Bohemian Birdiversary

I’m interrupting Hawaii to celebrate my Birdiversary!

Back when I thought it was a good idea to point binoculars into the sun

Exactly two years ago, on a camping trip to Stub Stewart State Park, I started birding in earnest. I’ve come a long way since that first Northern Pygmy Owl.

In some ways I miss the naiveté of starting a new project; everything is foreign, lots of mistakes are made, and much is learned from them. It’s a good thing this is birding because so much is still new, I make plenty of mistakes, and I continue to learn from them. There are always new birds to find, and old birds to misidentify. And if all else fails, there’s always gull identification.

In 2016 I had hoped to see owls (all of them), but especially the Great Grey Owl. And thanks to Scott Carpenter and the Put an Owl on it Birdathon team, mission accomplished.

I had a total of 48 owl encounters in 2016 (21 of those were Great Horned), and I even managed to meet a Northern Spotted Owl in California. And I had the pleasure of birding with David Sibley. Good times.

Another highlight of this year was finally making it to Malheur. And I was lucky enough to go with a great group of people from Audubon. I can’t wait to visit again because Malheur is for everyone! Much love for our public lands.

On that trip I accomplished another year goal of seeing Rock Wrens.

You rock!

And bluebirds like this Mountain Bluebird.

Because happiness.

Did you know September 24th is National Bluebird of Happiness Day? I didn’t either. Marking the calendar to celebrate happiness next year.

One goal I dipped out on this year was seeing a Yellow-breasted Chat! Dang, I miss those birds. I’ll have to make a better effort to find them in 2017.

All in all it has been a pretty good bird year. And it’s not quite over yet! In honor of my birdiversary, Tomas and I drove 2-hours east to Arlington, Oregon, in search of a new bird.

We sifted through dozens of Cedar Waxwings.

Nope.

Nope.

Nope. Until we finally spotted them.

Yes! Bohemian Waxwings!

Bohemians usually stick to the far North in Alaska and Western Canada. But some years, if food supply is low, they’ll follow the fruit and berries where they can get them. Reports of Bohemians in Washington and Oregon have spread this winter and I’m happy we caught up with them.

They’re slightly larger than Cedar Waxwings, grayer overall without the yellow-ish belly, and they have rufous undertails. A closer look:

Bohemian in the middle

So fun! We waited until we thought they’d perch nicely on the juniper below the wires, but a Sharp-shinned Hawk zoomed in and spooked the whole flock. Things are always exciting in the bird world.

Tweets, chirps, and cheers to the next year of birding!

Audrey

Crescent City. Redwoods. Birthday Birds Part II

The last day of my birthday weekend spent exploring California’s redwood coast was a sensational treat. Mostly thanks to two pygmy owls.

Redwoods

But before the owls.

On the way to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park I stopped at a small pond, Lagoon Pond, and found a Black Phoebe!

Black Phoebe

Black Phoebe

Black Phoebe

This chatty, energetic flycatcher is common in this area, but rare near Portland. I was happy I got the chance to see one.

Continuing along Highway 101 we passed herds of elk.

Elk

Staredown

Elk

Lawn ornaments

Elk

Elk moons rising

They weren’t in Elk Meadow like they’re supposed to be. Instead, I found an American Kestrel.

American Kestrel

Turning onto Davison Road, we continued past Gold Bluffs Beach, and proceeded toward Fern Canyon for a hike. Until we came across a small stream crossing in the road.

Puddle

Undeterred, we walked the remaining distance to the trailhead. This was a good call, because moments later we encountered two bull elk grazing by the road. Reminded of the moose in Alaska, we followed the same guidelines for the elk. We gave them space, and spoke loudly and calmly so as not to startle the animals, and we passed without incident.

Elk

Watching elk

Further down the road, I noticed a chubby song bird silhouette in the distance. Oh wait, I recognize that silhouette!

Northern Pygmy-Owl

A Northern Pygmy-Owl! The above picture is pretty much only good for perspective (the owl is about the same size as the Doug-fir cones on the tree to the right). So here are some better pictures.

Northern Pygmy-Owl

Northern Pygmy-Owl

Northern Pygmy-Owl

What a cutie. The last occurrence of a NOPO I had was during Birdathon this summer. Our team heard and briefly caught a glimpse of one in flight high above the trees in an urban park.

I haven’t had this intimate a sighting since my first “official” day birding at Stubb Stewart State Park almost a year ago. In fact, because of that first encounter, I consider the Northern Pygmy-Owl the “spark bird” that ignited my passion for birding. It was thrilling to find another, especially in this beautiful setting.

Perspective

And we hadn’t even gotten to the trailhead yet. Honestly, I could have gone back to the car and been perfectly content, but I’m glad we continued on.

Fern Canyon

Fern canyon is awesome. Canyon walls covered in five types of ferns tower overhead while the trail meanders along the stream.

Ferns

It feels prehistoric. In fact, this was a film location for a scene in Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World. Tiny Compsognathus dinosaurs attack and eat bad-guy hunter Dieter Stark. See that excellent film clip here.

No dinosaurs this time. But there was an American Dipper!

American Dipper

American Dipper

Ferocious if you’re a worm or aquatic insect.

We returned to the car via the beach where we passed flocks of Yellow-rumped Warblers in the swampy bits.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

And found bird bones.

What bird

And yet another elk.

Elk

But that’s not how the story ends.

Driving back on 101, I spotted another Northern Pygmy-Owl on a small Douglas-fir as we whizzed by. Owl! I shouted. Tomas asked, Are you sure? Yes, of course I was sure. So he cautiously made a U-turn on the highway to get to the shoulder where we could get a better look and not be smashed by semis.

Northern Pygmy-Owl

Northern Pygmy-Owl

Northern Pygmy-Owl

Northern Pygmy-Owl

Northern Pygmy-Owl

I couldn’t believe it. What luck to run into two pygmy owls in one day. As if I needed another reason to love the redwood forests. Now I had two more.

Happy bird-day to me.

Birthday Owl

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Five out of six ain’t bad

It may have been pitch dark and stupid early (3:30 am!) Saturday, as I set off to meet my Put an Owl on It team for Audubon’s Birdathon fundraiser, but I could hardly contain my excitement. All. Day. Long. Owling!!!

Eight of us braved the pre-sunrise to post-sundown adventure, including our team leaders, Joe Liebezeit, Portland Audubon Avian Conservation Program Manager, and Rhett Wilkins, avid birder, knowledgeable owler, and talented bird photographer.

We eagerly piled in vehicles and started off, first looking for the Barn Owl.

Success!

Barn Owl

We searched for Northern Pygmy Owls next. We caught a glimpse of one in flight high in the canopy (success!), and heard others, but no photos this time. I recorded a clip of their “hollow toot” we heard here. I also gained a greater appreciation for my chance sighting of a Northern Pygmy Owl on day 1 of birding.

Next, we met up with accomplished nature photographer, birder, and owl-enthusiast, Scott Carpenter, who located a Great Horned Owl with two owlets for us. Success!

Great Horned Owl

I took these owlet pictures on a return visit the following day.

Great Horned Owlet

It’s a funny thing, when you get home and look at your owlet pics to find a third (adult) owl hiding in the photo that you didn’t notice on site. Sneaky ninja owls!

Great Horned Owlet

Following great horned, we looked for Western Screech Owl. Yet, again, success! I have never seen a screech owl before, and I barely saw this well-camouflaged one, until Rhett pointed it out not 15 feet from us. Stunning.

Western Screech Owl

We continued into the early evening to find Barred Owls. We found six rather cooperative owls, three adults and three owlets. Success!

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Barred Owlet

Barred Owlet

We observed an owlet clumsily attempt flight, watched adults hunt, and snapped photos of poised individuals. We spent quality time watching these impressive, stately, and sometimes comical creatures until just after sunset (owlet video here).

And the fun wasn’t over yet. We still had one species left to find, the Northern Saw-whet Owl. Even after 12+ hours of birding, the team was committed and determined to accomplish this task. We placed ourselves at the viewing site and waited. Long after sunset and coyotes drunken yips and hollers, the full moon rose and we waited. Focused, quiet, and ready.

But, the Saw Whet Owl wasn’t ready for us, and by 9:30 pm, we reluctantly called it a night.

Even without the Saw-whet, witnessing 5 owl species, and seeing/hearing over 14 individuals in one day, is a major hooting success! Plus, I met some outstanding fellow birders and friends.

Much love for this team

I am forever grateful to Audubon for this unique opportunity and to the folks I’ve met who share this passion. Hopefully, we’ve contributed in some way to the future success of our stealthy, magnificent, feathered friends and helped spread the word about Audubon’s good work. If you feel the twinkle of inspiration, make a difference here. Thank you!

More pictures from the trip here!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey