Chasing a Dickcissel

Last week my friend Sarah and I took a risk to chase a rare (to Oregon) bird called a Dickcissel. Chasing birds is inherently risky, they can fly, they can hide, they can be eaten, but this bird has an added element of risk. It is currently hanging around the Philomath Sewage Ponds (aka Philomath Poo Ponds aka PPP) and a permit is required for public entry. It’s relatively easy to get one, it just takes a trip to the Philomath Public Works Department during business hours (8am-4:30pm M-F).

They want visitors to understand the safety rules and to avoid times when the police are target shooting nearby. Fair enough. I’d been once before on a weekend before I knew about the permit process and I vowed never again without because I don’t want to be the birder who ruins it for everyone. It is a great privilege to enter the poo ponds.

Golden ticket

We left early on Friday and got to the Public Works office just after 8am. We were both worried about timing since there was only one report of the bird the day prior and it was seen at 7:25am for “5ish minutes and not seen again.” Permit in hand we pulled up to the location to see two women waving enthusiastically, it must still be here! We hurried over, and they said “it was just there” flying around the tops of blackberry. We scanned intensely but didn’t see it. Had we missed the 5 minute window?

Then I looked to another tree and saw it! Dickcissel!

This was a lifer for me (#491) and a county bird for Sarah. She’d seen one at Bayocean Spit near Tillamook three years ago in the pouring rain at the end of November. So this was a much nicer look. We drooled and watched it preen in good light.

By now we could let some other birds in our sights, a White-throated Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, and a Black Phoebe that called continuously behind us.

All of a sudden the birds scattered – accipiter alert!

A Sharp-shinned Hawk flew in causing chaos.

We watched until the hawk was gone and the birds were back and comfortable. Whew! It was a good time to leave and lazily count ducks on the way out. It was such a relief the chase worked out!

The next plan was to drive Sarah to her parent’s house in Pacific City. We birded along the way stopping in Newport for a chance at a Tropical Kingbird and a greater chance at Palm Warbler. We met up with my dad since he lives there now. Together we walked along the trail tripping over Yellow-rumped Warblers until Sarah spotted a Palm Warbler chased by YEWAs. On the way back we saw a second Palm Warbler with an injured foot but it looked like it was catching bugs and feeding okay.

We worked on our combo-birds on the way out.

Gull sp., Great Egret, Belted Kingfisher, Black Turnstone

We bid my dad farewell and continued on to Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge, one of six NWRs that make up the Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex. It is a sanctuary for wintering geese, including the only coastal wintering population of Dusky Canada Geese and the small population of Semidi Islands Aleutian Cackling Geese.

Sad for us we saw no geese this day since it’s been so dry leaving no water in the fields. Instead we drove to the upland meadows where we found Western Meadowlark, kinglets, and a Northern Harrier hunting over the fields.

It was hard to leave this magical place.

But there was a sunset and dinner waiting for us at Sarah’s parent’s house.

The next morning after having homemade waffles for breakfast (because these people know how to live), Sarah and her husband Max and I explored a farm road called Old Woods Rd in hopes of a Tropical Kingbird or anything else we could find. The best birds turned out to be right at the beginning, a pair of Rough-legged Hawks.

Always inspect those lumps in fields more closely.

Max spotted the second bird hover-hunting in the distance across the highway.

After finding the hawks and all the Black Phoebes we could, we spotted the best mammal at the end of the road, a hunting coyote!

We returned to the house said our goodbyes and I continued north towards home while still looking for kingbirds (which would be state bird #297). There were no OBOL reports so it was FYOB (find your own bird) day. I opted for Goodspeed Rd in Tillamook. Less than a mile down the road this bird stopped me in my tracks.

That shape. That face. This bird broke my brain in a really good way. I tried to turn it into a Northern Mockingbird, which would be a somewhat unusual but expected surprise bird on the coast, but it wasn’t right.

Those streaks. That bright eye. I realized this bird-out-of-context looked like a thrasher! What the what? What was it doing in blackberry brambles near the coast?

Thankfully, while I sat in my car scratching my head it offered excellent looks.

Based on location I narrowed it down to Brown Thrasher or Sage Thrasher. This bird wasn’t brown, and didn’t have the extended long curved bill of a Brown Thrasher.

That grey back, smudged cheek, streaky breast, and pale eye, this is a Sage Thrasher! Such a fun bird to find here, and on my own no less (FMOB!), and according to eBird, it’s a first for Tillamook County. I’d seen them earlier this year east of the Cascades at Summer Lake in sage country where they’re supposed to be.

Now the search continues for a few more state year birds. My upcoming pelagic trip  might help. And there’s still time to find a kingbird!

Stay tuned.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Fall Birding

Fall birding is blowing up. White-crowned and Golden-crowned Sparrows have returned to the yard singing “oh deear mee” making me so happy. I was also finally around to see a Red-breasted Sapsucker that I’ve only recorded in the yard once three years ago (!).

I might have jumped up and down. Or I would have except I’d had a little ankle setback after overdoing it on Mt Tabor. Not ready for steep hill-work yet I guess.

Luckily the hottest birding spot lately in Multnomah County, Force Lake, is a flat drive-up pond. Not known for being the best water system, past the “do not eat the fish” signs, the water levels have been favorable enough for a (usually pelagic) Red Phalarope. More typically Red-necked Phalarope occurs inland, but this molting adult bird has more red in the back and a thicker bill with (subtle bit of) yellow at the base.

I was also excited to find my FOS (first of season) White-throated Sparrow here mixed in between Golden-crowned Sparrows.

Less than a week later a new birder photographed (but misidentified) a Ruff at the pond. 7 months into birding I wouldn’t have been able to identify a Ruff either, but word got out about this significant sighting. Which is why I made several attempts to refind the bird. On my second try while scanning the far pond shoreline in near darkness I was rewarded with an even more rare bird, a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper!

Not great photos since it was so far and so dark, but the pale supercilium (eye-brow) and red cap is visible. It think it lit up in the darkness. And it’s not a Ruff because it has a smaller bill and is smaller than the Long-billed Dowitcher it’s standing next to.

This pond is bananas. It’s amazing what little it takes to support a good variety of species. And finally fifth time was the charm for finding the Ruff!

This time, at dawn I picked out the buffy shorebird in the scope as the sun came up. Early worm gets the bird.

Slightly larger than Lesser Yellowlegs

I put the word out and a handful of people made it to the pond to enjoy looks at the Ruff before two adult Peregrine Falcons swooped in scattering all the shorebirds while about 20 birders’ jaws dropped (in horror and amazement).

Incoming missile

The falcons hunted together cornering a LEYE but came up empty in the end. And that was the end of the Ruff show.

In other news, my dad’s moved to Newport, OR. Say what?! He said goodbye to Limpkins and Eastern Screech Owls and hello to Oregon’s coastal birds. I’m not sure that’s a fair trade.

Not fair. Photo by David Addison

I delivered some boxes to him, and together we looked for a Palm Warbler that was exciting to everyone in Newport except him (Florida is spoiled in Palm Warblers). It took a few tries, but eventually we found one.

What Florida doesn’t have is Lapland Longspurs and lucky for us we found one of those too at the gull pond at South Jetty. They nest in the arctic tundra and winter in open fields and beaches in some parts of Oregon. They are so pretty!

On the drive home from Newport I made three lazy attempts to find a Northern Shrike since this would put me at 295 Oregon birds for the year and for some reason I think it’ll be fun to try for 300 species. But I shriked out.

Luckily Sarah, Max, Eric and I took a trip to Fort Stevens State Park  the next day to look for a large flock of longspurs which we found easily when they flew.

And watched as they disappeared in the grass.

Expert camo

Occasionally they perched on the jetty rocks for better looks.

As we were leaving, Sarah spotted an accipiter perched across the grassy field. I saw a distant bird-lump too and was confused when she set the scope up in a different direction. Hmm. Wait. I took a distant photo and got excited when I realized this was a shrike! I only had to stop looking for them to find them. Oregon year bird #295! Northern Shrike.

This is a young bird as it’s darker than the bright white/black/gray of an adult. We walked the trail to get closer looks, and saw the shrike go after insects and dragonflies, and then it went for the Lapland Longspurs! Nooooo! It chased the flock unsuccessfully.

Until the flock chased it back.

Longspurs flying over.  Defeated shrike perched on shrub.

Fall birding, am I right? By late afternoon it was time to celebrate a good day of birding over beers and lunch. More of this please.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

An excellent week of birds

It started when I left work early one day to find a rare Snowy Egret in the Vancouver Lake Lowlands that was associating with a Great Egret and Mallard decoy.

Also present were Greater Yellowlegs, a couple of hardy Tree and Barn Swallows, and Purple Finch, a year bird I was happy to see lower in the branches.

On the way out a flash of black and white caught my eye.

Ah, yes. Migration was in full swing as Snow Geese, Cackling Geese, and Sandhill Cranes came and went. I pulled over to take a look.

It was hard to pull myself away.

The following weekend I was excited to join Sarah and Max for some Oregon county birding. We went south on I-5 to Talking Waters Gardens, a place I’ve never birded before located in Linn County.

It was fantastic water treatment-wetland habitat full of American Wigeon, Hooded Merganser, Virginia Rails, and even one vocal Sora (my first Oregon Sora!). No visuals of the Sora, unfortunately, but we did locate three Black Phoebe.

1/3 phoebes

 Several Lincoln Sparrows.

And a moderately cooperative White-throated Sparrow hanging out in a corner of the ponds.

It was still early in the day when we completed the trails so we drove north making a quick stop at Waverly Park where we found a couple of Western Gulls and a FOY Green Heron. Then it was onward to Ankeny National Wildlife to (officially) add birds in Marion County which included distant Dusky Canada Geese with red neck collars.

And muddy-faced swans.

Not making it easy to ID

Luckily there were a couple with visible yellow lores helping to confidently ID them as the more expected, Tundra Swans.

We also stopped at the Rail Trail on the refuge to walk on a boardwalk through Oregon Ash wetlands.

The water was so high it reminded me a bit of Florida’s wetlands but without the moss and humidity. Along the trail we found more Black Phoebe, White-breasted Nuthatch, Downy Woodpecker, and Max heard a Red-breasted Sapsucker that we eventually spotted right at the water’s edge.

Not something you see every day.

The next morning I got up before dawn to chase a sea duck. There’d been a report of a female Steller’s Eider at Seaside Cove on the Oregon coast but I had an appointment with a tree-trimmer at 12:30pm so I didn’t have any time to waste. I left the house at 5am and arrived at Seaside when it was still dark. Luckily, there were already two birders there making me feel totally normal.

One was Trent Bray, avid birder and shop owner of Bobolink, a birding (disc golf, and beer) supply store in La Grande, Oregon. Trent had left La Grande at 1am that morning but it paid off because he already had the bird in the scope. We watched it dive and ride the waves drifting out farther as more birders arrived on scene.

The bird became harder to locate in the waves and we felt a bit bummed. But then the eider flew right back to us. Hooray!

What a good duck. We all cheered and took hundreds of photos. The blocky head, the pale eye-ring, and two white wing bars were clearly visible on this first-winter female bird. She was cooperative, clearly not minding the attention. Or the surfers.

Surfer, surfer, eider, scoter combo

Steller’s Eiders are listed as threatened and rarely found outside of Alaska. This is only Oregon’s fourth record.

I was giddy and thrilled I’d taken time to come visit her. And because it was so easy, I had at least 10 more minutes to look for a Palm Warbler at a nearby water treatment plant (thanks for the tip, Sarah!).

Success! I found it with minimal difficulty though it didn’t want to be seen. A warbler less cooperative than a rare sea duck, go figure. Running out of time I dashed the two hours home and made it within minutes of meeting the arborist. Winning.

Not far from the house on another day I found the Greater White-fronted Geese frequenting the golf course by Force Lake, and in a tree next to the parking lot a Sharp-shinned Hawk practicing being ferocious.

This one had perfected the stink-eye.

And on another local outing at Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge I attempted to find a Red-shouldered Hawk. I’d unknowingly walked right by it until I spotted a Red-tailed Hawk that ignited the fire in the Red-shouldered and it vocalized loudly and chased its competition away.

Birding has been good to me this month. To say the least. Next month might be a different story, but more about that later. Until then, I’m enjoying everything I can get!

And that includes my FOY-yard Townsend’s Warbler!

Back and cute as ever.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey