The making of a nemesis.

Webster's Dictionary define's nemesis bird as:  "A bird that is highly sought after by an individual birder but despite repeated efforts to be seen, remains elusive and is not able to be added to the birder's life list.  Nemesis birds are often regularly seen by other local birders and the birder missing each sighting can eventually come to see finding the bird as a quest or challenge to one's birding honor."

Kidding.  That's from some birding website.  Anyway.  I have had a few nemeses over the years including Tufted Duck, Northern Shrike, and White-tailed Kite.  These were birds I worked for, that I feel like I earned.  Now of course I see them without any trouble.  

 On my recent "weekend" I was planning another trip to Gilliam County for more exploration.  This is not a bad day trip, but I packed stuff in case I wanted to stay overnight, in case I kept driving east, in case I ended up in Joseph looking for a Gyrfalcon instead.

Sunrise in Wasco County

I know myself well, because that's exactly what I did.  I made a quick stop in Wasco County for my year Canyon Wrens and to see if Peregrines were nesting in the same canyon wall as last year.  Success all around.   A quick scan of the Columbia in Gilliam County produced a Red-necked Grebe, and then onward to Union County for a dog walk around Spring Creek Road. 

Someday I will spend some real time here looking for the local Great Gray Owls, but on this day I caught some Red Crossbills, Clark's Nutcrackers, and Western Bluebirds. 

I continued on east through La Grande and then up and over to Enterprise, then Joseph.  And that's where the search for the Gyrfalcon began.  The day before someone had seen the bird and reported the detailed location.  I checked all of the spots where it had been reported on eBird, I checked all of the little farm roads in the area.  I checked them all again.  Red-tail, Red-tail, Red-tail, Bald Eagle, Red tail, Red-tail, ooh two Red-tails making sweet love, another Red-tail, Rough-leg, Red-tail.

 Not one Gyrfalcon.  I was dipping.  After an hour and a half or so I needed a break and drove back up to Enterprise to check out Leap Lane, a popular road for birding.  Very quickly I stumbled upon a small flock of Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches!

Life bird.  They can be found an hour from my house on Mount Hood, but not reliably, and so I was happy to be watching these guys poking around the horse manure. 

I continued up the road and found a lone American Tree Sparrow keeping a low profile in some branches.  Black-billed Magpies were a bit more accommodating for photos. 

A gorgeous light Rough-legged Hawk was soaring over Leap Lane, occasionally and somewhat casually harassed by a Red-tailed Hawk. 

After Leap Lane I headed back to the Gyrfalcon area to give it another go.  I came up empty again,  and finally accepted the dip.  This was the third time I had gone looking for a Gyrfalcon and struck out.  Three searches does not a nemesis make, but I feel like I'm on a good path. 

I headed back to Enterprise to pick up some snacks at the Safeway.  Seriously, where is the freakin hummus in that store?  And why was the Def Leppard fan in front of me in line spending $47 on fancy candles and nothing else?  From Safeway I drove up Golf Course Road to see if anything interesting would appear just before dusk. 

See the bird?  Eh?  How about in the next one:

Neat.  There were actually two Short-eared Owls, occasionally taking breaks from hunting the fields to perch on the fence posts. 

I continued up the road and found a dead dog laying in the grass.  I poke dead things all the time, and few make me sadder and angrier than pet dogs.  This fella had a choke chain on but no tags, obviously someone's pet at some time.  The head, paws, and tail were all in tact, though everything in between had been eaten, and the ribs were fairly clean.  Heart-breaking.  I'll spare you the photos.   

I sat for awhile to eat my Safeway bagel and decide my game plan.  It was dusk and I was feeling that extreme guilt one feels for driving far for one bird and then not finding it.  I decided to head back to Pendleton for the night and then go back to Plan A and explore Gilliam County.  

My first area to explore the next day was Wehrli Canyon, about six miles south of Condon.  There was very little traffic and I was able to go slow, get out and wander, go some more, adding lots of birds to my Gilliam list.  A Canyon Wren sang from the canyon walls before the road rose out into what I think were wheat fields. 

Western Meadowlark.  Always. 

 Former nemesis

I took the turn off Wehrli Canyon Lane onto Quinn Road and continued all the way back to 19 in Mayville, a really nice possible loop.

 Horned Lark.  Always. 

Townsend's Solitaire

I was surprised to not find any bluebirds along this route, or even anywhere else in Gilliam.  There aren't many records in eBird either, but Gilliam is not birded frequently. 

As I drove along Quinn I flushed a handful of Eurasian Collared-Doves from the powerlines near someone's house.  I was busy checking off American Goldfinches on the other side of the road, and when I looked back over I found this scenario:

Awkward.  I have trouble imagining how this would even happen.

From this area I drove Carter Hill Road and Ramsey Canyon Road, prime areas for Rough-legged Hawks.  The dogs were bored as hell by then so I decided to visit Cottonwood Canyon State Park again where they could come along for a long walk. 

The trail winds along the canyon wall, along the John Day River, and then breaks away from the canyon into open grass and sage.  It's a stunner.  The only new Gilliam bird I had here was Bushtit but I was dreaming of the birds that would arrive in a month or two. 

 With tired mutts and nine new Gilliam birds I made my way back to Portland.  Good times!!


  1. What an awesome weekend!! Im goo goo over everything...especially those GH rosy finches! AND pray tell what are those doves thinking? Living dangerously I guess. Your boyz looking happy!! I have a nemesis of my own and its the Sand Hill Crane! I had big plans for 2 yrs running that never panned out,,,due to circumstances beyond my control it didnt happen..not givin up.

    1. Oh I hope you get some cranes soon! You can always come to OR for some and check that state off your list at the same time.

  2. I feel your pain about the Gyr. I've only seen one ever and the Wallowa one showed up about 24 hours after we were there in January. What a jerk. My new nemesis is Pine Grosbeak. Two tries this winter, one of which turned into a night in Bend so it wouldn't feel like a wasted trip.

    1. Ooh, yeah I haven't even tried for those grosbeaks for fear they wouldn't show up. A night in Bend is always fun, probably more fun than a night in Pendleton. Ha!

  3. This was such an enjoyable post--great, great mix of birds you have here with awesome scenery shots.Those Short-eared Owl pics are awesome, especially the first. You teed it up perfectly in your writing so that I knew to look for it in the pic and find it before I saw the closer photo and your disclosure of what it was. It wasn't as gratifying as finding one for real, but I did enjoy that moment of virtual birding. Best Magpie shots I've seen too.

    Congrats on the Finch lifer and sorry to her about the Gyr dip. Perhaps it's gone back north already? I've heard that mid March is as late as they stay. You could've kept heading east to see the one in WI and pick up your GGOW in MN. Both are on my blog right now.

    1. Thanks, Josh! Nothing wrong with a little virtual birding. The Gyr was seen a couple days after I left so unfortunately that theory won't fly. I'll check out your birds now!

  4. So many good birds. I love how the bland dry desert contrasts with the birds. They really pop in the photos. My faves are the rosy-finch (which I've never seen) and the crossbill photo is nice with the pine needle background. When you visit cattle country expect to eat steak, not hummus, you liberal valley hippie ;)

    1. Ok ok, valid point, BUT this same Safeway offered not one but TWO brands of vegan cream cheese (in THREE flavors).

  5. I want to see Golf Charlie Romeo Foxtrot again hella bad, good find.

    I have also had nothing but dip pain with GYRF, and I didn't even look for the white one that wintered in Humboldt last winter (obviously, I should have). At least they are a bit more regular in your state than mine, you will defeat them eventually.

  6. As has already been said above, congrats on the life bird and on getting such great shots! And since we're all sharing our nemeses: Rusty Blackbird and Cerulean Warbler.

    1. I wish I had a Cerulean to even think about chasing!

  7. Gilliam is my nemesis county. We can't get our list out of the 20s though we've visited it several times. Hard to believe people have seen more than 200 species there.

    1. You guys should spend more time there! I added a few hotspots this time, and hope to add some more to help make eBirding there easier. The Gilliam/Morrow Oregon 2020 Blitz could help! I wish I could do it but I won't be in Oregon at the time.

  8. GCRF is pretty awesome though, like awesome enough that a post about dipping on a bird to near-nemesis levels still evoked a lot of envy.


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