Winter adventures

January was a good month of birding. Outside my 5MR Philip Kline spotted a Harlequin Duck near Eagle Creek Fish Hatchery in the Gorge, it would be a county bird for me and I thought it would make a great mini-adventure for Tomas and I.

Most of the trails and roads are still closed in the Columbia River Gorge thanks to the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire (started by a teenager setting off fireworks during a burn ban). The highway exit to the fish hatchery is closed but I did some research and found that portions of the bike trail bordering the highway in the gorge are open giving us an easy 3 mile ride from Cascade Locks to Eagle Creek.

Once at Eagle Creek It didn’t take long to spot the lovely brown Harlequin Duck diving near a bend in the river.

It was such a nice time. I spent two hours wedged between some rocks by the river watching the harlequin, goldeneyes, and a pair of American Dippers singing, bobbing, and displaying to one another.

The sweetest

Back in my 5MR I’ve explored some new and old patches. I added two new species to Holladay Park next to my office, a flyover Great Egret and Red-breasted Sapsucker.

Now showing at Holladay Park

I lucked out with a good gull mix at the Downtown Waterfront Park including Ring-billed, California, and a nice Western Gull, slightly more challenging to find away from the coast.

Western Gull and city friends

Another foggy morning I finally made it to Tabor Park this year where I found a Barred Owl hidden deep in the cedar trees.

I texted my friend Eric who biked over to share in the fun. He and I have a good deal of 5MR overlap that can be very convenient. I shared the owl and he returned the favor by finding a nicely perched magical Merlin. Win-win.

We birded by bike together another day, exploring our friendly neighborhood sloughs and found Hermit Thrush, White-breasted Nuthatch, and a Hairy Woodpecker that was an excellent and unexpected 5MR bird for us.

Hairy Woodpecker

A few 5MR parks in Vancouver overlap with Jen’s radius, and she’s been lucky enough to see an American Dipper twice at Biddle Lake inspiring me to cross over and check it out. I’ve yet to refind the 5MR dipper but I did find a nice Pacific Wren.

And my FOY Orange-crowned Warbler! Always a warm winter sight.

Along the Washington side of the Columbia River at Marine Park I saw a nice group of Barrow’s Goldeneye.

And the best was refinding a rare Tufted Duck this past weekend originally found by Jim Danzenbaker at Wintler Park.

Lucky duck

On a return trip from Washington I detoured towards Broughton Beach to look for Short-eared Owls but I didn’t need to go far because as I drove by the airport boundary fence along Marine Drive I did a double-take. Short-eared Owl!

So many good 5MR birds! I’m currently up to 100 species so far this year which sounds like a lot, but it’s still just 69% of the total species seen in Multnomah County.

Bird #100 was a Wilson’s Snipe that Eric and I flushed from the grass at Whitaker Ponds. Unfortunately, it happened too fast for photos. So instead, here’s bird #85 a Townsend’s Warbler that showed up to the yard after I put out homemade suet.

I’m having a lot of fun with mini-adventures in my 5MR, I’ve biked more than I have in a long time and I’ve only had a few pangs of FOMO (fear of missing out). I’m trying to do things differently this year, not that I’m done chasing everything, but I’m pulling back some (until I buy that Prius) (kidding not kidding).

Good 5MR birding.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

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