3 Days at Cape Lookout

After 19 days straight of rain in Portland, I was itching for sunshine. My chance came last week when the forecast promised “sunny and nice.” So I ditched work and headed for the coast. Thanks to the Blue Heron French Cheese Company’s generosity, I parked my car at their Tillamook location and biked the remaining 13 miles to Cape Lookout State Park.

Here goes llama

I can’t say enough about the hiker/biker campground at Cape Lookout.

Camp style

It’s so damn wonderful. There is one drawback though to camping on the Oregon coast that I forgot about: crafty raccoons (is there any other kind?). I awoke to suspicious noises at 3:30am, looked outside the tent, and saw the burglars going through my bike buckets. I shooed them away and went back to sleep.

The pattern repeated several times over the next few hours until I finally got up to look at the damage. They’d stolen my organic saltine rounds and punctured a hole in my water bladder and a couple of other food bags. Could have been worse. This incident reminded me there are new food lockers installed on site, so I used them over the remaining days to safely store my goodies.

I could have spent three days hanging in the hammock, listening to Brown Creepers, Steller’s Jays, and Downy Woodpeckers at the campground, but now I had a good excuse to bike the 10 miles to Netarts for duct tape. And to bird along Netarts Bay.

Bike

I easily picked up Bufflehead, Horned Grebe, and Common Goldeneye along the way…but hey, what’s that sleeping bird in the corner?

Mixed Waterbirds

White-winged Scoter

This sleeping beauty is a White-winged Scoter! Sweet, a new bird!

White-winged Scoter

About this time, an older gentleman hopped out of a parked truck across the street, and crossed over to chat with me about birds. He was looking for a White-winged Scoter (he actually pronounced it “Skoo-ter” – glad I’m not the only one!). I pointed the bird out to him and he was pretty excited. In turn, he told me about an (immature) Bald Eagle perched in a fir tree farther up the road.

Bald Eagle

Nice. A good ol’ fashioned bird exchange.

I continued along the bay, and got my best ever look at a (non-breeding) Eared Grebe. Dark cheek, dusky neck, peak over the eye, fluffy backside.

Eared Grebe

I still struggle remembering the differences between Eared (above) and Horned (below) – white cheek, white neck, whitish tip on bill, peak behind the eye, less fluffy backside.

Horned Grebe

I find this photo comparison from Cornell Lab of Ornithology helpful.

eared vs horned

I also saw more than a couple of loons.

Common Loon

Common Loons that is. One looked like it was even still wearing a bit of breeding plumage. Such a pretty bird.

Common Loon

A few of the other birds I saw along the bay included Surf Scoter, Belted Kingfisher, Great Blue Heron, and Pelagic Cormorant.

The next day, I hiked from the campground to Cape Lookout Hike and back, looking for whales and birds and such. No whales this time, but I did see Common Murres swimming far below.

Common Murre

And the most exciting part of the hike was getting buzzed by my first Rufous Hummingbird of the year! I saw three total, including this lovely lady.

Rufous Hummingbird

What a cool place to find them. Later, at the campground I saw two more. I was rich in rufous.

While on the hike, I also saw Fox Sparrows, Hairy Woodpecker, Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Flicker, Varied Thrush, Ruby Crowned Kinglet, and a Peregrine Falcon that zoomed by too fast for a picture. Here’s a cooperative Fox Sparrow instead:

Fox Sparrow

I forgot how long the hike is from the campground (10 miles round trip!). My sore feet told me to lay around like a walrus, but there was something surprisingly lacking from this trip. Gulls. Where were they?

Beach

Granted, there was less beach due to high water, but still, I expected more than Western Gulls, especially since last time in September I’d seen such a variety. Apparently I did it right the first time, because late summer/early fall is the best time to see multiple gull species on the Oregon coast.

But that’s okay, because I saw the happiest Western Gull ever.

Western Gull

Western Gull

Western Gull

So happy.

While looking for gulls, I also saw a pair of Bald Eagles.

Bald Eagles

Wait, why are they screaming?

Bald Eagles

OH.

Bald Eagles

Bald Eagles

So happy.

The final morning, I left the coast early enough to hear Great Horned Owls hoot and for minimal traffic to pass me on the road. I had enough time before I had to get back to Portland for one stop, so I aimed for Fenk Road along the south side of Tillamook Bay near the Trask River.

Creepy road

I traveled down the creepy farm road, past the cattle, and the guard dog.

Guard dog

Then I parked next to the pile of garbage, got out and wandered across the levee road, and trudged through a marshy field. It was all worth it, because far across the pasture, perched on a Douglas-fir, I saw the white blob I was looking for.

IMG_9518

A White-tailed Kite!

White-tailed Kite

White-tailed Kite

White-tailed Kite

The bird “hover-soared” kind of like a Kestrel, while it hunted above the nearby field. Too bad it was too dark for decent pictures. But it didn’t matter, because after a weekend of sunshine, hummingbirds, hiking and biking, followed by a White-tailed Kite?

I didn’t even care that the rain was back.

White-tailed Kite

So happy.

Tweets and chirps!

Audrey

Bird of the Year

Each year the American Birding Association declares a “Bird of the Year.” The 2015 ABA Bird of the Year was the Green Heron. I had some fun Green Heron encounters, but my favorite bird of 2015 was the Rufous Hummingbird. (Amusingly, RUHU was 2014 ABA Bird of the Year).

The Yellow-breasted Chat and Northern Pygmy-Owl were close runners-up. The chat was certainly the coolest vocalist in the bunch and the pygmy owl sightings were most surprising. But meeting the handsome Rufous brought me such joy. It was one of those encounters I’ve read about. You research a bird, imagine it, and then when you see it in real life, it blows you away. The Unicorn Effect. Fittingly, it has a horn of sorts.

Rufous Hummingbird

The 2016 ABA Bird of the Year is the Chestnut-collared Longspur. This longspur’s range doesn’t quite extend to my neck of the woods, but I wouldn’t rule out a sighting. I might have to fly to it though.

ABA Bird of the Year

On the BirdNote podcast, I learned the “first bird of the new year” is also a thing. The first bird you see becomes your “theme bird.” It sets the tone for things to come or reveals a new perspective. The first bird I saw this year was a Chestnut-backed Chickadee. I’m not superstitious, but I am happy to play along and pay homage to chickadees. They certainly bring me plenty of cheer.

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

I’m curious what other birds will star in 2016! Stay tuned.

Tweets, chirps, and chestnut-chickadees,

Audrey

Johnson Road

Regardless of the grey overcast skies over Memorial Day weekend, I set out on an adventure to Johnson Road, hot with warbler fever. Johnson Road is in the middle of nowhere, but it was the center my universe this weekend since Hermit Warblers were sighted there recently. The forest land surrounding the road is owned by Weyerhaeuser who permits public day-use recreation. The road is also not far north from Stub Stewart State park, one of my favorite state parks and also the site of my first birding trip.

I arrived early on the scene.

Johnson Road

It was kind of eerie to be alone in the middle of nowhere…in a place where people leave the remains of…ceramic frogs?

WTH?

WTH?

Weird. But once I heard the birds chirping, I forgot about the remoteness and creepy frog head and it was game on!

Dive-bombing left and right were Rufous Hummingbirds.

Rufous Hummingbird

From the treetops fly-catchers chirped, sang, and chased after insects.

Olive-sided Flycatcher

This one above is an Olive-sided Flycatcher. How do I know that? Because it sang, “Quick, THREE beers.” I’m thankful for my Warblers and Flycatchers class and my birding by ear trips with Audubon. Also note, the bird’s bulky build and dark “vest.”

Here’s another flycatcher:

Willow Flycatcher

This smaller one with two light wing bars ( and sometimes a thin eye-ring- none in this case), sangFitz-bew” so I know it to be a Willow Flycatcher.

Also in the treetops (and more recognizable) were Western Tanager, Black-headed Grosbeak, and a Bewick’s Wren.

A surprise treat low in the shrubs was a peek at this Swainson’s Thrush (I think it’s a Swainson’s – buffy eye-ring, lack of the rusty-contrasted tail associated with Hermit):

Swainson's Thrush

I also heard warblers, lots of them all around me. I had flash-backs of the Western Meadowlark incident at Coyote Labyrinth hike when I heard birds, but never found them, and I wondered if today would be the same.

Indeed, it was looking to be a repeat story for new warblers until far off I spotted it.

Far away

It never fails to spark that cheesy 1970s Carole King song in my head, “So Far Away”…

A teeny moving spec that my eyes and camera had to work really hard to see, but the payoff was worth it. A MacGillivray’s Warbler! Neat! Oh, you can’t see it? A closer look:

MacGillivray's Warbler

MacGillivray's Warbler

MacGillivray's Warbler

Looks like he’s serenading the Rufous Hummingbird on the higher branch. Such a cool bird! I hope to hear and see more of these little fellas up close on future birding trips.

One last bird I came upon on the drive home was another flycatcher. I will share too many pictures of this one.

Olive-sided Flycatcher

Olive-sided Flycatcher

Olive-sided Flycatcher

Olive-sided Flycatcher

While it did not sing, and correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m calling this one an Olive-sided Flycatcher based on its bulky build, large bill, and “vest.”. My best flycatcher sighting to date! Cheers to that!

FITZ-bew and more beers!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey