Laughing at the Coast

Last weekend I had a roller coaster of a birding trip. But that’s to be expected when chasing rarities. There were at least seven rare birds reported near Newport (Say’s Phoebe, Solitary Sandpiper, Northern Mockingbird, Marbled Godwit, Nashville Warbler (early), Palm Warbler, and Laughing Gull). Laughing Gull?! Who brought back the Texas souvenir?

It wasn’t me. But I have missed the southern birds so I figured why not reunite with at least one? If I could find a few other rarities it would make the long drive worth it. I set off. And was almost immediately detoured by some intriguing-looking geese.

When you see a small group of geese on the side of the road you pull over. But upon closer examination, these turned out to be Domestic Geese.

According to Cornell what makes these different from Snow or Ross’s Geese: “typically domestic geese have orange bills and feet, lack the black wing feathers, and have shape differences such as heavy bottoms and an ungainly waddle.” I didn’t see their legs or their waddle, but the lack of black wing feathers was a tell-tale sign not to get excited.

With only one day to spend at the coast, I didn’t have time to stop for domestic incidentals. Eventually I made it to South Beach State Park the last reported location of the Laughing Gull where luckily I bumped into Wayne Hoffman, a local birder who pointed me in the right direction. Towards the teeny dots in the distance.

This is when it’s extra hard to stay on track and pass up views of Northern Harriers carrying nesting materials, exotic-sounding Yellow-rumped Warblers, fly-by Caspian Terns, and flocks of Savannah Sparrows among the driftwood. Stay on target.

So many pretty distractions

Three stream crossings, two miles, and two soaked feet later, a pair of birders passed me from the opposite direction carrying a scope. They gave me the thumbs up and I knew it was all okay. Not long after, the gull flew by.

Laughing Gull! Oregon’s 4th record! And this one has one leg making it extra special.

I watched for a while as it flew and hopped around the Mew Gulls, and then it ate an undetermined ocean object, before settling down at the shore with a ridiculously large crop.

I was worried about the bulge, but the gull has been reported since then, so all is well digested. I left the gull and trekked back across the streams and the two miles back to the car. Later I learned the Northern Mockingbird was located at the first stream crossing. Strike one. That’ll teach me to walk by distractions.

From here I drove the short distance to the Hatfield Marine Science Center estuary nature trail where the reported Palm Warbler has regularly wintered. This bird (which I associate most with Florida neighborhoods) was one I was most excited to see. Along the trail I passed Tree Swallows, Common Yellowthroat, Orange-crowned Warblers, Savannah Sparrows and the most handsome Lincoln Sparrow.

Then I spotted two birders at the bird blind. I asked if they’d happened to see a Palm Warbler. The woman exclaimed they’d just seen one! And I’d just missed it. She said “you have to see my pictures” and she “didn’t even realize what it was” and “isn’t that disgusting?” Her words, not mine. I asked which way the bird flew then politely looked at her photos.

I really wanted to be happy for her and after some snacks and time I genuinely was. Not finding the Palm Warbler was a disappointment, but I was a 5 min drive from the South Jetty where a second Palm Warbler had been seen as well as all the other rarities. But I didn’t find any of those this time either.

If the goal had been to find Golden-crowned Sparrows, Orange-crowned Warblers, a Wrentit, gobs of Savannah Sparrows and a Red-necked Grebe in breeding plumage then I was highly successful.

I think the best sighting here may have been a fly-by Pigeon Guillemot.

It was getting late. But not late enough to check the estuary trail again for the warbler. I walked along the trail maybe 20 feet when I saw some fluttering by a big ugly building.

No way. There was the warbler flying around the backside of the pipes on the building. Not perched prettily on driftwood, but at least it was a science center and not Walmart?

This bird is pro-science.

So pretty! Glad I went back to check on it again. I was running short on time and I could have ended the day here, but the Salishan Nature Trail where a Nashville Warbler was sighted was mostly on the way home. Why not make a quick stop for a look?

An hour and a half of quick looking later I finally saw the Nashville, but so briefly that I didn’t even count it. I got much better looks of Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

Common Yellowthroat.

And a Rufous Hummingbird!

M’lady Rufous. One of my favorites.

And just as I was leaving I saw a Sharp-shinned Hawk also on a bird hunt.

I wished I had more time. Lesson learned, one day is not enough to find all the rare birds on the coast. I started the three hour drive home, and along the way, next to a field in Grand Ronde I spotted an intriguing white bird hovering over a field.

White-tailed Kite! When you see a White-tailed Kite you pull over. I’ve only seen one other WTKI in Oregon and I had to work hard for it. This one was a treat. I watched from the side of the road as it hunted.

It eventually caught a rodent and then flew off into the distance. I’d come a long way from those Domestic Geese. So many highs so many lows. Such is the case when chasing rarities. Hilariously good times!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Seattle Part I: Reliable Redpolls

A couple of weeks ago, Jen invited me on a birding day trip to Seattle with her and her pups. How could I resist those faces?!

Jake and Ralph

To sweeten the deal, there were life-birds up for grabs. A flock of Common Redpolls was reportedly (reliably) camped out in the birch trees near Green Lake.  Redpolls typically winter in the northeastern portion of United States, so this rarity would be a treat.

Along the way, we checked in on an unusually large group of Redheads at Weyerhauser Pond, just north of Tacoma. My first new bird of the day!

Mostly Redhead

Redhead

We got closer looks of a couple of “brunettes” too.

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

Lesser Scaup

Lesser Scaup

The morning temperatures started out chilly, but the forecast promised blue skies, warmth, and sunshine to come. Seattle graciously delivered.

Statues

The Olympics

Why can’t every day be like this?

A quick stop at Green Lake turned up empty for redpolls, so we drove farther north to Edmonds, Washington, with the intent on returning to the lake later in the day.

Edmonds has stellar views of the Olympic Mountains. And some pretty good looks of birds from the shore and from the pier too. Like another life bird for me, the Red-necked Grebe.

Red-necked Grebe

Red-necked Grebe

Some day I’d like to see grebes in their breeding plumage so they can really wow me. Speaking of wows, while walking along the pier we got the best looks ever of this Belted Kingfisher.

Belted Kingfisher

We inched closer.

Belted Kingfisher

I was in shock. I’m pretty sure my jaw was hanging open. Kingfishers usually spook easily, but this one paid us no mind. We watched as she darted in the water, grabbed a fish, and flew to a perch, where she then proceeded to furiously whack the fish repeatedly on a pole.

Belted fish-basher

Belted “Fish-basher”

Here’s a video of nature’s awesome brutality.

The clang of the fish on the pole was oddly disturbing…and funny at the same time. One of the most hilarious birding encounters I’ve had, and I’m happy it was a shared experience.

Jen and the mutts

From the pier, we saw Surf Scoters scooting along in the waters below. What a great look at that bizarre bill.

Surf Scoter

Surf Scoter

There were other tame birds in the pier waters, like this Horned Grebe.

Horned Grebe

And at one point, we watched a Common Goldeneye fight a crustacean that was no match for this diving diva, and she devoured it no problem.

Common Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye

What a great spot! Offshore, we caught sight of a bird in the same family as Puffins (Alcidae), the Pigeon Guillemot.

Pigeon Guillemot

Also present were Pelagic Cormorants, Red-breasted Merganser, Great Blue Heron, Western Gulls, and the cuddliest harbor seal.

Jen spotted a group of Brant flying by that I barely saw, but luckily got better looks of later at a viewpoint along Sunset Ave. This dignified goose earned the title of third life bird of the day for me.

Brant

Brant

Quality time was spent at Edmonds, but target birds remained on the list. On route back to Green Lake, we made a quick detour to Discovery Park, to find a Hutton’s Vireo, another lifer for me! No pictures of the vireo (that looks like a Ruby-crowned Kinglet), but I did get a recording of its distinctive song, “zu-wee, zu-wee, zu-wee“, before it dive-bombed us and hid back in the shrubbery. Pretty cool.

By this time we were losing daylight and quickly made our way back to Green Lake for another try at redpolls.

Reliable coots

Reliable coots

Share the path for wigeon

Share the path for wigeon crossing

We found plenty of ducks, geese, people, dogs, and even people who had *seen* the redpolls, “they were right there on those birch, yesterday!” Unfortunately though, after two visits and trekking the entire 2.8 miles around the lake, we lost the bet and “dipped” on the redpolls. Redpolls 1; Us 0.

Birding is humbling, challenging, and rewarding all wrapped up in one fun-feathered package. Despite the redpolls, I had a blast and would do it all over again.

“What is life if not a gamble? – F. E. Higgins

Tweets and chirps,
Audrey

Alaska By Sea

Speaking of epic, what better way to distract oneself from summer birding woes than to fly to Alaska?

 Aialik Glacier

When I noticed ticket prices out of PDX were under $200 it was a no-brainer. I once visited The Last Frontier with my family about a decade ago, and I was long overdue for a return visit. After landing in Anchorage, Tomas and I bused 3 hours south to Seward, and boarded a boat for a 6-hour tour along Resurrection Bay in Kenai Fjords National Park.

What a magical place. Words don’t do it justice. It helped that the weather was 70 degrees and sunny (!). In a locale that gets 11 fewer sunny days on average per year than Portland, OR, we beat the odds and for that I am so thankful.

Out from the gate, Bald Eagles. Because Alaska.

Bald Eagles

Bald Eagles

Bald Eagles

A few things about birding by boat. This was my first time testing the waters and it’s tough! The boat is moving, the birds are moving, the light is changing. I’m glad it was sunny or else all my pics would be blurry. So many were anyways due to the motion, but it was still good practice. Also, this was not a pelagic birding trip specifically, so we didn’t spend a ton of time chasing birds. But that’s okay, because we did find whales and they’re pretty cool too. Orcas!

Orca Whales

Orca Whales

Orca Whales

Wow. And puffins! Horned and Tufted Puffins! Positively dapper.

Horned Puffin

Horned Puffin

Tufted Puffin

The two types are easy to distinguish in flight as Horned Puffins have a white chest and Tufted Puffins are black underneath. Here is an excellent puffin reference, where I learned I actually saw a third puffin species (out of four), the Rhinoceros Auklet.

Rhinocerous Auklet

Zoom in on that crazy face. (Also note the Common Murre with the two auklets on the right.)

Rhinocerous Auklet

Past the Stellar Sea Lions and a left at the Sea Otters, the captain honed in on a whale spout she noticed far off in the distance.

Stellar Sea Lions

Stellar Sea Lions

Sea Otter

Spout

Turns out it was a Fin Whale. Or more specifically, a pod of four Fin Whales.

Fin Whale

I’d never hear of a Fin Whale before, but now I’d seen four of them. Thanks Alaska. Fin Whales are the second largest mammal on earth (after the Blue Whale) and they are endangered.

We reached our glacial destination at Aialik Glacier shortly after.

Aialik Glacier

Aialik Glacier

We spent some time watching the calving icebergs, while I ran around the boat taking pictures of the Black-legged Kittiwake (small unmarked yellow bill, white underparts, black wing-tips, black legs).

Black-legged Kittiwake

Black-legged Kittiwake

Black-legged Kittiwake

Black-legged Kittiwake

On the return voyage to Seward, we saw Glaucous-winged Gulls  on rocks (pink legs, gray wing-tips).

Glaucous-winged Gulls

And Glaucous-winged gulls in flight (gray wing-tips, white underparts).

Glaucous-winged Gull

Glaucous-winged Gull

And to break things up, this bird, clearly not a gull, all black with a dark bar across the white wing coverts, a Pigeon Guillemot! Exciting find.

Pigeon Guillemot

And back to gulls. Herring Gull (First summer).

Herring Gull

And Glaucous-winged.

Glaucous-winged Gull

And because everybody loves a Humpback Whale tail! Ooooh, aaahhhh.

Humpback Whale

Humpback Whale

Humpback Whale

Finally, this trip report would not be complete without some Dall’s Porpoise action. Their job is to speed along at the bow of the boat, jumping enthusiastically, while the crowd cheers. Woooooo!

Dall's Porpoise

What a crazy-fun excursion. Did that really happen? And this was just day one of our Alaska adventure. The following day we would board a train en route to Denali National Park to explore the backcountry.

Pinch me.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey