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

3 Days at Cape Lookout

After 19 days straight of rain in Portland, I was itching for sunshine. My chance came last week when the forecast promised “sunny and nice.” So I ditched work and headed for the coast. Thanks to the Blue Heron French Cheese Company’s generosity, I parked my car at their Tillamook location and biked the remaining 13 miles to Cape Lookout State Park.

Here goes llama

I can’t say enough about the hiker/biker campground at Cape Lookout.

Camp style

It’s so damn wonderful. There is one drawback though to camping on the Oregon coast that I forgot about: crafty raccoons (is there any other kind?). I awoke to suspicious noises at 3:30am, looked outside the tent, and saw the burglars going through my bike buckets. I shooed them away and went back to sleep.

The pattern repeated several times over the next few hours until I finally got up to look at the damage. They’d stolen my organic saltine rounds and punctured a hole in my water bladder and a couple of other food bags. Could have been worse. This incident reminded me there are new food lockers installed on site, so I used them over the remaining days to safely store my goodies.

I could have spent three days hanging in the hammock, listening to Brown Creepers, Steller’s Jays, and Downy Woodpeckers at the campground, but now I had a good excuse to bike the 10 miles to Netarts for duct tape. And to bird along Netarts Bay.

Bike

I easily picked up Bufflehead, Horned Grebe, and Common Goldeneye along the way…but hey, what’s that sleeping bird in the corner?

Mixed Waterbirds

White-winged Scoter

This sleeping beauty is a White-winged Scoter! Sweet, a new bird!

White-winged Scoter

About this time, an older gentleman hopped out of a parked truck across the street, and crossed over to chat with me about birds. He was looking for a White-winged Scoter (he actually pronounced it “Skoo-ter” – glad I’m not the only one!). I pointed the bird out to him and he was pretty excited. In turn, he told me about an (immature) Bald Eagle perched in a fir tree farther up the road.

Bald Eagle

Nice. A good ol’ fashioned bird exchange.

I continued along the bay, and got my best ever look at a (non-breeding) Eared Grebe. Dark cheek, dusky neck, peak over the eye, fluffy backside.

Eared Grebe

I still struggle remembering the differences between Eared (above) and Horned (below) – white cheek, white neck, whitish tip on bill, peak behind the eye, less fluffy backside.

Horned Grebe

I find this photo comparison from Cornell Lab of Ornithology helpful.

eared vs horned

I also saw more than a couple of loons.

Common Loon

Common Loons that is. One looked like it was even still wearing a bit of breeding plumage. Such a pretty bird.

Common Loon

A few of the other birds I saw along the bay included Surf Scoter, Belted Kingfisher, Great Blue Heron, and Pelagic Cormorant.

The next day, I hiked from the campground to Cape Lookout Hike and back, looking for whales and birds and such. No whales this time, but I did see Common Murres swimming far below.

Common Murre

And the most exciting part of the hike was getting buzzed by my first Rufous Hummingbird of the year! I saw three total, including this lovely lady.

Rufous Hummingbird

What a cool place to find them. Later, at the campground I saw two more. I was rich in rufous.

While on the hike, I also saw Fox Sparrows, Hairy Woodpecker, Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Flicker, Varied Thrush, Ruby Crowned Kinglet, and a Peregrine Falcon that zoomed by too fast for a picture. Here’s a cooperative Fox Sparrow instead:

Fox Sparrow

I forgot how long the hike is from the campground (10 miles round trip!). My sore feet told me to lay around like a walrus, but there was something surprisingly lacking from this trip. Gulls. Where were they?

Beach

Granted, there was less beach due to high water, but still, I expected more than Western Gulls, especially since last time in September I’d seen such a variety. Apparently I did it right the first time, because late summer/early fall is the best time to see multiple gull species on the Oregon coast.

But that’s okay, because I saw the happiest Western Gull ever.

Western Gull

Western Gull

Western Gull

So happy.

While looking for gulls, I also saw a pair of Bald Eagles.

Bald Eagles

Wait, why are they screaming?

Bald Eagles

OH.

Bald Eagles

Bald Eagles

So happy.

The final morning, I left the coast early enough to hear Great Horned Owls hoot and for minimal traffic to pass me on the road. I had enough time before I had to get back to Portland for one stop, so I aimed for Fenk Road along the south side of Tillamook Bay near the Trask River.

Creepy road

I traveled down the creepy farm road, past the cattle, and the guard dog.

Guard dog

Then I parked next to the pile of garbage, got out and wandered across the levee road, and trudged through a marshy field. It was all worth it, because far across the pasture, perched on a Douglas-fir, I saw the white blob I was looking for.

IMG_9518

A White-tailed Kite!

White-tailed Kite

White-tailed Kite

White-tailed Kite

The bird “hover-soared” kind of like a Kestrel, while it hunted above the nearby field. Too bad it was too dark for decent pictures. But it didn’t matter, because after a weekend of sunshine, hummingbirds, hiking and biking, followed by a White-tailed Kite?

I didn’t even care that the rain was back.

White-tailed Kite

So happy.

Tweets and chirps!

Audrey