Birding in black-and-white

Last weekend the forecast predicted heavy rain and winds on the coast. I believe it read “rain and dangerously windy.” Sounds like perfect birding weather to me. With only the weekends to bird, sometimes I have to take what I can get and this weekend I took it.

It seemed milder than predicted when I arrived at Brian Booth State Park (also known as Beaver Creek Natural Area), located just minutes south of Newport, OR.

I was hoping for a tiny Black-and-white Warbler that had been reported at this site in the weeks prior. As usual I arrived in the pre-dawn hours and began scanning the trees. I welcomed the sight of a Red-shouldered Hawk in the darkness.

I spotted a Red-tailed Hawk picking on nutria road-kill, and heard Bald Eagles calling in the distance. Along the road edges Fox Sparrows scratched in the leaves. I wasn’t sure I was at the right tree patch, but I kept my eyes on the alders hoping.

For a while there was little bird action until all of a sudden dozens of small birds flew in; Pine Siskin, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Brown Creeper, Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, it was overwhelming, but eventually I picked out the tiny warbler I’ve only seen before in Florida.

It acts quite like a nuthatch, inching along branches gleaning insects from the moss and bark, often turning upside down. I watched and enjoyed for a long while.

And then it sat on some branches and preened itself.

Such a good little warbler. I’d driven a long way and had set aside two days, but here were great looks at this handsomely streaked bird and it was only 9:30am. What to do next?

With all this time now on my hands I made a stop at the South Jetty, where I found Red-throated Loon, Red-breasted Merganser, Surf Scoters, and the best surprise was a nice look at a (non-breeding female) Long-tailed Duck.

Impossible to misidentify that one. Another unmistakable pair of ducks present on the rocks nearby were this lovely couple of Harlequin Duck.

Farther down at the gull puddle I found my first banded gull!

1A4 looks like a squinty-eyed 2nd winter Western Gull; blocky head, large bill, pink legs, dark primaries. I’m still waiting to hear back on the report, stay tuned for the update.

I looked for Lapland Longspurs and Snow Buntings but found neither of these. I decided to check for a Ruff, a Eurasian shorebird that sometimes strays to North America, and had been sighted at the coast recently. Now that I had cell coverage again, I learned that the Ruff was down the same road I’d seen the warbler, so back I went. As I left the jetty a flock of Western Meadowlark flew in.

Back on Beaver Creek Rd I drove farther along than before and bumped into a little-advertised Beaver Creek Nature Center.

The place had information, hiking trails, and even bird feeders.

At the feeders were chickadees, towhees, sparrows, and Steller’s Jays on guard.

I took a short and peaceful hike, no other people to be seen.

No birds on the trails either, but it was still really nice. Then farther along the road I heard two Virgina Rails “oinking” at each other in the marshland. No visuals of course, but here’s a visual of their call.

Another mile down the road still not finding any shorebirds, I then heard the loud rapid “tew-tew” of Greater Yellowlegs and I knew I was getting closer. Eventually I found the tiny blurry dots in the distance. I could barely see so I took a bunch of photos.

Light was fading and it was hard to focus on the shorebirds with this gorgeous Red-tailed Hawk in my face.

The hawk screamed over and over and I knew it was my cue to leave.

On the way home I wondered if I might find a spec of Ruff in a photo. Low and behold, I found it.

Small head, porky body, and scaly-patterned back. Not a glamorous sighting at all, but better than nothing.

I made it home by 7:30pm. It had been a long way to go for a day trip, but totally worth it. And now I had an extra day to bird locally. Bonus!

This trip makes me think of all the birds I’ve seen both in Florida and Oregon, Laughing Gull, Palm Warbler, and now Black-and-white Warbler, to name a few. I may list them all up some time.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

An excellent week of birds

It started when I left work early one day to find a rare Snowy Egret in the Vancouver Lake Lowlands that was associating with a Great Egret and Mallard decoy.

Also present were Greater Yellowlegs, a couple of hardy Tree and Barn Swallows, and Purple Finch, a year bird I was happy to see lower in the branches.

On the way out a flash of black and white caught my eye.

Ah, yes. Migration was in full swing as Snow Geese, Cackling Geese, and Sandhill Cranes came and went. I pulled over to take a look.

It was hard to pull myself away.

The following weekend I was excited to join Sarah and Max for some Oregon county birding. We went south on I-5 to Talking Waters Gardens, a place I’ve never birded before located in Linn County.

It was fantastic water treatment-wetland habitat full of American Wigeon, Hooded Merganser, Virginia Rails, and even one vocal Sora (my first Oregon Sora!). No visuals of the Sora, unfortunately, but we did locate three Black Phoebe.

1/3 phoebes

 Several Lincoln Sparrows.

And a moderately cooperative White-throated Sparrow hanging out in a corner of the ponds.

It was still early in the day when we completed the trails so we drove north making a quick stop at Waverly Park where we found a couple of Western Gulls and a FOY Green Heron. Then it was onward to Ankeny National Wildlife to (officially) add birds in Marion County which included distant Dusky Canada Geese with red neck collars.

And muddy-faced swans.

Not making it easy to ID

Luckily there were a couple with visible yellow lores helping to confidently ID them as the more expected, Tundra Swans.

We also stopped at the Rail Trail on the refuge to walk on a boardwalk through Oregon Ash wetlands.

The water was so high it reminded me a bit of Florida’s wetlands but without the moss and humidity. Along the trail we found more Black Phoebe, White-breasted Nuthatch, Downy Woodpecker, and Max heard a Red-breasted Sapsucker that we eventually spotted right at the water’s edge.

Not something you see every day.

The next morning I got up before dawn to chase a sea duck. There’d been a report of a female Steller’s Eider at Seaside Cove on the Oregon coast but I had an appointment with a tree-trimmer at 12:30pm so I didn’t have any time to waste. I left the house at 5am and arrived at Seaside when it was still dark. Luckily, there were already two birders there making me feel totally normal.

One was Trent Bray, avid birder and shop owner of Bobolink, a birding (disc golf, and beer) supply store in La Grande, Oregon. Trent had left La Grande at 1am that morning but it paid off because he already had the bird in the scope. We watched it dive and ride the waves drifting out farther as more birders arrived on scene.

The bird became harder to locate in the waves and we felt a bit bummed. But then the eider flew right back to us. Hooray!

What a good duck. We all cheered and took hundreds of photos. The blocky head, the pale eye-ring, and two white wing bars were clearly visible on this first-winter female bird. She was cooperative, clearly not minding the attention. Or the surfers.

Surfer, surfer, eider, scoter combo

Steller’s Eiders are listed as threatened and rarely found outside of Alaska. This is only Oregon’s fourth record.

I was giddy and thrilled I’d taken time to come visit her. And because it was so easy, I had at least 10 more minutes to look for a Palm Warbler at a nearby water treatment plant (thanks for the tip, Sarah!).

Success! I found it with minimal difficulty though it didn’t want to be seen. A warbler less cooperative than a rare sea duck, go figure. Running out of time I dashed the two hours home and made it within minutes of meeting the arborist. Winning.

Not far from the house on another day I found the Greater White-fronted Geese frequenting the golf course by Force Lake, and in a tree next to the parking lot a Sharp-shinned Hawk practicing being ferocious.

This one had perfected the stink-eye.

And on another local outing at Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge I attempted to find a Red-shouldered Hawk. I’d unknowingly walked right by it until I spotted a Red-tailed Hawk that ignited the fire in the Red-shouldered and it vocalized loudly and chased its competition away.

Birding has been good to me this month. To say the least. Next month might be a different story, but more about that later. Until then, I’m enjoying everything I can get!

And that includes my FOY-yard Townsend’s Warbler!

Back and cute as ever.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Thankful for the good stuff

In these crazy times, I’m trying hard to focus on the good stuff. Like going outside and taking in the joys of nature. And birds.

Like the good bird that showed up for the first time on the Oregon coast last week. Found by John Gardiner and identified by Paul Sullivan, a sea duck normally found in northern Europe turned up in Lincoln City. This is only the second time this bird has been recorded in the United States (first in Crescent City, CA, 2015). This uncommon visitor is called a Common Scoter. See the map:

common-scoter_map

It’s pretty amazing this courageous (and/or incredibly lost) sea duck made it all the way to Oregon. What’s even more amazing is someone was able to identify it. Even still, I struggled with the decision to chase it. The bird showed up on a Sunday. The mental games started immediately. I weighed the pros and cons of taking off work, driving five hours round-trip, with the chance the bird would still be there.

I waited a day. The bird stayed. I waited another day while I read the glorious sightings and sat at work debating, and looking out the window at the sunshine. By Friday, the bird was reliably (!) still there and I couldn’t take it anymore. Seems so easy! So I skipped work last-minute, took the gamble, and headed to the coast.

I arrived at Mo’s bright and early.

Glaucous-winged Gull

Then I turned around and looked out to Siletz Bay where I saw the same thing many others did when first seeking the Code 5 rarity. A smattering of sleeping scoters.

Sleeping Scoter

Not the most exciting introduction to the rarest bird I’ve ever seen. I watched and waited at the dock with one local birder and another man who flew in from Minnesota to see this bird.

Not a rare bird

Not a rare bird

After a couple of hours waiting and nothing but many (albeit decent) gull pictures to show for it, I chanced leaving to get more coffee and to see if I could find a Red Phalarope or two.

I’d only seen them once before on my pukey-pelagic trip last October, and for some reason these birds that typically “migrate and winter in small flocks on open ocean” and are “rarely seen from land or at inland lake-shores and ponds,” have been spotted all along the coast and even farther inland in the valley. Even on golf courses and in parking lot puddles. It’s a phalarope-phenomenon.

Indeed I phound two at the South Jetty in Newport.

Red Phalarope

One turtling phalarope

And one that was downright perky

And one that was downright perky

So much smaller than a gull

So much smaller than a gull

They have coot-feet!

They have coot-feet!

Red Phalarope and the Yaquina Bay Bridge

Red Phalarope and the Yaquina Bay Bridge

After I had my phill of phalaropes (not phunny anymore?) and I got tired of laughing (and cringing) at the gulls stuffed with starfish…

Gull

Gah. I headed back north to the rare bird. The tide was up and so was the bird! And more birders had arrived on scene, including my friends, Sarah and Max, and another couple who’d driven down from Seattle.

Scotering

Collectively, we watched the Common Scoter feed near the rocks, and I was thankful for the shared scope views because it was still a pretty far vantage point.

Common Scoter

But it was awake! And identifiable! All dark black plumage, black knob at the base of the bill with a narrow orange patch in the center. Success! It was seen with its regular female friend, Black Scoter (pic below).

Common Scoter

And several other scoter species.

Scoter quad

Scoter Squad: Surf, Black, Common, and White-winged

Not sunny close-up views, but not a dip either. I watched until moderately satisfied before deciding to drive south to Yachats for another reported rare (for the area) bird, a White-winged Dove.

I thought it would be easy, but the only doves I could find were Eurasian-collared and Mourning. That is until Sarah and Max arrived! Good timing. Together we were able to come up with the target dove nestled in the shadowy limbs of a pine tree. Darker than the Eurasians, and with a long thin bill, it looked a bit ragged (but it had traveled from pretty far southeast).

White-winged Dove

With two rare birds under my belt, I was half tempted to drive another 2 hours for a Chestnut-sided Warbler in Eugene, but the winter skies turned darker and I decided to give the scoter a third try for better looks.

While driving back towards Siletz Bay along HWY 101, I spotted a large bird on the telephone lines.

Barred Owl

Hello Barred Owl!

Barred Owl

I quickly made a U-turn and pulled over then watched the owl hunt from the lines before it eventually flew down to some tree branches right next to the car.

Barred Owl

Seeing this owl was a nice surprise ending to my trip. The Common Scoter was still stubbornly far away, but I was thankful for all that I got.

Thankful for all the good stuff.

Tweets and thanks,

Audrey