Eider to Gyrfalcon in a Day

Last week Jen invited me on a mid-week coast trip to chase rarities. I was thrilled to skip work for a day-trip with the potential for an Eider-Brambling-Costa’s-Thrasher combo.

Rarity rainbow

We left at 4am, but that was fine because we took naps in the car while Ralph did most of the driving. Good boy, Ralph.

Along the way we filled up on coffee, pastries, and new county birds – Wild Turkeys! Until we made it to Fossil Point at low tide just as planned. Jen set the scope up and almost immediately found the King Eider. 20 minutes later scanning through wafts of sea ducks I also had the eider!

Scan, scan, scan – King Eider!

Not a bad looking sea duck. Common in the arctic, they rarely visit south of Alaska. Jen also pointed out a Long-tailed Duck in the crowd which was another first for me. The tide started coming in reminding us we’d better move on but it was hard to leave such a large flock of good birds.

On route to our next destination we made a quick stop at Oregon Dunes Recreation Area to let the dogs out and stretch our legs.

A nice surprise we found creeping in the bushes by the restrooms was a Wrentit! A first for me in Oregon! I haven’t seen one of these cute charismatic birds since my trip to California.

An hour north and an hour and a half later the Brambling was a no-show no thanks to the Peregrine and Cooper’s Hawk that jetted in and out of the neighborhood. It was pretty quiet aside from the occasional Dark-eyed Junco and Fox Sparrow.

Not so pretty perch for a pretty bird

Reluctantly, we accepted defeat and left for the next hour drive north to look for a visiting Costa’s Hummingbird. Just as we turned out of the neighborhood though a FOY Turkey Vulture flew right over the car that made defeat feel so much better. Nothing like a migrating pick-me-up.

A quick stop at Bob Creek Wayside along the way also helped.

Here we found Black Turnstones.

Black Oystercatchers, Surf Scoters, and another new bird for me the Surfbird!

I’m not sure how this bird has flown under my radar thus far but I was pleasantly surprised when I realized.

There were also plenty of gulls at this stop.

Some Herring, mostly California

California Gull

Back on track we made it to the Costa’s site in a neighborhood in Newport, but unfortunately we found out the hummer was visiting less reliably.

Right place, wrong time

The gracious homeowner let us watch the feeder anyways where we did see “Piglet” a wintering Orange-crowned Warbler that has a habit of feeding at the hummingbird feeder. We also saw a Hairy Woodpecker, more Fox Sparrows, and a glimpse of a White-throated Sparrow. But no Costa’s.

While in Newport we decided to check out the herring spawning event in Yaquina Bay where we watched loads of sea lions and birds drunk on fish.

Red-necked Grebe

Pelagic Cormorant

Looking closer at my photos I also found a Long-tailed Duck in the long line of sea birds that were far in the distance.

Barely diagnostic photo

It was late afternoon at this point and we realized we had a big decision to make. The Brown Thrasher was the last target species we’d originally anticipated, but there was also a report of a Gyrfalcon an hour and a half east near Eugene that was now tempting us. Which rare bird to chase next?? Birder problems.

Since it would be a life bird for both of us and a rarer opportunity we opted for the Gyrfalcon. Unlike that time I almost saw a Gyrflacon, with about an hour of sunlight left, we found the bird.

Is something on fire? “Our birding skills!” (- Jen)

Along with two other birders we watched and admired this amazing creature from afar (maybe silently wishing it was closer). It turned around and re-positioned itself and I noticed that Gyrfalcons wear pantaloons.

Or at least the feathered legs make it look that way. And not obvious in my photos, but Gyrfalcons are the largest falcons in the world. And seeing one was a great way to end an amazing birding trip. We watched until it flew off into the sunset.

Not a bad day for an Eider-Long-tailed-Surfbird-Gyrfalcon combo!

Of course I enjoyed all the birds we saw. Even the Mallards.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Bird Eat Bird World

I originally scheduled the day after my Birdathon trip as a rest day. But the promising weather and my large cup of coffee made me to drive 3 hours southwest to Yaquina Head Lighthouse on the Oregon coast instead.

There were recent reports of an active Peregrine Falcon nest and it was just too tempting to resist.

Yaquina Bay Lighthouse

I arrived at the lighthouse natural area, but not knowing exactly where the nest was, I looked around and found a surprising scene.

Masacre

It was a massacre. Bald Eagles, followed by scavenging Western Gulls had decimated what looked like hundreds of Common Murre eggs.

Evidence

Evidence

Partners in crime

Partners in crime

This one had a taste for crow

This one had a taste for crow

Bald Eagle

One of these birds is not like the other

One of these birds is not like the other

Nature can be brutal. Volunteers at the lighthouse have U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service pamphlets for the visiting public that explain the phenomenon further.

Pamphlet

Adapting Anew to an Old Foe: Recently, Bald Eagle have moved into places they haven’t been seen in years. Common Murre in these areas have little experience with Bald Eagle predation and often flee when eagles approach. Some murres are readapting to this historic predator. Instead of abandoning their nests they sit tight and wait for the danger to pass.”

Unfortunately for the murres, the eagles got the upper hand this day. This article is also a great read about the recent rebalancing.

It was hopeful to see some rocks still piled with healthy and live Common Murre.

Common Murre

Still no signs of the peregrines, so I followed the stairs down to the tidal pools to visit Harlequin Ducks and Black Oystercatcher.

Harlequin Duck

Black Oystercatcher

I looked to my right to see a pair of Pelagic Cormorant acting lovey dovey on their nest.

Pelagic Cormorant

Pelagic Cormorant

Aw, so sweet. And here’s a Western Gull for good measure.

Western Gull

At this point I realized the peregrine nest was possibly on the cliff-face near the visitor center. Indeed it was. As I drove closer, I saw the group of cameras, tripods, and long lenses and knew I had found the right place.

Peregrine nestlings

Yep. Peregrine Falcon chicks!

Peregrine family

Ferociously sweet. And the Common Murres aren’t the only ones tormented by eagles. So too was this brave falcon parent.

Bald Eagle and Peregrine Falcon

With prey gripped in her talons she flew toward her nest, when suddenly three juvenile Bald Eagles swarmed her and she dropped the prey in the parking lot. Used to the drama, a Yaquina Head Interpretive center employee promptly came outside to escort the spectators to look at the dropped meal before barricading it off.

Falcon food- any guesses?

Falcon food- any guesses?

Wildlife protection

For the next hour the falcon zoomed back and forth in the sky defending her territory from eagles and now Turkey Vultures that entered the scene thanks to the dropped goodies.

Turkey Vulture

Being a Peregrine parent is hard work.

Peregrine Falcon

Things quieted down before a second, male falcon (according to the crowd), brought in fresh prey and the pair switched off.

Peregrine Falcon

Good bird.

The latest word on the fledglings:

Be brave little murres, the peregrines are coming!

Tweets and Chirps,

Audrey

Seattle Part II: That time I almost saw a Gyrfalcon

The weekend after the Seattle trip with Jen, my boyfriend, Tomas, suggested going to Seattle to visit friends and try out his new fancy camera.

Bananas Foster French Toast courtesy of Portage Bay Cafe

I heard, “Blah, blah, blah…..another chance at redpolls?” Yes. Yes, I would like to go to Seattle. We drove up late Friday night and stayed a hotel way less creepy than the last one in Kennewick.

Haunted by ghost couches

Haunted by ghost couches

We got up early, stuffed ourselves with bananas foster french toast, then headed over to Green Lake.

Green Lake

It was just like before, lots of people, lots of dogs. And unfortunately, this time, it was overcast and cloudy. But we could overlook the weather for the moment, because we found the Common Redpolls! Right where they were supposed to be, in the birch trees by the lake. So reliable I could set my watch to them.

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

It was going to be that easy, huh? We took pictures and watched them pick at the catkins for hours. They were very fast, moving from branch to branch picking seeds. The catkin petals fell from the trees like snow. Here’s a video of one bird.

Feeling rich in redpolls, I decided to use my new eBird superpowers that Jen taught me to look for other rarities in the area. There’s this thing under “Explore Data” called “Alerts.”

Needs

This is where you can sign up for alerts and read accounts of rare birds by state or county. It’s funny, I’ve entered rare birds into the eBird app that were included in the list (that Northern Mockingbird at Hollebeke), but I never knew there was a central place to read the descriptions and see uploaded user photos. That data is super helpful. Especially if you want to chase a Gyrfalcon reported an hour away from Seattle at Mahler Park in Enumclaw. And we did. So we went.

Mahler State Park

We arrived at the park, and quickly made friends with the handful of birders on site, who were also looking for the falcon. A nearby resident came out and told us he had seen the bird that morning perched on the “known snag.” He showed us a superb picture on his phone and mentioned they named the bird Henry, after a neighborhood kid. Alrighty, then.

Henry, the Gyrfalcon, was not home that afternoon. We figured he was probably out hunting, so we drove around the area with our eyes glued to the sky. I noticed a couple of silhouettes at once.

Common Raven

Diamond-shaped tail, large bird, with “feather fingers” = Common Raven Juvenile Bald Eagle.

I also saw a large bird soaring with dark wings and light flight feathers, a “headless” bird I recognized as a Turkey Vulture!

Turkey Vulture

Year bird! I made the eBird entry and turns out it’s an uncommon bird for this area at this time of year and it showed up on the alert list. It does seem early, I think it wasn’t until summer that I first saw one last year. We continued on, and about a block away from the park I saw a falcon silhouette. Streamlined shape, and moving fast.

Falcon

Flying fast and farther away from us. I was confident it was a falcon, and it looked light below, but with the overcast skies it was difficult to tell for sure. I thought, what are the odds there’s another falcon so close? It had to be Henry. Celebrations commenced. Champagne corks were basically popped. Until I got home and was able to study the pictures more closely.

Falcon

Turns out the odds are pretty high that there’s a Peregrine Falcon near where a Gyrfalcon was spotted. The dark “mustache” is a clear giveaway.

Who knew? I wish we could have spent more time chasing the bird. We were so close! Nevertheless, those few hours we thought we saw a Gyrfalcon were some of the most fun yet. And it’s going to make the next sighting that much sweeter.

We made it back in time to watch the sunset, have dinner with friends, and to check on the Redpolls. They were not there. So unreliable!

Seattle sunset

What a fun trip!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey