5MR Snow Daze

It snowed in Portland! It wasn’t much. And it was gone in about 24-hours, but it was a fun time. Because the roads were slick, I didn’t go far. Perfect for 5-mile radius birding. I started at Whitaker Ponds Nature Park where I found a Great Egret nicely camouflaged against the snow.

Finally

I went along the loop trail passing Hooded Mergansers in the slough.

Then I heard a Black Phoebe calling so I ran over to check it out.

Nearby was a Yellow-rumped Warbler at the water’s edge.

I checked for Great Horned Owls and finally after going in circles around the cedars I found an angry face that made me back off pretty quickly.

So effective.

In the back ponds I snuck up on an egret and inadvertently flushed three Wilson’s Snipe! I returned later to the spot to find a couple of them “hiding” behind snow.

Nice try.
Not even close.

It was so nice finally seeing them without flushing them, they’re such interesting birds!

Back on the trail I noticed a handful of Dark-eyed Juncos feeding on grass seeds in the snow, so I sat down to watch for a while.

Minutes later a nicely streaky sparrow hopped right out.

Lincoln’s Sparrow! 5MR #101! An unexpected sparrow for this park, and a great surprise for me.

I went to Mt Tabor Park next that was surprisingly less snowy.

What it lacked in snow it made up for in American Robins.

There were hundreds feeding on the berries from the Hawthorn trees.

After Tabor I made it to Broughton Beach before sunset because I want to see all my 5MR hotspots in the snow.

I forgot to take a picture of the mountain

It was late in the day, freezing and windy but I couldn’t leave because there were at least a hundred gulls standing out at the sand spit. Many of them identifiable!

Western Gull (clean head, black primaries, dark gray back) (Glaucous-winged in foreground)
Iceland Gull (Thayer’s) (dark primaries, dark eye, splotchy head)
Herring Gull (dark primaries, light gray back, light eye) 5MR #102!
California Gull (behind sleepy Glaucous-winged) (black primaries, red eye ring, dark eye, red and black bill marks)
Ring-billed Gull (ringed bill, dreamy, handsome)

And it took me a while, but I finally identified one Mew Gull in the mix! 5MR #103!

Petite bill, smudgy neck, dark eye

The next day I wanted a new park. Something different, but still within 5 miles. I picked Kelly Butte Natural Area just on the SE edge of my radius. I’ve never gone mostly because I have to go past Mt Tabor to get there and it has a bad reputation. And a crazy history, it was once a prison, military bunker, and underground homeless camp.

But I picked the best day to go. The gate was closed, and the park was empty.

I didn’t see one other person while up there. It was lovely.

And I saw loads of birds. Mostly Steller’s Jays, Varied Thrush, a pair of Downy Woodpeckers, and a Hairy Woodpecker. But I heard the best bird before I saw it. Behind the noisy jays and hawks, in the distance I heard a “zuee-zuee-zuee” so I ran up the trail after the song until I eventually saw it.

Hutton’s Vireo! 5MR #104! Going to the scary park was worth it. As is exploring new places close to home. Since then the snow has turned into rain, rain, and more rain. Winter is over and has just begun again.

And the 5MR continues!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Birding in black-and-white

Last weekend the forecast predicted heavy rain and winds on the coast. I believe it read “rain and dangerously windy.” Sounds like perfect birding weather to me. With only the weekends to bird, sometimes I have to take what I can get and this weekend I took it.

It seemed milder than predicted when I arrived at Brian Booth State Park (also known as Beaver Creek Natural Area), located just minutes south of Newport, OR.

I was hoping for a tiny Black-and-white Warbler that had been reported at this site in the weeks prior. As usual I arrived in the pre-dawn hours and began scanning the trees. I welcomed the sight of a Red-shouldered Hawk in the darkness.

I spotted a Red-tailed Hawk picking on nutria road-kill, and heard Bald Eagles calling in the distance. Along the road edges Fox Sparrows scratched in the leaves. I wasn’t sure I was at the right tree patch, but I kept my eyes on the alders hoping.

For a while there was little bird action until all of a sudden dozens of small birds flew in; Pine Siskin, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Brown Creeper, Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, it was overwhelming, but eventually I picked out the tiny warbler I’ve only seen before in Florida.

It acts quite like a nuthatch, inching along branches gleaning insects from the moss and bark, often turning upside down. I watched and enjoyed for a long while.

And then it sat on some branches and preened itself.

Such a good little warbler. I’d driven a long way and had set aside two days, but here were great looks at this handsomely streaked bird and it was only 9:30am. What to do next?

With all this time now on my hands I made a stop at the South Jetty, where I found Red-throated Loon, Red-breasted Merganser, Surf Scoters, and the best surprise was a nice look at a (non-breeding female) Long-tailed Duck.

Impossible to misidentify that one. Another unmistakable pair of ducks present on the rocks nearby were this lovely couple of Harlequin Duck.

Farther down at the gull puddle I found my first banded gull!

1A4 looks like a squinty-eyed 2nd winter Western Gull; blocky head, large bill, pink legs, dark primaries. I’m still waiting to hear back on the report, stay tuned for the update.

I looked for Lapland Longspurs and Snow Buntings but found neither of these. I decided to check for a Ruff, a Eurasian shorebird that sometimes strays to North America, and had been sighted at the coast recently. Now that I had cell coverage again, I learned that the Ruff was down the same road I’d seen the warbler, so back I went. As I left the jetty a flock of Western Meadowlark flew in.

Back on Beaver Creek Rd I drove farther along than before and bumped into a little-advertised Beaver Creek Nature Center.

The place had information, hiking trails, and even bird feeders.

At the feeders were chickadees, towhees, sparrows, and Steller’s Jays on guard.

I took a short and peaceful hike, no other people to be seen.

No birds on the trails either, but it was still really nice. Then farther along the road I heard two Virgina Rails “oinking” at each other in the marshland. No visuals of course, but here’s a visual of their call.

Another mile down the road still not finding any shorebirds, I then heard the loud rapid “tew-tew” of Greater Yellowlegs and I knew I was getting closer. Eventually I found the tiny blurry dots in the distance. I could barely see so I took a bunch of photos.

Light was fading and it was hard to focus on the shorebirds with this gorgeous Red-tailed Hawk in my face.

The hawk screamed over and over and I knew it was my cue to leave.

On the way home I wondered if I might find a spec of Ruff in a photo. Low and behold, I found it.

Small head, porky body, and scaly-patterned back. Not a glamorous sighting at all, but better than nothing.

I made it home by 7:30pm. It had been a long way to go for a day trip, but totally worth it. And now I had an extra day to bird locally. Bonus!

This trip makes me think of all the birds I’ve seen both in Florida and Oregon, Laughing Gull, Palm Warbler, and now Black-and-white Warbler, to name a few. I may list them all up some time.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Ptarmigan again again

When I see White-tailed Ptarmigan reports on eBird I get excited about the possibilities. I can’t help it. I’m a sucker. Someone, somewhere saw this bird. Reporters even provide tips: “Listen as you look. Increase your odds.” Noted. My ears are open.

I’ve done the math. Five attempts in two years equals zero ptarmigan. Simple as that. Math says they don’t exist. But this time would be different. I had three days off, the weather looked promising, and there was a sighting only a couple of days prior. Challenge accepted.

Hello again my friend

It makes sense to start where the last bird was reported so I started in Paradise and hiked the Skyline Trail. I saw lots of Golden-crowned Sparrows and Savannah Sparrows.

Pretty tree-toppers. And the occasional fly-by flock of Horned Lark.

When the winds picked up I noticed a pair of hawks circling above in the sky.

I originally thought Cooper’s based on size, but now I think  Sharp-shinned Hawk because of the shorter head projection beyond the wings at the bend in the wrists.

But I am open to suggestions. Either way they put on quite the show.

Then an unmistakable Prairie Falcon flew by.

Another cool sighting was a huge flock of Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch.

So many that my report of at least 75 was flagged in eBird for a high number.

All this, but still no ptarmigan. Things weren’t different. No ptarm-ptarm, and too many tourists. Paradise had turned into my own personal hell and I needed a change of scenery.

A slight exaggeration

So the next day I drove an hour and a half farther north to Sunrise, the highest point in the park that can be reached by vehicle. This seemed promising. And just 20 minutes below Sunrise is White River Campground.

Risky, but worth it. Such a pretty place, and the white noise of the river next to the sites mostly drowned out noisy campers. Early morning I headed to the top.

I stopped in the visitor center to chat with a ranger about ptarmigan sightings and such, but it had been over a month since one was last reported here.

According to the trail log, I had as good a chance of seeing a ptarmigan as finding Nemo. That sounded about right. My best bet was the Fremont Lookout Trail.

I’d hate to hike this trail in the snow. So steep. I made it to the fire lookout to find a group of hikers had camped up there. So much for birds.

Mountain goats also camped nearby.

I found a Rock Wren near the top (that came up on eBird as rare for some reason).

And on the way back, pika! My favorite mammal.

Other birds I passed along the way included Yellow-rumped Warbler, Townsend’s Solitaire, Varied Thrush, American Pipit, Grey Jay, Common Raven.

And fat, happy squirrels were plentiful.

Golden-mantled Squirrel

On the return hike I took a detour along the Burroughs Mountain Trail where I saw a second herd of mountain goats and the most cooperative pika ever that made my day.

Though I hadn’t found ptarmigan, Sunrise felt new and refreshing.

A new perspective

Of course I was tired and sore from hiking two days, but I felt ready to tackle Paradise again. I returned to Cougar Rock Campground and hung out with Steller’s Jays until morning when it was time to give it another go. To save time I started in the dark with a headlamp. Honestly, I’ve done it so many times I could probably do it blind-folded. But then I would have smooshed the Daddy Long-legs.

I made it to Panorama Point before sunrise, and almost pooped my pants when I saw a chicken at the top. But it turned out to be a ptarmigan in a Sooty Grouse costume.

So close. I searched a little while longer before accepting my nemesis bird had gotten away again. After three days of looking, I felt I’d given it a solid effort. I’m left still excited for the possibilities.

Since returning I’ve crunched the numbers and unless I’m reading them wrong, in the past few years reports of White-tailed Ptarmigan at Mt. Rainier have gone way down. Does this mean there are fewer birds? Or fewer birders reporting them. Of course this isn’t enough data to draw any real conclusions. I’d love to see population census data from a controlled study on Mt Rainier.

Birds reported in 2013: 56 2014: 63 2015: 28 2016: 20 2017: 8

From 61 eBird reports: Most birds seen in August (80), the earliest sighting is April, latest is October, more reports from Sunrise than Paradise (36 vs 23), with a combined total of 175 birds. Best eBird photos here, here, and here. Funniest report here.

TLDR: The best bet is go to Sunrise on a Thursday in August at 10:00am, hike the Fremont Lookout trail for 5 hours and you’ll see 2.86 ptarmigan.

Brilliant. I’ll see you there.

Ptweets and chirps,

Audrey