New Year’s birding

January 1st 2018 started with a nice sunrise and a Song Sparrow scratching leaves in our garden in the dark as I peeked my head outside the door.

I didn’t mean to bird as hard as I did on day 1, but first of year birding is too exciting. Every bird is new, every one a year bird!

The plan was to meet Sarah and Max in the morning and there’d been a report of a Black Scoter at Columbia Point so that seemed like a good place to start. But it turned out to be a terrible place because thick fog made it almost impossible to see any birds on the water. Even still we managed to ID this a Greater Scaup.

Peak of the head farther forward

Plan B was climbing out of the fog to visit Casey’s Virginia’s Warbler sill sticking around and stuffing it’s beak with homemade suet. We watched this reliable warbler take a chunk of suet to the ground, smash it like it would a bug, then fly up to a tree to eventually choke it down.

Smaller bites buddy

Bonus this time was an yellow-shafted  intergrade Northern Flicker, the first one I’ve seen! This subspecies is normally found in the east and far north in the northern boreal forest.

It lacks the red malar (cheek) of the more common Red-shafted, and it has a red crescent on its nape (back of the neck). Edited: But this bird has more gray than tan color on its cheeks and throat, eliminating pure yellow-shafted. There are also intergrade flickers with features of both to look out for in the Pacific Northwest. I’m going to make more of an attempt to pay attention to flicker features this year.

After spending some quality time with Casey’s yellow-bottomed birds we went to Whitaker Ponds for more year birds. We found 39 species including Townsend’s Warbler and a Black Phoebe vocalizing loudly at the edge of the pond.

We dipped on the Spotted Sandpiper seen there earlier, but bumped into a new birding friend, Brodie, and his family, also out for New Year’s birding.

Not the only ones out birding on New Year’s

The sun was shining by then so we felt encouraged to try Columbia Point for a second scoter attempt.

No luck on the scoter, but we did run into Em Scattaregia, her son Chris Hinkle, and Andy Frank, who does the majority of his birding by bike, including on this day. We picked up Horned Grebe, Western Grebe, and one conspicuous Clark’s Grebe; lighter flanks, yellow-orange bill, white on three sides of the eye.

We also saw a distant Red-necked Grebe, but this Common Loon was much more cooperative for photos.

Feeling we’d done our due diligence searching for the scoter we were about to call it a day when Sarah’s birding buddy Dwight texted letting her know he’d found a Northern Mockingbird in her patch. No question what we’d do next. Stop for lunch at Hotlips Pizza, then go for the mockingbird.

It was easy. Not really, but it was very lucky. Year bird, county bird, and only the second I’ve seen in Oregon.

Blurry evidence

Here we also saw a FOY White-breasted Nuthatch.

And a Red-breasted Sapsucker.

Which reminded me I was in Beaverton and there’d been a rare Yellow-bellied Sapsucker at nearby Commonwealth Lake Park. So I went and found it.

Right where it’s supposed to be

With just enough daylight left I circled the park looking for a male Redhead spotted earlier. I found the Redhead and I also found Scott Carpenter!

Inspiring as ever, he jumped into the mud to take primo pictures of birds. Nicely done, Scott.

Here’s the best I came up with.

What a great first day of the year! Starting with a Song Sparrow and ending with a Redhead, I saw 61 species, and had 7 birding-friend cameos throughout the day.

Cheers to good friends and to a new year.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Florida: Circle B Bar Reserve II

Circling back to Limpkins. I was excited to see these subdued brown and white streaked waterbirds because Florida is its northernmost breeding range. It’s highly uncommon to find them north of southern Georgia and I certainly can’t see them in Oregon.

Structurally related to cranes and named for a perceived limp when they walk, Limpkins are the only surviving species in the genus Aramus and the family Aramidae. They were hunted almost to extinction in the 20th century.

They are no longer listed in Florida (as of January 11, 2017), but are part of the Imperiled Species Management Plan. Populations have improved since protections were enabled, but of course they’re still threatened by what ails most birds today: habitat loss.

They have an unmistakable wailing call that’s even been used in films (jungle sound effects in the Tarzan films, and for the hippogriff  in the film Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkabanz). Hearing their call was almost as good as seeing them. Here’s a recording I took that includes the sound of baby Limpkins begging at the end.

One goal of the trip was to see a Limpkin, and I’d say that was a smashing success.

We had other successes too, including Purple Gallinule.

So pretty! And much more secretive than the Common Gallinule.

Another glistening bird was the Boat-tailed Grackle.

Above our heads were kettles of both Black and Turkey Vultures.

Occasionally we’d spot a Red-Shouldered Hawk.

You know those moments when you’re trying to get a good look at a bird, particularly a warbler in the trees, and you get the feeling it might be something new and different? Usually it turns out to be a Palm Warbler.

But every once in a while, it turns out to be a Northern Parula!

The gray hood, white eye crescents, wing bars, and that bright yellow chest means this is a female Northern Parula. So exciting to find a new warbler. Some day I’d like to meet her handsome male counterpart. Not far from the parula something orange caught my eye. Had to be something good, I knew it.

Indeed! Behind that leaf is a Baltimore Oriole! Another life-bird courtesy of Circle B.

Another goodie we came across was a White-eyed Vireo.

Followed by my lifer Blue-headed Vireo eating a moth snack.

We saw a lot of birds at Circle B and every time we were done for the day we had a difficult time leaving the park. Just one more bird! One day it was impossible to leave because my dad’s car battery died. No, I didn’t sabotage it 😉 but this did mean we could bird for another hour!

This turned out to be a pretty magical hour. First I saw something intriguing sneaking around low in the bushes.

It wasn’t until later that I recognized how awesome this sighting was – my first Painted Bunting! I got such a quick look at the time that I didn’t notice the green sheen on this female bird. I thought it looked like an exotic escapee finch, but it’s actually a lovely wild finch.

Around another corner I noticed a small dove that looked different from the Mourning Doves.

It has a scaly neck, and a pinkish bill with a dark tip, making it a Common Ground Dove. New dove!

Then below the tree I saw a small weird statue.

The statue moved and morphed into an armadillo! Native to southwestern North America, the Nine-banded Armadillo was introduced and expanded its territory to Florida. They’re creepy cute.

It’s a good thing Florida has signs on how to hand this situation. I did not climb the armadillo.

Other birds seen while waiting for AAA:

Pine Warbler; different from Palm Warblers with white wing-bars and a non-wagging tail.

Northern Cardinal

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Prairie Warbler

And a doe-eyed Tufted Titmouse!

Gah! – So cute.

Overall, we saw 63 species at Circle B, 8 of which were life-birds for me, including the Fish Crow that looks identical to American Crows, but says “uh-uh” instead of “caw-caw.” Audio here.

The battery was fixed and it was time for us to leave Circle B Bar Reserve.

Just one more bird.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Texas: Party Parrots

After tacos we continued birding at Estero Llano Grande State Park. Our second trip to this destination. Or third? I’ve lost count. Every park in Texas is worth at least one revisit. This time it was for a Roseate Spoonbill knocking teals off a log.

The one with the biggest spoon wins the perch.

A pair of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks swam by.

And a White-faced Ibis blended into the grass.

Then we located the real reason we revisited this park. A Fulvous Whistling-Duck!

This warm-colored lifer cooperated just long enough before paddling farther and farther away, disappearing forever behind the grasses.

Going, going, gone.

The fulvous show was over. We returned to the main park area to head out while distracted by spiders and lizards along the way.

Six-lined Racerunner

But Sarah was distracted by a persistent bug harassing her down the trail, and as she flailed her arms somehow it worked to bring out a Clay-colored Thrush!

Thanks Sarah! Formerly known as the Clay-colored Robin, this secretive, shy thrush is the national bird of Costa Rica. Even after 6 days lifers were still showing up. We then left to head back to the airbnb before the night’s activities.

The Airbnb was one of the highlights of the trip. We stayed at a 2-acre farmhouse that had some of the best bird sightings.

There was a feeder table setup that had regular Green Jay, chachalaca, and cardinal visitors. We had Common Pauraque calling every morning and evening. And a repeat visiting Harris’s Hawk.

The hummingbird feeder attracted Buff-bellied and one Ruby-throated hummer. One morning we spooked an owl in the yard (possibly Barn). There was a pair of Great Kiskadees, Couch’s Kingbirds, Golden-fronted and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers. And Hooded and Altamira Oriole.There was lizards digging holes, prickly cactus to eat, butterflies to chase, it was hard to leave sometimes. 

But we had to leave later that evening to go to Oliveira Park in Brownsville. In celebration of Max’s birthday, we threw him a parrot party.

On some nights, hundreds of parrots throughout the city flock to this unlikely, inner-city park to roost in the evening. We weren’t sure what to expect when we arrived, but as the sun set it was like watching fireworks at the 4th of July. “Ooohs” and “aaaahs” as loud, raucous colorful personalities flew over our heads.

Party parrots! The majority are Red-crowned. We also saw Red-lored Parrots.

And Yellow-headed Parrots. The latter two species are escapees. It warms my heart that these social birds escaped and found one another.

We bumped into a couple of other birders at the park, including a grad-student from Texas A&M collecting parrot population data. Red-crowned Parrots in Texas and California are of interest to scientists because these unique city populations may some day save the species from extinction. According to Sibley the “naturalized population of Red-crowned Parrots is thought to exceed the native population in Mexico.”

A couple of other birds showed up to the party too. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

And *two* Lesser Nighthawks!

The skies darkened, the parrots quieted for sleep, and we headed back to the airbnb for the best tres leches! Happy birthday Max!

Yum.

Birders gone wild,

Audrey