Sunday, December 27, 2015

Gilliam Christmas.

Where better to spend the holidays than the middle of nowhere?  My friend and I headed out to Gilliam County a couple days before Christmas so I could complete my second raptor survey there, and to do some general exploring and scenery-enjoying.  One of our first stops was for a dead Great Horned Owl in Sherman County:

The eyes still looked like eyes. 

 We drove down 206 as the near-full moon rose and the sun was setting, making it to Condon a little before 5.

We pulled in to the snowy parking lot of the Condon Motel, one of two options in town; the other being the historic Hotel Condon which does not allow pets.  A sign on the door said "Back at:" with a picture of a clock that read 5:15.  So we sat in the truck waiting till the fellow came back, watching Roxy the rottie poke her head through the blinds of the main building checking for her people.

The next morning we packed up and began our long day of counting raptors.

 The raptor of choice, the Rough-legged Hawk

Highway 206 west of Hale Ridge Road

 Northern Shrike

 Hale Ridge Road has a cluster of abandoned structures that were fun to explore.  So much rodent poop.  So much.

A kestrel was in charge of the area.

Buttermilk Canyon Road is lovely but was unfortunately raptor-free.  We stopped at a stand of junipers and found a Townsend's Solitaire not far from another shrike.

The most confiding Northern Shrike I've ever met. 

Coyote south of Lone Rock

The views as you drive up and out of Lone Rock are stunning, consolation when you miss the rosy-finches seen there the week before.

We stopped at a snow-covered viewpoint and the dogs enjoyed one of their favorite snacks.  It was the good stuff, a nice crust of icy snow with a fresh powder coating.

 Ramsey Canyon Road proved to be the most raptory road we traveled with several harriers, a kestrel, a Red-tailed, and four or five Rough-legged Hawks.

Meadowlarks are always around.  Yup.

Drinking from the hole in the ice. 

In Mayville a little California Quail lady lurked in the grass and I got my 99th Gilliam County bird, a Downy Woodpecker.  The quail was cuter:

Wehrli Canyon sniper

We finished the route, which ends in Arlington, around 4:30 and checked into the local Rodeway Inn, aka the only inn.  It was Christmas Eve and Elf was on the somewhat fuzzy cable TV.

In the morning we walked the dogs over to the town park where I picked up my 100th county bird, Hooded Merganser.  Stoked.  A few minutes later, #101 was a Bald Eagle by the little marina.

Out on the Columbia was a raft of Ring-necked Ducks with some Common Goldeneyes mixed in.  Farther west a small group of goldeneyes contained a pair of Barrow's, #102.

After packing up we headed over to Willow Creek for a chilly walk.  A flock of Cedar Waxwings got my hopes up for a Bohemian, but no luck on this day.

Mountain Chickadees were flitting about in the sagebrush:

I picked up a couple of county ducks here, but nothing too exciting.  Along the dirt road back to the highway we stopped for the most tolerant Roughie of the trip.

On the drive home we made one last stop at Celilo Park to check out a bird I had heard about for years but never actually seen, the leucistic (or something) Great Blue Heron:

Neat.  It's been around for at least three years now, occasionally getting someone excited thinking it's a Little Blue.

That's it for my Christmas vacation.  Good times!!

Thursday, December 17, 2015


Four years ago on a rainy December day much like our recent rainy days, I drove south to the Corvallis area to look for a Mountain Plover I read about on OBOL.  It was not to be found anywhere, though the pounding sideways rain made it difficult to scan the fields properly.  That day was redeemed with a successful Blue Jay chase at Bald Hill Park and can be seen in this lengthy blog post.

Yesterday I feared a similar failure but drove to Newport for the reported plover anyway.  I parked by the restrooms at South Beach State Park, walked up the trail over the dune and back down the other side, and boom!  The first bird I saw was the Mountain Plover.  The second through ninth birds seen were all Snowy Plovers.

Nice to meet you, you handsome devil you

Most of the time the Mountain Plover was hunkered down, not a bad idea with the steady rain and wind.  The Snowy Plovers were a bit more active, running around doing plover stuff.

 Five Snowies, One Mountain

 After laying in the wet sand with these birds for awhile I walked north up the beach to see what could be found.  I only recorded four live species on this beach (counting "gull sp." as a species) but there were some fantastic dead birds ripe for poking.  The recent storms have brought a lot of birds close to shore that aren't often seen from land, many of them meeting their maker on the beach. 

Headless alcid...

I had been assuming that the blue-legged dead alcids I was finding were Cassin's Auklets since they had been reported quite a bit, but that seems like too much white on the underside.  Though, on this old blog post about an alcid wreck Mike Patterson mentioned the white can be variable.  Is there a dead alcid ID chart?  The next one appears to be an auklet with the pale base to the bill and there's a white spot where the eye should be...

Oops, rain on phone shot

 Leach's Storm-Petrel

 Northern Fulmar

Fulmar bills fascinate me and I played with this one for a long time.

View from the jetty of the Yaquina Bay Bridge:

The northbound walk had been pleasant-ish since the rain and wind were blowing north also.  Walking back south was not pleasant.  Mental note:  next time bring rain pants.

I cranked the heat and headed over to the South Jetty, hoping a a kittiwake would be waiting for me at the gull puddle.  No luck there. 

Itchy pelican

From Newport I drove north to Boiler Bay where the waves were impressive and a whale was spouting in the distance.  eBird says I picked up my year Black Oystercatcher here.  eBird is full of lies.  

Overall it was a successful day at the coast!  One life bird plus several year birds, leaving me at a nagging 399 for the year.  Perhaps I will go fix that today...  Good times!!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Floods and a hawk.

This week has been a wet one here in the Pacific Northwest, the complete opposite of our hot and drought-ified summer.  Record-breaking rainfall and floods and landslides and all kinds of fun things have been going on.  My brilliant decision to not clean out my gutters this fall set the gears in motion for a basement swimming pool. 

There have been some bright spots, though...

Vancouver Lake, after a thunder/lightning/hail storm

 The highlight of my week has been a new back yard regular, a young Cooper's Hawk.  I'm calling her a she, because she seems pretty big, but I don't actually know for sure.  Anyway, she first showed up last Sunday on my camera trap, which I had left out in the yard while I went to work.


I was psyched.  I was even more psyched when three days later she showed up again and snagged a goldfinch, which she ate right out by the feeders.


She disappeared for an hour and then she was back, looking for her next snack.  She took off in pursuit of a siskin and I didn't see her again.

Friday morning I opened the blinds and boom, there she was again, this time with a siskin in her talons.  Here is a bad, dirty/old window shot to show how she was chowing down directly above the millet tray, leaving feathers and siskin-juice for the juncos to pick through.


Yesterday morning, after spending hours ripping up soaking wet carpet and carpet pad, I sat down to have some coffee and check out the yard.  She showed up within minutes, looking for her finch breakfast.


She had no luck at the feeders or on the chain link fence so she headed to the camellia bush.  I last saw her tearing across the yard in pursuit of something.

I know some folks hate having hawks in their yard but that is ridiculous.  Those same people probably cry over their dead and dying siskins, whereas I have not had a dead one in at least a week.

Hopefully she will continue to keep these finch flocks healthy!  Good times.