5MR booms and busts

It’s fall! The air is cooler, the leaves are changing colors, and shorebirds are on their way back south. There are only three months left to find 5MR birds this year. Since I’ve last checked in, I’ve had a few hits and misses. Many of the hits were at a place in Portland with terrible visibility, Vanport Wetlands.

Dear City of Portland, please install a viewing platform. Love, birders.

Sometimes you have to take what you can get. Here, I’ve gotten poor looks at Lesser Yellowlegs, a Solitary Sandpiper, and a Sora foraging in the open about 100 yards away.

Sora or Sasquatch?

The best bird of the bad looks club here was a Ruff! First Vanport record, this one was found and kindly shared by Colby Neuman.

So Ruff

I’ve also gotten bad looks of good birds at Broughton, like this Whimbrel found by Jay Withgott. To the right of the Whimbrel is a Sanderling, believe it or not.

Bird pixels

On a whole I have been very lucky in my 5MR and I’m really appreciating that lately, especially when it starts pouring rain as I move closer in to take a photo of a Red-necked Grebe.

And a Common Tern floats down to the beach right in front of me.

When it rains, it pours

And three cheers for cooperative peeps that stick around like this amazing American Golden-Plover found by Aaron Beerman.

Aaron also pointed out a small flock of Horned Lark, I’ve been waiting all year to see these! They were all Streaked Horned Lark, a subspecies of Horned Lark, endemic to the Pacific Northwest and under threatened status.

Banded! – stay tuned to hear back about this one

So many booms! Where are the busts, you ask? Well, there were more than a few birds reported in my 5MR that I didn’t see in time: Baird’s Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Yellow-breasted Chat, Hermit Warbler, Red-necked Phalarope, Common Nighthawk. To name a few. There’s always next year? But, honestly I can’t complain because I’ve found many other great birds, including a Parasitic Jaeger at Broughton Beach.

Boom

No wait, not just one jaeger. THERE. WERE. TWO!

Boom Boom! Who needs a boat?

This was on the same day I saw a Merlin, a Wilson’s Snipe, and I got the best looks of a Common Tern.

For the most part, we birders are at the mercy of luck, timing, and making choices. Hopefully good ones because we can’t be everywhere at once. It feels nice to be in the right place at the right time and be rewarded with jaegers, terns, and plovers (oh, my!). Last I looked I was at 189 species in my 5MR, it’ll be pretty tough to make it to my imaginary goal of 200 by the end of the year, but either way I’m pretty happy with the birds I’ve seen so far.

Still missing: Red-shouldered Hawk, Northern Pygmy-Owl, American Dipper, Sandhill Crane, White-winged Scoter, Eared Grebe, Red-breasted Merganser, some wintering rarities (?)

Booms and busts,

Audrey

A Sunny Oregon Pelagic

Barely a month back from my California pelagic trip, it was time to set sail again. This time from my favorite place, Newport, OR, and this time with friends, because boat trips are even better with barf-buddies.

All aboard

Lucky for us, it was a calm day at sea and we had some good drugs and good distractions. Past the jetties we found Marbled Murrelets, White-winged Scoters, and Red-necked Phalaropes.

Further along we saw Cassin’s Auklets and Rhinoceros Auklets, a couple still sporting some breeding plumage.

Once in the open seas we found a quartet of shearwaters including:

Sooty Shearwater
Pink-footed Shearwater
Buller’s Shearwater

And perhaps the “rarest” bird of the trip, a single Flesh-footed Shearwater.

Around here is where I saw my best bird of the trip, a new state bird, Arctic Tern.

There were many of these tiny terns flitting around the sky and diving down to the water.

They have less black in the wings and smaller bill and leg proportions than Common Terns, which we also saw on this trip (but I didn’t get photos of). It takes a well-trained eye to tell those two apart in the skies, I will leave that to the experts.

It was easy to recognize Sabine’s Gulls coming in for a popcorn landing.

And everyone’s favorite friend, Black-footed Albatross.

We missed skuas, but saw many jaegers, including two individual Long-tailed Jaegers.

I managed a craptastic photo of a Parasitic Jaeger.

And we had one very cooperative Pomarine Jaeger.

That put on the best show when it went after a gull with food.

Brutal! And surprisingly, the gull didn’t drop the food. Pretty incredible.

On the return trip, we spent some time on the water by the Yaquina Head Lighthouse.

Watching Gray Whales feed close to shore.

Humans for scale

It was a great day at sea! Boat trips are better with friends and even better when we all make it out alive without getting sick!

Turning into an “old salt.”

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Shorebird Festival Pelagic

Part of the fun of the Oregon Shorebird Festival is the pelagic trip. After my first disaster of a pelagic experience in 2015 I wasn’t sure I’d ever do it again. But since then I’ve had a couple of successful trips, and after loads of trial and error (and meds) I feel like I’ve finally got my system dialed in.

I’m not saying it’s 100% barfproof, but it’s getting there. Having the right gear and knowing what medication combination works makes the biggest difference for a pleasant ride. This next trip would be my shortest, only 5 hours, less time for “complications” and a good test for my recovering ankle. I felt pretty good boarding the boat as we set off from Charleston.

Oregon Pelagic Tours has the best guides, they’re my favorite people to be out at sea with. Our trip began just past the jetties when we saw Rhinoceros Auklets, Red-necked Phalarope, Marbled Murrelets, and Cassin’s Auklets.

Flying potatoes

Before I knew it we were in Sooty Shearwater territory. And not far behind we got a quick look at terns, a Common Tern, with a small dark bill and dark carpal bars (shoulders).

And a second tern that was first I.D.’d as Elegant until it was examined more closely in photos after the boat ride.

It was thought to be Elegant because of the clean underside and perceived longer bill, but despite this, experts now agree it is actually a Common Tern, as adults transitioning into non-breeding plumage can have red at the base of the bill. Not quite Elegant enough and a very tricky tern.

Eventually we found fishing ships. And lucky for us they were just pulling up their nets.

It was a perfect time to chum the waters. Chum brings the gulls, which brings the jaegers!

We saw all three, a jaeger slam. I’ll start with the easy one. Large, beefy bird with a bi-colored bill, and the largest white wing “flash” on upper and lower wings (6-8 white shafts on outer wing feathers): POMARINE.

A better look at that white flash and those spoon-shaped central tail feathers:

The next jaeger, wing flash is visible, more than two shafts in the upper wing, and a close-up of the bill reveals the gonydeal tip is near the edge: PARASITIC.

And finally, the third.

There are only two white primary shafts on the outer primaries. That is diagnostic for: LONG-TAILED. It also has black and white barring underneath the tail, and a small bill with gonydeal tip in the mid-point, but the minimal flash is what to look for.

Because eBird quizzes are so much fun, here’s a jaeger quiz bird:

Is it A: Long-tailed B: Parasitic C: Pomarine or D: None of the above? (answer at the end)

I thought tail shape was the main factor in jaeger ID and it is helpful, but angles mislead and feathers break. It’s all about the white on the wings and bill shape for jaeger ID. My goal is to eventually learn enough to be able to do more in the field besides hang on for dear life. Clearly I need to spend more time on the boat.

If not for jaeger identification, then to look at more Black-footed Albatross.

They were there too, though in lower numbers than trips in the past. There were higher numbers of Sabine’s Gulls though.

Can’t mistake that one. We also got great looks at a South Polar Skua with the Sabine’s!

Skua-sabine combo

The Skua passed close to the boat several times giving us killer looks.

Also amazing were Buller’s Shearwaters, with that clean white underside.

And scapulars for days.

Not bad for five hours out to sea! I’m grateful for such an amazing barf-free trip. The weather was milder than predicted and the sea swells mostly cooperated. We had a couple of whale sightings and a blue shark visited the chum spot but I failed to get a photo. But the birds never disappoint, they’re the best reason to get back on that boat.

Quiz answer: Two white shafts visible on that upper wing means A: LONG-TAILED

Good job. Some are impossible.

Tweets and chum,

Audrey