Last weekend

The birds and beers were so good in Astoria the weekend before, I thought for my last trip before surgery, why not go back? Tomas agreed as he’d missed out, and this time he could go on a mountain biking trip while I birded. We left early Saturday morning and after stocking up at a gas station in Astoria, I dropped Tomas off on the side of the road.

Happy trails

We agreed to meet back up in the evening for dinner. I had a short birding wish list for this trip, Glaucous Gull, Snow Bunting, Snowy Plover, Wrentit, all would be ambitious, honestly I was more looking for a relaxed and casual last hurrah of ankle freedom.

I started at Seaside Cove to say hello again to the continuing Steller’s Eider, that’s been there for about two months now.

This is where I also said hello to my friends Nick and Maureen! Such a nice surprise. They’d both been under the weather since the new year and this was their first try for the Eider – sweet success and congratulations to them!

Together we looked at Red-throated Loons, Pelagic Cormorant, Western Grebe, Red-necked Grebe, Surf Scoters, White-winged Scoters, Harlequin Duck, and we played peek-a-boo with a Black Scoter hiding in the waves.

We picked out birds in the distance as the Steller’s Eider floated farther away. This was when a birder along the beach mentioned Ancient Murrelets were visible from the shore around the corner. These weren’t even on my radar! Technically they were seen on the pelagic trips I’ve been on, but I’ve never gotten a good look so I haven’t counted them (they’re a front-of-the-boat bird). This would be a lifer and a treat.

Nick, Maureen, and I took the long walk along the cobbled beach to see if we could spot one.

Solid ankle workout

We’d gone about a mile before Nick spotted a tiny murrelet dot in the distance. It was an Ancient Murrelet!

We walked even farther on when I spotted one closer in just past the breaking waves, but it swam out pretty quickly by the time we got there.

Ancient Murrelet with Western Grebes for scale

So tiny, so cute, and so nice to see from dry land. This made the returning mile and a half cobble walk worth it. Back at the cove Nick noticed a flock of small shorebirds land on the beach.

We hurried over until we got better look at the Sanderling fallout.

They’re so fun to watch scurrying along the shore, did you know a group of Sanderlings is called a “grain”? We were entertained by the grain of Sanderlings until a dog ran in an chased them all off. It was time to move on. I said my good-byes to Nick and Maureen as they headed to Fort Stevens SP to look for White-winged Crossbills while I went north to Hammond Marina. We agreed to meet up later on for dinner.

I drove north making a couple of unsuccessful shorebird and bunting searches along the way, but as I left one area along a residential road, a back-lit bird on a wire caught my eye. I thought that doesn’t look like a starling – probably just a robin. But it was intriguing enough to turn around because it also looked like it might be a bluebird. And that’s exactly what it was!

A Western Bluebird, what a cool surprise. Things got even more interesting as it flew to a backyard. I pulled over next to the fancy country-club house hoping I looked inconspicuous as I creeped on the backyard.

It was a pair of bluebirds next to a birdhouse! They were actively defending the box from pesky House Sparrows that were swarming all around also trying to get in the house.

I really hope the bluebirds win the battle because they’re awesome, beautiful, but  especially because they’re a native species.

I was excited I’d been lucky enough to see them (and not get into trouble with the locals). I left and went to Hammond to see what I could find next. No new or unusual gulls as I’d hoped, but I did find a Pacific Loon.

And flocks of Brewer’s Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbirds, and Red-winged Blackbirds that for some reason threw me off because they’re wearing their weird non-breeding plumage no one really talks about.

Why do they look so weird?


Anyways, once I took my eyes off the blackbirds, I scanned the jetty rocks and found a beaver!

No way. I couldn’t believe it, I thought it must be a muskrat or an invasive nutria, but then I’d just read a post recently that both nutria and muskrat have white whiskers and beavers don’t. And this beaver was shy and didn’t come out of the rocks, but it did turn at one point and showed that diagnostic beaver tail!

Totally beaver. At this point it was time to meet up with Tomas, Nick, and Maureen for the best beers and worst service at Fort George Brewery. We dined and toasted to a very successful and surprising day.



New Year’s birding

January 1st 2018 started with a nice sunrise and a Song Sparrow scratching leaves in our garden in the dark as I peeked my head outside the door.

I didn’t mean to bird as hard as I did on day 1, but first of year birding is too exciting. Every bird is new, every one a year bird!

The plan was to meet Sarah and Max in the morning and there’d been a report of a Black Scoter at Columbia Point so that seemed like a good place to start. But it turned out to be a terrible place because thick fog made it almost impossible to see any birds on the water. Even still we managed to ID this a Greater Scaup.

Peak of the head farther forward

Plan B was climbing out of the fog to visit Casey’s Virginia’s Warbler sill sticking around and stuffing it’s beak with homemade suet. We watched this reliable warbler take a chunk of suet to the ground, smash it like it would a bug, then fly up to a tree to eventually choke it down.

Smaller bites buddy

Bonus this time was an yellow-shafted  intergrade Northern Flicker, the first one I’ve seen! This subspecies is normally found in the east and far north in the northern boreal forest.

It lacks the red malar (cheek) of the more common Red-shafted, and it has a red crescent on its nape (back of the neck). Edited: But this bird has more gray than tan color on its cheeks and throat, eliminating pure yellow-shafted. There are also intergrade flickers with features of both to look out for in the Pacific Northwest. I’m going to make more of an attempt to pay attention to flicker features this year.

After spending some quality time with Casey’s yellow-bottomed birds we went to Whitaker Ponds for more year birds. We found 39 species including Townsend’s Warbler and a Black Phoebe vocalizing loudly at the edge of the pond.

We dipped on the Spotted Sandpiper seen there earlier, but bumped into a new birding friend, Brodie, and his family, also out for New Year’s birding.

Not the only ones out birding on New Year’s

The sun was shining by then so we felt encouraged to try Columbia Point for a second scoter attempt.

No luck on the scoter, but we did run into Em Scattaregia, her son Chris Hinkle, and Andy Frank, who does the majority of his birding by bike, including on this day. We picked up Horned Grebe, Western Grebe, and one conspicuous Clark’s Grebe; lighter flanks, yellow-orange bill, white on three sides of the eye.

We also saw a distant Red-necked Grebe, but this Common Loon was much more cooperative for photos.

Feeling we’d done our due diligence searching for the scoter we were about to call it a day when Sarah’s birding buddy Dwight texted letting her know he’d found a Northern Mockingbird in her patch. No question what we’d do next. Stop for lunch at Hotlips Pizza, then go for the mockingbird.

It was easy. Not really, but it was very lucky. Year bird, county bird, and only the second I’ve seen in Oregon.

Blurry evidence

Here we also saw a FOY White-breasted Nuthatch.

And a Red-breasted Sapsucker.

Which reminded me I was in Beaverton and there’d been a rare Yellow-bellied Sapsucker at nearby Commonwealth Lake Park. So I went and found it.

Right where it’s supposed to be

With just enough daylight left I circled the park looking for a male Redhead spotted earlier. I found the Redhead and I also found Scott Carpenter!

Inspiring as ever, he jumped into the mud to take primo pictures of birds. Nicely done, Scott.

Here’s the best I came up with.

What a great first day of the year! Starting with a Song Sparrow and ending with a Redhead, I saw 61 species, and had 7 birding-friend cameos throughout the day.

Cheers to good friends and to a new year.

Tweets and chirps,


All the Grebes starting with a Gnatcatcher

I didn’t intend to chase the rarity, but I brought my camera and binoculars to work just in case, and when a second report of the Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher (originally found by Nick Mrvelj) came in at Kelley Point Park, I decided to go for it.

I arrived and immediately felt overwhelmed. Tiny bird, big park. Walking along the trails I tried to find clues but found only people and dogs. I’d all but given up until when I got back to the parking lot and bumped into more birders. Fresh eyes and more people looking couldn’t hurt so I joined the search party.

We managed to find even more birders, including Adrian Hinkle, who’d seen the gnatcatcher just 30 min prior. They kindly walked us to the area it was last seen, and in one minute, Adrian said “stop” and pointed up high in a cottonwood. He’d heard the bird a mile away, basically. And lucky for us because we were able to catch a quick glimpse before it moved on. I got one unflattering photo.

I was surprised to get it the frame, it moved around quickly high up in the tree as the light faded fast. There’s talk that this may be the eastern variety based on this bird’s characteristics (lighter undersides, position high up in the trees, and higher-pitched call notes), but it’s still under discussion. That reminds me, check out this website, Xeno-canto where you can listen to and share bird songs and easily compare songs from different regions. Cool stuff.

Feeling extremely lucky to have seen this bird, I pressed my luck further and stopped at Columbia Point near Hayden Island Marina to see if any Surf Scoters were still around. They weren’t but a Red-necked Grebe was.

As was a Ruddy Duck (on the left). Also, I wasn’t positive, but I thought I saw the Clark’s Grebe that had been reported by Andy Frank earlier in the week.

Maybe? The light was so terrible. I needed to investigate further, so I returned the following day. This time I brought along my new scope.

Am I doing this right?

It worked! I found four Surf Scoters (and one Lesser Scaup in the middle).

And grebes. So many grebes.

With a handful of perky-tailed Ruddy Ducks in the mix.

Back to the grebes. There was Western Grebe.

Horned Grebe.

Western and Horned Grebes.

Eared Grebe.

Horned (top) and eared (bottom) grebes together for a nice comparison. Note the peaked head and darker cheek on the eared.

Western, Eared, and Horned.

And my best combo: Western, Eared, Horned, and Clark’s. In that order.

There was safely one Clark’s Grebe with more white around the eye and an orangeish bill.

I was surprised to see the variation of black around the eye among the grebes.

That or it was one giant Loch Ness Western-Clark’s Grebe.

Anyways, I passed a couple of cool cats along the marina. One bengal-looking kitty wearing a bell and another the stylish Birdsbesafe collar. I hope those things work.

I found the sixth and final grebe species safe from cats in the water, Pied-billed Grebes.

That’s it. At one location in two days I found all six species of grebes that can be seen in Oregon: Red-necked, Western, Clark’s, Horned, Eared, and Pied-billed.

I might as well throw in a Least Grebe from Texas.

That’s all the grebes of North America! What’s next? Great Grebe? Great-crested Grebe? Hoary-headed Grebe? All real. I had no idea there were so many grebes in the world, 19 species remain, and some like the gorgeous Hooded Grebe, one of the rarest birds in South America, are critically endangered. There’s even a documentary about them: Tango in the Wind.

How lucky we are to have all the grebes.

If there is no bird, there is no tango.

Tango and chirps,