No (R)egrets

A short while ago my friend Eric and I were doing some light, casual, local birding. We managed to find a Multnomah County Swamp Sparrow a new county bird for each of us (both #215!).

Then a report of a Cattle Egret came in. A week prior there was a report of one at Fernhill Wetlands that turned out to be a Great Egret. But this report seemed more plausible, “seen with 10 Great Egrets.” We didn’t see photos, but we also didn’t have a good reason not to try for it, so we went.

Two hours later we were on the side of Washburn Lane scratching our heads. Is that egret smaller? Maybe that one? None looked strikingly different. They were also difficult to see due to tall grass and poor light. Then two egrets flew and one looked “slightly smaller.” Sort of. See Eric’s photo of the egrets in this eBird checklist.

We left knowing we hadn’t seen a Cattle Egret, but we weren’t sure if the bird we saw was a female GREG (males can be 20% larger than females) or young egret or something else.

My only usable photo of egret sp. with nothing for scale

Turns out, this egret sparked debate that it could be an Intermediate Egret, a medium-sized egret that occurs from Africa to the Philippines. There has been a single confirmed occurrence of an Intermediate Egret (found deceased, blown in from a storm with 7 other egrets) in the Aleutian Islands on Buldir Island in 2006. So the likelihood of this bird being Intermediate is (sure, anything is possible) slim.

I feel it’s similar to the McKay’s Bunting “pale bird,” without a DNA sample we’ll never know for sure. To distinguish Intermediate from Great Egret, Oriental bird specialist Desmond Allen says “after the first 500-1000 you may start to see the differences more easily.” Sounds like a fun (painful) I.D. exercise. I didn’t know Intermediates existed before this, but for now I’m leaving this one as egret sp.

Eric and I gave up egretting to take another look at the Tundra Bean-Goose nearby at Finley NWR. Eric spotted the goose easily and we got the best looks yet.

By then it was nearing dusk so we left to look for Short-eared Owls at Prairie Overlook. We saw two! Along with Red-shouldered Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, and distant looks at a White-tailed Kite. Excellent consolation birds all of which I took terrible photos of.

Guess who

Four days later another Cattle Egret report came in. What?! This time I waited to see photos and sure enough, James Billstine had found two in Tillamook! It was noon and I was at work, but I knew if I left immediately I could make it before dark.

Finally, real Cattle Egrets! Distant looks, but still a good reminder how tiny they are compared to Great Egrets. No question about these (state year bird #319!). Maybe someday these two will make even more Cattle Egrets in Oregon.

No regrets.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

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

5MR Updates

With only a month and a half of this year left, looking back I think I’ve done a pretty good job finding birds in my 5 mile radius. I haven’t done the best job of updating, but so far I’ve seen 143 species.

The most recent additions were found at Broughton Beach, including winter visitors like this Dunlin.

I added a couple of species while looking through bad photos, like these barely identifiable Greater White-fronted Geese.

Sometimes I have to take what I can get, like fly-by Surf Scoters.

Then other times I get lucky with a fly-by Short-eared Owl!

Aw, man I love those owls, they’re the best.

This past weekend, also at Broughton were fly-over Tundra Swans.

A confident addition of an Iceland Gull (formerly known as Thayer’s Gull); pink legs, medium-pale mantle, black primaries, dark iris.

So easy to identify

And a couple of uncommon visitors, including a Pacific Loon.

And a trio of Red-breasted Mergansers, that differ from Common with a longer, thinner bill, a shaggy crest, and no white chin patch.

Hello ladies

Not all the birds come from Broughton, one evening I got a lucky brief look of a hawk flying over Mt Tabor that surprisingly wasn’t a Red-tailed Hawk.

Pale head, dark belly, white underside of primaries – and no patagial marks – a Rough-legged Hawk! I was at the right place at the right time for my 199th Multnomah County bird!

What was #198? I’m so glad you asked. My best 5MR bird to-date showed up at my friend Casey Cunningham’s house just 4.1 miles away. He’d reported a Virginia’s Warbler occasionally visiting his suet feeder, and many other birders and I spent quality time in the cold, rain (questioning life choices) while staking out his yard hoping for a look.

Warbler at the end of the rainbow? Nope.

But most, including myself struck out on too many occasions. Right place, wrong times. That was until this weekend, while happily out birding with friends, we immediately detoured over to Casey’s yard after seeing an encouraging warbler report. It’s so hard to know when to take the gamble, but this time it truly paid off.
Virginia’s Warbler – YES!

It might not look like much, but this subdued gray warbler with a yellow undertail is normally found far away in southwest deserts and is often difficult to observe in it’s own brushy chaparral habitat. But here was one in NE Portland, wagging its tail, chowing down on suet.

Black-capped Chickadee meet Virginia

Oh you want to come out and perch in the sunshine? Okay, then. *gushes*

The crowd cheered and applauded as the warbler put on a great show, it was an unforgettable moment shared with great friends.

The crowd goes wild

The 5MR has been helpful for keeping FOMO (a fear of missing out) at bay. It’s still challenging when new temptation lands every day, but there are always birds close to home keeping things interesting. This week I’ll say goodbye to my 5MR and local birds as I travel back to Florida for a family visit. I have much to be grateful for near and far.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanks and chirps,

Audrey