Last year I struggled with the reality that is summer birding is so slow. This year I feel more prepared and I’m appreciating the birds that are still around.
American Robins are still here
One summer evening, Jen invited Tomas and I up to Larch Mountain to watch the Common Nighthawk show and we happily accepted.
They swoop and dive through the air catching insects all the while calling, “peent, peent, peent.” Then in a courtship-territorial display they dive sharply toward the treetops with a “boom” noise from the friction of air passing through their wing feathers. It’s amazing! Especially when the booms and peents are right over your head.
We also saw an Aligator Lizard (neat to see a lizard on the west side of the Cascades!)
And about 40 Band-tailed Pigeon. No joke. I photographed 1/40.
One mid-week sunny summer day I skipped work for a hike with Jen with near Mt Hood Meadows.
Rumor was this hike comes with a side of Clark’s Nutcracker. I’d been on the lookout for CLNU since at least my Black Butte hike. Unfortunately, I dipped then, and I dipped on this day too. Not for lack of trying. Dang those birds.
Still, we had a lovely hike and enjoyed the birds that showed up, like Townsend’s Solitaire, Mountain Bluebird, Chipping Sparrow, Olive-sided Flycatcher, and Western Tanager.
Followed by a lovely lunch buffet at Timberline Lodge. Rumor was Clark’s Nutcrackers frequent the lodge property. Unfortunately, not this day.
The following weekend, I decided to try my nutcracker luck again with my friend Kristen. Her boyfriend’s name is Clark, so I thought maaaaybe….yeah, that’s silly. Nevertheless, we hiked the four miles and looked but no such luck. But I was able to get a better look at the Elephant’s Head flower that Jen had spotted on the first go-round.
Afterwards, Kristen and I headed to Timberline Lodge for the lunch buffet, because, why not? And it was Kristen’s first time at the lodge!
Low and behold, my lunch was delayed by a single Clark’s Nutcracker I spotted in the lodge parking lot.
It flew down and hopped along under the parked cars.
Yep, dirty parking lot bird.
I hiked over 12 miles through acres of wilderness, to end up finding the bird in a parking lot? The things a birder will go through for a lifer. Dang birds.
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.
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 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.
Or a family of Barn Owls smooshed in a natural cliff wall cavity.
And it’s especially worth it to see a Burrowing Owl perched atop sagebrush in the Oregon desert.
It was incredibly hot that weekend, nearing (if not over) 100 degrees. Some birds like this Sage Thrasher panted to stay cool.
Even Common Nighthawks panted.
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.
Birder dreams do come true
It cooled down some once we gained elevation making our way into the pine forests of the Blue Mountains.
And here in this forest is where we met the family. Mom and her three owlets.
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
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.
Then we turned around to see a law enforcement vehicle stopped at the road with lights flashing. Busted birders.
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.
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!
Okay, someone warned me, but I didn’t think it could be this bad. Okay, it’s not “bad” exactly, but it’s pretty challenging. In the morning, there’s approximately one minute to find active birds before it becomes too damn blazing hot outside. And that one minute is around 5:00 am.
The birds have paired up and aren’t nearly as vocal as they were in early spring. And now they’re molting, looking rough, and hidden within the full-on tree leaves. Oh right, AND there’s a new generation of barely identifiable juveniles.
What are you?? Vireo??
It’s no wonder some birders take the summer off. Or so I’m told.
Since this is my first summer and I feel I’m still getting started, I’m barreling through to see what I can find. This particular epic journey started at Conboy Lake NWR in Washington. The place is great. I went on a Saturday and had the entire refuge to myself (everyone else staying cool at the coast?). Anyways, it was birdy, challenging, and gorgeous.
What the hell funny looking bird is that? Oh right, juveniles. Took me a while to figure it out, but it’s a juvenile Townsend’s Solitaire. Thank goodness for that bright white eye-ring. A couple more cool shots of this cool bird.
Further along the trail, I spooked a flock of juvenile (or first-year) Red-winged Blackbirds.
In the shrubs I saw a juvenile Brown-headed Cowbird. And yes, since it’s a “brood parasite,” that’s probably it’s step brother or sister (or adoptive mother?), the Common Yellowthroat to the lower left.
The parents must be taking good care of their great big baby.
Another juvenile that took some effort to identify was this Dark-eyed Junco. It revealed it’s identity once it flew and I saw the tell-“tail” white outer tail feathers.
I saw one juvenile woodpecker and based on the darker shade overall, I think it’s a Red-breasted Sapsucker. I think.
But then a molting woodpecker flew to the same treetop. Update: consensus on this woodpecker leans toward Red-breasted Sapsucker. [I think this one is a Red-naped Sapsucker based on the red nape and white “mustache.” The white “eyebrow” isn’t clear but maybe it’s still growing in? Then does this make the nearby juvenile a Red-naped Sapsucker too?] Not sure.
A closer look of the molting bird. Hm.
A few non-juvenile birds who made an appearance.
Update: Chipping Sparrow
At one point, an intriguing bird flew overhead that I couldn’t catch on camera. I stopped by the refuge office to chat with the volunteers to see if they knew what it could be. I drew a helpful picture of the bird. It looked like this, except the vertical dark lines are white. See? Helpful. They had no clue what it was (and I don’t blame them).
It might have helped if I’d remembered to draw the body in. I figured out what it was after I left, a Common Nighthawk. Pretty much identical to my drawing. I would love to some day see one closer.
In total, two new birds (Cassin’s Vireo and Common Nighthawk) and another maybe new bird (Red-naped Sapsucker). No glimpse of a Long-eared owl (a beginner birder can dream), but a good start to an epic adventure. To be continued…