Laughing at the Coast

Last weekend I had a roller coaster of a birding trip. But that’s to be expected when chasing rarities. There were at least seven rare birds reported near Newport (Say’s Phoebe, Solitary Sandpiper, Northern Mockingbird, Marbled Godwit, Nashville Warbler (early), Palm Warbler, and Laughing Gull). Laughing Gull?! Who brought back the Texas souvenir?

It wasn’t me. But I have missed the southern birds so I figured why not reunite with at least one? If I could find a few other rarities it would make the long drive worth it. I set off. And was almost immediately detoured by some intriguing-looking geese.

When you see a small group of geese on the side of the road you pull over. But upon closer examination, these turned out to be Domestic Geese.

According to Cornell what makes these different from Snow or Ross’s Geese: “typically domestic geese have orange bills and feet, lack the black wing feathers, and have shape differences such as heavy bottoms and an ungainly waddle.” I didn’t see their legs or their waddle, but the lack of black wing feathers was a tell-tale sign not to get excited.

With only one day to spend at the coast, I didn’t have time to stop for domestic incidentals. Eventually I made it to South Beach State Park the last reported location of the Laughing Gull where luckily I bumped into Wayne Hoffman, a local birder who pointed me in the right direction. Towards the teeny dots in the distance.

This is when it’s extra hard to stay on track and pass up views of Northern Harriers carrying nesting materials, exotic-sounding Yellow-rumped Warblers, fly-by Caspian Terns, and flocks of Savannah Sparrows among the driftwood. Stay on target.

So many pretty distractions

Three stream crossings, two miles, and two soaked feet later, a pair of birders passed me from the opposite direction carrying a scope. They gave me the thumbs up and I knew it was all okay. Not long after, the gull flew by.

Laughing Gull! Oregon’s 4th record! And this one has one leg making it extra special.

I watched for a while as it flew and hopped around the Mew Gulls, and then it ate an undetermined ocean object, before settling down at the shore with a ridiculously large crop.

I was worried about the bulge, but the gull has been reported since then, so all is well digested. I left the gull and trekked back across the streams and the two miles back to the car. Later I learned the Northern Mockingbird was located at the first stream crossing. Strike one. That’ll teach me to walk by distractions.

From here I drove the short distance to the Hatfield Marine Science Center estuary nature trail where the reported Palm Warbler has regularly wintered. This bird (which I associate most with Florida neighborhoods) was one I was most excited to see. Along the trail I passed Tree Swallows, Common Yellowthroat, Orange-crowned Warblers, Savannah Sparrows and the most handsome Lincoln Sparrow.

Then I spotted two birders at the bird blind. I asked if they’d happened to see a Palm Warbler. The woman exclaimed they’d just seen one! And I’d just missed it. She said “you have to see my pictures” and she “didn’t even realize what it was” and “isn’t that disgusting?” Her words, not mine. I asked which way the bird flew then politely looked at her photos.

I really wanted to be happy for her and after some snacks and time I genuinely was. Not finding the Palm Warbler was a disappointment, but I was a 5 min drive from the South Jetty where a second Palm Warbler had been seen as well as all the other rarities. But I didn’t find any of those this time either.

If the goal had been to find Golden-crowned Sparrows, Orange-crowned Warblers, a Wrentit, gobs of Savannah Sparrows and a Red-necked Grebe in breeding plumage then I was highly successful.

I think the best sighting here may have been a fly-by Pigeon Guillemot.

It was getting late. But not late enough to check the estuary trail again for the warbler. I walked along the trail maybe 20 feet when I saw some fluttering by a big ugly building.

No way. There was the warbler flying around the backside of the pipes on the building. Not perched prettily on driftwood, but at least it was a science center and not Walmart?

This bird is pro-science.

So pretty! Glad I went back to check on it again. I was running short on time and I could have ended the day here, but the Salishan Nature Trail where a Nashville Warbler was sighted was mostly on the way home. Why not make a quick stop for a look?

An hour and a half of quick looking later I finally saw the Nashville, but so briefly that I didn’t even count it. I got much better looks of Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

Common Yellowthroat.

And a Rufous Hummingbird!

M’lady Rufous. One of my favorites.

And just as I was leaving I saw a Sharp-shinned Hawk also on a bird hunt.

I wished I had more time. Lesson learned, one day is not enough to find all the rare birds on the coast. I started the three hour drive home, and along the way, next to a field in Grand Ronde I spotted an intriguing white bird hovering over a field.

White-tailed Kite! When you see a White-tailed Kite you pull over. I’ve only seen one other WTKI in Oregon and I had to work hard for it. This one was a treat. I watched from the side of the road as it hunted.

It eventually caught a rodent and then flew off into the distance. I’d come a long way from those Domestic Geese. So many highs so many lows. Such is the case when chasing rarities. Hilariously good times!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

This year in a nutshell

What a difference a year makes.

My beginning birder self on day 1

My beginning birder self on day 1

Looking back at what I’d initially hoped to get out of birding: nature, awareness, education, patience, and pictures– I think I’ve accomplished that.

Since my first trip last Christmas I’ve gone on more than 80 birding trips. I have visited six states- Oregon, Washington, California, Alaska, Montana, and Florida. And after today’s Northern Shrike sighting, I have seen 231 bird species. In Florida alone I saw 60 species! Of course this birding thing is way more than a numbers game. It’s a lifestyle.

Lego Birding Audrey and Lego Outdoorsy Tomas

Lego Birding Audrey and Lego Outdoorsy Tomas

Over the past year, I had hoped to see owls, Cedar Waxwings, migrating birds, and Puffins. Yep, saw those too.

Horned Puffin

Horned Puffin

Some of my favorite trips:

Remember when I mentioned listing? It turns out that was wishful blogging and I didn’t do it. Until now. I’ve spent hours this week entering my trips in eBird. So far, I’ve entered 65 checklists totaling 202 species. With more to come. The more checklists I enter, the more interesting the data becomes.

List

It won’t be perfect, there may be discrepancies. I know I’ve seen more than the 231 species on my list, a few shorebirds here and there that I still can’t I.D. confidently, and I wasn’t coherent for much of the pelagic trip, but I’d like to include birds on my list that I could pick out of a line-up. I’ll keep trying. And keep listing.

And so it goes. If it’s one thing I’ve learned this year, it is to keep trying. Just when I think I know a species, it molts into something entirely different. But that’s okay, because if it were easy it would be boring. I’ve learned birding takes time, practice, and patience. As does learning anything new. It’s okay to jump in and try. And make mistakes. And try again.

I still feel like a beginner, but I have learned a few things along the way. Going back over photos I surprised myself and recognized a Lincoln Sparrow I originally filed away as a Song Sparrow. I notice more details and field marks now, and I pay more attention to season and habitat. Can I tell the difference between first-year and second-year gulls? There’s a small chance thanks to Gull Class. Can I tell the difference between House, Purple, and Cassin’s Finch? Not yet, but I’m working on it. And that’s the goal: keep working on it.

You are a Lincoln Sparrow

You are a Lincoln Sparrow

I have a few things lined up already that I’m looking forward to in 2016. I’m partaking in the 116th Christmas Count with Audubon in January, I’m taking Advanced Waterfowl I.D. class in February, and I’ve registered for Godwit Days in Arcata this spring where I’ll bird with David Sibley. That’s right. Birding with Sibley himself. Woooooooooooo! Pretty excited about that one. Lots more to come. I’m excited for more discovery!

Happy Birdiversary to me.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Epic Summer Trip Part III: Elk Meadows

On day 3 I got greedy. I thought I should have seen more by this point. Where were the owls? Where were the Gray Catbirds? As I drove east and into the heat of the day, I stubbornly watched that small window of summer birding opportunity close. Nevertheless, I passed through gorgeous canyon scenery, laden with oaks and fir along the Klickitat River.

Klickitat

While driving along the Glenwood Hwy, I spotted a snake in the middle of the lane! It retracted like a slinky, while I cringed unable to avoid driving over it. Hoping it wasn’t flattened, I pulled over to check, as two more cars drove by also just barely missing it.

Rattlesnake

Luckily, it survived crossing the highway intact. The Western Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus) slithered along confidently (as it should) while my jaw dropped in awe of this impressive creature.

Rattlesnake

So cool. I’m happy I didn’t kill it (or find it while hiking or camping). It’s the first rattler I’ve seen in the wild in the Pacific NW. Or anywhere.

After this, with no solid plan in mind I called home to see how hot it was in the house. 92 degrees? Gross. I continued along, aiming for higher (cooler) elevation. Since it was a Sunday (so possibly less crowded), I decided on Elk Meadows, a 5-mile round trip hike in the SE shadow of Mt Hood and a backpacking destination I’ve been meaning to check out for a while now.

It was perfect except for one super sketchy stream crossing, where I managed to lose two (and recover one) water bottles.

Scary ass stream

Other than that unfortunate experience, it was a relatively tame and gorgeous hike to the camping spot.

Elk Meadow Camping

Along the trail, there were some exciting birdy surprises. Like a flock of normally cute, now not-so-cute, scruffy, molting Golden Crowned Kinglets.

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet

The best surprise, and winner for causing the highest spike in adrenaline while attempting to take a clear photograph, was this Nashville Warbler! Note the full eye-ring, gray hood, yellow throat, breast, and belly. So sweet and a cool find.

Nashville Warbler

At the campsite, opportunistic Gray Jays visited with or without (“accidentally”) spilled and crumbled pretzels. Ethics, eh-hem.

Gray Jay

A few youngins stopped by too.

Gray Jay

One grey bird that puzzled me was this one.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

That was until it turned around and showed me its yellow-rumped bum. Of course, Yellow-rumped Warbler.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

While leaving the campsite, I finally got a photo of the sparrow I’d seen on an off in the meadow. Buffy eye-ring, breast streaks, small bill, it’s a Lincoln’s Sparrow! The setting fits too, as Cornell’s All About Birds states: “A drab, but handsome bird of boggy areas.” I’d say so.

Lincoln's Sparrow

Elk Meadow is positively serene. Babbling brooks and bird songs audible from camping spots, deer wandering out munching on grass in the meadow after sunset, oh yeah, and the sun sets behind Mt. Hood. Be still my emotions.

Mt Hood Sunset

Mt Hood Sunset

Wait for it. Then in the morning, the sun rises and the mountain lights up. Not a bad place to spend a night or two- and in the mean time watch the birds!

Morning Hood

And on the way out? Plump huckleberries!

Huckleberries

Huckleberries

Epic. Thanks for reading!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey