Shorebirds!

That is genuine enthusiasm. Not excited? Here’s an adorable Semipalmated Plover to ease some of the discomfort.

Fall migration is happening and I am facing it head on. Because I went to Smith and Bybee Lakes and totally failed at identifying birds. I forgot how hard it is.

There’s hundreds of shorebirds there, and I had trouble identifying one of them. So I do that thing that I do when I can’t figure something out on my own. I seek out help. That same week I logged on to Portland Audubon’s classes, and to my luck I saw “Learn to Identify Fall Shorebirds” with John Rakestraw. And it wasn’t full.

John is the same instructor who teaches the Gull ID class and Warblers and Flycatchers, as well as many others. He even wrote a book, Birding Oregon. I was in good hands.

In the classroom we learned of the 20 or so shorebirds that visit the Oregon coast and Willamette Valley. We looked at large slides of birds and called out the field marks. It’s all about the field marks; the shape of the bird, size of the head vs. the bill, the color of the legs, and the bird’s behavior. It’s knowing what to look at for each bird. This is the key.

Long-billed Dowitchers prefer freshwater ponds, whereas Short-billed Dowitchers like tidal marshes and estuaries, so location and habitat can also provide clues. It’s all part of a puzzle and that’s what makes it fun.

Our field trip fun started one foggy morning at Seaside looking at birds on the rocks.

Or really birds that look like rocks. We found a pile of Black Turnstones. We hoped to pick out a Ruddy Turnstone, but none showed up this time. We dipped out on shorebirds at a couple more spots until we lucked out on some birds that look like mud.

That’s two Western Sandpipers on the left and one Semipalmated Plover on the right. Westerns have black legs and long droopy bills. Semi Plovers have one breast band.

We also saw Caspian Terns soaring above the water, and I didn’t notice until looking at photos later, this one has a yellow leg band.

We made it to Fort Stevens State Park but there was still low shorebird activity.

Until we looked in the distance.

We walked farther down the beach to get a closer look.

But trucks are allowed to drive on the shore here and they’d scattered the flock.

Eventually we got looks at more Western Sandpipers, and even had a Semipalmated Sandpiper in the mix for comparison.

All Westerns – long, droopy bill, black legs.

Western Sandpiper (L), Semipalmated Sandpiper (R)

Westerns and Semipalmated look almost identical except Semipalmated Sandpipers have a short blunt bill. It was tough to get good looks before the flocks moved along. Shorebirds not cooperating? Let’s look at gulls!

California Gull – dark eye, red and black in the bill, yellow-greenish legs

And some of my favorite gulls were visiting, Heermann’s Gulls. Two E’s two N’s, orange bills, unmistakable.

John admitted shorebird numbers seemed unusually low. We missed out on Sanderlings, Black-bellied Plovers, and a few others. We checked back at Seaside, but found nothing new. Except jousting crabs.

The one above lived to tell the tale but I can’t say the same for this one.

We made another stop at Seafarer’s Park near the Hammond’s Marina where we found a Common Murre swimming out of place this far up the river.

The best action of the day came next.

Apparently Heermann’s Gulls are pirates! They wait for a Brown Pelican to dive, before pouncing and trying to pry the meal out of the pelican’s gullet.

Neat stuff. I felt bad for the pelican, but they’re not exactly known as saints either.

The shorebirds were so few at the coast we made an extra stop at Fernhill Wetlands on the way back. But the day was hot and the heat waves made it difficult to see the birds in the distance. I’ll spare you the blurry photos of the Spotted Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, and Least Sandpipers. Here’s a pair of Greater Yellowlegs instead.

That bill looks like it’s twice the length of the head and those are some nice yellow legs. Bird identified. It might seem obvious, but if there’s one take-home message of the day it’s that there are limitations. Sometimes the birds are too far, or they move too quickly; distance, weather, terrain, trucks, there’s so many obstacles, but it’s important to focus on what can be seen and not get discouraged.

And when that doesn’t work, stay at home and make flash cards!

Nothing to it.

Moving along, we got good looks of a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk.

And a Green Heron oddly perched out in the open.

Not enough shorebirds in my shorebirds post? How about brown ducks instead.

Just kidding. I’ll save the Cinnamon Teal for later and keep my eyes peeled for more peeps to identify in the mean time.

Learning new things every day.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Crescent City. Redwoods. Birthday Birds Part I

The redwood forests are my favorite. There’s nothing like giant, 2000 yr old trees to make a person feel small and young. An appropriate destination to celebrate another revolution around the sun, see some birds, and hug some trees. I drove down to Crescent City, California, to first visit Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.

Redwoods

Boy Scout Tree Trail

Redwoods

Magic fairly land

Skyscrapers

The original skyscrapers

Boy Scout Tree, maple leaf for scale

Boy Scout Tree, maple leaf for scale

The park is gorgeous, surreal, and amazing. And quiet this day for birds aside from the occasional squawking Common Raven or twittering Pacific Wren.

I didn't step on this Rough-skinned Newt

I did not step on this Rough-skinned Newt.

 

From the forest to the sea. The next day, I checked out Crescent City’s coastline. The quiet seaside town has a few good birding spots. I had the best luck at the Crescent City Harbor.

Crescent City Harbor

Marbled Godwit! What a stunner.

Marbled Godwit

Marbled Godwit

Marbled Godwit

It would be fun to check out Godwit Days in Arcata next year.

Less stunning perhaps, but still cool, (especially in flight), were the Black Turnstones.

Black Turnstone

I also found Black-bellied Plovers (with deceptive “not black belllies,” their non-breeding plumage).

Black-bellied Plover

Black-bellied Plover

I spotted a Sanderling in the mix of Black-bellied Plovers.

Sanderling

Too cute.

Sanderling

There were way more Sanderlings on the beach moments before something spooked them.

Sanderlings, plovers, gulls

Not guilty.

Sanderlings, plovers

Certainly elegant were the Elegant Terns.

Elegant Tern

I find the shape of their curves pleasant and I think they pull off the spikey feathered head look pretty well.

Elegant Tern

Elegant Tern

I did my best identifying the gulls.

I watched Brown Pelicans bathe in the bay.

Brown Pelican

While Black Oystercatchers scouted the shore.

Black Oystercatcher

Black Oystercatcher

A variety of birds were visible in the distance from the dock at Lighthouse and Anchor Way:

Red-throated Loon

Red-throated Loons

Horned Grebe

Horned Grebe

Pelagic Cormorant

Pelagic Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant, Heermann's Gulls

Double-crested Cormorant, Heermann’s Gulls

Harbor cats.

Harbor Cats

Harbor cats

And Harbor Seals with faces I’m programmed to love.

Harbor Seals

Harbor Seals

It was pretty thrilling to explore a new place surrounded by so many new-to-me birds. I think I need more of that in my life.

Sunset at Castle Rock

Next day, back to the forest!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Cape Lookout State Park

One of my favorite bike-camping destinations along the Oregon coast is Cape Lookout State Park. The hiker-biker campground here is tough to beat: thick stands of sitka-hemlock forest AKA hammock-trees galore, seclusion from car-campers, miles of hiking nearby, and mere steps from the ocean.

Cape Lookout SP

A tip from me to you: Don’t feel like biking 72 miles from Portland to the park? As suggested by the Tillamook Chamber of Commerce, park at the Blue Heron French Cheese Factory (confirm with management), pick up some awesome cheese goodies and check out their petting zoo (complete with emu), then ride the (only slightly harrowing) 14 miles along 131 and Netarts Bay Rd to Cape Lookout. It’s a great way to go camping on busy holiday weekends, no park reservations required. Video demonstration here.

On this trip, we were lucky enough to see whale spouts and breaching along the ocean horizon. It’s incredibly difficult to predict where/when the whales would breach, thus basically impossible to get pictures. My best shot:

Whale

No, really, there’s a whale out there! Black blob = whale. I guess humpback, but there were rumors of grey and even orca. Hmmmm. A little closer.

Whale

And because this is the first time I’ve seen whales along the Oregon coast in the 10 years I’ve lived here, a few more photos. So neat.

When not whale-watching, I got to know the gulls as best I could.

Gulls

I was proud of myself for noticing some of these birds are not like the others. ♪

I noticed the gull with the red toned bill, all grey body, and black feet, a Heermann’s Gull. Interesting fact about Heermann’s, in true gull fashion, they are pirate birds, who coincide their northward migration with Brown Pelicans in order to steal food from the pelican’s gullet.

Pretty pirate.

IMG_1317

With a Western Gull for size comparison.

Heermann's Gull

Heermann's Gull

I also noticed gulls with red and black marks on their bill, yellow-green legs, and dark irises, the California Gull. 

California Gull

California Gull

I noticed gulls with thick yellow bills with a red spot on the lower mandible, pink legs, white heads, and light irises, BEHOLD, the Western Gull.

Western Gull

Ehem…BEHOLD!

Western Gull

I noticed some gulls had a staring problem.

California Gull

Western Gull

Heermann's Gull

California Gull

Western Gull

The more I watched the gulls, the more I appreciated their personality.

I noticed a few other species of birds and mammals.

The longer I observe this natural world the more I notice.

Pelicans and sunset

And the more I fall in love with it.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey