's to great birding in 2015!