Last Weekend II

In the morning neither Tomas nor I was ready to go home, instead we opted for more birding and biking. He left to bike over the coast range, while I drove south past Tillamook to Sitka Sedge State Natural Area. Or at least what will eventually become SSSNA.

Apparently it opens mid-2018, and for now it lacked any beach access I could find, so I continued a mile and a half farther to the first legal parking area. And finally, I began the long walk on the beach.

Luckily, it was gorgeous weather. One of those impossible 70-degree days on the Oregon coast. Why was I trying to get to this beach so badly? Plovers, that’s why.

The walk was slow and quiet for a while, only a few gulls and sanderlings.

And one very sad, dead, light Northern Fulmar.

I mourned and moved on, and a couple more miles down the beach I heard the most annoying noise. Brrrrraaaaaaaaap.

Across the way was Sand Lake Recreation Area covered in noisy OHVs. So with that crap in the background, I kept going. And eventually, I spotted them.

Nestled safely in tire tracks in the sand were a Sanderling, Dunlin, and two Snowy Plovers!

Commence the cuteness! Because besides these I found several others.

Behind a crabshell

Behind kelp

In more tire tracks

But the best was when they scurried along and hid in footprints in the sand.

So hidden

I laid down in the sand to try and reduce my impact and to get a better eye-view of the plovers’ world.

This was when I noticed several birds were banded. I found 7 (and am waiting on submitted band reports).

I also noticed the view of Haystack rock in the distance wasn’t half bad.

I couldn’t have been happier even covered in wet sand. As I started heading back I noticed a sign.

A project for plovers! This is wonderful news. With all their “hiding spots” they just seem so vulnerable and exposed on the beach. Certain times of years cars drive on this very spot. And walking back, I saw a dog-walker throwing a tennis ball over and over for their dog, I thought, dang those plovers look like tiny white tennis balls. So vulnerable.

Snowy Plovers are listed as threatened and are protected in all states along the west coast. There are more plovers in southern Oregon beaches but in the north, they need more help. At least state and wildlife officials are making the effort to protect nesting areas. If nothing else.

This was one sighting I very much appreciated. For the birds, absolutely, and also because this species puts me in the top 100 eBirders of Oregon! I’ve seen 324 species in the state. Unbelievable! And I look forward to seeing many more.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Last weekend

The birds and beers were so good in Astoria the weekend before, I thought for my last trip before surgery, why not go back? Tomas agreed as he’d missed out, and this time he could go on a mountain biking trip while I birded. We left early Saturday morning and after stocking up at a gas station in Astoria, I dropped Tomas off on the side of the road.

Happy trails

We agreed to meet back up in the evening for dinner. I had a short birding wish list for this trip, Glaucous Gull, Snow Bunting, Snowy Plover, Wrentit, all would be ambitious, honestly I was more looking for a relaxed and casual last hurrah of ankle freedom.

I started at Seaside Cove to say hello again to the continuing Steller’s Eider, that’s been there for about two months now.

This is where I also said hello to my friends Nick and Maureen! Such a nice surprise. They’d both been under the weather since the new year and this was their first try for the Eider – sweet success and congratulations to them!

Together we looked at Red-throated Loons, Pelagic Cormorant, Western Grebe, Red-necked Grebe, Surf Scoters, White-winged Scoters, Harlequin Duck, and we played peek-a-boo with a Black Scoter hiding in the waves.

We picked out birds in the distance as the Steller’s Eider floated farther away. This was when a birder along the beach mentioned Ancient Murrelets were visible from the shore around the corner. These weren’t even on my radar! Technically they were seen on the pelagic trips I’ve been on, but I’ve never gotten a good look so I haven’t counted them (they’re a front-of-the-boat bird). This would be a lifer and a treat.

Nick, Maureen, and I took the long walk along the cobbled beach to see if we could spot one.

Solid ankle workout

We’d gone about a mile before Nick spotted a tiny murrelet dot in the distance. It was an Ancient Murrelet!

We walked even farther on when I spotted one closer in just past the breaking waves, but it swam out pretty quickly by the time we got there.

Ancient Murrelet with Western Grebes for scale

So tiny, so cute, and so nice to see from dry land. This made the returning mile and a half cobble walk worth it. Back at the cove Nick noticed a flock of small shorebirds land on the beach.

We hurried over until we got better look at the Sanderling fallout.

They’re so fun to watch scurrying along the shore, did you know a group of Sanderlings is called a “grain”? We were entertained by the grain of Sanderlings until a dog ran in an chased them all off. It was time to move on. I said my good-byes to Nick and Maureen as they headed to Fort Stevens SP to look for White-winged Crossbills while I went north to Hammond Marina. We agreed to meet up later on for dinner.

I drove north making a couple of unsuccessful shorebird and bunting searches along the way, but as I left one area along a residential road, a back-lit bird on a wire caught my eye. I thought that doesn’t look like a starling – probably just a robin. But it was intriguing enough to turn around because it also looked like it might be a bluebird. And that’s exactly what it was!

A Western Bluebird, what a cool surprise. Things got even more interesting as it flew to a backyard. I pulled over next to the fancy country-club house hoping I looked inconspicuous as I creeped on the backyard.

It was a pair of bluebirds next to a birdhouse! They were actively defending the box from pesky House Sparrows that were swarming all around also trying to get in the house.

I really hope the bluebirds win the battle because they’re awesome, beautiful, but  especially because they’re a native species.

I was excited I’d been lucky enough to see them (and not get into trouble with the locals). I left and went to Hammond to see what I could find next. No new or unusual gulls as I’d hoped, but I did find a Pacific Loon.

And flocks of Brewer’s Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbirds, and Red-winged Blackbirds that for some reason threw me off because they’re wearing their weird non-breeding plumage no one really talks about.

Why do they look so weird?

Freaky

Anyways, once I took my eyes off the blackbirds, I scanned the jetty rocks and found a beaver!

No way. I couldn’t believe it, I thought it must be a muskrat or an invasive nutria, but then I’d just read a post recently that both nutria and muskrat have white whiskers and beavers don’t. And this beaver was shy and didn’t come out of the rocks, but it did turn at one point and showed that diagnostic beaver tail!

Totally beaver. At this point it was time to meet up with Tomas, Nick, and Maureen for the best beers and worst service at Fort George Brewery. We dined and toasted to a very successful and surprising day.

Cheers,

Audrey

Seattle to Malheur to Astoria IV

The finale! In the morning Tomas confirmed his bike-tour was over and he was ready for a pick-up. I was ready to leave early before the hunters returned anyways so I said goodbye to Steens Mountain and made way back to Frenchglen.

Until next time

While there I noticed a smoky haze had settled and as I drove toward Fields, it gradually worsened. Winds shifted bringing a thick layer of smoke from the fires burning most of Oregon (and nearby Idaho). We’d hoped to avoid the smoke being so far southeast, but it finally caught up to us.

Reunited at the Fields Station Cafe, Tomas and I loaded up on snacks and pondered our next move. We decided to head north where his bike ride would have taken him, toward the Alvord Desert, a 12 by 7-mile dry lake separated from the Pacific Ocean by the Coast Range, the Cascades, and Steens Mountain creating a rain shadow. It averages 7″ of rain per year.

It was a part of Oregon I’ve always wanted to see and I was interested to find out what kind of birds we might find here. Unfortunately due to the wildfire smoke visibility was very poor.

But we drove out onto it anyways. Totally legal. In fact deaf American stuntwoman Kitty O’neal set an unofficial women’s world land speed record here in 1976 at 512 mph.

We didn’t set any records, but it was still fun.

After doing donuts we left the desert and continued on. Where are the birds you ask? I asked the same thing. The best bird I saw in this area was a Prairie Falcon on a post.

Then we stopped at Mann Lake which is supposed to be good for shorebirds and terns, but we were met with limitations. Geese? Maybe gnats. Too far, too hazy.

There are several hot springs along this route, but we were already hot enough. At one rest spot I found a Brewer’s Sparrow and a Lark Sparrow taking refuge in the shade. Good comparison of their size difference.

The birds were hot, panting, and disappearing into the smoky heat waves.

Sizzling sparrow

You said it.

We meandered farther passing farm fields until I spotted a Golden Eagle on a power pole. We pulled over and inched closer and closer as it tolerated our presence. Barely.

I was excited for Tomas to see one since he’d drawn a Golden Eagle the first day of the trip but had yet to see any. Especially this close. We left on an eagle high and continued along until just before Burns we pulled over again, this time for a noisy pair of Sandhill Cranes. So good.

Back in Burns it was still smoky. It was also getting late. Considering our options, we decided on Idlewild campground because it was only 20 min north, higher elevation, and forested. Maybe less smoky? We stayed one night and it was slightly better air-quality wise, but not great. I birded the best I could, finding Williamson’s Sapsucker, Orange-crowned Warbler, Townsend’s Warbler, and Red Crossbills.

In the morning we checked the Air Quality Index. It was terrible.

We still had five more days, but at this point we thought about throwing in the towel and heading home. Fleeing from smoke was not the vacation we’d planned on. Then we learned that the Columbia Gorge was on fire (because of careless teenagers) and ash was actually falling from the sky in Portland (UGH). Home was on fire.

We joked that we could probably drive to the coast. Then it stopped being funny because that’s exactly what we did. Eight hours later, we’d arrived in Astoria and traded smoke for coastal fog.

I’ll be brief. It was cooler at least though visibility was still terrible. The highlight of this mini escape was the day I drove two hours farther north to Grayland Beach State Park.

Here I saw foggy Sanderling, foggy Brown Pelican, foggy Caspian Tern, foggy elk.

And the only life bird of the entire trip, Snowy Plover!!!

Even better. There were two!!

Both wearing fancy jewelry. So cute.

It was great. Relaxing and refreshing, just like vacations are supposed to be.

So not the trip we thought it would be but we still saw some cool stuff. Southeast Oregon is all so gorgeous and ridiculously quiet. We want to go back. I’m thinking springtime when it’s cooler and more bird species are migrating. Totally worth it because Malheur is awesome and you never know what you’ll see.

Until next time.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey