The Wallowas

According to Travel Oregon there are 7 Wonders of Oregon and before last week I’d seen all of them except the Wallowas. This was also one of the last two counties in Oregon I hadn’t birded before (Malheur County is the other). This is why I love birding, it inspires me to go places I’ve not gone before. Sometimes to a landfill or sewage treatment plant, but other times to one of those “pinch me” places like the Wallowas.

Tomas and I stayed in a cozy Airbnb (walking distance to Sugar Time Bakery! and a block from Terminal Gravity Brewery) in Enterprise for three nights, and we spent Christmas Eve in The Landing Hotel in LaGrande. It made for the perfect getaway. Tomas painted and studied, while I birded.

This corner of Oregon is home to a few specialty species not easily found elsewhere and I hoped to run into a few of them. Each morning I had to choose between forest birds in the snowy mountain foothills.

Or driving farm roads looking for birds in the countryside.

Tough choices. I ended up making four trips to McCully Creek in the mountains hoping for grouse but I had better luck finding woodpeckers like this Hairy Woodpecker.

And this punky Pileated Woodpecker.

There were long birdless stretches in the countryside but that is part of the gamble, there can be absolutely nothing or a bird will show up that you’ll never see again in your life. It was early in the season for rarities and a low-snow year, but I managed to find a single Gray-crowned Rosy Finch perched on a metal barn roof!

In snowier times there can be flocks of 300-500 rosy finches. I was stoked to find just one (state year bird #320!).

Other good birds in the country were Rough-legged Hawks.

And Northern Shrikes like this one that accidentally flew closer for crushing looks.

In every barn was a Great Horned Owl keeping watch.

I had a tip from a friend to check out the Wallowa Fish Hatchery in Enterprise that had a few nice surprises like my county Belted Kingfisher.

A Townsend’s Solitaire drinking and bathing in the fresh hatchery water.

And a Great Horned Owl tucked into the branches along the nature trail.

Back on the country roads one late afternoon as I scanned the fields, I saw a pile of rocks start moving.

Gray Partridges!!! A life bird! And one of my target species of the Wallowas (#321!). I was giddy. I watched for a while as the chubsters used their heads to dig through the snow. They were the perfect Christmas presents.

Another time at McCully Creek I bumped into Nolan Clements, a birder who was in the area participating in a Wallowa CBC. This turned out to be the best luck because Nolan grew up in LaGrande and he knows where all the good birds are.

The good birds are over here

We met up the next day to look for Harris’s Sparrows (which we dipped on) and American Tree Sparrows which we found! #322!

This is another NE Oregon target bird I’d hoped to find. I haven’t seen a Tree Sparrow since my trip to Montana in 2015!

In the afternoon we made a stop at The Bobolink, a beer-birding-disc golf shop owned and run by a birder friend of ours, Trent Bray.

We picked out a couple of specialty beers then Trent gave us a tip about Bohemian Waxwings in town. WHAT. These weren’t even on my radar, but they were now. We set off driving in circles around town getting the tour of LaGrande while checking the fruit trees and chasing waxwings.

We had a Cooper’s Hawk flyover, Nolan heard a Townsend’s Solitaire, and we passed a gang of decked out Wild Turkeys.

Eventually we caught up with the waxwings perched high in Poplar trees. Scanning though, Nolan spotted one Bohemian Waxwing! #323!

They’re slightly larger than Cedar Waxwings, darker gray underneath, and they have cinnamon-colored undertail coverts. Thanks to Nolan for helping us find such great birds and saving us time before our drive home.

Tomas and I spent the next morning looking for Great Gray Owls that we could not find, but it was a nice walk in the snow anyhow before our long way back home.

Tweets and chirps and Happy New Year!

Audrey

Michigan- Parks

When not visiting family, Tomas and I spent our mornings at nearby local parks. His family lives in Grand Blanc, MI a suburb of Detroit, just south of Flint. There were lots of places to choose from. Michigan is flat and it reminded me a little of Florida, lots of lakes and thick woodsy forests making for challenging birding conditions. I did my best.

We pulled up to the entrance of Holly Recreation Area and I immediately hopped out of the minivan. There was a flurry of bird activity, Gray Catbird, Cedar Waxwing, Downy Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, a thrush calling later identified as Veery, and my lifer Eastern Towhee!

Looks just like spotted, minus the spots! Then I noticed a small warbler.

Oh shit! Chestnut-sided Warbler!

Two life-birds and we hadn’t even made it past the front gate. I would have been happy just hanging out there, but more cars pulled up and we eventually had to go in. Tomas went for a barefoot run on the trails, while I spent my time exploring the dense forest.

The birdsong sounded exotic and I was pulled in all directions. Where to begin? Eventually I focused on (less exotic) robins alarming in the distance that led me to a Barred Owl deep in the forest that flew before I could get pictures. Still a cool experience.

I followed more singing that finally led me to another life bird, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak!

That guy doesn’t know how happy I was to see him. It was incredible. There were lots of other birds, Red-tailed Hawk, Eastern Kingbird, Eastern Bluebird, Northern Cardinal, House Wren. And just before we left, I heard an intriguing song that I chased down to find yet another life-bird, an Indigo Bunting!

Hey-o. Birding was new again, mysteries galore and new treasures around every corner. And it wasn’t even a birding trip. We spent more time meeting friends and family, and dining on delicious arepas and Columbian spaghetti. Then Tomas and I made time to visit another park called Indian Springs Metro Park. We got a late start on this morning and it was blazing hot by the time we arrived.

I had a particular sparrow in mind at this location, a Henslow’s Sparrow. There had been one sighted the day prior. I read that they are “solitary and secretive” and prefer “damp grassy meadows with matted vegetation, weeds, and ground cover.” The park is huge and I didn’t know where to look. That plus a time crunch didn’t get me a Henslow’s Sparrow, but I did manage to find another fun sparrow that sounds like a bouncing ball.

A Field Sparrow! Nice consolation sparrow. I also saw Eastern Meadowlark, Tree Swallow, Indigo Bunting, Common Yellowthroat, a Green Heron in a tree, and many many Gray Catbirds, almost as frequent as robins.

It was late afternoon by then, but we decided to stop at Holly Recreation Area on the way back and I’m so glad we did.

I hiked the trail through the forest down to the lake and noticed a Bushtit-sized bird flitting in the bushes.

I saw a hint of yellow and couldn’t believe it, a female American Redstart! Another lifer. This one had a beakful of insects that it took to a nest hidden in the bushes closer to the lake. I could hear the babies begging.

It took a little while longer, but I eventually saw a male too.

Fanning his tail as they do to scare up insects.

They move so fast in the foilage it was hard to keep up. This was the last day I had to explore Michigan’s parks and I was making the most of it. Orioles, cardinals, redstarts, I was going to miss these birds. Luckily, there was one last surprise in store.

At some point I heard a warbler singing way up in the trees. Their songs sound so similar to me, especially when I’m hot, tired, or hungry and in a time crunch. But this time I stuck to it and it paid off big time.

A freaking Hooded Warbler!!! My mind was blown. I tried to keep up as it moved fast through the dim forest.

I couldn’t have asked for a better send-off.  Who knew Michigan was so thrilling?

Out of this world.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Michigan- Yard Birds

After 7 years together it was time I finally met my boyfriend’s family. NBD. We’d just take a red-eye flight to Detroit, Michigan and hang out with everyone for a week. His niece Kellie was having a graduation party so it was a good time to make the trip.

His parents’ back yard was awesome. His mom had bird feeders out, so I knew we’d get along. I spent the majority of my time at the house either outside or staring out the back patio window. It was pretty great.

Cardinal through the window

House Sparrow and Northern Cardinal

The porch was often covered in Downy Woodpeckers.

Hi, welcome to Michigan

In the yard were Chipping Sparrows and Michigan’s state bird, the American Robin.

Young ones learning to fly and older pros taking their worm for a walk.

Not a statue

I explored the neighborhood and found Cedar Waxwing, American Goldfinch, Tufted Titmouse.

A Blue Jay at the playground.

And a pair of dreamy Eastern Bluebirds.

I looked up to see a Chimney Swift! They look a heck of a lot like Vaux’s Swifts back home.

Sometimes the weather wasn’t the best, it was warm, muggy, and often raining making it better to stay dry indoors watching the feeders.

Downy Woodpecker

Blue Jay

White-breasted Nuthatch

Red-bellied Woodpecker

I got brief glimpses of a female hummingbird, but sadly no photos. The only one it could be this time of year is a Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

There was also a backyard flycatcher that I think is an Eastern Phoebe. I’m still working through my Michigan flycatchers.

The best bird in the yard was shy and only flashed an occasional orange in the bushes.

It took a while, but eventually enough of the bird popped out to identify it as a Baltimore Oriole!

Note the all-black hood and orange on the outer tail feathers. A mystery I was happy to have solved. It was such a peaceful and quiet backyard I could hang out there for hours.

Tomas and I went outside at night but didn’t hear any owls or nightjars as I’d hoped, instead we saw fireflies! I haven’t seen those since I lived in Virginia in the early 2000s. Made me wish I’d brought my night-photography setup, check out these cool photos of firefly timelapses.

Next time Michigan!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey