Wasco County

I used to think county birding was silly. But that was before I realized how much fun it can be. Birds don’t adhere to geopolitical boundaries, but it’s a good excuse for humans to get out of the house and go exploring. Which is exactly why I said yes when Sarah and Max invited me to join them for some Wasco County birding.

I’d picked up 30 species the weekend before, so I didn’t have much of a goal, but Sarah and Max only needed three more species to make it to 100! Luckily, eBird organizes sightings by county so it makes it super easy to see county numbers.

Spoiler alert

We decided to make a large loop through the county starting in the higher elevation forest east of Mt Hood where we heard Hermit Warbler, Purple Finch, Varied Thrush, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, and Cassin’s Vireo.

Quickly we dropped out of the forest into the scrubby rangeland and farmland habitat and scanned trees and powerlines for more birds.

Almost immediately, Sarah saw a Tree Swallow which turned out to be their 100th county bird! A nearby yard turkey gobbled in celebration.

Wasco County yard turkey

We thought there’d be more of a challenge, but it turns out county birding is easy. We stopped for the Mountain Bluebird on a wire.

Followed by Western Kingbirds.

We ended up seeing 15 (!!) in total. Wasco County is the king of kingbirds. Here’s five at once that looks like a flight sequence.

Before our trip I’d messaged our friend Brodie since he lived in Wasco County before so he knew where all the good birding spots were. He had lots of tips, one of which led us to a farm field looking for Long-billed Curlews.

We saw a large, buffy shorebird with curved wings far in the distance defending its territory from a Northern Harrier. It flew our direction, then dropped down into a row of shrubs on private property. It was an exciting sight, but sadly, no photos.

Instead, we had closer views of Yellow-bellied Marmots.

Consolation marmot

And later a nice soaring Swainson’s Hawk.

Brodie’s brother lives in Maupin and he was kind enough to let us stalk his hummingbird feeder for a Rufous Hummingbird, that I only got a blurry photo of. While waiting we also saw a Western Tanager fly over. We were on a roll.

At a sage bluff overlooking the Deschutes River a Canyon Wren sang out and then we made eye contact with a Peregrine Falcon. We’d hoped for a Golden Eagle, but missed seeing one the whole day. As we turned to leave we heard a “sparrow” singing in the brush that sounded too good not to follow.

Don’t think about camping there, Max

We never got visuals, but after recording the song and having multiple reviewers listen, it turns out this bird was actually a Lazuli Bunting! Recording in this checklist.

We left, but not before Max stopped to rescue a Bull Snake in the road.

After all this, why not go look for a few rare Snow Geese?

So easy. The geese were located near Price Rd Wetlands which is a basically a large private estate with distant views to water below.

If only we knew who lived at Quail Heights. Nevertheless, from the bluff we saw Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Black-billed Magpie, Lewis’s Woodpeckers and Max heard an Ash-throated Flycatcher here. And down the road we spooked a Great Horned Owl.

That led us to find owlets! Practicing branch-walking.

A very fun find. While watching the owls we stirred up a few other birds including a Pygmy Nuthatch, Bushtits, and little House Wrens checking out nest holes.

A perfect fit

At the bottom of the hill we tried to turn Red-winged Blackbirds into Tri-coloreds, and Say’s Phoebes into more kingbirds.

Phoebes not kingbirds

By the creek we had Yellow Warbler, Wood Duck, a family of Canada Geese.

And I got a photo of a warbler that turned out to be a Nashville Warbler!

A great county bird. We made a couple more stops to pick up Bank Swallow.

As well as Northern Rough-winged Swallow.

The county birds just kept coming. Until we finally reached Seufert Park next to the Columbia River in the Dalles where we’d hoped for a pelican or two, but instead rounded out the day with Double-crested Cormorant, California Gull, and yet another Western Kingbird.

Such a fun day! We ended up seeing a total of 87 species, bringing Sarah and Max to 120, and me to 95! Only 5 species away from 100. A great excuse to get out of the house and go explore Wasco county again.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Deschutes Birding

A short while ago on a sunny day before the rains came back, Tomas and I decided to play hooky from work and head east. He to bike the Deschutes River Railbed Trail and me to work on some county birding. I had exactly 7 species in Wasco, and 2 in neighboring Sherman County just east across the Deschutes River.

I explored Deschutes River State Rec Area first which is where I saw my first army of adorable goslings.

With protective parents not far behind.

I mostly explored by car because I was still booted up and couldn’t hike (or walk) well. But that didn’t stop me from dragging myself up a trail following an intriguing birdsong that turned out to be an Orange-crowned Warbler. Birds will be my reason for walking again.

On the way down a Bushtit caught my eye.

This is when I learned there are two subspecies of Bushtits: “Interior” and “Pacific.” I’m used to seeing Pacific at my suet feeder, that are all gray puffballs. Interior are gray puffballs with blushing brown cheeks. Didn’t think they could get cuter.

Safe on flat ground and back at the park I found White-crowned Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, and a single Lincoln’s Sparrow. In the tree-tops were Yellow-rumped Warblers, and dozens of bright American Goldfinch.

I then hopped over to Wasco County to check out Celilo Park that offers free camping that seems to appeal mostly to local fishermen. The problem with campgrounds along I-84 is that they’re along I-84. It’s noisy, and occasionally trains blow through screaming the horn. Not ideal for camping or birding, but I made do.

The best birds were a pair of Western Kingbirds.

And a Yellow Warbler! – that did not appreciate my wanting to take its photo.

Just before it zipped down to the Columbia River water’s edge and flew off. It was hotter at this point, birds were quieting down and I had little time before I had to meet Tomas back by the trailhead.

Head-wave dust bath

Back at Deschutes SP I found a Hammond’s Flycatcher (long primary projection, vest, small dark bill, short tail).

And surprisingly, three more Western Kingbirds!

I ended up adding 42 species between the two counties. I thought 5 Western Kingbirds in one day was a lot, but Wasco County would teach me a lesson about kingbirds later.

Tomas made it back, sweaty and accomplished after 40 miles with just three flats (watch out for that puncturevine). We drove back to Portland after stopping at Pfriem  (pronounced freem) Brewery in Hood River where the beer is so good you’ll leave your credit cards there. No regrets!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Tabor Times Two

Mt Tabor Park is the gift that keeps on giving. All that stuff about balance and taking it easy? The cake is a lie. One afternoon this week reports of a Blue-headed Vireo and Common Poorwill proved too irresistible. The day was sunny and full of possibility. But first I had to leave my yard, and I was delayed by a flurry of bird activity.

Three years (and 5 days) ago I had my first Blurry-rocket-smudge Wilson’s Warbler in the yard, and this April I had another!

Only moderately better focus but with more leaves.

Then I heard singing.

Ignore that label, and ignore the robin that chimes in at the 7 second mark. Because I heard what I thought was a Hutton’s Vireo, after seeing this bird.

Based on those dark feet, the eye-ring and bill, but as it turns out, this is an outlier Ruby-crowned Kinglet that lacks the yellow feet. But what it does have is the dark bar under the white wing bar that a Hutton’s Vireo never has.

The clincher

Then I found this terrible but diagnostic photo in the mix.

That prominent eye-ring, combined with the singing, this is a Cassin’s Vireo! A yard first almost mis-identified as another yard first. There’s still so much to learn.

But did you see the eagle?

Yes, yes I did. Then it was off to Tabor!

I looked for the vireo in the designated spot, then wandered around to undesignated spots, wondering where “the Cove” is? Not a vireo to be found anywhere. I realized it’s a little mad following a tiny migrating bird in a big park, but I thought there might be other fun distractions in the vicinity. Indeed there was.

I heard jays, robins, juncos, sparrows, siskins, flickers, all alarming over a ridge and I hurried over. I thought it had to be an owl (or a Gyrfalcon). I looked but didn’t find anything. Then I looked closer.

No freakin way!! A Northern Saw-whet Owl!! Not the owl I was expecting, but such a great surprise. The hummingbirds dive-bombed it, robins called loudly, as it tried to look invisible. I had a spectacular view of its backside from the flat part of the trail.

Such a great consolation prize, I was rejuvenated to stay and listen for a potential poorwill. It was still early, so I drove around to the other side of the park. When, again, I heard something intriguing uptrail. Where have I heard that shrieking sound before?

Oh yes, Great Horned Owl-ets!

At least there was all that if I missed the poorwill, but there was still time. At around 8:00pm I waited as the skies darkened and fewer and fewer people exercised past me. The reports had the bird at around 8:30 so I turned on my phone recorder then. Just in case. It was somewhat creepy but also peaceful waiting in the dark. And then at 8:42pm I heard it!

A soft, single, but unmistakeable, “poor-will”. I waited another 15 minutes but didn’t hear another peep. I left hoping I’d gotten something usable and couldn’t wait so on the way home in the car I blasted the recording and thought I heard something, that was finally confirmed once I got home.

The bird was first heard by Tom McNamara while he was walking his dog at the park. There are only two other records of a Common Poorwill at Tabor, one by the Hinkles in September 2010 and another by Chris Warren May 1, 2008. It was pretty exciting to help document this sighting.

What an unbelievable evening! I should probably take it easy now.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey