Birdathon 2016 – Put an Owl on It

For a second year I joined Portland Audubon’s Birdathon, touted as the “biggest baddest birdathon this side of the Mississippi.” And for a second year I was thrilled to be a part of the Put an Owl on It team.

Last year’s trip was one of the best birding days of my life – 5 owl species in one day!! This year’s agenda expanded to eastern Oregon for a two-day Blue Mountain adventure with the hopes of seeing Great Gray Owls.

Spoiler alert- we found them.

Great Gray Owl

I went into the trip with 299 life birds. How cool would it be to have the Great Gray as the 300th bird? That didn’t happen, but Bank Swallows are pretty cool too. Lucky #300!! Sadly, no pictures because the van flushed two nicely perched swallows on a fence as soon as we drove near. Van-birding can be quite a challenge.

While exploring country roads in Umatilla county, we also flushed lifer #301, this Chukar fleeing for its life.

Fastest mother Chuckar in the west

Fastest mother Chukar in the west

It’s all worth it though when you climb out out of the van and meet a pair of Great Horned Owls fledglings.

Great Horned Owl

Or a family of Barn Owls smooshed in a natural cliff wall cavity.

Barn Owl

And it’s especially worth it to see a Burrowing Owl perched atop sagebrush in the Oregon desert.

Burrowing Owl

It was incredibly hot that weekend, nearing (if not over) 100 degrees. Some birds like this Sage Thrasher panted to stay cool.

Sage Thrasher

Even Common Nighthawks panted.

Common Nighthawk

That is one hot bird. Seeing a Common Nighthawk perched on a fence has been on my birding bucket list since the moment I found out they do this. We found two. Success! And two vans with 19+ people managed not to flush them. It was that damn hot.

Common Nighthawk

Birder dreams do come true

Birder dreams do come true

It cooled down some once we gained elevation making our way into the pine forests of the Blue Mountains.

Cool birders

Cool birders

And here in this forest is where we met the family. Mom and her three owlets.

Great Gray Owl

Great Gray Owl

Cutie Pie

Great Gray Owl

Fluffball

Great Gray Owl

Peekaboo

It was so special sharing forest space with these owls. They were incredibly chill. We sat down on the grass and pine needles under trees nearby, relaxed, chatted and ate snacks, while watching the fledglings stretch their wings and walk awkwardly along the branches.

Great Gray Owl

And if owl entertainment wasn’t enough, there were active nesting holes visible on site with Pygmy Nuthatches, Mountain Chickadee, Western Bluebird, Lewis’s Woodpecker, and Williamson’s Sapsucker (another lifer!).

Williamson's Sapsucker

Williamson's Sapsucker

Williamson's Sapsucker

And songs of Western Tanager, Cassin’s Finch, House Wren, Western Wood-Pewee (PEEEeeeeer), and a new flycatcher for me, Hammond’s Flycatcher (ChiBik).

As soon as the sun lowered, Great Gray fledgling activity picked up, the owlets begged noisily for food.

The skies darkened and mom obliged, swooping over the fields to hunt. We enjoyed watching the owl show until the sun disappeared and the bats came out.

Sunset

Before exiting the park, we piled out of the vans in the dark one last time to listen for other potential owl species. While waiting, we occupied time peering at Jupiter’s moons through the spotting scopes, and just before calling it a night, an adult Great Grey Owl flew over our heads towards an area of the forest with at least one owlet calling! There’s nothing like an unexpected owl surprise to liven things up. We rode the owl high all the way back to the hotel in La Grande.

From darkness to early morning light, a handful of birders opted for an early-morning Bobolink side trip.

Early birders

In a distant farm field we observed several pairs of Bobolinks chase each other up, over, and into the grasses while chattering their buzzy metalic song that sounds like a broken R2-D2. A bit far for decent photos, but here’s an identifiable pic of one on a fence post.

Bobolink

After, we reunited with the rest of the group and the sightings continued: Eastern Kingbirds, California Quail, Loggerhead Shrike, Black-billed Magpie, and Long-billed Curlew, to name a few.

At Catherine Creek State Park, we introduced ourselves to a generous couple camping with a hummingbird feeder at their site. Thanks to them, we got good looks at Black-chinned and Calliope Hummingbirds.

Female black-chinned, she wagged her tail while feeding

Female black-chinned wagged her tail while feeding

This was only my second time seeing a Black-chinned Hummingbird (the first was just a week prior at Painted Hills), and it was my first encounter with Calliope Humminbgird. They’re so pretty and so tiny!

Calliope Hummingbird

Calliope Hummingbird

There was another new surprise in the brushy thickets at this park, a small thrush called a Veery. Too bad I didn’t get a visual on this shy cinnamon-colored thrush, but I heard its song and call and that was pretty satisfying. Some nineteenth-century observers described the Veery’s song as “an inexpressibly delicate metallic utterance…accompanied by a fine trill which renders it truly seductive.” Yep, I was totally seduced.

One of our last stops was at Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area where we saw Gadwall, Redhead, Ruddy Duck, and yet another new species, a shorebird called Wilson’s Phalarope.

Wilson's Phalarope

At the marsh, there were also a pair of nesting Swainson’s Hawks, both Eastern and Western Kingbirds, Sandhill Cranes, Red-winged blackbirds (chasing an American Bittern), Black-crowned Night Heron, Ring-necked Pheasant, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, and Northern Harriers. To name a few.

On the way back to Portland, we pulled off the side of the highway to bird a pond next to some railroad tracks. We joked about the safety and legality of this birding spot.

Safe birding

Then we turned around to see a law enforcement vehicle stopped at the road with lights flashing. Busted birders.

Walk of shame

Walk of shame

Turns out the officer had just thoughtfully stopped traffic for us to cross the road without incident. Whew! It was totally worth almost getting arrested to catch a glimpse of American White Pelican, Black-necked Stilt (!), teals, and nesting American Avocets.

Black-necked Stilt

Nesting Avocet

It was all worth it. In two days, the team saw a total of 127 species, including 4 owl species (and I saw 10 new-to-me species), and we raised over $14,000. We saw 11 Great Horned Owls, 3 Barn Owls, 1 Burrowing Owl, and encountered 6 Great Grey Owls! I think that’s what they call “putting an owl on it.”

I had a blast reuniting with team members from last year and making new friends this time around. Thanks to the trip leaders Scott Carpenter, Rhett Wilkins, Joe Liebezeit, and Mary Coolidge, you all rock. And of course, many thanks to my donors for making my fundraising such a success. I raised over a thousand dollars contributing to Portland Audubon’s $170,000+ for conservation. Thanks to all involved helping such a great cause!

For the birds.

Tweets and Chirps,

Audrey

Ridgefield NWR

Here are some highlights from a recent summer trip I took to Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. I saw two new species!

One, a Blue-winged Teal. If I’d realized at the time, I would have attempted better pictures.

Blue-winged Teal

And Two. This barely recognizable silhouette that looks more like a deflated balloon torpedoing away, is none other than a Wilson’s Snipe. The unusual winnowing flight sound of their tail “hu-hu-hu” cracks me up for some reason.

I know I’m not supposed to care about European Starlings because they’re introduced and invasive, but they are here, and their nestlings look like muppets, so…

European Starling

European Starling

European Starling

European Starling

European Starling

The Red-winged Blackbirds posed nicely.

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

I also got a good look at a handsome Cinnamon Teal couple.

Cinnamon Teal

Cinnamon Teal

It was easy to recognize the Steller’s Jay crest.

Steller's Jay

I don’t know why, but I love when birds sit on signs. Like Savannah Sparrows often do.

Savannah Sparrow

And finally, tree swallows were zipping around in the forest, except when they were perched and looking over their shoulders.

Tree Swallow

It’s hot out there folks!

Stay cool.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Steigerwald and Warblers!

A week ago, my boyfriend Tomas joined me on one of my best birding trips yet.

I was hesitant to try out Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge before the seasonal trails open (May-Nov), but it was totally worth going. The park is a picturesque 1,049 acre setting of pastures, woodlands, and wetlands along the Columbia River with plenty to see and explore without the seasonal spur.

Upon entering the trail system, we got a great look at a Northern Harrier. Who can resist that charming flat owl-like face?

Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier

Following the trail, we came across a flash of feathers near the water’s edge. I investigated further to find an American Bittern!

American Bittern

Moving slowly and steadily, the bittern was on the prowl for a tasty bite of breakfast.

American Bittern

Not long after this, I saw my first migratory warbler! A Common Yellowthroat!

Common Yellowthroat

And after that, I saw a bunch more!

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

So dang cute. They were up, down, flying all around, singing, and “warbling” adorably. It took patience to get photos, but I even managed a single shot of a female.

Common Yellowthroat female

Later, a passerby alerted me to this handsome fella dabbling in the pond.

Cinnamon Teal

A Cinnamon Teal, what a treat!

Cinnamon Teal

Stigerwald turned up plentiful wildlife for us to see.

One of my favorite pictures of the day is of this Ring-necked Pheasant. He has a beautiful sunset-colored chest. A much better view than my first encounter on Sauvie Island. This bird was cackling loudly and making a fuss.

Ring-necked Pheasant

Perhaps he was displaying for his nearby lady friend.

Ring-necked Pheasant

We left Steigerwald grateful for such a fulfilling visit. Even so, on the drive home I yelled for Tomas to pull over so we could get a look at Osprey nesting aside Highway 14, because why not?

Osprey

Later, this same day, my dad emailed me a picture of an Osprey he saw in his hometown of Largo, Florida. While seen only in summer in Oregon, these fierce beauties frequent his neighborhood ponds year-round. What a charismatic shot!

Osprey

April birding is off to a great start!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey