The Wallowas

According to Travel Oregon there are 7 Wonders of Oregon and before last week I’d seen all of them except the Wallowas. This was also one of the last two counties in Oregon I hadn’t birded before (Malheur County is the other). This is why I love birding, it inspires me to go places I’ve not gone before. Sometimes to a landfill or sewage treatment plant, but other times to one of those “pinch me” places like the Wallowas.

Tomas and I stayed in a cozy Airbnb (walking distance to Sugar Time Bakery! and a block from Terminal Gravity Brewery) in Enterprise for three nights, and we spent Christmas Eve in The Landing Hotel in LaGrande. It made for the perfect getaway. Tomas painted and studied, while I birded.

This corner of Oregon is home to a few specialty species not easily found elsewhere and I hoped to run into a few of them. Each morning I had to choose between forest birds in the snowy mountain foothills.

Or driving farm roads looking for birds in the countryside.

Tough choices. I ended up making four trips to McCully Creek in the mountains hoping for grouse but I had better luck finding woodpeckers like this Hairy Woodpecker.

And this punky Pileated Woodpecker.

There were long birdless stretches in the countryside but that is part of the gamble, there can be absolutely nothing or a bird will show up that you’ll never see again in your life. It was early in the season for rarities and a low-snow year, but I managed to find a single Gray-crowned Rosy Finch perched on a metal barn roof!

In snowier times there can be flocks of 300-500 rosy finches. I was stoked to find just one (state year bird #320!).

Other good birds in the country were Rough-legged Hawks.

And Northern Shrikes like this one that accidentally flew closer for crushing looks.

In every barn was a Great Horned Owl keeping watch.

I had a tip from a friend to check out the Wallowa Fish Hatchery in Enterprise that had a few nice surprises like my county Belted Kingfisher.

A Townsend’s Solitaire drinking and bathing in the fresh hatchery water.

And a Great Horned Owl tucked into the branches along the nature trail.

Back on the country roads one late afternoon as I scanned the fields, I saw a pile of rocks start moving.

Gray Partridges!!! A life bird! And one of my target species of the Wallowas (#321!). I was giddy. I watched for a while as the chubsters used their heads to dig through the snow. They were the perfect Christmas presents.

Another time at McCully Creek I bumped into Nolan Clements, a birder who was in the area participating in a Wallowa CBC. This turned out to be the best luck because Nolan grew up in LaGrande and he knows where all the good birds are.

The good birds are over here

We met up the next day to look for Harris’s Sparrows (which we dipped on) and American Tree Sparrows which we found! #322!

This is another NE Oregon target bird I’d hoped to find. I haven’t seen a Tree Sparrow since my trip to Montana in 2015!

In the afternoon we made a stop at The Bobolink, a beer-birding-disc golf shop owned and run by a birder friend of ours, Trent Bray.

We picked out a couple of specialty beers then Trent gave us a tip about Bohemian Waxwings in town. WHAT. These weren’t even on my radar, but they were now. We set off driving in circles around town getting the tour of LaGrande while checking the fruit trees and chasing waxwings.

We had a Cooper’s Hawk flyover, Nolan heard a Townsend’s Solitaire, and we passed a gang of decked out Wild Turkeys.

Eventually we caught up with the waxwings perched high in Poplar trees. Scanning though, Nolan spotted one Bohemian Waxwing! #323!

They’re slightly larger than Cedar Waxwings, darker gray underneath, and they have cinnamon-colored undertail coverts. Thanks to Nolan for helping us find such great birds and saving us time before our drive home.

Tomas and I spent the next morning looking for Great Gray Owls that we could not find, but it was a nice walk in the snow anyhow before our long way back home.

Tweets and chirps and Happy New Year!

Audrey

January Birds

January was a good month for birds.

Happy New Year

Inspired by a fellow local birder friend, Jen, I’m trying out birding a 5 mile radius from home and using eBird’s “patch” options to track species. Basically, pick a few places to regularly bird and add them to a patch. It’s a good way to explore nearby parks, maybe save some time driving, and it’s a fun challenge to find new species in regular patches. I started off strong on January 1st with 55 species including a visiting Burrowing Owl at Broughton Beach!

Then the snow came.

8-14″ in some places. My 5 mile radius turned into about 5 feet outside my front door. Luckily I had some decent snowy yard birds. Including a Varied Thrush!

The birds seemed appreciative of the extra suet and seeds I put out. The bird bath turned into an elevated feeder dish.

Dark-eyed Junco and Black-capped Chickadee

California Scrub-Jay

Golden-crowned Sparrow

Most of the common yard birds made an appearance.

Bushtits

House Finch

Downy Woodpecker

I think my most favorite to watch were the Dark-eyed Juncos. They seemed right at home in the snow.

I even had a Slate-colored Dark-eyed Junco, a less common winter-visiting variety. Note the lack of contrasting hood.

They don’t call them snowbirds for nothing. One bird that is most certainly not a snowbird is the Anna’s Hummingbird. It took effort to keep the feeder thawed and free from ice and snow but it was totally worth it to help the hummers through this extraordinarily harsh winter.

Before the big snowstorm I took time off from work to make it out to see the (normally east coast) Black-throated Blue Warbler that wintered in SW Portland.

Black-throated Blue Warbler (right)

Found just outside my 5mi radius. I have a new mission to figure out how to attract rarities to the yard.

One rare bird that did find it’s way to a local patch was a Bohemian Waxwing at Mt Tabor. I geared up in a snow-tire equipped Subaru to make it up there and search.

Icy stairs of doom

I arrived on the scene to find a birder who had just seen a bohemian fly overhead. Something I love-hate to hear. At least the bird was here, but I’d just missed an easy sighting. I made my way down the icy trail to check out hawthorne trees.

Where there are berries, there are birds. I found about 300-400 American Robins, a handful of Cedar Waxwings, and one blurry Bohemian Waxwing!

It happened so fast. The bird flew in, I tried to get my bearings, change my camera settings and it was gone. I searched and searched while my hands froze, then I finally found it again high up in the tree.

Pretty exciting. As I circled around to get a better view, a Sharp-shinned Hawk darted in and spooked all the birds away.

Kind of annoying for scaring the rarity, but also kind of awesome to see the hawk so close. I enjoyed the looks I got and called it a day.

On another snowy day I made it out to Smith and Bybee wetlands to tromp through snow and find a reported shrike. The park was “closed” which made it perfectly quiet and lovely.

The snow was deep, not “Larch Mtn deep“, but novel enough to still make it fun.

And since the ground was frozen it made it easier to access the normally marshy-flooded parts of the park. And that’s where I found it.

Northern Shrike! It tormented the poor juncos and sparrows that tried to drink water along the pond’s edge where the snow melted. Birds gotta do what a birds gotta do. I left the hunter in peace, happy I’d taken the chance to find it.

Back in my 5 mile radius at Whitaker Ponds I lucked out last weekend when I found Canvasback, Ruddy Duck, Common Goldeneye, and this sleepy Barred Owl.

Right where it’s supposed to be.

Each time I went around the 1/2 mi walking loop I found another species, so I kept going and on the third loop I heard an unusual song worth investigating. I was right because not long after, out popped a Hutton’s Vireo!

Gah. So cute. And not a Ruby-crowned Kinglet because of the song, but also the bill color (grey vs black) and the feet color (grey vs yellow). This is the first I’ve seen in Oregon (I saw one very briefly once in Washington). And precisely what makes the local patch thing so rewarding.

Now back at home I’ve geared up for spring. I’ve added a second seed feeder, new window hummingbird feeder, and a birdhouse that will hopefully make a chickadee couple very happy. We shall see.

Crowd-pleaser

Pledge of allegiance to the sugar-water

Home tweet home

And I picked up a “hum button” from the Backyard Birdship to try hand-feeding the hummers. It worked on the first try!

It’ll all be perfect once the ice melts. February has a lot to live up to!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Bohemian Birdiversary

I’m interrupting Hawaii to celebrate my Birdiversary!

Back when I thought it was a good idea to point binoculars into the sun

Exactly two years ago, on a camping trip to Stub Stewart State Park, I started birding in earnest. I’ve come a long way since that first Northern Pygmy Owl.

In some ways I miss the naiveté of starting a new project; everything is foreign, lots of mistakes are made, and much is learned from them. It’s a good thing this is birding because so much is still new, I make plenty of mistakes, and I continue to learn from them. There are always new birds to find, and old birds to misidentify. And if all else fails, there’s always gull identification.

In 2016 I had hoped to see owls (all of them), but especially the Great Grey Owl. And thanks to Scott Carpenter and the Put an Owl on it Birdathon team, mission accomplished.

I had a total of 48 owl encounters in 2016 (21 of those were Great Horned), and I even managed to meet a Northern Spotted Owl in California. And I had the pleasure of birding with David Sibley. Good times.

Another highlight of this year was finally making it to Malheur. And I was lucky enough to go with a great group of people from Audubon. I can’t wait to visit again because Malheur is for everyone! Much love for our public lands.

On that trip I accomplished another year goal of seeing Rock Wrens.

You rock!

And bluebirds like this Mountain Bluebird.

Because happiness.

Did you know September 24th is National Bluebird of Happiness Day? I didn’t either. Marking the calendar to celebrate happiness next year.

One goal I dipped out on this year was seeing a Yellow-breasted Chat! Dang, I miss those birds. I’ll have to make a better effort to find them in 2017.

All in all it has been a pretty good bird year. And it’s not quite over yet! In honor of my birdiversary, Tomas and I drove 2-hours east to Arlington, Oregon, in search of a new bird.

We sifted through dozens of Cedar Waxwings.

Nope.

Nope.

Nope. Until we finally spotted them.

Yes! Bohemian Waxwings!

Bohemians usually stick to the far North in Alaska and Western Canada. But some years, if food supply is low, they’ll follow the fruit and berries where they can get them. Reports of Bohemians in Washington and Oregon have spread this winter and I’m happy we caught up with them.

They’re slightly larger than Cedar Waxwings, grayer overall without the yellow-ish belly, and they have rufous undertails. A closer look:

Bohemian in the middle

So fun! We waited until we thought they’d perch nicely on the juniper below the wires, but a Sharp-shinned Hawk zoomed in and spooked the whole flock. Things are always exciting in the bird world.

Tweets, chirps, and cheers to the next year of birding!

Audrey