Birding in black-and-white

Last weekend the forecast predicted heavy rain and winds on the coast. I believe it read “rain and dangerously windy.” Sounds like perfect birding weather to me. With only the weekends to bird, sometimes I have to take what I can get and this weekend I took it.

It seemed milder than predicted when I arrived at Brian Booth State Park (also known as Beaver Creek Natural Area), located just minutes south of Newport, OR.

I was hoping for a tiny Black-and-white Warbler that had been reported at this site in the weeks prior. As usual I arrived in the pre-dawn hours and began scanning the trees. I welcomed the sight of a Red-shouldered Hawk in the darkness.

I spotted a Red-tailed Hawk picking on nutria road-kill, and heard Bald Eagles calling in the distance. Along the road edges Fox Sparrows scratched in the leaves. I wasn’t sure I was at the right tree patch, but I kept my eyes on the alders hoping.

For a while there was little bird action until all of a sudden dozens of small birds flew in; Pine Siskin, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Brown Creeper, Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, it was overwhelming, but eventually I picked out the tiny warbler I’ve only seen before in Florida.

It acts quite like a nuthatch, inching along branches gleaning insects from the moss and bark, often turning upside down. I watched and enjoyed for a long while.

And then it sat on some branches and preened itself.

Such a good little warbler. I’d driven a long way and had set aside two days, but here were great looks at this handsomely streaked bird and it was only 9:30am. What to do next?

With all this time now on my hands I made a stop at the South Jetty, where I found Red-throated Loon, Red-breasted Merganser, Surf Scoters, and the best surprise was a nice look at a (non-breeding female) Long-tailed Duck.

Impossible to misidentify that one. Another unmistakable pair of ducks present on the rocks nearby were this lovely couple of Harlequin Duck.

Farther down at the gull puddle I found my first banded gull!

1A4 looks like a squinty-eyed 2nd winter Western Gull; blocky head, large bill, pink legs, dark primaries. I’m still waiting to hear back on the report, stay tuned for the update.

I looked for Lapland Longspurs and Snow Buntings but found neither of these. I decided to check for a Ruff, a Eurasian shorebird that sometimes strays to North America, and had been sighted at the coast recently. Now that I had cell coverage again, I learned that the Ruff was down the same road I’d seen the warbler, so back I went. As I left the jetty a flock of Western Meadowlark flew in.

Back on Beaver Creek Rd I drove farther along than before and bumped into a little-advertised Beaver Creek Nature Center.

The place had information, hiking trails, and even bird feeders.

At the feeders were chickadees, towhees, sparrows, and Steller’s Jays on guard.

I took a short and peaceful hike, no other people to be seen.

No birds on the trails either, but it was still really nice. Then farther along the road I heard two Virgina Rails “oinking” at each other in the marshland. No visuals of course, but here’s a visual of their call.

Another mile down the road still not finding any shorebirds, I then heard the loud rapid “tew-tew” of Greater Yellowlegs and I knew I was getting closer. Eventually I found the tiny blurry dots in the distance. I could barely see so I took a bunch of photos.

Light was fading and it was hard to focus on the shorebirds with this gorgeous Red-tailed Hawk in my face.

The hawk screamed over and over and I knew it was my cue to leave.

On the way home I wondered if I might find a spec of Ruff in a photo. Low and behold, I found it.

Small head, porky body, and scaly-patterned back. Not a glamorous sighting at all, but better than nothing.

I made it home by 7:30pm. It had been a long way to go for a day trip, but totally worth it. And now I had an extra day to bird locally. Bonus!

This trip makes me think of all the birds I’ve seen both in Florida and Oregon, Laughing Gull, Palm Warbler, and now Black-and-white Warbler, to name a few. I may list them all up some time.

Tweets and chirps,


Birdiversary and honorable mentions

I went back to basics this year for my birdaversary. Back to Stub Stewart State Park where it all began three years ago when I was first inspired inspired by the curiosity and wonder of birds.

It was rainier and foggier this time, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this 
classic Pacific Northwest forest. Knowing what I know now, this park in winter is not exactly a birding hotspot. At least to find a lot of species, but don’t tell that to my former self. It’s the type of place where you can walk for miles and see nothing, or you might bump into a Northern Pygmy Owl like I did on day one.

No owls this time, but I did find a flock of 90+ Pine Siskins.

I wouldn’t have known what to do with these back then, but this time I knew to scan for  Common Redpolls. Nope, not that lucky.

Nobody here but us siskins.

I hung out with my corvid pals, Steller’s Jay and Gray Jays that hopped around the cabin deck looking for a lost crumb.

I reconnected with the Red-breasted Sapsucker which was my second-place winner for spark bird (after the Pygmy Owl).

Second is the best

I saw at least a half dozen Brown Creepers, Golden-crowned Kinglets, and perky Pacific Wrens.

Which I’m now confident is the mystery bird I saw on day one. Three years later, mystery solved! I saw only 12 species this time compared to 14 then, but it was still fun remembering that amazing day. Much thanks to forest birds like this Varied Thrush.

It’s been an awesome year! Not a Big Year, but an awesome one. Between Texas, Florida, and the Pacific Northwest I’ve seen 412 species bringing my life list to 469. It’s hard to believe I’ve seen so much in such a short time period. It goes by so quickly sometimes I don’t get the chance to write about everything. But I feel some things deserve mentioning.

Like my 200th Multnomah County bird, the White-winged Scoter that I saw in the pouring rain the day before I left for Florida.

The Broad-tailed Hummingbird I met this summer in Colorado while visiting a friend.

And who could forget the happy hummers in the yard when I turned on the sprinkler during the 100+ degree summer days?

Anna’s Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird

Yard-birds bring me great joy. While I haven’t yet seen a returning Townsend’s Warbler yet, we’ve had new sparrows this year, the Fox Sparrow who likes scratching in the leaves.

And my new favorite, White-throated Sparrow.

Appropriately at the Birds and Beers white elephant gift exchange I won an awesome White-throated Sparrow painting by my friend Max! It’s bright and cheery and I love it.

This wouldn’t be an update post without mention of my 5 mi-radius. On the way home from the coast last weekend I picked up a few more, Red-necked Grebe, Black Phoebe, and a Spotted Sandpiper that’s roughly the size of a goose head.

One of the best things I’ve done this year was volunteer at the Portland Audubon Wildlife Care Center. No photos due to patient sensitivity, but I can talk about how rewarding it was to give back. Some of my favorite moments were feeding young crows that gobble down food with a “ang-ang-ang,” seeing adorable little hummingbirds, and hearing the mysterious calls from baby Black-headed Grosbeaks.

I held an Osprey while it was gavaged, fed a recovering Great Blue Heron whole fish, and assisted with owls whenever possible. Such amazing creatures. I can’t say I miss the baby duckling poop. So. Much. Duck. Poop. But it’s all worth it to give nature a second chance. I can share a video of a rehabilitated Cedar Waxwing I was able to release this summer. (Good luck, Cedrick!)

The best of times! Coming up I have much to look forward to and am thinking of goals for next year. I’d like to beef up the yard bird list, but that requires me to be at home more. Currently, we’re at 51 species, the most recent addition being a Barred Owl calling outside the window at 4:30am (Who cooks for you-all!).

I still haven’t found a Western Screech Owl on Mt Tabor. Maybe I’ll get to the bow of a boat next year. Do White-tailed Ptarmigan exist? And there are six counties in Oregon where I haven’t seen a single bird, (Yamhill, Marion, Wallowa, Curry, Jackson, and Malheur county), so that is a good excuse to do some road trippin.

2018 let’s do this!

Tweets and chirps,


December Pelagic and Astoria

Less than a week after my plane landed back in Portland I signed myself up for a 7-hour pelagic trip. Because a winter boat ride in the Pacific Ocean sounds like a good idea, right? Of course it does for the chance for winter seabirds like Short-tailed Shearwater, Ancient Murrelet, Laysan Albatross, Parakeet Auklet, and rare Mottled Petrel.

Since I’d just been on the October pelagic trip, the conditions were fresh in my mind. Honestly, I wouldn’t have dared, but the weather forecast looked surprisingly hopeful, my doctor gave me a Rx refill, and 7-hours sounded mild compared to the 12-hours I was used to. I was on board. And as it turns out, this was a good combination because for the first time, no seasickness!!

Smooth sailing

The best bird of the trip was a Short-tailed Albatross!

This chocolate-brown bird with the bubblegum-pink bill is a juvenile of the species, as they mature their feathers turn white with black edging. It has a wingspan of over 7ft and is the largest seabird in the North Pacific.

It’s also a great reason to go out on a boat in December.

Northern Fulmar for scale

Once hunted nearly to extinction (and even declared extinct in 1949), they are now listed as endangered throughout their range. It was juvenile birds, like this one that brought the species back.

Albatross spend most of their maturing years out at sea, and take many years to return to their breeding colonies. After they were thought to be extinct, some birds returned to Torishima Island and the first egg was laid by returning birds in 1954. Slowly they’ve come back and are now threatened by storms, volcanoes, long-line fishing, pollution, and oil spills. We were incredibly lucky to see one.

Other highlights included the always-popular Black-footed Albatross (they look similar to short-tailed but with a dark bill).

I noticed one was banded!

EA23 was banded in 2009 at Tern Island, Hawaii (look at this photo circle!!). So cool!

Albatross fan club

And a very distant sighting of Laysan Albatross!

So distant and blurry, here’s a one from Hawaii to remember how awesome they are.

It was a three albatross day! That’s a pretty good day.

We also saw a juvenile Black-legged Kittiwake.

And a second kittiwake, an adult showing the unmarked yellow bill.

There were Cassin’s Auklets, Ancient Murrelets, and a pair of Parakeet Auklets (seen by few), that I completely missed. Next time I might try my luck the bow of the ship for a better chance to see the smaller birds. We’ll see if I’m that brave.

I did get Rhinocerous Auklet, Pink-footed Shearwater, and a Humpback Whale, that was less jumpy than last time.

Back on land, after having survived another pelagic trip, I felt energized and inspired to continue birding at the coast. I took a chance and drove to Astoria where White-winged Crossbills had been sighted. Apparently every decade or so there is an irruption of this boreal forest finch. Chasing crossbills isn’t the easiest gamble, but there’d been multiple sightings.

I drove three and a half hours north and made it to Astoria by 7pm. In the morning I checked out of the mostly adequate Motel 6 and drove farther north to Cape Disappointment in Washington. I thought maybe I could find crossbills in both states (so greedy!).

Is it light enough to look for birds?

A couple of flocks flew by overhead, but no confirmed white-wings. Pine Siskin wanted me to think they were White-winged Crossbills.

I got a tip too look for Trumpeter Swans in a nearby pond.

Can’t a girl look at swans without getting stared at?

Success! I think? Let’s take a closer look at that bill. All black, no yellow lore.

Besides the lack of yellow lore, the characteristic that stands out to me distinguishing it from Tundra is the broad black connection between the eye and the mask. Not an easy ID! I still find this document handy, and I found this website helpful too.

After Cape Disappointment lived up to its name, I decided to look at Fort Stevens State Park in Oregon for White-winged Crossbills. This time I had better luck! There were yellow ones.

And red ones, both attracted to spruce cone seeds.

And as per usual, hanging out at the tippy tops of trees and hard to see. Reading up on crossbills, apparently there are ten (!) types (distinguished by calls) that can be interpreted as ten different species. I’m not ready for that. Maybe by the next decade.

Until then, there’s shorebirds to look at like the Rock Sandpiper still hanging out at Seaside Cove.

Leave it to birds to always keep things interesting. The coast does not disappoint either!

Looking forward to the next oceanic adventure.

Happy holidays!

Tweets and chirps,