Fireworks are going off. Summer must be here. It’s hot, birds have slowed down so now I can too. It’s been a busy couple of months! Back in May, Tomas and I took a weekend trip to Eugene for a Night at the Cascades Raptor Center. Wine, snacks, and owl entertainment provided for a small donation to help the birds? Shut up and take my money.
The facilities are great. They are situated on a forested hill much like Forest Park in Portland.
Yes, it was a little hard seeing these beautiful creatures in cages. But things happen, and sometimes animals need help. Like Nike, the Gyrfalcon that was found in 2005 with an infected eye that ultimately had to be removed.
No longer able to hunt, Nike is cared for and works as an education bird.
Later in the evening, we finally heard Ravi, the Western Screech Owl singing her ping-pong song. She was the lone survivor in a nest cut down by logging in 2005 and is now a favorite of the Education Team.
I’m glad we finally made the trip out here, it was definitely worth the visit. All of the animals are “adoptable” with funds going to the support and care of the birds. This visit was also a fun introductory as I’ve joined the Portland Audubon Wildlife Care Center volunteer team for baby bird season this year. It’s been one of the most altruistic experiences. And the most duck poop I’ve ever seen.
Back to Eugene. My local friend, Rachel, recommended checking out a few places including Stewart Pond and Skinner Butte.
At the pond I found Long-billed Dowitcher (based on location).
A surprise Solitary Sandpiper.
And nesting Red-winged Blackbirds stalked by Great Blue Heron.
But I had the best time at Skinner Butte. It’s not terribly big, smaller than Mt Tabor, but I ended up spending almost 6 hours there. Too much fun. It’s a known stopover for migrating warblers.
Warblers indeed. There were Black-throated Gray.
And gobs of Orange-crowned Warblers.
To name a few. I also saw a MacGillivray’s but couldn’t manage a photo. I saw a few other migrating birds including, Cassin’s Vireo and many Warbling Vireo.
And a nice surprise Calliope Hummingbird!
Also, Pacific-slope Flycatcher.
And Turkey Vultures sunning themselves.
And I spent a lot of time watching Black-capped Chickadees collecting nesting material.
At one point I almost left, but then right by the parking lot, I spotted my FOY Western Tanager.
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
Most of the common yard birds made an appearance.
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.
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!
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!