Last Weekend II

In the morning neither Tomas nor I was ready to go home, instead we opted for more birding and biking. He left to bike over the coast range, while I drove south past Tillamook to Sitka Sedge State Natural Area. Or at least what will eventually become SSSNA.

Apparently it opens mid-2018, and for now it lacked any beach access I could find, so I continued a mile and a half farther to the first legal parking area. And finally, I began the long walk on the beach.

Luckily, it was gorgeous weather. One of those impossible 70-degree days on the Oregon coast. Why was I trying to get to this beach so badly? Plovers, that’s why.

The walk was slow and quiet for a while, only a few gulls and sanderlings.

And one very sad, dead, light Northern Fulmar.

I mourned and moved on, and a couple more miles down the beach I heard the most annoying noise. Brrrrraaaaaaaaap.

Across the way was Sand Lake Recreation Area covered in noisy OHVs. So with that crap in the background, I kept going. And eventually, I spotted them.

Nestled safely in tire tracks in the sand were a Sanderling, Dunlin, and two Snowy Plovers!

Commence the cuteness! Because besides these I found several others.

Behind a crabshell

Behind kelp

In more tire tracks

But the best was when they scurried along and hid in footprints in the sand.

So hidden

I laid down in the sand to try and reduce my impact and to get a better eye-view of the plovers’ world.

This was when I noticed several birds were banded. I found 7 (and am waiting on submitted band reports).

I also noticed the view of Haystack rock in the distance wasn’t half bad.

I couldn’t have been happier even covered in wet sand. As I started heading back I noticed a sign.

A project for plovers! This is wonderful news. With all their “hiding spots” they just seem so vulnerable and exposed on the beach. Certain times of years cars drive on this very spot. And walking back, I saw a dog-walker throwing a tennis ball over and over for their dog, I thought, dang those plovers look like tiny white tennis balls. So vulnerable.

Snowy Plovers are listed as threatened and are protected in all states along the west coast. There are more plovers in southern Oregon beaches but in the north, they need more help. At least state and wildlife officials are making the effort to protect nesting areas. If nothing else.

This was one sighting I very much appreciated. For the birds, absolutely, and also because this species puts me in the top 100 eBirders of Oregon! I’ve seen 324 species in the state. Unbelievable! And I look forward to seeing many more.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

5MR Updates

With only a month and a half of this year left, looking back I think I’ve done a pretty good job finding birds in my 5 mile radius. I haven’t done the best job of updating, but so far I’ve seen 143 species.

The most recent additions were found at Broughton Beach, including winter visitors like this Dunlin.

I added a couple of species while looking through bad photos, like these barely identifiable Greater White-fronted Geese.

Sometimes I have to take what I can get, like fly-by Surf Scoters.

Then other times I get lucky with a fly-by Short-eared Owl!

Aw, man I love those owls, they’re the best.

This past weekend, also at Broughton were fly-over Tundra Swans.

A confident addition of an Iceland Gull (formerly known as Thayer’s Gull); pink legs, medium-pale mantle, black primaries, dark iris.

So easy to identify

And a couple of uncommon visitors, including a Pacific Loon.

And a trio of Red-breasted Mergansers, that differ from Common with a longer, thinner bill, a shaggy crest, and no white chin patch.

Hello ladies

Not all the birds come from Broughton, one evening I got a lucky brief look of a hawk flying over Mt Tabor that surprisingly wasn’t a Red-tailed Hawk.

Pale head, dark belly, white underside of primaries – and no patagial marks – a Rough-legged Hawk! I was at the right place at the right time for my 199th Multnomah County bird!

What was #198? I’m so glad you asked. My best 5MR bird to-date showed up at my friend Casey Cunningham’s house just 4.1 miles away. He’d reported a Virginia’s Warbler occasionally visiting his suet feeder, and many other birders and I spent quality time in the cold, rain (questioning life choices) while staking out his yard hoping for a look.

Warbler at the end of the rainbow? Nope.

But most, including myself struck out on too many occasions. Right place, wrong times. That was until this weekend, while happily out birding with friends, we immediately detoured over to Casey’s yard after seeing an encouraging warbler report. It’s so hard to know when to take the gamble, but this time it truly paid off.
Virginia’s Warbler – YES!

It might not look like much, but this subdued gray warbler with a yellow undertail is normally found far away in southwest deserts and is often difficult to observe in it’s own brushy chaparral habitat. But here was one in NE Portland, wagging its tail, chowing down on suet.

Black-capped Chickadee meet Virginia

Oh you want to come out and perch in the sunshine? Okay, then. *gushes*

The crowd cheered and applauded as the warbler put on a great show, it was an unforgettable moment shared with great friends.

The crowd goes wild

The 5MR has been helpful for keeping FOMO (a fear of missing out) at bay. It’s still challenging when new temptation lands every day, but there are always birds close to home keeping things interesting. This week I’ll say goodbye to my 5MR and local birds as I travel back to Florida for a family visit. I have much to be grateful for near and far.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanks and chirps,

Audrey

Chasing Bar-tailed

There’s an undeniable intrigue when chasing rarities from across the globe. This time I was hoping for a shorebird off course from its typical New Zealand to Alaska migration called a Bar-tailed Godwit. Thanks to unusual weather patterns, a handful had shown up on the Oregon coast this spring.

I timed my trip to arrive in the coastal hills at sunrise to listen for Mountain Quail.

Since I was at the right place and the right time, I heard this life bird’s call pretty easily. A pair was calling back and forth across the valley. But no visuals this time, and I didn’t have much time to spend looking. Next time, quail.

I kept focus and made it to Lost Creek State Park while it was still early. I felt both relief and excitement when I saw shorebirds in the distance. This could be it.

But it wasn’t. The Bar-tailed had been seen in mixed shorebird flocks of Whimbrels and Marbled Godwit and those were both here.

Down-turned bill = Whimbrel

Upturned bill = Marbled Godwit

This godwit gave me pause. I realized then that I’d never seen Marbled Godwits in breeding plumage. More buffy-brown cinnamon colored, with barring on the chest, and an orange-ish coloring at the base of the bill (signalling increased hormonal levels). I had only seen them in non-breeding plumage with a pink base to the bill.

There were also some birds with intermediate colors.

This was getting more complicated. I had done my homework before arriving of course, Bar-tailed Godwits differ from Marbled in that they are slightly smaller, with a slightly shorter bill, and they lack the cinnamon underwing colors. They are slightly more reddish in breeding plumage and grayer in non-breeding. I began to doubt I’d recognize these slight differences.

So I looked at peeps instead. Hey, look! Western Sandpipers!

Bath time!

Dunlin in breeding plumage, look at that black belly!

Sanderlings! That one on the right is in breeding plumage (mottled, rufous head and neck).

And the best distraction. Semi-palmated Plover.

You’re cute, even when you’re digging in the sand.

That helped. I walked back to the car ready to try another location. As I was returning, a group of birders passed by and we exchanged information. They too were looking for godwits and hadn’t seen any Bar-tailed yet. At least I hadn’t missed anything.

I pulled over at another beach spot, and found only plovers and Whimbrels. The next stop was Newport’s South Jetty where I found no Whimbrels or godwits, but I did catch a distant glimpse of a black ghost. A Pacific Loon in breeding plumage!

Note to self: spend more time with shorebirds in breeding plumage. They’re beautiful.

It was late afternoon by now and I had time for just one more stop. Since it was close, and I’d never been there, I decided on Yaquina Bay State Recreation Area just across from South Jetty.

I approached the beach and saw shorebirds in the distance. This could be it.

OMG, this was it! I spotted one of the banded birds in my binoculars. Some reports had been of birds with multiple blue and white bands on their legs, part of a bird-banding program in New Zealand, and positively identifying them as Bar-tailed Godwits. It was the best-case scenerio BTGO to find.

But before I could snap a photo, a woman approached me, asking about the birds. She asked what the birds with the long bills were, “are they Long-billed Dowitchers?” Normally, I appreciate people’s interest in birds when I’m out, but this was terrible timing. But I explained what they were anyways. She thanked me, then proceeded to walk right towards the flock, spooking them all.

Seriously? I had told her about the rarity too. I couldn’t believe it, but I didn’t have time to sulk, because I had to jog down the beach to keep up with the moving flock. Eventually, success!

Look at all the jewelry on that New Zealand bird! What a huge relief. And the stranger thing was, besides that rude woman, I was the only one on the beach. No other birders. I posted the sighting on OBOL and enjoyed my time. I’d actually hit the jackpot of shorebirds at this spot.

There were Black-bellied Plovers in breeding plumage.

I almost dropped my binoculars.

A Ruddy Turnstone.

And a pair of Brant casually on the shore.

Whimbrels, plovers, godwits, sanderlings, it was hard to keep up!

The tide came in further, many birds moved up to the jetty rocks to sleep in the warm afternoon sun. I regained and lost site of the Bar-tailed again, grateful for the time I had.

X marks the spot, I’d found the treasure!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey