Birding in black-and-white

Last weekend the forecast predicted heavy rain and winds on the coast. I believe it read “rain and dangerously windy.” Sounds like perfect birding weather to me. With only the weekends to bird, sometimes I have to take what I can get and this weekend I took it.

It seemed milder than predicted when I arrived at Brian Booth State Park (also known as Beaver Creek Natural Area), located just minutes south of Newport, OR.

I was hoping for a tiny Black-and-white Warbler that had been reported at this site in the weeks prior. As usual I arrived in the pre-dawn hours and began scanning the trees. I welcomed the sight of a Red-shouldered Hawk in the darkness.

I spotted a Red-tailed Hawk picking on nutria road-kill, and heard Bald Eagles calling in the distance. Along the road edges Fox Sparrows scratched in the leaves. I wasn’t sure I was at the right tree patch, but I kept my eyes on the alders hoping.

For a while there was little bird action until all of a sudden dozens of small birds flew in; Pine Siskin, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Brown Creeper, Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, it was overwhelming, but eventually I picked out the tiny warbler I’ve only seen before in Florida.

It acts quite like a nuthatch, inching along branches gleaning insects from the moss and bark, often turning upside down. I watched and enjoyed for a long while.

And then it sat on some branches and preened itself.

Such a good little warbler. I’d driven a long way and had set aside two days, but here were great looks at this handsomely streaked bird and it was only 9:30am. What to do next?

With all this time now on my hands I made a stop at the South Jetty, where I found Red-throated Loon, Red-breasted Merganser, Surf Scoters, and the best surprise was a nice look at a (non-breeding female) Long-tailed Duck.

Impossible to misidentify that one. Another unmistakable pair of ducks present on the rocks nearby were this lovely couple of Harlequin Duck.

Farther down at the gull puddle I found my first banded gull!

1A4 looks like a squinty-eyed 2nd winter Western Gull; blocky head, large bill, pink legs, dark primaries. I’m still waiting to hear back on the report, stay tuned for the update.

I looked for Lapland Longspurs and Snow Buntings but found neither of these. I decided to check for a Ruff, a Eurasian shorebird that sometimes strays to North America, and had been sighted at the coast recently. Now that I had cell coverage again, I learned that the Ruff was down the same road I’d seen the warbler, so back I went. As I left the jetty a flock of Western Meadowlark flew in.

Back on Beaver Creek Rd I drove farther along than before and bumped into a little-advertised Beaver Creek Nature Center.

The place had information, hiking trails, and even bird feeders.

At the feeders were chickadees, towhees, sparrows, and Steller’s Jays on guard.

I took a short and peaceful hike, no other people to be seen.

No birds on the trails either, but it was still really nice. Then farther along the road I heard two Virgina Rails “oinking” at each other in the marshland. No visuals of course, but here’s a visual of their call.

Another mile down the road still not finding any shorebirds, I then heard the loud rapid “tew-tew” of Greater Yellowlegs and I knew I was getting closer. Eventually I found the tiny blurry dots in the distance. I could barely see so I took a bunch of photos.

Light was fading and it was hard to focus on the shorebirds with this gorgeous Red-tailed Hawk in my face.

The hawk screamed over and over and I knew it was my cue to leave.

On the way home I wondered if I might find a spec of Ruff in a photo. Low and behold, I found it.

Small head, porky body, and scaly-patterned back. Not a glamorous sighting at all, but better than nothing.

I made it home by 7:30pm. It had been a long way to go for a day trip, but totally worth it. And now I had an extra day to bird locally. Bonus!

This trip makes me think of all the birds I’ve seen both in Florida and Oregon, Laughing Gull, Palm Warbler, and now Black-and-white Warbler, to name a few. I may list them all up some time.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Bike Touring San Juan Islands- Lopez Island

This summer I finally conquered a trip that had been on my bucket list for a decade: Bike Touring San Juan Islands. Sounds exotic, right?

Ferry Time

It was actually way easier and more familiar than I thought it would be. Though traveling by ferry was different, the ferry schedule was easy to follow. Like a bus on water, the trips between islands are short (about an hour), on schedule, and free after the first ticket purchase (a very reasonable $13.25/person + $2/bike). The most difficult part was awkwardly tying the loaded bikes in the slanted and sometimes crowded cargo area.

Go by Ferry

Tomas and I planned two nights on each island Lopez, San Juan, Orcas, and Shaw.

Lopez starts steep, but then levels out into one of the most bike-friendly of islands. Spencer Spit State Park with excellent bike-camping sites is only 4.5 miles from the ferry dock. And Lopez Village, full of supplies, beer, and ice-cream is 3 miles west of the park.

Spencer Spit State Park

Spencer Spit also has one of the best public beaches on the islands. And beaches bring birds. Gulls of course.

California Gull

California Gull – dark eye, long strait narrow bill with red/black gonys spot

Mew Gull - dark eye, small round "pigeon" head with petit bill

Mew Gull – small round “pigeon” head, yellow legs, petite bill

But there were a couple of small surprises. Like Least Sandpipers. They have greenish-yellow legs (poor light in this photo), and small slightly drooping bills.

Least Sandpiper

And they are usually seen in smaller numbers as compared to other peeps, like Western Sandpipers. Which were also present in larger flock style.

Western Sandpiper

They settled briefly and I could see the differences from the least. Westerns have black legs and a somewhat stouter slightly longer drooping bill.

Western Sandpiper

Practicing peeps. I need to remember to look at the legs. About this point it started raining. But before it started pouring I saw a pretty little Savannah Sparrow in the driftwood.

Savannah Sparrow

And its giant adopted relative, Brown-headed Cowbird.

Cowbird and savannah

Then it poured and I saw two Caspian Terns, but I didn’t stay long to watch them before running for cover from the rain. And that is when I met the wettest chickadee ever.

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

It cracked me up.

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

So much so that I laughed out loud on the trail and a little girl came up to ask what I was looking at. I pointed out the chickadee and asked, “Do you see him?” She laughed and said, “Yes, or her.” Good point.

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Also in the flock were Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, an Orange-crowned and Yellow Warbler, Bewick’s Wren, and Brown Creeper. None of which I got great photos of. So here’s a picture of bunnies by the bike lane.

Bunnies

So many rabbits on Lopez Island.

Rabbit sea

They’re cute, but the introduced European Rabbits wreck havoc on native grassland habitat for meadowlarks, voles, and butterflies. Especially on small island ecosystems. They’ve been a major problem on San Juan Island too, but controlling them is controversial because they are “charismatic cuddly fauna.” From this 2012 article:

“For years, nearly 500 toothy, grass-guzzling, invasive rabbits transformed San Juan Island’s American Camp prairie into what the National Park Service dubbed ‘a moonscape. But the agency two years ago backed off plans to shoot and trap the animals after a public outcry. The Park Service is conducting a more detailed environmental analysis.”

I wonder if we’ll ever learn. Here’s Rabbit Tales, an interesting read on the history of rabbits on San Juan Island.

Tomas and I made it to Shark Reef Sanctuary, a short hike along the coast, hoping for a whale or good pelagic bird sighting, but there were only harbor seals, an angry bee, and a nice view of our next island destination.

Shark Reef Sanctuary

Leaving Lopez the next day, I stopped at several ponds and waterways on the way and found Green-winged Teal, Belted Kingfisher, Northern Pintail, Yellow-rumped Warbler, American Goldfinch, Lincoln’s, Song, and Golden-crowned Sparrow, Common Yellowthroat, and a Black-headed Grosbeak which was the most unexpected sighting.

Black-headed Grosbeak

Lopez was a great start to our island adventure! I couldn’t wait to explore San Juan Island next.

Birding Lopez

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Bird of the Year

Each year the American Birding Association declares a “Bird of the Year.” The 2015 ABA Bird of the Year was the Green Heron. I had some fun Green Heron encounters, but my favorite bird of 2015 was the Rufous Hummingbird. (Amusingly, RUHU was 2014 ABA Bird of the Year).

The Yellow-breasted Chat and Northern Pygmy-Owl were close runners-up. The chat was certainly the coolest vocalist in the bunch and the pygmy owl sightings were most surprising. But meeting the handsome Rufous brought me such joy. It was one of those encounters I’ve read about. You research a bird, imagine it, and then when you see it in real life, it blows you away. The Unicorn Effect. Fittingly, it has a horn of sorts.

Rufous Hummingbird

The 2016 ABA Bird of the Year is the Chestnut-collared Longspur. This longspur’s range doesn’t quite extend to my neck of the woods, but I wouldn’t rule out a sighting. I might have to fly to it though.

ABA Bird of the Year

On the BirdNote podcast, I learned the “first bird of the new year” is also a thing. The first bird you see becomes your “theme bird.” It sets the tone for things to come or reveals a new perspective. The first bird I saw this year was a Chestnut-backed Chickadee. I’m not superstitious, but I am happy to play along and pay homage to chickadees. They certainly bring me plenty of cheer.

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

I’m curious what other birds will star in 2016! Stay tuned.

Tweets, chirps, and chestnut-chickadees,

Audrey