Birds, barf, and joy

The end of the year is closing in and it’s hard to believe there are birds left in Oregon that I haven’t seen. But there are. One last pelagic trip was scheduled this December. I hadn’t intended on going since I’d already been on two trips this year, but my friend Courtney was going and pelagics are better with boat buddies. Also, I figured once I saw reports of what was seen, I’d regret not having gone. I was right. 

On the drive down to Newport I followed a tip on a Burrowing Owl and just as I was about to give up. Owl! #313

It was my goal not to flush this sleepy little owl and I succeeded by staying in my car, observing from a distance and I didn’t stay long so as not to attract attention. I left it just as I’d found it and I was already glad I’d left the house.

In the morning, the predicted ocean conditions weren’t encouraging, but at least the rain was set to hold off for another day. At 8am 15 intrepid birders set off from the dock to see what we could find. 

It was a goal to get to the bow (front) of the ship this time. In all my trips I’ve never ventured up there because it’s a rockier part of the ship. And if there’s one thing I need it’s less rocking. But I did it!

View from the front

At least in the beginning. I was somewhere near the front when we found the most accommodating Ancient Murrelet

A great start! Gradually though I retreated to the back of the boat as the swells increased. I kept calm for the majority of the trip, but at least at one chum stop I bowed to the sea. It happens. And sometimes it brings in the birds! I recovered a little as Sooty and Short-tailed Shearwaters (#313) zoomed by, and we spotted our first Black-footed Albatross.

Hello albatross!

Not long after, Laysan Albatross! They’ve been seen on every Oregon pelagic this fall (Aug-Dec), that must be a good sign.

And we saw Black-legged Kittiwake.

There was a quiet stretch as we continued farther and farther out, fewer birds to look at means more attention paid to the motion. It can get tough. Short video here from when I could hold the camera. Luckily, at around 35 miles out we found another group of birds. There were so many albatross.

Then Shawneen called out, “Short-tailed Albatross!” and I perked right up. This is a very exciting bird. I’d seen one on the 2017 December pelagic trip, but they are rare and never a guarantee. Especially the good looks we had. 

Coming through

It’s not everyday you see three albatross species in one binocular view. So incredibly lucky!

My risk paid off in albatross. The later it got, the angrier the ocean became. Sneaker waves shook us and it was time to turn the boat around. On the return trip Pacific White-sided Dolphins followed in our wake while Humpback Whales moved alongside us.

I didn’t feel 100% this trip, but it was all worth it. And that’s not all! Just as we headed back into the marina, someone yelled out Glaucous Gull! The rear ran to the front. Another state year bird!

#316

Such a great trip! Unfortunately I missed the Parakeet Auklet fly-by this time, it’s one of those birds seen best from the bow and I was far from it by then. Some day!

After de-boarding Courtney and I celebrated (dry land!), she’d found at least 3 life birds and I’d seen 3 year birds. And we had just enough daylight to make a quick look for Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs at the North Jetty. We dipped on the longspurs but found the cutest bunting with bright orange cheeks guarding the dunes.

I stayed overnight in Newport to rest up and in the morning I followed a Ruddy Turnstone report by the Pacific Oyster Company. Luckily the report was was legit and within minutes of scanning the 40+ Black Turnstones I picked out the one with the bright orange legs.

Ruddy Turnstone! #317

Back from the coast and back at work this week, I had just enough time before a dentist’s appointment to look for a handsome male Red-naped Sapsucker in Sherwood. It’d been two years since I’ve seen one!

Yes! This one was so easy. #318. Only two birds from 320! That’s a pretty nice number.

Dear Santa, for Christmas this year I’d like a Ruffed Grouse, Mountain Quail, American Tree Sparrow, Snowy Egret, Rusty Blackbird, Gray-crowned Rosy Finch, Bohemian Waxwing, Common Redpoll, Snowy Owl, Sedge Wren (?!) and/or any exotic warbler. Maybe Santa’s helpers will find something during the Christmas Bird Count

Happy holidays,

Audrey 

December Pelagic and Astoria

Less than a week after my plane landed back in Portland I signed myself up for a 7-hour pelagic trip. Because a winter boat ride in the Pacific Ocean sounds like a good idea, right? Of course it does for the chance for winter seabirds like Short-tailed Shearwater, Ancient Murrelet, Laysan Albatross, Parakeet Auklet, and rare Mottled Petrel.

Since I’d just been on the October pelagic trip, the conditions were fresh in my mind. Honestly, I wouldn’t have dared, but the weather forecast looked surprisingly hopeful, my doctor gave me a Rx refill, and 7-hours sounded mild compared to the 12-hours I was used to. I was on board. And as it turns out, this was a good combination because for the first time, no seasickness!!

Smooth sailing

The best bird of the trip was a Short-tailed Albatross!

This chocolate-brown bird with the bubblegum-pink bill is a juvenile of the species, as they mature their feathers turn white with black edging. It has a wingspan of over 7ft and is the largest seabird in the North Pacific.

It’s also a great reason to go out on a boat in December.

Northern Fulmar for scale

Once hunted nearly to extinction (and even declared extinct in 1949), they are now listed as endangered throughout their range. It was juvenile birds, like this one that brought the species back.

Albatross spend most of their maturing years out at sea, and take many years to return to their breeding colonies. After they were thought to be extinct, some birds returned to Torishima Island and the first egg was laid by returning birds in 1954. Slowly they’ve come back and are now threatened by storms, volcanoes, long-line fishing, pollution, and oil spills. We were incredibly lucky to see one.

Other highlights included the always-popular Black-footed Albatross (they look similar to short-tailed but with a dark bill).

I noticed one was banded!

EA23 was banded in 2009 at Tern Island, Hawaii (look at this photo circle!!). So cool!

Albatross fan club

And a very distant sighting of Laysan Albatross!

So distant and blurry, here’s a one from Hawaii to remember how awesome they are.

It was a three albatross day! That’s a pretty good day.

We also saw a juvenile Black-legged Kittiwake.

And a second kittiwake, an adult showing the unmarked yellow bill.

There were Cassin’s Auklets, Ancient Murrelets, and a pair of Parakeet Auklets (seen by few), that I completely missed. Next time I might try my luck the bow of the ship for a better chance to see the smaller birds. We’ll see if I’m that brave.

I did get Rhinocerous Auklet, Pink-footed Shearwater, and a Humpback Whale, that was less jumpy than last time.

Back on land, after having survived another pelagic trip, I felt energized and inspired to continue birding at the coast. I took a chance and drove to Astoria where White-winged Crossbills had been sighted. Apparently every decade or so there is an irruption of this boreal forest finch. Chasing crossbills isn’t the easiest gamble, but there’d been multiple sightings.

I drove three and a half hours north and made it to Astoria by 7pm. In the morning I checked out of the mostly adequate Motel 6 and drove farther north to Cape Disappointment in Washington. I thought maybe I could find crossbills in both states (so greedy!).

Is it light enough to look for birds?

A couple of flocks flew by overhead, but no confirmed white-wings. Pine Siskin wanted me to think they were White-winged Crossbills.

I got a tip too look for Trumpeter Swans in a nearby pond.

Can’t a girl look at swans without getting stared at?

Success! I think? Let’s take a closer look at that bill. All black, no yellow lore.

Besides the lack of yellow lore, the characteristic that stands out to me distinguishing it from Tundra is the broad black connection between the eye and the mask. Not an easy ID! I still find this document handy, and I found this website helpful too.

After Cape Disappointment lived up to its name, I decided to look at Fort Stevens State Park in Oregon for White-winged Crossbills. This time I had better luck! There were yellow ones.

And red ones, both attracted to spruce cone seeds.

And as per usual, hanging out at the tippy tops of trees and hard to see. Reading up on crossbills, apparently there are ten (!) types (distinguished by calls) that can be interpreted as ten different species. I’m not ready for that. Maybe by the next decade.

Until then, there’s shorebirds to look at like the Rock Sandpiper still hanging out at Seaside Cove.

Leave it to birds to always keep things interesting. The coast does not disappoint either!

Looking forward to the next oceanic adventure.

Happy holidays!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey