Epic Summer Trip Part I: Conboy Lake NWR

No one warned me about summer birding.

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.

Conboy NWR

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??

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.

Here’s some of what I saw as I hiked solo along the Willard Springs Trail.

Townsend's Solitaire

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.

Townsend's Solitaire

Townsend's Solitaire

Further along the trail, I spooked a flock of juvenile (or first-year) Red-winged Blackbirds.

Red-winged Blackbird (juveniles)

Red-winged Blackbird (juveniles)

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.

Brown-headed Cowbird and Common Yellowthroat

The parents must be taking good care of their great big baby.

Common Yellowthroat (female)

Common Yellowthroat pair

Common Yellowthroat

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.

Dark-eyed Junco juvenile

I saw one juvenile woodpecker and based on the darker shade overall, I think it’s a Red-breasted Sapsucker. I think.

Red-breasted Sapsucker juvenile

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.

Red-naped Sapsucker?

A closer look of the molting bird. Hm.

Red-naped Sapsucker?

A few non-juvenile birds who made an appearance.

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).

Common Nighthawk Drawing (2)

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.

ID the bird

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…

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Steigerwald

I took a trip to Steigerwald Lake NWR to see what the Purple Martins were up to.

They were busy being birds.

Purple Martin

I love listening to them chatter. Wonder what they’re saying?…

I was a bit confused by their plumage. In fact, while taking these photos, another birder on the path asked me what kind of birds they were and I wasn’t positive they were all martins.

Purple Martin

Purple Martin

A little Googling reveals that, like some birds, Purple Martins have “delayed plumage maturation” and it takes two years for their adult plumage to come in. So, some of these could be subadult males. That explains their plumage.

But what explains their attitude?

Purple Martin

More obvious males were visible at the nesting “gourds“.

Purple Martin

Purple Martin

Purple Martins, the largest North American swallows, migrate from South America (Brazil, Argentina, Peru) and feed on large insects like dragonflies. 40 nesting gourds are maintained at Steigerwald that had a successful 90% occupancy rate in 2014 according to USFWS. Nice to know they have a place to nest here.

Other species seen on this trip:

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Shillapoo and Frenchman’s Bar

As soon as I typed “breakfast burrito” into the search bar, that’s when the magic happened.

Let me back up.

Some time passed since I last visited Shillapoo National Wildlife Refuge so I decided to give it another go. Part of what makes birding fun is visiting regular haunts and seeing different birds each time. Indeed, I saw some newbies this trip.

Like this Lazuli Bunting.

Lazuli Bunting

And from blue head to the Brown-headed Cowbird. A bizarre thing I read about these birds is they lay eggs in other bird’s nests instead of making their own. A strategy known as “brood parasitism.” Some birds, like the Yellow Warbler, evolved to recognize the imposter eggs, but because the bird is too small to remove the eggs it builds a new nest on top, hoping the cowbird doesn’t return. It’s a tough nesting world out there.

Brown-headed Cowbird

Another competitive nester and loud vocalist I saw this day, the House Wren.

House Wren

House Wren

I was entertained for while by this Anna’s Humbingbird. So much so, I took a video. I love that flashy face.

Anna's Hummingbird

Anna's Hummingbird

Also fun was watching the Common Yellowthroat twitter around in the cattails.

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

The park was alive with yellow birds, like these American Goldfinch.

American Goldfinch

How many do you see?

How many do you see?

I’ll be honest, there was one yellow bird I had hoped to find this day, the Yellow Warbler. There are lots of yellow warblers, but there is only one Yellow Warbler. I thought I might see one at Shillapoo, but no luck, so I headed to nearby Frenchman’s Bar Park since I saw a sighting posted on E-bird the day prior. I headed out.

I saw a couple of tricky birds I had to look up.

Orange-crowned Warbler

Broken eye ring, greyish head, drab-yellow underneath = Orange-crowned Warbler

Western Tanager

Drab olive head, dusky grey back, light wing bars = female Western Tanager

Also noteworthy at this sight is the Osprey nest visible from the beach.

Osprey

Osprey

Osprey

A few other birds I saw.

Spotted Towhee

Spotted Towhee

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Warbling Vireo

Warbling Vireo

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

This brings me back to my burrito. By this point it was getting late in the morning and I was thinking of leaving. Though I’d seen so much, I was sort of bummed to miss out on the Yellow Warbler. While second-breakfast was on my mind, I glanced up from my phone, and this happened.

Bullock's Oriole

I did a double-take. It’s not yellow, but it’s a bright orange bird! I’ll take it! Squee! My heart raced as I watched and followed the Bullock’s Oriole pair around the park. It was such a great sighting I had trouble pulling myself away. What burrito?

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey