2019: Resetting the tripometer

I ended 2018 having seen 325 species of birds in Oregon in a single year. It was fun, rewarding, and a ton of work. Something I’ll likely not do again for a while. This year it’s time to revisit old friends close to home. Inspired by Jen Sanford I’m resurrecting my 5MR and birding mostly within a “5-mile radius” from my house.

It’s a great way to explore underbirded local patches, reduce driving time, and expand on eBird’s citizen science database.

All those blue dots? Those are eBird hotspots within 5 miles of my house. Learn how to make a handy-dandy map like that here. I made a pretty solid 5MR effort in 2017 ending with 152 species so trying to match or surpass this might be a good goal this year. Certainly adding new species is worthwhile.

I started 2019 at the coast, so it took a day or two to get back into my radius. My first bird of the year was a Common Raven at Heceta Head Lighthouse. I was happy to start with something that meant I wasn’t at home.

Happy New Year!

I attempted to see a Sedge Wren in Florence (by guided access on McKenzie River Trust property). But it was so cold and windy this time, the wren never popped out or made any calls. That’ll teach me to bird outside my 5MR.

I quickly retreated back to the comfort of my circle. It was slow going at first. I focused on rare birds that might not be around very long. It took me four tries but I finally re-found Eric’s Eastern Bluebirds still visiting the Dharma Zen Rain Center.

Just as cute as I remember in 2018.

In addition to plain old 5MR fun, Jen’s adding monthly challenges to keep things interesting. January’s challenge is to fill in gaps of eBird hotspots. Since I’ve been working (and not on furlough), I’ve only gained two “points” so far by adding data to Holladay Park (hello Rock Pigeons and Red-tailed Hawks).

But the best was one day after work, I had about 45 minutes to bird before dark so I picked the closest hotspot from my house missing data that turned out to be a trail along the Columbia Slough. I didn’t expect to find much and since it was getting dark I didn’t even bring my camera. Big mistake! It turned out to be very birdy, I found 20 species including a continuing rare Blue-gray Gnatcatcher! Here’s my terrible iphone documentation:

That’ll teach me to leave my camera behind. Such a great find so close to home! Another 5MR highlight was a Northern Shrike sitting just at the edge of my circle at Vanport Wetlands. I’ll take it!

A big perk of 5MR birding is that many spots are bikeable. Inspired by my friend Eric (who’s doing his 5MR all by bike this year), I biked 2 miles to look for a reliable Black Phoebe visiting a local Radisson Hotel pond.

It worked! This was one big sunny success all around.

During the NE Portland CBC (Christmas Bird Count) Colby Neuman and team found a Palm Warbler that happened to be in my 5MR. This bird became my next target species. I made several attempts without success. After dipping one time, I went for a Eurasian Wigeon instead with better results.

That included a bonus sleepy 5MR Redhead.

On my fourth try (this time by bike!), I was extra determined to find the warbler. It had been seen in an industrial area with pockets of old pumpkin patches mixed in. But for a long time all I could find were Yellow-rumped Warblers enjoying the pumpkin bug-buffet.

A few other birders joined in the search and together we tromped around and spooked up a very lost Yellow Warbler.

That had zero desire to be seen.

Warbler of Nope

Better looks at Yellow Warblers coming this spring. We continued looking for the palm which would likely not be around then. Again we got close to a warbler flock when a Sharp-shinned Hawk spooked the whole lot. Foiled again!

Blurry Danger Hawk

By now I’d been searching for about three hours, but undeterred I kept going and after noon, despite wind and hawks, and light trespassing – ehem – I mean adventuring, the flock finally settled right in front of me and there was the Palm Warbler!

Yes!!!

County bird #216 and an excellent 5MR warbler. I worked pretty hard for this one.

Mudness

I was so pumped I took a tip from a friend and biked another 5 miles to Whitaker Ponds for a couple more 5MR birds.

An easy Spotted Sandpiper and a slightly less easy Great Horned Owl.

The best part? I bumped into my 5MR buddy Eric here and we were able to share some birds together. Including his FOY Bald Eagle.

We watched Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets terrorize the eagle before it flew off. And then we biked to celebratory pizza and beer.

2019 had a bumpy start but overall it’s going great. Three weeks in and I’ve biked 20 miles and seen 72 species so I think I’m doing all right.

Streeeetch

Keep reaching for those birds.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Dipping highs and lows

Thanksgiving week I spent time with Tomas, called my family, and then I went birding. A Rusty Blackbird was reported on Thanksgiving day at McNary Wildlife Area (but I was just there!). This would be a lifer and a recent rusty stuck around the Bend area for a while so I thought this one would be easy.

You think birding is easy?

Black-billed Magpies can easily find Cooper’s Hawks.

But I saw very few blackbirds. It could have been due to the Merlin.

Zoomies

That was cool to see. As was the Red-shouldered Hawk that appeared right before my eyes.

This is a pretty rare sighting in this part of Oregon. Another treat was finding a pair of Harris’s Sparrows!

Two is better than one

Unfortunately most of my photos of both together came out blurry, but they were a pretty cute.

I finally got to see the Black-crowned Night Herons out of the fog.

And in another tree I thought there were more herons but looking closer it was decorated with Wood Ducks!

They weebled and wobbled on the thin branches while a Eurasian Wigeon swam by in the water below.

Down by the dam I picked out some Bonaparte’s Gulls flying over the river just as it started raining.

It was too bad I missed the blackbird but it was fun giving McNary Wildlife Area more attention. If only this great birding spot was a bit closer. On the return trip home I stopped at Philippi Canyon and sat in the car watching a little Rock Wren hop around the rocks then I looked over to my right.

Holy sheep!

A group of Bighorn Sheep were making their way down the rocky hillside.

I picked my jaw up off the floor and glanced through the windshield just as a Chukar ran across the road!!!

Surprise state year bird #304!!! There were three of them that crossed and slowly hopped up the rocks where the sheep had just been.

It was a pretty magical moment. Dipping on the Rusty Blackbird was turning out okay after all. The next day I went to the coast and tried to find a Yellow-billed Loon that was spotted near Nehalem Bay. I spent two days looking but the loon must have moved on.

At one point during a break I drove to Seaside Cove to see a Rock Sandpiper! #305!

Another afternoon at Nehalem Bay State Park I met James Billstine a local birder and this turned out to be the best luck. With his help we found Yellow-rumped Warblers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, a Pacific Wren, Bewick’s Wren, a Fox Sparrow, and he managed to pish up a Hermit Thrush. That never happens.

And a Palm Warbler!

Excellent county birds and so fun to see all at once in one small patch. Another evening I met Courtney Jett from Bend and we dipped on the loon together while watching River Otters scratch themselves on a log.

So itchy

I stayed overnight in Rockaway at the Surfside Resort that was pretty quiet and comfy. In the morning I gave the loon one more chance but still no luck. It’s not often a Yellow-billed Loon visits Oregon so I was bummed to miss out. But such is the risk of chasing birds and I’d met some great people along the way.

I left the coast and ended up in Corvallis checking out Bald Hill Natural Area looking for Wild Turkeys but instead I found a really late Turkey Vulture.

What are you still doing here?

This is when I learned about a rare Tundra Bean-Goose at Finley National Wildlife Refuge 30 minutes away. I ran back to the car and took off. I made it to the site where other birders were standing in front of thousands of geese. But unfortunately, I looked at the wrong goose. This was not my finest birding moment.

I was probably right in front of the bean goose but my eyes locked onto a Greater White-fronted. Wrong bill color! It was so confusing and before I had a chance to correct the error a Bald Eagle had already spooked the whole flock. The worst! This is one of those moments I’ll replay in my mind a thousand times over hoping for a different outcome. I have good news though. Five days later I got a second chance with the goose!

Thanks to Courtney’s birding stamina and my new friend Lindsay Willrick’s excellent hospitality (I may not have survived gooselessness without them). In the gross cold and rain while taking shelter in the bird blind I picked out the bean goose while scanning the flock in the spotting scope. I may have squealed and jumped up and down like a lunatic. But it’s the goose! We had about 15 minutes enjoying it before it flew off to the south.

This goose is one of only five eBird records in the United States (there is another from 2015 in Oregon, and a 2013 record by the Salton Sea!). So it was worth some drama to see it. And by the way I got a second chance at Wild Turkeys too! #306!

With only a month left this year I’m taking the losses in stride and appreciating what I’m lucky enough to see. It’s a good lesson in letting go. I can put myself in the best place at the best time and I can still miss a bird. And that’s okay.

There’s still time to see (and miss) a few more!

Dips and derps,

Audrey

Kennewick to Astoria

The next day was not like the previous. The winds howled and overcast skies moved in. Jen, Jacob, and I checked on the Snowy Owl in the early morning, but this time it was far off in a distant farm field.

We watched for a bit until she flew to another field.

And was subsequently harassed by a Northern Harrier.

She didn’t seem too concerned. After a while we felt it was time to move on and we left the owl to defend her post. Good luck Miss Snowy Owl.

We then drove down 9-mile Canyon Rd dodging tumbleweeds and not coming up with much besides American Goldfinch and sneaky deer.

With the long drive home ahead we decided it was best to start heading back and we went our separate ways. I didn’t make many stops along the way but I had an idea of where I might go next. Not home that’s for sure. Tomas was off mountain biking, I’d be home too early, and there was the entire next day of possibilities.

One thing that stuck in my mind was a Northern Waterthrush reported in Brownsmead, a place in Oregon I’ve never been to near Astoria. I debated. The waterthrush wasn’t a life bird, I’d seen one once in Alaska, but it had been so long ago. Many birders hadn’t gotten visuals on the Brownsmead bird, they’d only heard it in the dense shrubs. Would I be satisfied driving so far to hear a chip note? Maybe.

What sealed the deal was the possibility of a Swamp Sparrow and that would be a life bird, so I figured why not take the chance. My plan was set. The five hours of driving flew by and before I knew it, I arrived in Brownsmead.

What a great place! Lots of lowland wetlands, farms, and places for rare birds to hide.

I pulled up to the waterthrush site and immediately heard chip notes. Unfortunately, they were coming from Yellow-rumped Warblers in the trees above. And then I heard it, a tantalizing loud spwik from lower in the blackberry. Scanning I saw movement and eventually a bird. It was the Northern Waterthush!

It sat preening and I enjoyed every moment so happy I’d taken the chance to see it.

It was then a homeowner across the street came out to greet me. Claire had met birders from Seattle looking for the waterthrush that morning and she was excited to share what she’d learned. She kindly gave me a tour of her neighborhood and showed me a Black Phoebe, Red-shouldered Hawk, and about 30 Great Egrets foraging in a field. The light was fading so I didn’t get many photos, but it was inspiring to see Claire’s new connection to the nature of her neighborhood.

I thanked her for her generosity and continued on, still hoping for a Swamp Sparrow, but getting distracted by ducks instead. I found one male Eurasian Wigeon.

That turned into three EUWI after reviewing my photos later, including the female to the left of the male in the above photo. She has a blue bill touching reddish feathers, AMWI has a narrow black base to the bill.

I saw Green-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, and Bald Eagles stalking all of them from above. As it got darker I thought of lodging options, and Astoria was only another 20 minutes down the road where Fort George Brewery was featuring dark beers. This plus fish and chips and I was sold. It was an excellent ending to an exhausting but fulfilling day.

In the morning it was dark and pouring rain, not good beach weather so I skipped it and drove back to Brownsmead for a quick scan. The area is sometimes favorable for Gyrfalcons and I thought it worth a look. Come to Brownsmead for the waterthrush, stay for the Gyrfalcon. I spent a long time trying to turn this bird into one.

There was a Peregrine Falcon nearby for size comparison. This one was larger but the light was terrible, I was far away, and it wouldn’t turn around. Finally it was light enough for me to ID it as a Rough-legged Hawk. Not a gyr but still a good bird!

And a reminder I should probably stop birding in the dark. I drove around a bit more, but the weather was terrible and with so much ground to cover Swamp Sparrows could be anywhere. I conceded defeat, but on the way out a large light bird caught my eye and I quickly pulled over.

Woah, a leucistic Red-tailed Hawk! I wasn’t sure until it flew and I saw that red tail.

Such a beautiful and unusual hawk. This made my morning and I felt good about heading back. But not to home just yet.

One more stop at Ridgefield NWR. My friend Sarah says I’m birding like I’m going to die soon. If it seems like I’m birding hard #birdlikeyouredying, I am because next week I’m having surgery on my ankle to glue my bones back together. Basically. And this means I’ll be on crutches and in a cast for a month, and a boot for at least another month. And it’s my right ankle, so no driving. No, it’s not death, but I want to take advantage of my freedom before I’m greatly humbled by my body.

So back to Ridgefield, and my last chance at a Swamp Sparrow for a while. At least here I had a better idea of where they might be along the auto tour. And just past marker #10, where I stubbornly sat in my car staring at grass while other cars passed around me. Finally, I saw the secretive owl of sparrows, the Swamp Sparrow!

Such a richly colored bird! I admired it as long as it would let me.

Which was about two seconds before it dropped down into the grass hidden once again. Until next time, Mr Sparrow. I left Ridgefield feeling pretty accomplished and officially ready to call it a day.

It’s hard to stop when there’s always a good bird just around the next corner.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey