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

Curry County

I’d survived a pelagic trip and a night in the dorms. I was five hours from home and ready for my next adventure. It was the perfect time to visit Curry County, one of the counties in Oregon I’d never previously birded in.

This is my favorite kind of birding. New county, all new birds, no schedule and completely on my own agenda. I could sit for hours looking for sparrows if I wanted to. And of course I did want to. There were reports of Clay-colored Sparrows in the area so I had good reason. I spent a lot of time at Arizona Beach State Recreation Site.

My favorite sighting started with a soft warbling song I heard through the trees and brush. I thought it might be a catbird, but eventually I caught sight of the little songster.

An American Dipper! There was only a tiny portion of stream flowing and it was right above it singing its little heart out. I may have melted.

Back at the pond across the highway there were two Blue-winged Teal best identified as they’re flying away.

And many unmistakable Black Phoebe.

I got a good look at this young Red-shouldered Hawk looking for a meal.

And on the way out I saw a HUGE flock of California Quail.

“Chicaaaaagoooooo!”

I saw a few sparrows.

Golden, golden, song, white-crowned, golden

But it took a many tries to get this blurry photo of a Chipping Sparrow.

To find shorebirds it was suggested I try out Floras Lake, especially at the end of the trail by Floras Creek through the grassy dunes.

It was beautiful. But unfortunately both times I visited winds were blowing 20+mph.

Reenactment at Cape Blanco State Park

Not ideal shorebirding conditions. So instead I drove farther south to Gold Beach “where the Pacific meets the Rogue” and where I met a few birds like this bright Yellow Warbler.

Still no shorebirds or terns I could find, but eventually I spotted a sparrow flock that looked interesting. Indeed.

Clay-colored Sparrow!

It looks similar to Chipping Sparrows but has pale lores and is more buffy. They’re an unusual treat to see in Oregon and I was thrilled to see this one.

Back in Port Orford I stayed at the Castaway By the Sea Motel that has thin walls but excellent views.

In the bay below I found Common Murre, a few gulls, and three types of loons that I’ve included all together in one convenient photo.

The largest-billed loon on far left is a Common Loon, the one in the middle with the chin strap is a Pacific Loon, and on far right with the upturned bill is a Red-throated Loon (not to scale). If only they would always swim together like this.

Such good times. I left Curry County having seen 70 species! On the way home I stopped at Cape Arago State Park in Coos County for Harlequin Ducks.

And I re-visited Bandon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge for White-tailed Kites that were missed during the shorebird festival. They were very distant but there were two!

Bringing me to 101 species in Coos County. Not bad. And because there are a lot of places to stop in the four hours from before home, I decided to stick with the shorebird theme and visit the American Avocet at Finley National Wildlife Refuge.

If this isn’t a shorebird festival, I don’t know what is.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Puffins to Owls w/ Dad

Last week my dad visited from Florida to check out some apartments on the Oregon coast. He’s considering trading his eastern birds for western. Crazy, but true. We spent three nights between Newport and Seaside. My dad likes birds and packed his binoculars so our agenda was set.

We started at Beaver Creek Natural Area, one of my new favorite places since I saw my Oregon Black-and-White Warbler and my lifer Ruff here back in January. We drove past the wetlands and stopped for a Green Heron, followed by Virginia Rails out in the open (!) of course only for a split second. I thought maybe we could hear the Gray Catbird that’d been recently sighted (and is possibly nesting here) but no luck.

Green Heron and Barn Swallows

True to form, the Oregon coast was foggy, misty and cool and pretty much stayed that way the whole time. We visited the feeders at Beaver Creek next and saw Anna’s Hummingbird and Rufous Hummingbird. In that order.

Sometimes the feeders got a bit crowded.

Song Sparrow, American Goldfinch, Purple Finch Black-headed Grosbeak

Onward we phished up some curious warblers including Orange-crowned Warblers and Wilson’s Warblers.

In the afternoon we stopped by the Peregrine Falcon nest at Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area and it did not disappoint. We saw two falcons, one at the nest and another that screamed in an out entertaining visitors to the parking lot.

Before sunset we took a trip to Boiler Bay to scope out some adorable Marbled Murrelets and boring whales.

Woooooooo!

Yawn

We had good luck the next morning at Sitka Sedge State Natural Area where we met two Black Phoebe in the parking lot.

And a Wrentit along the trail right where it was supposed to be.

We missed the Snowy Plovers on the beach this day, but we did end up driving farther north to Fort Stevens State Park to look for a reported large group of Marbled Godwits. I had the bright idea to go to the end and work our way back, which was a terrible idea, because it wasn’t until after many miles and many stops in soft sand that we finally spotted them.

I said, I see godwits! My dad said, “Seriously?!” Not sure he believed me after all the misses. But there they were, all 73 of them.

Best of the bunch

Not just godwits, there was Semipalmated Sandiper, Sanderling, Western Sandpiper, the most Semipalmated Plovers I’ve seen in one place (56!).

Filling every nook

And young Caspian Terns in fancy outfits that just fascinated me.

So fancy

Where to go from here? Cannon Beach for Tufted Puffins of course! To which we saw just one (and only one) before celebrating over tasty beers and food at Pelican Brewery. The following morning we did a better job at finding puffins mixed in with Common Murre on the rock.

We watched them waddle awkwardly around on the rock, occasionally diving fearlessly off into the air.

On the drive home back into sunshine, we had time to stop at Dawson Creek Park in Hillsboro to check out the Acorn Woodpeckers which are always entertaining.

While strolling through the forest, I pointed out an area that sometimes has Great Horned Owls, but I’d never seen them. Then I looked up and lo and behold. Two!

Moral of the story, if you want to see owls, just start talking about them and they’ll show up. Such a fun trip! And a great variety of birds, we saw 85 species! I don’t know if my dad will move here, but the birds and I will be waiting for him if he does.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey