In an attempt to avoid firework noise and pack in nature time over 4th of July weekend, Tomas and I headed southeast past Bend to the Newberry National Volcanic Monument in the Deschutes National Forest.
Neither of us had been to the monument before and we looked forward to exploring unknown territory. We arrived late Friday night, scanned (and rejected) one official campground that was packed with noisy campers, and instead opted for our new favorite camping method, no-frills dispersed camping. Just a simple, quiet place to sleep.
There are some pretty stunning views of the mountains, lakes, and surrounding volcanic features from the peak. At first I was kind of annoyed at a couple of dudes who climbed the rock in the distance putting themselves right in the middle of the nature scene.
But then I looked closer and all was forgiven. Hilarious.
Macho rock men
They weren’t the only ones admiring the view.
So much macho
I hiked the short distance to the rock and back, noting Western Tanager, Clark’s Nutcracker (of course, so easy), and many Yellow-rumped Warblers.
And Rock Wrens singing away.
And I heard for the first time the “ringing tew” (or “squeaky eek“) of the Townsend’s Solitaire call. To me it sounds more like a rusty wheel. Really glad I matched the bird to the call, it’s pretty unusual! Unfortunately, no usable pics.
I left Paulina Peak and headed to the Big Obsidian Flow I could see below. This flow is the “youngest” in Oregon at only 1300 years old.
Driving there I came across two (!) Common Nighthawks dead on the roadway.
Ugh. So terribly heartbreaking. I moved them off the road into the trees. Somehow it seemed better.
There weren’t many birds at the flow, Rock Wren, Red Crossbill, more yellow-rumps, but there was a heck of a lot of cool lava rock (basalt, rhyolite, and obsidian).
I was fascinated with the few scattered trees growing out of the rocks. Against all odds.
A ranger told me that a pika family lives near the bottom of the stairs at the Obsidian Flow, but I couldn’t find them this day. And it was getting late, so I returned to the parking lot to meet back up with Tomas.
While waiting I came up with Pine Siskin, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Brewer’s Blackbird, a quick glance at an Evening Grosbeak flock(!), and Red Crossbills. Here’s a consolation crossbill photo because I missed the Evening Grossbeaks. Dang.
The monument is full of lava flows, lakes, and spectacular geologic features. And it’s still seismically and geothermally active! We felt good even having explored a fraction of it before moving on to our next destination.
Last year I struggled with the reality that is summer birding is so slow. This year I feel more prepared and I’m appreciating the birds that are still around.
American Robins are still here
One summer evening, Jen invited Tomas and I up to Larch Mountain to watch the Common Nighthawk show and we happily accepted.
They swoop and dive through the air catching insects all the while calling, “peent, peent, peent.” Then in a courtship-territorial display they dive sharply toward the treetops with a “boom” noise from the friction of air passing through their wing feathers. It’s amazing! Especially when the booms and peents are right over your head.
We also saw an Aligator Lizard (neat to see a lizard on the west side of the Cascades!)
And about 40 Band-tailed Pigeon. No joke. I photographed 1/40.
One mid-week sunny summer day I skipped work for a hike with Jen with near Mt Hood Meadows.
Rumor was this hike comes with a side of Clark’s Nutcracker. I’d been on the lookout for CLNU since at least my Black Butte hike. Unfortunately, I dipped then, and I dipped on this day too. Not for lack of trying. Dang those birds.
Still, we had a lovely hike and enjoyed the birds that showed up, like Townsend’s Solitaire, Mountain Bluebird, Chipping Sparrow, Olive-sided Flycatcher, and Western Tanager.
Followed by a lovely lunch buffet at Timberline Lodge. Rumor was Clark’s Nutcrackers frequent the lodge property. Unfortunately, not this day.
The following weekend, I decided to try my nutcracker luck again with my friend Kristen. Her boyfriend’s name is Clark, so I thought maaaaybe….yeah, that’s silly. Nevertheless, we hiked the four miles and looked but no such luck. But I was able to get a better look at the Elephant’s Head flower that Jen had spotted on the first go-round.
Afterwards, Kristen and I headed to Timberline Lodge for the lunch buffet, because, why not? And it was Kristen’s first time at the lodge!
Low and behold, my lunch was delayed by a single Clark’s Nutcracker I spotted in the lodge parking lot.
It flew down and hopped along under the parked cars.
Yep, dirty parking lot bird.
I hiked over 12 miles through acres of wilderness, to end up finding the bird in a parking lot? The things a birder will go through for a lifer. Dang birds.
For a second year I joined Portland Audubon’s Birdathon, touted as the “biggest baddest birdathon this side of the Mississippi.” And for a second year I was thrilled to be a part of the Put an Owl on It team.
Last year’s trip was one of the best birding days of my life – 5 owl species in one day!! This year’s agenda expanded to eastern Oregon for a two-day Blue Mountain adventure with the hopes of seeing Great Gray Owls.
Spoiler alert- we found them.
I went into the trip with 299 life birds. How cool would it be to have the Great Gray as the 300th bird? That didn’t happen, but Bank Swallows are pretty cool too. Lucky #300!! Sadly, no pictures because the van flushed two nicely perched swallows on a fence as soon as we drove near. Van-birding can be quite a challenge.
While exploring country roads in Umatilla county, we also flushed lifer #301, this Chukar fleeing for its life.
Fastest mother Chukar in the west
It’s all worth it though when you climb out out of the van and meet a pair of Great Horned Owls fledglings.
Or a family of Barn Owls smooshed in a natural cliff wall cavity.
And it’s especially worth it to see a Burrowing Owl perched atop sagebrush in the Oregon desert.
It was incredibly hot that weekend, nearing (if not over) 100 degrees. Some birds like this Sage Thrasher panted to stay cool.
Even Common Nighthawks panted.
That is one hot bird. Seeing a Common Nighthawk perched on a fence has been on my birding bucket list since the moment I found out they do this. We found two. Success! And two vans with 19+ people managed not to flush them. It was that damn hot.
Birder dreams do come true
It cooled down some once we gained elevation making our way into the pine forests of the Blue Mountains.
And here in this forest is where we met the family. Mom and her three owlets.
It was so special sharing forest space with these owls. They were incredibly chill. We sat down on the grass and pine needles under trees nearby, relaxed, chatted and ate snacks, while watching the fledglings stretch their wings and walk awkwardly along the branches.
And if owl entertainment wasn’t enough, there were active nesting holes visible on site with Pygmy Nuthatches, Mountain Chickadee, Western Bluebird, Lewis’s Woodpecker, and Williamson’s Sapsucker (another lifer!).
And songs of Western Tanager, Cassin’s Finch, House Wren, Western Wood-Pewee (PEEEeeeeer), and a new flycatcher for me, Hammond’s Flycatcher (ChiBik).
As soon as the sun lowered, Great Gray fledgling activity picked up, the owlets begged noisily for food.
The skies darkened and mom obliged, swooping over the fields to hunt. We enjoyed watching the owl show until the sun disappeared and the bats came out.
Before exiting the park, we piled out of the vans in the dark one last time to listen for other potential owl species. While waiting, we occupied time peering at Jupiter’s moons through the spotting scopes, and just before calling it a night, an adult Great Grey Owl flew over our heads towards an area of the forest with at least one owlet calling! There’s nothing like an unexpected owl surprise to liven things up. We rode the owl high all the way back to the hotel in La Grande.
From darkness to early morning light, a handful of birders opted for an early-morning Bobolink side trip.
In a distant farm field we observed several pairs of Bobolinks chase each other up, over, and into the grasses while chattering their buzzy metalic song that sounds like a broken R2-D2. A bit far for decent photos, but here’s an identifiable pic of one on a fence post.
After, we reunited with the rest of the group and the sightings continued: Eastern Kingbirds, California Quail, Loggerhead Shrike, Black-billed Magpie, and Long-billed Curlew, to name a few.
At Catherine Creek State Park, we introduced ourselves to a generous couple camping with a hummingbird feeder at their site. Thanks to them, we got good looks at Black-chinned and Calliope Hummingbirds.
Female black-chinned wagged her tail while feeding
This was only my second time seeing a Black-chinned Hummingbird (the first was just a week prior at Painted Hills), and it was my first encounter with Calliope Humminbgird. They’re so pretty and so tiny!
There was another new surprise in the brushy thickets at this park, a small thrush called a Veery. Too bad I didn’t get a visual on this shy cinnamon-colored thrush, but I heard its song and call and that was pretty satisfying. Some nineteenth-century observers described the Veery’s song as “an inexpressibly delicate metallic utterance…accompanied by a fine trill which renders it truly seductive.” Yep, I was totally seduced.
One of our last stops was at Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area where we saw Gadwall, Redhead, Ruddy Duck, and yet another new species, a shorebird called Wilson’s Phalarope.
At the marsh, there were also a pair of nesting Swainson’s Hawks, both Eastern and Western Kingbirds, Sandhill Cranes, Red-winged blackbirds (chasing an American Bittern), Black-crowned Night Heron, Ring-necked Pheasant, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, and Northern Harriers. To name a few.
On the way back to Portland, we pulled off the side of the highway to bird a pond next to some railroad tracks. We joked about the safety and legality of this birding spot.
Then we turned around to see a law enforcement vehicle stopped at the road with lights flashing. Busted birders.
Walk of shame
Turns out the officer had just thoughtfully stopped traffic for us to cross the road without incident. Whew! It was totally worth almost getting arrested to catch a glimpse of American White Pelican, Black-necked Stilt (!), teals, and nesting American Avocets.
It was all worth it. In two days, the team saw a total of 127 species, including 4 owl species (and I saw 10 new-to-me species), and we raised over $14,000. We saw 11 Great Horned Owls, 3 Barn Owls, 1 Burrowing Owl, and encountered 6 Great Grey Owls! I think that’s what they call “putting an owl on it.”
I had a blast reuniting with team members from last year and making new friends this time around. Thanks to the trip leaders Scott Carpenter, Rhett Wilkins, Joe Liebezeit, and Mary Coolidge, you all rock. And of course, many thanks to my donors for making my fundraising such a success. I raised over a thousand dollars contributing to Portland Audubon’s $170,000+ for conservation. Thanks to all involved helping such a great cause!