The Wallowas

According to Travel Oregon there are 7 Wonders of Oregon and before last week I’d seen all of them except the Wallowas. This was also one of the last two counties in Oregon I hadn’t birded before (Malheur County is the other). This is why I love birding, it inspires me to go places I’ve not gone before. Sometimes to a landfill or sewage treatment plant, but other times to one of those “pinch me” places like the Wallowas.

Tomas and I stayed in a cozy Airbnb (walking distance to Sugar Time Bakery! and a block from Terminal Gravity Brewery) in Enterprise for three nights, and we spent Christmas Eve in The Landing Hotel in LaGrande. It made for the perfect getaway. Tomas painted and studied, while I birded.

This corner of Oregon is home to a few specialty species not easily found elsewhere and I hoped to run into a few of them. Each morning I had to choose between forest birds in the snowy mountain foothills.

Or driving farm roads looking for birds in the countryside.

Tough choices. I ended up making four trips to McCully Creek in the mountains hoping for grouse but I had better luck finding woodpeckers like this Hairy Woodpecker.

And this punky Pileated Woodpecker.

There were long birdless stretches in the countryside but that is part of the gamble, there can be absolutely nothing or a bird will show up that you’ll never see again in your life. It was early in the season for rarities and a low-snow year, but I managed to find a single Gray-crowned Rosy Finch perched on a metal barn roof!

In snowier times there can be flocks of 300-500 rosy finches. I was stoked to find just one (state year bird #320!).

Other good birds in the country were Rough-legged Hawks.

And Northern Shrikes like this one that accidentally flew closer for crushing looks.

In every barn was a Great Horned Owl keeping watch.

I had a tip from a friend to check out the Wallowa Fish Hatchery in Enterprise that had a few nice surprises like my county Belted Kingfisher.

A Townsend’s Solitaire drinking and bathing in the fresh hatchery water.

And a Great Horned Owl tucked into the branches along the nature trail.

Back on the country roads one late afternoon as I scanned the fields, I saw a pile of rocks start moving.

Gray Partridges!!! A life bird! And one of my target species of the Wallowas (#321!). I was giddy. I watched for a while as the chubsters used their heads to dig through the snow. They were the perfect Christmas presents.

Another time at McCully Creek I bumped into Nolan Clements, a birder who was in the area participating in a Wallowa CBC. This turned out to be the best luck because Nolan grew up in LaGrande and he knows where all the good birds are.

The good birds are over here

We met up the next day to look for Harris’s Sparrows (which we dipped on) and American Tree Sparrows which we found! #322!

This is another NE Oregon target bird I’d hoped to find. I haven’t seen a Tree Sparrow since my trip to Montana in 2015!

In the afternoon we made a stop at The Bobolink, a beer-birding-disc golf shop owned and run by a birder friend of ours, Trent Bray.

We picked out a couple of specialty beers then Trent gave us a tip about Bohemian Waxwings in town. WHAT. These weren’t even on my radar, but they were now. We set off driving in circles around town getting the tour of LaGrande while checking the fruit trees and chasing waxwings.

We had a Cooper’s Hawk flyover, Nolan heard a Townsend’s Solitaire, and we passed a gang of decked out Wild Turkeys.

Eventually we caught up with the waxwings perched high in Poplar trees. Scanning though, Nolan spotted one Bohemian Waxwing! #323!

They’re slightly larger than Cedar Waxwings, darker gray underneath, and they have cinnamon-colored undertail coverts. Thanks to Nolan for helping us find such great birds and saving us time before our drive home.

Tomas and I spent the next morning looking for Great Gray Owls that we could not find, but it was a nice walk in the snow anyhow before our long way back home.

Tweets and chirps and Happy New Year!

Audrey

No (R)egrets

A short while ago my friend Eric and I were doing some light, casual, local birding. We managed to find a Multnomah County Swamp Sparrow a new county bird for each of us (both #215!).

Then a report of a Cattle Egret came in. A week prior there was a report of one at Fernhill Wetlands that turned out to be a Great Egret. But this report seemed more plausible, “seen with 10 Great Egrets.” We didn’t see photos, but we also didn’t have a good reason not to try for it, so we went.

Two hours later we were on the side of Washburn Lane scratching our heads. Is that egret smaller? Maybe that one? None looked strikingly different. They were also difficult to see due to tall grass and poor light. Then two egrets flew and one looked “slightly smaller.” Sort of. See Eric’s photo of the egrets in this eBird checklist.

We left knowing we hadn’t seen a Cattle Egret, but we weren’t sure if the bird we saw was a female GREG (males can be 20% larger than females) or young egret or something else.

My only usable photo of egret sp. with nothing for scale

Turns out, this egret sparked debate that it could be an Intermediate Egret, a medium-sized egret that occurs from Africa to the Philippines. There has been a single confirmed occurrence of an Intermediate Egret (found deceased, blown in from a storm with 7 other egrets) in the Aleutian Islands on Buldir Island in 2006. So the likelihood of this bird being Intermediate is (sure, anything is possible) slim.

I feel it’s similar to the McKay’s Bunting “pale bird,” without a DNA sample we’ll never know for sure. To distinguish Intermediate from Great Egret, Oriental bird specialist Desmond Allen says “after the first 500-1000 you may start to see the differences more easily.” Sounds like a fun (painful) I.D. exercise. I didn’t know Intermediates existed before this, but for now I’m leaving this one as egret sp.

Eric and I gave up egretting to take another look at the Tundra Bean-Goose nearby at Finley NWR. Eric spotted the goose easily and we got the best looks yet.

By then it was nearing dusk so we left to look for Short-eared Owls at Prairie Overlook. We saw two! Along with Red-shouldered Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, and distant looks at a White-tailed Kite. Excellent consolation birds all of which I took terrible photos of.

Guess who

Four days later another Cattle Egret report came in. What?! This time I waited to see photos and sure enough, James Billstine had found two in Tillamook! It was noon and I was at work, but I knew if I left immediately I could make it before dark.

Finally, real Cattle Egrets! Distant looks, but still a good reminder how tiny they are compared to Great Egrets. No question about these (state year bird #319!). Maybe someday these two will make even more Cattle Egrets in Oregon.

No regrets.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

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