Seattle to Malheur to Astoria I

All in one week. Unintentional (and preventable) but it started with a gull. A very rare gull, which is how I explained it to Tomas when I asked if he minded we leave for vacation a little later than planned. With his blessing I left work immediately, hopped in the car with Jen and we made our way towards Seattle.

The detour paid off with good scope views and terrible photos of a…

Nope, not that goose. Much farther out.

Swallow-tailed Gull! The one on the left (use some imagination). But it was there! All the way from the Galápagos. A gull that feeds nocturnally on fish and squid. Don’t ask how it got there, but I’m glad it did. Some day hopefully I’ll get better looks at the islands, because we couldn’t hang out with this one longer this day.

Four hours later, back in Portland I met Tomas to start our four hour drive southeast. I volunteered to drive and pay for a hotel room since we got off to such a late start. Tomas drove an additional two and by midnight we’d made it to Burns. In the morning we found the desert.

Not long after, I found birds. We visited “The Narrows,” a small channel once much larger connecting Mud Lake and Malheur Lake. Due to various reasons including drought and carp, there isn’t much water left now. Even still, many birds congregate at this muddy stopover. Some of the highlights:

White-faced Ibis

Black-necked Stilt

Forster’s Tern

More White-faced Ibis

Juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron

Gobs of Gadwall

The occasional Peregrine flyover

Franklin’s Gull (and Black-necked Stilt)

Pied-billed Grebe or bowling pin

Western Grebe

There were also egrets and heron on site, easy ones like Snowy Egret, Great Egret, Great Blue Heron, and these next couple of complicated birds that I almost don’t want to mention. They are difficult birds to ID and neither one fits neatly in a box. Some call them Hegrets. They’re somewhere between a Little Blue Heron and Cattle Egret with features of each.

Don’t look so innocent with those dusky tail feathers. What are you?

The weirdest find were two dead Red-necked Phalaropes near the road.  Wth.

RIP phalarope

We got stuck in a few cattle drives which was entertaining at first, but grew old quickly after dodging endless piles of stubborn cows.

Once beyond the bovine we finally made it to Malheur Headquarters, at last reopened to the public.

It was nice to see it in the hands of the park service. As it should be. Nothing unusual bird-wise here, Rufous Hummingbird, Caspian Tern, Greater Yellowlegs, Killdeer, Say’s Phoebe, and so many Yellow-headed Blackbirds.

While I birded the grounds, Tomas spent time in the museum sketching a Golden Eagle.

It was late afternoon and hot, hot, hot by this time so we headed towards our lodging destination, the Frenchglen Hotel.

We were excited to see what else we could find in the desert.

Peekaboo.

(No grasshoppers were harmed in the making of this blog post.)

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Texas: Old Port Isabel Rd to Mexico

Heavy fog rolled in the next morning but it didn’t take long for the blazing sun to burn it off. The Lower Rio Grande Valley is hot. Each day I dug deep to my Floridian roots, sucked it up, and birded through the thick wall of humidity and heat. While applying regular applications of sunscreen and bug spray. It’s easy to forget that trying daily routine from the (mostly) comfy Pacific NW.

But of course the same reasons I’m repelled from the southeastern US are what attracts such a great diversity of birds. Heat and bugs. We had plenty of both at our next Texas hotspot, Old Port Isabel Road, seven miles of gravel road through lowland open grassland habitat.

One of the first bird’s to greet us was the Eastern Meadowlark.

I recognize that shape. This meadowlark is best distinguished from the Western variety by song. Western: a rich, low, descending warble “sleep loo lidi lidijuvi.” Eastern: simple, clear, slurred whistles “seeeooaaa seeeeadoo” higher, clearer, with no gurgles (Sibley 2016).

Brightens up that rusty post

Shortly after we heard another tell-tale “Bob-white” call of the Northern Bobwhite! This was one of my most eagerly anticipated sightings. So cool. Even if they just ran away from us.

Then someone spotted a White-tailed Hawk far in the distance. Worst views ever so here’s a slightly less worse view from a later sighting. Clearly white-tailed.

I should mention another hawk of Texas that should have been familiar but wasn’t.

Red-tailed Hawks. Like the one below. Where are the patagial marks? It doesn’t match Eastern or Southwestern varieties in guidebooks. Leave it to red-tails to break the mold. Jerks.

At least Harris’s Hawks follow the rules. And there were plenty of these along the road.

Not just raptors, there was also a fun new sparrow to ID, the Olive Sparrow. It has one of the greatest sparrow songs I’ve heard with a catchy bouncy-trill ending.

Near the end of this road we all got a great surprise on a telephone pole.

Mythical falcons seen only in guidebooks come to life. Aplomado Falcons! (Aplomado  Spanish for “lead-colored”). Then they did what no birds ever do. They both flew directly towards us.

They passed us by at eye level flying incredibly fast and low over the prairie.

It was absolutely stunning. There’s some controversy about “counting” this species for checklists; they currently meet the ABA checklist requirements but “Texas Bird Records Committee (TBRC) currently considers the reintroduced population of Aplomado Falcon to be not established, nor self-sustaining and thus deems this species not countable.”

The last wild breeding pair was seen in New Mexico in 1952. These that we saw are a result of a falcon-reintroduction program by the Peregrine Fund. Thanks to predator-resistant nesting platforms and the release of 1,500 chicks (since the 80s) there is now a small breeding population in this part of Texas.

I’m grateful because either way you count it, the falcons are amazing. And since it’s my 400th bird species they count extra for me.

What happens after an Aplomado sighting? We could have ridden the high the rest of the day but it was still early. So we did the only thing we could do. We headed to South Padre Island for 0.99 beer bongs.

Jk. We birded on. The afterparty started at the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center where a white-morph Reddish Egret drunkenly danced in the tides.

An Osprey danced with a Northern Mockingbird.

Black Skimmers danced in the sky.

And gators sat stoned grinning in the corner.

We also saw Scissor-tailed Flycatchers aka wallflowers.

And Little Blue Heron and Tricolored Heron doing The Robot.

It was good times. We took a break from partying and birded near a random boat ramp.

Among other shorebirds, we found a Wilson’s Plover under the only bit of shade around.

Then there was time for one last stop. Mexico. Or at least up to the border. This took some confident driving skills by Jen.
 

 
At least the tide was going out. Right? Then, before picking out birds in Mexico, finding a dead dolphin on the beach, laughing at cartoon crabs and watching Max catch a fish with his bare hands, we had the second most exciting bird encounter of the day. AJ yelled for us to look at the dark bird over the water!

We all turned to see a Parasitic Jaeger chasing after a Sandwich Tern!

But you can’t see jaegers from the shore?! These are pelagic birds! You have to be seasick on a boat miles off shore to see them!

Except when you’re in Texas. Aplomado to Jaeger in a day? The tropics are growing on me.

Birders gone wild,

Audrey

Florida: Weedon Preserve, Sawgrass Park, and Seminole Lake

One of the highlights of my trip to Florida was birding with my dad.

My dad

He lives in Largo and his birding enthusiasm is a close match to mine. In the past year since I started birding, we’ve have a blast quizzing each other by emailing pictures of birds we can’t see in our respective areas.

He sends me pictures of Limpkins (baby Limpkins!), Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Yellow-crowned Night Herons, and Brown Thrashers harassing snakes. If there were any reason to visit Florida, these would be it. A handful of his pics:

Limpkin Limpkin Red-bellied WoodpeckerYellow-crowned Night Heron Brown Thrasher Brown Thrasher

He had a few spots picked out for us to see during my trip, including Weedon Island Preserve, a 3,700 acre preserve complete with a cultural and natural history center, trails, boardwalks (AKA Raccoon Highway), mangroves, wetlands, uplands, crabs (!) (Mangrove Tree Crab).

Crab

Weedon Island Preserve Paul Getting Memorial Trail Weedon Sunrise

And birds! A whole lot of them.

Wading birds

Wading birds

Of course it wasn’t that easy. They made us work for it. We showed up promptly at sunrise for low tide and there were no birds in sight. It wasn’t until the day warmed up that they came out to feed. Once they did, we saw Great Egrets, White Ibis, Snowy Egrets, and many more wading birds in the distance. And a Wood Stork flew overhead. It was a good time.

Wood Stork

The best part of Weedon Island though, was a moment that’ll go down in my book of birding history. After striking out on birds first thing in the morning, my dad and I rounded the corner to another overlook and found an unbelievable sight. A Roseate Spoonbill closely followed by a Tricolored Heron buddy. The wait was worth it.

Spoonbill and Tricolor

My dad describes Tricolored Herons as Little Blue Herons that’ve had too much coffee. Little blues stand still and intensely stalk prey (much like the Great Blue Heron), while Tricolors dart quickly back and forth in the water gathering up fish and bits of food. It’s a useful behavioral clue to identify them. We watched this one pick up bits the spoonbill stirred up. They made quite the pair.

Spoonbill and Tricolor

Tricolored Heron

Tricolored Heron Tricolored Heron Tricolored Heron

Shortly after, the spoonbill posed nicely for us and my day was made.

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Gorgeous wrinkly spoon face!

We went to Sawgrass Lake Park next. Surrounded by “the most densely populated county in Florida” (Pinellas County), the 400 acre park is a haven for wildlife. Especially alligators. We saw three of them. Florida wildlife sighting Level-Up.

Alligator

Alligator Alligator Alligator

And the obligatory “no molesting” the gators sign. So many feels. So many jokes. It’s too easy.

No Molest!

This park had a few gems besides gators and funny gator signs. Including adorable Little Blue Herons. So intense. So cute.

Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron Little Blue Heron Little Blue Heron

And the most fun bird to say, Anhinga (an-HIN-ga)! With many nicknames: it’s called the Water-Turkey thanks to its tail and swimming habits, and also Snake-Bird because it often swims with just its head sticking out of the water. We saw several of them, usually sunning themselves since this species lacks oils that make feathers waterproof. Anhinga anhinga is named from Tupi Indian (Brazil) language. AnHINga!

Anhinga

Anhinga Anhinga Anhinga

We also saw Common Gallinule (gal-li-NOO-l) and heard it’s cackling and yelping calls. The species was split from Common Moorhen (Old World) in 2011 by the AOU.

Common Gallinule

Common Gallinule   Common Gallinule  Common Gallinule

Upon leaving this park, we saw a neat grouping of three species together, Tricolored Heron in the far back, a Little Blue Heron front left, and three White Ibises!

All the water birds

And a softshell turtle.

Softshell turtle

Our final destination was Seminole Lake Park. The best trails in this park wind through pine flatwoods where we saw several species of birds. Some familiar, some new.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Pine Warbler

Pine Warbler

Osprey

Osprey

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker (see the red belly!)

Gray Catbird

More Gray Catbird! Can’t get enough of this one. 

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal (female)

And a whole bunch more.

Red-bellied Woodpecker Pileated Woodpecker Osprey Northern Cardinal Mourning Dove Little Blue HeronGray Catbird Great Egret Boat-tailed Grackle

Funny thing about this park, we actually visited several mornings in search of what turned out to be my “nemesis bird” of the trip, the Limpkin! My dad sees them here frequently, but I missed out this time. Good to have a reason to return. Next time!

We ended the search on a high note with a good look at this remarkable creature, the Wood Stork.

Wood Stork

Wood Stork Wood Stork Wood Stork

If I keep writing about Florida will that make it sunny in Portland?!

Too bad this post pretty much sums up my awesome trip. Thanks for following along!

Happy Turtles

Happy turtles,

Audrey