Winter adventures

January was a good month of birding. Outside my 5MR Philip Kline spotted a Harlequin Duck near Eagle Creek Fish Hatchery in the Gorge, it would be a county bird for me and I thought it would make a great mini-adventure for Tomas and I.

Most of the trails and roads are still closed in the Columbia River Gorge thanks to the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire (started by a teenager setting off fireworks during a burn ban). The highway exit to the fish hatchery is closed but I did some research and found that portions of the bike trail bordering the highway in the gorge are open giving us an easy 3 mile ride from Cascade Locks to Eagle Creek.

Once at Eagle Creek It didn’t take long to spot the lovely brown Harlequin Duck diving near a bend in the river.

It was such a nice time. I spent two hours wedged between some rocks by the river watching the harlequin, goldeneyes, and a pair of American Dippers singing, bobbing, and displaying to one another.

The sweetest

Back in my 5MR I’ve explored some new and old patches. I added two new species to Holladay Park next to my office, a flyover Great Egret and Red-breasted Sapsucker.

Now showing at Holladay Park

I lucked out with a good gull mix at the Downtown Waterfront Park including Ring-billed, California, and a nice Western Gull, slightly more challenging to find away from the coast.

Western Gull and city friends

Another foggy morning I finally made it to Tabor Park this year where I found a Barred Owl hidden deep in the cedar trees.

I texted my friend Eric who biked over to share in the fun. He and I have a good deal of 5MR overlap that can be very convenient. I shared the owl and he returned the favor by finding a nicely perched magical Merlin. Win-win.

We birded by bike together another day, exploring our friendly neighborhood sloughs and found Hermit Thrush, White-breasted Nuthatch, and a Hairy Woodpecker that was an excellent and unexpected 5MR bird for us.

Hairy Woodpecker

A few 5MR parks in Vancouver overlap with Jen’s radius, and she’s been lucky enough to see an American Dipper twice at Biddle Lake inspiring me to cross over and check it out. I’ve yet to refind the 5MR dipper but I did find a nice Pacific Wren.

And my FOY Orange-crowned Warbler! Always a warm winter sight.

Along the Washington side of the Columbia River at Marine Park I saw a nice group of Barrow’s Goldeneye.

And the best was refinding a rare Tufted Duck this past weekend originally found by Jim Danzenbaker at Wintler Park.

Lucky duck

On a return trip from Washington I detoured towards Broughton Beach to look for Short-eared Owls but I didn’t need to go far because as I drove by the airport boundary fence along Marine Drive I did a double-take. Short-eared Owl!

So many good 5MR birds! I’m currently up to 100 species so far this year which sounds like a lot, but it’s still just 69% of the total species seen in Multnomah County.

Bird #100 was a Wilson’s Snipe that Eric and I flushed from the grass at Whitaker Ponds. Unfortunately, it happened too fast for photos. So instead, here’s bird #85 a Townsend’s Warbler that showed up to the yard after I put out homemade suet.

I’m having a lot of fun with mini-adventures in my 5MR, I’ve biked more than I have in a long time and I’ve only had a few pangs of FOMO (fear of missing out). I’m trying to do things differently this year, not that I’m done chasing everything, but I’m pulling back some (until I buy that Prius) (kidding not kidding).

Good 5MR birding.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Curry County

I’d survived a pelagic trip and a night in the dorms. I was five hours from home and ready for my next adventure. It was the perfect time to visit Curry County, one of the counties in Oregon I’d never previously birded in.

This is my favorite kind of birding. New county, all new birds, no schedule and completely on my own agenda. I could sit for hours looking for sparrows if I wanted to. And of course I did want to. There were reports of Clay-colored Sparrows in the area so I had good reason. I spent a lot of time at Arizona Beach State Recreation Site.

My favorite sighting started with a soft warbling song I heard through the trees and brush. I thought it might be a catbird, but eventually I caught sight of the little songster.

An American Dipper! There was only a tiny portion of stream flowing and it was right above it singing its little heart out. I may have melted.

Back at the pond across the highway there were two Blue-winged Teal best identified as they’re flying away.

And many unmistakable Black Phoebe.

I got a good look at this young Red-shouldered Hawk looking for a meal.

And on the way out I saw a HUGE flock of California Quail.

“Chicaaaaagoooooo!”

I saw a few sparrows.

Golden, golden, song, white-crowned, golden

But it took a many tries to get this blurry photo of a Chipping Sparrow.

To find shorebirds it was suggested I try out Floras Lake, especially at the end of the trail by Floras Creek through the grassy dunes.

It was beautiful. But unfortunately both times I visited winds were blowing 20+mph.

Reenactment at Cape Blanco State Park

Not ideal shorebirding conditions. So instead I drove farther south to Gold Beach “where the Pacific meets the Rogue” and where I met a few birds like this bright Yellow Warbler.

Still no shorebirds or terns I could find, but eventually I spotted a sparrow flock that looked interesting. Indeed.

Clay-colored Sparrow!

It looks similar to Chipping Sparrows but has pale lores and is more buffy. They’re an unusual treat to see in Oregon and I was thrilled to see this one.

Back in Port Orford I stayed at the Castaway By the Sea Motel that has thin walls but excellent views.

In the bay below I found Common Murre, a few gulls, and three types of loons that I’ve included all together in one convenient photo.

The largest-billed loon on far left is a Common Loon, the one in the middle with the chin strap is a Pacific Loon, and on far right with the upturned bill is a Red-throated Loon (not to scale). If only they would always swim together like this.

Such good times. I left Curry County having seen 70 species! On the way home I stopped at Cape Arago State Park in Coos County for Harlequin Ducks.

And I re-visited Bandon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge for White-tailed Kites that were missed during the shorebird festival. They were very distant but there were two!

Bringing me to 101 species in Coos County. Not bad. And because there are a lot of places to stop in the four hours from before home, I decided to stick with the shorebird theme and visit the American Avocet at Finley National Wildlife Refuge.

If this isn’t a shorebird festival, I don’t know what is.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Last weekend

The birds and beers were so good in Astoria the weekend before, I thought for my last trip before surgery, why not go back? Tomas agreed as he’d missed out, and this time he could go on a mountain biking trip while I birded. We left early Saturday morning and after stocking up at a gas station in Astoria, I dropped Tomas off on the side of the road.

Happy trails

We agreed to meet back up in the evening for dinner. I had a short birding wish list for this trip, Glaucous Gull, Snow Bunting, Snowy Plover, Wrentit, all would be ambitious, honestly I was more looking for a relaxed and casual last hurrah of ankle freedom.

I started at Seaside Cove to say hello again to the continuing Steller’s Eider, that’s been there for about two months now.

This is where I also said hello to my friends Nick and Maureen! Such a nice surprise. They’d both been under the weather since the new year and this was their first try for the Eider – sweet success and congratulations to them!

Together we looked at Red-throated Loons, Pelagic Cormorant, Western Grebe, Red-necked Grebe, Surf Scoters, White-winged Scoters, Harlequin Duck, and we played peek-a-boo with a Black Scoter hiding in the waves.

We picked out birds in the distance as the Steller’s Eider floated farther away. This was when a birder along the beach mentioned Ancient Murrelets were visible from the shore around the corner. These weren’t even on my radar! Technically they were seen on the pelagic trips I’ve been on, but I’ve never gotten a good look so I haven’t counted them (they’re a front-of-the-boat bird). This would be a lifer and a treat.

Nick, Maureen, and I took the long walk along the cobbled beach to see if we could spot one.

Solid ankle workout

We’d gone about a mile before Nick spotted a tiny murrelet dot in the distance. It was an Ancient Murrelet!

We walked even farther on when I spotted one closer in just past the breaking waves, but it swam out pretty quickly by the time we got there.

Ancient Murrelet with Western Grebes for scale

So tiny, so cute, and so nice to see from dry land. This made the returning mile and a half cobble walk worth it. Back at the cove Nick noticed a flock of small shorebirds land on the beach.

We hurried over until we got better look at the Sanderling fallout.

They’re so fun to watch scurrying along the shore, did you know a group of Sanderlings is called a “grain”? We were entertained by the grain of Sanderlings until a dog ran in an chased them all off. It was time to move on. I said my good-byes to Nick and Maureen as they headed to Fort Stevens SP to look for White-winged Crossbills while I went north to Hammond Marina. We agreed to meet up later on for dinner.

I drove north making a couple of unsuccessful shorebird and bunting searches along the way, but as I left one area along a residential road, a back-lit bird on a wire caught my eye. I thought that doesn’t look like a starling – probably just a robin. But it was intriguing enough to turn around because it also looked like it might be a bluebird. And that’s exactly what it was!

A Western Bluebird, what a cool surprise. Things got even more interesting as it flew to a backyard. I pulled over next to the fancy country-club house hoping I looked inconspicuous as I creeped on the backyard.

It was a pair of bluebirds next to a birdhouse! They were actively defending the box from pesky House Sparrows that were swarming all around also trying to get in the house.

I really hope the bluebirds win the battle because they’re awesome, beautiful, but  especially because they’re a native species.

I was excited I’d been lucky enough to see them (and not get into trouble with the locals). I left and went to Hammond to see what I could find next. No new or unusual gulls as I’d hoped, but I did find a Pacific Loon.

And flocks of Brewer’s Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbirds, and Red-winged Blackbirds that for some reason threw me off because they’re wearing their weird non-breeding plumage no one really talks about.

Why do they look so weird?

Freaky

Anyways, once I took my eyes off the blackbirds, I scanned the jetty rocks and found a beaver!

No way. I couldn’t believe it, I thought it must be a muskrat or an invasive nutria, but then I’d just read a post recently that both nutria and muskrat have white whiskers and beavers don’t. And this beaver was shy and didn’t come out of the rocks, but it did turn at one point and showed that diagnostic beaver tail!

Totally beaver. At this point it was time to meet up with Tomas, Nick, and Maureen for the best beers and worst service at Fort George Brewery. We dined and toasted to a very successful and surprising day.

Cheers,

Audrey