Everyday I’m hobblin’

“You’re a trooper” “You got some heart” “You’ll let nothing stop you” “Way to go!” “Are you okay?” These are the things people will say to you if you hike up Powell Butte Nature Park on crutches. I know this because I tried to find one of 11 Mountain Bluebirds spotted the day before, but unfortunately, all I found were well-meaning platitudes.

At least it was good exercise? I suppose. I feel I’d gotten cocky after convincing Tomas to drive by the fire station near Broughton Beach to look for a Rough-legged Hawk that’d been seen there. Found it!

Birding is so easy! Of course it is.

Most of my time this past weekend I spent hanging out with the yard birds, especially after I saw a Black-capped Chickadee show interest in a nesting box I put up last year. After many hours of watching though, it’s still unconfirmed if they’re using it.

Are you nesting here? Check yes or no.

Another highlight while sitting outside enjoying the spring sunshine was witnessing a wake of Turkey Vultures fly overhead.

This is the first time I’ve recorded them from the yard and I counted 20!

They just kept coming. This is the kind of stuff that makes yard-birding interesting.

While vultures migrated overhead, other birds were singing up a storm. I heard Varied Thrush, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and Golden-crowned Kinglets jingling in the Doug-fir trees surrounding the yard.

I heard a handsome Fox Sparrow.

And a charming and perky-tailed Bewick’s Wren.

Hello ladies

At the feeders House Finch and Lesser Goldfinch add some color.

While the Red-breasted Nuthatch adds personality.

At the office I’ve spent more time watching the Anna’s Hummingbird nest than working.

She’s made regular feedings, but I haven’t seen any little hummers yet.

I’ve also yet to see a Rufous Hummingbird this year, but there’s still time.

The flowers have just sprung.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Birdiversary and honorable mentions

I went back to basics this year for my birdaversary. Back to Stub Stewart State Park where it all began three years ago when I was first inspired inspired by the curiosity and wonder of birds.

It was rainier and foggier this time, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this 
classic Pacific Northwest forest. Knowing what I know now, this park in winter is not exactly a birding hotspot. At least to find a lot of species, but don’t tell that to my former self. It’s the type of place where you can walk for miles and see nothing, or you might bump into a Northern Pygmy Owl like I did on day one.

No owls this time, but I did find a flock of 90+ Pine Siskins.

I wouldn’t have known what to do with these back then, but this time I knew to scan for  Common Redpolls. Nope, not that lucky.

Nobody here but us siskins.

I hung out with my corvid pals, Steller’s Jay and Gray Jays that hopped around the cabin deck looking for a lost crumb.

I reconnected with the Red-breasted Sapsucker which was my second-place winner for spark bird (after the Pygmy Owl).

Second is the best

I saw at least a half dozen Brown Creepers, Golden-crowned Kinglets, and perky Pacific Wrens.

Which I’m now confident is the mystery bird I saw on day one. Three years later, mystery solved! I saw only 12 species this time compared to 14 then, but it was still fun remembering that amazing day. Much thanks to forest birds like this Varied Thrush.

It’s been an awesome year! Not a Big Year, but an awesome one. Between Texas, Florida, and the Pacific Northwest I’ve seen 412 species bringing my life list to 469. It’s hard to believe I’ve seen so much in such a short time period. It goes by so quickly sometimes I don’t get the chance to write about everything. But I feel some things deserve mentioning.

Like my 200th Multnomah County bird, the White-winged Scoter that I saw in the pouring rain the day before I left for Florida.

The Broad-tailed Hummingbird I met this summer in Colorado while visiting a friend.

And who could forget the happy hummers in the yard when I turned on the sprinkler during the 100+ degree summer days?

Anna’s Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird

Yard-birds bring me great joy. While I haven’t yet seen a returning Townsend’s Warbler yet, we’ve had new sparrows this year, the Fox Sparrow who likes scratching in the leaves.

And my new favorite, White-throated Sparrow.

Appropriately at the Birds and Beers white elephant gift exchange I won an awesome White-throated Sparrow painting by my friend Max! It’s bright and cheery and I love it.

This wouldn’t be an update post without mention of my 5 mi-radius. On the way home from the coast last weekend I picked up a few more, Red-necked Grebe, Black Phoebe, and a Spotted Sandpiper that’s roughly the size of a goose head.

One of the best things I’ve done this year was volunteer at the Portland Audubon Wildlife Care Center. No photos due to patient sensitivity, but I can talk about how rewarding it was to give back. Some of my favorite moments were feeding young crows that gobble down food with a “ang-ang-ang,” seeing adorable little hummingbirds, and hearing the mysterious calls from baby Black-headed Grosbeaks.

I held an Osprey while it was gavaged, fed a recovering Great Blue Heron whole fish, and assisted with owls whenever possible. Such amazing creatures. I can’t say I miss the baby duckling poop. So. Much. Duck. Poop. But it’s all worth it to give nature a second chance. I can share a video of a rehabilitated Cedar Waxwing I was able to release this summer. (Good luck, Cedrick!)

The best of times! Coming up I have much to look forward to and am thinking of goals for next year. I’d like to beef up the yard bird list, but that requires me to be at home more. Currently, we’re at 51 species, the most recent addition being a Barred Owl calling outside the window at 4:30am (Who cooks for you-all!).

I still haven’t found a Western Screech Owl on Mt Tabor. Maybe I’ll get to the bow of a boat next year. Do White-tailed Ptarmigan exist? And there are six counties in Oregon where I haven’t seen a single bird, (Yamhill, Marion, Wallowa, Curry, Jackson, and Malheur county), so that is a good excuse to do some road trippin.

2018 let’s do this!

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