Dad visit and incidental birding

I managed to squeeze in a bit of birding while my dad (from Florida) and aunt (from Texas) visited at the end of September. Luckily, my dad’s almost as enthusiastic about birds as I am, and, well, my aunt was outnumbered (and a good sport).

I first took my jet-lagged relatives to Chapman Elementary School to watch Vaux’s Swifts roost in the chimney. During late August/September, thousands of swifts roost here before continuing their migration to Venezuela and Central America. This natural event attracts thousands of Portlanders who flock to the school to picnic, slide down the hills on cardboard, and witness the awesomeness of nature. It’s quite the sight.

Chapman Chimney

I forgot my camera AND my binoculars, so I had to rely on my eyeballs and iphone for adequate, but blurry documentation. At sunset, the birds swirl into the chimney, resembling a cloud of smoke. I’ve attended in years past, and this year there were fewer birds it seemed, and they waited a bit longer after sunset to make their descent. I wonder what’s up with that?

Vaux's Swifts

The next day, we headed to Cannon Beach to check out birds at Haystack Rock. The usual suspects were present: cormorants, gulls, oystercatchers, pelicans, murres, and we spotted one female Harlequin Duck. The Oregon coast did not disappoint, we caught glimpses of whales breaching out in the sea as well. Thrilling times!

Whale watching

A major part of their visit included a trip to Crater Lake. The weather conditions were absolutely perfect.

Crater Lake

As were the views of the Red Crossbills!

Red Crossbill

Since these turned out best, here’s too many pictures of Red Crossbills. Such fascinating bird faces.

I’d hoped we would see Clark’s Nutcrackers, instead we saw Gray Jays.

Gray Jay

And hawks! A Red-tailed Hawk ( I believe).

Red-tailed Hawk

While hiking Watchman’s Peak, we saw a smaller, soaring hunter. I’m pretty confident it’s an Accipiter based on the shape of the wings and streaked underside. I first thought Cooper’s (based on perceived relative head size), but the curved leading wing edges make me feel better calling it Sharp-shinned.

Accipiter

Accipiter

At some point, Greater White-fronted Geese flew overhead.

Greater White-fronted Geese

Hello fall migration.

Geese

Back in Portland, our final birding destination was Leach Botanical Gardens. I took a Beginning Birding class here months ago, but the class was indoors and late at night. I looked forward to seeing the grounds in daylight.

We were greeted by a flock of Cedar Waxwings.

Cedar Waxwing

Followed by a singing Song Sparrow.

Song Sparrow

And hummingbirds buzzed and zipped around, creating quite a scene.

Anna's Hummingbird

As we departed the gardens, we were fortunate to see (and hear) a raucous pair of Pileated Woodpeckers. Here’s one of my dad’s pictures.

Pileated Woodpecker

Fun times birding with family!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Alaska By Land – Denali Part II

We saw five grizzly bears from the shuttle bus on the way towards our unit.

Grizzly, Caribou carcass, Ravens!

Grizzly, Caribou carcass, Ravens!

Grizzly, devouring soap berries

Grizzly in the distance devouring soap berries

Two bears!

Two bears!

Luckily, viewed from shuttle

Too close! (View from the safety of the shuttle bus.)

Intimidating, much? We prepared for such encounters as best we could before setting off into the backcountry.

Hiking in Denali has a few requirements. Contrary to Pacific Northwest training to walk single file along trails, Denali hikers are to spread out, preventing new trails and minimizing impact. Hiking alone is not recommended. And when in areas with limited visibility, make noise. Talk loudly, sing, or call out, “Hey bear!” at regular intervals, so as not to startle any bears. No kidding. This tactic gives wildlife a heads-up of your approach so they’ll (presumably) scatter.

That last tip is probably the worst for birding. But, determined to survive (*and* see birds), we tromped through the thick, brushy alder, and repeatedly announced “Hey bear!,” spoke loudly, and sang silly songs like “99 Bottles of Bears,” “Alphabet-booze-bear-bird,” or anything else we could come up with. It’s a fun challenge to see where the mind goes when you’re hiking for miles over tundra, tired, and talking non-stop.

Despite the singing, I found a few new birds!

I feel pretty lucky to have glimpsed this Arctic Warbler, that was “solitary, secretive, and skulking” in vegetation. Phylloscopus borealis, Greek origin, Phyllon – leaf, scopio – seek, appropriately “spends much of it’s time feeding in the leafy canopies of trees.”  Amazingly, this little bird breeds in North America (Alaska), then migrates across the Bering Strait to winter in Asia.

Arctic Warbler

Another great find was this Northern WaterthrushParkesia noveboracensis – Latinized form of “Parkes’s” (named after the ornithologist, Kenneth Carroll Parkes) and “New York.” The Northern Waterthrush is a ground dweller that walks rather than hops, bobs its tail rapidly, and is a similar species to the Louisiana Waterthrush.

Northern Waterthrush

We saw what is sometimes called the “snowbird” in Alaska, the Dark-eyed Junco- Slate-colored model! (and juvenile below).

Dark-eyed Junco, Slate-colored

Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored), juvenile

Other birds found in Denali backcountry:

American Pipit, a species I once saw by the Columbia River near home, flocked along the Alaskan riverbars.

American Pipit

American Pipit

Gray Jays. Gregarious. And everywhere.

Gray Jay

Olive-sided Flycatcher. I totally recognized it.

Olive-sided Flycatcher

Orange-crowned Warblers. Totally didn’t recognize them.

Orange-crowned Warbler

Orange-crowned Warbler

Nor did I recognize this Yellow Warbler, since it was wearing it’s “first-year buffy/brown” outfit. So tricky.

Yellow Warbler

Savannah Sparrow. 

Savannah Sparrow

Wilson’s Warbler (female).

Wilson's Warbler

And, everyone’s favorite, Yellow-rumped Warbler. 

Yellow-rumped Warbler

And because these pictures turned out the best, more yellow-rumped beauty.

Denali backcountry is amazing. I’m in love with the park for keeping it simple. There aren’t millions of RVs, cars, and people obscuring the view. We saw no signs of humans in the backcountry aside from footprints. It’s wild and beautiful (as national parks should be). Bears, snow, remote, and birds? It’s all worth it, keep exploring.

Grizzly prints

Hey bear!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Epic Summer Trip Part III: Elk Meadows

On day 3 I got greedy. I thought I should have seen more by this point. Where were the owls? Where were the Gray Catbirds? As I drove east and into the heat of the day, I stubbornly watched that small window of summer birding opportunity close. Nevertheless, I passed through gorgeous canyon scenery, laden with oaks and fir along the Klickitat River.

Klickitat

While driving along the Glenwood Hwy, I spotted a snake in the middle of the lane! It retracted like a slinky, while I cringed unable to avoid driving over it. Hoping it wasn’t flattened, I pulled over to check, as two more cars drove by also just barely missing it.

Rattlesnake

Luckily, it survived crossing the highway intact. The Western Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus) slithered along confidently (as it should) while my jaw dropped in awe of this impressive creature.

Rattlesnake

So cool. I’m happy I didn’t kill it (or find it while hiking or camping). It’s the first rattler I’ve seen in the wild in the Pacific NW. Or anywhere.

After this, with no solid plan in mind I called home to see how hot it was in the house. 92 degrees? Gross. I continued along, aiming for higher (cooler) elevation. Since it was a Sunday (so possibly less crowded), I decided on Elk Meadows, a 5-mile round trip hike in the SE shadow of Mt Hood and a backpacking destination I’ve been meaning to check out for a while now.

It was perfect except for one super sketchy stream crossing, where I managed to lose two (and recover one) water bottles.

Scary ass stream

Other than that unfortunate experience, it was a relatively tame and gorgeous hike to the camping spot.

Elk Meadow Camping

Along the trail, there were some exciting birdy surprises. Like a flock of normally cute, now not-so-cute, scruffy, molting Golden Crowned Kinglets.

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet

The best surprise, and winner for causing the highest spike in adrenaline while attempting to take a clear photograph, was this Nashville Warbler! Note the full eye-ring, gray hood, yellow throat, breast, and belly. So sweet and a cool find.

Nashville Warbler

At the campsite, opportunistic Gray Jays visited with or without (“accidentally”) spilled and crumbled pretzels. Ethics, eh-hem.

Gray Jay

A few youngins stopped by too.

Gray Jay

One grey bird that puzzled me was this one.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

That was until it turned around and showed me its yellow-rumped bum. Of course, Yellow-rumped Warbler.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

While leaving the campsite, I finally got a photo of the sparrow I’d seen on an off in the meadow. Buffy eye-ring, breast streaks, small bill, it’s a Lincoln’s Sparrow! The setting fits too, as Cornell’s All About Birds states: “A drab, but handsome bird of boggy areas.” I’d say so.

Lincoln's Sparrow

Elk Meadow is positively serene. Babbling brooks and bird songs audible from camping spots, deer wandering out munching on grass in the meadow after sunset, oh yeah, and the sun sets behind Mt. Hood. Be still my emotions.

Mt Hood Sunset

Mt Hood Sunset

Wait for it. Then in the morning, the sun rises and the mountain lights up. Not a bad place to spend a night or two- and in the mean time watch the birds!

Morning Hood

And on the way out? Plump huckleberries!

Huckleberries

Huckleberries

Epic. Thanks for reading!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey