Wasco County

I used to think county birding was silly. But that was before I realized how much fun it can be. Birds don’t adhere to geopolitical boundaries, but it’s a good excuse for humans to get out of the house and go exploring. Which is exactly why I said yes when Sarah and Max invited me to join them for some Wasco County birding.

I’d picked up 30 species the weekend before, so I didn’t have much of a goal, but Sarah and Max only needed three more species to make it to 100! Luckily, eBird organizes sightings by county so it makes it super easy to see county numbers.

Spoiler alert

We decided to make a large loop through the county starting in the higher elevation forest east of Mt Hood where we heard Hermit Warbler, Purple Finch, Varied Thrush, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, and Cassin’s Vireo.

Quickly we dropped out of the forest into the scrubby rangeland and farmland habitat and scanned trees and powerlines for more birds.

Almost immediately, Sarah saw a Tree Swallow which turned out to be their 100th county bird! A nearby yard turkey gobbled in celebration.

Wasco County yard turkey

We thought there’d be more of a challenge, but it turns out county birding is easy. We stopped for the Mountain Bluebird on a wire.

Followed by Western Kingbirds.

We ended up seeing 15 (!!) in total. Wasco County is the king of kingbirds. Here’s five at once that looks like a flight sequence.

Before our trip I’d messaged our friend Brodie since he lived in Wasco County before so he knew where all the good birding spots were. He had lots of tips, one of which led us to a farm field looking for Long-billed Curlews.

We saw a large, buffy shorebird with curved wings far in the distance defending its territory from a Northern Harrier. It flew our direction, then dropped down into a row of shrubs on private property. It was an exciting sight, but sadly, no photos.

Instead, we had closer views of Yellow-bellied Marmots.

Consolation marmot

And later a nice soaring Swainson’s Hawk.

Brodie’s brother lives in Maupin and he was kind enough to let us stalk his hummingbird feeder for a Rufous Hummingbird, that I only got a blurry photo of. While waiting we also saw a Western Tanager fly over. We were on a roll.

At a sage bluff overlooking the Deschutes River a Canyon Wren sang out and then we made eye contact with a Peregrine Falcon. We’d hoped for a Golden Eagle, but missed seeing one the whole day. As we turned to leave we heard a “sparrow” singing in the brush that sounded too good not to follow.

Don’t think about camping there, Max

We never got visuals, but after recording the song and having multiple reviewers listen, it turns out this bird was actually a Lazuli Bunting! Recording in this checklist.

We left, but not before Max stopped to rescue a Bull Snake in the road.

After all this, why not go look for a few rare Snow Geese?

So easy. The geese were located near Price Rd Wetlands which is a basically a large private estate with distant views to water below.

If only we knew who lived at Quail Heights. Nevertheless, from the bluff we saw Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Black-billed Magpie, Lewis’s Woodpeckers and Max heard an Ash-throated Flycatcher here. And down the road we spooked a Great Horned Owl.

That led us to find owlets! Practicing branch-walking.

A very fun find. While watching the owls we stirred up a few other birds including a Pygmy Nuthatch, Bushtits, and little House Wrens checking out nest holes.

A perfect fit

At the bottom of the hill we tried to turn Red-winged Blackbirds into Tri-coloreds, and Say’s Phoebes into more kingbirds.

Phoebes not kingbirds

By the creek we had Yellow Warbler, Wood Duck, a family of Canada Geese.

And I got a photo of a warbler that turned out to be a Nashville Warbler!

A great county bird. We made a couple more stops to pick up Bank Swallow.

As well as Northern Rough-winged Swallow.

The county birds just kept coming. Until we finally reached Seufert Park next to the Columbia River in the Dalles where we’d hoped for a pelican or two, but instead rounded out the day with Double-crested Cormorant, California Gull, and yet another Western Kingbird.

Such a fun day! We ended up seeing a total of 87 species, bringing Sarah and Max to 120, and me to 95! Only 5 species away from 100. A great excuse to get out of the house and go explore Wasco county again.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Shorebirds!

That is genuine enthusiasm. Not excited? Here’s an adorable Semipalmated Plover to ease some of the discomfort.

Fall migration is happening and I am facing it head on. Because I went to Smith and Bybee Lakes and totally failed at identifying birds. I forgot how hard it is.

There’s hundreds of shorebirds there, and I had trouble identifying one of them. So I do that thing that I do when I can’t figure something out on my own. I seek out help. That same week I logged on to Portland Audubon’s classes, and to my luck I saw “Learn to Identify Fall Shorebirds” with John Rakestraw. And it wasn’t full.

John is the same instructor who teaches the Gull ID class and Warblers and Flycatchers, as well as many others. He even wrote a book, Birding Oregon. I was in good hands.

In the classroom we learned of the 20 or so shorebirds that visit the Oregon coast and Willamette Valley. We looked at large slides of birds and called out the field marks. It’s all about the field marks; the shape of the bird, size of the head vs. the bill, the color of the legs, and the bird’s behavior. It’s knowing what to look at for each bird. This is the key.

Long-billed Dowitchers prefer freshwater ponds, whereas Short-billed Dowitchers like tidal marshes and estuaries, so location and habitat can also provide clues. It’s all part of a puzzle and that’s what makes it fun.

Our field trip fun started one foggy morning at Seaside looking at birds on the rocks.

Or really birds that look like rocks. We found a pile of Black Turnstones. We hoped to pick out a Ruddy Turnstone, but none showed up this time. We dipped out on shorebirds at a couple more spots until we lucked out on some birds that look like mud.

That’s two Western Sandpipers on the left and one Semipalmated Plover on the right. Westerns have black legs and long droopy bills. Semi Plovers have one breast band.

We also saw Caspian Terns soaring above the water, and I didn’t notice until looking at photos later, this one has a yellow leg band.

We made it to Fort Stevens State Park but there was still low shorebird activity.

Until we looked in the distance.

We walked farther down the beach to get a closer look.

But trucks are allowed to drive on the shore here and they’d scattered the flock.

Eventually we got looks at more Western Sandpipers, and even had a Semipalmated Sandpiper in the mix for comparison.

All Westerns – long, droopy bill, black legs.

Western Sandpiper (L), Semipalmated Sandpiper (R)

Westerns and Semipalmated look almost identical except Semipalmated Sandpipers have a short blunt bill. It was tough to get good looks before the flocks moved along. Shorebirds not cooperating? Let’s look at gulls!

California Gull – dark eye, red and black in the bill, yellow-greenish legs

And some of my favorite gulls were visiting, Heermann’s Gulls. Two E’s two N’s, orange bills, unmistakable.

John admitted shorebird numbers seemed unusually low. We missed out on Sanderlings, Black-bellied Plovers, and a few others. We checked back at Seaside, but found nothing new. Except jousting crabs.

The one above lived to tell the tale but I can’t say the same for this one.

We made another stop at Seafarer’s Park near the Hammond’s Marina where we found a Common Murre swimming out of place this far up the river.

The best action of the day came next.

Apparently Heermann’s Gulls are pirates! They wait for a Brown Pelican to dive, before pouncing and trying to pry the meal out of the pelican’s gullet.

Neat stuff. I felt bad for the pelican, but they’re not exactly known as saints either.

The shorebirds were so few at the coast we made an extra stop at Fernhill Wetlands on the way back. But the day was hot and the heat waves made it difficult to see the birds in the distance. I’ll spare you the blurry photos of the Spotted Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, and Least Sandpipers. Here’s a pair of Greater Yellowlegs instead.

That bill looks like it’s twice the length of the head and those are some nice yellow legs. Bird identified. It might seem obvious, but if there’s one take-home message of the day it’s that there are limitations. Sometimes the birds are too far, or they move too quickly; distance, weather, terrain, trucks, there’s so many obstacles, but it’s important to focus on what can be seen and not get discouraged.

And when that doesn’t work, stay at home and make flash cards!

Nothing to it.

Moving along, we got good looks of a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk.

And a Green Heron oddly perched out in the open.

Not enough shorebirds in my shorebirds post? How about brown ducks instead.

Just kidding. I’ll save the Cinnamon Teal for later and keep my eyes peeled for more peeps to identify in the mean time.

Learning new things every day.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

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