California- Half Moon Bay

Ahh, California. Home to sunshine, fog, the Golden-gate Bridge, and life-birds I can’t see anywhere else. I’ve wanted to try an out-of-state pelagic for a while, and when I heard Debi Shearwater (of Shearwater Journeys) was retiring at the end of this year, I had to sign up.

A destination-pelagic adds another element of risk, but I hoped I could push through the anxiety to see some birds. We landed early in San Francisco and wasted no time before going to Golden Gate Park. Part nature park and amusement-botanical garden-ice-cream-conservatory-museum, it’s crowded but the birds don’t seem to mind. Here I found a female Nuttall’s Woodpecker, my first lifer of the trip.

San Francisco parks are ruled by Pygmy Nuthatches, Red-shouldered Hawks, and Black Phoebes. It was nice to see these guys in their natural habitat.

I fought a mean water sprinkler for a potential lifer Allen’s Hummingbird, but they’re not a slam dunk I.D. since the habitat and timing overlaps with look-alike Rufous Hummingbirds. I got lucky with a tail shot, the best way to separate the two, but the hummingbird I saw has the diagnostic “notched” R2 feather diagnostic of Rufous (vs the narrow “lanceolate” shape of Allen’s). No lifer hummingbird this time.

We stayed in Pacifica since it was about equal distance from Half Moon Bay (pelagic #1) and Sausalito (pelagic #2). It also had a nice beach where we witnessed Heermann’s Gulls in their natural habitat.

After checking in to the Airbnb I went to bed early because I had to board a boat early the next morning.

Debi introduced herself, told us what to expect and we set off to sea shortly after.

I was nervous but the ocean and I kept our calm all day. It was a little too calm. The lack of wind made it foggier limiting viewing distance and many birds like Tufted Puffins just sat on the water.

Occasionally sea life just popped out of the water.

I was okay with that. Do you know who was not sitting on the water? Ashy Storm-Petrels! Foggy little life birds.

This was one of my main targets of the trip.

Ashy-fog Petrel

California seas did not disappoint.

The fog cleared up for a couple of jaeger fly-bys, we saw both Long-tailed and Pomarine Jaeger Parasitic Jaeger.

Black-footed Albatross sat nicely for us on the water.

Hello, friend

As did Red-necked Phalaropes, Sooty Shearwaters, Pink-footed Shearwaters, and Sabin’s Gulls.

Adult and juvenile

I got distant but diagnostic looks at Arctic Terns, my other lifer of the trip.

We saw Humpback Whales, Fur Seals, a Blue Shark, and occasionally a pod of Pacific White-sided Dolphins and Northern Right Whale Dolphins joined us at the bow of the boat.

I made it back to shore with two new birds, a whole lot of sea life, and no puking! And I was lucky enough to get to do it all over again the next day.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Summer birding and a Red-headed Woodpecker

Summer birding is going as summer birding does. Slow. I’ve caught up on reading and done some yard work while I wait patiently for fall migration. This time of the year I volunteer with Cascades Pika Watch and visit my favorite talus-tater-friends, the American Pika.

Eeep!

One survey on Larch Mountain gave me a bonus Multnomah County Canada Jay.

Back in my 5-mile-radius I found a Green Heron in the Columbia Slough.

And a few shorebirds have started to trickle in at Broughton Beach. Western and Least Sandpipers have both been spotted on the shores.

Western (L), Least (R)

I finally saw my 5MR Caspian Tern.

And a surprise Bonaparte’s Gull in breeding plumage.

The Bonaparte’s was my 5MR bird #171. A couple of rarities showed up in my radius back in June, including a Great-tailed Grackle at Vanport (first county record?). I’ve wanted to see an GTGR in Oregon for a while now, and unfortunately I want to see a Great-tailed Grackle in Oregon again. The looks were barely diagnostic.

But it was followed by an Ash-throated Flycatcher, a really nice county bird and even better 5MR bird.

There’s been no shortage of baby birds this time of year.

Downy yard baby
Chestnut-backed chick-a-dee
White-crowned nugget
Brewer’s baby

And during one slow period I think I complained there was nothing I could chase that was convenient to my schedule. But then my friend Kayla found a Red-headed Woodpecker (!) on a Friday night. I had nothing planned for Saturday and no excuses. It would be a long drive to a random clear-cut on the Oregon Coast. And an even longer shot the bird would still be in the same place.

Kayla spotted the woodpecker as she and her husband were driving 60 mph along a highway near Reedsport. Two frantic u-turns later she confirmed she had seen a legit Red-headed Woodpecker (fourth Oregon record?). They normally occur east of the Rockies and this bird would be a lifer for me. Once I learned some friends were down for the chase I knew I’d be in good company either way it went so I had to give it a try.

I left early but behind schedule and behind a handful of other birders (including my friends Courtney, Caleb, Nick, and Maureen). I was still 20 minutes away when they texted that Maureen had refound the bird!! I did my best not to floor it and I arrived in time to high-five everyone.

And in time to see the woodpecker!! So dang lucky.

My photos do not do this handsome bird justice. It was much more striking in person.

We spent a little more time walking the highway pointing it out to new arrivals before saying our goodbyes to this awesome bird and continuing along. It was a beautiful day at the coast and I was happy to spend some time there. We went to Siltcoos River Estuary next to look at Snowy Plovers run along the sand and Marbled Murrelets (flying potatoes) over the water. No good photos of either unfortunately.

Then I was alerted to a Gray Catbird sighting at Ona Beach that same morning. It was an hour north and on the way home so it was the obvious next destination. We got to the location (the bushes by the bathroom) and Nick immediately spotted the bird. But sadly no one else could get on it in time so we waited. We ate lunch and waited a little longer entertained by a Swainson’s Thrush carrying food to a nearby nest.

Courtney and Caleb eventually had to take off. And then rest of us finally gave up. I walked back to the parking lot with Nick and Maureen but realized I should use the bathroom before getting back on the road. I hadn’t gotten far back by the restroom when birder Aaron Beerman and his parents waved me over, they’d just seen the catbird!

So I hurried over and didn’t see it. And continued not seeing it for about another 30 min. I gave up for a second (or third? I’ve lost track) time and was set to leave again when another birder, Bill Tice showed up. I told him the story, one person sees the bird then it’s gone for an hour but I figured I’d look with Bill for a few minutes anyways. Not long after we both saw it!!

Or barely saw it? The sneakiest catbird ever. Who knew that Red-headed Woodpeckers were easier to see than Gray Catbirds in Oregon! I’d spent way too much time waiting and finally left to get on the road to get home before dark. Summer birding fun!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Canada: Banff NP

Banff was birdier than Jasper. I found my trails and I found my people. While Tomas explored the city, I spent most of my time between the Fenland Trail and the Cave and Basin Marsh Loop Trail.

Birdsff

Serenading me on the trails were Yellow Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Sora, Common Yellowthroat, and I chanced into a couple of local birders who gave me a tip to look (and listen) for a Blackpoll Warbler.

Cave and basin marsh loop trail (watch out for horses).

This was an incredibly hot tip that paid off in one of the most rewarding warbler experiences to date. I heard it first, it sounded like a very high-pitched snake “sisisisisisiSISISIsisisi

OMG. Then it sat on a branch for a moment, before scooting along to another bush.

Where it whacked an unsuspecting caterpillar to death. It was amazing.

My day was made, I’m so grateful to those birders who passed along the information. Other birds on this trail were Lincoln’s Sparrows, Fox Sparrows, and a Gray Catbird that darted across the trail carrying nesting material. No photos of that one, but I lucked into a few “mew” recordings as I was already recording a singing Fox Sparrow. Magic upon magic.

Also singing were Willow Flycatchers (“fitz-bew“), and one lifer Alder Flycatcher (“Rrreea“) that I got a single sound clip of that could possibly be this bird. Or not.

Eh?

The Fenland trail system only minutes away was more wooded and gave me at least five singing male American Redstarts.

And I found a busy female redstart nearby building a nest.

It was on this trail where Tomas and I (heard and then) found a family of Great Horned Owls. Owlets on high alert!

While the parent, a very pale adult (perhaps Bubo virginianus subarcticus?), appeared more relaxed.

I shared the sighting with a bike-tourist from Holland, a couple from the U.K., and another birding couple from Florida. United by owls. Farther down the trail I had the chance for another lifebird, and after a while of looking and a Hairy Woodpecker false alarm, I managed to find an American Three-toed Woodpecker!

Yes! Another afternoon Tomas and I took a canoe trip to see a different side of the Fenland trails. We floated along Echo Creek passing nesting Canada Geese.

And we paddled around a pair of Common Loon on Vermilion Lake. I even heard the loons calling! One of my birding bucket list items- check!

So fun. (and I only dropped my paddle once).

The last morning we got up super early to try and beat the crowds at Moraine Lake and Lake Louise. It worked for the most part. Moraine Lake was my favorite. Perhaps because we got there first and the rain and snow stopped long enough for us to have some nice quality lake time.

By the time we got to Lake Louise it was already filling up (even on a cold, rainy/snowy Wednesday), we got the last parking spot in the lower lot before the ($6) shuttles geared up. On the way in we got the best look at a Grizzly Bear family (being ushered into the forest by park staff in their vehicle).

It explained why the trail to the Lake Agnes Tea House was closed due to bear activity.

I’ll pass on tea, thanks.

Instead we took in the beauty and serenity of the lake.

It was good times. And we still had the afternoon to explore back in Banff. Tomas checked out museums while I returned to the marsh trail to chase a sparrow. It was an effort that paid off, I was remarkably lucky to refind a reported LeConte’s Sparrow!

What a little heart throb. Similar to a Grasshopper Sparrow, LeConte’s Sparrows are secretive and hard to see. I have a territorial Common Yellowthroat to thank for chasing this one out in the open. It was a nice life-bird to add to the trip.

Overall Canada was pretty good to us. We spent 8 days driving hundreds of kilometers through two national parks with the most jaw-dropping scenery. We stayed at 5 different campsites, hiked dozens of trails, mountain-biked, and canoed. I saw 90 bird species (7 lifebirds!), 8 bears, and a herd of mountain goats. We ate a few “beavertails” and way too much poutine.

When in Canada, eh?

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey