After tacos we continued birding at Estero Llano Grande State Park. Our second trip to this destination. Or third? I’ve lost count. Every park in Texas is worth at least one revisit. This time it was for a Roseate Spoonbill knocking teals off a log.
The one with the biggest spoon wins the perch.
A pair of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks swam by.
And a White-faced Ibis blended into the grass.
Then we located the real reason we revisited this park. A Fulvous Whistling-Duck!
This warm-colored lifer cooperated just long enough before paddling farther and farther away, disappearing forever behind the grasses.
Going, going, gone.
The fulvous show was over. We returned to the main park area to head out while distracted by spiders and lizards along the way.
But Sarah was distracted by a persistent bug harassing her down the trail, and as she flailed her arms somehow it worked to bring out a Clay-colored Thrush!
Thanks Sarah! Formerly known as the Clay-colored Robin, this secretive, shy thrush is the national bird of Costa Rica. Even after 6 days lifers were still showing up. We then left to head back to the airbnb before the night’s activities.
The Airbnb was one of the highlights of the trip. We stayed at a 2-acre farmhouse that had some of the best bird sightings.
There was a feeder table setup that had regular Green Jay, chachalaca, and cardinal visitors. We had Common Pauraque calling every morning and evening. And a repeat visiting Harris’s Hawk.
The hummingbird feeder attracted Buff-bellied and one Ruby-throated hummer. One morning we spooked an owl in the yard (possibly Barn). There was a pair of Great Kiskadees, Couch’s Kingbirds, Golden-fronted and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers. And Hooded and Altamira Oriole.There was lizards digging holes, prickly cactus to eat, butterflies to chase, it was hard to leave sometimes.
But we had to leave later that evening to go to Oliveira Park in Brownsville. In celebration of Max’s birthday, we threw him a parrot party.
On some nights, hundreds of parrots throughout the city flock to this unlikely, inner-city park to roost in the evening. We weren’t sure what to expect when we arrived, but as the sun set it was like watching fireworks at the 4th of July. “Ooohs” and “aaaahs” as loud, raucous colorful personalities flew over our heads.
Party parrots! The majority are Red-crowned. We also saw Red-lored Parrots.
And Yellow-headed Parrots. The latter two species are escapees. It warms my heart that these social birds escaped and found one another.
We bumped into a couple of other birders at the park, including a grad-student from Texas A&M collecting parrot population data. Red-crowned Parrots in Texas and California are of interest to scientists because these unique city populations may some day save the species from extinction. According to Sibley the “naturalized population of Red-crowned Parrots is thought to exceed the native population in Mexico.”
A couple of other birds showed up to the party too. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.
And *two* Lesser Nighthawks!
The skies darkened, the parrots quieted for sleep, and we headed back to the airbnb for the best tres leches! Happy birthday Max!
For a second year I joined Portland Audubon’s Birdathon, touted as the “biggest baddest birdathon this side of the Mississippi.” And for a second year I was thrilled to be a part of the Put an Owl on It team.
Last year’s trip was one of the best birding days of my life – 5 owl species in one day!! This year’s agenda expanded to eastern Oregon for a two-day Blue Mountain adventure with the hopes of seeing Great Gray Owls.
Spoiler alert- we found them.
I went into the trip with 299 life birds. How cool would it be to have the Great Gray as the 300th bird? That didn’t happen, but Bank Swallows are pretty cool too. Lucky #300!! Sadly, no pictures because the van flushed two nicely perched swallows on a fence as soon as we drove near. Van-birding can be quite a challenge.
While exploring country roads in Umatilla county, we also flushed lifer #301, this Chukar fleeing for its life.
Fastest mother Chukar in the west
It’s all worth it though when you climb out out of the van and meet a pair of Great Horned Owls fledglings.
Or a family of Barn Owls smooshed in a natural cliff wall cavity.
And it’s especially worth it to see a Burrowing Owl perched atop sagebrush in the Oregon desert.
It was incredibly hot that weekend, nearing (if not over) 100 degrees. Some birds like this Sage Thrasher panted to stay cool.
Even Common Nighthawks panted.
That is one hot bird. Seeing a Common Nighthawk perched on a fence has been on my birding bucket list since the moment I found out they do this. We found two. Success! And two vans with 19+ people managed not to flush them. It was that damn hot.
Birder dreams do come true
It cooled down some once we gained elevation making our way into the pine forests of the Blue Mountains.
And here in this forest is where we met the family. Mom and her three owlets.
It was so special sharing forest space with these owls. They were incredibly chill. We sat down on the grass and pine needles under trees nearby, relaxed, chatted and ate snacks, while watching the fledglings stretch their wings and walk awkwardly along the branches.
And if owl entertainment wasn’t enough, there were active nesting holes visible on site with Pygmy Nuthatches, Mountain Chickadee, Western Bluebird, Lewis’s Woodpecker, and Williamson’s Sapsucker (another lifer!).
And songs of Western Tanager, Cassin’s Finch, House Wren, Western Wood-Pewee (PEEEeeeeer), and a new flycatcher for me, Hammond’s Flycatcher (ChiBik).
As soon as the sun lowered, Great Gray fledgling activity picked up, the owlets begged noisily for food.
The skies darkened and mom obliged, swooping over the fields to hunt. We enjoyed watching the owl show until the sun disappeared and the bats came out.
Before exiting the park, we piled out of the vans in the dark one last time to listen for other potential owl species. While waiting, we occupied time peering at Jupiter’s moons through the spotting scopes, and just before calling it a night, an adult Great Grey Owl flew over our heads towards an area of the forest with at least one owlet calling! There’s nothing like an unexpected owl surprise to liven things up. We rode the owl high all the way back to the hotel in La Grande.
From darkness to early morning light, a handful of birders opted for an early-morning Bobolink side trip.
In a distant farm field we observed several pairs of Bobolinks chase each other up, over, and into the grasses while chattering their buzzy metalic song that sounds like a broken R2-D2. A bit far for decent photos, but here’s an identifiable pic of one on a fence post.
After, we reunited with the rest of the group and the sightings continued: Eastern Kingbirds, California Quail, Loggerhead Shrike, Black-billed Magpie, and Long-billed Curlew, to name a few.
At Catherine Creek State Park, we introduced ourselves to a generous couple camping with a hummingbird feeder at their site. Thanks to them, we got good looks at Black-chinned and Calliope Hummingbirds.
Female black-chinned wagged her tail while feeding
This was only my second time seeing a Black-chinned Hummingbird (the first was just a week prior at Painted Hills), and it was my first encounter with Calliope Humminbgird. They’re so pretty and so tiny!
There was another new surprise in the brushy thickets at this park, a small thrush called a Veery. Too bad I didn’t get a visual on this shy cinnamon-colored thrush, but I heard its song and call and that was pretty satisfying. Some nineteenth-century observers described the Veery’s song as “an inexpressibly delicate metallic utterance…accompanied by a fine trill which renders it truly seductive.” Yep, I was totally seduced.
One of our last stops was at Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area where we saw Gadwall, Redhead, Ruddy Duck, and yet another new species, a shorebird called Wilson’s Phalarope.
At the marsh, there were also a pair of nesting Swainson’s Hawks, both Eastern and Western Kingbirds, Sandhill Cranes, Red-winged blackbirds (chasing an American Bittern), Black-crowned Night Heron, Ring-necked Pheasant, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, and Northern Harriers. To name a few.
On the way back to Portland, we pulled off the side of the highway to bird a pond next to some railroad tracks. We joked about the safety and legality of this birding spot.
Then we turned around to see a law enforcement vehicle stopped at the road with lights flashing. Busted birders.
Walk of shame
Turns out the officer had just thoughtfully stopped traffic for us to cross the road without incident. Whew! It was totally worth almost getting arrested to catch a glimpse of American White Pelican, Black-necked Stilt (!), teals, and nesting American Avocets.
It was all worth it. In two days, the team saw a total of 127 species, including 4 owl species (and I saw 10 new-to-me species), and we raised over $14,000. We saw 11 Great Horned Owls, 3 Barn Owls, 1 Burrowing Owl, and encountered 6 Great Grey Owls! I think that’s what they call “putting an owl on it.”
I had a blast reuniting with team members from last year and making new friends this time around. Thanks to the trip leaders Scott Carpenter, Rhett Wilkins, Joe Liebezeit, and Mary Coolidge, you all rock. And of course, many thanks to my donors for making my fundraising such a success. I raised over a thousand dollars contributing to Portland Audubon’s $170,000+ for conservation. Thanks to all involved helping such a great cause!
One, a Blue-winged Teal. If I’d realized at the time, I would have attempted better pictures.
And Two. This barely recognizable silhouette that looks more like a deflated balloon torpedoing away, is none other than a Wilson’s Snipe. The unusual winnowing flight sound of their tail “hu-hu-hu” cracks me up for some reason.
I know I’m not supposed to care about European Starlings because they’re introduced and invasive, but they are here, and their nestlings look like muppets, so…
The Red-winged Blackbirds posed nicely.
I also got a good look at a handsome Cinnamon Teal couple.
It was easy to recognize the Steller’s Jay crest.
I don’t know why, but I love when birds sit on signs. Like Savannah Sparrows often do.
And finally, tree swallows were zipping around in the forest, except when they were perched and looking over their shoulders.