Monday, March 30, 2015

Cape Lookout.

I have lived in Oregon for over 13 years and had never hiked the cape trail at Cape Lookout until yesterday.  Shame on me.  The only way I can make up for this oversight is to strongly encourage you to go out there now!  Gray whales are migrating through and many hug the cape as they travel since it sticks out so far.  Plus the trail is a delightfully muddy mess filled with blooming trilliums and violets. 

Varied Thrush collecting fees at the trailhead

Tree roots seem to be the only thing keeping the whole place from washing away in a chocolatey muddy soup.

We spotted whales from almost every opening in the trees along the 2.5 mile hike to the tip. 

There were also Common Murres, Surf Scoters, all three cormorants, Western Gulls, and Horned Grebes out on the water.  From the forest a neverending chorus of Pacific Wrens and Golden-crowned Kinglets dominated, occasionally accompanied by Red Crossbills, Wrentits, Varied Thrushes and Brown Creepers. 

Common Murres

 Gray whale tail

Sea lion

We hiked to the tip assuming that would be the best place for spotting whales, but we quickly realized we had passed far better (or luckier) spots along the way.  On the return trip we were stoked to watch three gray whales emerge from the water at the same time.

We sat in one spot to have some snacks not realizing we were being watched.  The second we were done and walking away a pair of ravens swooped in to pick up our tortilla chip crumbs. 

The return trip was all about the big birds.  The ravens kicked things off, followed by a Red-tailed Hawk upsetting all the Western Gulls below.

Soon after a Bald Eagle appeared and came to light on a branch below us. 

We also caught sight of four Turkey Vultures soaring over the ocean before encountering a pair of Peregrines in some sort of loud dispute. 

 It is definitely one of those hikes that deserves the hype.  We had at least a dozen whales, probably more, plus over twenty species of birds.  Go!  Go now! 

Good times!!

Saturday, March 28, 2015


Everyone loves their patches.  This is a fact.  Look at this tiny Mallard patch.  What's not to love?

I kid.  Patches are to be taken seriously.  Last week I returned to my old patch, Force Lake, over in North Portland to check out the scene.  It always feels so comforting to return, to step carefully over the needles, to kick the condom wrappers off the trail, and hope like hell no one is having relations in the foliage. 

Sketchiness aside, I still love this little spot.  Sometimes random ducks that normally stick to the far side of the pond come swimming over to check me out. 

Northern Shovelers.  I love them so much and they rarely love me back, but these two were so confiding it was awesome. 

Look at that happy shoveler.  Now look at him again, because you can:

Look at them lamellae.  

 Force Lake seems to attract more Redheads than any other Portland spot.  I had a pair while I was there, but soon there will be more than eBird wants you to admit.

 Mucky ducks.

Unmucky ducks. 

Across the street from Force Lake is a usually-closed access road to Vanport Wetlands.  I walked down there to see if the Great Horned Owl nest was active this year, and before I even got to the nest I heard hooting.  I took a little video that is great if you want motion sickness:

The adult owl was perched above the nest where two owlets were being cute.

That little access road also parallels Mud Slough for a bit, where I found a Pied-billed Grebe sucking down a fish.

Although I have seen more species at Force Lake, I find my current patches more rewarding.  They're not birded much and I feel like my checklists are somehow more valuable.  Mays Lake is my "real" patch, the one I walk to at least once a week with the dogs.  I've had 65 species there over the last couple of years, which isn't bad for a weird lake off Airport Way. 

A number of species nest around the lake including Wood Ducks, Bushtits, starlings, and my current favorite, American Kestrels.  I've mentioned these kestrels many times, and last year I would see them perched together but never found their nest hole.  This year they are laying it all out on the table for everyone to see.  I caught them copulating yet again yesterday morning...

Their nest hole is super obvious and I am really hopeful to see a fuzzy kestrel face pop out sometime this spring. 

That's it for my patches.  If you want your own tiny Mallard patch, dig some quarters out of your change jar and check out Etsy.   Good times!!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Ridgefield NWR, etc.

Oh, man, last weekend was brutal.  I woke up in the middle of the night Friday night with the worst food poisoning I've ever had and it lasted through Sunday afternoon.  Cramps, chills, fever, all that fun stuff.  It did not help that I would occasionally look at OBOL only to find I was missing out on Mountain Bluebirds and a Loggerhead Shrike.  Curses!

Monday morning I woke up to rain but I just had to get out of the house.  I figured a drive around the auto tour at Ridgefield would keep me dry and ease me back into life.

The rain stopped completely soon after I arrived.  A nice surprise.

I noted a couple of the young white-tailed deer with fresh and ridiculous ear tags...

It's hard to like these deer knowing they are the reason you don't see coyotes at Ridgefield anymore.

Yellowlegs have arrived are busy slurping wormies and things...

There was even a Lesser Yellowlegs in the mix...

Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs

It's impossible to dislike snipe. 

So I noticed this beaver lodge while I was driving around, took two quick photos, and forgot about it.  When I got home I was like oh man, I should have looked to see if there was a beaver nearby.  Then I zoomed in and there's a damn beaver right in the dead center of the thing.

Oh well.  Only my second photo of a beaver ever, the first one being at Ridgefield five years ago as can be seen here.

Hoodies look like giant nerds sometimes. 

Tundra Swans will be leaving soon, so try to enjoy their awkward water landings while you can.

Back at home yesterday afternoon I was working on weeds between rain squalls when I got word that the Loggerhead Shrike was still around.  I thought for sure it was already gone, so I was psyched and headed out to Troutdale.  The shrike was fairly easy to locate as it flycatched from various fences.

I walked out to the Columbia to see if anything was going on there.  Lots of Violet-green Swallows flying about.

I had never before noticed cormorants roosting on those big red and white towers.

Secret cormorant society. 

Ah it was so nice to get outside after my terrible weekend!  Good times!!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Recent birds.

One time when we were kids, my brother got himself wedged in a tree in our front yard in a most uncomfortable manner.  There were tears.  My dad, of course, ran inside to get the camera before helping him get unstuck.

I was reminded of this fine April day in 1979 (okay, I was reminded of the photo, I was 8 months old at the time) when I found a Gadwall in a similarly stuck situation yesterday at Shillapoo Wildlife Area.

How this happened I can only guess.  I took that lesson from my dad and shot off some photos before figuring out how to help this struggling duck.  The problem was that the tree was in water and I had no idea how deep it was.  I put my assistant Jake back in the car along with my camera and wallet, and returned to the scene ready to get wet. This is what the area looks like:

 I was standing at the very edge, about to put my foot in the water when the duck finally gained the motivation to try harder.  He wriggled and flapped and boom, shot the heck out of there and into the sky.  My cellphone was on the ground so I quickly tried to get a shot of it flying away.  It's in the dead center of the next photo, just above the distant tree line.

If only it had been that easy to get my brother out of that tree.

Along the same trail at Shillapoo I watched a Great Blue Heron eat a snake.  It took over ten minutes of wrestling and was hard to watch at some points.  I wish photos were better, but here are a couple anyway:

When the snake was finally contained to the insides of the heron, I could see the neck bulging in snake-filled spots.  I can't imagine having a live snake wriggling around my throat.

Along the trail there's a decent sparrow spot and I finally got my year Fox Sparrow.

Stoked on the Fox Sparrow

Goose swarm

My reason for taking Jake for a walk here was to lessen the guilt I felt for taking Ralph for a hike up Larch Mountain in the morning.  I wasn't sure Jake would be up for the hike and would at best slow us down.  I could have left both at home, but Larch Mountain can feel spooky scary and I knew Ralph would make it less so.

The road past milepost 10 is gated in the winter, so the last four or so miles you must walk up if you want to hear a grouse.  Around MP 12 we came upon a couple of ravens.  One was picking clean some rib bones, and the other just flying.  That latter raven decided to hike with us for the next mile which was totally awesome.

 A couple times it sat and made these sounds when we caught up:

 Once when I was going slow, trying to find the source of a sound, the raven started calling loudly, seeming impatient with our pace.  The raven finally lost interest in us around MP 13.  It was another 3/4 of a mile to where I finally heard the sound I had been waiting for:  a booming Sooty Grouse!  This is a bird I kept missing in the county so I was stoked to finally hear one.

The fog and mist gave way to actual rain around this time, so we turned around and walked back down.  

Despite appearances, Ralph stays on leash at all times.  He does "stay" very well for photos though.

We were about half a mile from the gate when I heard a Northern Pygmy-Owl hooting.  I tried to record it but the dripping of the trees and the nearby stream did not help.  The easier ones to hear start at :11, :14, :17, :20, :22, :25.  It requires the volume to be at 100% and even then it's faint.

In other news, my motorless list is getting back up to snuff even though I totally slacked for a month or two.  Last week I was doing yard work when I caught sight of bird #80,  a pair of Common Ravens soaring overhead.  I ran to grab my camera and returned in time to snap a few photos and hear one croaking.

This was fantastic not only because it was a new yard bird (#59), but also because this could be a tough motorless bird. 

I spent Monday forcing myself to do yard work, moving the ridiculous amount of dirt I had delivered from the front yard to the back.  The morning fog had cleared up and I was checking the sky regularly hoping for a Turkey Vulture finally.  Instead a pair of Bald Eagles came soaring from the north.

I know, Bald Eagles are old news.  I know, I have more posts with Bald Eagles than any other bird.  I know.  But still.   

This adult and a sub-adult were cruising around when a third (adult) joined in.  I was stoked.  Bald Eagles make me so freakin happy, especially when they're hanging out together right over my yard.  The adults began what appeared to be some mild courting.

Around this time a FOURTH (sub-adult) Bald Eagle showed up, like they had all decided earlier, "Let's meet at Jen's house."

They soared together into the sun where I lost sight of this awesome family reunion.  I returned to my dirt for a few hours until I was again distracted by birds in the sky.  This time a couple of Red-tailed Hawks were soaring together, looking playful.

I recently noticed a pair of Red-tailed Hawks at a nest about half a mile from me, so perhaps these are the same hawks.  Fun stuff.

I'm up to 88 motorless birds for the year with #88 herself being a Rufous Hummingbird along the Columbia Slough:

Yay spring!  Good times!!