2019: Resetting the tripometer

I ended 2018 having seen 325 species of birds in Oregon in a single year. It was fun, rewarding, and a ton of work. Something I’ll likely not do again for a while. This year it’s time to revisit old friends close to home. Inspired by Jen Sanford I’m resurrecting my 5MR and birding mostly within a “5-mile radius” from my house.

It’s a great way to explore underbirded local patches, reduce driving time, and expand on eBird’s citizen science database.

All those blue dots? Those are eBird hotspots within 5 miles of my house. Learn how to make a handy-dandy map like that here. I made a pretty solid 5MR effort in 2017 ending with 152 species so trying to match or surpass this might be a good goal this year. Certainly adding new species is worthwhile.

I started 2019 at the coast, so it took a day or two to get back into my radius. My first bird of the year was a Common Raven at Heceta Head Lighthouse. I was happy to start with something that meant I wasn’t at home.

Happy New Year!

I attempted to see a Sedge Wren in Florence (by guided access on McKenzie River Trust property). But it was so cold and windy this time, the wren never popped out or made any calls. That’ll teach me to bird outside my 5MR.

I quickly retreated back to the comfort of my circle. It was slow going at first. I focused on rare birds that might not be around very long. It took me four tries but I finally re-found Eric’s Eastern Bluebirds still visiting the Dharma Zen Rain Center.

Just as cute as I remember in 2018.

In addition to plain old 5MR fun, Jen’s adding monthly challenges to keep things interesting. January’s challenge is to fill in gaps of eBird hotspots. Since I’ve been working (and not on furlough), I’ve only gained two “points” so far by adding data to Holladay Park (hello Rock Pigeons and Red-tailed Hawks).

But the best was one day after work, I had about 45 minutes to bird before dark so I picked the closest hotspot from my house missing data that turned out to be a trail along the Columbia Slough. I didn’t expect to find much and since it was getting dark I didn’t even bring my camera. Big mistake! It turned out to be very birdy, I found 20 species including a continuing rare Blue-gray Gnatcatcher! Here’s my terrible iphone documentation:

That’ll teach me to leave my camera behind. Such a great find so close to home! Another 5MR highlight was a Northern Shrike sitting just at the edge of my circle at Vanport Wetlands. I’ll take it!

A big perk of 5MR birding is that many spots are bikeable. Inspired by my friend Eric (who’s doing his 5MR all by bike this year), I biked 2 miles to look for a reliable Black Phoebe visiting a local Radisson Hotel pond.

It worked! This was one big sunny success all around.

During the NE Portland CBC (Christmas Bird Count) Colby Neuman and team found a Palm Warbler that happened to be in my 5MR. This bird became my next target species. I made several attempts without success. After dipping one time, I went for a Eurasian Wigeon instead with better results.

That included a bonus sleepy 5MR Redhead.

On my fourth try (this time by bike!), I was extra determined to find the warbler. It had been seen in an industrial area with pockets of old pumpkin patches mixed in. But for a long time all I could find were Yellow-rumped Warblers enjoying the pumpkin bug-buffet.

A few other birders joined in the search and together we tromped around and spooked up a very lost Yellow Warbler.

That had zero desire to be seen.

Warbler of Nope

Better looks at Yellow Warblers coming this spring. We continued looking for the palm which would likely not be around then. Again we got close to a warbler flock when a Sharp-shinned Hawk spooked the whole lot. Foiled again!

Blurry Danger Hawk

By now I’d been searching for about three hours, but undeterred I kept going and after noon, despite wind and hawks, and light trespassing – ehem – I mean adventuring, the flock finally settled right in front of me and there was the Palm Warbler!

Yes!!!

County bird #216 and an excellent 5MR warbler. I worked pretty hard for this one.

Mudness

I was so pumped I took a tip from a friend and biked another 5 miles to Whitaker Ponds for a couple more 5MR birds.

An easy Spotted Sandpiper and a slightly less easy Great Horned Owl.

The best part? I bumped into my 5MR buddy Eric here and we were able to share some birds together. Including his FOY Bald Eagle.

We watched Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets terrorize the eagle before it flew off. And then we biked to celebratory pizza and beer.

2019 had a bumpy start but overall it’s going great. Three weeks in and I’ve biked 20 miles and seen 72 species so I think I’m doing all right.

Streeeetch

Keep reaching for those birds.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Chasing a Dickcissel

Last week my friend Sarah and I took a risk to chase a rare (to Oregon) bird called a Dickcissel. Chasing birds is inherently risky, they can fly, they can hide, they can be eaten, but this bird has an added element of risk. It is currently hanging around the Philomath Sewage Ponds (aka Philomath Poo Ponds aka PPP) and a permit is required for public entry. It’s relatively easy to get one, it just takes a trip to the Philomath Public Works Department during business hours (8am-4:30pm M-F).

They want visitors to understand the safety rules and to avoid times when the police are target shooting nearby. Fair enough. I’d been once before on a weekend before I knew about the permit process and I vowed never again without because I don’t want to be the birder who ruins it for everyone. It is a great privilege to enter the poo ponds.

Golden ticket

We left early on Friday and got to the Public Works office just after 8am. We were both worried about timing since there was only one report of the bird the day prior and it was seen at 7:25am for “5ish minutes and not seen again.” Permit in hand we pulled up to the location to see two women waving enthusiastically, it must still be here! We hurried over, and they said “it was just there” flying around the tops of blackberry. We scanned intensely but didn’t see it. Had we missed the 5 minute window?

Then I looked to another tree and saw it! Dickcissel!

This was a lifer for me (#491) and a county bird for Sarah. She’d seen one at Bayocean Spit near Tillamook three years ago in the pouring rain at the end of November. So this was a much nicer look. We drooled and watched it preen in good light.

By now we could let some other birds in our sights, a White-throated Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, and a Black Phoebe that called continuously behind us.

All of a sudden the birds scattered – accipiter alert!

A Sharp-shinned Hawk flew in causing chaos.

We watched until the hawk was gone and the birds were back and comfortable. Whew! It was a good time to leave and lazily count ducks on the way out. It was such a relief the chase worked out!

The next plan was to drive Sarah to her parent’s house in Pacific City. We birded along the way stopping in Newport for a chance at a Tropical Kingbird and a greater chance at Palm Warbler. We met up with my dad since he lives there now. Together we walked along the trail tripping over Yellow-rumped Warblers until Sarah spotted a Palm Warbler chased by YEWAs. On the way back we saw a second Palm Warbler with an injured foot but it looked like it was catching bugs and feeding okay.

We worked on our combo-birds on the way out.

Gull sp., Great Egret, Belted Kingfisher, Black Turnstone

We bid my dad farewell and continued on to Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge, one of six NWRs that make up the Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex. It is a sanctuary for wintering geese, including the only coastal wintering population of Dusky Canada Geese and the small population of Semidi Islands Aleutian Cackling Geese.

Sad for us we saw no geese this day since it’s been so dry leaving no water in the fields. Instead we drove to the upland meadows where we found Western Meadowlark, kinglets, and a Northern Harrier hunting over the fields.

It was hard to leave this magical place.

But there was a sunset and dinner waiting for us at Sarah’s parent’s house.

The next morning after having homemade waffles for breakfast (because these people know how to live), Sarah and her husband Max and I explored a farm road called Old Woods Rd in hopes of a Tropical Kingbird or anything else we could find. The best birds turned out to be right at the beginning, a pair of Rough-legged Hawks.

Always inspect those lumps in fields more closely.

Max spotted the second bird hover-hunting in the distance across the highway.

After finding the hawks and all the Black Phoebes we could, we spotted the best mammal at the end of the road, a hunting coyote!

We returned to the house said our goodbyes and I continued north towards home while still looking for kingbirds (which would be state bird #297). There were no OBOL reports so it was FYOB (find your own bird) day. I opted for Goodspeed Rd in Tillamook. Less than a mile down the road this bird stopped me in my tracks.

That shape. That face. This bird broke my brain in a really good way. I tried to turn it into a Northern Mockingbird, which would be a somewhat unusual but expected surprise bird on the coast, but it wasn’t right.

Those streaks. That bright eye. I realized this bird-out-of-context looked like a thrasher! What the what? What was it doing in blackberry brambles near the coast?

Thankfully, while I sat in my car scratching my head it offered excellent looks.

Based on location I narrowed it down to Brown Thrasher or Sage Thrasher. This bird wasn’t brown, and didn’t have the extended long curved bill of a Brown Thrasher.

That grey back, smudged cheek, streaky breast, and pale eye, this is a Sage Thrasher! Such a fun bird to find here, and on my own no less (FMOB!), and according to eBird, it’s a first for Tillamook County. I’d seen them earlier this year east of the Cascades at Summer Lake in sage country where they’re supposed to be.

Now the search continues for a few more state year birds. My upcoming pelagic trip  might help. And there’s still time to find a kingbird!

Stay tuned.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Chasing Dreams

I’ve gained a few gray hairs the past week chasing birds. No risk, no reward, right? Well, I drove 2 hours south to Fern Ridge Reservoir in Eugene one day hoping for one Buff-breasted Sandpiper (out of four seen the day prior) and a bonus Stilt Sandpiper. But I got no reward.

Barren of buff birds

It was brutal. Not just because I missed the birds, but because it was a case of TMTS. Too much too soon on my new ankle and after 8 hours of walking (on fire) and no birds I finally gave up. Of course the birds were refound the next day, but I was already at home drowning my sorrows in mimosas and cake. I just couldn’t.

After my rest day I opted for a trip to the forest for a pika survey. It was exactly what I needed.

Peaceful, quiet forest with close-up views of my favorite mammal. Shorebirds? Who cares. I’d almost forgotten about birds. There were adorable Eeeps all around me.

But wait, what’s that chip note? That’s not a Dark-eyed Junco. It was a Macgillivray’s Warbler! What a nice surprise.

Reinvigorated, I hiked back to the car and decided to make a 40-min detour up the roughest road ever to check out Bonney Butte, a Hawkwatch International site. I thought I’d been there a year ago, but it’s actually been three! These birding years are going by fast.

This was a good choice. For two quiet, sunny hours I hung out with Krista Fanucchi and Sydney Schick, Hawkwatch International volunteers. We chatted about birds while watching them fly by in the sky.

It was quiet but still pleasant. The best bird was a Northern Goshawk bombed by a Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Not a fair battle. So amazing. We also saw Turkey Vultures, Red-tailed Hawks, and a resident Cooper’s Hawk. It’s still early in migration season. Other birds included Clark’s Nutcracker, Townsend’s Solitaire, Mountain Chickadee, and Hermit Thrush.

Mountain bird combo: Townsend’s Solitaire and Hermit Thrush

I was pretty happy going home and felt much better about how I spent my time because the next day it was back to work. Until an email came in at noon about a Buff-breasted Sandpiper still present at Nehalem Bay State Park. By 12:30 I was out the door and on my way. It was crazy but I had a good feeling about this one. No risk, no reward, right?

This time it paid off. After two hours of driving, I made it to Nehalem, walked down to the beach, and spotted some birders sitting in the grass.

Not looking at that gull

This was a good sign. Sure enough, I sat down next to them and enjoyed the show.

Bunus, there were two!

What a dream. These sandpipers are unique in that they have a lek mating system, males display for females clicking and displaying their buff colors. They nest in the far north Arctic Circle and rarely come through Oregon (typically migrating through central U.S.). For some reason this fall has been a buffy-bonanza. I felt pretty lucky to have seen this lifebird (#490!) and I spent as much time with them as I could.

This brings me to last week, when five (!) BBSA were spotted in the Oak Island mudflats on Sauvie Island by Zack Schlanger. County birds! And five of them! How could I resist? This time I waited until after work and drove out before sunset. I met up with a few other birders already feasting their eyes and I joined in the fun.

I could only get three in one photo comfortably.

Killdeer for scale

Shorebirds were fun again. I’ve talked to several birders about the joys and sorrows of chasing birds, at worst it’s a big waste of time and an emotional trainwreck, at best it can bring birding bliss for days. Of course it’s even better finding your own, but rare birds are rare for a reason. I’ve heard some birders take time off chasing, and it’s a slippery slope back in.

For me right now, I think it’s case by case. I try, I fail, I take a break, I try again. Just like anything it’s about making the most out of the opportunities available. Like when a Parasitic Jaeger shows up also at Sauvie Island.

Yup, I chased that too.

It pays to have friends in birdy places. Thanks to Sarah, Max, and Jen for finding it! And to Colby for refinding and leading me right to it.

Guru mantis says: make the most of your time and follow your dreams.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey