Chasing a Gyr

It’s been a while since I left my 5MR so when my friend Courtney from Bend mentioned she’d be in town for some bird-watching adventures I rearranged my schedule so I could join her. We knew our first target, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak visiting a feeder near Corvallis. I’d only seen RBGR briefly in Michigan last summer, so I was excited to catch up with one in Oregon.

We got to the feeder bright and early, and felt very welcomed. Thank you Bruce!

The grosbeak arrived just 8 minutes past her regularly scheduled time, and then she sat for 20 minutes on top of the feeder.

We worried a Cooper’s Hawk would swoop right in and eat her. But after posing nicely, she finally hopped down to the feeder and ate some sunflower seeds.

Then a Hutton’s Vireo distracted us.

“Wheeze-wheeze-look at me”

And we looked back and saw the grosbeak had gone. She was in the trees above for a minute and then flew away. The experience was best case scenario for a feeder bird. Such a good grosbeak. From here Courtney and I looked unsuccessfully for the Tundra Bean-Goose at Finley NWR, but we saw FOY Tree Swallows!

Sign of spring!

Then we dipped on a Glaucous Gull at a nearby landfill, but we lucked out with Tricolored Blackbirds hanging out at the Philomath Poo Ponds.

It was a good study of these birds next to Red-winged Blackbirds.

They are obvious and not obvious depending on the lighting conditions and their proximity to one another. I’m not positive I could recognize a tricolored without knowing they were around. And forget about the females.

Feeling satisfied we headed back to Portland, until we checked our emails and read that a Gyrfalcon had been spotted minutes away from where we stood earlier. Dang! It had been two years since I’d seen a Gyrfalcon with Jen (in the same area), and this would be a lifer for Courtney so we turned around immediately but we were unable to relocate the bird. What we did find were clouds of shorebirds.

Dunlin and Black-bellied Plovers put on an unforgettable show.

And at the end of the day we found one falcon, a Peregrine munching on a Killdeer.

After, we stayed at our friend’s Nick and Maureen’s house in Albany to try for the gyr again in the morning. Which ended similarly to the day before, no Gyrfalcon but lots of good consolation birds including FOY Turkey Vultures and and a Say’s Phoebe.

We made it back to Portland, where we looked at a couple of birds, hello again Tufted Duck and hello 5MR Barn Owl.

Before the decision was made to go back and look for the Gyrfalcon a third time. I forgot my wallet at Nick and Maureen’s house the night before so I had even more incentive. And we brought Sarah and Eric this time as reinforcements. Even so, the gyr eluded us. We added a few more county birds and got good looks at a Prairie Falcon (terrible photos, sorry). Eric ended with over 100 species in Linn County, I ended at 82. It was a solid three day effort, no one can say we didn’t try.

Until next time, Gyrfalcon.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

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

301 501

My unintentional now intentional Oregon big year is going pretty well. Since I returned from vacation I’ve chased a lot of birds. I’ve seen a lot and I’ve missed a lot. But that is the risk of the chase. The first bird I hoped to see the day after my plane landed back in PDX was a Magnolia Warbler at Ona Beach in Newport.

The bird had been seen in a mixed flock frequenting the birch trees next to the parking lot. And after a short search that’s where I saw it too!

Magnolia Warbler! State bird 301 life bird 501! Great numbers and a great bird. After my five minutes in heaven with the MAWA I took a tip from Sarah and drove north to Tillamook to look for a Swamp Sparrow. I was in luck because Sarah drew me a legit treasure map.

Past the draft horse and the mini donkey.

In the marshy field next to the parking area exactly as described on the map I pished up my first Oregon Swamp Sparrow! #302. One of the more secretive and hard to see sparrows.

X marks the sparrow!

A life bird and a state bird in one day is a good day! I pushed my luck the following day and drove east to the Hook in Hood River to look for another lifer, a Tufted Duck hanging out in a flock of scaup.

As per usual it was freezing cold and windy and occasionally Bald Eagles moved the flock around not making for easy duck spotting conditions. After finding no tufts a few birders gave up and left. And that’s when I saw it! Tufted Duck! #303.

In my photos it looks more like the Loch Ness but that is a diagnostic black back and mullet. I texted the other birders and after a few more tries everyone saw it. Whew!

I had so much fun in eastern Oregon I headed out there again the following weekend. It was more leisurely than targeted which made birding more relaxing.

Deer-goose-turbine combo

I drove to my favorite canyon in the gorge, Philippi Canyon, where I almost always find something good. Indeed.

California Quail

Say’s Phoebe

Townsend’s Solitaire

Northern Shrike

And the best surprise was a Harris’s Sparrow!

I’ve since been told this is the first verified Gilliam County record of a Harris’s Sparrow which is pretty amazing.

I continued exploring east finding harriers, red-tailed hawks, and at least six Rough-legged Hawks.

They are so handsome!

It never gets old. I ended up birding too far from home and it got dark so I spent the night in Umatilla thinking I could visit McNary Wildlife Nature Area early in the morning. I got up excited to find the Black-crowned Night Herons that roost here. And I found them!

But it was so dark and so foggy they were very hard to see. I slowly made my way out looking for something-anything else, a Bohemian Waxwing perhaps? But the fog refused to lift so I birded my way back home instead.

I followed Ken Chamberlain and the OBA crew’s footsteps and checked out some pretty underrated small ponds in the industrial areas along the Columbia River picking up great Wasco County birds: Virginia Rail, Northern Shrike, Pacific Wren, and the best, I refound a Swamp Sparrow at a pond by the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center!

Slightly more visible than my first Swamp Sparrow. By then it was getting dark so I had to call it a day. I’m reminded how awesome and challenging winter birding is in Oregon. With the cold, rain, and shorter days it’s important to make the most out of the daylight!

Gone birding from dawn till dusk.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey