Summer Lake to Cabin Lake and beyond

One night the storms were too bad even for the barn.

So I ran for the hills, an hour north to Cabin Lake, where there is no cabin and there is no lake. But there is the promise birds and better weather. Along the way I noticed some grounded hawks. Was it too windy for this Ferruginous Hawk to fly or had it just caught a snack?

I drove to a pretty remote location to enhance the birdsongs and minimize the gunshot noise.

At camp I heard Gray Flycatcher, Cassin’s Finch, Green-tailed Towhee, Mountain Chickadee, Mountain Bluebird, and Chipping Sparrow. Since it had rained the night before, I didn’t bother checking out the new bird blinds, best viewing is when the weather is dry. Leaving Cabin Lake in the morning I got a glimpse of my favorite woodpecker of the area, the White-headed Woodpecker.

Along Cabin Lake Rd I saw the reliable Sagebrush Sparrows.

Brewer’s Sparrow.

Sage Thrashers.

Three Loggerhead Shrikes.

And I rescued the desert from these shitty balloons.

I stopped at Fort Rock State Park for White-throated Swifts, a Prairie Falcon, and I finally spotted the Barn Owl tucked in the cliff! Just above the most white-wash.


Later I noticed a swallow nest colony on the cliffs of a gravel pit area that looked like it was included in highway right-of-way so I pulled over to take a closer look. It was a swarm of Bank Swallows! County bird #124.

As I watched them a car pulled up beside me. Uh-oh. I explained I was admiring the Bank Swallow colony, and what turned out to be a very nice landowner told me to take all the pictures I wanted, he thought someone might be “messing with the dozer.” Oops.

Don’t mess with the dozer

A short drive north of Summer Lake, I pulled over at a site below a large cliff, and hoped for a certain sparrow. Immediately I saw a Black-throated Sparrow perched on a rock singing.

No way! It’s never that easy! Such a brilliant sparrow.

Another night with better weather I camped in the Fremont Forest on Winter Ridge. I was hoping for a nightjar or two. Sure enough, just as the sun set, “poor-will, poor-will, poor-will” of the Common Poorwill, followed by an unexpected “Peent!” of a Common Nighthawk! I’d picked an excellent camping spot.

On the last night, finally reunited with Tomas, we opted for a shower and a bed at the Lodge at Summer Lake. This, followed by the best pancakes in the morning at the Flyway Restaurant next door was the perfect way to end our trip!

Doing it for the pancakes and birds.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Tabor Times Two

Mt Tabor Park is the gift that keeps on giving. All that stuff about balance and taking it easy? The cake is a lie. One afternoon this week reports of a Blue-headed Vireo and Common Poorwill proved too irresistible. The day was sunny and full of possibility. But first I had to leave my yard, and I was delayed by a flurry of bird activity.

Three years (and 5 days) ago I had my first Blurry-rocket-smudge Wilson’s Warbler in the yard, and this April I had another!

Only moderately better focus but with more leaves.

Then I heard singing.

Ignore that label, and ignore the robin that chimes in at the 7 second mark. Because I heard what I thought was a Hutton’s Vireo, after seeing this bird.

Based on those dark feet, the eye-ring and bill, but as it turns out, this is an outlier Ruby-crowned Kinglet that lacks the yellow feet. But what it does have is the dark bar under the white wing bar that a Hutton’s Vireo never has.

The clincher

Then I found this terrible but diagnostic photo in the mix.

That prominent eye-ring, combined with the singing, this is a Cassin’s Vireo! A yard first almost mis-identified as another yard first. There’s still so much to learn.

But did you see the eagle?

Yes, yes I did. Then it was off to Tabor!

I looked for the vireo in the designated spot, then wandered around to undesignated spots, wondering where “the Cove” is? Not a vireo to be found anywhere. I realized it’s a little mad following a tiny migrating bird in a big park, but I thought there might be other fun distractions in the vicinity. Indeed there was.

I heard jays, robins, juncos, sparrows, siskins, flickers, all alarming over a ridge and I hurried over. I thought it had to be an owl (or a Gyrfalcon). I looked but didn’t find anything. Then I looked closer.

No freakin way!! A Northern Saw-whet Owl!! Not the owl I was expecting, but such a great surprise. The hummingbirds dive-bombed it, robins called loudly, as it tried to look invisible. I had a spectacular view of its backside from the flat part of the trail.

Such a great consolation prize, I was rejuvenated to stay and listen for a potential poorwill. It was still early, so I drove around to the other side of the park. When, again, I heard something intriguing uptrail. Where have I heard that shrieking sound before?

Oh yes, Great Horned Owl-ets!

At least there was all that if I missed the poorwill, but there was still time. At around 8:00pm I waited as the skies darkened and fewer and fewer people exercised past me. The reports had the bird at around 8:30 so I turned on my phone recorder then. Just in case. It was somewhat creepy but also peaceful waiting in the dark. And then at 8:42pm I heard it!

A soft, single, but unmistakeable, “poor-will”. I waited another 15 minutes but didn’t hear another peep. I left hoping I’d gotten something usable and couldn’t wait so on the way home in the car I blasted the recording and thought I heard something, that was finally confirmed once I got home.

The bird was first heard by Tom McNamara while he was walking his dog at the park. There are only two other records of a Common Poorwill at Tabor, one by the Hinkles in September 2010 and another by Chris Warren May 1, 2008. It was pretty exciting to help document this sighting.

What an unbelievable evening! I should probably take it easy now.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Seattle to Malheur to Astoria III

I’d never been to Steens Mountain before, but I’d only heard good things. It is a 30-mile long fault block mountain that peaks at 9,773 ft and consists of 428,156 acres of public land.

This land is our land

There is one 59-mile loop road that is gravel, often washboard, and takes about two hours to drive.

Or several more hours if you’re me. I filled up on gas before heading out because stations are few and far between.

See gas attendant in upper lefthand corner.

I stopped a lot. Several times. One of the best things about this area is how remote it is and how easy it is to turn around for scattering birds. And the birds certainly scattered. I found mostly Vesper Sparrows, Sage Thrashers, and Chipping Sparrows.

I spotted a couple of Green-tailed Towhees.

I finally got a photo of a Mountain Chickadee.

And at one stop I found a large flock of scruffy-looking bluebirds, both Mountain and Western.

Here I also saw a Red-naped Sapsucker.

And Hairy Wodpeckers.

It was good times. The best bird I found was a Black-throated Gray Warbler, but no photos, unfortunately.

At the East Rim Overlook I found stunning views of the valley below historically filled by glaciers. Hard to imagine.

I’d hoped to see Black Rosy-Finch here (or anywhere on Steens Mtn), but I wasn’t so lucky. I saw American Kestrels, Cooper’s Hawk, and a few Red-tailed Hawks dotting the landscape.

Ready, set…

Go. I drove all over that mountain back and forth, but saw more scenery than birds.

It might be because it was a holiday weekend, and though remote, the place was probably as packed as the Steens get. It took a while, but late in the day I finally found a suitable camping spot along a BLM road and settled in for the night.

Cozy. Until a truck with three men in it pulled up.

Oh great, I thought, here we go. After what felt like a long standoff, one finally got out and the first words out of his mouth were “Are you in need of assistance?” It took everything in my power not to say something rude back. (If I needed help, wouldn’t I be at the road looking for help?!) No, I’m not, I said instead. Then he asked, “are you planning on camping here?” I said, I was.

Oh great, now they know where I’m camping. He proceeded to mansplain to me that there was a campground with amenities not far down the road. I said thanks, but no thanks, this is BLM land and I am fine. He told me they wanted to scout the area for deer to bowhunt and that they’d just come back in the morning. They seemed nice enough, aside from their entitled, ignorant, and sexist attitude, but I was still bothered by the whole thing.

I felt like I had to defend my position even though I had every right to be there.

I considered leaving, but grumpily I set up camp anyways.

Then Tomas texted letting me know he’d finally made it to Fields, but he’d likely not continue the next day. Tired and achy after a 60-mile battle with the sun, dust, and headwinds, he said he felt defeated. He’d met his match with the heat that had scalded his feet and soured his spam and tuna packets.

Feeling a little defeated myself, I suggested we pack up and fly to Maui instead. Half joking, but also temping. He then asked, “what’s that bird that says “poorwill, poorwill“? Jealous, I told him it’s the Common Poorwill. Minutes later I heard them outside my own tent. That made my night. Leave it to the birds to make things better.

A great soundtrack to fall asleep to.

Crickets and poorwills,

Audrey