Seattle to Malheur to Astoria IV

The finale! In the morning Tomas confirmed his bike-tour was over and he was ready for a pick-up. I was ready to leave early before the hunters returned anyways so I said goodbye to Steens Mountain and made way back to Frenchglen.

Until next time

While there I noticed a smoky haze had settled and as I drove toward Fields, it gradually worsened. Winds shifted bringing a thick layer of smoke from the fires burning most of Oregon (and nearby Idaho). We’d hoped to avoid the smoke being so far southeast, but it finally caught up to us.

Reunited at the Fields Station Cafe, Tomas and I loaded up on snacks and pondered our next move. We decided to head north where his bike ride would have taken him, toward the Alvord Desert, a 12 by 7-mile dry lake separated from the Pacific Ocean by the Coast Range, the Cascades, and Steens Mountain creating a rain shadow. It averages 7″ of rain per year.

It was a part of Oregon I’ve always wanted to see and I was interested to find out what kind of birds we might find here. Unfortunately due to the wildfire smoke visibility was very poor.

But we drove out onto it anyways. Totally legal. In fact deaf American stuntwoman Kitty O’neal set an unofficial women’s world land speed record here in 1976 at 512 mph.

We didn’t set any records, but it was still fun.

After doing donuts we left the desert and continued on. Where are the birds you ask? I asked the same thing. The best bird I saw in this area was a Prairie Falcon on a post.

Then we stopped at Mann Lake which is supposed to be good for shorebirds and terns, but we were met with limitations. Geese? Maybe gnats. Too far, too hazy.

There are several hot springs along this route, but we were already hot enough. At one rest spot I found a Brewer’s Sparrow and a Lark Sparrow taking refuge in the shade. Good comparison of their size difference.

The birds were hot, panting, and disappearing into the smoky heat waves.

Sizzling sparrow

You said it.

We meandered farther passing farm fields until I spotted a Golden Eagle on a power pole. We pulled over and inched closer and closer as it tolerated our presence. Barely.

I was excited for Tomas to see one since he’d drawn a Golden Eagle the first day of the trip but had yet to see any. Especially this close. We left on an eagle high and continued along until just before Burns we pulled over again, this time for a noisy pair of Sandhill Cranes. So good.

Back in Burns it was still smoky. It was also getting late. Considering our options, we decided on Idlewild campground because it was only 20 min north, higher elevation, and forested. Maybe less smoky? We stayed one night and it was slightly better air-quality wise, but not great. I birded the best I could, finding Williamson’s Sapsucker, Orange-crowned Warbler, Townsend’s Warbler, and Red Crossbills.

In the morning we checked the Air Quality Index. It was terrible.

We still had five more days, but at this point we thought about throwing in the towel and heading home. Fleeing from smoke was not the vacation we’d planned on. Then we learned that the Columbia Gorge was on fire (because of careless teenagers) and ash was actually falling from the sky in Portland (UGH). Home was on fire.

We joked that we could probably drive to the coast. Then it stopped being funny because that’s exactly what we did. Eight hours later, we’d arrived in Astoria and traded smoke for coastal fog.

I’ll be brief. It was cooler at least though visibility was still terrible. The highlight of this mini escape was the day I drove two hours farther north to Grayland Beach State Park.

Here I saw foggy Sanderling, foggy Brown Pelican, foggy Caspian Tern, foggy elk.

And the only life bird of the entire trip, Snowy Plover!!!

Even better. There were two!!

Both wearing fancy jewelry. So cute.

It was great. Relaxing and refreshing, just like vacations are supposed to be.

So not the trip we thought it would be but we still saw some cool stuff. Southeast Oregon is all so gorgeous and ridiculously quiet. We want to go back. I’m thinking springtime when it’s cooler and more bird species are migrating. Totally worth it because Malheur is awesome and you never know what you’ll see.

Until next time.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Seattle to Malheur to Astoria I

All in one week. Unintentional (and preventable) but it started with a gull. A very rare gull, which is how I explained it to Tomas when I asked if he minded we leave for vacation a little later than planned. With his blessing I left work immediately, hopped in the car with Jen and we made our way towards Seattle.

The detour paid off with good scope views and terrible photos of a…

Nope, not that goose. Much farther out.

Swallow-tailed Gull! The one on the left (use some imagination). But it was there! All the way from the Galápagos. A gull that feeds nocturnally on fish and squid. Don’t ask how it got there, but I’m glad it did. Some day hopefully I’ll get better looks at the islands, because we couldn’t hang out with this one longer this day.

Four hours later, back in Portland I met Tomas to start our four hour drive southeast. I volunteered to drive and pay for a hotel room since we got off to such a late start. Tomas drove an additional two and by midnight we’d made it to Burns. In the morning we found the desert.

Not long after, I found birds. We visited “The Narrows,” a small channel once much larger connecting Mud Lake and Malheur Lake. Due to various reasons including drought and carp, there isn’t much water left now. Even still, many birds congregate at this muddy stopover. Some of the highlights:

White-faced Ibis

Black-necked Stilt

Forster’s Tern

More White-faced Ibis

Juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron

Gobs of Gadwall

The occasional Peregrine flyover

Franklin’s Gull (and Black-necked Stilt)

Pied-billed Grebe or bowling pin

Western Grebe

There were also egrets and heron on site, easy ones like Snowy Egret, Great Egret, Great Blue Heron, and these next couple of complicated birds that I almost don’t want to mention. They are difficult birds to ID and neither one fits neatly in a box. Some call them Hegrets. They’re somewhere between a Little Blue Heron and Cattle Egret with features of each.

Don’t look so innocent with those dusky tail feathers. What are you?

The weirdest find were two dead Red-necked Phalaropes near the road.  Wth.

RIP phalarope

We got stuck in a few cattle drives which was entertaining at first, but grew old quickly after dodging endless piles of stubborn cows.

Once beyond the bovine we finally made it to Malheur Headquarters, at last reopened to the public.

It was nice to see it in the hands of the park service. As it should be. Nothing unusual bird-wise here, Rufous Hummingbird, Caspian Tern, Greater Yellowlegs, Killdeer, Say’s Phoebe, and so many Yellow-headed Blackbirds.

While I birded the grounds, Tomas spent time in the museum sketching a Golden Eagle.

It was late afternoon and hot, hot, hot by this time so we headed towards our lodging destination, the Frenchglen Hotel.

We were excited to see what else we could find in the desert.

Peekaboo.

(No grasshoppers were harmed in the making of this blog post.)

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Bonus Broughton

After all the driving on the coast the day before, I opted to stay close to home the following day. I got up early to check out Broughton Beach and found an intensely red sunrise.

One plus to all the wildfires.

There was another birder on the scene who nicely pointed out the Sanderling running along the shore.

I always think of them as small shorebirds, and they are, except when running alongside smaller Western Sandpipers.

Another small peep that showed up was a Semipalmated Plover.

Make that three of them!

A Caspian Tern made a fly-by appearance.

But the star of the morning turned out to be one that had been a lifer just the day before.

Thin bill, dark eye-stripe, stripey back, a Red-necked Phalarope! Within 5 miles of my house. This beauty paid us no mind because it was focused on the insects just above the water.

File these under blurry but I don’t care. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.

It’s not a flycatcher, but it flipped out of the water like one catching insects. There must have been a hatch event of something tasty this day. We watched in amazement and then the phalarope did something else it doesn’t do.

It walked right out of the water onto the shore just long enough for our jaws to drop in amazement before it headed back in the water to catch more insects. What a sight!

They’re smaller than they look. Here it is in relation to a gull.

Just when I thought shorebirds couldn’t be more fun.

My thoughts are with my friends and family in Florida today! Hope you’re all holding through okay. My dad recently sent me this amazing photo of a family of Limpkins he saw on his morning walk.

Incredible. I hope they’re all okay too.

Love and hugs,

Audrey