California- Half Moon Bay

Ahh, California. Home to sunshine, fog, the Golden-gate Bridge, and life-birds I can’t see anywhere else. I’ve wanted to try an out-of-state pelagic for a while, and when I heard Debi Shearwater (of Shearwater Journeys) was retiring at the end of this year, I had to sign up.

A destination-pelagic adds another element of risk, but I hoped I could push through the anxiety to see some birds. We landed early in San Francisco and wasted no time before going to Golden Gate Park. Part nature park and amusement-botanical garden-ice-cream-conservatory-museum, it’s crowded but the birds don’t seem to mind. Here I found a female Nuttall’s Woodpecker, my first lifer of the trip.

San Francisco parks are ruled by Pygmy Nuthatches, Red-shouldered Hawks, and Black Phoebes. It was nice to see these guys in their natural habitat.

I fought a mean water sprinkler for a potential lifer Allen’s Hummingbird, but they’re not a slam dunk I.D. since the habitat and timing overlaps with look-alike Rufous Hummingbirds. I got lucky with a tail shot, the best way to separate the two, but the hummingbird I saw has the diagnostic “notched” R2 feather diagnostic of Rufous (vs the narrow “lanceolate” shape of Allen’s). No lifer hummingbird this time.

We stayed in Pacifica since it was about equal distance from Half Moon Bay (pelagic #1) and Sausalito (pelagic #2). It also had a nice beach where we witnessed Heermann’s Gulls in their natural habitat.

After checking in to the Airbnb I went to bed early because I had to board a boat early the next morning.

Debi introduced herself, told us what to expect and we set off to sea shortly after.

I was nervous but the ocean and I kept our calm all day. It was a little too calm. The lack of wind made it foggier limiting viewing distance and many birds like Tufted Puffins just sat on the water.

Occasionally sea life just popped out of the water.

I was okay with that. Do you know who was not sitting on the water? Ashy Storm-Petrels! Foggy little life birds.

This was one of my main targets of the trip.

Ashy-fog Petrel

California seas did not disappoint.

The fog cleared up for a couple of jaeger fly-bys, we saw both Long-tailed and Pomarine Jaeger Parasitic Jaeger.

Black-footed Albatross sat nicely for us on the water.

Hello, friend

As did Red-necked Phalaropes, Sooty Shearwaters, Pink-footed Shearwaters, and Sabin’s Gulls.

Adult and juvenile

I got distant but diagnostic looks at Arctic Terns, my other lifer of the trip.

We saw Humpback Whales, Fur Seals, a Blue Shark, and occasionally a pod of Pacific White-sided Dolphins and Northern Right Whale Dolphins joined us at the bow of the boat.

I made it back to shore with two new birds, a whole lot of sea life, and no puking! And I was lucky enough to get to do it all over again the next day.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Outside my 5MR

Most of my birding lately has been defined by “inside my 5MR” and “outside my 5MR.’ The “5MR” is a 5 mile radius for birding around a set point (in my case my house), a trend Jen Sanford started to inspire more local birding, drive less and bird more. It’s really caught on. Of course some birds are too tempting and it’s okay to stray outside the circle sometimes.

Rules were meant to be broken for Sagebrush Sparrows that show up outside the radius! Colby Neuman has been a superstar in Multnomah County this year. He found this bird, as well as a Brewer’s Sparrow and two Vesper Sparrows at a small patch in Troutdale between a huge FedEx building and a newly constructed Amazon Warehouse. (Sigh).

Not long after, Ezra Cohen, a young birder found a Burrowing Owl trying to navigate its way around the Amazon facility and parking lot. It is thought that some eastern species were pushed farther west this year due to heavy snow levels. I missed the Brewer’s, Vesper’s, *and* Burrowing, but I managed to see one of (three!) Loggerhead Shrikes at Sandy River Delta Park.

I tried hard to find one in my 5MR (even tried to turn some scrub-jays into shrikes) but I couldn’t make it happen.

Another fun chase was to Blueberry Rd near Corvallis where a trio of amazing birds were hanging out. Together in a farm field were a Lapland Longspur.

A Snow Bunting.

Which thankfully was still there because this bright bird led me to find my lifer Chestnut-collared Longspur!

Basically invisible

I’m sure it’s gorgeous in breeding plumage, but here it blended in perfectly with the grass and stubble. I had more of a chance to see a Chestnut-collared Longspur in Arizona than in Oregon, but there I sat looking at one in Linn County. True story. And totally worth it.

So magical

Last week I took a trip outside my 5MR to Yamhill County when news of a Harris’s Sparrow popped up. I really like these sparrows and it is a (secret not so secret) dream of mine to someday see one in every county in Oregon (6 down, many more to go). Because Yamhill is notoriously a difficult birding county this was worth a try. Plus, I had only one bird species in the county (a 2018 Turkey Vulture flyover) so a Big Yamhill Day it was!

But the Harris’s Sparrow wasn’t cooperative. It had been seen the prior morning easily, but after a long wait at the appropriate spot, there was no sign of it.

Por qué?

A little bummed since I took the day off from work, I left to look at ducks. Because ducks don’t let you down. Not far down the road I found my FOY Greater Yellowlegs and a pair of Wilson’s Snipe!

Snipe make everything better. From here I checked out some Yamhill “hotspots” including Sheldon’s Marsh, inaccessible by foot, but Marsh Wren and Virginia Rail can be heard from the road. One of the more productive hotspots is South Side Park in Sheridan because you can scope the (restricted) nearby water treatment ponds. I saw my first of three Black Phoebes that I found in the county here.

Huddleston Fish Pond was a little less productive, it was covered in Yellow-rumped Warblers, and I spotted a pair of Osprey at the far end of the pond on a pretty big nest.

At this point it was late afternoon, big decision time. Do I continue to my final planned destination McGuire Reservoir, call it a day, or retry for the Harris’s? Questioning my life’s choices, I opted for the sparrow again, and I’m so glad I did!

It refused to come out of the shrubs, but it was there and singing!

It was the first time I’ve heard one sing, and I’m impressed that I noticed the tune coming out of the bushes because it’s much more complex than what I’ve heard from the Sibley App (my recordings in this eBird checklist).

Feeling like I could do no wrong after this, I headed up to McGuire Reservoir in the coast mountain range for some Yamhill County forest birds. Mind the deer crossing the road along the way.

The reservoir is a quiet beautiful spot, though it is mostly fenced off since it’s McMinneville’s water source.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t scope for birds from the road. I was hoping for a loon, but instead found the expected Hooded Mergansers.

And in the trees surrounding the reservoir I found common forest birds, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and I was especially pleased to find a Yamhill County Varied Thrush.

On the return drive out, I saw chickens on the side of the road. I thought “fancy Chukars?” No way!!! Mountain Quail!!

I’ve only heard MOUQ two years ago, never seen. I pulled over to get better pics but a truck sped by and the pair hurried down the hillside. It was still a fun sighting. And a good reminder that exploring rather than chasing can be even more rewarding sometimes.

I ended at 62 species for the day, including a couple of pretty darn good birds, bringing my Yamhill County total to 63. Glad I made the trip!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

5MR Snow Daze

It snowed in Portland! It wasn’t much. And it was gone in about 24-hours, but it was a fun time. Because the roads were slick, I didn’t go far. Perfect for 5-mile radius birding. I started at Whitaker Ponds Nature Park where I found a Great Egret nicely camouflaged against the snow.

Finally

I went along the loop trail passing Hooded Mergansers in the slough.

Then I heard a Black Phoebe calling so I ran over to check it out.

Nearby was a Yellow-rumped Warbler at the water’s edge.

I checked for Great Horned Owls and finally after going in circles around the cedars I found an angry face that made me back off pretty quickly.

So effective.

In the back ponds I snuck up on an egret and inadvertently flushed three Wilson’s Snipe! I returned later to the spot to find a couple of them “hiding” behind snow.

Nice try.
Not even close.

It was so nice finally seeing them without flushing them, they’re such interesting birds!

Back on the trail I noticed a handful of Dark-eyed Juncos feeding on grass seeds in the snow, so I sat down to watch for a while.

Minutes later a nicely streaky sparrow hopped right out.

Lincoln’s Sparrow! 5MR #101! An unexpected sparrow for this park, and a great surprise for me.

I went to Mt Tabor Park next that was surprisingly less snowy.

What it lacked in snow it made up for in American Robins.

There were hundreds feeding on the berries from the Hawthorn trees.

After Tabor I made it to Broughton Beach before sunset because I want to see all my 5MR hotspots in the snow.

I forgot to take a picture of the mountain

It was late in the day, freezing and windy but I couldn’t leave because there were at least a hundred gulls standing out at the sand spit. Many of them identifiable!

Western Gull (clean head, black primaries, dark gray back) (Glaucous-winged in foreground)
Iceland Gull (Thayer’s) (dark primaries, dark eye, splotchy head)
Herring Gull (dark primaries, light gray back, light eye) 5MR #102!
California Gull (behind sleepy Glaucous-winged) (black primaries, red eye ring, dark eye, red and black bill marks)
Ring-billed Gull (ringed bill, dreamy, handsome)

And it took me a while, but I finally identified one Mew Gull in the mix! 5MR #103!

Petite bill, smudgy neck, dark eye

The next day I wanted a new park. Something different, but still within 5 miles. I picked Kelly Butte Natural Area just on the SE edge of my radius. I’ve never gone mostly because I have to go past Mt Tabor to get there and it has a bad reputation. And a crazy history, it was once a prison, military bunker, and underground homeless camp.

But I picked the best day to go. The gate was closed, and the park was empty.

I didn’t see one other person while up there. It was lovely.

And I saw loads of birds. Mostly Steller’s Jays, Varied Thrush, a pair of Downy Woodpeckers, and a Hairy Woodpecker. But I heard the best bird before I saw it. Behind the noisy jays and hawks, in the distance I heard a “zuee-zuee-zuee” so I ran up the trail after the song until I eventually saw it.

Hutton’s Vireo! 5MR #104! Going to the scary park was worth it. As is exploring new places close to home. Since then the snow has turned into rain, rain, and more rain. Winter is over and has just begun again.

And the 5MR continues!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey