Eider to Gyrfalcon in a Day

Last week Jen invited me on a mid-week coast trip to chase rarities. I was thrilled to skip work for a day-trip with the potential for an Eider-Brambling-Costa’s-Thrasher combo.

Rarity rainbow

We left at 4am, but that was fine because we took naps in the car while Ralph did most of the driving. Good boy, Ralph.

Along the way we filled up on coffee, pastries, and new county birds – Wild Turkeys! Until we made it to Fossil Point at low tide just as planned. Jen set the scope up and almost immediately found the King Eider. 20 minutes later scanning through wafts of sea ducks I also had the eider!

Scan, scan, scan – King Eider!

Not a bad looking sea duck. Common in the arctic, they rarely visit south of Alaska. Jen also pointed out a Long-tailed Duck in the crowd which was another first for me. The tide started coming in reminding us we’d better move on but it was hard to leave such a large flock of good birds.

On route to our next destination we made a quick stop at Oregon Dunes Recreation Area to let the dogs out and stretch our legs.

A nice surprise we found creeping in the bushes by the restrooms was a Wrentit! A first for me in Oregon! I haven’t seen one of these cute charismatic birds since my trip to California.

An hour north and an hour and a half later the Brambling was a no-show no thanks to the Peregrine and Cooper’s Hawk that jetted in and out of the neighborhood. It was pretty quiet aside from the occasional Dark-eyed Junco and Fox Sparrow.

Not so pretty perch for a pretty bird

Reluctantly, we accepted defeat and left for the next hour drive north to look for a visiting Costa’s Hummingbird. Just as we turned out of the neighborhood though a FOY Turkey Vulture flew right over the car that made defeat feel so much better. Nothing like a migrating pick-me-up.

A quick stop at Bob Creek Wayside along the way also helped.

Here we found Black Turnstones.

Black Oystercatchers, Surf Scoters, and another new bird for me the Surfbird!

I’m not sure how this bird has flown under my radar thus far but I was pleasantly surprised when I realized.

There were also plenty of gulls at this stop.

Some Herring, mostly California

California Gull

Back on track we made it to the Costa’s site in a neighborhood in Newport, but unfortunately we found out the hummer was visiting less reliably.

Right place, wrong time

The gracious homeowner let us watch the feeder anyways where we did see “Piglet” a wintering Orange-crowned Warbler that has a habit of feeding at the hummingbird feeder. We also saw a Hairy Woodpecker, more Fox Sparrows, and a glimpse of a White-throated Sparrow. But no Costa’s.

While in Newport we decided to check out the herring spawning event in Yaquina Bay where we watched loads of sea lions and birds drunk on fish.

Red-necked Grebe

Pelagic Cormorant

Looking closer at my photos I also found a Long-tailed Duck in the long line of sea birds that were far in the distance.

Barely diagnostic photo

It was late afternoon at this point and we realized we had a big decision to make. The Brown Thrasher was the last target species we’d originally anticipated, but there was also a report of a Gyrfalcon an hour and a half east near Eugene that was now tempting us. Which rare bird to chase next?? Birder problems.

Since it would be a life bird for both of us and a rarer opportunity we opted for the Gyrfalcon. Unlike that time I almost saw a Gyrflacon, with about an hour of sunlight left, we found the bird.

Is something on fire? “Our birding skills!” (- Jen)

Along with two other birders we watched and admired this amazing creature from afar (maybe silently wishing it was closer). It turned around and re-positioned itself and I noticed that Gyrfalcons wear pantaloons.

Or at least the feathered legs make it look that way. And not obvious in my photos, but Gyrfalcons are the largest falcons in the world. And seeing one was a great way to end an amazing birding trip. We watched until it flew off into the sunset.

Not a bad day for an Eider-Long-tailed-Surfbird-Gyrfalcon combo!

Of course I enjoyed all the birds we saw. Even the Mallards.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Florida: Weedon Preserve, Sawgrass Park, and Seminole Lake

One of the highlights of my trip to Florida was birding with my dad.

My dad

He lives in Largo and his birding enthusiasm is a close match to mine. In the past year since I started birding, we’ve have a blast quizzing each other by emailing pictures of birds we can’t see in our respective areas.

He sends me pictures of Limpkins (baby Limpkins!), Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Yellow-crowned Night Herons, and Brown Thrashers harassing snakes. If there were any reason to visit Florida, these would be it. A handful of his pics:

Limpkin Limpkin Red-bellied WoodpeckerYellow-crowned Night Heron Brown Thrasher Brown Thrasher

He had a few spots picked out for us to see during my trip, including Weedon Island Preserve, a 3,700 acre preserve complete with a cultural and natural history center, trails, boardwalks (AKA Raccoon Highway), mangroves, wetlands, uplands, crabs (!) (Mangrove Tree Crab).

Crab

Weedon Island Preserve Paul Getting Memorial Trail Weedon Sunrise

And birds! A whole lot of them.

Wading birds

Wading birds

Of course it wasn’t that easy. They made us work for it. We showed up promptly at sunrise for low tide and there were no birds in sight. It wasn’t until the day warmed up that they came out to feed. Once they did, we saw Great Egrets, White Ibis, Snowy Egrets, and many more wading birds in the distance. And a Wood Stork flew overhead. It was a good time.

Wood Stork

The best part of Weedon Island though, was a moment that’ll go down in my book of birding history. After striking out on birds first thing in the morning, my dad and I rounded the corner to another overlook and found an unbelievable sight. A Roseate Spoonbill closely followed by a Tricolored Heron buddy. The wait was worth it.

Spoonbill and Tricolor

My dad describes Tricolored Herons as Little Blue Herons that’ve had too much coffee. Little blues stand still and intensely stalk prey (much like the Great Blue Heron), while Tricolors dart quickly back and forth in the water gathering up fish and bits of food. It’s a useful behavioral clue to identify them. We watched this one pick up bits the spoonbill stirred up. They made quite the pair.

Spoonbill and Tricolor

Tricolored Heron

Tricolored Heron Tricolored Heron Tricolored Heron

Shortly after, the spoonbill posed nicely for us and my day was made.

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Gorgeous wrinkly spoon face!

We went to Sawgrass Lake Park next. Surrounded by “the most densely populated county in Florida” (Pinellas County), the 400 acre park is a haven for wildlife. Especially alligators. We saw three of them. Florida wildlife sighting Level-Up.

Alligator

Alligator Alligator Alligator

And the obligatory “no molesting” the gators sign. So many feels. So many jokes. It’s too easy.

No Molest!

This park had a few gems besides gators and funny gator signs. Including adorable Little Blue Herons. So intense. So cute.

Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron Little Blue Heron Little Blue Heron

And the most fun bird to say, Anhinga (an-HIN-ga)! With many nicknames: it’s called the Water-Turkey thanks to its tail and swimming habits, and also Snake-Bird because it often swims with just its head sticking out of the water. We saw several of them, usually sunning themselves since this species lacks oils that make feathers waterproof. Anhinga anhinga is named from Tupi Indian (Brazil) language. AnHINga!

Anhinga

Anhinga Anhinga Anhinga

We also saw Common Gallinule (gal-li-NOO-l) and heard it’s cackling and yelping calls. The species was split from Common Moorhen (Old World) in 2011 by the AOU.

Common Gallinule

Common Gallinule   Common Gallinule  Common Gallinule

Upon leaving this park, we saw a neat grouping of three species together, Tricolored Heron in the far back, a Little Blue Heron front left, and three White Ibises!

All the water birds

And a softshell turtle.

Softshell turtle

Our final destination was Seminole Lake Park. The best trails in this park wind through pine flatwoods where we saw several species of birds. Some familiar, some new.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Pine Warbler

Pine Warbler

Osprey

Osprey

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker (see the red belly!)

Gray Catbird

More Gray Catbird! Can’t get enough of this one. 

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal (female)

And a whole bunch more.

Red-bellied Woodpecker Pileated Woodpecker Osprey Northern Cardinal Mourning Dove Little Blue HeronGray Catbird Great Egret Boat-tailed Grackle

Funny thing about this park, we actually visited several mornings in search of what turned out to be my “nemesis bird” of the trip, the Limpkin! My dad sees them here frequently, but I missed out this time. Good to have a reason to return. Next time!

We ended the search on a high note with a good look at this remarkable creature, the Wood Stork.

Wood Stork

Wood Stork Wood Stork Wood Stork

If I keep writing about Florida will that make it sunny in Portland?!

Too bad this post pretty much sums up my awesome trip. Thanks for following along!

Happy Turtles

Happy turtles,

Audrey

Florida neighborhood birds

Florida was bound to happen. It was only a matter of time. My family lives there, umpteen birds winter in the tropical region, and it’s freezing in Portland.

I spent a week warming up, visiting family, and getting to know Florida birds. Growing up in the Tampa Bay area I would occasionally notice Blue Jays and Northern Cardinals, but it has taken a decade of dark, rainy, Pacific NW winters combined with a new love of birds to truly appreciate my hometown.

Sunshine, palm trees, and birds in November? Yes, please!

Sunshine, palm trees, and birds in November? Yes, please!

My mom and I went for a walk around the neighborhood, and spotted numerous birds, like the elegant White Ibis. 

White Ibis

This species has acclimated to suburban life pretty well. They nest and feed near humans, and they greeted us each morning on the lawn. In aquatic habitats, they eat fish and arthropods like crayfish, and on greenspaces they forage for large insects…and lizards! No kidding. I caught this juvenile with a brown anole gripped in its bill.

White Ibis

White Ibis

Good for the ibis, sad for the lizard. I miss living around those cutie-pie little reptiles. They liven up sidewalks, fences, shrubs, pretty much all surfaces in Florida. As a child, they provided hours of entertainment; I’d catch and play with the mini-dinosaurs by the handfuls.

Brown Anole

But I digress. Back to birds, like the Palm Warbler! They were everywhere. Sporting their winter plumage, they flittered around on driveways, lawns, shrubs, and even roofs, as they showed off their yellow undertail while making their signature tail wag.

Palm Warbler

And I saw grackles, phoebes, and mockingbirds – oh my!

So fun. On our walk we also saw three woodpecker species, a Downy Woodpecker, and two new woodpeckers! A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (juvenile) and a Red-bellied Woodpecker. 

Rain was in the forecast, but we continued along to the University of South Florida Botanical Gardens. Along the way, we spotted a Brown Thrasher!

Brown Thrasher

Lucky sighting. At the gardens we saw more Palm Warblers, a Bald Eagle mobbed by grackles, and a quick two-second glimpse of a Gray Catbird!

Gray Catbird

No way! I once drove a great distance to Eastern Washington in search of a Gray Catbird to no avail. It’s that easy, Florida? Okay, then.

Returning to the house, we got a big surprise.

Red-Shouldered Hawk

Make that two surprises!

Red-Shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawks! These birds were on my I-hope-to-see-these-in-Florida list and here were two perched on the light post just outside the house. How cool. They flew to the top of a parking garage, then returned later to a nearby pine tree. What a gorgeous pair of birds.

Not bad for a quick walk around the neighborhood. But that’s not all! I couldn’t get enough, so I returned to the USF campus to wander around, thwart campus security, and chase flocks of birds. Because that’s what you do when you’re in Florida.

I followed this flock to get a better look of the Eastern Bluebird. (and Palm Warblers in background). Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Nice! I also noticed a small black and white bird that was totally a nuthatch but not a nuthatch.

Black-and-white Warbler

Once I read the description in Cornell’s Merlin Bird ID App, “creeps along branches like a nuthatch, searching for insects,” I knew this was a Black-and-white Warbler. (I’m curious why it’s not called a Black-and-white Nuthatch; something to do with genetics?) The genus Mniotilta (nee-o-TIL-ta) is Greek origin from mnion, moss, and tiltos, plucked. The Black-and White Warbler (Mniotilta varia) uses moss to construct its nest.

I saw a female Summer Tanager (wish I’d seen a male too!). They use their large bills to catch wasps and bees on the fly. I wonder if that’s what she’s munching on.

Summer Tanager

I saw another insect-lover, the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

And if that weren’t enough, I returned to the house to find a Carolina Wren in the yard (looks like the eastern version of the Bewick’s Wren). 

Carolina Wren

AND a Black-throated Green Warbler!

Black-throated Green Warbler

So pretty! It was icing at this point. I watched the attractive little warbler catch insects around the ferns before flying far away to the treetops.

I lived in Florida for eighteen years, but I’d never seen its beauty in this way. I was always too focused on the heat, traffic, bugs, tourists, and moving as far away as I could. The change in perspective was refreshing. Satisfied with my first day acclimating to New Florida, I looked forward to seeking out the beauty of the next day!

Sunny tweets and chirps,

Audrey