One night the storms were too bad even for the barn.
So I ran for the hills, an hour north to Cabin Lake, where there is no cabin and there is no lake. But there is the promise birds and better weather. Along the way I noticed some grounded hawks. Was it too windy for this Ferruginous Hawk to fly or had it just caught a snack?
I drove to a pretty remote location to enhance the birdsongs and minimize the gunshot noise.
At camp I heard Gray Flycatcher, Cassin’s Finch, Green-tailed Towhee, Mountain Chickadee, Mountain Bluebird, and Chipping Sparrow. Since it had rained the night before, I didn’t bother checking out the new bird blinds, best viewing is when the weather is dry. Leaving Cabin Lake in the morning I got a glimpse of my favorite woodpecker of the area, the White-headed Woodpecker.
Along Cabin Lake Rd I saw the reliable Sagebrush Sparrows.
Three Loggerhead Shrikes.
And I rescued the desert from these shitty balloons.
I stopped at Fort Rock State Park for White-throated Swifts, a Prairie Falcon, and I finally spotted the Barn Owl tucked in the cliff! Just above the most white-wash.
Later I noticed a swallow nest colony on the cliffs of a gravel pit area that looked like it was included in highway right-of-way so I pulled over to take a closer look. It was a swarm of Bank Swallows! County bird #124.
As I watched them a car pulled up beside me. Uh-oh. I explained I was admiring the Bank Swallow colony, and what turned out to be a very nice landowner told me to take all the pictures I wanted, he thought someone might be “messing with the dozer.” Oops.
Don’t mess with the dozer
A short drive north of Summer Lake, I pulled over at a site below a large cliff, and hoped for a certain sparrow. Immediately I saw a Black-throated Sparrow perched on a rock singing.
No way! It’s never that easy! Such a brilliant sparrow.
Another night with better weather I camped in the Fremont Forest on Winter Ridge. I was hoping for a nightjar or two. Sure enough, just as the sun set, “poor-will, poor-will, poor-will” of the Common Poorwill, followed by an unexpected “Peent!” of a Common Nighthawk! I’d picked an excellent camping spot.
On the last night, finally reunited with Tomas, we opted for a shower and a bed at the Lodge at Summer Lake. This, followed by the best pancakes in the morning at the Flyway Restaurant next door was the perfect way to end our trip!
To see even more beach birds my dad and I visited was Fort De Soto Park in Tierra Verde, FL. It is the largest county park within Pinellas County park system at 1,136 acres made up of five islands (keys), beaches, mangroves, wetlands, and upland trails. There’s camping, but I’ve heard it’s popular and hard to get reservations. Amazingly, the park boasts “more than 328 bird species that have been documented by ornithologists.” (339 on eBird!)
We were excited to see what we could find. Before I even left for Florida, I signed up for Pinellas County rare bird alerts just in case something came up and a pair of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers had been reported the day before we were set to visit the park. I hadn’t seen STFL since Texas and my dad had never seen one so we both agreed it was worth checking out.
We went to East Beach where they’d been sighted first thing in the morning, but unfortunately no luck. So we looked at Osprey instead. We couldn’t find one without a fish.
That’s not true, we saw some with sticks.
Busy building nests, the Osprey didn’t collect sticks like civilized birds, they actually crashed into bare tree branches breaking twigs off. Pretty clever behavior I haven’t seen before.
We then checked on a smaller beach nearby and found a plethora of plovers. Including Wilson’s Plover.
There’s just no good angle that makes that bill look cute.
Nope, crab doesn’t help
For comparison we saw a Semipalmated Plover.
And the cutest of all, a Piping Plover! I was over the moon to find this little lifer plover.
And it was banded!
I learned this Piping Plover was banded as a chick on the Missouri River near Yankton, SD by researchers from Virginia Tech on 7/20/2012 and is a regular winter resident at Ft De Soto. So cool! We both migrated pretty far to meet at this spot.
My dad and I also saw Black-bellied Plovers but they are in a world of their own.
Pulling long worms out.
And sucking them up. Yum.
I tried hard to turn one of the Black-bellied Plovers into an American Golden-Plover, but I never could extend the wing tips beyond the tail.
Further on we continued to North Beach where we spotted one of our target birds right out in the open (the Steve Buscemi of birds?).
A Yellow-crowned Night Heron! Out in daylight?
There were three of them! Reading up on this species, despite the name, they’ll forage at all hours of the day and night. It was very surprising, something my dad said he’s never seen. The opportunistic crabbers will lunge, and shake or swallow their prey whole.
And true to form, fly away and devour.
We watched until my calves ached from crouching in the mudflats and when it was time to leave and we had to walk right by one right on the shore.
My dad and YCNH
It was so cool. As was the second Piping Plover sighting! Adorable.
Hey, don’t look now, but there goes a Willet running by!
We’d hoped to have spotted a Reddish Egret by now, and we did but it was far, far away on an island of misfit birds.
Where we also saw American White Pelicans resting.
It was getting late into the afternoon by now so we walked back along the beach towards the parking lot. And wouldn’t you know it. Who’s that dancing in the water up ahead!?
Reddish Egret! So much drama, and so entertaining to watch.
I showed Tomas a photo, and he agreed. King of the world.
Ehem, anyways. It was late in the day, but not too late to check again on Scissor-tailed Flycatchers. Why not look one more time on the way out?
Along the way we had several false alarms that turned out to be a grackle, mockingbird, and then a Loggerhead Shrike!
We returned to East Beach at about 3pm and walked along the trail passing more Osprey with more fish (why is this not the state bird instead of the Northern Mockingbird?).
But wait a minute! What’s that long-tailed bird behind the Osprey?
I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher! We’d found it!
Piece of cake. There were two, but we only got a quick glimpse of the second before it disappeared. Luckily the other stayed flycatching from the tree-tops while we watched in amazement.
It’s best to end on a high note, so we called it a day. In total, we found a solid 45 species at Fort De Soto, and concluded another successful day of birding in Florida!
For a second year I joined Portland Audubon’s Birdathon, touted as the “biggest baddest birdathon this side of the Mississippi.” And for a second year I was thrilled to be a part of the Put an Owl on It team.
Last year’s trip was one of the best birding days of my life – 5 owl species in one day!! This year’s agenda expanded to eastern Oregon for a two-day Blue Mountain adventure with the hopes of seeing Great Gray Owls.
Spoiler alert- we found them.
I went into the trip with 299 life birds. How cool would it be to have the Great Gray as the 300th bird? That didn’t happen, but Bank Swallows are pretty cool too. Lucky #300!! Sadly, no pictures because the van flushed two nicely perched swallows on a fence as soon as we drove near. Van-birding can be quite a challenge.
While exploring country roads in Umatilla county, we also flushed lifer #301, this Chukar fleeing for its life.
Fastest mother Chukar in the west
It’s all worth it though when you climb out out of the van and meet a pair of Great Horned Owls fledglings.
Or a family of Barn Owls smooshed in a natural cliff wall cavity.
And it’s especially worth it to see a Burrowing Owl perched atop sagebrush in the Oregon desert.
It was incredibly hot that weekend, nearing (if not over) 100 degrees. Some birds like this Sage Thrasher panted to stay cool.
Even Common Nighthawks panted.
That is one hot bird. Seeing a Common Nighthawk perched on a fence has been on my birding bucket list since the moment I found out they do this. We found two. Success! And two vans with 19+ people managed not to flush them. It was that damn hot.
Birder dreams do come true
It cooled down some once we gained elevation making our way into the pine forests of the Blue Mountains.
And here in this forest is where we met the family. Mom and her three owlets.
It was so special sharing forest space with these owls. They were incredibly chill. We sat down on the grass and pine needles under trees nearby, relaxed, chatted and ate snacks, while watching the fledglings stretch their wings and walk awkwardly along the branches.
And if owl entertainment wasn’t enough, there were active nesting holes visible on site with Pygmy Nuthatches, Mountain Chickadee, Western Bluebird, Lewis’s Woodpecker, and Williamson’s Sapsucker (another lifer!).
And songs of Western Tanager, Cassin’s Finch, House Wren, Western Wood-Pewee (PEEEeeeeer), and a new flycatcher for me, Hammond’s Flycatcher (ChiBik).
As soon as the sun lowered, Great Gray fledgling activity picked up, the owlets begged noisily for food.
The skies darkened and mom obliged, swooping over the fields to hunt. We enjoyed watching the owl show until the sun disappeared and the bats came out.
Before exiting the park, we piled out of the vans in the dark one last time to listen for other potential owl species. While waiting, we occupied time peering at Jupiter’s moons through the spotting scopes, and just before calling it a night, an adult Great Grey Owl flew over our heads towards an area of the forest with at least one owlet calling! There’s nothing like an unexpected owl surprise to liven things up. We rode the owl high all the way back to the hotel in La Grande.
From darkness to early morning light, a handful of birders opted for an early-morning Bobolink side trip.
In a distant farm field we observed several pairs of Bobolinks chase each other up, over, and into the grasses while chattering their buzzy metalic song that sounds like a broken R2-D2. A bit far for decent photos, but here’s an identifiable pic of one on a fence post.
After, we reunited with the rest of the group and the sightings continued: Eastern Kingbirds, California Quail, Loggerhead Shrike, Black-billed Magpie, and Long-billed Curlew, to name a few.
At Catherine Creek State Park, we introduced ourselves to a generous couple camping with a hummingbird feeder at their site. Thanks to them, we got good looks at Black-chinned and Calliope Hummingbirds.
Female black-chinned wagged her tail while feeding
This was only my second time seeing a Black-chinned Hummingbird (the first was just a week prior at Painted Hills), and it was my first encounter with Calliope Humminbgird. They’re so pretty and so tiny!
There was another new surprise in the brushy thickets at this park, a small thrush called a Veery. Too bad I didn’t get a visual on this shy cinnamon-colored thrush, but I heard its song and call and that was pretty satisfying. Some nineteenth-century observers described the Veery’s song as “an inexpressibly delicate metallic utterance…accompanied by a fine trill which renders it truly seductive.” Yep, I was totally seduced.
One of our last stops was at Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area where we saw Gadwall, Redhead, Ruddy Duck, and yet another new species, a shorebird called Wilson’s Phalarope.
At the marsh, there were also a pair of nesting Swainson’s Hawks, both Eastern and Western Kingbirds, Sandhill Cranes, Red-winged blackbirds (chasing an American Bittern), Black-crowned Night Heron, Ring-necked Pheasant, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, and Northern Harriers. To name a few.
On the way back to Portland, we pulled off the side of the highway to bird a pond next to some railroad tracks. We joked about the safety and legality of this birding spot.
Then we turned around to see a law enforcement vehicle stopped at the road with lights flashing. Busted birders.
Walk of shame
Turns out the officer had just thoughtfully stopped traffic for us to cross the road without incident. Whew! It was totally worth almost getting arrested to catch a glimpse of American White Pelican, Black-necked Stilt (!), teals, and nesting American Avocets.
It was all worth it. In two days, the team saw a total of 127 species, including 4 owl species (and I saw 10 new-to-me species), and we raised over $14,000. We saw 11 Great Horned Owls, 3 Barn Owls, 1 Burrowing Owl, and encountered 6 Great Grey Owls! I think that’s what they call “putting an owl on it.”
I had a blast reuniting with team members from last year and making new friends this time around. Thanks to the trip leaders Scott Carpenter, Rhett Wilkins, Joe Liebezeit, and Mary Coolidge, you all rock. And of course, many thanks to my donors for making my fundraising such a success. I raised over a thousand dollars contributing to Portland Audubon’s $170,000+ for conservation. Thanks to all involved helping such a great cause!