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,


Coyote Wall – The Labyrinth Hike

Monday, I took a trip to eastern Washington to hike the Coyote Wall-Labyrinth Loop. It was gorgeous! The sun was shining, the wildflowers blooming, and yes, the birds were singing! A perfect spring day to skip work and go for a hike.

Labyrinth Trail

The labyrinth trails are just that- a tangle of trails up, over, and around the basalt hills, but because the hike is so exposed and the highway nearby to the south, it’s pretty easy to meander without worry of getting lost. The beautiful white oak woodlands and grassland prairies of Oregon and Washington are limited and in decline yet they provide critical habitat to many important species. Hopefully management efforts will get it together to save and preserve these significant spaces.

One species that benefits from grasslands is the Western Meadowlark. Though it’s Oregon’s state bird (and 5 other states: Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming) I’ve never seen one before and have been anticipating an encounter since I began paying attention to birds.

Upon my arrival, I immediately heard the meadowlark’s song!…but didn’t see anything. I continued along the trail, noticing all the flutters and chirps of so many birds. I saw some common ones I’ve grown to know better, Western Scrub-Jay, Dark-eyed Junco, Northern Flicker, Spotted Towhee, and even a Yellow-rumped Warbler, American Kestrel, and Red-tailed Hawk. I also came across some uncommon birds, like this funny pink blob. Is that even a bird?

Lewis's Woodpecker

Yes, it is! It’s the Lewis’s Woodpecker! I so wish I had the chance to take a better picture, but the next moment a hiker joined by two dogs rounded the corner and the bird flew off. Still, it was a cool sighting, and knowing this bird is there is a great excuse to go back to try and find it again.

Other eastern birds I took better-ish pictures of:

Canyon Wren

I heard the Canyon Wren before I saw it. Such a unique song! I think the hike should be called “Canyon Wren Wall,” there were at least three pairs I saw throughout the day.

I also came across a pouty looking Golden-crowned Sparrow.

Golden-crowned Sparrow

Maybe he could learn a thing or two from the bluebird of happiness.

Western Bluebird

A Western Bluebird! What a treat!

By this point in the hike, I thought surely I would have seen a Western Meadowlark. I continued to hear the song, but I started to doubt that it was a Western Meadowlark. Maybe it was a thrush instead? Hmph. I wanted to find that bird.

I followed the sound back up the canyon. Then down. At one point it sounded like it was right in front of my face.

Definitely a Western Meadowlark, but I still couldn’t see it. Sometimes you see the bird, sometimes the bird sees you. There, on the ground! Is that a meadowlark?

Northern Flicker

Let’s take a closer look.

Northern Flicker

It’s a good thing I’ve taken a beginner’s birding class so know to focus on the field marks. As I compared this photo to the meadowlark in the field guides, I could see that the spots on the belly and back don’t quite match. And the tail is definitely wrong. It looks too long, and the black tip at the end…that’s the tail of a Northern Flicker. Outbirded again!

But here. Here is the only picture I got of a Western Meadowlark.

Western Meadowlark

It’s pretty comical how bad the single photo I got of the bird is after how much effort I put in trying to find it. Oh well, next time! Here’s a nice picture of a Common Raven instead.

Common Raven

Nevermore, tweets, and chirps,