Laughing at the Coast

Last weekend I had a roller coaster of a birding trip. But that’s to be expected when chasing rarities. There were at least seven rare birds reported near Newport (Say’s Phoebe, Solitary Sandpiper, Northern Mockingbird, Marbled Godwit, Nashville Warbler (early), Palm Warbler, and Laughing Gull). Laughing Gull?! Who brought back the Texas souvenir?

It wasn’t me. But I have missed the southern birds so I figured why not reunite with at least one? If I could find a few other rarities it would make the long drive worth it. I set off. And was almost immediately detoured by some intriguing-looking geese.

When you see a small group of geese on the side of the road you pull over. But upon closer examination, these turned out to be Domestic Geese.

According to Cornell what makes these different from Snow or Ross’s Geese: “typically domestic geese have orange bills and feet, lack the black wing feathers, and have shape differences such as heavy bottoms and an ungainly waddle.” I didn’t see their legs or their waddle, but the lack of black wing feathers was a tell-tale sign not to get excited.

With only one day to spend at the coast, I didn’t have time to stop for domestic incidentals. Eventually I made it to South Beach State Park the last reported location of the Laughing Gull where luckily I bumped into Wayne Hoffman, a local birder who pointed me in the right direction. Towards the teeny dots in the distance.

This is when it’s extra hard to stay on track and pass up views of Northern Harriers carrying nesting materials, exotic-sounding Yellow-rumped Warblers, fly-by Caspian Terns, and flocks of Savannah Sparrows among the driftwood. Stay on target.

So many pretty distractions

Three stream crossings, two miles, and two soaked feet later, a pair of birders passed me from the opposite direction carrying a scope. They gave me the thumbs up and I knew it was all okay. Not long after, the gull flew by.

Laughing Gull! Oregon’s 4th record! And this one has one leg making it extra special.

I watched for a while as it flew and hopped around the Mew Gulls, and then it ate an undetermined ocean object, before settling down at the shore with a ridiculously large crop.

I was worried about the bulge, but the gull has been reported since then, so all is well digested. I left the gull and trekked back across the streams and the two miles back to the car. Later I learned the Northern Mockingbird was located at the first stream crossing. Strike one. That’ll teach me to walk by distractions.

From here I drove the short distance to the Hatfield Marine Science Center estuary nature trail where the reported Palm Warbler has regularly wintered. This bird (which I associate most with Florida neighborhoods) was one I was most excited to see. Along the trail I passed Tree Swallows, Common Yellowthroat, Orange-crowned Warblers, Savannah Sparrows and the most handsome Lincoln Sparrow.

Then I spotted two birders at the bird blind. I asked if they’d happened to see a Palm Warbler. The woman exclaimed they’d just seen one! And I’d just missed it. She said “you have to see my pictures” and she “didn’t even realize what it was” and “isn’t that disgusting?” Her words, not mine. I asked which way the bird flew then politely looked at her photos.

I really wanted to be happy for her and after some snacks and time I genuinely was. Not finding the Palm Warbler was a disappointment, but I was a 5 min drive from the South Jetty where a second Palm Warbler had been seen as well as all the other rarities. But I didn’t find any of those this time either.

If the goal had been to find Golden-crowned Sparrows, Orange-crowned Warblers, a Wrentit, gobs of Savannah Sparrows and a Red-necked Grebe in breeding plumage then I was highly successful.

I think the best sighting here may have been a fly-by Pigeon Guillemot.

It was getting late. But not late enough to check the estuary trail again for the warbler. I walked along the trail maybe 20 feet when I saw some fluttering by a big ugly building.

No way. There was the warbler flying around the backside of the pipes on the building. Not perched prettily on driftwood, but at least it was a science center and not Walmart?

This bird is pro-science.

So pretty! Glad I went back to check on it again. I was running short on time and I could have ended the day here, but the Salishan Nature Trail where a Nashville Warbler was sighted was mostly on the way home. Why not make a quick stop for a look?

An hour and a half of quick looking later I finally saw the Nashville, but so briefly that I didn’t even count it. I got much better looks of Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

Common Yellowthroat.

And a Rufous Hummingbird!

M’lady Rufous. One of my favorites.

And just as I was leaving I saw a Sharp-shinned Hawk also on a bird hunt.

I wished I had more time. Lesson learned, one day is not enough to find all the rare birds on the coast. I started the three hour drive home, and along the way, next to a field in Grand Ronde I spotted an intriguing white bird hovering over a field.

White-tailed Kite! When you see a White-tailed Kite you pull over. I’ve only seen one other WTKI in Oregon and I had to work hard for it. This one was a treat. I watched from the side of the road as it hunted.

It eventually caught a rodent and then flew off into the distance. I’d come a long way from those Domestic Geese. So many highs so many lows. Such is the case when chasing rarities. Hilariously good times!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Texas: Salineño to The End

The last couple of days in Texas began with finding as many birds as possible at the Harlingen Thicket.

This meant hanging with Harris’s Hawks.

Watching Great Kiskadees collect nesting material.

And finally getting a good look at a Tropical Kingbird (best distinguished by Couch’s by voice).

One bird I was thrilled to get even a b-rated photo of was the White-eyed Vireo. I had too many missed photo-ops with this one.

There were few target birds we hadn’t seen by now. The nemeses of the trip, if you will, would have to be a small kingfisher, the Green Kingfisher, and Verdin, a bird that looks like a Bushtit with a yellow head. Several near misses, but we didn’t find either of these at the thicket either.

But we did see Texas Spiny Lizards humping.

And giant spiders.

It was late afternoon at this point and time for Sarah, Max, and Eric to catch their flight back to Portland. We bid them farewell and figured out our next plan. Jen and I had one more day to explore and we aimed to make the most of it. We drove two hours west to Salineño, a tiny town of Texas along the Rio Grande with a population of only 201 people.

We didn’t see any people (not even border patrol), but we did see plenty of birds, including three specialties, the Red-billed Pigeon, White-collared Seedeater, and Audubon’s Oriole. We thought the pigeons would be difficult, but they were actually quite easy.

Pretty perched pigeons.

We saw another intriguing bird perched farther in the distance, a Gray Hawk!

Worth crossing the scrubby desert full of ticks for a closer look.

Along the way we saw the White-collared Seedeater, a species that had a sharp population decline in the mid-70s, but has recently made a slight rebound.

Glad we got a look at this hard working bird.

Hiking farther along the dunes we passed Olive Sparrows.

And the “Texas form” Lesser Goldfinch that has way more black than other varieties.

I also heard a slow whistled song that perked me right up (I recognized it from the movie!), the Audubon’s Oriole! The only one we saw of the entire trip.

We also got a quick fly-by from a Green Kingfisher and I got terribly blurry photos of a Verdin. Not satisfactory sightings, but they happened. Another thing that happened was the Gray Hawk flew right by us next to the river.

This was a special place. And more like the birding trips I’m used to, wandering around bumping into all sorts of great new birds. We had such a fun time exploring, but at some point we knew it was time to make the long drive back to San Antonio to catch our plane home. Of course we stopped along the way.

For my last Scissor-tailed flycatcher of the trip. And the best views of a Pyrrhuloxia.

A stop for nesting Cave Swallows.

And for all the dead things (including a bobcat *cries*).

The best stop was for Jen to save this turtle from crossing the big, mean highway.

Texas was incredible. I saw an 72 lifers! And had the best time with a bunch of birders gone wild.

There’s no better way to party.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Texas: Party Parrots

After tacos we continued birding at Estero Llano Grande State Park. Our second trip to this destination. Or third? I’ve lost count. Every park in Texas is worth at least one revisit. This time it was for a Roseate Spoonbill knocking teals off a log.

The one with the biggest spoon wins the perch.

A pair of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks swam by.

And a White-faced Ibis blended into the grass.

Then we located the real reason we revisited this park. A Fulvous Whistling-Duck!

This warm-colored lifer cooperated just long enough before paddling farther and farther away, disappearing forever behind the grasses.

Going, going, gone.

The fulvous show was over. We returned to the main park area to head out while distracted by spiders and lizards along the way.

Six-lined Racerunner

But Sarah was distracted by a persistent bug harassing her down the trail, and as she flailed her arms somehow it worked to bring out a Clay-colored Thrush!

Thanks Sarah! Formerly known as the Clay-colored Robin, this secretive, shy thrush is the national bird of Costa Rica. Even after 6 days lifers were still showing up. We then left to head back to the airbnb before the night’s activities.

The Airbnb was one of the highlights of the trip. We stayed at a 2-acre farmhouse that had some of the best bird sightings.

There was a feeder table setup that had regular Green Jay, chachalaca, and cardinal visitors. We had Common Pauraque calling every morning and evening. And a repeat visiting Harris’s Hawk.

The hummingbird feeder attracted Buff-bellied and one Ruby-throated hummer. One morning we spooked an owl in the yard (possibly Barn). There was a pair of Great Kiskadees, Couch’s Kingbirds, Golden-fronted and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers. And Hooded and Altamira Oriole.There was lizards digging holes, prickly cactus to eat, butterflies to chase, it was hard to leave sometimes. 

But we had to leave later that evening to go to Oliveira Park in Brownsville. In celebration of Max’s birthday, we threw him a parrot party.

On some nights, hundreds of parrots throughout the city flock to this unlikely, inner-city park to roost in the evening. We weren’t sure what to expect when we arrived, but as the sun set it was like watching fireworks at the 4th of July. “Ooohs” and “aaaahs” as loud, raucous colorful personalities flew over our heads.

Party parrots! The majority are Red-crowned. We also saw Red-lored Parrots.

And Yellow-headed Parrots. The latter two species are escapees. It warms my heart that these social birds escaped and found one another.

We bumped into a couple of other birders at the park, including a grad-student from Texas A&M collecting parrot population data. Red-crowned Parrots in Texas and California are of interest to scientists because these unique city populations may some day save the species from extinction. According to Sibley the “naturalized population of Red-crowned Parrots is thought to exceed the native population in Mexico.”

A couple of other birds showed up to the party too. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

And *two* Lesser Nighthawks!

The skies darkened, the parrots quieted for sleep, and we headed back to the airbnb for the best tres leches! Happy birthday Max!

Yum.

Birders gone wild,

Audrey