A short while ago on a sunny day before the rains came back, Tomas and I decided to play hooky from work and head east. He to bike the Deschutes River Railbed Trail and me to work on some county birding. I had exactly 7 species in Wasco, and 2 in neighboring Sherman County just east across the Deschutes River.
I mostly explored by car because I was still booted up and couldn’t hike (or walk) well. But that didn’t stop me from dragging myself up a trail following an intriguing birdsong that turned out to be an Orange-crowned Warbler. Birds will be my reason for walking again.
On the way down a Bushtit caught my eye.
This is when I learned there are two subspecies of Bushtits: “Interior” and “Pacific.” I’m used to seeing Pacific at my suet feeder, that are all gray puffballs. Interior are gray puffballs with blushing brown cheeks. Didn’t think they could get cuter.
Safe on flat ground and back at the park I found White-crowned Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, and a single Lincoln’s Sparrow. In the tree-tops were Yellow-rumped Warblers, and dozens of bright American Goldfinch.
I then hopped over to Wasco County to check out Celilo Park that offers free camping that seems to appeal mostly to local fishermen. The problem with campgrounds along I-84 is that they’re along I-84. It’s noisy, and occasionally trains blow through screaming the horn. Not ideal for camping or birding, but I made do.
The best birds were a pair of Western Kingbirds.
And a Yellow Warbler! – that did not appreciate my wanting to take its photo.
Just before it zipped down to the Columbia River water’s edge and flew off. It was hotter at this point, birds were quieting down and I had little time before I had to meet Tomas back by the trailhead.
Head-wave dust bath
Back at Deschutes SP I found a Hammond’s Flycatcher (long primary projection, vest, small dark bill, short tail).
And surprisingly, three more Western Kingbirds!
I ended up adding 42 species between the two counties. I thought 5 Western Kingbirds in one day was a lot, but Wasco County would teach me a lesson about kingbirds later.
Tomas made it back, sweaty and accomplished after 40 miles with just three flats (watch out for that puncturevine). We drove back to Portland after stopping at Pfriem (pronounced freem) Brewery in Hood River where the beer is so good you’ll leave your credit cards there. No regrets!
As I recover from surgery and gradually regain my freedom, I find myself continually balancing birding with not overdoing it. Not an easy task. Especially during spring migration. Which is how I’ve ended up visiting Mt Tabor Park three times in one week.
Too much? Probably, but it’s also how I saw someone’s lost Gyrfalcon.
Say what?! Yep. More about that story in this news report here. The bird has not been refound and may still be heading north.
I’d been up at Tabor for the warblers, of which there’s been a nice mix.
And even a Nashville Warbler.
Busy looking for insects.
Show them how it’s done Black-throated Gray Warbler.
Nice. It’s such a thrill to see these bright colorful birds. Not just warblers, there was also my FOY Warbling Vireo.
And heaps of adorable Hermit Thrushes.
And everybody’s favorite to I.D. headless-tailless-silent flycatchers!
Name that bird
Angry owl is unamused
Okay, how about now.
Long primary projection (wings) in relation to the (notched) tail, small dark bill, and slight eye-ring = Hammond’s Flycatcher!
Peaked head, oval eye-ring, shorter wings, and yellow lower mandible, and luckily this one called its high-pitched hoo-WEET (ascending dog-whistle), confirming Pacific-slope Flycatcher. Every year it’s only slightly easier.
Besides finding migrants, it’s been amusing to see the resident birds building nests.
Oh hello there, Red-breasted Sapsucker.
And another cool find was a Brown Creeper nest behind the bark of a large, living Douglas-fir tree. It was fun watching it gather tiny fibers and even spiderwebs to build the nest.
This will do nicely
I look forward to checking in on these guys in the upcoming weeks. There’s much to look forward to as spring healing continues.
For a second year I joined Portland Audubon’s Birdathon, touted as the “biggest baddest birdathon this side of the Mississippi.” And for a second year I was thrilled to be a part of the Put an Owl on It team.
Last year’s trip was one of the best birding days of my life – 5 owl species in one day!! This year’s agenda expanded to eastern Oregon for a two-day Blue Mountain adventure with the hopes of seeing Great Gray Owls.
Spoiler alert- we found them.
I went into the trip with 299 life birds. How cool would it be to have the Great Gray as the 300th bird? That didn’t happen, but Bank Swallows are pretty cool too. Lucky #300!! Sadly, no pictures because the van flushed two nicely perched swallows on a fence as soon as we drove near. Van-birding can be quite a challenge.
While exploring country roads in Umatilla county, we also flushed lifer #301, this Chukar fleeing for its life.
Fastest mother Chukar in the west
It’s all worth it though when you climb out out of the van and meet a pair of Great Horned Owls fledglings.
Or a family of Barn Owls smooshed in a natural cliff wall cavity.
And it’s especially worth it to see a Burrowing Owl perched atop sagebrush in the Oregon desert.
It was incredibly hot that weekend, nearing (if not over) 100 degrees. Some birds like this Sage Thrasher panted to stay cool.
Even Common Nighthawks panted.
That is one hot bird. Seeing a Common Nighthawk perched on a fence has been on my birding bucket list since the moment I found out they do this. We found two. Success! And two vans with 19+ people managed not to flush them. It was that damn hot.
Birder dreams do come true
It cooled down some once we gained elevation making our way into the pine forests of the Blue Mountains.
And here in this forest is where we met the family. Mom and her three owlets.
It was so special sharing forest space with these owls. They were incredibly chill. We sat down on the grass and pine needles under trees nearby, relaxed, chatted and ate snacks, while watching the fledglings stretch their wings and walk awkwardly along the branches.
And if owl entertainment wasn’t enough, there were active nesting holes visible on site with Pygmy Nuthatches, Mountain Chickadee, Western Bluebird, Lewis’s Woodpecker, and Williamson’s Sapsucker (another lifer!).
And songs of Western Tanager, Cassin’s Finch, House Wren, Western Wood-Pewee (PEEEeeeeer), and a new flycatcher for me, Hammond’s Flycatcher (ChiBik).
As soon as the sun lowered, Great Gray fledgling activity picked up, the owlets begged noisily for food.
The skies darkened and mom obliged, swooping over the fields to hunt. We enjoyed watching the owl show until the sun disappeared and the bats came out.
Before exiting the park, we piled out of the vans in the dark one last time to listen for other potential owl species. While waiting, we occupied time peering at Jupiter’s moons through the spotting scopes, and just before calling it a night, an adult Great Grey Owl flew over our heads towards an area of the forest with at least one owlet calling! There’s nothing like an unexpected owl surprise to liven things up. We rode the owl high all the way back to the hotel in La Grande.
From darkness to early morning light, a handful of birders opted for an early-morning Bobolink side trip.
In a distant farm field we observed several pairs of Bobolinks chase each other up, over, and into the grasses while chattering their buzzy metalic song that sounds like a broken R2-D2. A bit far for decent photos, but here’s an identifiable pic of one on a fence post.
After, we reunited with the rest of the group and the sightings continued: Eastern Kingbirds, California Quail, Loggerhead Shrike, Black-billed Magpie, and Long-billed Curlew, to name a few.
At Catherine Creek State Park, we introduced ourselves to a generous couple camping with a hummingbird feeder at their site. Thanks to them, we got good looks at Black-chinned and Calliope Hummingbirds.
Female black-chinned wagged her tail while feeding
This was only my second time seeing a Black-chinned Hummingbird (the first was just a week prior at Painted Hills), and it was my first encounter with Calliope Humminbgird. They’re so pretty and so tiny!
There was another new surprise in the brushy thickets at this park, a small thrush called a Veery. Too bad I didn’t get a visual on this shy cinnamon-colored thrush, but I heard its song and call and that was pretty satisfying. Some nineteenth-century observers described the Veery’s song as “an inexpressibly delicate metallic utterance…accompanied by a fine trill which renders it truly seductive.” Yep, I was totally seduced.
One of our last stops was at Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area where we saw Gadwall, Redhead, Ruddy Duck, and yet another new species, a shorebird called Wilson’s Phalarope.
At the marsh, there were also a pair of nesting Swainson’s Hawks, both Eastern and Western Kingbirds, Sandhill Cranes, Red-winged blackbirds (chasing an American Bittern), Black-crowned Night Heron, Ring-necked Pheasant, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, and Northern Harriers. To name a few.
On the way back to Portland, we pulled off the side of the highway to bird a pond next to some railroad tracks. We joked about the safety and legality of this birding spot.
Then we turned around to see a law enforcement vehicle stopped at the road with lights flashing. Busted birders.
Walk of shame
Turns out the officer had just thoughtfully stopped traffic for us to cross the road without incident. Whew! It was totally worth almost getting arrested to catch a glimpse of American White Pelican, Black-necked Stilt (!), teals, and nesting American Avocets.
It was all worth it. In two days, the team saw a total of 127 species, including 4 owl species (and I saw 10 new-to-me species), and we raised over $14,000. We saw 11 Great Horned Owls, 3 Barn Owls, 1 Burrowing Owl, and encountered 6 Great Grey Owls! I think that’s what they call “putting an owl on it.”
I had a blast reuniting with team members from last year and making new friends this time around. Thanks to the trip leaders Scott Carpenter, Rhett Wilkins, Joe Liebezeit, and Mary Coolidge, you all rock. And of course, many thanks to my donors for making my fundraising such a success. I raised over a thousand dollars contributing to Portland Audubon’s $170,000+ for conservation. Thanks to all involved helping such a great cause!