Summer Lake

Once inside Summer Lake Wildlife Area it was on. I had no responsibilities or schedule to keep, my only job was to look at birds and I looked at as many as I could. It was exciting and overwhelming all at once. This must be what vacation feels like?

The refuge itself is set up much like Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge with an (8.3 mile) auto tour loop. There’s places to park and walk along the dikes, and a few camping areas on the refuge. Here’s a map. The best time to visit is spring (Mar-Jul), the auto route is closed during hunting season (Oct-Jan). The weather can be crazy, thunderstorms, hail, wind. And there’s a few bugs.

But it’s worth it because there are birds. So many birds. At headquarters there were Cliff Swallows, Tree Swallows, Say’s Phoebe, Black-headed Grosbeak, Western Kingbird and House Sparrow. Sometimes lined up all in one place.

Looking at hummingbird feeders next to headquarters I was rewarded with the only hummingbirds of the whole trip, Black-chinned Hummingbird. But I saw more Bullock’s Orioles at the feeders than hummers.

The real stars of this refuge are the long-legged kind.

American Avocet

White-faced Ibis

Black-necked Stilt

And Willets perched on shrubs! Calling “pill-will-willet!”

I probably went around the loop a dozen times (at least) and each time I’d see something different or unique. Some of the more unusual sightings included this trio of Franklin’s Gulls seen only on the first night.

And the same night a Bald Eagle flew over a marsh in the distance creating an amazing White-faced Ibis chaos cloud.

While scoping out camping options just before a storm, I noticed a small patch of willows full of warblers, Yellow Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, Warbling Vireo, and a MacGuillivray’s Warbler that made a special appearance.

There are Caspian and Forster’s Terns, California and Ring-billed Gulls, and Double-crested Cormorant nesting colonies here.

Did I mention there were Snowy Plovers?

I spent so much time on the refuge I was able to help out the Owl Be Damned Birdathon team (the world’s greatest women’s birding team) that happened to visit while I was there.

Together we looked at Great Horned Owls, including owlets!

A Western Grebe with a pile of babies on its back that I only got terrible photos of. And I was also able to share with them a Short-eared Owl that was one of the best surprises.

I camped on the refuge two nights, and both times I was the only person at the site. One night was so stormy and windy I made the executive decision to move into a barn.

It helped block the wind, and gave me a nice wake-up call to a pair of Great Horned Owls hooting so that was nice.

Better than coffee

Such an amazing place! Something fun around every corner.

Thank you for visiting Summer Lake, please come again.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Fort Rock State Natural Area

After visiting Newberry Caldera, Tomas and I continued an hour south to Fort Rock State Natural Area.

Fort Rock

About a mile wide and 200 ft tall, Fort Rock is yet another of Oregon’s magnificent geologic features. It is a tuff ring formed 50,000-100,000 years ago when magma rose up to meet water and lake mud. Fort Rock was once an island when the whole place was intermittently flooded by Fort Rock Lake. Hard to imagine.

Fort Rock  Fort Rock

Today, the natural area is a desert filled with rocks, sage, flowers, insects, lizards, grasses. And birds. Tomas and I visited the park twice in three days. It’s that good. The first time we were met by swarms of White-throated Swifts, Cliff Swallows, and a conspiracy of Ravens. I was told sometimes there are humming bird feeders up, but not this time.

While on the short hike inside the fort we heard the cry of a falcon, and looked up to see a juvenile Prairie Falcon.

Prairie Falcon

Prairie Falcon

High up on the cliff walls, it stretched its wings and called out loudly. This was the first time I got a good look at the brown color patterns and dark “armpits” that distinguish this bird from a Peregrine Falcon.

Prairie Falcon

Prairie Falcon

I noticed its larger size compared to American Kestrels. They also nest here.

American Kestrel

There was plenty of evidence owls also nest in the cliff cavities (Barn Owls I think). We searched for a long while, but couldn’t find the birds. Just the bones.

Bones

I chased around one colorful songster around the fort until it finally revealed itself. A Green-tailed Towhee! A first for me.

Green-tailed Towhee

Green-tailed Towhee

That is a fun bird. Not only does it have a fancy cap and tail, it has a pretty song too.

On our second visit we arrived earlier and got great views of Sage Thrashers.

Sage Thrasher

And sparrows. Like this Brewer’s Sparrow.

Brewer's Sparrow

And Sage Thrashers AND sparrows. A two-fer!

Sage Thrasher

Another target bird showed up in good numbers this morning that was absent the day before. Sagebrush Sparrow!

Sagebrush Sparrow

Oh that’s embarrassing, there’s something on your face.

Sagebrush Sparrow

Nope, still there.

Sagebrush Sparrow

That’s better. Its song is hard to describe (several trills broken up by short chips) but lovely to listen to.

Sagebrush Sparrow

It was hard to pull myself away from these handsome birds. But we had another destination to get to. Oregon has so many hidden gems. You can live in a state over a decade and not realize they are there. Unless you look for them.

Keep looking

Keep looking.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Painted Hills I

They don’t call the Painted Hills one of Oregon’s Seven Wonders for nothing.

Painted Hills

The eight wonder is why I’d never visited before.

Painted Hills

Painted Hills

Truthfully, I never liked the desert. It’s hot, dry, exposed, I’m more of a lush, green forest kind of girl. But that’s what birding does. It opens the world up to possibility even in remote places. Like nomads, Tomas and I spent three days exploring Oregon’s vast east, the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, that includes three units: Clarno, Painted Hills, and Sheep Rock.

Highlights included listening to Bullock’s Orioles chatter along the John Day River at our campsite while hanging out with a nesting pair of Osprey.

Osprey

Osprey

And watching the Osprey boldly dive after a Golden Eagle that came too close to the nest perimeter.

Osprey and Eagle

At a random rest area along U.S. Hwy. 97 I found my first Lark Sparrow. What a striking facial pattern!

Lark Sparrow

I hiked along the Blue Basin Rim Trail in the Sheep Rock Unit and saw Say’s Phoebe, Western Kingbird, more Lark Sparrows, and a new hummingbird!

Black-chinned Hummingbird

All hummingbirds are Anna’s to me until proven otherwise, and it wasn’t until I was able to examine the photos more closely that I could see a thin bit of iridescent purple under the black chin, positively ID’ing the Black-chinned Hummingbird!

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Other birds I saw on the hike:

Rock Wren

Rock Wren

Western Meadowlark

Western Meadowlark

Gray Flycatcher

Gray Flycatcher

And I met a new-to-me flycatcher, the Ash-throated Flycatcher! Identified by habitat (open, arid areas), the pale grey chest, pale yellow belly, and long rusty tail.

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Under the eaves of the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center, we got up-close views of nesting Cliff Swallows. Here’s a nice look at the buff-white forehead patch.

Cliff Swallow

At the Painted Hills picnic area I followed a short trail along a creek and heard Yellow Warblers, House Wren, and I got a few looks at these summer visitors.

Bullock's Oriole

Bullock’s Oriole

Willow Flycatcher

Western Wood-Pewee

And an Admiral Butterfly for good measure.

Admiral Butterfly

We spent one night at higher elevation in the Ochoco National Forest and camped near a magical field of camas.

Blue Camas

Blue Camas

The forest bustled with songs of Mountain Buebird, Cassin’s Finch, Chipping Sparrows, and Lark Sparrows.

Lark Sparrow

In the morning, I followed a buzzing “Zee-zee-zee-zee-dee-du-dee” until I laid eyes on a tiny Townsend’s Warbler.

Townsend's Warbler

On the way out of the campsite, I caught a glimpse of my first of year Western Tanager!

Western Tanager

I didn’t want to leave my new happy place. But we had more desert to see.

Proceed No Further

Tweets,

Audrey