Highs and lows

Spring is here! 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

Malheur Matters

I have been a busy birder this spring.

Two weeks ago, I joined Portland Audubon on a highly anticipated trip to Harney County to visit Malheur National Wildlife. It was my first time traveling to this part of southeastern Oregon, and the first time the area opened since the illegal occupation. I was so excited not just to see thousands of migrating birds, but to support Harney County, show love for public lands, and to be part of a positive influence in the area.

Map holding

Our fearless birdy leaders

We were greeted with mixed reviews from the locals. On one side was the biker gang yelling obscenities at us, and people in big, loud trucks passing aggressively and flipping us off.

Gate sign visible from public road. Photo by Ellen Lewis; Portland, Oregon.

Gate sign visible from public road. Photo by Ellen Lewis; Portland, Oregon.

But that was just the first day. On the other side were welcome signs, friendly hellos, and locals with an obvious sense of humor.

Welcome birders

Welcome

Humor

Thank you, good-humored landowner. (Black-necked Stilts behind the flamingos!)

Despite the local tension, we nature-lovers piled into two vans (that we named White-rumped Yeti and Bobwhite), traveled and explored Harney County over three days, spread the bird love and had an amazing time. I think we represented birders well. Here are some highlights:

Ferruginous Hawk

Ferruginous Hawk. We saw two, and a nest!

Van-birding - something good on the right!

Van-birding – lean right! Photo by Linda “Zelda” Saari; Portland, Oregon.

Swainson's Hawk (dark morph), moments before was exchanged with a Rough-legged Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk (dark morph) that had moments before swapped places with a Rough-legged Hawk.

Sage-birding

Sage-birding

Vesper Sparrow

Vesper Sparrow

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl (!)

Good Birders

Good Birders

Ross's Geese

50% of the world’s population of Ross’s Geese stop here.

Long-billed Curlew

Long-billed Curlews on every corner

At one point, we watched two (amorous) American Avocets interact in a mating display. They washed each other’s head, swooping water up, then she shook her head “no-no-no”, and he hopped on top. Seconds later they divided and quickly went their separate ways.

American Avocet

Such a pretty bird

Such a pretty bird

It was almost as romantic as watching Sandhill Cranes dance. Almost. Spring love was clearly in the air. Or at least hormones were. One of the most magical moments of the trip was an evening spent watching two Great Horned Owls hoot, nod, and bow, courting each other under the moonlight. Now that’s romantic. Fun-filled video here.

Great Horned Owl

What an experience.

Birders at Buena Vista Ponds Overlook

Birders at Buena Vista Ponds Overlook

Malheur is a vital habitat area to birds and wildlife. Threatened in 1898 by ignorant plume hunters, its preservation importance was officially recognized in 1908, when Theodore Roosevelt gave the executive order, establishing Lake Malheur Reservation.

It’s part of an inland lake system on the Pacific Flyway called the SONEC (Southern Oregon-Northeastern California), and millions of birds stop here during migration, and many, including 20% of North America’s entire breeding population of Cinnamon Teal, use this wetland complex to nest and breed.

Today, collaborative groups work hard to manage this vast landscape for wildlife and visitor usage. [Learn more: watch Portland Audubon Conservation Director, Bob Sallinger’s presentation, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge: Past, Present and Future.]

This trip was not just about seeing my first Black-crowned Night Heron or Yellow-headed Blackbird.

Black-crowned Night Heron

Not a plastic bag

But both of those things happened.

Forest-birding, Idlewild Campground

Forest-birding, Idlewild Campground

It wasn’t just about the bluebirds, pronghorn, or Say’s phoebe.

Mountain Bluebird

Mountain Bluebird

Pronghorn

Pronghorn

Say's Phoebe

Say’s Phoebe

This trip was about appreciating public lands. As much as the birds need this habitat to live, we need these lands to thrive too.

Birders

Happy travelers. Photo by Ellen Lewis; Portland, Oregon.

Since I first heard about Malheur (on day two of birding), and now that I’ve visited, I feel super protective of it. Protective of all our public lands. I’m incredibly thankful to those who have fought in the past, and to those who will continue to fight to keep these lands available to all of us.

Not taking anything for granted.

Photo from Audubon Society of Portland

Photo from Audubon Society of Portland

Malheur matters.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey