Summer birding and a Red-headed Woodpecker

Summer birding is going as summer birding does. Slow. I’ve caught up on reading and done some yard work while I wait patiently for fall migration. This time of the year I volunteer with Cascades Pika Watch and visit my favorite talus-tater-friends, the American Pika.

Eeep!

One survey on Larch Mountain gave me a bonus Multnomah County Canada Jay.

Back in my 5-mile-radius I found a Green Heron in the Columbia Slough.

And a few shorebirds have started to trickle in at Broughton Beach. Western and Least Sandpipers have both been spotted on the shores.

Western (L), Least (R)

I finally saw my 5MR Caspian Tern.

And a surprise Bonaparte’s Gull in breeding plumage.

The Bonaparte’s was my 5MR bird #171. A couple of rarities showed up in my radius back in June, including a Great-tailed Grackle at Vanport (first county record?). I’ve wanted to see an GTGR in Oregon for a while now, and unfortunately I want to see a Great-tailed Grackle in Oregon again. The looks were barely diagnostic.

But it was followed by an Ash-throated Flycatcher, a really nice county bird and even better 5MR bird.

There’s been no shortage of baby birds this time of year.

Downy yard baby
Chestnut-backed chick-a-dee
White-crowned nugget
Brewer’s baby

And during one slow period I think I complained there was nothing I could chase that was convenient to my schedule. But then my friend Kayla found a Red-headed Woodpecker (!) on a Friday night. I had nothing planned for Saturday and no excuses. It would be a long drive to a random clear-cut on the Oregon Coast. And an even longer shot the bird would still be in the same place.

Kayla spotted the woodpecker as she and her husband were driving 60 mph along a highway near Reedsport. Two frantic u-turns later she confirmed she had seen a legit Red-headed Woodpecker (fourth Oregon record?). They normally occur east of the Rockies and this bird would be a lifer for me. Once I learned some friends were down for the chase I knew I’d be in good company either way it went so I had to give it a try.

I left early but behind schedule and behind a handful of other birders (including my friends Courtney, Caleb, Nick, and Maureen). I was still 20 minutes away when they texted that Maureen had refound the bird!! I did my best not to floor it and I arrived in time to high-five everyone.

And in time to see the woodpecker!! So dang lucky.

My photos do not do this handsome bird justice. It was much more striking in person.

We spent a little more time walking the highway pointing it out to new arrivals before saying our goodbyes to this awesome bird and continuing along. It was a beautiful day at the coast and I was happy to spend some time there. We went to Siltcoos River Estuary next to look at Snowy Plovers run along the sand and Marbled Murrelets (flying potatoes) over the water. No good photos of either unfortunately.

Then I was alerted to a Gray Catbird sighting at Ona Beach that same morning. It was an hour north and on the way home so it was the obvious next destination. We got to the location (the bushes by the bathroom) and Nick immediately spotted the bird. But sadly no one else could get on it in time so we waited. We ate lunch and waited a little longer entertained by a Swainson’s Thrush carrying food to a nearby nest.

Courtney and Caleb eventually had to take off. And then rest of us finally gave up. I walked back to the parking lot with Nick and Maureen but realized I should use the bathroom before getting back on the road. I hadn’t gotten far back by the restroom when birder Aaron Beerman and his parents waved me over, they’d just seen the catbird!

So I hurried over and didn’t see it. And continued not seeing it for about another 30 min. I gave up for a second (or third? I’ve lost track) time and was set to leave again when another birder, Bill Tice showed up. I told him the story, one person sees the bird then it’s gone for an hour but I figured I’d look with Bill for a few minutes anyways. Not long after we both saw it!!

Or barely saw it? The sneakiest catbird ever. Who knew that Red-headed Woodpeckers were easier to see than Gray Catbirds in Oregon! I’d spent way too much time waiting and finally left to get on the road to get home before dark. Summer birding fun!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

SoCal: The Salton Sea

This year for my 38th birthday Tomas and I treated ourselves to a road trip to southern California. The plan was to fly to L.A., pick up a rental van, drive to the Salton Sea, Joshua Tree, and Death Valley and then fly home from Las Vegas. I was inspired by a coworker’s experiences with Escape Campervans so we decided to try out #vanlife. It’s everything you think it is, quirky, convenient, and unconventional.

Vultures – a good omen?

“Simba” would be our lodging and transportation for the week. For some reason (mostly traffic) it took us 8 hours to cover the 165 miles between LA and Salton Sea on the first day. One of our stops included the Trader Joe’s in Palm Springs to load up on groceries for the week. We arrived at New Camp near the Salton Sea Headquarters in the dark. Not ideal but the sun sets at 4:30pm in the desert.

Cereal, it’s what’s for dinner

We settled in to hopefully get some sleep, but there were Loud. Trains. All. Night. Long. At least it was just the first day. In the morning we were tired, but surrounded by good distractions.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. Where in the world was I?

Welcome to the Salton Sea

Fish bones and barnacles

Ever since I saw the documentary Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea (watch it!) I’ve been fascinated with this strange part of the world and it’s quirky and complicated history (and uncertain future). And that was before I knew how important it is for migration, it’s one of the only reliable places in the United States to see a Yellow-footed Gull. Sold.

A friend lent me a copy of A Birder’s Guide to Southern California which was extremely helpful. It guided me to my first stop, the old swimming hole by headquarters.

Here I was immediately drawn to shorebirds, Black-necked Stilts, and a Spotted Sandpiper.

In the water were four American White Pelicans busy feeding, and a pair of White-winged Scoters, a rarity for the area.

Under the shrubs by the watering hole I met my first life bird of the trip, an Abert’s Towhee!

Not Albert or Ebert

Doing what towhee’s do, scritch-scratching in the dirt.

Because I was hoping for a Yellow-footed Gulls, I paid extra attention to the gulls. A YFGU looks like a Western Gull but with bright yellow legs instead of pink. This Herring Gull stood out to me, but it has pink legs, a pale eye, and light gray back.

In the water I saw a small group of Bonaparte’s Gulls swimming with Ring-billed and California Gulls.

And farther away was a gull slightly larger Bonaparte’s with a black bill and gray wash on the back of its head that I figured out was a late-season Laughing Gull.

The day was warming up already and we needed to get moving if we were to make it to the Sonny Bono NWR before too late. We drove along the north side of the sea and next to one road by the refuge I noticed a flock of 120+ Long-billed Curlews.

We pulled over to scan closer when Tomas spotted another surprise behind a barricade.

Burrowing Owl!

Adorable! And chill. We spent a lot of time watching this owl. It did not care. Meanwhile, noisy curlews called from the field and flew back and forth.

We made it to the refuge but the temperatures were already roasting. And a huge group of tourists were coming back from a guided walk. It was still pretty birdy, I saw Snow Geese,  Common Ground-Dove, Cattle Egret, but I had a hard time leaving the parking lot area because I spotted a Barn Owl hiding in one of the palm trees on the property.

I’d set up the scope to get better looks while Tomas walked around. He returned to tell me he’d seen Gambel’s Quail under the feeders. This would be a lifer for me (!) so I hurried over, but there were too many people around and no sign of the quail. So instead I talked to the rangers for gull advice.

They said our best bet for YFGU would be at Obsidian Butte not too far away. Tomas drove the van on some questionable sandy roads but we made it. There were huge obsidian boulders strewn about along with the typical fish bone beaches.

Have a seat and enjoy the view.

I’d read about the stink of the Salton Sea but it wasn’t too bad until the heat of the day at this spot. But the stink brings the birds. There were American Avocet, Marbled Godwit, Black-bellied Plovers, Willets, Forster’s Terns, Caspian Terns, and more gulls. I scoped the most promising gull in the distance.

I hurried over, minding the quick sand, but this gull was wearing pink legs.

Classic Western Gull

Tomas humored me driving around more farm roads looking for gulls, but eventually I had to throw in the towel. I knew finding one in winter might be difficult, but it was worth a try. They are best seen late May to early June, peaking late July to early August. It’s much hotter and stinkier then, but it seems I’ll have to take another trip (Or go to Baja!).

On the way out we found another Burrowing Owl that did not want to be seen.

Not so chill

We gave this little one space and went on our way. Next up was Salvation Mountain a religious art sculpture in the desert created by Leonard Knight (1931-2014). But there were few birds and I was more impressed by the sign next to the mountain.

Back at North Shore we stopped at the International Banana Museum for a banana split!

Because of course there’s a banana museum in the desert?!

Is this place great or what?

Bananas for birds,

Audrey

Puffins to Owls w/ Dad

Last week my dad visited from Florida to check out some apartments on the Oregon coast. He’s considering trading his eastern birds for western. Crazy, but true. We spent three nights between Newport and Seaside. My dad likes birds and packed his binoculars so our agenda was set.

We started at Beaver Creek Natural Area, one of my new favorite places since I saw my Oregon Black-and-White Warbler and my lifer Ruff here back in January. We drove past the wetlands and stopped for a Green Heron, followed by Virginia Rails out in the open (!) of course only for a split second. I thought maybe we could hear the Gray Catbird that’d been recently sighted (and is possibly nesting here) but no luck.

Green Heron and Barn Swallows

True to form, the Oregon coast was foggy, misty and cool and pretty much stayed that way the whole time. We visited the feeders at Beaver Creek next and saw Anna’s Hummingbird and Rufous Hummingbird. In that order.

Sometimes the feeders got a bit crowded.

Song Sparrow, American Goldfinch, Purple Finch Black-headed Grosbeak

Onward we phished up some curious warblers including Orange-crowned Warblers and Wilson’s Warblers.

In the afternoon we stopped by the Peregrine Falcon nest at Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area and it did not disappoint. We saw two falcons, one at the nest and another that screamed in an out entertaining visitors to the parking lot.

Before sunset we took a trip to Boiler Bay to scope out some adorable Marbled Murrelets and boring whales.

Woooooooo!

Yawn

We had good luck the next morning at Sitka Sedge State Natural Area where we met two Black Phoebe in the parking lot.

And a Wrentit along the trail right where it was supposed to be.

We missed the Snowy Plovers on the beach this day, but we did end up driving farther north to Fort Stevens State Park to look for a reported large group of Marbled Godwits. I had the bright idea to go to the end and work our way back, which was a terrible idea, because it wasn’t until after many miles and many stops in soft sand that we finally spotted them.

I said, I see godwits! My dad said, “Seriously?!” Not sure he believed me after all the misses. But there they were, all 73 of them.

Best of the bunch

Not just godwits, there was Semipalmated Sandiper, Sanderling, Western Sandpiper, the most Semipalmated Plovers I’ve seen in one place (56!).

Filling every nook

And young Caspian Terns in fancy outfits that just fascinated me.

So fancy

Where to go from here? Cannon Beach for Tufted Puffins of course! To which we saw just one (and only one) before celebrating over tasty beers and food at Pelican Brewery. The following morning we did a better job at finding puffins mixed in with Common Murre on the rock.

We watched them waddle awkwardly around on the rock, occasionally diving fearlessly off into the air.

On the drive home back into sunshine, we had time to stop at Dawson Creek Park in Hillsboro to check out the Acorn Woodpeckers which are always entertaining.

While strolling through the forest, I pointed out an area that sometimes has Great Horned Owls, but I’d never seen them. Then I looked up and lo and behold. Two!

Moral of the story, if you want to see owls, just start talking about them and they’ll show up. Such a fun trip! And a great variety of birds, we saw 85 species! I don’t know if my dad will move here, but the birds and I will be waiting for him if he does.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey