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?

Freaky

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.

Cheers,

Audrey

Birdiversary and honorable mentions

I went back to basics this year for my birdaversary. Back to Stub Stewart State Park where it all began three years ago when I was first inspired inspired by the curiosity and wonder of birds.

It was rainier and foggier this time, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this 
classic Pacific Northwest forest. Knowing what I know now, this park in winter is not exactly a birding hotspot. At least to find a lot of species, but don’t tell that to my former self. It’s the type of place where you can walk for miles and see nothing, or you might bump into a Northern Pygmy Owl like I did on day one.

No owls this time, but I did find a flock of 90+ Pine Siskins.

I wouldn’t have known what to do with these back then, but this time I knew to scan for  Common Redpolls. Nope, not that lucky.

Nobody here but us siskins.

I hung out with my corvid pals, Steller’s Jay and Gray Jays that hopped around the cabin deck looking for a lost crumb.

I reconnected with the Red-breasted Sapsucker which was my second-place winner for spark bird (after the Pygmy Owl).

Second is the best

I saw at least a half dozen Brown Creepers, Golden-crowned Kinglets, and perky Pacific Wrens.

Which I’m now confident is the mystery bird I saw on day one. Three years later, mystery solved! I saw only 12 species this time compared to 14 then, but it was still fun remembering that amazing day. Much thanks to forest birds like this Varied Thrush.

It’s been an awesome year! Not a Big Year, but an awesome one. Between Texas, Florida, and the Pacific Northwest I’ve seen 412 species bringing my life list to 469. It’s hard to believe I’ve seen so much in such a short time period. It goes by so quickly sometimes I don’t get the chance to write about everything. But I feel some things deserve mentioning.

Like my 200th Multnomah County bird, the White-winged Scoter that I saw in the pouring rain the day before I left for Florida.

The Broad-tailed Hummingbird I met this summer in Colorado while visiting a friend.

And who could forget the happy hummers in the yard when I turned on the sprinkler during the 100+ degree summer days?

Anna’s Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird

Yard-birds bring me great joy. While I haven’t yet seen a returning Townsend’s Warbler yet, we’ve had new sparrows this year, the Fox Sparrow who likes scratching in the leaves.

And my new favorite, White-throated Sparrow.

Appropriately at the Birds and Beers white elephant gift exchange I won an awesome White-throated Sparrow painting by my friend Max! It’s bright and cheery and I love it.

This wouldn’t be an update post without mention of my 5 mi-radius. On the way home from the coast last weekend I picked up a few more, Red-necked Grebe, Black Phoebe, and a Spotted Sandpiper that’s roughly the size of a goose head.

One of the best things I’ve done this year was volunteer at the Portland Audubon Wildlife Care Center. No photos due to patient sensitivity, but I can talk about how rewarding it was to give back. Some of my favorite moments were feeding young crows that gobble down food with a “ang-ang-ang,” seeing adorable little hummingbirds, and hearing the mysterious calls from baby Black-headed Grosbeaks.

I held an Osprey while it was gavaged, fed a recovering Great Blue Heron whole fish, and assisted with owls whenever possible. Such amazing creatures. I can’t say I miss the baby duckling poop. So. Much. Duck. Poop. But it’s all worth it to give nature a second chance. I can share a video of a rehabilitated Cedar Waxwing I was able to release this summer. (Good luck, Cedrick!)

The best of times! Coming up I have much to look forward to and am thinking of goals for next year. I’d like to beef up the yard bird list, but that requires me to be at home more. Currently, we’re at 51 species, the most recent addition being a Barred Owl calling outside the window at 4:30am (Who cooks for you-all!).

I still haven’t found a Western Screech Owl on Mt Tabor. Maybe I’ll get to the bow of a boat next year. Do White-tailed Ptarmigan exist? And there are six counties in Oregon where I haven’t seen a single bird, (Yamhill, Marion, Wallowa, Curry, Jackson, and Malheur county), so that is a good excuse to do some road trippin.

2018 let’s do this!

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