Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My motorless year.

January 4th, 2014.  Creeping behind the pump station next to Mason Wetlands, trying to document the five Trumpeter Swans that had flown in ten minutes earlier.

I was not supposed to be at Mason Wetlands.  I was supposed to be arriving at my parents' house on Cape Cod around this time, but a blizzard in Boston caused my flight to get cancelled.  In an effort to make the best of things, I took the dogs on a walk to the wetlands to work on my fresh 2014 motorless list. 

Then the swans showed up.  These amazing birds had just fallen from the sky on a freakin dog walk.  A county bird for me!  I wondered, what else could I find on a walk?  By the end of January my experiment in motorless birding was made official:  for 2014 I would see how many species I could find only by walking.

 The Marine Drive bike path and I became very close this year. 

Location is important of course.  I live in Parkrose, near the high school, and set my walking boundaries to about six miles from home.  Luckily there are some fantastic spots within that range:  Mason Wetlands (13), Mays Lake (36+), the Columbia River, the Columbia Slough and all of its sketchy trails, Whitaker Ponds (4), and Broughton Beach (13).  (Number of times visited on walks in 2014).

  Motorless adventure buddies, taking a break in the rain on a random couch by Johnson Lake. 

I am ending the year with 136 species and 468 miles under my belt.  My full list of species can be seen here, and note that it includes the non-avian creatures as well.   Numbers are great and all, I love me some lists, but the best part was the adventure of it all.  The discovery of secret slough spots, random lakes, birds in unexpected places. 

Cooper's Hawk mocking my failure to add just one more bird to my list at Whitaker Ponds 12-30-14

If you want to catch up on some of my motorless endeavors from the year, here is a sampling of blog links for you:

January walk to Mason Wetlands
January walk to Whitaker Ponds
May walk to Mason Wetlands, etc.
May walk along the Columbia River
August walk to Broughton Beach
September walk to Broughton Beach
October walk to Broughton Beach
December walk to Broughton Beach

 For the record, this was not any kind of big year attempt, and I still drove plenty.  But that's 468 miles that I did not drive.  I found one more motorless species than I did in 2013, which is awesome since I rode my bike in 2013.  I picked up five county birds while walking this year.  Two state birds.  One life mammal.  You just never know what is going to appear in front of you.

 Long-tailed weasel, Marine Drive bike path, May 2014

Great Egret, 162nd Ave Water Quality Facility, 12-28-14

As with all birding, sometimes I lost.  I couldn't find a Western Wood-Pewee.  Or a Marsh Wren.  Several times I walked all the way to Broughton Beach without finding anything new.  Last week I walked to Mason Wetlands and thought I had found a Eurasian Wigeon.  Then Jake started limping and I had to call a friend to pick us up, a little bummed I couldn't count the bird.  I tried for it again the next morning and came up empty.

Common Merganser, 162nd Ave WQF 12-28-14

Turns out it didn't matter.  A closer look at my photos revealed the wigeon was actually a Eurasian x American hybrid.  You win some, you lose some, and sometimes you kind of break even. 

Next year I will resume riding my bike for my list but I am really glad I tried this whole walking thing.  It's awesome knowing I can find so many birds and other animals just by setting out on foot.  Maybe in 2015 YOU should try a motorless list too!  Just sayin!

Happy new year!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Manual practice.

Manual camera settings continue to freak me out so I set out yesterday to practice on any obliging avian subjects I could find on my morning dog walk.  Thankfully I had some cooperative subjects, and some okay results. 

Along the river, a pipit was all about posing for me.

I picked up a new "patch bird" at Mays Lake, a Hermit Thrush!  This was not a bird I had an easy time finding for my motorless list, so I was happy to find one poking around the area. 

Nearby, Ruby-crowned Kinglets made for aggravating targets in poor winter light.

Back at home I flung out some fresh sunflower seed, put out a quickly and poorly made veg suet brick, and checked the hummer feeder.  Then I set up camp on my bed with a hot soy chai, my camera, and my mutts, and waited for some subjects to show up.  It did not take long.

Lesser Goldfinches are easily in my top ten favorite birds.  Maybe even top five.  Hmm.

A Downy Woodpecker discovered the suet quickly and was not impressed. 

Two Anna's Hummingbirds showed up that seem to get along.  They arrived and departed together, but did not feed together.  At one point one started doing a sort of dance with head bobbing and turning.  Reminded me of a duck mating ritual.  As soon as I decided to try a video, she (?) stopped, but you can kind of see the movements in the photos...

Probably most entertaining to me was a Black-capped Chickadee hellbent on storing every sunflower seed he could carry to every random location in the yard.  Seeds were deposited in a fence, in the cut rose stems, in the eave of the greenhouse, in the fallen tree... 

 A pretty successful practice day.  Oh and it was Christmas, so here are some dogs looking christmas-y for you.

Good times!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

It's raining.

Breaking weather alerts and flood watches be damned, I was going to get some birding in on my day off.  Once it got light-ish out (like 8:30) I headed west to the Vanport area to try to hunt down the reported Glaucous Gull.  I cruised by Vanport, Force Lake, and Heron Lakes Golf Course without noticing a single gull.  NOT ONE.  This is a feat all on its own. 

Force Lake

What the hell?  Where were they?  I eventually found dozens at Delta Park which, after a very wet dog walk, turned into hundreds.  I scanned and scanned and scanned and there was just no Glaucous among them.  One bird (through the window and the rain) looked possible for a 2nd winter Thayer's:

 But that was about as exciting as it got there.  One Ring-billed.  Tons of Mews.  All sorts of mutts.  I drove back over to the golf course where an egret was waiting for me.  Perhaps my former lunchtime companion during the TGC. 

There were actually a couple of gulls visible now so I started driving up and down the road, scanning all the nooks and crannies.  There's lots of hills and valleys in this area where birds can disappear easily.  I spent about 40 minutes doing this, not finding anything, when suddenly it appeared! 

So cool.  He disappeared again for a bit...

He reappeared flying into a flock of geese...

Yay!  A long overdue life bird for me.  My egret friend gave me a high five as I left the golf course.

Before heading home I went back over to Delta Park to run around with the dogs a bit and get really freakin wet. 

A couple of crows perched on the fence by the baseball fields were doing cute things. 

Back at home I've been able to watch my feeders a bit.  I won't bore you too much with it, but here's a couple of birds...

 Pine Siskin

Anna's Hummingbird

I just bought a new hummingbird feeder and while I was boiling some water for nectar this dude showed up at the old feeder.  A female showed up a bit later and they briefly maintained peace.


One last yard tidbit for you.  I know I mentioned in a previous post that part of my tree in my backyard came down during the windstorm, but I never showed you the mess.

Unfortunately because it tore the whole side off the tree, the whole tree now has to come down.  No more Cedar Waxwings, no more Red-breasted Sapsuckers, no more Evening Grosbeaks (for five minutes a year)... It will be sad, but I will plant a nice native tree to take its place. 

Ok, that's all.  Good times!!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

North Coast.

Yesterday's day off from work provided the perfect opportunity to head to the coast, tire out the mutts, and try to track down a few birds.  Our morning began in Astoria with pleasant weather which continued throughout the whole day.

Astoria-Megler Bridge

I searched for the Snow Bunting in its reported location to no avail.  A Bald Eagle was perched nearby who hopefully did not enjoy a bunting breakfast.

The river held the expected birds: dozens of coots, a few goldeneyes, dozens of Bufflehead, cormorants, gulls, Western Grebes, and a lone Red-necked Grebe.

Western Gull looking important

 I walked the dogs along the riverwalk away from the bunting site for about half a mile when Jake caught a whiff of his biggest (and only) fear:  sea lions.  We never saw any but he could smell them and eventually hear them.  It's always amazing to see this completely and ridiculously fearless mutt start pacing with his tail down and ears back.  Anyway.  On the walk towards the car some Mew Gulls had shown up in the river...

It is a shame some people have no Mew Gulls in their lives. 

 There's a cool brick building along the riverwalk that I wanted to photograph on the way out on our walk, but I'm glad I waited till the way back.  Because the bricks were sprinkled with House Sparrows.  Sure, not my bird of choice, but it still spiced things up.

 I ran into Mike Patterson soon after who had not seen the Snow Bunting either, but he did give me some great advice on finding my next target bird, the Tropical Kingbird.  The advice was to just scour the neighborhood and listen for it.  So that is what I did next.

I parked at the bottom of 7th St and walked west along 202, then up into the neighborhood, picking up my Clatsop County Townsend's Warbler and Golden-crowned Sparrows.  After about 40 minutes I was getting weary and was just about to start getting resentful of all the folks who had been successful with this bird when I looked up and there the damn thing was on a powerline on 6th Street just off McClure.

I took a few distant photos of its back before it flew a block east and I went trudging after it, following its incessant and awesome vocalizations.  I caught sight of it silhouetted across 7th Street.

This is a cool photo and all but I really wanted a better angle and eventually I got some decent shots.  It even sat around for so long I got to play with just about every setting, part of my new attempts to understand manual.  Let's start with "Tropical Kingbird under the moonlight":

Enough of that silliness.  Here are a couple of the bird in normal light looking normal...

This was a life bird for me so I was pretty damn excited.  I walked down the hill back to my car realizing the irony that I had parked only two blocks from where I found the bird, yet had wandered many many more than that in the search.  I noticed a man with binoculars down on 202 so I ran over to tell him where I had just seen the kingbird, then headed off to get a sandwich.

I parked near the riverwalk to eat and a crow decided to join me.

The sun was shining and there was even a faint rainbow as the mutts and I made one last try for the Snow Bunting.

 Rainbow not pictured. 

In the water a gull of questionable parentage was repeatedly diving for something pink.

On the walk back to the car I saw the couple who I had directed towards the kingbird, and I learned that they had found it rather easily with my directions.  Yay!  Turns out they were from Beaverton.

From Astoria I headed back south to Seaside to try for the Indigo Bunting that was coming to a seed patch in someone's yard.  I stood like a creep on the sidewalk watching the patch for about fifteen minutes, enjoying the decent variety of birds.

 White-throated and Fox Sparrows

 Varied Thrush

Moody crow

 After fifteen minutes, this d-bag showed up:

The birds dispersed and the cat decided to lie down and settle in for the afternoon.  After half an hour of watching mostly House Sparrows I gave up.  No Indigo Bunting for me, but that's okay.  I took the dogs over to the beach for a bit before heading back to Portland, taking a second to poke a dead Western Grebe.

Overall a great day at the coast:  tired mutts, a life bird, and enough photos to fill a blog post.  Winning.  Good times!