Thin bill, dark eye-stripe, stripey back, a Red-necked Phalarope! Within 5 miles of my house. This beauty paid us no mind because it was focused on the insects just above the water.
File these under blurry but I don’t care. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.
It’s not a flycatcher, but it flipped out of the water like one catching insects. There must have been a hatch event of something tasty this day. We watched in amazement and then the phalarope did something else it doesn’t do.
It walked right out of the water onto the shore just long enough for our jaws to drop in amazement before it headed back in the water to catch more insects. What a sight!
They’re smaller than they look. Here it is in relation to a gull.
Just when I thought shorebirds couldn’t be more fun.
My thoughts are with my friends and family in Florida today! Hope you’re all holding through okay. My dad recently sent me this amazing photo of a family of Limpkins he saw on his morning walk.
So of course the following weekend I decided to practice my newfound shorebird knowledge. Especially when I saw a report of Wandering Tattlers in Lincoln City. I forgot that I’ve seen one once before on a fence post in Hawaii. Someone should really keep track of these things (Ebird).
But I’d never seen one in Oregon so it’s different.
The fog was thick on the beach when I arrived, but not too thick to spot the Spotted Sandpiper.
Muddy brown above, (no spots because it’s fall), dark brown “comma” on its side, bold eye ring, and bobbing its tail.
Not too far away, I saw a group of birds out on the rocks.
Tattlers! Wandering too close to the waves.
“Wandering” because of their wide distribution across the ocean, and tattler for the “tattling” call if you get too close. Once the sun came out, I had a hard time staying away.
They’re gray all over with a white belly, yellow legs, and a moderately long straight bill. And they like to eat creepy crawly crustaceans off the rocks.
Mmm, yum. Efficient wanderers.
They were so fun to watch I could have stayed all day, but I had another plan in mind. But before I got too far, while passing the sand dunes, I looked to my left and spotted an angel.
That turned out to be a Lark Sparrow in the fog.
A rare bird for the area so a pretty cool sighting. I watched it for a while as it hung out with old man White-crowned Sparrow.
My next stop was an hour and a half drive southeast to the Philomath Sewage Ponds in hopes of another rare bird.
But when I rolled up I saw some signage that gave me pause.
Dang it. I hadn’t known beforehand about the permit and I’m a rule follower so I drove the 6 minutes to the Public Works Office. But the office was closed. So I drove back to the ponds, thought hard about it and decided to ask for forgiveness if necessary. I try to bird on the up-and-up because I don’t want to give birders a bad rep. This time I’d just go in for a minute to take a peek.
It all felt normal. Driving on the levee? Normal. The color of that water? Totally normal, everything’s fine.
Nothing to see here, green feet are par for the course. Everything’s fine.
It didn’t take long to pick out the rare bird swimming in the pond, the American Avocet.
It was cooperative and even popped out for a bit to preen at the edge of the ponds.
The green water goes well with its legs. Elegant as ever it returned to the sewage water and swam up next to three Long-billed Curlews. Another rarity for the area.
The risk was certainly paying off so far. At least in bill length.
I drove around again getting a shorebird workout with a Least Sandpiper (yellow legs, short bill).
Western Sandpiper (longer bill with slight droop, black legs, reddish “shoulders”).
And Greater Yellowlegs hunting at the edge of the ponds with those bright yellow legs.
And a bill length greater than half proportion with the head that expertly picks out pond treats.
Once more around I found a flock of Red-necked Phalaropes swimming in the middle.
Thin, fine bill, dark eye stripe, stripes on their backs, these turned out to be a lifebird!
Good things turned up in these ponds! I’m glad I gave them a go. It was late afternoon by then but a rare-bird alert of an American Redstart at the North Jetty in Newport was too tempting to resist. I got cocky.
I drove the hour back to Newport, but all I found were a handful of birders who’d been looking for a couple of hours under the bridge.
Win some, lose some, but I still felt pretty lucky this time!
That is genuine enthusiasm. Not excited? Here’s an adorable Semipalmated Plover to ease some of the discomfort.
Fall migration is happening and I am facing it head on. Because I went to Smith and Bybee Lakes and totally failed at identifying birds. I forgot how hard it is.
There’s hundreds of shorebirds there, and I had trouble identifying one of them. So I do that thing that I do when I can’t figure something out on my own. I seek out help. That same week I logged on to Portland Audubon’s classes, and to my luck I saw “Learn to Identify Fall Shorebirds” with John Rakestraw. And it wasn’t full.
In the classroom we learned of the 20 or so shorebirds that visit the Oregon coast and Willamette Valley. We looked at large slides of birds and called out the field marks. It’s all about the field marks; the shape of the bird, size of the head vs. the bill, the color of the legs, and the bird’s behavior. It’s knowing what to look at for each bird. This is the key.
Long-billed Dowitchers prefer freshwater ponds, whereas Short-billed Dowitchers like tidal marshes and estuaries, so location and habitat can also provide clues. It’s all part of a puzzle and that’s what makes it fun.
Our field trip fun started one foggy morning at Seaside looking at birds on the rocks.
Or really birds that look like rocks. We found a pile of Black Turnstones. We hoped to pick out a Ruddy Turnstone, but none showed up this time. We dipped out on shorebirds at a couple more spots until we lucked out on some birds that look like mud.
That’s two Western Sandpipers on the left and one Semipalmated Plover on the right. Westerns have black legs and long droopy bills. Semi Plovers have one breast band.
We also saw Caspian Terns soaring above the water, and I didn’t notice until looking at photos later, this one has a yellow leg band.
We walked farther down the beach to get a closer look.
But trucks are allowed to drive on the shore here and they’d scattered the flock.
Eventually we got looks at more Western Sandpipers, and even had a Semipalmated Sandpiper in the mix for comparison.
All Westerns – long, droopy bill, black legs.
Western Sandpiper (L), Semipalmated Sandpiper (R)
Westerns and Semipalmated look almost identical except Semipalmated Sandpipers have a short blunt bill. It was tough to get good looks before the flocks moved along. Shorebirds not cooperating? Let’s look at gulls!
California Gull – dark eye, red and black in the bill, yellow-greenish legs
And some of my favorite gulls were visiting, Heermann’s Gulls. Two E’s two N’s, orange bills, unmistakable.
John admitted shorebird numbers seemed unusually low. We missed out on Sanderlings, Black-bellied Plovers, and a few others. We checked back at Seaside, but found nothing new. Except jousting crabs.
The one above lived to tell the tale but I can’t say the same for this one.
We made another stop at Seafarer’s Park near the Hammond’s Marina where we found a Common Murre swimming out of place this far up the river.
The best action of the day came next.
Apparently Heermann’s Gulls are pirates! They wait for a Brown Pelican to dive, before pouncing and trying to pry the meal out of the pelican’s gullet.
Neat stuff. I felt bad for the pelican, but they’re not exactly known as saints either.
The shorebirds were so few at the coast we made an extra stop at Fernhill Wetlands on the way back. But the day was hot and the heat waves made it difficult to see the birds in the distance. I’ll spare you the blurry photos of the Spotted Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, and Least Sandpipers. Here’s a pair of Greater Yellowlegs instead.
That bill looks like it’s twice the length of the head and those are some nice yellow legs. Bird identified. It might seem obvious, but if there’s one take-home message of the day it’s that there are limitations. Sometimes the birds are too far, or they move too quickly; distance, weather, terrain, trucks, there’s so many obstacles, but it’s important to focus on what can be seen and not get discouraged.
And when that doesn’t work, stay at home and make flash cards!
Nothing to it.
Moving along, we got good looks of a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk.
And a Green Heron oddly perched out in the open.
Not enough shorebirds in my shorebirds post? How about brown ducks instead.
Just kidding. I’ll save the Cinnamon Teal for later and keep my eyes peeled for more peeps to identify in the mean time.