The Wallowas

According to Travel Oregon there are 7 Wonders of Oregon and before last week I’d seen all of them except the Wallowas. This was also one of the last two counties in Oregon I hadn’t birded before (Malheur County is the other). This is why I love birding, it inspires me to go places I’ve not gone before. Sometimes to a landfill or sewage treatment plant, but other times to one of those “pinch me” places like the Wallowas.

Tomas and I stayed in a cozy Airbnb (walking distance to Sugar Time Bakery! and a block from Terminal Gravity Brewery) in Enterprise for three nights, and we spent Christmas Eve in The Landing Hotel in LaGrande. It made for the perfect getaway. Tomas painted and studied, while I birded.

This corner of Oregon is home to a few specialty species not easily found elsewhere and I hoped to run into a few of them. Each morning I had to choose between forest birds in the snowy mountain foothills.

Or driving farm roads looking for birds in the countryside.

Tough choices. I ended up making four trips to McCully Creek in the mountains hoping for grouse but I had better luck finding woodpeckers like this Hairy Woodpecker.

And this punky Pileated Woodpecker.

There were long birdless stretches in the countryside but that is part of the gamble, there can be absolutely nothing or a bird will show up that you’ll never see again in your life. It was early in the season for rarities and a low-snow year, but I managed to find a single Gray-crowned Rosy Finch perched on a metal barn roof!

In snowier times there can be flocks of 300-500 rosy finches. I was stoked to find just one (state year bird #320!).

Other good birds in the country were Rough-legged Hawks.

And Northern Shrikes like this one that accidentally flew closer for crushing looks.

In every barn was a Great Horned Owl keeping watch.

I had a tip from a friend to check out the Wallowa Fish Hatchery in Enterprise that had a few nice surprises like my county Belted Kingfisher.

A Townsend’s Solitaire drinking and bathing in the fresh hatchery water.

And a Great Horned Owl tucked into the branches along the nature trail.

Back on the country roads one late afternoon as I scanned the fields, I saw a pile of rocks start moving.

Gray Partridges!!! A life bird! And one of my target species of the Wallowas (#321!). I was giddy. I watched for a while as the chubsters used their heads to dig through the snow. They were the perfect Christmas presents.

Another time at McCully Creek I bumped into Nolan Clements, a birder who was in the area participating in a Wallowa CBC. This turned out to be the best luck because Nolan grew up in LaGrande and he knows where all the good birds are.

The good birds are over here

We met up the next day to look for Harris’s Sparrows (which we dipped on) and American Tree Sparrows which we found! #322!

This is another NE Oregon target bird I’d hoped to find. I haven’t seen a Tree Sparrow since my trip to Montana in 2015!

In the afternoon we made a stop at The Bobolink, a beer-birding-disc golf shop owned and run by a birder friend of ours, Trent Bray.

We picked out a couple of specialty beers then Trent gave us a tip about Bohemian Waxwings in town. WHAT. These weren’t even on my radar, but they were now. We set off driving in circles around town getting the tour of LaGrande while checking the fruit trees and chasing waxwings.

We had a Cooper’s Hawk flyover, Nolan heard a Townsend’s Solitaire, and we passed a gang of decked out Wild Turkeys.

Eventually we caught up with the waxwings perched high in Poplar trees. Scanning though, Nolan spotted one Bohemian Waxwing! #323!

They’re slightly larger than Cedar Waxwings, darker gray underneath, and they have cinnamon-colored undertail coverts. Thanks to Nolan for helping us find such great birds and saving us time before our drive home.

Tomas and I spent the next morning looking for Great Gray Owls that we could not find, but it was a nice walk in the snow anyhow before our long way back home.

Tweets and chirps and Happy New Year!

Audrey

Bonus zono

I birded so efficiently at the coast it left me ample time the next day to look for a rare Harris’s Sparrow. It was a first-year bird found by James Cook along Sundial Loop Trail near the Troutdale Airport.

It’d been a while since I birded this hotspot. My first trip in the spring of 2015 I biked there and saw my first Rufous Hummingbird and found a Great Horned Owl nest. That was a good day.

I checked on that nest again and sadly this time, no owls.

This morning it was dark and rainy but I was hopeful anyways. I came across two birders on the trail that I’ve met before and we reintroduced ourselves. Dena Turner and Mary Ratcliff and I then continued along, looking for “zonos” birder slang for Zonotrichia, the genus of five American sparrows included in the Emberizidae family; White-crowned Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Rufous-collared Sparrow, and Harris’s Sparrow (Zonotrichia querula).

Zonotrichia is from Greek origin, zone “band” and thrix, trikhos, “hair.”

Golden-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia atricapilla)

I could see that.

Querula is Latin for “plaintive” or “complaining” in reference to the Harris’s song.  And while we’re going there, Harris’s Sparrow is named after Edward Harris (1799-1863), (not the actor), but ornithologist and friend of Jonn James Audubon.

Unfortunately, the morning resulted in zero zonos. But we did see some Lesser Goldfinch or maybe call them “spins,” short for Spinus?

Of course as soon as I got home, someone reported the Harris’s Sparrow. *face-palm* And at this point, Tomas had taken the car to go mountain biking. What was a good birder to do? Since it was my last chance before the work week started again and I’d have no time to bird, I grabbed a Car2Go rental and headed back. It was only a 20-minute drive from my house, and I figured, I’ve spent more on a bird before. Justified.

Within minutes of exiting the car, I saw my friend, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Bill and another birder on site, and moments later I was on the bird.

Zono friend!

The Harris’s Sparrow hopped to the ground to munch on seeds that someone put out for the birds (thanks for that!).

Two other zonos were present, White-crowned Sparrow (no photos), and Golden-Crowned Sparrows.

I got a glimpse overhead of a Pileated Woodpecker that I’d only heard earlier.

And every once in a while a California Scrub-Jay would drop in and stir up all ground-feeders.

Dark-eyed Juncos scattered.

Spotted Towhees didn’t care much.

And eventually the handsome Harris’s would come back.

He was an ambassador for wildlife after all.

I was so glad I’d gone back! It was worth every penny.

Tweets and zonos,

Audrey

Florida: Boyd Hill Nature Preserve and Lake Seminole Park

Last Florida post! In the final days of my trip, my dad and I visited a couple of local city parks, one in St. Petersburg called Boyd Hill Nature Preserve. This park reminded me of Texas parks; there’s an admission fee, set hours (nature is closed on Mondays), a gift shop, and even an optional tram service. Aside from all that there’s marsh, swamp, oaks, and scrubland goodness that winds 6 miles through trails and boardwalks.

There’s also an aviary with rehabbed birds where I saw my only Eastern Screech Owl of the trip. Nice squinty face.

My dad and I walked the trails dodging troops of singing children and searched for what birds we could find. There’d be long stretches of quiet, and then a bustle of birds would turn up.

The biggest showing was on one single bush. I would love to know what kind of plant this is (Sideroxylon salicifolium, willow-bustic, white bully?). It hosted Yellow-rumped Warbler.

Followed by:

Palm Warbler

Blue-headed Vireo

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Antcatcher)

Pine Warbler and Downy Woodpecker (trust me).

Also a Northern Cardinal and Carolina Wren, followed by my only Carolina Chickadee of the trip.

And here I had my first sighting of a Tufted Titmouse.

10 species in one bush all at once! It was incredible.

Tufted Titmice show up, and all of a sudden they multiply and many more call a scratchy “tsee-tsee-tsee,” as they gather together in the treetops then all disappear again.

I think around this point I mentioned I hadn’t seen a Black-and-white Warbler yet on the trip, and voilà, one showed up!

If only it always worked like that.

We had a good Pileated-Red-bellied Woodpecker combo.

And the end of a boardwalk that led us to this perfect Anhinga statue.

I’m so happy this exists. Good job Boyd Hill Nature Preserve.

Moving on to my dad’s local patch in Seminole, FL, Lake Seminole Park, where first thing in the morning I had a blurry lifer Monk Parakeet flyover.

Still counts

We then found a great pair of Purple Gallinule. A young brown one.

And a purple adult.

By then it was time to say goodbye to some of Florida’s best birds.

Northern Cardinal

Little Blue Heron

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Osprey

Noisy nutty Blue Jay

We had another warbler flurry that included Yellow-throated Warbler.

Prairie Warbler.

And Pine Warbler.

In the shrubs we coaxed out a Brown Thrasher.

And passed a “soon to be flying squirrel.” Good one, dad.

Mushrooms were clearly in bloom.

I noted a White Peacock butterfly.

And drug my feet leaving the park. We finally called it a day when we found a Wood Stork that hadn’t been there moments before.

Hanging with his friend, Great Egret. It was one of those classic Florida birding moments that I’ve grown to love (and miss!). Until next time, Florida!

See you later alligator.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey