Eider to Gyrfalcon in a Day

Last week Jen invited me on a mid-week coast trip to chase rarities. I was thrilled to skip work for a day-trip with the potential for an Eider-Brambling-Costa’s-Thrasher combo.

Rarity rainbow

We left at 4am, but that was fine because we took naps in the car while Ralph did most of the driving. Good boy, Ralph.

Along the way we filled up on coffee, pastries, and new county birds – Wild Turkeys! Until we made it to Fossil Point at low tide just as planned. Jen set the scope up and almost immediately found the King Eider. 20 minutes later scanning through wafts of sea ducks I also had the eider!

Scan, scan, scan – King Eider!

Not a bad looking sea duck. Common in the arctic, they rarely visit south of Alaska. Jen also pointed out a Long-tailed Duck in the crowd which was another first for me. The tide started coming in reminding us we’d better move on but it was hard to leave such a large flock of good birds.

On route to our next destination we made a quick stop at Oregon Dunes Recreation Area to let the dogs out and stretch our legs.

A nice surprise we found creeping in the bushes by the restrooms was a Wrentit! A first for me in Oregon! I haven’t seen one of these cute charismatic birds since my trip to California.

An hour north and an hour and a half later the Brambling was a no-show no thanks to the Peregrine and Cooper’s Hawk that jetted in and out of the neighborhood. It was pretty quiet aside from the occasional Dark-eyed Junco and Fox Sparrow.

Not so pretty perch for a pretty bird

Reluctantly, we accepted defeat and left for the next hour drive north to look for a visiting Costa’s Hummingbird. Just as we turned out of the neighborhood though a FOY Turkey Vulture flew right over the car that made defeat feel so much better. Nothing like a migrating pick-me-up.

A quick stop at Bob Creek Wayside along the way also helped.

Here we found Black Turnstones.

Black Oystercatchers, Surf Scoters, and another new bird for me the Surfbird!

I’m not sure how this bird has flown under my radar thus far but I was pleasantly surprised when I realized.

There were also plenty of gulls at this stop.

Some Herring, mostly California

California Gull

Back on track we made it to the Costa’s site in a neighborhood in Newport, but unfortunately we found out the hummer was visiting less reliably.

Right place, wrong time

The gracious homeowner let us watch the feeder anyways where we did see “Piglet” a wintering Orange-crowned Warbler that has a habit of feeding at the hummingbird feeder. We also saw a Hairy Woodpecker, more Fox Sparrows, and a glimpse of a White-throated Sparrow. But no Costa’s.

While in Newport we decided to check out the herring spawning event in Yaquina Bay where we watched loads of sea lions and birds drunk on fish.

Red-necked Grebe

Pelagic Cormorant

Looking closer at my photos I also found a Long-tailed Duck in the long line of sea birds that were far in the distance.

Barely diagnostic photo

It was late afternoon at this point and we realized we had a big decision to make. The Brown Thrasher was the last target species we’d originally anticipated, but there was also a report of a Gyrfalcon an hour and a half east near Eugene that was now tempting us. Which rare bird to chase next?? Birder problems.

Since it would be a life bird for both of us and a rarer opportunity we opted for the Gyrfalcon. Unlike that time I almost saw a Gyrflacon, with about an hour of sunlight left, we found the bird.

Is something on fire? “Our birding skills!” (- Jen)

Along with two other birders we watched and admired this amazing creature from afar (maybe silently wishing it was closer). It turned around and re-positioned itself and I noticed that Gyrfalcons wear pantaloons.

Or at least the feathered legs make it look that way. And not obvious in my photos, but Gyrfalcons are the largest falcons in the world. And seeing one was a great way to end an amazing birding trip. We watched until it flew off into the sunset.

Not a bad day for an Eider-Long-tailed-Surfbird-Gyrfalcon combo!

Of course I enjoyed all the birds we saw. Even the Mallards.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Bike Touring San Juan Island

Lopez Island was a good warm-up for San Juan, because our next camping destination, San Juan County Park, is a very hilly 10 miles from the ferry drop-off at Friday Harbor. There was also heavier traffic, but the strawberry house along the way made up for any hardship.

Strawberry House

We eventually made it to the campground and set up.

Hiker Biker

The views are incredible. The shared campsites on the other hand are pretty tight with zero privacy and no hammock trees. Two things I normally look for in a campsite.

But the whales made up for any discomfort.

Orcas

Orcas

That was amazing. We watched at least four Orca pods breach, splash, and swim by just as the sun set. I could have gone home happy then. But it was only day 3.

There were other perks at the park, including a small island reserve just off-shore with Black Oystercatchers.

Black Oystercatcher

And the noisy Pileated Woodpecker in the old apple tree.

Pileated Woodpecker

While on this island, we also made a point to bike to Lime Kiln State Park because it is “considered one of the best places in the world to view whales from a land-based facility.” Even though that meant riding 6 more miles of hills.

We found a lighthouse and White-crowned Sparrows, but no whales this time.

Lighthouse

White-crowned Sparrow

I refused to bike back over the hills, so instead we went 11 miles farther south toward San Juan Island National Historical Park and South Beach.

Leaving Lime Kiln

It was a pretty pleasant bike ride.

Road to South Beach

Plus, we saw more whales from South Beach, and a lovely trio of Harlequin Duck.

Harlequin Duck

At this point, I figured we may as well bike another 8 miles to Friday Harbor. Easy peasy. Because then in Friday Harbor, we can take the bus (!) with our bikes back to Roche Harbor, check out the Sculpture Park and come full circle. Gotta love public transit.

Bus

Roche Harbor has great shops and ice cream, but the best thing about this fancy marina destination is the public showers. No joke. Private, clean (cost a handful of quarters). And after 3 days of bike-camping we really needed one. It was rejuvenating as we mentally prepared to bike the 7.5 miles back to San Juan County Park.

On the way out we visited the sculpture park where I learned something new about Hooded Mergansers.

Hooded Merganser

Immature males have all black bills and bold yellow eyes.

Hooded Merganser

Female on the right below for comparison (yellow bill, dark eyes).

Hooded Merganser

It gave me food for thought as we meandered our way back to the campground. No whale sightings that final night, but I did get a terribly backlit view of a bird I’d hoped to see at some point on the trip, a Rhinoceros Auklet! Trust me.

Rhinoceros Auklet

Later that night the skies opened up and it poured rain through morning. With no bus until noon and an early ferry to catch, we hesitantly packed up a wet camp then slogged through the 10 miles back to Friday Harbor.

We had another island to get to and hopefully more birds to see on Orcas Island!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Bird Eat Bird World

I originally scheduled the day after my Birdathon trip as a rest day. But the promising weather and my large cup of coffee made me to drive 3 hours southwest to Yaquina Head Lighthouse on the Oregon coast instead.

There were recent reports of an active Peregrine Falcon nest and it was just too tempting to resist.

Yaquina Bay Lighthouse

I arrived at the lighthouse natural area, but not knowing exactly where the nest was, I looked around and found a surprising scene.

Masacre

It was a massacre. Bald Eagles, followed by scavenging Western Gulls had decimated what looked like hundreds of Common Murre eggs.

Evidence

Evidence

Partners in crime

Partners in crime

This one had a taste for crow

This one had a taste for crow

Bald Eagle

One of these birds is not like the other

One of these birds is not like the other

Nature can be brutal. Volunteers at the lighthouse have U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service pamphlets for the visiting public that explain the phenomenon further.

Pamphlet

Adapting Anew to an Old Foe: Recently, Bald Eagle have moved into places they haven’t been seen in years. Common Murre in these areas have little experience with Bald Eagle predation and often flee when eagles approach. Some murres are readapting to this historic predator. Instead of abandoning their nests they sit tight and wait for the danger to pass.”

Unfortunately for the murres, the eagles got the upper hand this day. This article is also a great read about the recent rebalancing.

It was hopeful to see some rocks still piled with healthy and live Common Murre.

Common Murre

Still no signs of the peregrines, so I followed the stairs down to the tidal pools to visit Harlequin Ducks and Black Oystercatcher.

Harlequin Duck

Black Oystercatcher

I looked to my right to see a pair of Pelagic Cormorant acting lovey dovey on their nest.

Pelagic Cormorant

Pelagic Cormorant

Aw, so sweet. And here’s a Western Gull for good measure.

Western Gull

At this point I realized the peregrine nest was possibly on the cliff-face near the visitor center. Indeed it was. As I drove closer, I saw the group of cameras, tripods, and long lenses and knew I had found the right place.

Peregrine nestlings

Yep. Peregrine Falcon chicks!

Peregrine family

Ferociously sweet. And the Common Murres aren’t the only ones tormented by eagles. So too was this brave falcon parent.

Bald Eagle and Peregrine Falcon

With prey gripped in her talons she flew toward her nest, when suddenly three juvenile Bald Eagles swarmed her and she dropped the prey in the parking lot. Used to the drama, a Yaquina Head Interpretive center employee promptly came outside to escort the spectators to look at the dropped meal before barricading it off.

Falcon food- any guesses?

Falcon food- any guesses?

Wildlife protection

For the next hour the falcon zoomed back and forth in the sky defending her territory from eagles and now Turkey Vultures that entered the scene thanks to the dropped goodies.

Turkey Vulture

Being a Peregrine parent is hard work.

Peregrine Falcon

Things quieted down before a second, male falcon (according to the crowd), brought in fresh prey and the pair switched off.

Peregrine Falcon

Good bird.

The latest word on the fledglings:

Be brave little murres, the peregrines are coming!

Tweets and Chirps,

Audrey