Shorebirds!

That is genuine enthusiasm. Not excited? Here’s an adorable Semipalmated Plover to ease some of the discomfort.

Fall migration is happening and I am facing it head on. Because I went to Smith and Bybee Lakes and totally failed at identifying birds. I forgot how hard it is.

There’s hundreds of shorebirds there, and I had trouble identifying one of them. So I do that thing that I do when I can’t figure something out on my own. I seek out help. That same week I logged on to Portland Audubon’s classes, and to my luck I saw “Learn to Identify Fall Shorebirds” with John Rakestraw. And it wasn’t full.

John is the same instructor who teaches the Gull ID class and Warblers and Flycatchers, as well as many others. He even wrote a book, Birding Oregon. I was in good hands.

In the classroom we learned of the 20 or so shorebirds that visit the Oregon coast and Willamette Valley. We looked at large slides of birds and called out the field marks. It’s all about the field marks; the shape of the bird, size of the head vs. the bill, the color of the legs, and the bird’s behavior. It’s knowing what to look at for each bird. This is the key.

Long-billed Dowitchers prefer freshwater ponds, whereas Short-billed Dowitchers like tidal marshes and estuaries, so location and habitat can also provide clues. It’s all part of a puzzle and that’s what makes it fun.

Our field trip fun started one foggy morning at Seaside looking at birds on the rocks.

Or really birds that look like rocks. We found a pile of Black Turnstones. We hoped to pick out a Ruddy Turnstone, but none showed up this time. We dipped out on shorebirds at a couple more spots until we lucked out on some birds that look like mud.

That’s two Western Sandpipers on the left and one Semipalmated Plover on the right. Westerns have black legs and long droopy bills. Semi Plovers have one breast band.

We also saw Caspian Terns soaring above the water, and I didn’t notice until looking at photos later, this one has a yellow leg band.

We made it to Fort Stevens State Park but there was still low shorebird activity.

Until we looked in the distance.

We walked farther down the beach to get a closer look.

But trucks are allowed to drive on the shore here and they’d scattered the flock.

Eventually we got looks at more Western Sandpipers, and even had a Semipalmated Sandpiper in the mix for comparison.

All Westerns – long, droopy bill, black legs.

Western Sandpiper (L), Semipalmated Sandpiper (R)

Westerns and Semipalmated look almost identical except Semipalmated Sandpipers have a short blunt bill. It was tough to get good looks before the flocks moved along. Shorebirds not cooperating? Let’s look at gulls!

California Gull – dark eye, red and black in the bill, yellow-greenish legs

And some of my favorite gulls were visiting, Heermann’s Gulls. Two E’s two N’s, orange bills, unmistakable.

John admitted shorebird numbers seemed unusually low. We missed out on Sanderlings, Black-bellied Plovers, and a few others. We checked back at Seaside, but found nothing new. Except jousting crabs.

The one above lived to tell the tale but I can’t say the same for this one.

We made another stop at Seafarer’s Park near the Hammond’s Marina where we found a Common Murre swimming out of place this far up the river.

The best action of the day came next.

Apparently Heermann’s Gulls are pirates! They wait for a Brown Pelican to dive, before pouncing and trying to pry the meal out of the pelican’s gullet.

Neat stuff. I felt bad for the pelican, but they’re not exactly known as saints either.

The shorebirds were so few at the coast we made an extra stop at Fernhill Wetlands on the way back. But the day was hot and the heat waves made it difficult to see the birds in the distance. I’ll spare you the blurry photos of the Spotted Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, and Least Sandpipers. Here’s a pair of Greater Yellowlegs instead.

That bill looks like it’s twice the length of the head and those are some nice yellow legs. Bird identified. It might seem obvious, but if there’s one take-home message of the day it’s that there are limitations. Sometimes the birds are too far, or they move too quickly; distance, weather, terrain, trucks, there’s so many obstacles, but it’s important to focus on what can be seen and not get discouraged.

And when that doesn’t work, stay at home and make flash cards!

Nothing to it.

Moving along, we got good looks of a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk.

And a Green Heron oddly perched out in the open.

Not enough shorebirds in my shorebirds post? How about brown ducks instead.

Just kidding. I’ll save the Cinnamon Teal for later and keep my eyes peeled for more peeps to identify in the mean time.

Learning new things every day.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Bird Eat Bird World

I originally scheduled the day after my Birdathon trip as a rest day. But the promising weather and my large cup of coffee made me to drive 3 hours southwest to Yaquina Head Lighthouse on the Oregon coast instead.

There were recent reports of an active Peregrine Falcon nest and it was just too tempting to resist.

Yaquina Bay Lighthouse

I arrived at the lighthouse natural area, but not knowing exactly where the nest was, I looked around and found a surprising scene.

Masacre

It was a massacre. Bald Eagles, followed by scavenging Western Gulls had decimated what looked like hundreds of Common Murre eggs.

Evidence

Evidence

Partners in crime

Partners in crime

This one had a taste for crow

This one had a taste for crow

Bald Eagle

One of these birds is not like the other

One of these birds is not like the other

Nature can be brutal. Volunteers at the lighthouse have U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service pamphlets for the visiting public that explain the phenomenon further.

Pamphlet

Adapting Anew to an Old Foe: Recently, Bald Eagle have moved into places they haven’t been seen in years. Common Murre in these areas have little experience with Bald Eagle predation and often flee when eagles approach. Some murres are readapting to this historic predator. Instead of abandoning their nests they sit tight and wait for the danger to pass.”

Unfortunately for the murres, the eagles got the upper hand this day. This article is also a great read about the recent rebalancing.

It was hopeful to see some rocks still piled with healthy and live Common Murre.

Common Murre

Still no signs of the peregrines, so I followed the stairs down to the tidal pools to visit Harlequin Ducks and Black Oystercatcher.

Harlequin Duck

Black Oystercatcher

I looked to my right to see a pair of Pelagic Cormorant acting lovey dovey on their nest.

Pelagic Cormorant

Pelagic Cormorant

Aw, so sweet. And here’s a Western Gull for good measure.

Western Gull

At this point I realized the peregrine nest was possibly on the cliff-face near the visitor center. Indeed it was. As I drove closer, I saw the group of cameras, tripods, and long lenses and knew I had found the right place.

Peregrine nestlings

Yep. Peregrine Falcon chicks!

Peregrine family

Ferociously sweet. And the Common Murres aren’t the only ones tormented by eagles. So too was this brave falcon parent.

Bald Eagle and Peregrine Falcon

With prey gripped in her talons she flew toward her nest, when suddenly three juvenile Bald Eagles swarmed her and she dropped the prey in the parking lot. Used to the drama, a Yaquina Head Interpretive center employee promptly came outside to escort the spectators to look at the dropped meal before barricading it off.

Falcon food- any guesses?

Falcon food- any guesses?

Wildlife protection

For the next hour the falcon zoomed back and forth in the sky defending her territory from eagles and now Turkey Vultures that entered the scene thanks to the dropped goodies.

Turkey Vulture

Being a Peregrine parent is hard work.

Peregrine Falcon

Things quieted down before a second, male falcon (according to the crowd), brought in fresh prey and the pair switched off.

Peregrine Falcon

Good bird.

The latest word on the fledglings:

Be brave little murres, the peregrines are coming!

Tweets and Chirps,

Audrey

3 Days at Cape Lookout

After 19 days straight of rain in Portland, I was itching for sunshine. My chance came last week when the forecast promised “sunny and nice.” So I ditched work and headed for the coast. Thanks to the Blue Heron French Cheese Company’s generosity, I parked my car at their Tillamook location and biked the remaining 13 miles to Cape Lookout State Park.

Here goes llama

I can’t say enough about the hiker/biker campground at Cape Lookout.

Camp style

It’s so damn wonderful. There is one drawback though to camping on the Oregon coast that I forgot about: crafty raccoons (is there any other kind?). I awoke to suspicious noises at 3:30am, looked outside the tent, and saw the burglars going through my bike buckets. I shooed them away and went back to sleep.

The pattern repeated several times over the next few hours until I finally got up to look at the damage. They’d stolen my organic saltine rounds and punctured a hole in my water bladder and a couple of other food bags. Could have been worse. This incident reminded me there are new food lockers installed on site, so I used them over the remaining days to safely store my goodies.

I could have spent three days hanging in the hammock, listening to Brown Creepers, Steller’s Jays, and Downy Woodpeckers at the campground, but now I had a good excuse to bike the 10 miles to Netarts for duct tape. And to bird along Netarts Bay.

Bike

I easily picked up Bufflehead, Horned Grebe, and Common Goldeneye along the way…but hey, what’s that sleeping bird in the corner?

Mixed Waterbirds

White-winged Scoter

This sleeping beauty is a White-winged Scoter! Sweet, a new bird!

White-winged Scoter

About this time, an older gentleman hopped out of a parked truck across the street, and crossed over to chat with me about birds. He was looking for a White-winged Scoter (he actually pronounced it “Skoo-ter” – glad I’m not the only one!). I pointed the bird out to him and he was pretty excited. In turn, he told me about an (immature) Bald Eagle perched in a fir tree farther up the road.

Bald Eagle

Nice. A good ol’ fashioned bird exchange.

I continued along the bay, and got my best ever look at a (non-breeding) Eared Grebe. Dark cheek, dusky neck, peak over the eye, fluffy backside.

Eared Grebe

I still struggle remembering the differences between Eared (above) and Horned (below) – white cheek, white neck, whitish tip on bill, peak behind the eye, less fluffy backside.

Horned Grebe

I find this photo comparison from Cornell Lab of Ornithology helpful.

eared vs horned

I also saw more than a couple of loons.

Common Loon

Common Loons that is. One looked like it was even still wearing a bit of breeding plumage. Such a pretty bird.

Common Loon

A few of the other birds I saw along the bay included Surf Scoter, Belted Kingfisher, Great Blue Heron, and Pelagic Cormorant.

The next day, I hiked from the campground to Cape Lookout Hike and back, looking for whales and birds and such. No whales this time, but I did see Common Murres swimming far below.

Common Murre

And the most exciting part of the hike was getting buzzed by my first Rufous Hummingbird of the year! I saw three total, including this lovely lady.

Rufous Hummingbird

What a cool place to find them. Later, at the campground I saw two more. I was rich in rufous.

While on the hike, I also saw Fox Sparrows, Hairy Woodpecker, Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Flicker, Varied Thrush, Ruby Crowned Kinglet, and a Peregrine Falcon that zoomed by too fast for a picture. Here’s a cooperative Fox Sparrow instead:

Fox Sparrow

I forgot how long the hike is from the campground (10 miles round trip!). My sore feet told me to lay around like a walrus, but there was something surprisingly lacking from this trip. Gulls. Where were they?

Beach

Granted, there was less beach due to high water, but still, I expected more than Western Gulls, especially since last time in September I’d seen such a variety. Apparently I did it right the first time, because late summer/early fall is the best time to see multiple gull species on the Oregon coast.

But that’s okay, because I saw the happiest Western Gull ever.

Western Gull

Western Gull

Western Gull

So happy.

While looking for gulls, I also saw a pair of Bald Eagles.

Bald Eagles

Wait, why are they screaming?

Bald Eagles

OH.

Bald Eagles

Bald Eagles

So happy.

The final morning, I left the coast early enough to hear Great Horned Owls hoot and for minimal traffic to pass me on the road. I had enough time before I had to get back to Portland for one stop, so I aimed for Fenk Road along the south side of Tillamook Bay near the Trask River.

Creepy road

I traveled down the creepy farm road, past the cattle, and the guard dog.

Guard dog

Then I parked next to the pile of garbage, got out and wandered across the levee road, and trudged through a marshy field. It was all worth it, because far across the pasture, perched on a Douglas-fir, I saw the white blob I was looking for.

IMG_9518

A White-tailed Kite!

White-tailed Kite

White-tailed Kite

White-tailed Kite

The bird “hover-soared” kind of like a Kestrel, while it hunted above the nearby field. Too bad it was too dark for decent pictures. But it didn’t matter, because after a weekend of sunshine, hummingbirds, hiking and biking, followed by a White-tailed Kite?

I didn’t even care that the rain was back.

White-tailed Kite

So happy.

Tweets and chirps!

Audrey