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

No (R)egrets

A short while ago my friend Eric and I were doing some light, casual, local birding. We managed to find a Multnomah County Swamp Sparrow a new county bird for each of us (both #215!).

Then a report of a Cattle Egret came in. A week prior there was a report of one at Fernhill Wetlands that turned out to be a Great Egret. But this report seemed more plausible, “seen with 10 Great Egrets.” We didn’t see photos, but we also didn’t have a good reason not to try for it, so we went.

Two hours later we were on the side of Washburn Lane scratching our heads. Is that egret smaller? Maybe that one? None looked strikingly different. They were also difficult to see due to tall grass and poor light. Then two egrets flew and one looked “slightly smaller.” Sort of. See Eric’s photo of the egrets in this eBird checklist.

We left knowing we hadn’t seen a Cattle Egret, but we weren’t sure if the bird we saw was a female GREG (males can be 20% larger than females) or young egret or something else.

My only usable photo of egret sp. with nothing for scale

Turns out, this egret sparked debate that it could be an Intermediate Egret, a medium-sized egret that occurs from Africa to the Philippines. There has been a single confirmed occurrence of an Intermediate Egret (found deceased, blown in from a storm with 7 other egrets) in the Aleutian Islands on Buldir Island in 2006. So the likelihood of this bird being Intermediate is (sure, anything is possible) slim.

I feel it’s similar to the McKay’s Bunting “pale bird,” without a DNA sample we’ll never know for sure. To distinguish Intermediate from Great Egret, Oriental bird specialist Desmond Allen says “after the first 500-1000 you may start to see the differences more easily.” Sounds like a fun (painful) I.D. exercise. I didn’t know Intermediates existed before this, but for now I’m leaving this one as egret sp.

Eric and I gave up egretting to take another look at the Tundra Bean-Goose nearby at Finley NWR. Eric spotted the goose easily and we got the best looks yet.

By then it was nearing dusk so we left to look for Short-eared Owls at Prairie Overlook. We saw two! Along with Red-shouldered Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, and distant looks at a White-tailed Kite. Excellent consolation birds all of which I took terrible photos of.

Guess who

Four days later another Cattle Egret report came in. What?! This time I waited to see photos and sure enough, James Billstine had found two in Tillamook! It was noon and I was at work, but I knew if I left immediately I could make it before dark.

Finally, real Cattle Egrets! Distant looks, but still a good reminder how tiny they are compared to Great Egrets. No question about these (state year bird #319!). Maybe someday these two will make even more Cattle Egrets in Oregon.

No regrets.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

301 501

My unintentional now intentional Oregon big year is going pretty well. Since I returned from vacation I’ve chased a lot of birds. I’ve seen a lot and I’ve missed a lot. But that is the risk of the chase. The first bird I hoped to see the day after my plane landed back in PDX was a Magnolia Warbler at Ona Beach in Newport.

The bird had been seen in a mixed flock frequenting the birch trees next to the parking lot. And after a short search that’s where I saw it too!

Magnolia Warbler! State bird 301 life bird 501! Great numbers and a great bird. After my five minutes in heaven with the MAWA I took a tip from Sarah and drove north to Tillamook to look for a Swamp Sparrow. I was in luck because Sarah drew me a legit treasure map.

Past the draft horse and the mini donkey.

In the marshy field next to the parking area exactly as described on the map I pished up my first Oregon Swamp Sparrow! #302. One of the more secretive and hard to see sparrows.

X marks the sparrow!

A life bird and a state bird in one day is a good day! I pushed my luck the following day and drove east to the Hook in Hood River to look for another lifer, a Tufted Duck hanging out in a flock of scaup.

As per usual it was freezing cold and windy and occasionally Bald Eagles moved the flock around not making for easy duck spotting conditions. After finding no tufts a few birders gave up and left. And that’s when I saw it! Tufted Duck! #303.

In my photos it looks more like the Loch Ness but that is a diagnostic black back and mullet. I texted the other birders and after a few more tries everyone saw it. Whew!

I had so much fun in eastern Oregon I headed out there again the following weekend. It was more leisurely than targeted which made birding more relaxing.

Deer-goose-turbine combo

I drove to my favorite canyon in the gorge, Philippi Canyon, where I almost always find something good. Indeed.

California Quail

Say’s Phoebe

Townsend’s Solitaire

Northern Shrike

And the best surprise was a Harris’s Sparrow!

I’ve since been told this is the first verified Gilliam County record of a Harris’s Sparrow which is pretty amazing.

I continued exploring east finding harriers, red-tailed hawks, and at least six Rough-legged Hawks.

They are so handsome!

It never gets old. I ended up birding too far from home and it got dark so I spent the night in Umatilla thinking I could visit McNary Wildlife Nature Area early in the morning. I got up excited to find the Black-crowned Night Herons that roost here. And I found them!

But it was so dark and so foggy they were very hard to see. I slowly made my way out looking for something-anything else, a Bohemian Waxwing perhaps? But the fog refused to lift so I birded my way back home instead.

I followed Ken Chamberlain and the OBA crew’s footsteps and checked out some pretty underrated small ponds in the industrial areas along the Columbia River picking up great Wasco County birds: Virginia Rail, Northern Shrike, Pacific Wren, and the best, I refound a Swamp Sparrow at a pond by the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center!

Slightly more visible than my first Swamp Sparrow. By then it was getting dark so I had to call it a day. I’m reminded how awesome and challenging winter birding is in Oregon. With the cold, rain, and shorter days it’s important to make the most out of the daylight!

Gone birding from dawn till dusk.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey