Outside my 5MR

Most of my birding lately has been defined by “inside my 5MR” and “outside my 5MR.’ The “5MR” is a 5 mile radius for birding around a set point (in my case my house), a trend Jen Sanford started to inspire more local birding, drive less and bird more. It’s really caught on. Of course some birds are too tempting and it’s okay to stray outside the circle sometimes.

Rules were meant to be broken for Sagebrush Sparrows that show up outside the radius! Colby Neuman has been a superstar in Multnomah County this year. He found this bird, as well as a Brewer’s Sparrow and two Vesper Sparrows at a small patch in Troutdale between a huge FedEx building and a newly constructed Amazon Warehouse. (Sigh).

Not long after, Ezra Cohen, a young birder found a Burrowing Owl trying to navigate its way around the Amazon facility and parking lot. It is thought that some eastern species were pushed farther west this year due to heavy snow levels. I missed the Brewer’s, Vesper’s, *and* Burrowing, but I managed to see one of (three!) Loggerhead Shrikes at Sandy River Delta Park.

I tried hard to find one in my 5MR (even tried to turn some scrub-jays into shrikes) but I couldn’t make it happen.

Another fun chase was to Blueberry Rd near Corvallis where a trio of amazing birds were hanging out. Together in a farm field were a Lapland Longspur.

A Snow Bunting.

Which thankfully was still there because this bright bird led me to find my lifer Chestnut-collared Longspur!

Basically invisible

I’m sure it’s gorgeous in breeding plumage, but here it blended in perfectly with the grass and stubble. I had more of a chance to see a Chestnut-collared Longspur in Arizona than in Oregon, but there I sat looking at one in Linn County. True story. And totally worth it.

So magical

Last week I took a trip outside my 5MR to Yamhill County when news of a Harris’s Sparrow popped up. I really like these sparrows and it is a (secret not so secret) dream of mine to someday see one in every county in Oregon (6 down, many more to go). Because Yamhill is notoriously a difficult birding county this was worth a try. Plus, I had only one bird species in the county (a 2018 Turkey Vulture flyover) so a Big Yamhill Day it was!

But the Harris’s Sparrow wasn’t cooperative. It had been seen the prior morning easily, but after a long wait at the appropriate spot, there was no sign of it.

Por qué?

A little bummed since I took the day off from work, I left to look at ducks. Because ducks don’t let you down. Not far down the road I found my FOY Greater Yellowlegs and a pair of Wilson’s Snipe!

Snipe make everything better. From here I checked out some Yamhill “hotspots” including Sheldon’s Marsh, inaccessible by foot, but Marsh Wren and Virginia Rail can be heard from the road. One of the more productive hotspots is South Side Park in Sheridan because you can scope the (restricted) nearby water treatment ponds. I saw my first of three Black Phoebes that I found in the county here.

Huddleston Fish Pond was a little less productive, it was covered in Yellow-rumped Warblers, and I spotted a pair of Osprey at the far end of the pond on a pretty big nest.

At this point it was late afternoon, big decision time. Do I continue to my final planned destination McGuire Reservoir, call it a day, or retry for the Harris’s? Questioning my life’s choices, I opted for the sparrow again, and I’m so glad I did!

It refused to come out of the shrubs, but it was there and singing!

It was the first time I’ve heard one sing, and I’m impressed that I noticed the tune coming out of the bushes because it’s much more complex than what I’ve heard from the Sibley App (my recordings in this eBird checklist).

Feeling like I could do no wrong after this, I headed up to McGuire Reservoir in the coast mountain range for some Yamhill County forest birds. Mind the deer crossing the road along the way.

The reservoir is a quiet beautiful spot, though it is mostly fenced off since it’s McMinneville’s water source.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t scope for birds from the road. I was hoping for a loon, but instead found the expected Hooded Mergansers.

And in the trees surrounding the reservoir I found common forest birds, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and I was especially pleased to find a Yamhill County Varied Thrush.

On the return drive out, I saw chickens on the side of the road. I thought “fancy Chukars?” No way!!! Mountain Quail!!

I’ve only heard MOUQ two years ago, never seen. I pulled over to get better pics but a truck sped by and the pair hurried down the hillside. It was still a fun sighting. And a good reminder that exploring rather than chasing can be even more rewarding sometimes.

I ended at 62 species for the day, including a couple of pretty darn good birds, bringing my Yamhill County total to 63. Glad I made the trip!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

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

Dipping highs and lows

Thanksgiving week I spent time with Tomas, called my family, and then I went birding. A Rusty Blackbird was reported on Thanksgiving day at McNary Wildlife Area (but I was just there!). This would be a lifer and a recent rusty stuck around the Bend area for a while so I thought this one would be easy.

You think birding is easy?

Black-billed Magpies can easily find Cooper’s Hawks.

But I saw very few blackbirds. It could have been due to the Merlin.

Zoomies

That was cool to see. As was the Red-shouldered Hawk that appeared right before my eyes.

This is a pretty rare sighting in this part of Oregon. Another treat was finding a pair of Harris’s Sparrows!

Two is better than one

Unfortunately most of my photos of both together came out blurry, but they were a pretty cute.

I finally got to see the Black-crowned Night Herons out of the fog.

And in another tree I thought there were more herons but looking closer it was decorated with Wood Ducks!

They weebled and wobbled on the thin branches while a Eurasian Wigeon swam by in the water below.

Down by the dam I picked out some Bonaparte’s Gulls flying over the river just as it started raining.

It was too bad I missed the blackbird but it was fun giving McNary Wildlife Area more attention. If only this great birding spot was a bit closer. On the return trip home I stopped at Philippi Canyon and sat in the car watching a little Rock Wren hop around the rocks then I looked over to my right.

Holy sheep!

A group of Bighorn Sheep were making their way down the rocky hillside.

I picked my jaw up off the floor and glanced through the windshield just as a Chukar ran across the road!!!

Surprise state year bird #304!!! There were three of them that crossed and slowly hopped up the rocks where the sheep had just been.

It was a pretty magical moment. Dipping on the Rusty Blackbird was turning out okay after all. The next day I went to the coast and tried to find a Yellow-billed Loon that was spotted near Nehalem Bay. I spent two days looking but the loon must have moved on.

At one point during a break I drove to Seaside Cove to see a Rock Sandpiper! #305!

Another afternoon at Nehalem Bay State Park I met James Billstine a local birder and this turned out to be the best luck. With his help we found Yellow-rumped Warblers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, a Pacific Wren, Bewick’s Wren, a Fox Sparrow, and he managed to pish up a Hermit Thrush. That never happens.

And a Palm Warbler!

Excellent county birds and so fun to see all at once in one small patch. Another evening I met Courtney Jett from Bend and we dipped on the loon together while watching River Otters scratch themselves on a log.

So itchy

I stayed overnight in Rockaway at the Surfside Resort that was pretty quiet and comfy. In the morning I gave the loon one more chance but still no luck. It’s not often a Yellow-billed Loon visits Oregon so I was bummed to miss out. But such is the risk of chasing birds and I’d met some great people along the way.

I left the coast and ended up in Corvallis checking out Bald Hill Natural Area looking for Wild Turkeys but instead I found a really late Turkey Vulture.

What are you still doing here?

This is when I learned about a rare Tundra Bean-Goose at Finley National Wildlife Refuge 30 minutes away. I ran back to the car and took off. I made it to the site where other birders were standing in front of thousands of geese. But unfortunately, I looked at the wrong goose. This was not my finest birding moment.

I was probably right in front of the bean goose but my eyes locked onto a Greater White-fronted. Wrong bill color! It was so confusing and before I had a chance to correct the error a Bald Eagle had already spooked the whole flock. The worst! This is one of those moments I’ll replay in my mind a thousand times over hoping for a different outcome. I have good news though. Five days later I got a second chance with the goose!

Thanks to Courtney’s birding stamina and my new friend Lindsay Willrick’s excellent hospitality (I may not have survived gooselessness without them). In the gross cold and rain while taking shelter in the bird blind I picked out the bean goose while scanning the flock in the spotting scope. I may have squealed and jumped up and down like a lunatic. But it’s the goose! We had about 15 minutes enjoying it before it flew off to the south.

This goose is one of only five eBird records in the United States (there is another from 2015 in Oregon, and a 2013 record by the Salton Sea!). So it was worth some drama to see it. And by the way I got a second chance at Wild Turkeys too! #306!

With only a month left this year I’m taking the losses in stride and appreciating what I’m lucky enough to see. It’s a good lesson in letting go. I can put myself in the best place at the best time and I can still miss a bird. And that’s okay.

There’s still time to see (and miss) a few more!

Dips and derps,

Audrey