Godwit Days Part II: Birding with Sibley

Just when you think birding life can’t get any better, you go on a trip with David Sibley.

Pay no attention to that shirt.

Pay no attention to that shirt.

He is just as awesome as you think. Son of Yale University ornithologist Fred Sibley, David began watching and drawing birds at age seven. He’s an author (of my favorite bird guide), illustrator, ornithologist, and a down-to-earth nice guy. His favorite birds to draw are warblers. I tried to keep my inner fan-girl in check. (squeee!)

Birding with Sibley

We birded the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary a.k.a. Arcata’s Wastewater Treatment Plant. It’s actually a pretty ingenious system. Part recreation, research, refuge, and part wastewater. Keeping it classy.

Arcata Marsh

The variety of sanctuary habitat is key for birds in this area: freshwater marshes, salt marsh, tidal sloughs, grassy uplands, mudflats, brackish marsh, ponds, etc. Shorebirds especially love it, but the first bird on this trip that caught our attention was the highly vocal Marsh Wren.

Marsh Wren

Sibley explained, though currently considered one species, Marsh Wren populations in the western U.S. are probably a separate species from the eastern populations because of the differences in songs (the eastern birds have about 50 “musical” songs, the western up to 200 “harsh” songs), and their slight variation of appearances.

We continued scanning the marsh and saw a White-tailed Kite, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and a spring of Green-winged Teal. One teal stood out to Sibley as an “intergrade” with both a vertical white bar of the American subspecies, and the horizontal white bar of the Eurasian subspecies.

Intergrade Teal

Half a lifer

In another pond were American Coot, Gadwall, Eared Grebe, and Lesser Scaup. One unusually light-colored scaup was identified as a leucistic female Lesser Scaup. “Leucistic” is partial loss of pigmentation (not to be confused with albinism, a total absence of melanin).

Leucistic Scaup (far left)

Leucistic scaup (far left), normal scaup (far right), Bufflehead in the middle

Apparently, odd-ball birds show up when Sibley is around.

He has a profound scientific understanding the natural world around him. We watched the Least Sandpipers at the edge of the pond, while he described how hormones determine the melanin differences between the birds’ feathers.

The bird on the far left has more greyish-whitish edges on its feathers (like winter plumage), and the others have more rufous color and black in the centers of the feathers (closer to breeding plumage), therefore with more breeding hormones. Swoon.

Least Sandpiper

And these birds are Long-billed Dowitchers (not Short-billed) because they are sitting in a freshwater, non-tidal, muddy-bottom lagoon.

DPP_779

Sibley-vision

Sibley-vision is no joke

After lunch near the end of the trip, we spent some time watching a pair of Red Crossbills before finally moving on to book signing and gushing.

So much cheese. Photo thanks to Lee Brown.

So much cheese. Thanks to Lee Brown for the photo.

Sibley Signing

Good birding!

Audrey

Dad visit and incidental birding

I managed to squeeze in a bit of birding while my dad (from Florida) and aunt (from Texas) visited at the end of September. Luckily, my dad’s almost as enthusiastic about birds as I am, and, well, my aunt was outnumbered (and a good sport).

I first took my jet-lagged relatives to Chapman Elementary School to watch Vaux’s Swifts roost in the chimney. During late August/September, thousands of swifts roost here before continuing their migration to Venezuela and Central America. This natural event attracts thousands of Portlanders who flock to the school to picnic, slide down the hills on cardboard, and witness the awesomeness of nature. It’s quite the sight.

Chapman Chimney

I forgot my camera AND my binoculars, so I had to rely on my eyeballs and iphone for adequate, but blurry documentation. At sunset, the birds swirl into the chimney, resembling a cloud of smoke. I’ve attended in years past, and this year there were fewer birds it seemed, and they waited a bit longer after sunset to make their descent. I wonder what’s up with that?

Vaux's Swifts

The next day, we headed to Cannon Beach to check out birds at Haystack Rock. The usual suspects were present: cormorants, gulls, oystercatchers, pelicans, murres, and we spotted one female Harlequin Duck. The Oregon coast did not disappoint, we caught glimpses of whales breaching out in the sea as well. Thrilling times!

Whale watching

A major part of their visit included a trip to Crater Lake. The weather conditions were absolutely perfect.

Crater Lake

As were the views of the Red Crossbills!

Red Crossbill

Since these turned out best, here’s too many pictures of Red Crossbills. Such fascinating bird faces.

I’d hoped we would see Clark’s Nutcrackers, instead we saw Gray Jays.

Gray Jay

And hawks! A Red-tailed Hawk ( I believe).

Red-tailed Hawk

While hiking Watchman’s Peak, we saw a smaller, soaring hunter. I’m pretty confident it’s an Accipiter based on the shape of the wings and streaked underside. I first thought Cooper’s (based on perceived relative head size), but the curved leading wing edges make me feel better calling it Sharp-shinned.

Accipiter

Accipiter

At some point, Greater White-fronted Geese flew overhead.

Greater White-fronted Geese

Hello fall migration.

Geese

Back in Portland, our final birding destination was Leach Botanical Gardens. I took a Beginning Birding class here months ago, but the class was indoors and late at night. I looked forward to seeing the grounds in daylight.

We were greeted by a flock of Cedar Waxwings.

Cedar Waxwing

Followed by a singing Song Sparrow.

Song Sparrow

And hummingbirds buzzed and zipped around, creating quite a scene.

Anna's Hummingbird

As we departed the gardens, we were fortunate to see (and hear) a raucous pair of Pileated Woodpeckers. Here’s one of my dad’s pictures.

Pileated Woodpecker

Fun times birding with family!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Cape Lookout State Park

One of my favorite bike-camping destinations along the Oregon coast is Cape Lookout State Park. The hiker-biker campground here is tough to beat: thick stands of sitka-hemlock forest AKA hammock-trees galore, seclusion from car-campers, miles of hiking nearby, and mere steps from the ocean.

Cape Lookout SP

A tip from me to you: Don’t feel like biking 72 miles from Portland to the park? As suggested by the Tillamook Chamber of Commerce, park at the Blue Heron French Cheese Factory (confirm with management), pick up some awesome cheese goodies and check out their petting zoo (complete with emu), then ride the (only slightly harrowing) 14 miles along 131 and Netarts Bay Rd to Cape Lookout. It’s a great way to go camping on busy holiday weekends, no park reservations required. Video demonstration here.

On this trip, we were lucky enough to see whale spouts and breaching along the ocean horizon. It’s incredibly difficult to predict where/when the whales would breach, thus basically impossible to get pictures. My best shot:

Whale

No, really, there’s a whale out there! Black blob = whale. I guess humpback, but there were rumors of grey and even orca. Hmmmm. A little closer.

Whale

And because this is the first time I’ve seen whales along the Oregon coast in the 10 years I’ve lived here, a few more photos. So neat.

When not whale-watching, I got to know the gulls as best I could.

Gulls

I was proud of myself for noticing some of these birds are not like the others. ♪

I noticed the gull with the red toned bill, all grey body, and black feet, a Heermann’s Gull. Interesting fact about Heermann’s, in true gull fashion, they are pirate birds, who coincide their northward migration with Brown Pelicans in order to steal food from the pelican’s gullet.

Pretty pirate.

IMG_1317

With a Western Gull for size comparison.

Heermann's Gull

Heermann's Gull

I also noticed gulls with red and black marks on their bill, yellow-green legs, and dark irises, the California Gull. 

California Gull

California Gull

I noticed gulls with thick yellow bills with a red spot on the lower mandible, pink legs, white heads, and light irises, BEHOLD, the Western Gull.

Western Gull

Ehem…BEHOLD!

Western Gull

I noticed some gulls had a staring problem.

California Gull

Western Gull

Heermann's Gull

California Gull

Western Gull

The more I watched the gulls, the more I appreciated their personality.

I noticed a few other species of birds and mammals.

The longer I observe this natural world the more I notice.

Pelicans and sunset

And the more I fall in love with it.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey