2019: Resetting the tripometer

I ended 2018 having seen 325 species of birds in Oregon in a single year. It was fun, rewarding, and a ton of work. Something I’ll likely not do again for a while. This year it’s time to revisit old friends close to home. Inspired by Jen Sanford I’m resurrecting my 5MR and birding mostly within a “5-mile radius” from my house.

It’s a great way to explore underbirded local patches, reduce driving time, and expand on eBird’s citizen science database.

All those blue dots? Those are eBird hotspots within 5 miles of my house. Learn how to make a handy-dandy map like that here. I made a pretty solid 5MR effort in 2017 ending with 152 species so trying to match or surpass this might be a good goal this year. Certainly adding new species is worthwhile.

I started 2019 at the coast, so it took a day or two to get back into my radius. My first bird of the year was a Common Raven at Heceta Head Lighthouse. I was happy to start with something that meant I wasn’t at home.

Happy New Year!

I attempted to see a Sedge Wren in Florence (by guided access on McKenzie River Trust property). But it was so cold and windy this time, the wren never popped out or made any calls. That’ll teach me to bird outside my 5MR.

I quickly retreated back to the comfort of my circle. It was slow going at first. I focused on rare birds that might not be around very long. It took me four tries but I finally re-found Eric’s Eastern Bluebirds still visiting the Dharma Zen Rain Center.

Just as cute as I remember in 2018.

In addition to plain old 5MR fun, Jen’s adding monthly challenges to keep things interesting. January’s challenge is to fill in gaps of eBird hotspots. Since I’ve been working (and not on furlough), I’ve only gained two “points” so far by adding data to Holladay Park (hello Rock Pigeons and Red-tailed Hawks).

But the best was one day after work, I had about 45 minutes to bird before dark so I picked the closest hotspot from my house missing data that turned out to be a trail along the Columbia Slough. I didn’t expect to find much and since it was getting dark I didn’t even bring my camera. Big mistake! It turned out to be very birdy, I found 20 species including a continuing rare Blue-gray Gnatcatcher! Here’s my terrible iphone documentation:

That’ll teach me to leave my camera behind. Such a great find so close to home! Another 5MR highlight was a Northern Shrike sitting just at the edge of my circle at Vanport Wetlands. I’ll take it!

A big perk of 5MR birding is that many spots are bikeable. Inspired by my friend Eric (who’s doing his 5MR all by bike this year), I biked 2 miles to look for a reliable Black Phoebe visiting a local Radisson Hotel pond.

It worked! This was one big sunny success all around.

During the NE Portland CBC (Christmas Bird Count) Colby Neuman and team found a Palm Warbler that happened to be in my 5MR. This bird became my next target species. I made several attempts without success. After dipping one time, I went for a Eurasian Wigeon instead with better results.

That included a bonus sleepy 5MR Redhead.

On my fourth try (this time by bike!), I was extra determined to find the warbler. It had been seen in an industrial area with pockets of old pumpkin patches mixed in. But for a long time all I could find were Yellow-rumped Warblers enjoying the pumpkin bug-buffet.

A few other birders joined in the search and together we tromped around and spooked up a very lost Yellow Warbler.

That had zero desire to be seen.

Warbler of Nope

Better looks at Yellow Warblers coming this spring. We continued looking for the palm which would likely not be around then. Again we got close to a warbler flock when a Sharp-shinned Hawk spooked the whole lot. Foiled again!

Blurry Danger Hawk

By now I’d been searching for about three hours, but undeterred I kept going and after noon, despite wind and hawks, and light trespassing – ehem – I mean adventuring, the flock finally settled right in front of me and there was the Palm Warbler!

Yes!!!

County bird #216 and an excellent 5MR warbler. I worked pretty hard for this one.

Mudness

I was so pumped I took a tip from a friend and biked another 5 miles to Whitaker Ponds for a couple more 5MR birds.

An easy Spotted Sandpiper and a slightly less easy Great Horned Owl.

The best part? I bumped into my 5MR buddy Eric here and we were able to share some birds together. Including his FOY Bald Eagle.

We watched Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets terrorize the eagle before it flew off. And then we biked to celebratory pizza and beer.

2019 had a bumpy start but overall it’s going great. Three weeks in and I’ve biked 20 miles and seen 72 species so I think I’m doing all right.

Streeeetch

Keep reaching for those birds.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

The 300 Club

It’s been my goal to see 300 species this year in Oregon since I realized in September I’d already seen 292. If you’re thinking, “how the hell did she do that?” I wondered the same thing. My total Oregon life list is 337 and I had ankle surgery in February. But then I remembered birding like a maniac in January. I saw a Virginia’s Warbler, Northern Mockingbird, and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker all on January 1.

And my awesome friends took me to see a Sabine’s Gull in Salem while I was on crutches, and on a trip east for Wasco County birding. Post surgery there was that trip south to Summer Lake. Then local rarities showed up; Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Ruff, and Sharptailed Sandpiper. And now two pelagic trips. It all starts to add up. Maybe some day I’ll do a real Oregon Big Year, but for now unintentional is good. Birds have been my therapy this year while recovering. Apparently I’ve needed a lot of therapy!

Now on the mend I was also on a post-pelagic high Sunday sitting at 299 birds with an entire day to bird on the coast. What would be #300?! What was even left? Well, there’s a lot of grouse (of course); Ruffed Grouse, Mountain Quail, but I’d have a better shot at Pygmy Owl, Rock Sandpiper, or Tropical Kingbird. All excellent candidates.

It was too dark to hang around Newport when I got up, so instead I drove to Nestucca Bay NWR. Luckily the gate was open pre-dawn when I arrived. Still no geese yet in the lower farm fields, so I took the gravel road to the top. No grouse on the way (of course). I walked along Two Rivers Nature Trail for a short ways remembering not to overdo it.

It didn’t take long to find birds. There were Pacific Wren, kinglets, and a Northern Harrier but the best birds were a small group of Canada Jays!

Friends without borders.

Not a year bird, but a fun Tillamook County bird and a great species to find on the coast.

I decided to look for rockpipers next at Barview Jetty Park. But blowing wind and rain didn’t keep me there long. It was time to head inland to the Nehalem Wastewater Treatment Plant. The facilities are closed to birders on weekends, but pro-tip you can scope the ponds from the top of the driveway!

I picked up a couple more county birds here, including Ruddy Duck.

And an Eared Grebe.

In a far pond I saw a tiny gull with a black “ear” spot, a Bonaparte’s Gull!

Another solid county bird. From here I drove along random farm roads in the area hoping to see a kingbird reported several days prior. It started pouring rain when I spotted it. No way. Oregon year bird #300! Tropical Kingbird!

Not so tropical kingbird

It is a large flycatcher, with a big bill and yellow up to the throat. It lacks white outer tail feathers that Western Kingbirds have. Eventually I got a photo of this bird’s lemon belly.

So lemony

I parked off the road to watch it flycatch for a while letting the experience sink in. So much love. A pair of Black Phoebes were much less appreciative of the kingbird than I.

Occasionally the bird flew into the trees and disappeared which probably explains why I’ve missed them before.

They’re much easier to see when perched on wires.

The sun came out blinding any more good looks and backlighting the bird so I took a break back to the water treatment ponds. I didn’t make it far before a flock of geese stopped me.

Most were Cackling Geese, but I did see a few Greater White-fronted Geese mixed in.

And I noticed some of a the cacklers had a white neck-ring suggesting they might be of the (once endangered now recoveringAleutian variety.

But I’ve learned not all cacklers with white collars are Aleutian subspecies. The bird with the dark glossy breast is likely Ridgway’s and the right bird could be Aleutian but the head shape isn’t quite right (thanks to Dave Irons for his geesepertise). So kind of like gulls, there’s some geese that don’t fit neatly into categories. Cackling sp. it is.

Back at the ponds there were even fewer birds than before probably due to the pair of Bald Eagles in the trees above. So I took a victory lap back to the kingbird to see if it was in better light but I wasn’t able to refind it. So long #300 be well.

I started home and met up with Sarah and Max along the way for victory beers and pizza and Sarah gave me the best gift!

Cheers to 300 amazing Oregon birds!

Tweets and chirps,

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