No (R)egrets

A short while ago my friend Eric and I were doing some light, casual, local birding. We managed to find a Multnomah County Swamp Sparrow a new county bird for each of us (both #215!).

Then a report of a Cattle Egret came in. A week prior there was a report of one at Fernhill Wetlands that turned out to be a Great Egret. But this report seemed more plausible, “seen with 10 Great Egrets.” We didn’t see photos, but we also didn’t have a good reason not to try for it, so we went.

Two hours later we were on the side of Washburn Lane scratching our heads. Is that egret smaller? Maybe that one? None looked strikingly different. They were also difficult to see due to tall grass and poor light. Then two egrets flew and one looked “slightly smaller.” Sort of. See Eric’s photo of the egrets in this eBird checklist.

We left knowing we hadn’t seen a Cattle Egret, but we weren’t sure if the bird we saw was a female GREG (males can be 20% larger than females) or young egret or something else.

My only usable photo of egret sp. with nothing for scale

Turns out, this egret sparked debate that it could be an Intermediate Egret, a medium-sized egret that occurs from Africa to the Philippines. There has been a single confirmed occurrence of an Intermediate Egret (found deceased, blown in from a storm with 7 other egrets) in the Aleutian Islands on Buldir Island in 2006. So the likelihood of this bird being Intermediate is (sure, anything is possible) slim.

I feel it’s similar to the McKay’s Bunting “pale bird,” without a DNA sample we’ll never know for sure. To distinguish Intermediate from Great Egret, Oriental bird specialist Desmond Allen says “after the first 500-1000 you may start to see the differences more easily.” Sounds like a fun (painful) I.D. exercise. I didn’t know Intermediates existed before this, but for now I’m leaving this one as egret sp.

Eric and I gave up egretting to take another look at the Tundra Bean-Goose nearby at Finley NWR. Eric spotted the goose easily and we got the best looks yet.

By then it was nearing dusk so we left to look for Short-eared Owls at Prairie Overlook. We saw two! Along with Red-shouldered Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, and distant looks at a White-tailed Kite. Excellent consolation birds all of which I took terrible photos of.

Guess who

Four days later another Cattle Egret report came in. What?! This time I waited to see photos and sure enough, James Billstine had found two in Tillamook! It was noon and I was at work, but I knew if I left immediately I could make it before dark.

Finally, real Cattle Egrets! Distant looks, but still a good reminder how tiny they are compared to Great Egrets. No question about these (state year bird #319!). Maybe someday these two will make even more Cattle Egrets in Oregon.

No regrets.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Florida: Circle B Bar Reserve I

My dad and I birded almost every day on this trip. It’s nice he shares a fondness of feathers. And since last time I left without finding Limpkins, this time he took time scouting parks for potential. He found Circle B Bar Reserve.

Located in Lakeland, FL, the former cattle ranch is over 1200 acres of now protected wildlife reserve home to more than 220 species of birds. Not to mention the alligators, bobcats, armadillos, otters, foxes, insects, reptiles, and 45 butterfly species. It’s part of the East Section of the Great Florida Birding Trail, a 2000-mile collection of protected spaces.

We made three trips to this park in six days and each time we found something new.

It’s glorious. And also a popular destination for photographers (check out the Flickr page).

On our first visit, just a few feet down the trail as I scanned for birds, all of a sudden Limpkins, Limpkins, Limpkins!!!

Not just Limpkins, BABY Limpkins!

I think my exact words were, “OMG baby Limpkins, are you kidding me?”

Limpkins’ main source of food is apple snails, and they are found in abundance here. Florida apple snails are the only native snail, but several invasives have moved in, including the island apple snail, wrecking havoc on wetland crops and the ecosystem, but creating a great food source for Limpkins. They also have the potential to help the endangered Snail Kite (one bird we missed).

Bubblegum or snail eggs?

Where food is plentiful, so are babies. Even in November apparently.

My dad and I watched mama Limpkin break open the apple snail to feed the little Limpkin chick. It was so amazing to watch.

Eventually I pulled myself away from the Limpkins long enough to admire other birds, like plentiful Black-bellied Whistling Ducks.

Including Black-bellied Whistling ducklings. Awwww.

And baby Wood Storks. Awwww?

Wood Storks are great, to feed, they balance one wing out while swirling their feet in the water stirring up good stuff.

So clever.

Another lifer common at the park was the Glossy Ibis.

So glossy

Different from the White-faced Ibis I’ve seen in southeastern Oregon because of its dark iris and pale lines on its face.

Tri-colored Herons coasted by.

Cattle Egrets scarfed down grasshoppers.

And Anhinga juggled fish. Birds here are so talented.

While watching this Anhinga toss fish like pizza dough I looked down and caught a glimpse of movement. Hey!

Sneaky snipe

Wilson’s Snipe! A great spot. It’s important to keep your eyes open, you never know when something will sneak up on you, it could have been this guy.

Hey, I recognize that hump.

We never got a look at its face but I’m pretty sure I heard a low growl rumble from those waters. Check out this video of it crossing the path. So big!

The only thing we saw crossing the trail were tiny birds like this Little Blue Heron.

And a turtle (peninsula cooter?) that stopped for a moment to lay eggs.

The real treat came when we turned around on the trail and something bright yellow caught my eye.

Hello Yellow-throated Warbler! What a beauty. Captivated we followed the busy warbler while it pried leaves open and searched the moss for tiny insects.

A treat for the warbler and a treat for us. This park was so great!

More Circle B birds to come.

Tweets, chirps, and Limpkins,

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