Wasco County

I used to think county birding was silly. But that was before I realized how much fun it can be. Birds don’t adhere to geopolitical boundaries, but it’s a good excuse for humans to get out of the house and go exploring. Which is exactly why I said yes when Sarah and Max invited me to join them for some Wasco County birding.

I’d picked up 30 species the weekend before, so I didn’t have much of a goal, but Sarah and Max only needed three more species to make it to 100! Luckily, eBird organizes sightings by county so it makes it super easy to see county numbers.

Spoiler alert

We decided to make a large loop through the county starting in the higher elevation forest east of Mt Hood where we heard Hermit Warbler, Purple Finch, Varied Thrush, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, and Cassin’s Vireo.

Quickly we dropped out of the forest into the scrubby rangeland and farmland habitat and scanned trees and powerlines for more birds.

Almost immediately, Sarah saw a Tree Swallow which turned out to be their 100th county bird! A nearby yard turkey gobbled in celebration.

Wasco County yard turkey

We thought there’d be more of a challenge, but it turns out county birding is easy. We stopped for the Mountain Bluebird on a wire.

Followed by Western Kingbirds.

We ended up seeing 15 (!!) in total. Wasco County is the king of kingbirds. Here’s five at once that looks like a flight sequence.

Before our trip I’d messaged our friend Brodie since he lived in Wasco County before so he knew where all the good birding spots were. He had lots of tips, one of which led us to a farm field looking for Long-billed Curlews.

We saw a large, buffy shorebird with curved wings far in the distance defending its territory from a Northern Harrier. It flew our direction, then dropped down into a row of shrubs on private property. It was an exciting sight, but sadly, no photos.

Instead, we had closer views of Yellow-bellied Marmots.

Consolation marmot

And later a nice soaring Swainson’s Hawk.

Brodie’s brother lives in Maupin and he was kind enough to let us stalk his hummingbird feeder for a Rufous Hummingbird, that I only got a blurry photo of. While waiting we also saw a Western Tanager fly over. We were on a roll.

At a sage bluff overlooking the Deschutes River a Canyon Wren sang out and then we made eye contact with a Peregrine Falcon. We’d hoped for a Golden Eagle, but missed seeing one the whole day. As we turned to leave we heard a “sparrow” singing in the brush that sounded too good not to follow.

Don’t think about camping there, Max

We never got visuals, but after recording the song and having multiple reviewers listen, it turns out this bird was actually a Lazuli Bunting! Recording in this checklist.

We left, but not before Max stopped to rescue a Bull Snake in the road.

After all this, why not go look for a few rare Snow Geese?

So easy. The geese were located near Price Rd Wetlands which is a basically a large private estate with distant views to water below.

If only we knew who lived at Quail Heights. Nevertheless, from the bluff we saw Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Black-billed Magpie, Lewis’s Woodpeckers and Max heard an Ash-throated Flycatcher here. And down the road we spooked a Great Horned Owl.

That led us to find owlets! Practicing branch-walking.

A very fun find. While watching the owls we stirred up a few other birds including a Pygmy Nuthatch, Bushtits, and little House Wrens checking out nest holes.

A perfect fit

At the bottom of the hill we tried to turn Red-winged Blackbirds into Tri-coloreds, and Say’s Phoebes into more kingbirds.

Phoebes not kingbirds

By the creek we had Yellow Warbler, Wood Duck, a family of Canada Geese.

And I got a photo of a warbler that turned out to be a Nashville Warbler!

A great county bird. We made a couple more stops to pick up Bank Swallow.

As well as Northern Rough-winged Swallow.

The county birds just kept coming. Until we finally reached Seufert Park next to the Columbia River in the Dalles where we’d hoped for a pelican or two, but instead rounded out the day with Double-crested Cormorant, California Gull, and yet another Western Kingbird.

Such a fun day! We ended up seeing a total of 87 species, bringing Sarah and Max to 120, and me to 95! Only 5 species away from 100. A great excuse to get out of the house and go explore Wasco county again.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

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

Shevlin Park and Black Butte

Last weekend I went on a solo-trip to Bend that started at 2:30 am. I would have started at 2 am but I thought I’d sleep in a little.

Sounds like a good idea, right? I thought so. I wanted to get the three hour drive from Portland over with and hoped to arrive at Shevlin Park near sunrise to maximize birding time. Bonus was seeing the Great Horned Owl from the car on the drive there (sadly, no pics).

Shevlin Park

What a great park! It’s Bend’s largest park at 647 acres with miles of hiking through beautiful pine forests. I read up on the many woodpeckers that call the park home, and was excited to start the morning with a sapsucker.

Red-naped Sapsucker

I thought I would get better views of the bird, but this was all I got before it flew away and turned invisible. The messy black and white barring on back and red patch on the nape makes me want to call it a Red-naped Sapsucker, but I didn’t get a good look at the throat, and where is the white stripe on the side? I feel more comfortable just calling it Generic John-Doe Sapsucker.

Thankfully other woodpeckers like Lewis’s Woodpeckers abound in this park, and there is no mistaking this bird.

So easy to identify

So easy to identify

And the star of the park in my opinion, and one of the reasons I put it at the top of my list, is the Pygmy Nuthatch!

Pygmy Nuthatch

Yay tiny nuthatch! New bird! Not the easiest to take photos of, but so fun to watch. It was hopping in,on, and around a snag shared with a pair of Lewis’s Woodpeckers.

Lewis's Woodpecker

Calliope Hummingbirds were sighted at the park recently, but I only found Anna’s. Still stunning.

Anna's Hummingbird

I listened to Wilson’s and MacGillivray’s Warblers that I never saw, but I did see one flycatcher.

Gray Flycatcher

If you’re lucky, you see a bird. If you’re really lucky, you see a bird sing. If you’re really really really lucky, birds will give you a little something extra. This one gave me a tail-wag. I have never been so happy to see a wagging tail because that is the diagnostic move of the Gray Flycatcher. Empidonax identified!

I got a few other birds including Black-headed Grosbeak and House Wren, both delightful year birds.

Black-headed Grosbeak

House Wren

I wrapped up hiking at the park when it became too bright and late in the afternoon, and after I started turning Eurasian Collared-Doves into Clark’s Nutcrackers (one of the birds I really wanted to see).

Not a Nutcracker

Right colors, wrong bird

I set up camp at Cold Springs Campground in Sisters, took a quick nap to recharge, then set off again to find a particular woodpecker. I walked through the thick Ponderosa Pine at the campground while listening to Mountain Chickadees and Chipping Sparrows when I heard tapping. I adhered to the good advice from Jen’s blog and followed the pecking sound.

Huzzah! White-headed Woodpecker!

White-headed Woodpecker

White-headed Woodpecker

Oh how I love this bird. It’s like something out of a fairy tale. Birds like these don’t exist. No, but they do! Here’s an exciting video of this one excavating:

I slept soundly that night. But when I woke up the next morning, I had nutcrackers on the brain. It’s funny how that works. See one good bird and you want to see another. I checked eBird and saw recent Clark’s Nutcracker sightings at Black Butte and it looked like the perfect four mile round-trip hike.

When I drove towards the butte it looked like this:

Black Butte

After driving another 10 miles (5 miles up a narrow gravel road), I got to the trailhead at 6 am. Too late for sunrise, and as it turns out I too late for any sun at all. As soon as I ascended the trail, clouds moved in and I could barely see the trail.

Foggy trail

Through the haze I found foggy Fox Sparrows and heard many others singing their lovely song.

Fox Sparrow

About this time, I heard a noise behind me and a man walked up the trail. He asked if I had heard him blow his whistle. He had no hiking gear but he did have a safety whistle around his neck. I told him I thought I’d heard something, and he told me he blows his whistle to let the little critters know he’s coming through. Okay then.

I didn’t reply and he hiked on. It was too early in the morning for crazy people, right? Or at least dangerous crazy people? I considered turning around and returning to my car. But…nutcrackers. So I hiked on.

The clouds continued to roll in. If I waited long enough I got very brief looks at the mountains in the distance. It would be a beautiful hike on a clear day.

The clouds hate me

No so much this day. It rained. I pushed on. The wind blew harder. I kept going. Slowly. So slowly that I saw Whistle Man returning back down the trail. Oh boy.

He said he’d wondered what happened to me. Then he explained he carries a whistle because he’s scared of mountain lions and bears. We chatted about hiking, birds, the terrible weather. He said his name was Jerry. It got colder and he moved on down the trail while I continued upward. Dodged that one.

I made it to the top of the butte but the wind was blowing even harder by then and there were no birds in sight. I could barely even see the fire lookout.

Fire Lookout

I returned down the trail, nutcrackerless and defeated, passing more people hiking up the trail along the way. The lower down the butte I went, the sunnier it became.

I got back to my car and found a note on the windshield.

Note

Hilarious. Instead of a Clark’s Nutcracker I found a Jerry.

Bird watching IS fun!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey