The 300 Club

It’s been my goal to see 300 species this year in Oregon since I realized in September I’d already seen 292. If you’re thinking, “how the hell did she do that?” I wondered the same thing. My total Oregon life list is 337 and I had ankle surgery in February. But then I remembered birding like a maniac in January. I saw a Virginia’s Warbler, Northern Mockingbird, and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker all on January 1.

And my awesome friends took me to see a Sabine’s Gull in Salem while I was on crutches, and on a trip east for Wasco County birding. Post surgery there was that trip south to Summer Lake. Then local rarities showed up; Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Ruff, and Sharptailed Sandpiper. And now two pelagic trips. It all starts to add up. Maybe some day I’ll do a real Oregon Big Year, but for now unintentional is good. Birds have been my therapy this year while recovering. Apparently I’ve needed a lot of therapy!

Now on the mend I was also on a post-pelagic high Sunday sitting at 299 birds with an entire day to bird on the coast. What would be #300?! What was even left? Well, there’s a lot of grouse (of course); Ruffed Grouse, Mountain Quail, but I’d have a better shot at Pygmy Owl, Rock Sandpiper, or Tropical Kingbird. All excellent candidates.

It was too dark to hang around Newport when I got up, so instead I drove to Nestucca Bay NWR. Luckily the gate was open pre-dawn when I arrived. Still no geese yet in the lower farm fields, so I took the gravel road to the top. No grouse on the way (of course). I walked along Two Rivers Nature Trail for a short ways remembering not to overdo it.

It didn’t take long to find birds. There were Pacific Wren, kinglets, and a Northern Harrier but the best birds were a small group of Canada Jays!

Friends without borders.

Not a year bird, but a fun Tillamook County bird and a great species to find on the coast.

I decided to look for rockpipers next at Barview Jetty Park. But blowing wind and rain didn’t keep me there long. It was time to head inland to the Nehalem Wastewater Treatment Plant. The facilities are closed to birders on weekends, but pro-tip you can scope the ponds from the top of the driveway!

I picked up a couple more county birds here, including Ruddy Duck.

And an Eared Grebe.

In a far pond I saw a tiny gull with a black “ear” spot, a Bonaparte’s Gull!

Another solid county bird. From here I drove along random farm roads in the area hoping to see a kingbird reported several days prior. It started pouring rain when I spotted it. No way. Oregon year bird #300! Tropical Kingbird!

Not so tropical kingbird

It is a large flycatcher, with a big bill and yellow up to the throat. It lacks white outer tail feathers that Western Kingbirds have. Eventually I got a photo of this bird’s lemon belly.

So lemony

I parked off the road to watch it flycatch for a while letting the experience sink in. So much love. A pair of Black Phoebes were much less appreciative of the kingbird than I.

Occasionally the bird flew into the trees and disappeared which probably explains why I’ve missed them before.

They’re much easier to see when perched on wires.

The sun came out blinding any more good looks and backlighting the bird so I took a break back to the water treatment ponds. I didn’t make it far before a flock of geese stopped me.

Most were Cackling Geese, but I did see a few Greater White-fronted Geese mixed in.

And I noticed some of a the cacklers had a white neck-ring suggesting they might be of the (once endangered now recoveringAleutian variety.

But I’ve learned not all cacklers with white collars are Aleutian subspecies. The bird with the dark glossy breast is likely Ridgway’s and the right bird could be Aleutian but the head shape isn’t quite right (thanks to Dave Irons for his geesepertise). So kind of like gulls, there’s some geese that don’t fit neatly into categories. Cackling sp. it is.

Back at the ponds there were even fewer birds than before probably due to the pair of Bald Eagles in the trees above. So I took a victory lap back to the kingbird to see if it was in better light but I wasn’t able to refind it. So long #300 be well.

I started home and met up with Sarah and Max along the way for victory beers and pizza and Sarah gave me the best gift!

Cheers to 300 amazing Oregon birds!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Preparing for a pelagic

After every trip to sea I feel like I come back a different person. After a few successful trips, I think I’ve gained some insight that might help pelagic-curious people out there. Or those who’ve had bad experiences (like I have). If you’ve never taken a pelagic, I’d recommend starting with a shorter trip. I started with 12 hours and probably shouldn’t have done that.

Get to know what it’s like because it is a strange, smelly, unsteady, and awesome (!) world out there. Who knows, maybe you’re one of those lucky people with a steel stomach. Unfortunately, that’s not me. Everyone has their own comfort levels and know what works for them, but here’s a breakdown of what works for me.

TLDR: take Bonine over-the counter medication for motion sickness the night before, and the morning of the trip and you should be good to go!

My full packing list:

Clothing:

  • Base-layer top
  • Long-sleeved wool undershirt
  • Fleece vest
  • Snuggy polyester sweatshirt
  • Backup puffy jacket
  • Rain Jacket
  • Base-layer wool pants
  • Track shorts
  • Rain pants
  • Socks (two pairs-thin and thick)
  • Rain boots
  • Warm hat
  • (Secure) ball cap
  • Gloves

Accessories:

  • Lip Balm
  • Sunglasses
  • Eye drops
  • Lens cloth

Food:

  • Pre-boat breakfast: Plain bagel, banana
  • “Lunch”: Plain bread, mild cheese, honey pretzels
  • Pocket snacks: Saltines, Life Savors (pineapple flavor only!), nuts
  • Liquids: Water, Gatorade, Ginger Ale

Gear:

  • Binoculars
  • Camera
  • Camera rain cover
  • Phone – in a zip lock baggie or waterproof case

Medication:

  • Bonine for motion sickness
  • Anti-anxiety
  • Immodium AD
  • Ibuprofen

I wear five layers on top. A tank top undershirt, followed by a long sleeve Smartwool base-layer, a Columbia fleece vest (that has bonus pockets), a poly sweatshirt on top and then rain jacket over everything. I keep a backup puffy jacket in my pack too just in case (I only had to use once on a really chilly trip). My Red Ledge rain jacket has amazing pockets large enough to hold a 16.9 oz bottle of ginger ale. This is the key to taking fewer rocky trips to the cabin.

My rain pants were too tight on my first trip and the pressure from the elastic band exacerbated my stomach pains. So I’ve since made a bunch of trips to Andy and Bax surplus sporting goods store to try out pants. I ended up swapping out traditional rain pants in favor of Viking brand Journeyman Waterproof Industrial Bib Pant. I unsnapped the bib and cut off the suspender part. They are comfy and I love them. Underneath I wear Smartwool mid-weight base layer pants, with some gym shorts on top.

I wear two pairs of socks, one light and one thick for warmth and cushion since most rain boots aren’t very insulated. I should probably invest in another pair of Bogs, but for now I bought a cheap (but solid) $12 pair of rubber boots from Fred Meyer. They get the job done for now. My gloves are fingerless flip-mittens made out of alpaca wool and acrylic from Andes Gifts (found at New Seasons). And my favorite sun hat is Columbia Coolhead Cachalot Hat (not just for men!), the safari flap tucks under nicely and the adjustable drawcord in the back tightens securely for windy times.

I’ve found an amazing retailer for waterproof camera covers in the UK called Camera Accessories Outdoors. Their products are well-made and reasonably priced. The one for my camera/lens combo is under $30 including shipping. I use another camera lens sleeve underneath for double protection, but it’s pretty much just a plastic bag. The more covers the better since sea salt can do a lot of damage to equipment. (I clean my gear after each trip).

Photos of all the gear:

My pelagic planning begins the week before. I cut out coffee and alcohol, eat bland food, and get plenty of sleep. Sounds extreme perhaps, but the more cards I can stack on the side of a good outcome the better. I’m in favor of medication (talk to your doctor). I wasn’t anxious my first trip and then I got seasick. Now my body tries to protect me from doing that again. Thanks body, but I love albatross too much. So now I have anti-anxiety meds (Lorazepam) just for boat rides (similar to situational anxiety for flying). It’s really helped, because this is not the appropriate time for a fight or flight response. Someone recently asked if weed would have a similar affect, and maybe? It is legal here. But I’ve never had a good reaction and wouldn’t want to add another element of uncertainty for myself.

My thoughts on Scopolamine: also called “the patch” or Transderm Scop, which is a small round band-aid sized prescription for motion sickness that goes behind the ear. I tried it my first trip and got sick. What I didn’t know (and the pharmacist didn’t tell me) is that it should be put on the night before a trip, so maybe I would have been fine, but it’s dead to me now. Some people, even guides use it and swear by it. Others have had adverse side effects (blurred vision) for days. I’ve had good results with over-the-counter Bonine so I’m sticking with that.

The night before: Some people can drink beer and eat hotdogs the night before. I could too, but then I’d get sick. To avoid this I eat bland food. I had a basic BLT sandwich one time (dry), and before this last trip I ate a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios because it was easy. I have one half (to one) anti-anxiety pill and a Bonine pill for dessert. Yum.

The morning of: Wake up, get base layers on, go to the bathroom 100 times (approx.). Eat something. I had half a plain bagel and half a banana last trip. Some people can handle coffee, I can’t (I’d never leave the bathroom). I take the other half anti-anxiety pill, Imodium A-D, Bonine, and this time I took two Ibuprofen to ease my mind about potential ankle pain. Somehow I get the rest of my gear on and get out the door.

On the boat: Anxiety is better (hopefully medication is working). There are birds to look at! Wonderful distractions. During slow periods mental strategies help: think about the turnaround point, look at the horizon, stay out of the cabin and try to get fresh air (beware of diesel and chum stank). As hard as it is, it helps to snack. I munch on saltines, have a Lifesaver, or some nuts. I tried almonds last time but they were too big and turned into gummy paste in my mouth. I had better luck this time with shelled pistachios. Salt is good. Some people can have ginger candy, ginger snaps, etc. I can’t stomach the power of ginger so I’ve found pineapple flavored Lifesavers to be a good mild alternative. And if you have to get sick, you’re not alone, it happens.

After: Time for celebration!!!

And time to plan the next trip. Every time is different, there’s highs and lows, but the birds always make it worthwhile. And having a system in place can help ease the struggle. My brain wants to protect me from the trauma of my first trip, while my heart wants to keep trying.

Good job heart.

Tweets and tips,

Audrey

Bunting to the boat

My five hour pelagic trip at the Oregon Shorebird Festival went so well I thought I’d test my system on an 8-hour late fall trip out of Newport last weekend. It was a good opportunity to pad my Oregon year list to try and get to 300 species. I left work early Friday to make way for the coast.

But first I made a stop at Mary’s Peak near Corvallis to look for a reported Snow Bunting. I had a lot of doubts going in that it would still be there. And even if it was would I be able to see it through the thick fog?

Questionable choices

I parked and walked the half mile to the summit along a service road. It was pretty easy walking lucky for me and my ankle. Almost to the top I saw a man and his daughter on their return trip, the man asked if I was a birder and told me “it’s still here, right next to the picnic tables.” Hooray!

Indeed it was! I almost tripped over the thing. In the misty rain and fog it blended right in with the gravel road. I laid down in the grass and hung out with my life bird (#492). Totally worth the detour!

Gosh you’re cute

I got to Newport, settled in, and before long it was the next morning and time to board the boat. The weather forecast was not good. There was a “hazardous seas” alert until 3am the morning of, and 8-9ft swells predicted for the day. A bad weather forecast does nothing to help anxiety. But lucky for us, the day started out calmer than predicted and we even had some sun!

Oregon you kidder, you.

Since there were no processing ships to chase our captain picked an azimuth and kept on going. About five miles out we spotted a pair of Marbled Murrelets.

Not long after we found a group of feeding birds including mostly Sooty Shearwater.

With a Pink-footed Shearwater in the mix.

This was also where we saw one of our only jaegers of the trip, a Pomarine Jaeger that surprisingly didn’t stay long.

Shortly after we had a Buller’s Shearwater that was one passenger’s 1000th life bird!

Cheers

I’d boarded the boat at 297 Oregon year birds and hoped for Laysan Albatross, Black-legged Kittiwake, or any kind of storm petrel. Eventually we came across a small fishing vessel, catching slime eels (or Hagfish). Birds aren’t picky, they were there too.

Our guide Tim (and a few unwell passengers) chummed the waters here and the birds came on over including a Laysan Albatross! #298!

And several Black-footed Albatross!

This was a good chum stop.

Happy Albatross

The Laysan Albatross floated close to the boat, next to black-footed.

Double-decker

Rumor is there is a (new? re-established?) Laysan Albatross breeding colony in Mexico, so (though still not common), more individuals are being seen on Oregon pelagics, not just the LAAL from the Hawaii colony. This is good news for albatross and for Oregon birders.

Hola or Aloha?

About this time the weather turned dark and the boat turned around. I took another Bonine pill and kept my calm. A third of the way back the captain spotted a group of birds and moved us closer to inspect.

Someone yelled Black-legged Kittiwake! Yes! #299!

How lucky am I? Pretty damn lucky. There were at least two juvenile birds. They look almost like Bonaparte’s Gulls but they have an extra black on the neck and of course black legs.

It felt good to get two birds closer to 300. And birds that are hard if not impossible to see in Oregon on land. And did I mention I didn’t chum the waters? Success all around. I survived! With no puking! And I felt good. Good enough to enjoy myself and think about future trips.

Back on land I met my dad for celebratory drinks and dinner at a quaint little Italian joint in Nye Beach called Sorella. It was one of the best meals I’ve ever had. Of course food always tastes that much better after a pelagic.

Mmmmmmm

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey