Tabor Times Two

Mt Tabor Park is the gift that keeps on giving. All that stuff about balance and taking it easy? The cake is a lie. One afternoon this week reports of a Blue-headed Vireo and Common Poorwill proved too irresistible. The day was sunny and full of possibility. But first I had to leave my yard, and I was delayed by a flurry of bird activity.

Three years (and 5 days) ago I had my first Blurry-rocket-smudge Wilson’s Warbler in the yard, and this April I had another!

Only moderately better focus but with more leaves.

Then I heard singing.

Ignore that label, and ignore the robin that chimes in at the 7 second mark. Because I heard what I thought was a Hutton’s Vireo, after seeing this bird.

Based on those dark feet, the eye-ring and bill, but as it turns out, this is an outlier Ruby-crowned Kinglet that lacks the yellow feet. But what it does have is the dark bar under the white wing bar that a Hutton’s Vireo never has.

The clincher

Then I found this terrible but diagnostic photo in the mix.

That prominent eye-ring, combined with the singing, this is a Cassin’s Vireo! A yard first almost mis-identified as another yard first. There’s still so much to learn.

But did you see the eagle?

Yes, yes I did. Then it was off to Tabor!

I looked for the vireo in the designated spot, then wandered around to undesignated spots, wondering where “the Cove” is? Not a vireo to be found anywhere. I realized it’s a little mad following a tiny migrating bird in a big park, but I thought there might be other fun distractions in the vicinity. Indeed there was.

I heard jays, robins, juncos, sparrows, siskins, flickers, all alarming over a ridge and I hurried over. I thought it had to be an owl (or a Gyrfalcon). I looked but didn’t find anything. Then I looked closer.

No freakin way!! A Northern Saw-whet Owl!! Not the owl I was expecting, but such a great surprise. The hummingbirds dive-bombed it, robins called loudly, as it tried to look invisible. I had a spectacular view of its backside from the flat part of the trail.

Such a great consolation prize, I was rejuvenated to stay and listen for a potential poorwill. It was still early, so I drove around to the other side of the park. When, again, I heard something intriguing uptrail. Where have I heard that shrieking sound before?

Oh yes, Great Horned Owl-ets!

At least there was all that if I missed the poorwill, but there was still time. At around 8:00pm I waited as the skies darkened and fewer and fewer people exercised past me. The reports had the bird at around 8:30 so I turned on my phone recorder then. Just in case. It was somewhat creepy but also peaceful waiting in the dark. And then at 8:42pm I heard it!

A soft, single, but unmistakeable, “poor-will”. I waited another 15 minutes but didn’t hear another peep. I left hoping I’d gotten something usable and couldn’t wait so on the way home in the car I blasted the recording and thought I heard something, that was finally confirmed once I got home.

The bird was first heard by Tom McNamara while he was walking his dog at the park. There are only two other records of a Common Poorwill at Tabor, one by the Hinkles in September 2010 and another by Chris Warren May 1, 2008. It was pretty exciting to help document this sighting.

What an unbelievable evening! I should probably take it easy now.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Backseat Birding

Oof. Ankle surgery has happened.

It’s been rough, but it’s getting better. The things that make it less rough are reading about birds, looking at birds outside the window, and thinking about birds. The yard birds have been okay, the best being a Barred Owl calling outside the week before surgery.

Other than that, besides a whole lot of juncos, we’ve seen our reliable and spunky Anna’s Hummingbirds, the occasional pair of Fox Sparrows, and a less than regular Townsend’s Warbler. Luckily there’s the (mostly-annoying) ever-amusing squirrels keeping us entertained.

Better than Netflix. Apparently I’ve picked a good time of year to have surgery because birding is slow. It’s the lull before spring. To liven things up, my friends Sarah and Max offered to take me on an outing to Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, a perfect destination for those with walking challenges because: auto tour! Never have I been so excited for a car ride.

They picked me up and off we went on a chilly, but gorgeous weekend morning.

Bright robin morning

There were American Coots, Green-winged Teal, Northern Pintail, and Tundra Swans flying in and out and foraging in the winter waters.

We saw Red-tailed Hawks, Bald Eagles, and a gorgeous adult Red-shouldered Hawk.

We got a look at Jen’s favorite albino nutria, that was happy and cozy – and fertile? Yuck. I mean, congratulations!

We listened to Marsh Wrens and hoped for Swamp Sparrows. We cheered when we looked overhead and saw FOY Tree Sparrows zooming around in the sky like maniacs.

FOY terrible swallow photo

At the end of the trail we scanned the grasses when we heard a Virginia Rail! (and got a quick glimpse of rail tail). Then Sarah spotted an American Bittern that I eventually saw.

So cool. And to think, I’d almost left my camera at home.

After completing the loop we stopped by the information kiosk and decided to go around again after the kind refuge volunteer gave us excellent directions to a well-camouflaged Great Horned Owl.

Just a coupe of tufts

And another bunch of birds we’d missed, Wilson’s Snipes!

What? Don’t see them? Neither did we until we looked a little closer.

So many sneaky snipes! Love those birds.

On the way out the second time around we also got a bonus banded Cackling Goose.

This little lady (K9*) was banded five years ago, 2,000 miles away in Bethel, Alaska. Good job, goose!

And good job us! We left the refuge 51 species richer and feeling very satisfied spending the morning with such great birds and great company.

Tweets and chirps,

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