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

Christmas Bird Count 2015

Last weekend I participated in the 115th annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count. What a treat! Originally I was hesitant because of my beginner skill level, but was assured all skill levels are welcome and I’m happy I participated.

I was shocked when I learned the history of the census. The holiday tradition started in response to what was called a “side hunt” where people went out and shot as many mammals and birds as they could find, and the “winner” was who killed the most. Heartbreaking (and infuriating…).

Bird populations declined, and the concept of conservation emerged. We can thank early Audubon ornithologist Frank Chapman for proposing a “Christmas Bird Census” to count rather than kill birds beginning on Christmas day 1900. More about this fascinating bit of history here. And here.

On January 3, 2015 our group of 12 volunteers spotted 71 different species in Area 1; the entire Columbian riparian area totaled 108 species.

image_preview

Image credits: http://audubonportland.org/local-birding/cbc

Portland’s 89th Christmas count is still being tallied (I’ll update), but per my insider information from Wink Gross, CBC compiler:

“The 89th Portland CBC was held today in chilly weather under overcast skies (i.e., “fog that you walk under”).    Over 230 field observers found 118 species, significantly below our 5-year running average of 124 and change.  The best bird was a PELAGIC CORMORANT, which is a new species for the Count and earned Adrian Hinkle the coveted “Eagle Eye Award”.  (Adrian also shared the award with his brother Christopher in 2009 for a Black-billed Magpie.)  Congratulations, Adrian!

Other good birds were, LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER, RED-NECKED GREBE, COMMON TEAL (aka “Eurasian Green-winged Teal”), GLAUCOUS GULL, and BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD.  There were no howling misses, but many of the species that “could go either way” went the wrong way.”

Wink mentions Adrian and Christopher Hinkle, who I met on the bird count. They are twins who are celebrities in the birder community. Their eye-sight, speed, attention to detail is incredible. According to an Oregonian article the boys have had an interest in birding since they were 5. They’re ~18 now and have evolved into birding savants.

Birding with experts blew my mind, and it was also exhilarating (to have the answers to the puzzles right next to you!). I saw way more birds than I would have on my own and I learned so much. To share the joy of birding with others who feel the same passion was refreshing and I look forward to joining more group birding experiences.

I didn’t take as many pictures as I normally would (busy counting birds!):

Sadly, I didn’t take a picture of the TWO GREAT HORNED OWLS we saw! A major highlight of my day. As a consolation, I have this video of a great blue heron ice-skating on a frozen pond:

Total new-to-me species I personally witnessed during the CBC:

Cackling Goose
Eurasian Wigeon
American Wigeon
Northern Shoveler
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Egret
Bald Eagle
American Kestrel
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Belted Kingfisher
Downy Woodpecker
White-breasted Nuthatch
Bushtit
Brown Creeper
Bewick’s Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Fox Sparrow
Lincoln Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Anna’s Hummingbird
Red-winged Blackbird

 

So thankful to be a part of this awesome event. Here is an Audubon Magazine article with highlights: 7 Surprises from the Christmas Bird Count