Bike Touring Orcas Island

We were warned about Orcas Island. Per the Cycling Sojourner guide, Orcas is “the most challenging for cycling. Prepare for lots of hills, dramatic coastline, and picturesque harbors.” Lots of hills. With that threat and more rain on the way, we made an executive decision to get a hotel room.

Fake blue skies

Fake blue skies

Orcas Hotel is charming and historic. We picked the cheapest room, but the check-in clerk said she didn’t like that room and because it was a Wednesday and the hotel was basically empty, she upgraded us. Harbor view and candy-striped peach wallpaper? We’re in!

While splurging, we also rented a car for four hours (small island-style) from the local gift shop owner. After several days of bike travel, driving feels like flying. We were excited to scout out the bike route and find the Country Corner laundry mat. Because priorities. Once laundry was finished we had just enough time to drive to Mt Constitution, the highest point in the San Juan Islands (2398′) and reputed as one of the best maritime views in the USA.

Not this day. And where are the birds you ask? I asked that too. All I could come up with was Dark-eyed Junco and Red Crossbill, and poor photos. We returned to the hotel, grateful we hadn’t biked the 2300′ of elevation gain in under 5 miles. Maybe on a clear day.

The next day was rainier than expected, but rested and refueled, we were ready to climb back on the saddle.

Orcas

While driving we learned that the main road (Orcas Rd) is narrow and has heavy traffic. And like all the islands we figured out, the heaviest traffic coincides with ferry arrivals and departures. But because Tomas is super resourceful he found an alternate bike route with less traffic along Dolphin Bay Rd.

I love this road.

Dolphin Bay Rd

Yes, there were hills. Even gravel hills.

Dolphin Bay Rd.

But it was quiet with very little traffic. We had the best silliest time.

Dolphin Bay Rd.

I birded along the way, hearing typical NW forest birds, Pacific Wren, Bewick’s Wren, Song Sparrow, and Kinglets. The best I got during the ride was an Osprey. Once we linked back up with the main road we were back to traffic and a pink flamingo farm? Weird.

Flamingos

We made it to East Sound and checked out the bike shop, the local brewery, and indulged heavily in pastries and the best chai tea I’ve ever had at Brown Bear Baking. Seriously, that place is good.

Just after East Sound we passed Crescent Beach, where I found the most birds on this Island.

Shoreline Preserve

There were Mew Gulls and Canada Geese.

Canada Goose

White-Crowned Sparrow and Northern Pintail.

Northern Pintail

Bottoms up

Bottoms up

Biking the 5 miles from East Sound to Moran State Park was the most challenging part of the whole trip. But eventually we made it.

Moran State Park

And we were rewarded with some of the nicest hiker-biker sites I’ve ever experienced. Far from car-camping and roads, lots of privacy, and plenty of hammock trees.

Moran State Park

And when it poured rain, we set up under the nice pavilion. Not a bad plan B.

Moran State Park

The rains came and went, the birds were pretty quiet, and the deer were abundant.

Black-tailed Deer

One last island to go.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Kennewick, WA

Not long after birding Vancouver Lake, Tomas and I packed up the car for a return trip to southeastern Washington. I felt like there was more to be seen along the Snake River than the weekend before. I was right.

On the drive there (and back) we saw Bighorn Sheep! A first for both of us. My best photo taken from the car going 60 mph along I-84 on the Oregon side.

Bighorn Sheep

The weather was cold, rainy, and windy, so unfortunately camping was out.  Instead, we stayed at Clover Island Inn, which is situated on an island on the Columbia River. I thought it might get me closer to birds on the river, but I’m not sure I would recommend staying there, it’s kind of dumpy. And rather creepy.

Hotel twilight zone captured by Tomas.

Hotel twilight zone captured by Tomas.

The only birds I saw from the hotel were Horned Grebes, American Coots, Canada Geese, Song Sparrow, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and gulls. The hotel’s most redeeming quality is that it’s within walking distance to Ice Harbor Brewery.

Geese

Geese on way to the pub

The party really picked up along the Snake River. We stopped at every park, from Hood Park to Fishhook Park, and back to McNary National Wildlife Refuge.

We saw Red-tailed Hawks, Bald Eagles, and Killdeer.

Red-tailed Hawk

Bald Eagle

Killdeer

And I met the angriest owl ever.

Murder

Murder

I’m pretty sure this one’s responsible for several deaths. Including that of at least one Barn Owl. So pretty, so sad. R.I.P. Mr Owl.

Barn Owl feather

Barn Owl leg

We also met an owl that I’m sure wouldn’t hurt a fly. Maybe a small mouse, but not a fly.

Northern Saw-whet Owl

My first Northern Saw-whet Owl!!! So cute!

Murder

Murder

Once the owl high wore off, I came to and noticed a few other birds. Including a new finch!

Cassin's Finch

Cassin's Finch

Cassin's Finch

Cassin's Finch

These are tough. They are either Purple or Cassin’s Finch (I am open to suggestions). Even Whatbird couldn’t agree. Female/juvenile Purple Finch have a distinctive face pattern, strong/blurry streaking on sides and chest, and a shorter bill. Cassin’s streaks are crisper, their beaks are longer with straighter sides, and they have a thin white eye ring. Male CAFI are raspberry red on top, PUFI can be rosy below the crown.

To make matters more interesting, in some parts of Washington both species will flock together. And House Finch will join in the fun too.

HOFI on left, CAFI/PUFI on right

HOFI on left, CAFI/PUFI on right

The more I see them the more I know what to look for. One unmistakable species we came across was a flock of California Quail.

California Quail

California Quail

Too bad I couldn’t get better pictures, they’re so pretty! There were at least 20 of them scurrying in the underbrush calling, clucking, and “pit-pit“-ing alarm calls. These birds have some fantastic sounds.

At McNary NWR, we stopped for a reported Black-crowned Night-Heron and American White Pelican. No luck on the night-heron, but while Tomas sat in the warm, comfy car he spotted the pelican sitting below a Great Blue Heron rookery! Great find!

American White Pelican

Meanwhile, I fought the wind and shrubs and came up with a Marsh Wren. Not bad either.

Marsh Wren

What an awesome trip. On the drive home we even made time for a quick hike at Coyote Wall, the land of sunshine, waterfalls, and rainbows.

Coyote Wall

Doggy

Yep, afterwards we were that content.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Cottonwood Canyon State Park

Original weekend plans for Indian Heaven Wilderness thwarted by rain, my boyfriend and I headed east instead to explore a new state park, celebrate our 50th monthiversary, and see what birds we could find!

The rugged, dry-side Cottonwood Canyon State Park, established recently in 2013, is rich in sagebrush, wildlife, stunning canyon views, and plenty of open space to explore at over 8,000 acres making it the second largest state park in Oregon (after Silver Falls). Only a 2-hour drive from Portland it’s equipped with primitive campsites, but we opted for backpacking and solitude from civilization.

With our packs suited up, we headed out. We chose a campsite along the John Day River with a large basalt canyon on one side, and sagebrush filled hills on the other. Sweet spot!

Cottonwood Canyon State Park

I considered changing this blog’s title to: “Chasing Meadowlarks.” Because that’s how I spent much of my time. They were everywhere! And nowhere…sneaky birds were easy to hear, hard to see. What bird?…Where?

Ohhhh….there it is.

Western Meadowlark

The bird’s yellow markings blend in nicely with the flowers in bloom.

Western Meadowlark

It was neat to wake up in camp listening to their captivating calls. More than meadowlarks, I caught glimpses of a few new birds too! I had a hard time wrapping my head around some of these, seeing new birds can be a stunning experience.

The Loggerhead Shrike! Not to be confused with the Northern Shrike. The loggerhead has a broader mask, stubby bill without obvious hook, and is darker grey on top than the Northern Shrike (my photo is a bit overexposed). Northern Shrike are also rarer in this region.
Loggerhead Shrike

The Say’s Pheobe was a cool sighting, the bird hovered in the wind above the branch a couple of times before quickly flying away. Lacking confidence ID-ing this bird on my own, I conferred with WhatBird and folks weighed in noting the “coloration on the undersides of the bird – the uniformity and distribution of this rufousy-brown color is a very good field mark for Say’s Phoebe.” Field guides also mention it “wags its tail when perched” which I hadn’t known to look for before, but I do now!
Say's Phoebe

I figured out the Townsend’s Solitaire on my own. A type of thrush, in the family Turdidae. The long and slim TOSO has a drab grey color overall, but a distinctive white eye-ring that really stands out. Also, Sibley mentions, “in winter almost always found among juniper trees.” Indeed, that’s precisely where it perched.
Townsend's Solitaire

I watched it for a while as it swirled around the juniper catching insects in the air.
Townsend's Solitaire

Another bird I braved to ID on my own was this little brown fella. The lack of belly streaks ruled out most of my guesses (Savannah Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow), not much stands out. Then I read on Cornell about the “bird without a field mark,” the Brewer’s Sparrow, and it seems to fit. Another clue is the habitat, “notable for their reliance on sagebrush breeding habitat” and “most abundant bird across the vast sagebrush steppe” sealed the deal for me. I’m curious about this bird’s bill, it seems to be a bit crossed.
Brewer's Sparrow

Other cool bird sightings:

I had hoped to possibly see a Golden Eagle, Prairie Falcon, or perhaps resident upland gamebirds, the Chukar Partridge or Ring-necked Pheasant, (or bighorn sheep!) but no such luck. According to Wiki, the Bullock’s Oriole and Lazuli Bunting are summer visitors to the park, but the searing summer heat will probably keep me away. All in all it was a great trip!

And wouldn’t you know it, I got the best view (and photos) of the Western Meadowlark on the drive back when we stopped by Marryhill Stonehenge, in Washington.

Western Meadowlark

Western Meadowlark

I’ve almost seen 100 bird species this year!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey