The Wallowas

According to Travel Oregon there are 7 Wonders of Oregon and before last week I’d seen all of them except the Wallowas. This was also one of the last two counties in Oregon I hadn’t birded before (Malheur County is the other). This is why I love birding, it inspires me to go places I’ve not gone before. Sometimes to a landfill or sewage treatment plant, but other times to one of those “pinch me” places like the Wallowas.

Tomas and I stayed in a cozy Airbnb (walking distance to Sugar Time Bakery! and a block from Terminal Gravity Brewery) in Enterprise for three nights, and we spent Christmas Eve in The Landing Hotel in LaGrande. It made for the perfect getaway. Tomas painted and studied, while I birded.

This corner of Oregon is home to a few specialty species not easily found elsewhere and I hoped to run into a few of them. Each morning I had to choose between forest birds in the snowy mountain foothills.

Or driving farm roads looking for birds in the countryside.

Tough choices. I ended up making four trips to McCully Creek in the mountains hoping for grouse but I had better luck finding woodpeckers like this Hairy Woodpecker.

And this punky Pileated Woodpecker.

There were long birdless stretches in the countryside but that is part of the gamble, there can be absolutely nothing or a bird will show up that you’ll never see again in your life. It was early in the season for rarities and a low-snow year, but I managed to find a single Gray-crowned Rosy Finch perched on a metal barn roof!

In snowier times there can be flocks of 300-500 rosy finches. I was stoked to find just one (state year bird #320!).

Other good birds in the country were Rough-legged Hawks.

And Northern Shrikes like this one that accidentally flew closer for crushing looks.

In every barn was a Great Horned Owl keeping watch.

I had a tip from a friend to check out the Wallowa Fish Hatchery in Enterprise that had a few nice surprises like my county Belted Kingfisher.

A Townsend’s Solitaire drinking and bathing in the fresh hatchery water.

And a Great Horned Owl tucked into the branches along the nature trail.

Back on the country roads one late afternoon as I scanned the fields, I saw a pile of rocks start moving.

Gray Partridges!!! A life bird! And one of my target species of the Wallowas (#321!). I was giddy. I watched for a while as the chubsters used their heads to dig through the snow. They were the perfect Christmas presents.

Another time at McCully Creek I bumped into Nolan Clements, a birder who was in the area participating in a Wallowa CBC. This turned out to be the best luck because Nolan grew up in LaGrande and he knows where all the good birds are.

The good birds are over here

We met up the next day to look for Harris’s Sparrows (which we dipped on) and American Tree Sparrows which we found! #322!

This is another NE Oregon target bird I’d hoped to find. I haven’t seen a Tree Sparrow since my trip to Montana in 2015!

In the afternoon we made a stop at The Bobolink, a beer-birding-disc golf shop owned and run by a birder friend of ours, Trent Bray.

We picked out a couple of specialty beers then Trent gave us a tip about Bohemian Waxwings in town. WHAT. These weren’t even on my radar, but they were now. We set off driving in circles around town getting the tour of LaGrande while checking the fruit trees and chasing waxwings.

We had a Cooper’s Hawk flyover, Nolan heard a Townsend’s Solitaire, and we passed a gang of decked out Wild Turkeys.

Eventually we caught up with the waxwings perched high in Poplar trees. Scanning though, Nolan spotted one Bohemian Waxwing! #323!

They’re slightly larger than Cedar Waxwings, darker gray underneath, and they have cinnamon-colored undertail coverts. Thanks to Nolan for helping us find such great birds and saving us time before our drive home.

Tomas and I spent the next morning looking for Great Gray Owls that we could not find, but it was a nice walk in the snow anyhow before our long way back home.

Tweets and chirps and Happy New Year!

Audrey

Chasing a Dickcissel

Last week my friend Sarah and I took a risk to chase a rare (to Oregon) bird called a Dickcissel. Chasing birds is inherently risky, they can fly, they can hide, they can be eaten, but this bird has an added element of risk. It is currently hanging around the Philomath Sewage Ponds (aka Philomath Poo Ponds aka PPP) and a permit is required for public entry. It’s relatively easy to get one, it just takes a trip to the Philomath Public Works Department during business hours (8am-4:30pm M-F).

They want visitors to understand the safety rules and to avoid times when the police are target shooting nearby. Fair enough. I’d been once before on a weekend before I knew about the permit process and I vowed never again without because I don’t want to be the birder who ruins it for everyone. It is a great privilege to enter the poo ponds.

Golden ticket

We left early on Friday and got to the Public Works office just after 8am. We were both worried about timing since there was only one report of the bird the day prior and it was seen at 7:25am for “5ish minutes and not seen again.” Permit in hand we pulled up to the location to see two women waving enthusiastically, it must still be here! We hurried over, and they said “it was just there” flying around the tops of blackberry. We scanned intensely but didn’t see it. Had we missed the 5 minute window?

Then I looked to another tree and saw it! Dickcissel!

This was a lifer for me (#491) and a county bird for Sarah. She’d seen one at Bayocean Spit near Tillamook three years ago in the pouring rain at the end of November. So this was a much nicer look. We drooled and watched it preen in good light.

By now we could let some other birds in our sights, a White-throated Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, and a Black Phoebe that called continuously behind us.

All of a sudden the birds scattered – accipiter alert!

A Sharp-shinned Hawk flew in causing chaos.

We watched until the hawk was gone and the birds were back and comfortable. Whew! It was a good time to leave and lazily count ducks on the way out. It was such a relief the chase worked out!

The next plan was to drive Sarah to her parent’s house in Pacific City. We birded along the way stopping in Newport for a chance at a Tropical Kingbird and a greater chance at Palm Warbler. We met up with my dad since he lives there now. Together we walked along the trail tripping over Yellow-rumped Warblers until Sarah spotted a Palm Warbler chased by YEWAs. On the way back we saw a second Palm Warbler with an injured foot but it looked like it was catching bugs and feeding okay.

We worked on our combo-birds on the way out.

Gull sp., Great Egret, Belted Kingfisher, Black Turnstone

We bid my dad farewell and continued on to Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge, one of six NWRs that make up the Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex. It is a sanctuary for wintering geese, including the only coastal wintering population of Dusky Canada Geese and the small population of Semidi Islands Aleutian Cackling Geese.

Sad for us we saw no geese this day since it’s been so dry leaving no water in the fields. Instead we drove to the upland meadows where we found Western Meadowlark, kinglets, and a Northern Harrier hunting over the fields.

It was hard to leave this magical place.

But there was a sunset and dinner waiting for us at Sarah’s parent’s house.

The next morning after having homemade waffles for breakfast (because these people know how to live), Sarah and her husband Max and I explored a farm road called Old Woods Rd in hopes of a Tropical Kingbird or anything else we could find. The best birds turned out to be right at the beginning, a pair of Rough-legged Hawks.

Always inspect those lumps in fields more closely.

Max spotted the second bird hover-hunting in the distance across the highway.

After finding the hawks and all the Black Phoebes we could, we spotted the best mammal at the end of the road, a hunting coyote!

We returned to the house said our goodbyes and I continued north towards home while still looking for kingbirds (which would be state bird #297). There were no OBOL reports so it was FYOB (find your own bird) day. I opted for Goodspeed Rd in Tillamook. Less than a mile down the road this bird stopped me in my tracks.

That shape. That face. This bird broke my brain in a really good way. I tried to turn it into a Northern Mockingbird, which would be a somewhat unusual but expected surprise bird on the coast, but it wasn’t right.

Those streaks. That bright eye. I realized this bird-out-of-context looked like a thrasher! What the what? What was it doing in blackberry brambles near the coast?

Thankfully, while I sat in my car scratching my head it offered excellent looks.

Based on location I narrowed it down to Brown Thrasher or Sage Thrasher. This bird wasn’t brown, and didn’t have the extended long curved bill of a Brown Thrasher.

That grey back, smudged cheek, streaky breast, and pale eye, this is a Sage Thrasher! Such a fun bird to find here, and on my own no less (FMOB!), and according to eBird, it’s a first for Tillamook County. I’d seen them earlier this year east of the Cascades at Summer Lake in sage country where they’re supposed to be.

Now the search continues for a few more state year birds. My upcoming pelagic trip  might help. And there’s still time to find a kingbird!

Stay tuned.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Bird Murals of Portland

One thing I really appreciate about Portland is the love of art. It’s hard to turn a street corner without bumping into a sculpture, installation, yarn bomb, or mural. It sparks conversation and brightens up this notoriously rainy town.

On my walk to work. (NE Regents/Ridgewood, Artist: Sharyn Smith)

I’m especially delighted to see so many birds in the designs. It shows just how integrated they are in our culture and lives.

On way to happy hour at NEPO42 (NE 42nd/Emerson, Artist: L.P. and/or J.R.)

Even at the schools. On my bus route home I was surprised to see a Belted Kingfisher among the critter paintings outside Access Academy at NE 57th/Thompson.

And this gem is located on the rec field at Buckman Elementary School in SE Portland.

My elementary school was not nearly that rad.

The artists are George Hambov aka Apeseven, based in Sydney Australia and “Klutch,” a Portland based artist. Some of my favorite bird murals in Portland are collaboration pieces by these two accomplished artists. A couple more:

Carpark of Anatomy Tattoo in Sullivan’s Gulch neighborhood

At a printshop in N Portland, St Johns Neighborhood

I want this painted on all of my doors.

It’s stunning and hard to pick a favorite. A portion of another goodie by Apeseven and Jeremy Nichols aka PlasticBirdie:

If I’m going to live in a concrete jungle of a city surrounded by buildings, I want those buildings covered in street art.

Here’s a Bald Eagle piece by Native American artist Yatika Fields.

SE 3rd/Morrison

This mural at SE Stark/28th on Bonfire Lounge first caught my eye because of the dove.

The image has a much deeper meaning. Releasing the ivory dove, a symbol of love, peace, and messengers, is Michael Brown, the unarmed African American teen who was shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri, that sparked riots and protest against violence and systemic racism toward black people.

Painted by Portland local, Ashley Montague, the mural also sparked controversy from some in the Portland community with concerns of a portrayal of violence. The original work (that included SWAT police pointing guns at Brown) has been censored, as seen in my photo, and the entire mural will eventually be completely covered according to the building owner. 

Ashley Montague is also responsible for painting an incredibly stunning mural on the side of Lowbrow Lounge in downtown Portland.

It’s hard to capture in a photo how awesome it is. A close-up of the owl.

With that backdrop of warm, rich fall colors? Wonderful.

This also reminds me of the connection between birds and bars in this town. White Owl Social Club, The Raven, Swift Lounge, Perch Tavern, White Eagle Saloon, Migration Brewing. But birds and bars is an entirely different post.

Swift Lounge mural by Ashley Montague

There are many more. I bump into new ones almost every day. Like this adorable “Fight For Your Dreams” piece painted by Maryanna Hoggott aka Leetlewolf.

A look at the brave bird in daylight.

And here’s another great one I discovered at The Lumberyard painted by Mr. Never Satisfied and PlasticBirdie.

I can also appreciate the native bird murals. Like this one on PDX Automotive painted by Kenny Spurlock (who sadly died August of 2014). The mural even includes a Wilson’s Warbler, a nice detail.

And this wouldn’t be a bird mural post without the Portland Memorial Mausoleum Mural at Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge. It is one of the largest hand-painted murals in the nation designed by Dan Cohen of ArtFX Murals and Shane Bennett (who died in a snowmobile accident Mar 2009). His contributions will forever be cherished by the community.

The details of the mural stand out when hiking the Oaks Bottom Loop Trail. In one shady nook I spotted a Great Horned Owl.

And who could miss the 70-ft Great Blue Heron.

On a clear day Mt St. Helens peeks out just past the mural as seen from the upper Bluff Trail. This painting transformed the once dull building into a much more appealing landscape.

One final piece I’d like to mention is a downtown mural, “Out of the Shade.”

Painted by local artists Rather Severe (Jon Stommel & Travis Czekalski) and Blaine Fontana, this thoughtful work is part of a Find Your Words project by Kaiser Permanente to fight depression stigma.

If you’re feeling down look around and maybe some work of art will lift you up. All these murals make me happy and smile as I pass them by providing much needed uplift in these trying times. They brighten my days.

Portland is very lucky. Many thanks to the Portland Street Art Alliance, Forest For The Trees, and especially the many talented artists. Your work does not go by unnoticed.

N Albina/Blandena, Artist: Ashley Montague

For the love of art.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

All of my mural photos can be found in my Flickr album.

[It is of the utmost importance to give credit where credit is due. Notice something I missed? don’t hesitate to contact. Thanks.]