6 Lincoln County Birds

One of my goals this year was to bring my Lincoln county species list from 194 to 200. This would be challenging as I’ve seen a lot of birds in this county (many from a boat) and it was early in the season for major migration, but I wanted to pay the ocean and my dad (a new resident of Newport) a visit. I needed to get out of the house and (bonus) the forecast promised sunny weather.

Lies

As per usual, the coast had other ideas and the day started off with drizzly fog. My dad and I wiped our binoculars (I dried my tears) and we carried on. We started in a clearcut with recent Mountain Quail reports (not a county bird, but always fun too look and listen for), but no “quarks” were heard. It was time for my backup plan already. We moved to another clearcut farther east where I heard my first Mountain Quail two years ago. The area was quiet and slow, but right after we’d given up (and before the logging trucks barreled through) we saw them!

Just in time

There were three, two hurled themselves up the hillside, while one male stayed defending the roadside. So cool knowing they actually exist.

From here it started raining harder so we decided to look for ducks at Devil’s Lake State Recreation Area in Lincoln City. We walked the boardwalk to the boatramp and immediately saw one of my targets. Wood Duck! #195

This was one species I thought would be harder to find, but they were nice and cooperative. I waded through a huge puddle out to the end to scope for a Lesser Scaup or Gadwall, but none were around.

The things we do for ducks

I ended up picking out a small brown swallow, later confirmed in photos as Northern Rough-winged Swallow #196. A nice reward for braving the puddles.

We continued looking for Eared Grebe at Boiler Bay, a (rare) Rough-legged Hawk at Siletz Bay, or anything new to add but we found more enjoyment from exploring new Lincoln County hotspots (like the Alder Island Nature Trail in Siletz Bay NWR) than having any luck finding new birds. By late afternoon, the sun finally came out so we decided to drive back to the originally rained out logging road spot.

So much better

We heard the same Wrentit, White-crowned Sparrows, and Orange-crowned Warblers as before, but just as we were about to leave the magic happened.

Time stopped and my brain melted as I stuttered “there’s a pygmy owl, there’s a pygmy owl, THERE’S A PYGMY OWL!” I backed away, but this Northern Pygmy-Owl (#197) did not care about us.

It sat perched looking around for a long while, barely glancing our direction before flying to another slightly farther spot very much alert scanning for a snack.

It was hard to leave, but eventually I pulled myself away. It would have been cool to watch it hunt, or see if it would call, but I felt lucky to just have seen it and left it to do its owl job. It was solid Mountain Quail-Pygmy Owl day and the trip was already worth it.

The next morning was even more encouraging with more sun, less rain, and we were excited to see what we’d find next. We tried a few new spots before succumbing to the clearcut again. No owls this time, but lo and behold were a pair of Western Bluebirds!

After this, we retried an earlier spot at S Gorton Rd recommended by Phil Pickering a local birder, where I found Wilson’s Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, and one Black-throated Gray Warbler #199! that did not want its photo taken, so here’s a White-throated Black-and-White cookie instead.

Photo by Flickr user Bill: https://www.flickr.com/photos/swerz/

We made a few more stops; at the South Jetty we saw handsome Red-necked Grebes and Hatfield Marine Science Center Whimbrels and peeps flew over the bay, before I said my goodbyes and headed home. We’d done an excellent job at finding 91 species, including 5 new Lincoln County birds for me, and a few of life birds for my dad.

On my drive back to Portland, there was one more surprise in store. I stopped at the Van Duzer Rest Area (just inside the county boundary) and wished an American Dipper into existence!

Lucky #200!

I’d done it! I’d found 6 new Lincoln County birds in two days. Such an incredible time!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Outside my 5MR

Most of my birding lately has been defined by “inside my 5MR” and “outside my 5MR.’ The “5MR” is a 5 mile radius for birding around a set point (in my case my house), a trend Jen Sanford started to inspire more local birding, drive less and bird more. It’s really caught on. Of course some birds are too tempting and it’s okay to stray outside the circle sometimes.

Rules were meant to be broken for Sagebrush Sparrows that show up outside the radius! Colby Neuman has been a superstar in Multnomah County this year. He found this bird, as well as a Brewer’s Sparrow and two Vesper Sparrows at a small patch in Troutdale between a huge FedEx building and a newly constructed Amazon Warehouse. (Sigh).

Not long after, Ezra Cohen, a young birder found a Burrowing Owl trying to navigate its way around the Amazon facility and parking lot. It is thought that some eastern species were pushed farther west this year due to heavy snow levels. I missed the Brewer’s, Vesper’s, *and* Burrowing, but I managed to see one of (three!) Loggerhead Shrikes at Sandy River Delta Park.

I tried hard to find one in my 5MR (even tried to turn some scrub-jays into shrikes) but I couldn’t make it happen.

Another fun chase was to Blueberry Rd near Corvallis where a trio of amazing birds were hanging out. Together in a farm field were a Lapland Longspur.

A Snow Bunting.

Which thankfully was still there because this bright bird led me to find my lifer Chestnut-collared Longspur!

Basically invisible

I’m sure it’s gorgeous in breeding plumage, but here it blended in perfectly with the grass and stubble. I had more of a chance to see a Chestnut-collared Longspur in Arizona than in Oregon, but there I sat looking at one in Linn County. True story. And totally worth it.

So magical

Last week I took a trip outside my 5MR to Yamhill County when news of a Harris’s Sparrow popped up. I really like these sparrows and it is a (secret not so secret) dream of mine to someday see one in every county in Oregon (6 down, many more to go). Because Yamhill is notoriously a difficult birding county this was worth a try. Plus, I had only one bird species in the county (a 2018 Turkey Vulture flyover) so a Big Yamhill Day it was!

But the Harris’s Sparrow wasn’t cooperative. It had been seen the prior morning easily, but after a long wait at the appropriate spot, there was no sign of it.

Por qué?

A little bummed since I took the day off from work, I left to look at ducks. Because ducks don’t let you down. Not far down the road I found my FOY Greater Yellowlegs and a pair of Wilson’s Snipe!

Snipe make everything better. From here I checked out some Yamhill “hotspots” including Sheldon’s Marsh, inaccessible by foot, but Marsh Wren and Virginia Rail can be heard from the road. One of the more productive hotspots is South Side Park in Sheridan because you can scope the (restricted) nearby water treatment ponds. I saw my first of three Black Phoebes that I found in the county here.

Huddleston Fish Pond was a little less productive, it was covered in Yellow-rumped Warblers, and I spotted a pair of Osprey at the far end of the pond on a pretty big nest.

At this point it was late afternoon, big decision time. Do I continue to my final planned destination McGuire Reservoir, call it a day, or retry for the Harris’s? Questioning my life’s choices, I opted for the sparrow again, and I’m so glad I did!

It refused to come out of the shrubs, but it was there and singing!

It was the first time I’ve heard one sing, and I’m impressed that I noticed the tune coming out of the bushes because it’s much more complex than what I’ve heard from the Sibley App (my recordings in this eBird checklist).

Feeling like I could do no wrong after this, I headed up to McGuire Reservoir in the coast mountain range for some Yamhill County forest birds. Mind the deer crossing the road along the way.

The reservoir is a quiet beautiful spot, though it is mostly fenced off since it’s McMinneville’s water source.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t scope for birds from the road. I was hoping for a loon, but instead found the expected Hooded Mergansers.

And in the trees surrounding the reservoir I found common forest birds, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and I was especially pleased to find a Yamhill County Varied Thrush.

On the return drive out, I saw chickens on the side of the road. I thought “fancy Chukars?” No way!!! Mountain Quail!!

I’ve only heard MOUQ two years ago, never seen. I pulled over to get better pics but a truck sped by and the pair hurried down the hillside. It was still a fun sighting. And a good reminder that exploring rather than chasing can be even more rewarding sometimes.

I ended at 62 species for the day, including a couple of pretty darn good birds, bringing my Yamhill County total to 63. Glad I made the trip!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Chasing Bar-tailed

There’s an undeniable intrigue when chasing rarities from across the globe. This time I was hoping for a shorebird off course from its typical New Zealand to Alaska migration called a Bar-tailed Godwit. Thanks to unusual weather patterns, a handful had shown up on the Oregon coast this spring.

I timed my trip to arrive in the coastal hills at sunrise to listen for Mountain Quail.

Since I was at the right place and the right time, I heard this life bird’s call pretty easily. A pair was calling back and forth across the valley. But no visuals this time, and I didn’t have much time to spend looking. Next time, quail.

I kept focus and made it to Lost Creek State Park while it was still early. I felt both relief and excitement when I saw shorebirds in the distance. This could be it.

But it wasn’t. The Bar-tailed had been seen in mixed shorebird flocks of Whimbrels and Marbled Godwit and those were both here.

Down-turned bill = Whimbrel

Upturned bill = Marbled Godwit

This godwit gave me pause. I realized then that I’d never seen Marbled Godwits in breeding plumage. More buffy-brown cinnamon colored, with barring on the chest, and an orange-ish coloring at the base of the bill (signalling increased hormonal levels). I had only seen them in non-breeding plumage with a pink base to the bill.

There were also some birds with intermediate colors.

This was getting more complicated. I had done my homework before arriving of course, Bar-tailed Godwits differ from Marbled in that they are slightly smaller, with a slightly shorter bill, and they lack the cinnamon underwing colors. They are slightly more reddish in breeding plumage and grayer in non-breeding. I began to doubt I’d recognize these slight differences.

So I looked at peeps instead. Hey, look! Western Sandpipers!

Bath time!

Dunlin in breeding plumage, look at that black belly!

Sanderlings! That one on the right is in breeding plumage (mottled, rufous head and neck).

And the best distraction. Semi-palmated Plover.

You’re cute, even when you’re digging in the sand.

That helped. I walked back to the car ready to try another location. As I was returning, a group of birders passed by and we exchanged information. They too were looking for godwits and hadn’t seen any Bar-tailed yet. At least I hadn’t missed anything.

I pulled over at another beach spot, and found only plovers and Whimbrels. The next stop was Newport’s South Jetty where I found no Whimbrels or godwits, but I did catch a distant glimpse of a black ghost. A Pacific Loon in breeding plumage!

Note to self: spend more time with shorebirds in breeding plumage. They’re beautiful.

It was late afternoon by now and I had time for just one more stop. Since it was close, and I’d never been there, I decided on Yaquina Bay State Recreation Area just across from South Jetty.

I approached the beach and saw shorebirds in the distance. This could be it.

OMG, this was it! I spotted one of the banded birds in my binoculars. Some reports had been of birds with multiple blue and white bands on their legs, part of a bird-banding program in New Zealand, and positively identifying them as Bar-tailed Godwits. It was the best-case scenerio BTGO to find.

But before I could snap a photo, a woman approached me, asking about the birds. She asked what the birds with the long bills were, “are they Long-billed Dowitchers?” Normally, I appreciate people’s interest in birds when I’m out, but this was terrible timing. But I explained what they were anyways. She thanked me, then proceeded to walk right towards the flock, spooking them all.

Seriously? I had told her about the rarity too. I couldn’t believe it, but I didn’t have time to sulk, because I had to jog down the beach to keep up with the moving flock. Eventually, success!

Look at all the jewelry on that New Zealand bird! What a huge relief. And the stranger thing was, besides that rude woman, I was the only one on the beach. No other birders. I posted the sighting on OBOL and enjoyed my time. I’d actually hit the jackpot of shorebirds at this spot.

There were Black-bellied Plovers in breeding plumage.

I almost dropped my binoculars.

A Ruddy Turnstone.

And a pair of Brant casually on the shore.

Whimbrels, plovers, godwits, sanderlings, it was hard to keep up!

The tide came in further, many birds moved up to the jetty rocks to sleep in the warm afternoon sun. I regained and lost site of the Bar-tailed again, grateful for the time I had.

X marks the spot, I’d found the treasure!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey