Summer Lake: Fremont Forest to Lover’s Lane

Over Memorial Day weekend Tomas was scheduled to volunteer with Oregon Timber Trail working on mountain bike trails through the Fremont National Forest so I thought it would be the perfect opportunity for me to explore Summer Lake Wildlife Area.

Tomas worked hard chainsawing through trees and brushwhacking trail obstacles, while I binged on birds for five days. This was Lake County which I hadn’t visited since a Cabin Lake trip in 2016. I saw 145 species this trip, 102 new county birds, and one state bird. But first, I had to get out of the forest.

After dropping Tomas off, I spent three hours traveling the 24 miles down to the valley picking up Lewis’s Woodpecker, Pygmy Nuthatch, and Clark’s Nutcracker.

I saw a Pinyon Jay interested in the juniper berries.

And a few migrating visitors included Lazuli Bunting.

In one patch of pines I saw Townsend’s Warbler, Warbling Vireo, Cassin’s Vireo, and a singing Western Tanager.

There were Red Crossbill, Cassin’s Finch, Chipping Sparrow, Mountain Chickadee, Brown Creeper, and a fun favorite, Green-tailed Towhee.

Sparrows included Brewer’s Sparrow, Fox Sparrow (Slate-colored), and I even found a nice looking Lark Sparrow.

Flycatchers were singing loudly (thankfully), Olive-sided (quick-three-beers!), Western Wood-Pewee, Dusky, and I think the best sighting was this Ash-throated Flycatcher.

Eventually I made it down to the wildlife refuge. But then I had to pick up a parking pass from the gas station, which unfortunately only takes cash. Pro-tip, bring enough cash! I had to dive 40 minutes south to Paisley to the nearest ATM to pull out enough to cover for an annual pass.

While in Paisley, I figured it was worth checking out Lover’s Lane, an eBird hotspot I’d noticed had some target birds I was hoping for. This turned out to be an excellent decision.

Lovers on Lover’s Lane

I started down the farm road and immediately stopped for this adorable baby Killdeer.

It bobbed its head and squatted down looking just like a rock. Of course the parents were shrieking nearby, so I did not stay long. The pastures next to the road were flooded creating huge puddles, but since it was a hot day, the birds were totally into it.

Not far along, a freakin Wilson’s Phalarope decided to land in a puddle right next to the car, then it fed and bathed right next to me.

It was like a dream. The dream continued when I noticed a shorebird in the road up ahead. I got closer, but it flew into a field.

It’s a Willet! A state bird! I was so excited to find it, since I’ve only seen them on the coast, and mostly in Florida. They breed here in the desert in this small part of Oregon during spring and summer. It flew over the road then landed on the other side to hang out with a Black-necked Stilt.

Buddies

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, I heard “CurLI, CurLI, CurLI” from a Long-billed Curlew in the same field.

The Wilson’s Snipe and I couldn’t believe our eyes.

Neither could the Sandhill Cranes.

Yep, they were there too. It was the best kind of party, everyone’s invited. Eventually I made it to the end of the road and about died with happy when I saw another target I’d hoped for, a Black Tern.

I thought the road might end at a water feature, but it was just flooded farmland, and the terns seemed okay with that.

I’ve only seen Black Terns one other time at Perkins Peninsula Park in Eugene and the looks were bad enough that I didn’t write about it. But here I could soak it in, it was the best I could hope for.

Smitten with Lover’s Lane I backtracked to HWY 31 and made my way back to Summer Lake where I could buy a parking pass and finally explore the wildlife refuge.

Welcome to Summer Lake, I hope you enjoy your stay.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Ptarmigan again again

When I see White-tailed Ptarmigan reports on eBird I get excited about the possibilities. I can’t help it. I’m a sucker. Someone, somewhere saw this bird. Reporters even provide tips: “Listen as you look. Increase your odds.” Noted. My ears are open.

I’ve done the math. Five attempts in two years equals zero ptarmigan. Simple as that. Math says they don’t exist. But this time would be different. I had three days off, the weather looked promising, and there was a sighting only a couple of days prior. Challenge accepted.

Hello again my friend

It makes sense to start where the last bird was reported so I started in Paradise and hiked the Skyline Trail. I saw lots of Golden-crowned Sparrows and Savannah Sparrows.

Pretty tree-toppers. And the occasional fly-by flock of Horned Lark.

When the winds picked up I noticed a pair of hawks circling above in the sky.

I originally thought Cooper’s based on size, but now I think  Sharp-shinned Hawk because of the shorter head projection beyond the wings at the bend in the wrists.

But I am open to suggestions. Either way they put on quite the show.

Then an unmistakable Prairie Falcon flew by.

Another cool sighting was a huge flock of Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch.

So many that my report of at least 75 was flagged in eBird for a high number.

All this, but still no ptarmigan. Things weren’t different. No ptarm-ptarm, and too many tourists. Paradise had turned into my own personal hell and I needed a change of scenery.

A slight exaggeration

So the next day I drove an hour and a half farther north to Sunrise, the highest point in the park that can be reached by vehicle. This seemed promising. And just 20 minutes below Sunrise is White River Campground.

Risky, but worth it. Such a pretty place, and the white noise of the river next to the sites mostly drowned out noisy campers. Early morning I headed to the top.

I stopped in the visitor center to chat with a ranger about ptarmigan sightings and such, but it had been over a month since one was last reported here.

According to the trail log, I had as good a chance of seeing a ptarmigan as finding Nemo. That sounded about right. My best bet was the Fremont Lookout Trail.

I’d hate to hike this trail in the snow. So steep. I made it to the fire lookout to find a group of hikers had camped up there. So much for birds.

Mountain goats also camped nearby.

I found a Rock Wren near the top (that came up on eBird as rare for some reason).

And on the way back, pika! My favorite mammal.

Other birds I passed along the way included Yellow-rumped Warbler, Townsend’s Solitaire, Varied Thrush, American Pipit, Grey Jay, Common Raven.

And fat, happy squirrels were plentiful.

Golden-mantled Squirrel

On the return hike I took a detour along the Burroughs Mountain Trail where I saw a second herd of mountain goats and the most cooperative pika ever that made my day.

Though I hadn’t found ptarmigan, Sunrise felt new and refreshing.

A new perspective

Of course I was tired and sore from hiking two days, but I felt ready to tackle Paradise again. I returned to Cougar Rock Campground and hung out with Steller’s Jays until morning when it was time to give it another go. To save time I started in the dark with a headlamp. Honestly, I’ve done it so many times I could probably do it blind-folded. But then I would have smooshed the Daddy Long-legs.

I made it to Panorama Point before sunrise, and almost pooped my pants when I saw a chicken at the top. But it turned out to be a ptarmigan in a Sooty Grouse costume.

So close. I searched a little while longer before accepting my nemesis bird had gotten away again. After three days of looking, I felt I’d given it a solid effort. I’m left still excited for the possibilities.

Since returning I’ve crunched the numbers and unless I’m reading them wrong, in the past few years reports of White-tailed Ptarmigan at Mt. Rainier have gone way down. Does this mean there are fewer birds? Or fewer birders reporting them. Of course this isn’t enough data to draw any real conclusions. I’d love to see population census data from a controlled study on Mt Rainier.

Birds reported in 2013: 56 2014: 63 2015: 28 2016: 20 2017: 8

From 61 eBird reports: Most birds seen in August (80), the earliest sighting is April, latest is October, more reports from Sunrise than Paradise (36 vs 23), with a combined total of 175 birds. Best eBird photos here, here, and here. Funniest report here.

TLDR: The best bet is go to Sunrise on a Thursday in August at 10:00am, hike the Fremont Lookout trail for 5 hours and you’ll see 2.86 ptarmigan.

Brilliant. I’ll see you there.

Ptweets 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