Kennewick to Astoria

The next day was not like the previous. The winds howled and overcast skies moved in. Jen, Jacob, and I checked on the Snowy Owl in the early morning, but this time it was far off in a distant farm field.

We watched for a bit until she flew to another field.

And was subsequently harassed by a Northern Harrier.

She didn’t seem too concerned. After a while we felt it was time to move on and we left the owl to defend her post. Good luck Miss Snowy Owl.

We then drove down 9-mile Canyon Rd dodging tumbleweeds and not coming up with much besides American Goldfinch and sneaky deer.

With the long drive home ahead we decided it was best to start heading back and we went our separate ways. I didn’t make many stops along the way but I had an idea of where I might go next. Not home that’s for sure. Tomas was off mountain biking, I’d be home too early, and there was the entire next day of possibilities.

One thing that stuck in my mind was a Northern Waterthrush reported in Brownsmead, a place in Oregon I’ve never been to near Astoria. I debated. The waterthrush wasn’t a life bird, I’d seen one once in Alaska, but it had been so long ago. Many birders hadn’t gotten visuals on the Brownsmead bird, they’d only heard it in the dense shrubs. Would I be satisfied driving so far to hear a chip note? Maybe.

What sealed the deal was the possibility of a Swamp Sparrow and that would be a life bird, so I figured why not take the chance. My plan was set. The five hours of driving flew by and before I knew it, I arrived in Brownsmead.

What a great place! Lots of lowland wetlands, farms, and places for rare birds to hide.

I pulled up to the waterthrush site and immediately heard chip notes. Unfortunately, they were coming from Yellow-rumped Warblers in the trees above. And then I heard it, a tantalizing loud spwik from lower in the blackberry. Scanning I saw movement and eventually a bird. It was the Northern Waterthush!

It sat preening and I enjoyed every moment so happy I’d taken the chance to see it.

It was then a homeowner across the street came out to greet me. Claire had met birders from Seattle looking for the waterthrush that morning and she was excited to share what she’d learned. She kindly gave me a tour of her neighborhood and showed me a Black Phoebe, Red-shouldered Hawk, and about 30 Great Egrets foraging in a field. The light was fading so I didn’t get many photos, but it was inspiring to see Claire’s new connection to the nature of her neighborhood.

I thanked her for her generosity and continued on, still hoping for a Swamp Sparrow, but getting distracted by ducks instead. I found one male Eurasian Wigeon.

That turned into three EUWI after reviewing my photos later, including the female to the left of the male in the above photo. She has a blue bill touching reddish feathers, AMWI has a narrow black base to the bill.

I saw Green-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, and Bald Eagles stalking all of them from above. As it got darker I thought of lodging options, and Astoria was only another 20 minutes down the road where Fort George Brewery was featuring dark beers. This plus fish and chips and I was sold. It was an excellent ending to an exhausting but fulfilling day.

In the morning it was dark and pouring rain, not good beach weather so I skipped it and drove back to Brownsmead for a quick scan. The area is sometimes favorable for Gyrfalcons and I thought it worth a look. Come to Brownsmead for the waterthrush, stay for the Gyrfalcon. I spent a long time trying to turn this bird into one.

There was a Peregrine Falcon nearby for size comparison. This one was larger but the light was terrible, I was far away, and it wouldn’t turn around. Finally it was light enough for me to ID it as a Rough-legged Hawk. Not a gyr but still a good bird!

And a reminder I should probably stop birding in the dark. I drove around a bit more, but the weather was terrible and with so much ground to cover Swamp Sparrows could be anywhere. I conceded defeat, but on the way out a large light bird caught my eye and I quickly pulled over.

Woah, a leucistic Red-tailed Hawk! I wasn’t sure until it flew and I saw that red tail.

Such a beautiful and unusual hawk. This made my morning and I felt good about heading back. But not to home just yet.

One more stop at Ridgefield NWR. My friend Sarah says I’m birding like I’m going to die soon. If it seems like I’m birding hard #birdlikeyouredying, I am because next week I’m having surgery on my ankle to glue my bones back together. Basically. And this means I’ll be on crutches and in a cast for a month, and a boot for at least another month. And it’s my right ankle, so no driving. No, it’s not death, but I want to take advantage of my freedom before I’m greatly humbled by my body.

So back to Ridgefield, and my last chance at a Swamp Sparrow for a while. At least here I had a better idea of where they might be along the auto tour. And just past marker #10, where I stubbornly sat in my car staring at grass while other cars passed around me. Finally, I saw the secretive owl of sparrows, the Swamp Sparrow!

Such a richly colored bird! I admired it as long as it would let me.

Which was about two seconds before it dropped down into the grass hidden once again. Until next time, Mr Sparrow. I left Ridgefield feeling pretty accomplished and officially ready to call it a day.

It’s hard to stop when there’s always a good bird just around the next corner.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Texas: Party Parrots

After tacos we continued birding at Estero Llano Grande State Park. Our second trip to this destination. Or third? I’ve lost count. Every park in Texas is worth at least one revisit. This time it was for a Roseate Spoonbill knocking teals off a log.

The one with the biggest spoon wins the perch.

A pair of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks swam by.

And a White-faced Ibis blended into the grass.

Then we located the real reason we revisited this park. A Fulvous Whistling-Duck!

This warm-colored lifer cooperated just long enough before paddling farther and farther away, disappearing forever behind the grasses.

Going, going, gone.

The fulvous show was over. We returned to the main park area to head out while distracted by spiders and lizards along the way.

Six-lined Racerunner

But Sarah was distracted by a persistent bug harassing her down the trail, and as she flailed her arms somehow it worked to bring out a Clay-colored Thrush!

Thanks Sarah! Formerly known as the Clay-colored Robin, this secretive, shy thrush is the national bird of Costa Rica. Even after 6 days lifers were still showing up. We then left to head back to the airbnb before the night’s activities.

The Airbnb was one of the highlights of the trip. We stayed at a 2-acre farmhouse that had some of the best bird sightings.

There was a feeder table setup that had regular Green Jay, chachalaca, and cardinal visitors. We had Common Pauraque calling every morning and evening. And a repeat visiting Harris’s Hawk.

The hummingbird feeder attracted Buff-bellied and one Ruby-throated hummer. One morning we spooked an owl in the yard (possibly Barn). There was a pair of Great Kiskadees, Couch’s Kingbirds, Golden-fronted and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers. And Hooded and Altamira Oriole.There was lizards digging holes, prickly cactus to eat, butterflies to chase, it was hard to leave sometimes. 

But we had to leave later that evening to go to Oliveira Park in Brownsville. In celebration of Max’s birthday, we threw him a parrot party.

On some nights, hundreds of parrots throughout the city flock to this unlikely, inner-city park to roost in the evening. We weren’t sure what to expect when we arrived, but as the sun set it was like watching fireworks at the 4th of July. “Ooohs” and “aaaahs” as loud, raucous colorful personalities flew over our heads.

Party parrots! The majority are Red-crowned. We also saw Red-lored Parrots.

And Yellow-headed Parrots. The latter two species are escapees. It warms my heart that these social birds escaped and found one another.

We bumped into a couple of other birders at the park, including a grad-student from Texas A&M collecting parrot population data. Red-crowned Parrots in Texas and California are of interest to scientists because these unique city populations may some day save the species from extinction. According to Sibley the “naturalized population of Red-crowned Parrots is thought to exceed the native population in Mexico.”

A couple of other birds showed up to the party too. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

And *two* Lesser Nighthawks!

The skies darkened, the parrots quieted for sleep, and we headed back to the airbnb for the best tres leches! Happy birthday Max!

Yum.

Birders gone wild,

Audrey

Vanport, Smith & Bybee, Ridgefield

One freezing day in January, I went on a bird-binge. It was mostly unintentional because I arrived at Vanport Wetlands to find the water frozen.

Geese on ice

Geese on ice

Then I went to Smith and Bybee Lakes and the water was frozen there too! I saw a fair amount of birds between the two locations despite the chilly temps, including a Downy Woodpecker that appeared frozen in place.

Downy Woodpecker

And Varied Thrushes.

Varied Thrush

I got to practice one of my 2016 goals: get better pictures of Golden and Ruby-crowned Kinglets. The best I could manage:

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

I still have a ways to go with those fast, wily birds.

Along the way, I even caught a glimpse of the local Great Horned Owl.

Great Horned Owl

Sleeping Yoda

And I saw other birds including Northern Pintail, Pileated Woodpecker, Song Sparrow, Brown Creeper…but the trip felt quiet and slow. I missed the early new-birder days when every bird was a new surprise. Nostalgia already?! I wanted more. It was late afternoon and considering options, I decided to try a third location, Ridgefield NWR.

It paid off.

Ridgefield NWR

Granted some lakes were still frozen, but the afternoon sun warmed and shone over the refuge. The birds and I both appreciated the relief from the dark, cold morning.

I got a better look at the Tundra Swans with the yellow “teardrop” at the base of the bill.

Tundra Swans

Happy Swans were happy.

Tundra Swan

Northern Harriers were hunting.

Northern Harrier

Northern Shovelers were shoveling.

Northern Shoveler

American Coots were…cooting? Okay, I’ll stop.

American Coot

I took some of my favorite pictures that day. I Finally caught the American Kestrel before it quickly flew off.

American Kestrel

Here’s a few more favorites of a Cackling Goose, Great Blue Heron, Gadwall and Savannah Sparrow.

Cackling Goose

IMG_6925

IMG_6993

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Savannah Sparrow

Still pretty common birds, but I was thrilled. And maybe a little delirious from the sunshine. It’s been a wet winter.

Here are a few more.

My time at Ridgefield definitely made the day and scratched that birding itch. Wouldn’t you agree?

Savannah Sparrow

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

P.S. #Support Malheur