Tabor Times Two

Mt Tabor Park is the gift that keeps on giving. All that stuff about balance and taking it easy? The cake is a lie. One afternoon this week reports of a Blue-headed Vireo and Common Poorwill proved too irresistible. The day was sunny and full of possibility. But first I had to leave my yard, and I was delayed by a flurry of bird activity.

Three years (and 5 days) ago I had my first Blurry-rocket-smudge Wilson’s Warbler in the yard, and this April I had another!

Only moderately better focus but with more leaves.

Then I heard singing.

Ignore that label, and ignore the robin that chimes in at the 7 second mark. Because I heard what I thought was a Hutton’s Vireo, after seeing this bird.

Based on those dark feet, the eye-ring and bill, but as it turns out, this is an outlier Ruby-crowned Kinglet that lacks the yellow feet. But what it does have is the dark bar under the white wing bar that a Hutton’s Vireo never has.

The clincher

Then I found this terrible but diagnostic photo in the mix.

That prominent eye-ring, combined with the singing, this is a Cassin’s Vireo! A yard first almost mis-identified as another yard first. There’s still so much to learn.

But did you see the eagle?

Yes, yes I did. Then it was off to Tabor!

I looked for the vireo in the designated spot, then wandered around to undesignated spots, wondering where “the Cove” is? Not a vireo to be found anywhere. I realized it’s a little mad following a tiny migrating bird in a big park, but I thought there might be other fun distractions in the vicinity. Indeed there was.

I heard jays, robins, juncos, sparrows, siskins, flickers, all alarming over a ridge and I hurried over. I thought it had to be an owl (or a Gyrfalcon). I looked but didn’t find anything. Then I looked closer.

No freakin way!! A Northern Saw-whet Owl!! Not the owl I was expecting, but such a great surprise. The hummingbirds dive-bombed it, robins called loudly, as it tried to look invisible. I had a spectacular view of its backside from the flat part of the trail.

Such a great consolation prize, I was rejuvenated to stay and listen for a potential poorwill. It was still early, so I drove around to the other side of the park. When, again, I heard something intriguing uptrail. Where have I heard that shrieking sound before?

Oh yes, Great Horned Owl-ets!

At least there was all that if I missed the poorwill, but there was still time. At around 8:00pm I waited as the skies darkened and fewer and fewer people exercised past me. The reports had the bird at around 8:30 so I turned on my phone recorder then. Just in case. It was somewhat creepy but also peaceful waiting in the dark. And then at 8:42pm I heard it!

A soft, single, but unmistakeable, “poor-will”. I waited another 15 minutes but didn’t hear another peep. I left hoping I’d gotten something usable and couldn’t wait so on the way home in the car I blasted the recording and thought I heard something, that was finally confirmed once I got home.

The bird was first heard by Tom McNamara while he was walking his dog at the park. There are only two other records of a Common Poorwill at Tabor, one by the Hinkles in September 2010 and another by Chris Warren May 1, 2008. It was pretty exciting to help document this sighting.

What an unbelievable evening! I should probably take it easy now.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Highs and lows

Spring, spring, spring! Migration is happening and I’m still slowly recovering from ankle surgery. The cast is off, the boot is on, but I still can’t walk. Yet. But that doesn’t mean I can’t look at birds. At least those accessible from flat ground.

Which is why I was so happy to get a message from my friend Eric alerting me to Western Bluebirds at his local (flat) patch last week. Luckily, it was on the way home from the medical supply store so I could convince Tomas to make a stop.

Dharma Rain Zen Center

If I stood out birding before with binocs and a huge camera lens, I’m pretty much a beacon now with crutches, binoculars, and a boot.

But it was totally worth it because we got the birds! Two Western Bluebirds, a new county bird for me. Since I can’t carry a camera and crutches at the same time, Tomas used a video camera to get diagnostic evidence.

And we got a bonus Say’s Phoebe, peeping and calling.

It was a good stop. Another bright spot in my week was a text from Jen giving me a heads up on a tiny owl in the neighborhood. I was at work, and since I still can’t drive and am mostly reliant on Tomas for transportation I waited patiently until we were both off of work. This time I took along my knee scooter I’ve rented to get around the office more easily.

Not meant for off-roading, I took it along a paved road as far as I could before crutching the last little bit.

The blisters were worth it, because at the end of the trail we found the sleepy little Northern Saw-whet Owl. Tiny owls make the pain go away.

I’ve had to get creative to see some things, and I’ve missed out on others, like a county Mountain Bluebird that migrated to Powell Butte that is way to steep for me to scoot or crutch up. Hopefully I’ll get another chance. But I’m super thankful for the tips my able-bodied friends have passed along. I even got a tip from a coworker of an Anna’s Hummingbird nest in the park outside our office!

So adorable. I’d love to get some photos in better light before the tree leafs out.

Lastly, today’s adventure started when Sarah texted me about a Sabine’s Gull in Salem. I almost didn’t go, but I happened to have the day off so I decided last minute to get a Lyft ride to her house. From there, Max, Sarah, and I went to Salem and easily got the gull.

Flying around with Tree Swallows like it’s totally normal for a pelagic bird.

Such fun times! Even while on crutches. A few lows, but mostly highs thanks to my supportive friends and Tomas for getting me out of the house.

Hobbles and scoots,

Audrey

Owls, owls, owls, owls, owls.

The Snowy Owl I’d missed a few weeks prior was still being sighted out in eastern Washington. I felt inspired to try again. Luckily, so did Jen, Jacob, and the rest of their pack.

We left our respective homes at 3am to meet in Kennewick by 8am. By that time I was buzzing from lack of sleep, too much caffeine, and the anticipation of what we might find. Or not find.

I was not alone in dipping on this owl, Jacob had also spent time scanning rural horizons for a snowy with no luck. There’s no telling sometimes how the day will go.

This day started nicely with Barn Owls, more than I’d seen last time, and this time one even dove out of the cave and flew beautifully over the grasses by the road.

We could have stayed all day, but luckily Jen reminded us there was another owl to be found. We’d seen photos of the Snowy Owl perched on a red post.

Not an owl

We scanned and looked and eventually, we turned on an unmarked dirt road, one that was previously blocked by a creepy semi during my first trip.

This time though, the path was clear and it was along this road, we found the owl.

It was incredible. I didn’t realize how big Snowy Owls are; they’re larger than a Great Horned Owl, and smaller in length than a Great Gray Owl but with the same wingspan and a 25.6oz heavier weight. Making them the largest owl in North America by weight. Bulky as a barrel but she wears it well.

After admiring from a distance and not flushing the owl, I was relieved we’d found it and proud we’d adhered to good birding ethics. It is tempting to hug owls sometimes, but we resisted.

But we couldn’t resist looking for more. We left and went to stare at a row of willows that I’ve stared at once before.

But this time was way better because I found my first perched Long-eared Owl!

So obvious

They’re mostly invisible. And smaller and larger than I thought they’d be. Mythical I’d say. Just when you think you see one it disappears. And then you see one and three more and then none. We found four before they melted back into the branches.

It was such a great success, three species of owls and it was only mid-day! Plenty of time left to look for more, so we headed to a park along the Snake River.

Along the way, Jacob pointed out his two reliable Great Horned Owls, right where they’re supposed to be tangled in the thicket.

Finally we arrived at the park where two years ago I saw my first Northern Saw-whet Owl with Tomas. It was amazing then and still amazing now.

I’d forgotten how small they are! Only about 8″, it would take three saw-whets to reach the height of a Snowy Owl. We found two.

The second one was holding a rodent.

Mine.

Below on the ground we found more evidence of their kills.

It makes me wonder. According to BirdWeb saw-whets are sit-and-wait predators that hunt almost exclusively at night, so when/how are they attacking yellow-rumps? My guess is YRWAs get too close and bam. Just a guess though.

We continued through the park, enjoying the now sunny weather, as we bumped into more owls including these Great-horned Owls

Not just one owl

This park is wild and lovely.

I’m still reeling from the number of owls three people and three dogs (a six-pack!) can find in a day. We’d found 16 individuals and 5 species. Surreal!

In the evening we toasted over beers, nachos, and burgers to the best day of owls and to the possibilities of what we might find next.

Owls, owls, and owls,

Audrey