Birds, barf, and joy

The end of the year is closing in and it’s hard to believe there are birds left in Oregon that I haven’t seen. But there are. One last pelagic trip was scheduled this December. I hadn’t intended on going since I’d already been on two trips this year, but my friend Courtney was going and pelagics are better with boat buddies. Also, I figured once I saw reports of what was seen, I’d regret not having gone. I was right. 

On the drive down to Newport I followed a tip on a Burrowing Owl and just as I was about to give up. Owl! #313

It was my goal not to flush this sleepy little owl and I succeeded by staying in my car, observing from a distance and I didn’t stay long so as not to attract attention. I left it just as I’d found it and I was already glad I’d left the house.

In the morning, the predicted ocean conditions weren’t encouraging, but at least the rain was set to hold off for another day. At 8am 15 intrepid birders set off from the dock to see what we could find. 

It was a goal to get to the bow (front) of the ship this time. In all my trips I’ve never ventured up there because it’s a rockier part of the ship. And if there’s one thing I need it’s less rocking. But I did it!

View from the front

At least in the beginning. I was somewhere near the front when we found the most accommodating Ancient Murrelet

A great start! Gradually though I retreated to the back of the boat as the swells increased. I kept calm for the majority of the trip, but at least at one chum stop I bowed to the sea. It happens. And sometimes it brings in the birds! I recovered a little as Sooty and Short-tailed Shearwaters (#313) zoomed by, and we spotted our first Black-footed Albatross.

Hello albatross!

Not long after, Laysan Albatross! They’ve been seen on every Oregon pelagic this fall (Aug-Dec), that must be a good sign.

And we saw Black-legged Kittiwake.

There was a quiet stretch as we continued farther and farther out, fewer birds to look at means more attention paid to the motion. It can get tough. Short video here from when I could hold the camera. Luckily, at around 35 miles out we found another group of birds. There were so many albatross.

Then Shawneen called out, “Short-tailed Albatross!” and I perked right up. This is a very exciting bird. I’d seen one on the 2017 December pelagic trip, but they are rare and never a guarantee. Especially the good looks we had. 

Coming through

It’s not everyday you see three albatross species in one binocular view. So incredibly lucky!

My risk paid off in albatross. The later it got, the angrier the ocean became. Sneaker waves shook us and it was time to turn the boat around. On the return trip Pacific White-sided Dolphins followed in our wake while Humpback Whales moved alongside us.

I didn’t feel 100% this trip, but it was all worth it. And that’s not all! Just as we headed back into the marina, someone yelled out Glaucous Gull! The rear ran to the front. Another state year bird!

#316

Such a great trip! Unfortunately I missed the Parakeet Auklet fly-by this time, it’s one of those birds seen best from the bow and I was far from it by then. Some day!

After de-boarding Courtney and I celebrated (dry land!), she’d found at least 3 life birds and I’d seen 3 year birds. And we had just enough daylight to make a quick look for Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs at the North Jetty. We dipped on the longspurs but found the cutest bunting with bright orange cheeks guarding the dunes.

I stayed overnight in Newport to rest up and in the morning I followed a Ruddy Turnstone report by the Pacific Oyster Company. Luckily the report was was legit and within minutes of scanning the 40+ Black Turnstones I picked out the one with the bright orange legs.

Ruddy Turnstone! #317

Back from the coast and back at work this week, I had just enough time before a dentist’s appointment to look for a handsome male Red-naped Sapsucker in Sherwood. It’d been two years since I’ve seen one!

Yes! This one was so easy. #318. Only two birds from 320! That’s a pretty nice number.

Dear Santa, for Christmas this year I’d like a Ruffed Grouse, Mountain Quail, American Tree Sparrow, Snowy Egret, Rusty Blackbird, Gray-crowned Rosy Finch, Bohemian Waxwing, Common Redpoll, Snowy Owl, Sedge Wren (?!) and/or any exotic warbler. Maybe Santa’s helpers will find something during the Christmas Bird Count

Happy holidays,

Audrey 

Chasing Bar-tailed

There’s an undeniable intrigue when chasing rarities from across the globe. This time I was hoping for a shorebird off course from its typical New Zealand to Alaska migration called a Bar-tailed Godwit. Thanks to unusual weather patterns, a handful had shown up on the Oregon coast this spring.

I timed my trip to arrive in the coastal hills at sunrise to listen for Mountain Quail.

Since I was at the right place and the right time, I heard this life bird’s call pretty easily. A pair was calling back and forth across the valley. But no visuals this time, and I didn’t have much time to spend looking. Next time, quail.

I kept focus and made it to Lost Creek State Park while it was still early. I felt both relief and excitement when I saw shorebirds in the distance. This could be it.

But it wasn’t. The Bar-tailed had been seen in mixed shorebird flocks of Whimbrels and Marbled Godwit and those were both here.

Down-turned bill = Whimbrel

Upturned bill = Marbled Godwit

This godwit gave me pause. I realized then that I’d never seen Marbled Godwits in breeding plumage. More buffy-brown cinnamon colored, with barring on the chest, and an orange-ish coloring at the base of the bill (signalling increased hormonal levels). I had only seen them in non-breeding plumage with a pink base to the bill.

There were also some birds with intermediate colors.

This was getting more complicated. I had done my homework before arriving of course, Bar-tailed Godwits differ from Marbled in that they are slightly smaller, with a slightly shorter bill, and they lack the cinnamon underwing colors. They are slightly more reddish in breeding plumage and grayer in non-breeding. I began to doubt I’d recognize these slight differences.

So I looked at peeps instead. Hey, look! Western Sandpipers!

Bath time!

Dunlin in breeding plumage, look at that black belly!

Sanderlings! That one on the right is in breeding plumage (mottled, rufous head and neck).

And the best distraction. Semi-palmated Plover.

You’re cute, even when you’re digging in the sand.

That helped. I walked back to the car ready to try another location. As I was returning, a group of birders passed by and we exchanged information. They too were looking for godwits and hadn’t seen any Bar-tailed yet. At least I hadn’t missed anything.

I pulled over at another beach spot, and found only plovers and Whimbrels. The next stop was Newport’s South Jetty where I found no Whimbrels or godwits, but I did catch a distant glimpse of a black ghost. A Pacific Loon in breeding plumage!

Note to self: spend more time with shorebirds in breeding plumage. They’re beautiful.

It was late afternoon by now and I had time for just one more stop. Since it was close, and I’d never been there, I decided on Yaquina Bay State Recreation Area just across from South Jetty.

I approached the beach and saw shorebirds in the distance. This could be it.

OMG, this was it! I spotted one of the banded birds in my binoculars. Some reports had been of birds with multiple blue and white bands on their legs, part of a bird-banding program in New Zealand, and positively identifying them as Bar-tailed Godwits. It was the best-case scenerio BTGO to find.

But before I could snap a photo, a woman approached me, asking about the birds. She asked what the birds with the long bills were, “are they Long-billed Dowitchers?” Normally, I appreciate people’s interest in birds when I’m out, but this was terrible timing. But I explained what they were anyways. She thanked me, then proceeded to walk right towards the flock, spooking them all.

Seriously? I had told her about the rarity too. I couldn’t believe it, but I didn’t have time to sulk, because I had to jog down the beach to keep up with the moving flock. Eventually, success!

Look at all the jewelry on that New Zealand bird! What a huge relief. And the stranger thing was, besides that rude woman, I was the only one on the beach. No other birders. I posted the sighting on OBOL and enjoyed my time. I’d actually hit the jackpot of shorebirds at this spot.

There were Black-bellied Plovers in breeding plumage.

I almost dropped my binoculars.

A Ruddy Turnstone.

And a pair of Brant casually on the shore.

Whimbrels, plovers, godwits, sanderlings, it was hard to keep up!

The tide came in further, many birds moved up to the jetty rocks to sleep in the warm afternoon sun. I regained and lost site of the Bar-tailed again, grateful for the time I had.

X marks the spot, I’d found the treasure!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Oahu Part 4 – James Campbell NWR

The James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge is located in Oahu’s northernmost point of North Shore. Named after a Scots-Irish industrialist and wealthy landowner and once the site of a major sugar mill factory, the former sugar cane settling ponds are now comprised of 1100 acres of critical coastal wetlands, managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to preserve habitat for endangered Hawaiian waterbirds.

It’s what Waikiki would look like had it not been drained for development in the turn of the 20th century (the name Waikiki even means “sprouting fresh waters” in Hawaiian).

The refuge has limited public access. It is closed during breeding and fledging season (Mar-Sept)  and only open on off seasons for (free) guided tours on Saturday mornings. Thankfully, this narrow window of opportunity fit our schedule and we made it to the tour. The place was covered with birds.

Guard birds- Pacific Golden-Plover, Zebra Dove

Guided by longtime volunteer Dick May and local birder Kurt Pohlman, we learned more about endangered Hawaiian waterbirds: Hawaiian Duck (koloa maoli), Hawaiian Coot (‘alae ke’oke’o), Hawaiian Gallinule (Moorhen) (‘alae ‘ula), Hawaiian Stilt (ae’o), and Hawaiian Goose (nēnē). All are endangered endemic Hawaiian waterbirds that are “conservation reliant” so this area is extremely important for their future preservation.

The Hawaiian Duck (both males and females) are mottled brown and resemble the mallard. Hybridization with feral mallards is a major problem for the species.

In fact, there is an unknown number of pure birds within the 300 “Hawaiian duck-like birds” on Oahu. Most are believed to be hybridized, and pure birds are suspected declining, while hybridization increases. Population estimates are unreliable due to the birds being located in remote montane streams and hybridized birds so closely resembling pure birds.

Our guides implied the birds we saw on the refuge were more pure than not, so for what it’s worth, here are photos of “Hawaiian Duck-like birds.”

There was no mistaking the Hawaiian Coot as anything other than a coot. It is slightly smaller than the American Coot, and it has a larger bulbous frontal shield above the bill that is usually all white. Oahu populations range between 500-1000 birds.

The refuge is also favorable to Hawaiian Gallinules. The birds we saw here were more secretive than those in the Waimea Valley Ponds, probably due to fewer interactions with people. Once common on all Hawaiian islands, Hawaiian Gallinules are now only found on Oahu and Kauai. We felt lucky to see them again.

Another unmistakable bird seen throughout the refuge was the Hawaiian Stilt or Ae‘o in Hawaiian, meaning “one standing tall.” A subspecies of the Black-necked Stilt, the endangered Ae’o differs by having more black on its face and neck, and longer bill, tarsus, and tail.

These are some of my favorites.

A week prior to our visit a pair of Nēnē’s had been sighted at the refuge, but we weren’t as privileged this day. The endangered Hawaiian Goose or Nēnē (Hawaii’s state bird) is more commonly found on all other islands besides Oahu. However, in 2014 a pair of Nēnē nested at James Campbell NWR, and hatched two goslings. This was the first pair to nest on the island since the 1700s!

No Nēnēs for us, our consolation was a pair of Cackling Geese on the refuge that was pretty exciting for local folks. I was more excited about a different winter visitor, the Bristle-Thighed Curlew!

Yessss. Bristle-thighed goodness. We watched one hunt along the water’s edge looking for tasty crawfish.

It was obvious by the piles of shellfish remains on the trail where one had been feeding. The birds were a bit skittish and if the group got too close, they would quickly fly away scolding, “Chi-u-eet!” Here’s one flying between two Cattle Egrets (also common).

Another easily spooked winter migrant was the Wandering Tattler; so it was a treat to find one perched cooperatively (if only for the moment) on a fence post.

Then someone pointed out two Ruddy Turnstones in the grass at the bottom of the fence.

Birds everywhere. We also saw Sanderlings, Common Waxbill, Common Myna, Black-crowned Night Heron, sometimes all at once. Pretty sweet combos:

Cattle Egret, Bristle-thighed Curlew, Hawaiian Gallinule

Hawaiian Stilt, Black-cowned Night Heron, Pacific Golden-Plover

I was sad when the tour ended, but Dick told us about the hopeful future of the refuge; there are plans in the works to bring a road closer to keep the public more involved. In his words: “If you have a refuge that has public support, then the refuge stays,” he says.

We saw four endemic bird species this day. Or three and a half if the ducks are hybrid. Likely so. Either way that’s a pretty special day. And on the way out, Kurt told us a way to access Pearl Harbor National Wildlife Ponds back in Honolulu where we could keep the party going. Birding after-party!

These are the birds that showed up:

Cattle Egret smoking grasshoppers in the corner

Hawaii Gallinule had too much to drink

The life of the party was the Hawaiian Coot, there were dozens, and the Hawaiian Stilt, I counted at least 30.

So many rockin stilts. Other birds included a Blue-winged Teal, Northern Pintail, both Mallard and “Hawaiian Duck-like birds,” Red-vented Bulbul, Japanese White-eye, Northern Cardinal, and I wish I could have gotten a better photo of the White-faced Ibis but I wasn’t on the V.I.P. list.

We hung out with the stilts until the wee hours of the afternoon. There are so many obstacles for these birds to overcome; introduced predators, rats, dogs, cats, mongoose, bullfrogs, degradation of  wetland habitat, alien plants, fish, disease, environmental contaminants. I’m grateful for people like Dick and Kurt who care and to those working to preserve the beautiful wetland spaces.

It was a good day with these birds on the brink!

Mahalo,

Audrey