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

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

Chasing a Dickcissel

Last week my friend Sarah and I took a risk to chase a rare (to Oregon) bird called a Dickcissel. Chasing birds is inherently risky, they can fly, they can hide, they can be eaten, but this bird has an added element of risk. It is currently hanging around the Philomath Sewage Ponds (aka Philomath Poo Ponds aka PPP) and a permit is required for public entry. It’s relatively easy to get one, it just takes a trip to the Philomath Public Works Department during business hours (8am-4:30pm M-F).

They want visitors to understand the safety rules and to avoid times when the police are target shooting nearby. Fair enough. I’d been once before on a weekend before I knew about the permit process and I vowed never again without because I don’t want to be the birder who ruins it for everyone. It is a great privilege to enter the poo ponds.

Golden ticket

We left early on Friday and got to the Public Works office just after 8am. We were both worried about timing since there was only one report of the bird the day prior and it was seen at 7:25am for “5ish minutes and not seen again.” Permit in hand we pulled up to the location to see two women waving enthusiastically, it must still be here! We hurried over, and they said “it was just there” flying around the tops of blackberry. We scanned intensely but didn’t see it. Had we missed the 5 minute window?

Then I looked to another tree and saw it! Dickcissel!

This was a lifer for me (#491) and a county bird for Sarah. She’d seen one at Bayocean Spit near Tillamook three years ago in the pouring rain at the end of November. So this was a much nicer look. We drooled and watched it preen in good light.

By now we could let some other birds in our sights, a White-throated Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, and a Black Phoebe that called continuously behind us.

All of a sudden the birds scattered – accipiter alert!

A Sharp-shinned Hawk flew in causing chaos.

We watched until the hawk was gone and the birds were back and comfortable. Whew! It was a good time to leave and lazily count ducks on the way out. It was such a relief the chase worked out!

The next plan was to drive Sarah to her parent’s house in Pacific City. We birded along the way stopping in Newport for a chance at a Tropical Kingbird and a greater chance at Palm Warbler. We met up with my dad since he lives there now. Together we walked along the trail tripping over Yellow-rumped Warblers until Sarah spotted a Palm Warbler chased by YEWAs. On the way back we saw a second Palm Warbler with an injured foot but it looked like it was catching bugs and feeding okay.

We worked on our combo-birds on the way out.

Gull sp., Great Egret, Belted Kingfisher, Black Turnstone

We bid my dad farewell and continued on to Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge, one of six NWRs that make up the Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex. It is a sanctuary for wintering geese, including the only coastal wintering population of Dusky Canada Geese and the small population of Semidi Islands Aleutian Cackling Geese.

Sad for us we saw no geese this day since it’s been so dry leaving no water in the fields. Instead we drove to the upland meadows where we found Western Meadowlark, kinglets, and a Northern Harrier hunting over the fields.

It was hard to leave this magical place.

But there was a sunset and dinner waiting for us at Sarah’s parent’s house.

The next morning after having homemade waffles for breakfast (because these people know how to live), Sarah and her husband Max and I explored a farm road called Old Woods Rd in hopes of a Tropical Kingbird or anything else we could find. The best birds turned out to be right at the beginning, a pair of Rough-legged Hawks.

Always inspect those lumps in fields more closely.

Max spotted the second bird hover-hunting in the distance across the highway.

After finding the hawks and all the Black Phoebes we could, we spotted the best mammal at the end of the road, a hunting coyote!

We returned to the house said our goodbyes and I continued north towards home while still looking for kingbirds (which would be state bird #297). There were no OBOL reports so it was FYOB (find your own bird) day. I opted for Goodspeed Rd in Tillamook. Less than a mile down the road this bird stopped me in my tracks.

That shape. That face. This bird broke my brain in a really good way. I tried to turn it into a Northern Mockingbird, which would be a somewhat unusual but expected surprise bird on the coast, but it wasn’t right.

Those streaks. That bright eye. I realized this bird-out-of-context looked like a thrasher! What the what? What was it doing in blackberry brambles near the coast?

Thankfully, while I sat in my car scratching my head it offered excellent looks.

Based on location I narrowed it down to Brown Thrasher or Sage Thrasher. This bird wasn’t brown, and didn’t have the extended long curved bill of a Brown Thrasher.

That grey back, smudged cheek, streaky breast, and pale eye, this is a Sage Thrasher! Such a fun bird to find here, and on my own no less (FMOB!), and according to eBird, it’s a first for Tillamook County. I’d seen them earlier this year east of the Cascades at Summer Lake in sage country where they’re supposed to be.

Now the search continues for a few more state year birds. My upcoming pelagic trip  might help. And there’s still time to find a kingbird!

Stay tuned.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey