Summer birding and a Red-headed Woodpecker

Summer birding is going as summer birding does. Slow. I’ve caught up on reading and done some yard work while I wait patiently for fall migration. This time of the year I volunteer with Cascades Pika Watch and visit my favorite talus-tater-friends, the American Pika.

Eeep!

One survey on Larch Mountain gave me a bonus Multnomah County Canada Jay.

Back in my 5-mile-radius I found a Green Heron in the Columbia Slough.

And a few shorebirds have started to trickle in at Broughton Beach. Western and Least Sandpipers have both been spotted on the shores.

Western (L), Least (R)

I finally saw my 5MR Caspian Tern.

And a surprise Bonaparte’s Gull in breeding plumage.

The Bonaparte’s was my 5MR bird #171. A couple of rarities showed up in my radius back in June, including a Great-tailed Grackle at Vanport (first county record?). I’ve wanted to see an GTGR in Oregon for a while now, and unfortunately I want to see a Great-tailed Grackle in Oregon again. The looks were barely diagnostic.

But it was followed by an Ash-throated Flycatcher, a really nice county bird and even better 5MR bird.

There’s been no shortage of baby birds this time of year.

Downy yard baby
Chestnut-backed chick-a-dee
White-crowned nugget
Brewer’s baby

And during one slow period I think I complained there was nothing I could chase that was convenient to my schedule. But then my friend Kayla found a Red-headed Woodpecker (!) on a Friday night. I had nothing planned for Saturday and no excuses. It would be a long drive to a random clear-cut on the Oregon Coast. And an even longer shot the bird would still be in the same place.

Kayla spotted the woodpecker as she and her husband were driving 60 mph along a highway near Reedsport. Two frantic u-turns later she confirmed she had seen a legit Red-headed Woodpecker (fourth Oregon record?). They normally occur east of the Rockies and this bird would be a lifer for me. Once I learned some friends were down for the chase I knew I’d be in good company either way it went so I had to give it a try.

I left early but behind schedule and behind a handful of other birders (including my friends Courtney, Caleb, Nick, and Maureen). I was still 20 minutes away when they texted that Maureen had refound the bird!! I did my best not to floor it and I arrived in time to high-five everyone.

And in time to see the woodpecker!! So dang lucky.

My photos do not do this handsome bird justice. It was much more striking in person.

We spent a little more time walking the highway pointing it out to new arrivals before saying our goodbyes to this awesome bird and continuing along. It was a beautiful day at the coast and I was happy to spend some time there. We went to Siltcoos River Estuary next to look at Snowy Plovers run along the sand and Marbled Murrelets (flying potatoes) over the water. No good photos of either unfortunately.

Then I was alerted to a Gray Catbird sighting at Ona Beach that same morning. It was an hour north and on the way home so it was the obvious next destination. We got to the location (the bushes by the bathroom) and Nick immediately spotted the bird. But sadly no one else could get on it in time so we waited. We ate lunch and waited a little longer entertained by a Swainson’s Thrush carrying food to a nearby nest.

Courtney and Caleb eventually had to take off. And then rest of us finally gave up. I walked back to the parking lot with Nick and Maureen but realized I should use the bathroom before getting back on the road. I hadn’t gotten far back by the restroom when birder Aaron Beerman and his parents waved me over, they’d just seen the catbird!

So I hurried over and didn’t see it. And continued not seeing it for about another 30 min. I gave up for a second (or third? I’ve lost track) time and was set to leave again when another birder, Bill Tice showed up. I told him the story, one person sees the bird then it’s gone for an hour but I figured I’d look with Bill for a few minutes anyways. Not long after we both saw it!!

Or barely saw it? The sneakiest catbird ever. Who knew that Red-headed Woodpeckers were easier to see than Gray Catbirds in Oregon! I’d spent way too much time waiting and finally left to get on the road to get home before dark. Summer birding fun!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

SoCal: Death Valley

Our final destination on this trip was Death Valley. I had no idea what to expect. I’d driven through a portion of the valley a decade ago but didn’t remember how mountainous it actually is.

Temps during our stay were in the high 70s at day and low 50s at night. It was perfect.

The first night we stayed at Furnace Creek Campground located next to the Death Valley Visitor Center and the Oasis at Death Valley (formerly known as Furnace Creek Resort). There’s an expensive inn, an economy hotel and a few private RV campgrounds in the area including Fiddler’s Campground that had live music (karaoke and sometimes yodeling) after dark that could be heard from our campsite a block away.

Bat!

Bats made up for the lack of ambiance. I knew camping here would be a challenge but this lush green “oasis” is where many birds drop down during migration.

Amid festivals, a parade, construction, general business and a constant stream of cars and people around me I made the most of it and birded like I do. Luckily the birds didn’t seem to mind the chaos. The first evening I found a pair of Canada Geese on the golf course, because of course they would be there even in the desert.

Per the Birder’s Guide to SoCal the golf course is private property and birders are not welcome while others “commit golf.” So I followed the rules and birded from the fringes.

Though some were less obedient.

Golf course face-off

Par 4 Say’s Phoebe

From aerial photos (and per some eBird reports) I could see ponds on the property, but I couldn’t find a way to access them without trespassing. I got pretty close but ran into a dead end of thorny shrubs and had to backtrack a couple of miles. Not my finest hour. But I did find a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (not black-tailed since it has more white under the tail).

And a Verdin.

I ran out of time (energy and water) to find another way in. The best waterbird besides the geese was a flyover Mallard.

Good job desert-duck

The book mentions to look for White-winged doves calling from the Tamarisks or, “lately, Eurasian Collared Doves.” I could only find Eurasian-collared Doves and there are sparse eBird reports of White-winged on the property in recent years and none from 2018.

Shocking

The grounds had a few good sparrow spots. I found House, Savannah, Golden-crowned, White-crowned, weird looking Song Sparrows.

And lots of Lincoln Sparrows.

One lucky afternoon I picked out a (Red) Fox Sparrow in the heat waves.

It was interesting to see birds’ strategies for keeping cool. Most stayed in the shade.

Shady House Sparrows

Some panted, or splashed in puddles or took dust baths. I saw some blackbirds drinking from sprinklers at the visitor center and I found a pair of Great-tailed Grackles taking shade under cars in the parking lot.

The best parking lot bird was a Harris’s Sparrow! A rare bird for the area.

I “pished” for a brief moment and it immediately popped out on a close shrub.

Too close

Amazing! I found a variety of Icterids too, including Brewer’s Blackbird, Red-winged Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, and the best surprise was Western Meadowlark.

In the shade of trees above there was a Cooper’s Hawk.

I had a couple of falcon fly-bys a Peregrine and a Prairie.

We had perfect weather until almost the last day when a windstorm blew through the valley. It wouldn’t be Death Valley if it didn’t try to kill us. The windstorm then turned into a sandstorm. Terrible for birding or doing anything outside.

Leaving the storm

Luckily we had the van for shelter, and this was also the day we drove to a smaller campground at higher elevation called Wildrose. It was less sandy here, but still very windy.

From the safety of the van I spotted Black-throated Sparrows on the hillsides.

We drove a little ways past the campground towards the charcoal kilns but the road conditions turned too bumpy so we turned around. On the way back we pulled over for a Horned Lark that hopped right up next to the van.

And we had distant looks at a Golden Eagle!

Back at the campsite I walked the road down to a small creek and found a Ladder-backed Woodpecker.

American Robin photobomb

A Bewick’s Wren.

And a Fox Sparrow scratching in the leaves.

As the sun was setting (at 4pm) and as I walked back to the campground I felt good about how birdy Death Valley was but I was also a little sad I hadn’t seen the poster-bird, a Greater Roadrunner, when just at that moment one walked right out in front of me. It raised its tail up and slowly lowered it down then continued down the road.

It was the perfect ending.

I have to say, writing about our trip I can’t help but think about the recent fires in California. It’s heartbreaking news. I’ve made a donation to the San Francisco SPCA for their disaster relief efforts to save animals affected by the fires. Much love to everyone in the state, they’ve been through a lot.

XOXO and happy holidays,

Audrey

Lincoln City to the sewage ponds

So of course the following weekend I decided to practice my newfound shorebird knowledge. Especially when I saw a report of Wandering Tattlers in Lincoln City. I forgot that I’ve seen one once before on a fence post in Hawaii. Someone should really keep track of these things (Ebird).

But I’d never seen one in Oregon so it’s different.

The fog was thick on the beach when I arrived, but not too thick to spot the Spotted Sandpiper.

Muddy brown above, (no spots because it’s fall), dark brown “comma” on its side, bold eye ring, and bobbing its tail.

Not too far away, I saw a group of birds out on the rocks.

Tattlers! Wandering too close to the waves.

“Wandering” because of their wide distribution across the ocean, and tattler for the “tattling” call if you get too close. Once the sun came out, I had a hard time staying away.

They’re gray all over with a white belly, yellow legs, and a moderately long straight bill. And they like to eat creepy crawly crustaceans off the rocks.

Mmm, yum. Efficient wanderers.

They were so fun to watch I could have stayed all day, but I had another plan in mind. But before I got too far, while passing the sand dunes, I looked to my left and spotted an angel.

That turned out to be a Lark Sparrow in the fog.

A rare bird for the area so a pretty cool sighting. I watched it for a while as it hung out with old man White-crowned Sparrow.

My next stop was an hour and a half drive southeast to the Philomath Sewage Ponds in hopes of another rare bird.

But when I rolled up I saw some signage that gave me pause.

Dang it. I hadn’t known beforehand about the permit and I’m a rule follower so I drove the 6 minutes to the Public Works Office. But the office was closed. So I drove back to the ponds, thought hard about it and decided to ask for forgiveness if necessary. I try to bird on the up-and-up because I don’t want to give birders a bad rep. This time I’d just go in for a minute to take a peek.

It all felt normal. Driving on the levee? Normal. The color of that water? Totally normal, everything’s fine.

Nothing to see here, green feet are par for the course. Everything’s fine.

It didn’t take long to pick out the rare bird swimming in the pond, the American Avocet.

It was cooperative and even popped out for a bit to preen at the edge of the ponds.

The green water goes well with its legs. Elegant as ever it returned to the sewage water and swam up next to three Long-billed Curlews. Another rarity for the area.

The risk was certainly paying off so far. At least in bill length.

I drove around again getting a shorebird workout with a Least Sandpiper (yellow legs, short bill).

Western Sandpiper (longer bill with slight droop, black legs, reddish “shoulders”).

And Greater Yellowlegs hunting at the edge of the ponds with those bright yellow legs.

And a bill length greater than half proportion with the head that expertly picks out pond treats.

Once more around I found a flock of Red-necked Phalaropes swimming in the middle.

Thin, fine bill, dark eye stripe, stripes on their backs, these turned out to be a lifebird!

Good things turned up in these ponds! I’m glad I gave them a go. It was late afternoon by then but a rare-bird alert of an American Redstart at the North Jetty in Newport was too tempting to resist. I got cocky.

I drove the hour back to Newport, but all I found were a handful of birders who’d been looking for a couple of hours under the bridge.

Win some, lose some, but I still felt pretty lucky this time!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey