Birds, barf, and joy

The end of the year is closing in and it’s hard to believe there are birds left in Oregon that I haven’t seen. But there are. One last pelagic trip was scheduled this December. I hadn’t intended on going since I’d already been on two trips this year, but my friend Courtney was going and pelagics are better with boat buddies. Also, I figured once I saw reports of what was seen, I’d regret not having gone. I was right. 

On the drive down to Newport I followed a tip on a Burrowing Owl and just as I was about to give up. Owl! #313

It was my goal not to flush this sleepy little owl and I succeeded by staying in my car, observing from a distance and I didn’t stay long so as not to attract attention. I left it just as I’d found it and I was already glad I’d left the house.

In the morning, the predicted ocean conditions weren’t encouraging, but at least the rain was set to hold off for another day. At 8am 15 intrepid birders set off from the dock to see what we could find. 

It was a goal to get to the bow (front) of the ship this time. In all my trips I’ve never ventured up there because it’s a rockier part of the ship. And if there’s one thing I need it’s less rocking. But I did it!

View from the front

At least in the beginning. I was somewhere near the front when we found the most accommodating Ancient Murrelet

A great start! Gradually though I retreated to the back of the boat as the swells increased. I kept calm for the majority of the trip, but at least at one chum stop I bowed to the sea. It happens. And sometimes it brings in the birds! I recovered a little as Sooty and Short-tailed Shearwaters (#313) zoomed by, and we spotted our first Black-footed Albatross.

Hello albatross!

Not long after, Laysan Albatross! They’ve been seen on every Oregon pelagic this fall (Aug-Dec), that must be a good sign.

And we saw Black-legged Kittiwake.

There was a quiet stretch as we continued farther and farther out, fewer birds to look at means more attention paid to the motion. It can get tough. Short video here from when I could hold the camera. Luckily, at around 35 miles out we found another group of birds. There were so many albatross.

Then Shawneen called out, “Short-tailed Albatross!” and I perked right up. This is a very exciting bird. I’d seen one on the 2017 December pelagic trip, but they are rare and never a guarantee. Especially the good looks we had. 

Coming through

It’s not everyday you see three albatross species in one binocular view. So incredibly lucky!

My risk paid off in albatross. The later it got, the angrier the ocean became. Sneaker waves shook us and it was time to turn the boat around. On the return trip Pacific White-sided Dolphins followed in our wake while Humpback Whales moved alongside us.

I didn’t feel 100% this trip, but it was all worth it. And that’s not all! Just as we headed back into the marina, someone yelled out Glaucous Gull! The rear ran to the front. Another state year bird!

#316

Such a great trip! Unfortunately I missed the Parakeet Auklet fly-by this time, it’s one of those birds seen best from the bow and I was far from it by then. Some day!

After de-boarding Courtney and I celebrated (dry land!), she’d found at least 3 life birds and I’d seen 3 year birds. And we had just enough daylight to make a quick look for Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs at the North Jetty. We dipped on the longspurs but found the cutest bunting with bright orange cheeks guarding the dunes.

I stayed overnight in Newport to rest up and in the morning I followed a Ruddy Turnstone report by the Pacific Oyster Company. Luckily the report was was legit and within minutes of scanning the 40+ Black Turnstones I picked out the one with the bright orange legs.

Ruddy Turnstone! #317

Back from the coast and back at work this week, I had just enough time before a dentist’s appointment to look for a handsome male Red-naped Sapsucker in Sherwood. It’d been two years since I’ve seen one!

Yes! This one was so easy. #318. Only two birds from 320! That’s a pretty nice number.

Dear Santa, for Christmas this year I’d like a Ruffed Grouse, Mountain Quail, American Tree Sparrow, Snowy Egret, Rusty Blackbird, Gray-crowned Rosy Finch, Bohemian Waxwing, Common Redpoll, Snowy Owl, Sedge Wren (?!) and/or any exotic warbler. Maybe Santa’s helpers will find something during the Christmas Bird Count

Happy holidays,

Audrey 

Tits and Towhees

I’d just seen the Tundra Bean Goose at Finley National Wildlife Refuge when a report came in of a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher in Portland. I hadn’t planned beyond the goose, but I did have to head back home eventually. Why not try for the gnatcatcher? It was only 10 minutes from my house. 

My friend Courtney took the trip as well and moments after exiting our cars we heard a wheezy gnatcatcher whine. Soon after we saw the bird. So lucky! 

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (#309!)

We made a quick try for a Yellow-breasted Sapsucker that would be a lifer for Courtney, but the bird was a no-show. Not so lucky. We had just enough daylight left to find White-winged Scoters at Hayden Island. 

Some of these are not like the others

The next day it was time to look for buntings. A flock of Snow Buntings including a “pale” individual that is a possible McKay’s Bunting has been teasing birders along Del Rey and Sunset Beach. This time Eric joined in the fun and together we met Courtney at Del Rey Beach early in the morning.

 We piled into my car and drove on the beach scanning for buntings. After a short while, Courtney spotted them!

Eventually we found a larger flock. It was then that another carload of birder friends joined in the chase. We alternated coverage over the 7 mile stretch the birds navigated. At one moment standing outside the cars the birds whooshed right over us. It was amazing. I heard a couple of their buzzing flight calls and I’m kicking myself now that I didn’t get a recording. 

Finally we spotted a good candidate for a McKay’s Bunting, “the pale one.”

But I feel ill-equipped at identifying this species, so I’ve left it as Snow/McKay’s until further review. There are only a few thousand of these (remote tundra breeding) birds in the world, and first winter female birds are hard to identify for even those familiar with them (how much white exactly is on that R3 tail feather?). And there’s another problem, sometimes they hybridize with Snow Buntings. So, for now it’s a “pale bunting” and a fun chase. 

We took a side trip to Seaside where Eric saw his lifer Rock Sandpiper.

And on the way home we stopped at a clearcut area and got a diagnostic but unsatisfying “look” at a Northern Pygmy-Owl zoom through trees, leaving much more to be desired.  

The next day, while I looked for grouse the news about the former president passing away came in. This meant an office closure, and I already had another day off planned. The only next logical step was to drive to Ashland to look for birds. Obviously.

It was cold and windy when I woke up in southern Oregon and after trying many locations  without finding much I ended up at the best trail near Medford, Upper Table Rock Trail

It is a short, moderately steep 3.3 mile trail, (the longest distance I’ve hiked since surgery!). It felt good to hike. It felt even better when about halfway up I heard what sounded to me like a wheezy Mountain Chickadee that turned out to be an Oak Titmouse! A bird I very much had hoped to see. #311

In Oregon they’re only found in this far southern location which is why I’ve not seen them here before. I had just met Oak Titmice in California (my 500th bird species!), but I think they’re cuter in Oregon. 

I continued uptrail wondering if I would meet my other target bird, another south-central Oregon specialty, the California Towhee, when it got very birdy along the trail. Kinglets, chickadees, sparrows, flew all around me when I noticed a Spotted Towhee and wondered if this was a good spot for other towhees. Indeed it was! 

California Towhee! #312

It’s so interesting two towhee species fill a niche here, right alongside one another. 

Towhee meet towhee

Elated I finished the hike and made it to the top. 

So glad the trip had been worth it. 

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Bluebirds of Happiness

Big news! My friend Eric Carlson found a pair of Eastern Bluebirds in Oregon! Amazingly this is the first state record!! None have been recorded on the entire west coast. There isn’t yet a record in California or Washington. It’s made every Oregon birder review their Western Bluebird photos and rethink their past sightings.

The differences between Eastern and Western Bluebirds are subtle especially if you’re not expecting them. When Eric saw the birds outside the Dharma Zen Rain Garden, he posted them on iNaturalist as Western Bluebirds. During iNaturalist’s community review process 21 year old birder Joshua Smith of Fort Collins, CO chimed in that he thought they were eastern. Then the whole thing “blue” up.

Luckily they’ve stuck around so everyone can enjoy them. I went early on a rainy morning where I met many other birders. It was like a fun reunion.

Eastern bluebirds have a bright white belly, and orange color that comes up to the throat and sides of the neck.

Adult Western Bluebirds have a blue throat and a bluish belly.

It’s been determined that both of Eric’s birds are males because of their bright blue color. Pretty incredible to have two birds as the first state record and two males at that! This spot is where Eric has found Say’s Phoebe, Western Bluebirds (and now eastern), and an Eastern Kingbird. I last visited in March not long after my surgery while I was still on crutches and a knee scooter.

It’s a great piece of habitat and I hope it’s kept preserved as a grassland space. It’s also in my 5MR!

Eastern Bluebird is not life bird for me since I’ve seen them in Florida while visiting family.

And this summer while visiting Tomas’s family in Michigan.

But Eric’s birds are my Oregon state year bird #307! And a great reminder that sometimes you don’t have to go far to find something special. Next year I’m going to focus more on local patches and spend more time birding and less time driving.

Such a fun sighting and I’m so happy for Eric!!! Congratulations!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey