Summer Lake

Once inside Summer Lake Wildlife Area it was on. I had no responsibilities or schedule to keep, my only job was to look at birds and I looked at as many as I could. It was exciting and overwhelming all at once. This must be what vacation feels like?

The refuge itself is set up much like Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge with an (8.3 mile) auto tour loop. There’s places to park and walk along the dikes, and a few camping areas on the refuge. Here’s a map. The best time to visit is spring (Mar-Jul), the auto route is closed during hunting season (Oct-Jan). The weather can be crazy, thunderstorms, hail, wind. And there’s a few bugs.

But it’s worth it because there are birds. So many birds. At headquarters there were Cliff Swallows, Tree Swallows, Say’s Phoebe, Black-headed Grosbeak, Western Kingbird and House Sparrow. Sometimes lined up all in one place.

Looking at hummingbird feeders next to headquarters I was rewarded with the only hummingbirds of the whole trip, Black-chinned Hummingbird. But I saw more Bullock’s Orioles at the feeders than hummers.

The real stars of this refuge are the long-legged kind.

American Avocet

White-faced Ibis

Black-necked Stilt

And Willets perched on shrubs! Calling “pill-will-willet!”

I probably went around the loop a dozen times (at least) and each time I’d see something different or unique. Some of the more unusual sightings included this trio of Franklin’s Gulls seen only on the first night.

And the same night a Bald Eagle flew over a marsh in the distance creating an amazing White-faced Ibis chaos cloud.

While scoping out camping options just before a storm, I noticed a small patch of willows full of warblers, Yellow Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, Warbling Vireo, and a MacGuillivray’s Warbler that made a special appearance.

There are Caspian and Forster’s Terns, California and Ring-billed Gulls, and Double-crested Cormorant nesting colonies here.

Did I mention there were Snowy Plovers?

I spent so much time on the refuge I was able to help out the Owl Be Damned Birdathon team (the world’s greatest women’s birding team) that happened to visit while I was there.

Together we looked at Great Horned Owls, including owlets!

A Western Grebe with a pile of babies on its back that I only got terrible photos of. And I was also able to share with them a Short-eared Owl that was one of the best surprises.

I camped on the refuge two nights, and both times I was the only person at the site. One night was so stormy and windy I made the executive decision to move into a barn.

It helped block the wind, and gave me a nice wake-up call to a pair of Great Horned Owls hooting so that was nice.

Better than coffee

Such an amazing place! Something fun around every corner.

Thank you for visiting Summer Lake, please come again.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Highs and lows

Spring, spring, spring! Migration is happening and I’m still slowly recovering from ankle surgery. The cast is off, the boot is on, but I still can’t walk. Yet. But that doesn’t mean I can’t look at birds. At least those accessible from flat ground.

Which is why I was so happy to get a message from my friend Eric alerting me to Western Bluebirds at his local (flat) patch last week. Luckily, it was on the way home from the medical supply store so I could convince Tomas to make a stop.

Dharma Rain Zen Center

If I stood out birding before with binocs and a huge camera lens, I’m pretty much a beacon now with crutches, binoculars, and a boot.

But it was totally worth it because we got the birds! Two Western Bluebirds, a new county bird for me. Since I can’t carry a camera and crutches at the same time, Tomas used a video camera to get diagnostic evidence.

And we got a bonus Say’s Phoebe, peeping and calling.

It was a good stop. Another bright spot in my week was a text from Jen giving me a heads up on a tiny owl in the neighborhood. I was at work, and since I still can’t drive and am mostly reliant on Tomas for transportation I waited patiently until we were both off of work. This time I took along my knee scooter I’ve rented to get around the office more easily.

Not meant for off-roading, I took it along a paved road as far as I could before crutching the last little bit.

The blisters were worth it, because at the end of the trail we found the sleepy little Northern Saw-whet Owl. Tiny owls make the pain go away.

I’ve had to get creative to see some things, and I’ve missed out on others, like a county Mountain Bluebird that migrated to Powell Butte that is way to steep for me to scoot or crutch up. Hopefully I’ll get another chance. But I’m super thankful for the tips my able-bodied friends have passed along. I even got a tip from a coworker of an Anna’s Hummingbird nest in the park outside our office!

So adorable. I’d love to get some photos in better light before the tree leafs out.

Lastly, today’s adventure started when Sarah texted me about a Sabine’s Gull in Salem. I almost didn’t go, but I happened to have the day off so I decided last minute to get a Lyft ride to her house. From there, Max, Sarah, and I went to Salem and easily got the gull.

Flying around with Tree Swallows like it’s totally normal for a pelagic bird.

Such fun times! Even while on crutches. A few lows, but mostly highs thanks to my supportive friends and Tomas for getting me out of the house.

Hobbles and scoots,

Audrey

Painted Hills II

Tomas and I left the Ochoco National Forest and continued our exploration of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument area.

Pronghorn

Successfully spooking deer and herds of pronghorn along the way.

Pronghorn

Pronghorn

Come back!

Along HWY 19 we pulled over to check out Cathedral Rock.

rock2

Cathedral Rock

While admiring the magnificent colors of the cliff walls, we heard harsh croaking monster screams and looked over hesitantly to see what the racket was. A Great Blue Heron rookery! Of course.

Great Blue Heron

There were three nests full of noisy monster muppet babies. We watched them for a while enjoying the show. Tomas says this was one of his favorite parts of the trip. Yessss.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Watching these primordial looking (and sounding) birds with the ancient towering cliffs in the background was remarkable. A very cool moment.

Continuing along, We saw several other bird species including:

Western Kingbird

Western Kingbird

Red-tailed Hawk (rufous morph)

Red-tailed Hawk (rufous morph)

Swainson's Hawk (dark morph)

Swainson’s Hawk (dark morph)

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Violet-green Swallow

Violet-green Swallow

And we even manged to spot American White Pelicans in a pond near Ochoco Reservoir.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

We spent our last night camping at Shelton Wayside County Park in Wheeler County. For camping over a holiday weekend, it wasn’t as horrible as I’d feared. We found a semi-secluded spot, settled in and enjoyed the warm spring evening listening to the symphony of pine cones popping open.

Of course I couldn’t sit still for too long, so I wandered down an old abandoned highway and heard Western Tanager, Lazuli Bunting, and Chipping Sparrows. And I spotted  a Say’s Phoebe on a powerline.

Say's Phoebe

Then I saw a second Say’s Phoebe.

Say's Phoebe

I sat down and watched as one grabbed a large insect expertly out of the air.

Say's Phoebe

It sat perched on the wire, calling its low, whistled sad-sounding “pit-tsee-eur” over and over again. I thought, why aren’t you eating the bug, weirdo? Then I looked over to the building on the right.

Say's Phoebe nest

Ohhhhh. That’s why. I backed further away then not wanting to stress out the bird. It didn’t want to give away the nest location! Good bird. Eventually the chicks got fed.

Say's Phoebe

So amazing! Spring is the best.

Leaving the campground the next morning, we made our way to our last stop, the Clarno Unit.

Clarno Unit

We walked along the paths, looking at the fossilized leaves in the rocks, and imagined how different this place was millions of years ago.

Signage

Incredible. Then we looked up to see White-throated Swifts performing courtship displays! They paired up, clung to one another, and fell, swirling incredibly fast towards the ground. At the last second before impact, they separated and flew off in different directions. One of the coolest bird displays I’ve seen yet.

White-throated Swift

A swift swift

It’s like they gave us the fireworks-grand finale display of the desert. But wait, there’s more!

Rock Wren

Rock Wren

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Black-tailed Jackrabbit

Black-tailed Jackrabbit

Gopher Snake (also known as bull snake)

Gopher Snake (also known as bull snake)

Western Fence Lizard

Western Fence Lizard

Who says the desert is barren?

Full of life

Full of life

Fan of the desert

End of trail

After visiting the painted hills, I’m officially a fan of the desert. Five out of five stars and the cactus agrees.

Chirps,

Audrey