Fall Mountain Fire Lookout

Staying in a fire lookout is as cool as it sounds. Several lookouts in Oregon are available for rent but are incredibly popular and hard to get into. Tomas and I were lucky enough to snag his coworker’s reservation for Fall Mountain Fire Lookout when he couldn’t go. We happily drove 5 hours east to the Malheur National forest to stay for two nights.

The views were stunning. And the lookout was fully equipped with a stove, fridge, and even a heater.

What more could you ask for?

The surrounding forest was equipped with birds. Regulars were a pair of Mountain Bluebirds.

That would sometimes pick bugs out of the fire pit. We didn’t make a fire so it was okay.

One of the first birds I saw were Cassin’s Finch, one a juvenile begging for food.

Gross-cool.

It took me forever to I.D. this Dusky Flycatcher as it flicked it’s long tail, and called Chirrit, brrk, chirreet. Not the easiest flycatcher to I.D. but I powered through.

Luckily, there were easier birds, like this Green-tailed Towhee.

Songsters included a Townsend’s Warbler that I never did see, and Yellow-rumped Warblers that were much more conspicuous.

A Hermit Thrush made a brief appearance.

One morning I drove to a burn location to see if I could find some woodpeckers. I found three (!) White-headed Woodpeckers.

Two Black-backed Woodpeckers.

And a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers.

At the burn location was also House Wren feeding young, Chipping Sparrows, Dark-eyed Junco, White-breasted Nuthatch, and a surprise pair of Rufous Hummingbirds.

When it warmed up in the afternoons, I returned to the lookout where Tomas and I would lay in hammocks in the breeze.

It was pretty relaxing, and I could watch birds at the same time, like this pair of Western Tanager.

In the evenings, from the deck we watched Common Nighthawks soar in the sky.

It really was a spectacular show. And even better watching from eye-level.

Despite the distance getting to the lookout, the obnoxious motorcyclists that couldn’t read the “Do Not Disturb the Guests” sign, and those stairs that were scary as hell, it was all totally worth it for the experience.

Especially worth it for the sunsets from bed. Gorgeous stuff!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Eastern Oregon – Day 1

Over Memorial Day weekend Tomas and I decided on a camping trip. It was time to go east. The Put an Owl on it Birdathon team wasn’t happening this year (boo), but I still wanted to find Great Gray Owls. We were on our own. That was until I found out Scott Carpenter, owler-photographer extraordinaire would also be in the area. My odds of finding owls skyrocketed.

Thursday after work, Tomas and I drove four hours to a random area in the Umatilla National Forest. We weren’t sure where we’d end up, but I’ve learned to trust Tomas’s instincts that we’ll find dispersed camping options. Even in the dark. It works every time because I wake up in some of the most amazing places.

Epic. Once daylight broke we geared up and set out looking for owls. We drove all over the place, I thought without a doubt I’d remember where that drainage was from last year. But after more than an hour of looking, I conceded that I didn’t remember. Damn. But then I remembered I’d taken notes from last year and thanks to cell coverage, I found the deets!

This was it, I remembered that hill! And those trees. I told Tomas this feels right. I think we sat on that log and watched them. They could be anywhere in here. Then I turned around. Holy shit.

A Great Gray Owl! Exactly where it was supposed to be.

How could you miss that? I was stoked. This was Tomas’s first GGOW and I’d found it! I could relax then. And obsess over Pygmy Nuthatch nests.

They are so small and so cute.

Not to be confused with the other nuthatch in the area, White-breasted Nuthatch.

I also found one Lewis’s Woodpecker, unusual since they’re social and often found lose in groups.

And a worried-looking little House Wren.

We checked back on the owl, it was sleeping and not going anywhere so we decided to travel to a nearby park, Red Bridge State Wayside State Park. It’s one of the few places in Oregon to find Gray Catbirds. We’d tried last year on the Birdathon and missed out, but this time, Tomas and I got lucky. Meow.

Slinking around in the shrubs, mewing and chirping exactly where it should be. Such a cool bird to find in Oregon! We found a few other birds at the park, including Yellow Warbler, Lazuli Bunting, and Western Tanager.

And we even found a Spotted Sandpiper on the river bank.

Late afternoon approached and we thought it best to get back to the owls. We returned to find the adult in the same spot where we’d left it. We looked around but had no luck finding any owlets. I started to get nervous, we should at least have heard begging cries by now. Where were the babies?

That was when I got a text from Scott. Two photogenic babies on the ground. What?! We’re on our way. We navigated to the location just in time.

AYFKM? It doesn’t get much better than that. But then it did. The female hooted low and constant and the male flew in for a prey exchange. The male hunts while the female looks after the little ones.

He then left to find more food while she swooped down to feed her baby owl.

After, she preened the little fella.

It was the sweetest. We watched another food exchange, another feeding, and then someone spotted a Black-backed Woodpecker on the scene.

I briefly stopped looking at the owls to check out this awesome lifer woodpecker! Quite a treat. It got late and we knew we’d have to return back to our camp soon. On the way out, we were deterred again when we noticed the first owlet attempting to climb a tree.

It’s such a rare sight in the woods, so we sat down to enjoy. Millions of years of evolution at work. The owlets find a leaning tree and use their large hooked beak and sharp talons to slowly work their way upward.

It was sometimes painful to watch. The owl would make it up a few feet, then fall back down only to have to start again. We left when the owl plopped down on the ground a final time. He’ll get there eventually.

The owl may not have gotten very far, but I was high above the clouds.

Day one of our camping trip came to a close as we listened to coyotes howl in the distance. Fun times!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey