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

Tits and Towhees

I’d just seen the Tundra Bean Goose at Finley National Wildlife Refuge when a report came in of a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher in Portland. I hadn’t planned beyond the goose, but I did have to head back home eventually. Why not try for the gnatcatcher? It was only 10 minutes from my house. 

My friend Courtney took the trip as well and moments after exiting our cars we heard a wheezy gnatcatcher whine. Soon after we saw the bird. So lucky! 

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (#309!)

We made a quick try for a Yellow-breasted Sapsucker that would be a lifer for Courtney, but the bird was a no-show. Not so lucky. We had just enough daylight left to find White-winged Scoters at Hayden Island. 

Some of these are not like the others

The next day it was time to look for buntings. A flock of Snow Buntings including a “pale” individual that is a possible McKay’s Bunting has been teasing birders along Del Rey and Sunset Beach. This time Eric joined in the fun and together we met Courtney at Del Rey Beach early in the morning.

 We piled into my car and drove on the beach scanning for buntings. After a short while, Courtney spotted them!

Eventually we found a larger flock. It was then that another carload of birder friends joined in the chase. We alternated coverage over the 7 mile stretch the birds navigated. At one moment standing outside the cars the birds whooshed right over us. It was amazing. I heard a couple of their buzzing flight calls and I’m kicking myself now that I didn’t get a recording. 

Finally we spotted a good candidate for a McKay’s Bunting, “the pale one.”

But I feel ill-equipped at identifying this species, so I’ve left it as Snow/McKay’s until further review. There are only a few thousand of these (remote tundra breeding) birds in the world, and first winter female birds are hard to identify for even those familiar with them (how much white exactly is on that R3 tail feather?). And there’s another problem, sometimes they hybridize with Snow Buntings. So, for now it’s a “pale bunting” and a fun chase. 

We took a side trip to Seaside where Eric saw his lifer Rock Sandpiper.

And on the way home we stopped at a clearcut area and got a diagnostic but unsatisfying “look” at a Northern Pygmy-Owl zoom through trees, leaving much more to be desired.  

The next day, while I looked for grouse the news about the former president passing away came in. This meant an office closure, and I already had another day off planned. The only next logical step was to drive to Ashland to look for birds. Obviously.

It was cold and windy when I woke up in southern Oregon and after trying many locations  without finding much I ended up at the best trail near Medford, Upper Table Rock Trail

It is a short, moderately steep 3.3 mile trail, (the longest distance I’ve hiked since surgery!). It felt good to hike. It felt even better when about halfway up I heard what sounded to me like a wheezy Mountain Chickadee that turned out to be an Oak Titmouse! A bird I very much had hoped to see. #311

In Oregon they’re only found in this far southern location which is why I’ve not seen them here before. I had just met Oak Titmice in California (my 500th bird species!), but I think they’re cuter in Oregon. 

I continued uptrail wondering if I would meet my other target bird, another south-central Oregon specialty, the California Towhee, when it got very birdy along the trail. Kinglets, chickadees, sparrows, flew all around me when I noticed a Spotted Towhee and wondered if this was a good spot for other towhees. Indeed it was! 

California Towhee! #312

It’s so interesting two towhee species fill a niche here, right alongside one another. 

Towhee meet towhee

Elated I finished the hike and made it to the top. 

So glad the trip had been worth it. 

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

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