Outside my 5MR

Most of my birding lately has been defined by “inside my 5MR” and “outside my 5MR.’ The “5MR” is a 5 mile radius for birding around a set point (in my case my house), a trend Jen Sanford started to inspire more local birding, drive less and bird more. It’s really caught on. Of course some birds are too tempting and it’s okay to stray outside the circle sometimes.

Rules were meant to be broken for Sagebrush Sparrows that show up outside the radius! Colby Neuman has been a superstar in Multnomah County this year. He found this bird, as well as a Brewer’s Sparrow and two Vesper Sparrows at a small patch in Troutdale between a huge FedEx building and a newly constructed Amazon Warehouse. (Sigh).

Not long after, Ezra Cohen, a young birder found a Burrowing Owl trying to navigate its way around the Amazon facility and parking lot. It is thought that some eastern species were pushed farther west this year due to heavy snow levels. I missed the Brewer’s, Vesper’s, *and* Burrowing, but I managed to see one of (three!) Loggerhead Shrikes at Sandy River Delta Park.

I tried hard to find one in my 5MR (even tried to turn some scrub-jays into shrikes) but I couldn’t make it happen.

Another fun chase was to Blueberry Rd near Corvallis where a trio of amazing birds were hanging out. Together in a farm field were a Lapland Longspur.

A Snow Bunting.

Which thankfully was still there because this bright bird led me to find my lifer Chestnut-collared Longspur!

Basically invisible

I’m sure it’s gorgeous in breeding plumage, but here it blended in perfectly with the grass and stubble. I had more of a chance to see a Chestnut-collared Longspur in Arizona than in Oregon, but there I sat looking at one in Linn County. True story. And totally worth it.

So magical

Last week I took a trip outside my 5MR to Yamhill County when news of a Harris’s Sparrow popped up. I really like these sparrows and it is a (secret not so secret) dream of mine to someday see one in every county in Oregon (6 down, many more to go). Because Yamhill is notoriously a difficult birding county this was worth a try. Plus, I had only one bird species in the county (a 2018 Turkey Vulture flyover) so a Big Yamhill Day it was!

But the Harris’s Sparrow wasn’t cooperative. It had been seen the prior morning easily, but after a long wait at the appropriate spot, there was no sign of it.

Por qué?

A little bummed since I took the day off from work, I left to look at ducks. Because ducks don’t let you down. Not far down the road I found my FOY Greater Yellowlegs and a pair of Wilson’s Snipe!

Snipe make everything better. From here I checked out some Yamhill “hotspots” including Sheldon’s Marsh, inaccessible by foot, but Marsh Wren and Virginia Rail can be heard from the road. One of the more productive hotspots is South Side Park in Sheridan because you can scope the (restricted) nearby water treatment ponds. I saw my first of three Black Phoebes that I found in the county here.

Huddleston Fish Pond was a little less productive, it was covered in Yellow-rumped Warblers, and I spotted a pair of Osprey at the far end of the pond on a pretty big nest.

At this point it was late afternoon, big decision time. Do I continue to my final planned destination McGuire Reservoir, call it a day, or retry for the Harris’s? Questioning my life’s choices, I opted for the sparrow again, and I’m so glad I did!

It refused to come out of the shrubs, but it was there and singing!

It was the first time I’ve heard one sing, and I’m impressed that I noticed the tune coming out of the bushes because it’s much more complex than what I’ve heard from the Sibley App (my recordings in this eBird checklist).

Feeling like I could do no wrong after this, I headed up to McGuire Reservoir in the coast mountain range for some Yamhill County forest birds. Mind the deer crossing the road along the way.

The reservoir is a quiet beautiful spot, though it is mostly fenced off since it’s McMinneville’s water source.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t scope for birds from the road. I was hoping for a loon, but instead found the expected Hooded Mergansers.

And in the trees surrounding the reservoir I found common forest birds, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and I was especially pleased to find a Yamhill County Varied Thrush.

On the return drive out, I saw chickens on the side of the road. I thought “fancy Chukars?” No way!!! Mountain Quail!!

I’ve only heard MOUQ two years ago, never seen. I pulled over to get better pics but a truck sped by and the pair hurried down the hillside. It was still a fun sighting. And a good reminder that exploring rather than chasing can be even more rewarding sometimes.

I ended at 62 species for the day, including a couple of pretty darn good birds, bringing my Yamhill County total to 63. Glad I made the trip!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

5MR Snow Daze

It snowed in Portland! It wasn’t much. And it was gone in about 24-hours, but it was a fun time. Because the roads were slick, I didn’t go far. Perfect for 5-mile radius birding. I started at Whitaker Ponds Nature Park where I found a Great Egret nicely camouflaged against the snow.

Finally

I went along the loop trail passing Hooded Mergansers in the slough.

Then I heard a Black Phoebe calling so I ran over to check it out.

Nearby was a Yellow-rumped Warbler at the water’s edge.

I checked for Great Horned Owls and finally after going in circles around the cedars I found an angry face that made me back off pretty quickly.

So effective.

In the back ponds I snuck up on an egret and inadvertently flushed three Wilson’s Snipe! I returned later to the spot to find a couple of them “hiding” behind snow.

Nice try.
Not even close.

It was so nice finally seeing them without flushing them, they’re such interesting birds!

Back on the trail I noticed a handful of Dark-eyed Juncos feeding on grass seeds in the snow, so I sat down to watch for a while.

Minutes later a nicely streaky sparrow hopped right out.

Lincoln’s Sparrow! 5MR #101! An unexpected sparrow for this park, and a great surprise for me.

I went to Mt Tabor Park next that was surprisingly less snowy.

What it lacked in snow it made up for in American Robins.

There were hundreds feeding on the berries from the Hawthorn trees.

After Tabor I made it to Broughton Beach before sunset because I want to see all my 5MR hotspots in the snow.

I forgot to take a picture of the mountain

It was late in the day, freezing and windy but I couldn’t leave because there were at least a hundred gulls standing out at the sand spit. Many of them identifiable!

Western Gull (clean head, black primaries, dark gray back) (Glaucous-winged in foreground)
Iceland Gull (Thayer’s) (dark primaries, dark eye, splotchy head)
Herring Gull (dark primaries, light gray back, light eye) 5MR #102!
California Gull (behind sleepy Glaucous-winged) (black primaries, red eye ring, dark eye, red and black bill marks)
Ring-billed Gull (ringed bill, dreamy, handsome)

And it took me a while, but I finally identified one Mew Gull in the mix! 5MR #103!

Petite bill, smudgy neck, dark eye

The next day I wanted a new park. Something different, but still within 5 miles. I picked Kelly Butte Natural Area just on the SE edge of my radius. I’ve never gone mostly because I have to go past Mt Tabor to get there and it has a bad reputation. And a crazy history, it was once a prison, military bunker, and underground homeless camp.

But I picked the best day to go. The gate was closed, and the park was empty.

I didn’t see one other person while up there. It was lovely.

And I saw loads of birds. Mostly Steller’s Jays, Varied Thrush, a pair of Downy Woodpeckers, and a Hairy Woodpecker. But I heard the best bird before I saw it. Behind the noisy jays and hawks, in the distance I heard a “zuee-zuee-zuee” so I ran up the trail after the song until I eventually saw it.

Hutton’s Vireo! 5MR #104! Going to the scary park was worth it. As is exploring new places close to home. Since then the snow has turned into rain, rain, and more rain. Winter is over and has just begun again.

And the 5MR continues!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Baskett Slough NWR

Summer’s almost here. Even though we turned on the heat in the house yesterday, it’s really June. Spring migration is winding down and I miss the warblers already. But there’s still plenty to keep oneself occupied. This past weekend I thought I’d try my luck looking for what would be a lifer Grasshopper Sparrow reported at Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge.

I’ve not spent a lot of time at this refuge since it’s a bit of a drive from Portland (1.5hr), but there’s plenty to find here (especially in spring). There are trails to hike, but I’m still recovering from ankle surgery. Thankfully much of the refuge can be seen from car pullouts along the road. I parked and immediately heard Purple Finch.

And a little farther down, I saw a flashy buzzing Rufous Hummingbird.

Then I heard a likely candidate for the Grasshopper Sparrow. I listened intently. I recorded the audio and I thought about it. I listened back and doubt crept in. Quickly I felt underqualified at identifying a GRSP song. Sarah had suggested practicing by comparing the song with Savannah Sparrow that is way more common and has a similar sounding song. I listened a bit and convinced myself that this one was definitely a Savannah.

Imposter Sparrow

Moving onward. I drove around the corner of a butte and listened further.

I heard more Savannah, a few quick notes, thin buzzy middle, and ending with a quick lower trill. It’s that ending note that Grasshopper Sparrows lack. Instead they have two staccato notes, followed by a thin “insect-like” buzz. It’s subtle.

Then in the dewy distance, I saw it!

The best way to confirm a Grasshopper Sparrow singing is to see it. Which is an incredibly difficult thing to do. Since they’re usually in the grass, there are few perches. But this one cooperated nicely.

Then the damn thing flew even closer.

I think my heart stopped. It sang and picked some things (insects? seeds?) off the Cow Vetch flowers before dashing back down into the grass. Such a great lifebird (#479).

Giddy, I then drove the short distance to “the narrows” a good spot to see waterbirds. Someone usually puts some seeds out for the Yellow-headed Blackbirds and ducks and this was the case today.

Baskett Slough is a good place to see Black-necked Stilts.

They even nest here.

There were a handful of Wilson’s Phalaropes flying by.

And I had a teal slam, seeing Cinnamon, Green-winged, and this Blue-winged Teal.

There had been a Whimbrel reported the week prior, which is rare for the area and would be cool to see. I wasn’t as lucky, the best shorebird I could pull off was this super distant Dunlin.

Closer and more vocal was this Wilson’s Snipe, calling “chip-chip-chip-chip-chip!”

Another fun sighting was this American Bittern, hunting out in the open.

It was turning out to be quite the morning. The icing on the cake was seeing four Virginia Rails hopping through the grass, and one that sat out in the sun preening.

It doesn’t get much better than that. I was glad I’d arrived early. I saw all the birds I’d hoped for and made it out before the huge rainstorm moved in.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey