Eastern Oregon – Day 1

Over Memorial Day weekend Tomas and I decided on a camping trip. It was time to go east. The Put an Owl on it Birdathon team wasn’t happening this year (boo), but I still wanted to find Great Gray Owls. We were on our own. That was until I found out Scott Carpenter, owler-photographer extraordinaire would also be in the area. My odds of finding owls skyrocketed.

Thursday after work, Tomas and I drove four hours to a random area in the Umatilla National Forest. We weren’t sure where we’d end up, but I’ve learned to trust Tomas’s instincts that we’ll find dispersed camping options. Even in the dark. It works every time because I wake up in some of the most amazing places.

Epic. Once daylight broke we geared up and set out looking for owls. We drove all over the place, I thought without a doubt I’d remember where that drainage was from last year. But after more than an hour of looking, I conceded that I didn’t remember. Damn. But then I remembered I’d taken notes from last year and thanks to cell coverage, I found the deets!

This was it, I remembered that hill! And those trees. I told Tomas this feels right. I think we sat on that log and watched them. They could be anywhere in here. Then I turned around. Holy shit.

A Great Gray Owl! Exactly where it was supposed to be.

How could you miss that? I was stoked. This was Tomas’s first GGOW and I’d found it! I could relax then. And obsess over Pygmy Nuthatch nests.

They are so small and so cute.

Not to be confused with the other nuthatch in the area, White-breasted Nuthatch.

I also found one Lewis’s Woodpecker, unusual since they’re social and often found lose in groups.

And a worried-looking little House Wren.

We checked back on the owl, it was sleeping and not going anywhere so we decided to travel to a nearby park, Red Bridge State Wayside State Park. It’s one of the few places in Oregon to find Gray Catbirds. We’d tried last year on the Birdathon and missed out, but this time, Tomas and I got lucky. Meow.

Slinking around in the shrubs, mewing and chirping exactly where it should be. Such a cool bird to find in Oregon! We found a few other birds at the park, including Yellow Warbler, Lazuli Bunting, and Western Tanager.

And we even found a Spotted Sandpiper on the river bank.

Late afternoon approached and we thought it best to get back to the owls. We returned to find the adult in the same spot where we’d left it. We looked around but had no luck finding any owlets. I started to get nervous, we should at least have heard begging cries by now. Where were the babies?

That was when I got a text from Scott. Two photogenic babies on the ground. What?! We’re on our way. We navigated to the location just in time.

AYFKM? It doesn’t get much better than that. But then it did. The female hooted low and constant and the male flew in for a prey exchange. The male hunts while the female looks after the little ones.

He then left to find more food while she swooped down to feed her baby owl.

After, she preened the little fella.

It was the sweetest. We watched another food exchange, another feeding, and then someone spotted a Black-backed Woodpecker on the scene.

I briefly stopped looking at the owls to check out this awesome lifer woodpecker! Quite a treat. It got late and we knew we’d have to return back to our camp soon. On the way out, we were deterred again when we noticed the first owlet attempting to climb a tree.

It’s such a rare sight in the woods, so we sat down to enjoy. Millions of years of evolution at work. The owlets find a leaning tree and use their large hooked beak and sharp talons to slowly work their way upward.

It was sometimes painful to watch. The owl would make it up a few feet, then fall back down only to have to start again. We left when the owl plopped down on the ground a final time. He’ll get there eventually.

The owl may not have gotten very far, but I was high above the clouds.

Day one of our camping trip came to a close as we listened to coyotes howl in the distance. Fun times!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Painted Hills II

Tomas and I left the Ochoco National Forest and continued our exploration of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument area.

Pronghorn

Successfully spooking deer and herds of pronghorn along the way.

Pronghorn

Pronghorn

Come back!

Along HWY 19 we pulled over to check out Cathedral Rock.

rock2

Cathedral Rock

While admiring the magnificent colors of the cliff walls, we heard harsh croaking monster screams and looked over hesitantly to see what the racket was. A Great Blue Heron rookery! Of course.

Great Blue Heron

There were three nests full of noisy monster muppet babies. We watched them for a while enjoying the show. Tomas says this was one of his favorite parts of the trip. Yessss.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Watching these primordial looking (and sounding) birds with the ancient towering cliffs in the background was remarkable. A very cool moment.

Continuing along, We saw several other bird species including:

Western Kingbird

Western Kingbird

Red-tailed Hawk (rufous morph)

Red-tailed Hawk (rufous morph)

Swainson's Hawk (dark morph)

Swainson’s Hawk (dark morph)

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Violet-green Swallow

Violet-green Swallow

And we even manged to spot American White Pelicans in a pond near Ochoco Reservoir.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

We spent our last night camping at Shelton Wayside County Park in Wheeler County. For camping over a holiday weekend, it wasn’t as horrible as I’d feared. We found a semi-secluded spot, settled in and enjoyed the warm spring evening listening to the symphony of pine cones popping open.

Of course I couldn’t sit still for too long, so I wandered down an old abandoned highway and heard Western Tanager, Lazuli Bunting, and Chipping Sparrows. And I spotted  a Say’s Phoebe on a powerline.

Say's Phoebe

Then I saw a second Say’s Phoebe.

Say's Phoebe

I sat down and watched as one grabbed a large insect expertly out of the air.

Say's Phoebe

It sat perched on the wire, calling its low, whistled sad-sounding “pit-tsee-eur” over and over again. I thought, why aren’t you eating the bug, weirdo? Then I looked over to the building on the right.

Say's Phoebe nest

Ohhhhh. That’s why. I backed further away then not wanting to stress out the bird. It didn’t want to give away the nest location! Good bird. Eventually the chicks got fed.

Say's Phoebe

So amazing! Spring is the best.

Leaving the campground the next morning, we made our way to our last stop, the Clarno Unit.

Clarno Unit

We walked along the paths, looking at the fossilized leaves in the rocks, and imagined how different this place was millions of years ago.

Signage

Incredible. Then we looked up to see White-throated Swifts performing courtship displays! They paired up, clung to one another, and fell, swirling incredibly fast towards the ground. At the last second before impact, they separated and flew off in different directions. One of the coolest bird displays I’ve seen yet.

White-throated Swift

A swift swift

It’s like they gave us the fireworks-grand finale display of the desert. But wait, there’s more!

Rock Wren

Rock Wren

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Black-tailed Jackrabbit

Black-tailed Jackrabbit

Gopher Snake (also known as bull snake)

Gopher Snake (also known as bull snake)

Western Fence Lizard

Western Fence Lizard

Who says the desert is barren?

Full of life

Full of life

Fan of the desert

End of trail

After visiting the painted hills, I’m officially a fan of the desert. Five out of five stars and the cactus agrees.

Chirps,

Audrey

Shillapoo and Frenchman’s Bar

As soon as I typed “breakfast burrito” into the search bar, that’s when the magic happened.

Let me back up.

Some time passed since I last visited Shillapoo National Wildlife Refuge so I decided to give it another go. Part of what makes birding fun is visiting regular haunts and seeing different birds each time. Indeed, I saw some newbies this trip.

Like this Lazuli Bunting.

Lazuli Bunting

And from blue head to the Brown-headed Cowbird. A bizarre thing I read about these birds is they lay eggs in other bird’s nests instead of making their own. A strategy known as “brood parasitism.” Some birds, like the Yellow Warbler, evolved to recognize the imposter eggs, but because the bird is too small to remove the eggs it builds a new nest on top, hoping the cowbird doesn’t return. It’s a tough nesting world out there.

Brown-headed Cowbird

Another competitive nester and loud vocalist I saw this day, the House Wren.

House Wren

House Wren

I was entertained for while by this Anna’s Humbingbird. So much so, I took a video. I love that flashy face.

Anna's Hummingbird

Anna's Hummingbird

Also fun was watching the Common Yellowthroat twitter around in the cattails.

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

The park was alive with yellow birds, like these American Goldfinch.

American Goldfinch

How many do you see?

How many do you see?

I’ll be honest, there was one yellow bird I had hoped to find this day, the Yellow Warbler. There are lots of yellow warblers, but there is only one Yellow Warbler. I thought I might see one at Shillapoo, but no luck, so I headed to nearby Frenchman’s Bar Park since I saw a sighting posted on E-bird the day prior. I headed out.

I saw a couple of tricky birds I had to look up.

Orange-crowned Warbler

Broken eye ring, greyish head, drab-yellow underneath = Orange-crowned Warbler

Western Tanager

Drab olive head, dusky grey back, light wing bars = female Western Tanager

Also noteworthy at this sight is the Osprey nest visible from the beach.

Osprey

Osprey

Osprey

A few other birds I saw.

Spotted Towhee

Spotted Towhee

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Warbling Vireo

Warbling Vireo

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

This brings me back to my burrito. By this point it was getting late in the morning and I was thinking of leaving. Though I’d seen so much, I was sort of bummed to miss out on the Yellow Warbler. While second-breakfast was on my mind, I glanced up from my phone, and this happened.

Bullock's Oriole

I did a double-take. It’s not yellow, but it’s a bright orange bird! I’ll take it! Squee! My heart raced as I watched and followed the Bullock’s Oriole pair around the park. It was such a great sighting I had trouble pulling myself away. What burrito?

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey