Birdathons are intense! We try to see as many species possible in a day and this time was no different. Some of the highlights included Purple Finch, Western Tanager, Wilson’s Warbler, and a FOY Western Wood-Pewee at Pittock Mansion.
Best view in the house
We stopped at Smith Homestead in the Tillamook Forest along Hwy 6 for Hermit Warbler, American Dipper, excellent sounds of Evening Grosbeak, and even better looks at perched Violet-green Swallows.
At the coast we visited Sitka Sedge State Natural Area, Oregon’s newest state park, that has an excellent trail through a saltwater marsh. We found Marsh Wren, Spotted Sandpiper, and two Black-bellied Plovers decked out in breeding plumage. We missed a normally reliable Wrentit, and instead got lovely looks at a Rufous Hummingbird that flashed us his golden gorget.
The perfect topper
We stopped for lunch at Sarah’s family beach house in Pacific City as we scoped Tufted Puffins on Cape Kiwanda’s Haystack Rock and watched a flock of Greater White-fronted Geese fly by.
We picked up a few other coastal species including Pigeon Guillemot and we made a special stop to add Common Murre (The Murre the Merrier!). While scoping birds a woman asked us what we were doing, and she was rewarded by having to take our group photo. So nice of her.
Back inland, after seeing no woodpeckers all day it was decided we’d end at Dawson Creek where Acorn Woodpeckers were a sure bet. And they were, along with Wood Duck, Yellow Warbler, Bewick’s Wren, and a FOY Olive-sided Flycatcher that brought our total species count for the day to 101! Great job team!
Saturday’s Brewery Blackbird Birdathon trip, led by Colleen McDaniel, was spent at Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge. This was a great day. The park promised baby Virginia Rails and it actually delivered!
Soak it in. Because it’ll never be seen out in the open again.
Other highlights included Lazuli Bunting, Black-headed Grosbeak, a singing Swainson’s Thrush, Willow Flycatcher, and the most cooperative Yellow-breasted Chat.
We saw Blue-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, and Green-winged Teal (teal slam!), and a Bald Eagle defy gravity while battling a Red-tailed Hawk. Quite the display.
Along the forest trail, Sarah spotted a Great Horned Owl surprisingly perched on an open maple branch. And another highlight was this Wood Duck family on a log.
Quite a handful!
After four hours we ended with 74 species. But because we’re good birders, we added a House Finch outside Stickman Brewery after pizza and beer bringing our total to 75.
Such good birders
Is May the best month for birding? It sure feels like it. So many great birds seen with great people! All for a great cause.
For a second year I joined Portland Audubon’s Birdathon, touted as the “biggest baddest birdathon this side of the Mississippi.” And for a second year I was thrilled to be a part of the Put an Owl on It team.
Last year’s trip was one of the best birding days of my life – 5 owl species in one day!! This year’s agenda expanded to eastern Oregon for a two-day Blue Mountain adventure with the hopes of seeing Great Gray Owls.
Spoiler alert- we found them.
I went into the trip with 299 life birds. How cool would it be to have the Great Gray as the 300th bird? That didn’t happen, but Bank Swallows are pretty cool too. Lucky #300!! Sadly, no pictures because the van flushed two nicely perched swallows on a fence as soon as we drove near. Van-birding can be quite a challenge.
While exploring country roads in Umatilla county, we also flushed lifer #301, this Chukar fleeing for its life.
Fastest mother Chukar in the west
It’s all worth it though when you climb out out of the van and meet a pair of Great Horned Owls fledglings.
Or a family of Barn Owls smooshed in a natural cliff wall cavity.
And it’s especially worth it to see a Burrowing Owl perched atop sagebrush in the Oregon desert.
It was incredibly hot that weekend, nearing (if not over) 100 degrees. Some birds like this Sage Thrasher panted to stay cool.
Even Common Nighthawks panted.
That is one hot bird. Seeing a Common Nighthawk perched on a fence has been on my birding bucket list since the moment I found out they do this. We found two. Success! And two vans with 19+ people managed not to flush them. It was that damn hot.
Birder dreams do come true
It cooled down some once we gained elevation making our way into the pine forests of the Blue Mountains.
And here in this forest is where we met the family. Mom and her three owlets.
It was so special sharing forest space with these owls. They were incredibly chill. We sat down on the grass and pine needles under trees nearby, relaxed, chatted and ate snacks, while watching the fledglings stretch their wings and walk awkwardly along the branches.
And if owl entertainment wasn’t enough, there were active nesting holes visible on site with Pygmy Nuthatches, Mountain Chickadee, Western Bluebird, Lewis’s Woodpecker, and Williamson’s Sapsucker (another lifer!).
And songs of Western Tanager, Cassin’s Finch, House Wren, Western Wood-Pewee (PEEEeeeeer), and a new flycatcher for me, Hammond’s Flycatcher (ChiBik).
As soon as the sun lowered, Great Gray fledgling activity picked up, the owlets begged noisily for food.
The skies darkened and mom obliged, swooping over the fields to hunt. We enjoyed watching the owl show until the sun disappeared and the bats came out.
Before exiting the park, we piled out of the vans in the dark one last time to listen for other potential owl species. While waiting, we occupied time peering at Jupiter’s moons through the spotting scopes, and just before calling it a night, an adult Great Grey Owl flew over our heads towards an area of the forest with at least one owlet calling! There’s nothing like an unexpected owl surprise to liven things up. We rode the owl high all the way back to the hotel in La Grande.
From darkness to early morning light, a handful of birders opted for an early-morning Bobolink side trip.
In a distant farm field we observed several pairs of Bobolinks chase each other up, over, and into the grasses while chattering their buzzy metalic song that sounds like a broken R2-D2. A bit far for decent photos, but here’s an identifiable pic of one on a fence post.
After, we reunited with the rest of the group and the sightings continued: Eastern Kingbirds, California Quail, Loggerhead Shrike, Black-billed Magpie, and Long-billed Curlew, to name a few.
At Catherine Creek State Park, we introduced ourselves to a generous couple camping with a hummingbird feeder at their site. Thanks to them, we got good looks at Black-chinned and Calliope Hummingbirds.
Female black-chinned wagged her tail while feeding
This was only my second time seeing a Black-chinned Hummingbird (the first was just a week prior at Painted Hills), and it was my first encounter with Calliope Humminbgird. They’re so pretty and so tiny!
There was another new surprise in the brushy thickets at this park, a small thrush called a Veery. Too bad I didn’t get a visual on this shy cinnamon-colored thrush, but I heard its song and call and that was pretty satisfying. Some nineteenth-century observers described the Veery’s song as “an inexpressibly delicate metallic utterance…accompanied by a fine trill which renders it truly seductive.” Yep, I was totally seduced.
One of our last stops was at Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area where we saw Gadwall, Redhead, Ruddy Duck, and yet another new species, a shorebird called Wilson’s Phalarope.
At the marsh, there were also a pair of nesting Swainson’s Hawks, both Eastern and Western Kingbirds, Sandhill Cranes, Red-winged blackbirds (chasing an American Bittern), Black-crowned Night Heron, Ring-necked Pheasant, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, and Northern Harriers. To name a few.
On the way back to Portland, we pulled off the side of the highway to bird a pond next to some railroad tracks. We joked about the safety and legality of this birding spot.
Then we turned around to see a law enforcement vehicle stopped at the road with lights flashing. Busted birders.
Walk of shame
Turns out the officer had just thoughtfully stopped traffic for us to cross the road without incident. Whew! It was totally worth almost getting arrested to catch a glimpse of American White Pelican, Black-necked Stilt (!), teals, and nesting American Avocets.
It was all worth it. In two days, the team saw a total of 127 species, including 4 owl species (and I saw 10 new-to-me species), and we raised over $14,000. We saw 11 Great Horned Owls, 3 Barn Owls, 1 Burrowing Owl, and encountered 6 Great Grey Owls! I think that’s what they call “putting an owl on it.”
I had a blast reuniting with team members from last year and making new friends this time around. Thanks to the trip leaders Scott Carpenter, Rhett Wilkins, Joe Liebezeit, and Mary Coolidge, you all rock. And of course, many thanks to my donors for making my fundraising such a success. I raised over a thousand dollars contributing to Portland Audubon’s $170,000+ for conservation. Thanks to all involved helping such a great cause!
First Steigerwald. Burrowing Owl reports showed up on eBird at this park and it’s not far from my house. Did someone say Burrowing Owl?! – pinch me, I’m dreaming. As soon as Tomas and I could inch through rush hour traffic and cross the river, we went to see if we could find the bird before sunset.
Luckily, we got there before the big cameras left because the owl was hard to find. The helpful photographers pointed it out to us. See it?
Just the top of his head was visible above the rock. Here’s the best view we got that evening.
I also saw a couple of the Say’s Phoebes hanging out nearby.
And a pretty lake and stuff.
Since the park is so close, and owls are so cool, I went back the next morning to try for a better look at the burrowing fella. I bumped into a fellow birding friend when I arrived at the park gate, so we walked together.
On the way through the park, we crossed over the bridge and heard a splash underneath. And then several river otters (ridder odders!) climbed out onto a log to say hello.
They kept coming, until five popped out, then they all retreated under water and swam away. What an adorable surprise!
Little owly was slightly more cooperative this morning thanks to nearby Ring-necked Pheasants and an agitated American Robin.
Things calmed down and the owl hunkered down again in the comfy concrete slabs.
I love this bird. And unfortunately, it has attracted more attention, and folks aren’t giving it the space that it deserves. Getting too close, harassing, and even yelling at the bird? Who does that? Someone reported this to the local Fish and Wildlife Office, so hopefully the creeps stay away and don’t stress the owl.
Which brings me to Birdathon. It’s a simple way to give back, help Audubon educate the masses, and keep burrowing owls happy. I’ve joined the Put an Owl on It team again this year and good things are happening in June. I need to raise a minimum of $600, and you can help! Donate here.
Now a final stop at Florida, to thank my dad for his kind donation (!) and for documenting and sharing with me the most peculiar relationship between a Great Horned Owl and Blue Jay.
They are obviously best buds. The hopes of seeing stuff like this is why I leave my house. Cracks me up!