Thankful for the good stuff

In these crazy times, I’m trying hard to focus on the good stuff. Like going outside and taking in the joys of nature. And birds.

Like the good bird that showed up for the first time on the Oregon coast last week. Found by John Gardiner and identified by Paul Sullivan, a sea duck normally found in northern Europe turned up in Lincoln City. This is only the second time this bird has been recorded in the United States (first in Crescent City, CA, 2015). This uncommon visitor is called a Common Scoter. See the map:

common-scoter_map

It’s pretty amazing this courageous (and/or incredibly lost) sea duck made it all the way to Oregon. What’s even more amazing is someone was able to identify it. Even still, I struggled with the decision to chase it. The bird showed up on a Sunday. The mental games started immediately. I weighed the pros and cons of taking off work, driving five hours round-trip, with the chance the bird would still be there.

I waited a day. The bird stayed. I waited another day while I read the glorious sightings and sat at work debating, and looking out the window at the sunshine. By Friday, the bird was reliably (!) still there and I couldn’t take it anymore. Seems so easy! So I skipped work last-minute, took the gamble, and headed to the coast.

I arrived at Mo’s bright and early.

Glaucous-winged Gull

Then I turned around and looked out to Siletz Bay where I saw the same thing many others did when first seeking the Code 5 rarity. A smattering of sleeping scoters.

Sleeping Scoter

Not the most exciting introduction to the rarest bird I’ve ever seen. I watched and waited at the dock with one local birder and another man who flew in from Minnesota to see this bird.

Not a rare bird

Not a rare bird

After a couple of hours waiting and nothing but many (albeit decent) gull pictures to show for it, I chanced leaving to get more coffee and to see if I could find a Red Phalarope or two.

I’d only seen them once before on my pukey-pelagic trip last October, and for some reason these birds that typically “migrate and winter in small flocks on open ocean” and are “rarely seen from land or at inland lake-shores and ponds,” have been spotted all along the coast and even farther inland in the valley. Even on golf courses and in parking lot puddles. It’s a phalarope-phenomenon.

Indeed I phound two at the South Jetty in Newport.

Red Phalarope

One turtling phalarope

And one that was downright perky

And one that was downright perky

So much smaller than a gull

So much smaller than a gull

They have coot-feet!

They have coot-feet!

Red Phalarope and the Yaquina Bay Bridge

Red Phalarope and the Yaquina Bay Bridge

After I had my phill of phalaropes (not phunny anymore?) and I got tired of laughing (and cringing) at the gulls stuffed with starfish…

Gull

Gah. I headed back north to the rare bird. The tide was up and so was the bird! And more birders had arrived on scene, including my friends, Sarah and Max, and another couple who’d driven down from Seattle.

Scotering

Collectively, we watched the Common Scoter feed near the rocks, and I was thankful for the shared scope views because it was still a pretty far vantage point.

Common Scoter

But it was awake! And identifiable! All dark black plumage, black knob at the base of the bill with a narrow orange patch in the center. Success! It was seen with its regular female friend, Black Scoter (pic below).

Common Scoter

And several other scoter species.

Scoter quad

Scoter Squad: Surf, Black, Common, and White-winged

Not sunny close-up views, but not a dip either. I watched until moderately satisfied before deciding to drive south to Yachats for another reported rare (for the area) bird, a White-winged Dove.

I thought it would be easy, but the only doves I could find were Eurasian-collared and Mourning. That is until Sarah and Max arrived! Good timing. Together we were able to come up with the target dove nestled in the shadowy limbs of a pine tree. Darker than the Eurasians, and with a long thin bill, it looked a bit ragged (but it had traveled from pretty far southeast).

White-winged Dove

With two rare birds under my belt, I was half tempted to drive another 2 hours for a Chestnut-sided Warbler in Eugene, but the winter skies turned darker and I decided to give the scoter a third try for better looks.

While driving back towards Siletz Bay along HWY 101, I spotted a large bird on the telephone lines.

Barred Owl

Hello Barred Owl!

Barred Owl

I quickly made a U-turn and pulled over then watched the owl hunt from the lines before it eventually flew down to some tree branches right next to the car.

Barred Owl

Seeing this owl was a nice surprise ending to my trip. The Common Scoter was still stubbornly far away, but I was thankful for all that I got.

Thankful for all the good stuff.

Tweets and thanks,

Audrey

Five out of six ain’t bad

It may have been pitch dark and stupid early (3:30 am!) Saturday, as I set off to meet my Put an Owl on It team for Audubon’s Birdathon fundraiser, but I could hardly contain my excitement. All. Day. Long. Owling!!!

Eight of us braved the pre-sunrise to post-sundown adventure, including our team leaders, Joe Liebezeit, Portland Audubon Avian Conservation Program Manager, and Rhett Wilkins, avid birder, knowledgeable owler, and talented bird photographer.

We eagerly piled in vehicles and started off, first looking for the Barn Owl.

Success!

Barn Owl

We searched for Northern Pygmy Owls next. We caught a glimpse of one in flight high in the canopy (success!), and heard others, but no photos this time. I recorded a clip of their “hollow toot” we heard here. I also gained a greater appreciation for my chance sighting of a Northern Pygmy Owl on day 1 of birding.

Next, we met up with accomplished nature photographer, birder, and owl-enthusiast, Scott Carpenter, who located a Great Horned Owl with two owlets for us. Success!

Great Horned Owl

I took these owlet pictures on a return visit the following day.

Great Horned Owlet

It’s a funny thing, when you get home and look at your owlet pics to find a third (adult) owl hiding in the photo that you didn’t notice on site. Sneaky ninja owls!

Great Horned Owlet

Following great horned, we looked for Western Screech Owl. Yet, again, success! I have never seen a screech owl before, and I barely saw this well-camouflaged one, until Rhett pointed it out not 15 feet from us. Stunning.

Western Screech Owl

We continued into the early evening to find Barred Owls. We found six rather cooperative owls, three adults and three owlets. Success!

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Barred Owlet

Barred Owlet

We observed an owlet clumsily attempt flight, watched adults hunt, and snapped photos of poised individuals. We spent quality time watching these impressive, stately, and sometimes comical creatures until just after sunset (owlet video here).

And the fun wasn’t over yet. We still had one species left to find, the Northern Saw-whet Owl. Even after 12+ hours of birding, the team was committed and determined to accomplish this task. We placed ourselves at the viewing site and waited. Long after sunset and coyotes drunken yips and hollers, the full moon rose and we waited. Focused, quiet, and ready.

But, the Saw Whet Owl wasn’t ready for us, and by 9:30 pm, we reluctantly called it a night.

Even without the Saw-whet, witnessing 5 owl species, and seeing/hearing over 14 individuals in one day, is a major hooting success! Plus, I met some outstanding fellow birders and friends.

Much love for this team

I am forever grateful to Audubon for this unique opportunity and to the folks I’ve met who share this passion. Hopefully, we’ve contributed in some way to the future success of our stealthy, magnificent, feathered friends and helped spread the word about Audubon’s good work. If you feel the twinkle of inspiration, make a difference here. Thank you!

More pictures from the trip here!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey