Yard Bird Drama

I’ve waited so long to post about my yard birds, I’m afraid most of those sightings have expired. Remember that time it snowed? Yeah, well, we had Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Dark-eyed Junco, Goldfinch, Pine Siskin, Townsend’s Warbler, Anna’s Hummingbird…and a first for the yard, a Varied Thrush!

Varied Thrush

Varied Thrush doesn’t care, he’s long gone by now.

Since winter, I’ve upgraded the suet and bird feeder to Squirrel Buster designs saving me a ton of money on seed.

Squirrelbuster

And disappointing the hairy seed snatchers.

Squirrel

While making the birds and I very happy.

Goldfinch and Siskin

Lesser Goldfinch and Pine Siskin

Bushtits

Red-breasted Nuthatch and Bushtits

Nuthatch

See the chew marks on the cage? And the smiling Red-breasted Nuthatch? Squirrel Busters FTW.

And tonight! – I was rewarded for taking the compost outside, because I opened the front door to this!

Sharp-shinned

Woah! The birds were calling, “alarm! alarm!” I quickly set down the compost bin and grabbed my camera that was thankfully nearby, locked and loaded.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk

I got a sense from the size and thinner legs that it’s an immature Sharp-shinned Hawk. Here’s a better picture to get a sense of the size of the bird.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

I’d say smaller than a crow, slightly larger than a robin. But as we all know, size lies, so I’m open to interpretation. Anyways, the bird hopped down on the fence and continued the hunt.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk

I sat on the floor at my front door admiring its ferocity (with just a hint of guilt knowing that it’s probably there because of the bird feeders). Fortunately, a group of brave chickadees chased it away before anyone got hurt. In my yard at least. Whew, exciting! Glad I forced myself out of the hammock to do a little cleaning. Totally worth it.

In less dramatic news, here are cute Bushtits!

Bushtit

Bushtit

Yard birds are the best.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Eastward to Walla Walla

Last year, every bird was a life bird. By mid-February 2015 I had seen 77 new-to-me bird species. 77 lifers! I didn’t even know what a “lifer” was then. Over my first year birding, I saw 253 life birds. Not that I’m counting. But, yeah, I’m counting. So far this year I’ve seen 98 species (year birds), but only two lifers (more about one of those below). I now understand the significance. Perhaps I should have paced myself?

SeeAllTheBirds!

Nah. I’m okay with the bar set high. It’s made me a busy birder. In fact, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t chasing red dots on Birdseye like a cat chasing laser lights since the first of the year. Last weekend, I drove four hours to southeastern Washington to catch some red dots along the Snake River.

Snake River

I caught a few at Hollebeke Habitat Management Unit. Like what I would call my first “obvious” Sharp-shinned Hawk (small head, skinny legs, square tail).

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk

And (less obvious) Cooper’s Hawk below. I think.

Cooper's Hawk

Maybe that’s the same bird? There were at least a couple of each. I swear.

I also saw Dark-eyed Junco, Cedar Waxwing, Bald Eagles, American Coot, Northern Harrier, White-Crowned Sparrows, American Robin, Varied Thrush, and many Northern Flicker.

Northern Flicker

An American Kestrel with a snack.

American Kestrel

And Black-billed Magpie, both living and loud and tattered in pieces.

Black-billed Magpie

Wonder who the culprit was? At one point along the trail, I practically tripped over piles of pellets.

Pellets

Pellet

Yum

And whitewash? There was a little.

Whitewash

Then I looked up. Great Horned Owl!

Great Horned Owl

Hello handsome.

Great Horned Owl

I slunk away quietly to disturb as little as possible.

Continuing on I found a Northern Shrike!

Northern Shrike

And I saw one notable bird I recognized from my Florida trip, a Northern Mockingbird!
Apparently, a pretty good sighting for this location. Birder score.

Northern Mockingbird Northern Mockingbird

It was great birding all the birds on Hollebeke, but I still had found no life birds. I was kind of surprised. So, armed with knowledge from Scott Carpenter’s Nature Night series on owling, and hoping for new owls, I moved on to stare at willow thickets.

Willow thicket

I drove back and forth super slowly about 8-10 times for over an hour. I saw nothing. Eventually, nature called, and there are no restrooms in the middle of nowhere. I got out, went behind the thickets, and spooked four owls. Dang it! While falling over, I tried to take pictures of the blurry owl rockets.

Long-eared Owl Long-eared Owl

Judging by the barred tail in the first awful photo, these are indeed Long-eared Owls. Technically, a life bird! My first of 2016. But so bummed to spook them, I almost don’t want to count it. Almost. Hopefully I’ll get more opportunities to stare at willow thickets. Or next time I’ll wait until after sunset.

I wanted to check out Bennington Lake the next day, so I proceeded to nearby Walla Walla to stay for the night. If you have not heard comedian, Mike Birbiglia’s story of sleep walking while staying at La Quinta Inn (La Keen-TA Inn in Wahya Wahya Washginton), do yourself a favor and spend the next 7 minutes laughing at his story. I stayed in the room!!

Sleepwalk with me

Living the birder rock-n-roll lifestyle.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Bonney Butte and HWI

So, there’s this awesome organization called HawkWatch International.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Their study site in Oregon is at this awesome place called Bonney Butte.

Bonney Butte

There are several HWI monitoring sites across the American west and one in Vera Cruz, Mexico. They’re all open to the public, and visitation is encouraged (!). The sites are set up along optimal raptor migration paths where topography centralizes air thermals or “wind highways” the birds use to sustain energy while covering long distances during migration. Less flapping, more soaring.

A relatively smaller number of birds migrate over Bonney Butte, (2,500-4,500/yr vs. 4 million/yr in Vera Cruz), but it’s still apparently the best hawk-watching location in Oregon in the fall (open Aug 28-Oct 31). The last four miles of forest service road up to the butte is not in the best shape, think 4 miles = 40 min of slow, rocky dips and bumps (still worth it!!). I was happy to go as part of Audubon’s Raptor Identification & Migration class.

Bus ride

The class was led by birder extraordinaire and artist, Shawneen Finnegan and Dave Irons, another exceptional birder. We were in good hands. We arrived, hiked up the short, but steep distance to the top of the butte, and got to work looking for hawks.

Hawkwatching

Hawkwatching

Hawkwatching

Hawkwatching

Eventually, we saw a some. They fly over so fast, I only managed a handful of photos.

Not pictured: the numerous Sharp-shinned Hawks that whizzed by, the Cooper’s Hawk, Bald Eagle, Merlin, and Red-tailed Hawks.

The highlight by far, was witnessing the trapping, banding, and release process.

Bird blind

Hawkwatching

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper's Hawk

The HWI team traps the birds, then weighs, measures, and bands them, before finally releasing them back on their way south. The above bird is a hatch year male Cooper’s Hawk. During our visit, they also banded an adult Cooper’s Hawk (below).

Cooper's Hawk

And a hatch-year female Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk

So damn beautiful and inspiring.

Did I mention Hawkwatch International is awesome? Here’s a video that explains more about their great work.
 

 
Here’s my short video of the sharp-shinned release.
 

 
Watch those talons!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey