5MR Snow Daze

It snowed in Portland! It wasn’t much. And it was gone in about 24-hours, but it was a fun time. Because the roads were slick, I didn’t go far. Perfect for 5-mile radius birding. I started at Whitaker Ponds Nature Park where I found a Great Egret nicely camouflaged against the snow.

Finally

I went along the loop trail passing Hooded Mergansers in the slough.

Then I heard a Black Phoebe calling so I ran over to check it out.

Nearby was a Yellow-rumped Warbler at the water’s edge.

I checked for Great Horned Owls and finally after going in circles around the cedars I found an angry face that made me back off pretty quickly.

So effective.

In the back ponds I snuck up on an egret and inadvertently flushed three Wilson’s Snipe! I returned later to the spot to find a couple of them “hiding” behind snow.

Nice try.
Not even close.

It was so nice finally seeing them without flushing them, they’re such interesting birds!

Back on the trail I noticed a handful of Dark-eyed Juncos feeding on grass seeds in the snow, so I sat down to watch for a while.

Minutes later a nicely streaky sparrow hopped right out.

Lincoln’s Sparrow! 5MR #101! An unexpected sparrow for this park, and a great surprise for me.

I went to Mt Tabor Park next that was surprisingly less snowy.

What it lacked in snow it made up for in American Robins.

There were hundreds feeding on the berries from the Hawthorn trees.

After Tabor I made it to Broughton Beach before sunset because I want to see all my 5MR hotspots in the snow.

I forgot to take a picture of the mountain

It was late in the day, freezing and windy but I couldn’t leave because there were at least a hundred gulls standing out at the sand spit. Many of them identifiable!

Western Gull (clean head, black primaries, dark gray back) (Glaucous-winged in foreground)
Iceland Gull (Thayer’s) (dark primaries, dark eye, splotchy head)
Herring Gull (dark primaries, light gray back, light eye) 5MR #102!
California Gull (behind sleepy Glaucous-winged) (black primaries, red eye ring, dark eye, red and black bill marks)
Ring-billed Gull (ringed bill, dreamy, handsome)

And it took me a while, but I finally identified one Mew Gull in the mix! 5MR #103!

Petite bill, smudgy neck, dark eye

The next day I wanted a new park. Something different, but still within 5 miles. I picked Kelly Butte Natural Area just on the SE edge of my radius. I’ve never gone mostly because I have to go past Mt Tabor to get there and it has a bad reputation. And a crazy history, it was once a prison, military bunker, and underground homeless camp.

But I picked the best day to go. The gate was closed, and the park was empty.

I didn’t see one other person while up there. It was lovely.

And I saw loads of birds. Mostly Steller’s Jays, Varied Thrush, a pair of Downy Woodpeckers, and a Hairy Woodpecker. But I heard the best bird before I saw it. Behind the noisy jays and hawks, in the distance I heard a “zuee-zuee-zuee” so I ran up the trail after the song until I eventually saw it.

Hutton’s Vireo! 5MR #104! Going to the scary park was worth it. As is exploring new places close to home. Since then the snow has turned into rain, rain, and more rain. Winter is over and has just begun again.

And the 5MR continues!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

2019: Resetting the tripometer

I ended 2018 having seen 325 species of birds in Oregon in a single year. It was fun, rewarding, and a ton of work. Something I’ll likely not do again for a while. This year it’s time to revisit old friends close to home. Inspired by Jen Sanford I’m resurrecting my 5MR and birding mostly within a “5-mile radius” from my house.

It’s a great way to explore underbirded local patches, reduce driving time, and expand on eBird’s citizen science database.

All those blue dots? Those are eBird hotspots within 5 miles of my house. Learn how to make a handy-dandy map like that here. I made a pretty solid 5MR effort in 2017 ending with 152 species so trying to match or surpass this might be a good goal this year. Certainly adding new species is worthwhile.

I started 2019 at the coast, so it took a day or two to get back into my radius. My first bird of the year was a Common Raven at Heceta Head Lighthouse. I was happy to start with something that meant I wasn’t at home.

Happy New Year!

I attempted to see a Sedge Wren in Florence (by guided access on McKenzie River Trust property). But it was so cold and windy this time, the wren never popped out or made any calls. That’ll teach me to bird outside my 5MR.

I quickly retreated back to the comfort of my circle. It was slow going at first. I focused on rare birds that might not be around very long. It took me four tries but I finally re-found Eric’s Eastern Bluebirds still visiting the Dharma Zen Rain Center.

Just as cute as I remember in 2018.

In addition to plain old 5MR fun, Jen’s adding monthly challenges to keep things interesting. January’s challenge is to fill in gaps of eBird hotspots. Since I’ve been working (and not on furlough), I’ve only gained two “points” so far by adding data to Holladay Park (hello Rock Pigeons and Red-tailed Hawks).

But the best was one day after work, I had about 45 minutes to bird before dark so I picked the closest hotspot from my house missing data that turned out to be a trail along the Columbia Slough. I didn’t expect to find much and since it was getting dark I didn’t even bring my camera. Big mistake! It turned out to be very birdy, I found 20 species including a continuing rare Blue-gray Gnatcatcher! Here’s my terrible iphone documentation:

That’ll teach me to leave my camera behind. Such a great find so close to home! Another 5MR highlight was a Northern Shrike sitting just at the edge of my circle at Vanport Wetlands. I’ll take it!

A big perk of 5MR birding is that many spots are bikeable. Inspired by my friend Eric (who’s doing his 5MR all by bike this year), I biked 2 miles to look for a reliable Black Phoebe visiting a local Radisson Hotel pond.

It worked! This was one big sunny success all around.

During the NE Portland CBC (Christmas Bird Count) Colby Neuman and team found a Palm Warbler that happened to be in my 5MR. This bird became my next target species. I made several attempts without success. After dipping one time, I went for a Eurasian Wigeon instead with better results.

That included a bonus sleepy 5MR Redhead.

On my fourth try (this time by bike!), I was extra determined to find the warbler. It had been seen in an industrial area with pockets of old pumpkin patches mixed in. But for a long time all I could find were Yellow-rumped Warblers enjoying the pumpkin bug-buffet.

A few other birders joined in the search and together we tromped around and spooked up a very lost Yellow Warbler.

That had zero desire to be seen.

Warbler of Nope

Better looks at Yellow Warblers coming this spring. We continued looking for the palm which would likely not be around then. Again we got close to a warbler flock when a Sharp-shinned Hawk spooked the whole lot. Foiled again!

Blurry Danger Hawk

By now I’d been searching for about three hours, but undeterred I kept going and after noon, despite wind and hawks, and light trespassing – ehem – I mean adventuring, the flock finally settled right in front of me and there was the Palm Warbler!

Yes!!!

County bird #216 and an excellent 5MR warbler. I worked pretty hard for this one.

Mudness

I was so pumped I took a tip from a friend and biked another 5 miles to Whitaker Ponds for a couple more 5MR birds.

An easy Spotted Sandpiper and a slightly less easy Great Horned Owl.

The best part? I bumped into my 5MR buddy Eric here and we were able to share some birds together. Including his FOY Bald Eagle.

We watched Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets terrorize the eagle before it flew off. And then we biked to celebratory pizza and beer.

2019 had a bumpy start but overall it’s going great. Three weeks in and I’ve biked 20 miles and seen 72 species so I think I’m doing all right.

Streeeetch

Keep reaching for those birds.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

SoCal: Death Valley

Our final destination on this trip was Death Valley. I had no idea what to expect. I’d driven through a portion of the valley a decade ago but didn’t remember how mountainous it actually is.

Temps during our stay were in the high 70s at day and low 50s at night. It was perfect.

The first night we stayed at Furnace Creek Campground located next to the Death Valley Visitor Center and the Oasis at Death Valley (formerly known as Furnace Creek Resort). There’s an expensive inn, an economy hotel and a few private RV campgrounds in the area including Fiddler’s Campground that had live music (karaoke and sometimes yodeling) after dark that could be heard from our campsite a block away.

Bat!

Bats made up for the lack of ambiance. I knew camping here would be a challenge but this lush green “oasis” is where many birds drop down during migration.

Amid festivals, a parade, construction, general business and a constant stream of cars and people around me I made the most of it and birded like I do. Luckily the birds didn’t seem to mind the chaos. The first evening I found a pair of Canada Geese on the golf course, because of course they would be there even in the desert.

Per the Birder’s Guide to SoCal the golf course is private property and birders are not welcome while others “commit golf.” So I followed the rules and birded from the fringes.

Though some were less obedient.

Golf course face-off

Par 4 Say’s Phoebe

From aerial photos (and per some eBird reports) I could see ponds on the property, but I couldn’t find a way to access them without trespassing. I got pretty close but ran into a dead end of thorny shrubs and had to backtrack a couple of miles. Not my finest hour. But I did find a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (not black-tailed since it has more white under the tail).

And a Verdin.

I ran out of time (energy and water) to find another way in. The best waterbird besides the geese was a flyover Mallard.

Good job desert-duck

The book mentions to look for White-winged doves calling from the Tamarisks or, “lately, Eurasian Collared Doves.” I could only find Eurasian-collared Doves and there are sparse eBird reports of White-winged on the property in recent years and none from 2018.

Shocking

The grounds had a few good sparrow spots. I found House, Savannah, Golden-crowned, White-crowned, weird looking Song Sparrows.

And lots of Lincoln Sparrows.

One lucky afternoon I picked out a (Red) Fox Sparrow in the heat waves.

It was interesting to see birds’ strategies for keeping cool. Most stayed in the shade.

Shady House Sparrows

Some panted, or splashed in puddles or took dust baths. I saw some blackbirds drinking from sprinklers at the visitor center and I found a pair of Great-tailed Grackles taking shade under cars in the parking lot.

The best parking lot bird was a Harris’s Sparrow! A rare bird for the area.

I “pished” for a brief moment and it immediately popped out on a close shrub.

Too close

Amazing! I found a variety of Icterids too, including Brewer’s Blackbird, Red-winged Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, and the best surprise was Western Meadowlark.

In the shade of trees above there was a Cooper’s Hawk.

I had a couple of falcon fly-bys a Peregrine and a Prairie.

We had perfect weather until almost the last day when a windstorm blew through the valley. It wouldn’t be Death Valley if it didn’t try to kill us. The windstorm then turned into a sandstorm. Terrible for birding or doing anything outside.

Leaving the storm

Luckily we had the van for shelter, and this was also the day we drove to a smaller campground at higher elevation called Wildrose. It was less sandy here, but still very windy.

From the safety of the van I spotted Black-throated Sparrows on the hillsides.

We drove a little ways past the campground towards the charcoal kilns but the road conditions turned too bumpy so we turned around. On the way back we pulled over for a Horned Lark that hopped right up next to the van.

And we had distant looks at a Golden Eagle!

Back at the campsite I walked the road down to a small creek and found a Ladder-backed Woodpecker.

American Robin photobomb

A Bewick’s Wren.

And a Fox Sparrow scratching in the leaves.

As the sun was setting (at 4pm) and as I walked back to the campground I felt good about how birdy Death Valley was but I was also a little sad I hadn’t seen the poster-bird, a Greater Roadrunner, when just at that moment one walked right out in front of me. It raised its tail up and slowly lowered it down then continued down the road.

It was the perfect ending.

I have to say, writing about our trip I can’t help but think about the recent fires in California. It’s heartbreaking news. I’ve made a donation to the San Francisco SPCA for their disaster relief efforts to save animals affected by the fires. Much love to everyone in the state, they’ve been through a lot.

XOXO and happy holidays,

Audrey