Last Weekend II

In the morning neither Tomas nor I was ready to go home, instead we opted for more birding and biking. He left to bike over the coast range, while I drove south past Tillamook to Sitka Sedge State Natural Area. Or at least what will eventually become SSSNA.

Apparently it opens mid-2018, and for now it lacked any beach access I could find, so I continued a mile and a half farther to the first legal parking area. And finally, I began the long walk on the beach.

Luckily, it was gorgeous weather. One of those impossible 70-degree days on the Oregon coast. Why was I trying to get to this beach so badly? Plovers, that’s why.

The walk was slow and quiet for a while, only a few gulls and sanderlings.

And one very sad, dead, light Northern Fulmar.

I mourned and moved on, and a couple more miles down the beach I heard the most annoying noise. Brrrrraaaaaaaaap.

Across the way was Sand Lake Recreation Area covered in noisy OHVs. So with that crap in the background, I kept going. And eventually, I spotted them.

Nestled safely in tire tracks in the sand were a Sanderling, Dunlin, and two Snowy Plovers!

Commence the cuteness! Because besides these I found several others.

Behind a crabshell

Behind kelp

In more tire tracks

But the best was when they scurried along and hid in footprints in the sand.

So hidden

I laid down in the sand to try and reduce my impact and to get a better eye-view of the plovers’ world.

This was when I noticed several birds were banded. I found 7 (and am waiting on submitted band reports).

I also noticed the view of Haystack rock in the distance wasn’t half bad.

I couldn’t have been happier even covered in wet sand. As I started heading back I noticed a sign.

A project for plovers! This is wonderful news. With all their “hiding spots” they just seem so vulnerable and exposed on the beach. Certain times of years cars drive on this very spot. And walking back, I saw a dog-walker throwing a tennis ball over and over for their dog, I thought, dang those plovers look like tiny white tennis balls. So vulnerable.

Snowy Plovers are listed as threatened and are protected in all states along the west coast. There are more plovers in southern Oregon beaches but in the north, they need more help. At least state and wildlife officials are making the effort to protect nesting areas. If nothing else.

This was one sighting I very much appreciated. For the birds, absolutely, and also because this species puts me in the top 100 eBirders of Oregon! I’ve seen 324 species in the state. Unbelievable! And I look forward to seeing many more.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Last weekend

The birds and beers were so good in Astoria the weekend before, I thought for my last trip before surgery, why not go back? Tomas agreed as he’d missed out, and this time he could go on a mountain biking trip while I birded. We left early Saturday morning and after stocking up at a gas station in Astoria, I dropped Tomas off on the side of the road.

Happy trails

We agreed to meet back up in the evening for dinner. I had a short birding wish list for this trip, Glaucous Gull, Snow Bunting, Snowy Plover, Wrentit, all would be ambitious, honestly I was more looking for a relaxed and casual last hurrah of ankle freedom.

I started at Seaside Cove to say hello again to the continuing Steller’s Eider, that’s been there for about two months now.

This is where I also said hello to my friends Nick and Maureen! Such a nice surprise. They’d both been under the weather since the new year and this was their first try for the Eider – sweet success and congratulations to them!

Together we looked at Red-throated Loons, Pelagic Cormorant, Western Grebe, Red-necked Grebe, Surf Scoters, White-winged Scoters, Harlequin Duck, and we played peek-a-boo with a Black Scoter hiding in the waves.

We picked out birds in the distance as the Steller’s Eider floated farther away. This was when a birder along the beach mentioned Ancient Murrelets were visible from the shore around the corner. These weren’t even on my radar! Technically they were seen on the pelagic trips I’ve been on, but I’ve never gotten a good look so I haven’t counted them (they’re a front-of-the-boat bird). This would be a lifer and a treat.

Nick, Maureen, and I took the long walk along the cobbled beach to see if we could spot one.

Solid ankle workout

We’d gone about a mile before Nick spotted a tiny murrelet dot in the distance. It was an Ancient Murrelet!

We walked even farther on when I spotted one closer in just past the breaking waves, but it swam out pretty quickly by the time we got there.

Ancient Murrelet with Western Grebes for scale

So tiny, so cute, and so nice to see from dry land. This made the returning mile and a half cobble walk worth it. Back at the cove Nick noticed a flock of small shorebirds land on the beach.

We hurried over until we got better look at the Sanderling fallout.

They’re so fun to watch scurrying along the shore, did you know a group of Sanderlings is called a “grain”? We were entertained by the grain of Sanderlings until a dog ran in an chased them all off. It was time to move on. I said my good-byes to Nick and Maureen as they headed to Fort Stevens SP to look for White-winged Crossbills while I went north to Hammond Marina. We agreed to meet up later on for dinner.

I drove north making a couple of unsuccessful shorebird and bunting searches along the way, but as I left one area along a residential road, a back-lit bird on a wire caught my eye. I thought that doesn’t look like a starling – probably just a robin. But it was intriguing enough to turn around because it also looked like it might be a bluebird. And that’s exactly what it was!

A Western Bluebird, what a cool surprise. Things got even more interesting as it flew to a backyard. I pulled over next to the fancy country-club house hoping I looked inconspicuous as I creeped on the backyard.

It was a pair of bluebirds next to a birdhouse! They were actively defending the box from pesky House Sparrows that were swarming all around also trying to get in the house.

I really hope the bluebirds win the battle because they’re awesome, beautiful, but  especially because they’re a native species.

I was excited I’d been lucky enough to see them (and not get into trouble with the locals). I left and went to Hammond to see what I could find next. No new or unusual gulls as I’d hoped, but I did find a Pacific Loon.

And flocks of Brewer’s Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbirds, and Red-winged Blackbirds that for some reason threw me off because they’re wearing their weird non-breeding plumage no one really talks about.

Why do they look so weird?

Freaky

Anyways, once I took my eyes off the blackbirds, I scanned the jetty rocks and found a beaver!

No way. I couldn’t believe it, I thought it must be a muskrat or an invasive nutria, but then I’d just read a post recently that both nutria and muskrat have white whiskers and beavers don’t. And this beaver was shy and didn’t come out of the rocks, but it did turn at one point and showed that diagnostic beaver tail!

Totally beaver. At this point it was time to meet up with Tomas, Nick, and Maureen for the best beers and worst service at Fort George Brewery. We dined and toasted to a very successful and surprising day.

Cheers,

Audrey

Kennewick to Astoria

The next day was not like the previous. The winds howled and overcast skies moved in. Jen, Jacob, and I checked on the Snowy Owl in the early morning, but this time it was far off in a distant farm field.

We watched for a bit until she flew to another field.

And was subsequently harassed by a Northern Harrier.

She didn’t seem too concerned. After a while we felt it was time to move on and we left the owl to defend her post. Good luck Miss Snowy Owl.

We then drove down 9-mile Canyon Rd dodging tumbleweeds and not coming up with much besides American Goldfinch and sneaky deer.

With the long drive home ahead we decided it was best to start heading back and we went our separate ways. I didn’t make many stops along the way but I had an idea of where I might go next. Not home that’s for sure. Tomas was off mountain biking, I’d be home too early, and there was the entire next day of possibilities.

One thing that stuck in my mind was a Northern Waterthrush reported in Brownsmead, a place in Oregon I’ve never been to near Astoria. I debated. The waterthrush wasn’t a life bird, I’d seen one once in Alaska, but it had been so long ago. Many birders hadn’t gotten visuals on the Brownsmead bird, they’d only heard it in the dense shrubs. Would I be satisfied driving so far to hear a chip note? Maybe.

What sealed the deal was the possibility of a Swamp Sparrow and that would be a life bird, so I figured why not take the chance. My plan was set. The five hours of driving flew by and before I knew it, I arrived in Brownsmead.

What a great place! Lots of lowland wetlands, farms, and places for rare birds to hide.

I pulled up to the waterthrush site and immediately heard chip notes. Unfortunately, they were coming from Yellow-rumped Warblers in the trees above. And then I heard it, a tantalizing loud spwik from lower in the blackberry. Scanning I saw movement and eventually a bird. It was the Northern Waterthush!

It sat preening and I enjoyed every moment so happy I’d taken the chance to see it.

It was then a homeowner across the street came out to greet me. Claire had met birders from Seattle looking for the waterthrush that morning and she was excited to share what she’d learned. She kindly gave me a tour of her neighborhood and showed me a Black Phoebe, Red-shouldered Hawk, and about 30 Great Egrets foraging in a field. The light was fading so I didn’t get many photos, but it was inspiring to see Claire’s new connection to the nature of her neighborhood.

I thanked her for her generosity and continued on, still hoping for a Swamp Sparrow, but getting distracted by ducks instead. I found one male Eurasian Wigeon.

That turned into three EUWI after reviewing my photos later, including the female to the left of the male in the above photo. She has a blue bill touching reddish feathers, AMWI has a narrow black base to the bill.

I saw Green-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, and Bald Eagles stalking all of them from above. As it got darker I thought of lodging options, and Astoria was only another 20 minutes down the road where Fort George Brewery was featuring dark beers. This plus fish and chips and I was sold. It was an excellent ending to an exhausting but fulfilling day.

In the morning it was dark and pouring rain, not good beach weather so I skipped it and drove back to Brownsmead for a quick scan. The area is sometimes favorable for Gyrfalcons and I thought it worth a look. Come to Brownsmead for the waterthrush, stay for the Gyrfalcon. I spent a long time trying to turn this bird into one.

There was a Peregrine Falcon nearby for size comparison. This one was larger but the light was terrible, I was far away, and it wouldn’t turn around. Finally it was light enough for me to ID it as a Rough-legged Hawk. Not a gyr but still a good bird!

And a reminder I should probably stop birding in the dark. I drove around a bit more, but the weather was terrible and with so much ground to cover Swamp Sparrows could be anywhere. I conceded defeat, but on the way out a large light bird caught my eye and I quickly pulled over.

Woah, a leucistic Red-tailed Hawk! I wasn’t sure until it flew and I saw that red tail.

Such a beautiful and unusual hawk. This made my morning and I felt good about heading back. But not to home just yet.

One more stop at Ridgefield NWR. My friend Sarah says I’m birding like I’m going to die soon. If it seems like I’m birding hard #birdlikeyouredying, I am because next week I’m having surgery on my ankle to glue my bones back together. Basically. And this means I’ll be on crutches and in a cast for a month, and a boot for at least another month. And it’s my right ankle, so no driving. No, it’s not death, but I want to take advantage of my freedom before I’m greatly humbled by my body.

So back to Ridgefield, and my last chance at a Swamp Sparrow for a while. At least here I had a better idea of where they might be along the auto tour. And just past marker #10, where I stubbornly sat in my car staring at grass while other cars passed around me. Finally, I saw the secretive owl of sparrows, the Swamp Sparrow!

Such a richly colored bird! I admired it as long as it would let me.

Which was about two seconds before it dropped down into the grass hidden once again. Until next time, Mr Sparrow. I left Ridgefield feeling pretty accomplished and officially ready to call it a day.

It’s hard to stop when there’s always a good bird just around the next corner.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey