Seattle to Malheur to Astoria III

I’d never been to Steens Mountain before, but I’d only heard good things. It is a 30-mile long fault block mountain that peaks at 9,773 ft and consists of 428,156 acres of public land.

This land is our land

There is one 59-mile loop road that is gravel, often washboard, and takes about two hours to drive.

Or several more hours if you’re me. I filled up on gas before heading out because stations are few and far between.

See gas attendant in upper lefthand corner.

I stopped a lot. Several times. One of the best things about this area is how remote it is and how easy it is to turn around for scattering birds. And the birds certainly scattered. I found mostly Vesper Sparrows, Sage Thrashers, and Chipping Sparrows.

I spotted a couple of Green-tailed Towhees.

I finally got a photo of a Mountain Chickadee.

And at one stop I found a large flock of scruffy-looking bluebirds, both Mountain and Western.

Here I also saw a Red-naped Sapsucker.

And Hairy Wodpeckers.

It was good times. The best bird I found was a Black-throated Gray Warbler, but no photos, unfortunately.

At the East Rim Overlook I found stunning views of the valley below historically filled by glaciers. Hard to imagine.

I’d hoped to see Black Rosy-Finch here (or anywhere on Steens Mtn), but I wasn’t so lucky. I saw American Kestrels, Cooper’s Hawk, and a few Red-tailed Hawks dotting the landscape.

Ready, set…

Go. I drove all over that mountain back and forth, but saw more scenery than birds.

It might be because it was a holiday weekend, and though remote, the place was probably as packed as the Steens get. It took a while, but late in the day I finally found a suitable camping spot along a BLM road and settled in for the night.

Cozy. Until a truck with three men in it pulled up.

Oh great, I thought, here we go. After what felt like a long standoff, one finally got out and the first words out of his mouth were “Are you in need of assistance?” It took everything in my power not to say something rude back. (If I needed help, wouldn’t I be at the road looking for help?!) No, I’m not, I said instead. Then he asked, “are you planning on camping here?” I said, I was.

Oh great, now they know where I’m camping. He proceeded to mansplain to me that there was a campground with amenities not far down the road. I said thanks, but no thanks, this is BLM land and I am fine. He told me they wanted to scout the area for deer to bowhunt and that they’d just come back in the morning. They seemed nice enough, aside from their entitled, ignorant, and sexist attitude, but I was still bothered by the whole thing.

I felt like I had to defend my position even though I had every right to be there.

I considered leaving, but grumpily I set up camp anyways.

Then Tomas texted letting me know he’d finally made it to Fields, but he’d likely not continue the next day. Tired and achy after a 60-mile battle with the sun, dust, and headwinds, he said he felt defeated. He’d met his match with the heat that had scalded his feet and soured his spam and tuna packets.

Feeling a little defeated myself, I suggested we pack up and fly to Maui instead. Half joking, but also temping. He then asked, “what’s that bird that says “poorwill, poorwill“? Jealous, I told him it’s the Common Poorwill. Minutes later I heard them outside my own tent. That made my night. Leave it to the birds to make things better.

A great soundtrack to fall asleep to.

Crickets and poorwills,

Audrey

Shevlin Park and Black Butte

Last weekend I went on a solo-trip to Bend that started at 2:30 am. I would have started at 2 am but I thought I’d sleep in a little.

Sounds like a good idea, right? I thought so. I wanted to get the three hour drive from Portland over with and hoped to arrive at Shevlin Park near sunrise to maximize birding time. Bonus was seeing the Great Horned Owl from the car on the drive there (sadly, no pics).

Shevlin Park

What a great park! It’s Bend’s largest park at 647 acres with miles of hiking through beautiful pine forests. I read up on the many woodpeckers that call the park home, and was excited to start the morning with a sapsucker.

Red-naped Sapsucker

I thought I would get better views of the bird, but this was all I got before it flew away and turned invisible. The messy black and white barring on back and red patch on the nape makes me want to call it a Red-naped Sapsucker, but I didn’t get a good look at the throat, and where is the white stripe on the side? I feel more comfortable just calling it Generic John-Doe Sapsucker.

Thankfully other woodpeckers like Lewis’s Woodpeckers abound in this park, and there is no mistaking this bird.

So easy to identify

So easy to identify

And the star of the park in my opinion, and one of the reasons I put it at the top of my list, is the Pygmy Nuthatch!

Pygmy Nuthatch

Yay tiny nuthatch! New bird! Not the easiest to take photos of, but so fun to watch. It was hopping in,on, and around a snag shared with a pair of Lewis’s Woodpeckers.

Lewis's Woodpecker

Calliope Hummingbirds were sighted at the park recently, but I only found Anna’s. Still stunning.

Anna's Hummingbird

I listened to Wilson’s and MacGillivray’s Warblers that I never saw, but I did see one flycatcher.

Gray Flycatcher

If you’re lucky, you see a bird. If you’re really lucky, you see a bird sing. If you’re really really really lucky, birds will give you a little something extra. This one gave me a tail-wag. I have never been so happy to see a wagging tail because that is the diagnostic move of the Gray Flycatcher. Empidonax identified!

I got a few other birds including Black-headed Grosbeak and House Wren, both delightful year birds.

Black-headed Grosbeak

House Wren

I wrapped up hiking at the park when it became too bright and late in the afternoon, and after I started turning Eurasian Collared-Doves into Clark’s Nutcrackers (one of the birds I really wanted to see).

Not a Nutcracker

Right colors, wrong bird

I set up camp at Cold Springs Campground in Sisters, took a quick nap to recharge, then set off again to find a particular woodpecker. I walked through the thick Ponderosa Pine at the campground while listening to Mountain Chickadees and Chipping Sparrows when I heard tapping. I adhered to the good advice from Jen’s blog and followed the pecking sound.

Huzzah! White-headed Woodpecker!

White-headed Woodpecker

White-headed Woodpecker

Oh how I love this bird. It’s like something out of a fairy tale. Birds like these don’t exist. No, but they do! Here’s an exciting video of this one excavating:

I slept soundly that night. But when I woke up the next morning, I had nutcrackers on the brain. It’s funny how that works. See one good bird and you want to see another. I checked eBird and saw recent Clark’s Nutcracker sightings at Black Butte and it looked like the perfect four mile round-trip hike.

When I drove towards the butte it looked like this:

Black Butte

After driving another 10 miles (5 miles up a narrow gravel road), I got to the trailhead at 6 am. Too late for sunrise, and as it turns out I too late for any sun at all. As soon as I ascended the trail, clouds moved in and I could barely see the trail.

Foggy trail

Through the haze I found foggy Fox Sparrows and heard many others singing their lovely song.

Fox Sparrow

About this time, I heard a noise behind me and a man walked up the trail. He asked if I had heard him blow his whistle. He had no hiking gear but he did have a safety whistle around his neck. I told him I thought I’d heard something, and he told me he blows his whistle to let the little critters know he’s coming through. Okay then.

I didn’t reply and he hiked on. It was too early in the morning for crazy people, right? Or at least dangerous crazy people? I considered turning around and returning to my car. But…nutcrackers. So I hiked on.

The clouds continued to roll in. If I waited long enough I got very brief looks at the mountains in the distance. It would be a beautiful hike on a clear day.

The clouds hate me

No so much this day. It rained. I pushed on. The wind blew harder. I kept going. Slowly. So slowly that I saw Whistle Man returning back down the trail. Oh boy.

He said he’d wondered what happened to me. Then he explained he carries a whistle because he’s scared of mountain lions and bears. We chatted about hiking, birds, the terrible weather. He said his name was Jerry. It got colder and he moved on down the trail while I continued upward. Dodged that one.

I made it to the top of the butte but the wind was blowing even harder by then and there were no birds in sight. I could barely even see the fire lookout.

Fire Lookout

I returned down the trail, nutcrackerless and defeated, passing more people hiking up the trail along the way. The lower down the butte I went, the sunnier it became.

I got back to my car and found a note on the windshield.

Note

Hilarious. Instead of a Clark’s Nutcracker I found a Jerry.

Bird watching IS fun!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Epic Summer Trip Part I: Conboy Lake NWR

No one warned me about summer birding.

Okay, someone warned me, but I didn’t think it could be this bad. Okay, it’s not “bad” exactly, but it’s pretty challenging. In the morning, there’s approximately one minute to find active birds before it becomes too damn blazing hot outside. And that one minute is around 5:00 am.

Conboy NWR

The birds have paired up and aren’t nearly as vocal as they were in early spring. And now they’re molting, looking rough, and hidden within the full-on tree leaves.  Oh right, AND there’s a new generation of barely identifiable juveniles.

What are you??

What are you?? Vireo??

It’s no wonder some birders take the summer off. Or so I’m told.

Since this is my first summer and I feel I’m still getting started, I’m barreling through to see what I can find. This particular epic journey started at Conboy Lake NWR in Washington. The place is great. I went on a Saturday and had the entire refuge to myself (everyone else staying cool at the coast?). Anyways, it was birdy, challenging, and gorgeous.

Here’s some of what I saw as I hiked solo along the Willard Springs Trail.

Townsend's Solitaire

What the hell funny looking bird is that? Oh right, juveniles. Took me a while to figure it out, but it’s a juvenile Townsend’s Solitaire. Thank goodness for that bright white eye-ring. A couple more cool shots of this cool bird.

Townsend's Solitaire

Townsend's Solitaire

Further along the trail, I spooked a flock of juvenile (or first-year) Red-winged Blackbirds.

Red-winged Blackbird (juveniles)

Red-winged Blackbird (juveniles)

In the shrubs I saw a juvenile Brown-headed Cowbird. And yes, since it’s a “brood parasite,” that’s probably it’s step brother or sister (or adoptive mother?), the Common Yellowthroat to the lower left.

Brown-headed Cowbird and Common Yellowthroat

The parents must be taking good care of their great big baby.

Common Yellowthroat (female)

Common Yellowthroat pair

Common Yellowthroat

Another juvenile that took some effort to identify was this Dark-eyed Junco. It revealed it’s identity once it flew and I saw the tell-“tail” white outer tail feathers.

Dark-eyed Junco juvenile

I saw one juvenile woodpecker and based on the darker shade overall, I think it’s a Red-breasted Sapsucker. I think.

Red-breasted Sapsucker juvenile

But then a molting woodpecker flew to the same treetop. Update: consensus on this woodpecker leans toward Red-breasted Sapsucker. [I think this one is a Red-naped Sapsucker based on the red nape and white “mustache.” The white “eyebrow” isn’t clear but maybe it’s still growing in? Then does this make the nearby juvenile a Red-naped Sapsucker too?] Not sure.

Red-naped Sapsucker?

A closer look of the molting bird. Hm.

Red-naped Sapsucker?

A few non-juvenile birds who made an appearance.

At one point, an intriguing bird flew overhead that I couldn’t catch on camera. I stopped by the refuge office to chat with the volunteers to see if they knew what it could be. I drew a helpful picture of the bird. It looked like this, except the vertical dark lines are white. See? Helpful. They had no clue what it was (and I don’t blame them).

Common Nighthawk Drawing (2)

It might have helped if I’d remembered to draw the body in. I figured out what it was after I left, a Common Nighthawk. Pretty much identical to my drawing. I would love to some day see one closer.

ID the bird

In total, two new birds (Cassin’s Vireo and Common Nighthawk) and another maybe new bird (Red-naped Sapsucker). No glimpse of a Long-eared owl (a beginner birder can dream), but a good start to an epic adventure. To be continued…

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey