Thursday, April 28, 2016

Call of the Wagtail.

"Part of me wants it to disappear before I can look for it." - A famous birder on a rare bird being seen near them.

On Sunday while at work I got word that a White Wagtail had been found near Bend in central Oregon, though with my weekend not beginning until Tuesday I had zero hope of seeing the bird.  These Siberian wonders tend not to stick around for long but stick around it did.  It was seen all day on Monday.  This meant that I should try for it Tuesday, though I was not feeling it.  I went to bed Monday with the decision made that I would stick to local birding.

But then something happened Tuesday morning to cause me to wake with a start at 3:30 a.m.   It could only be described as the Call of the Wagtail (with a hint of the call of nature).  I wanted to go chase that bird.  I got up and packed my bags, made some coffee, remembered the dog food and the phone charger and took off down the highway at a ridiculous hour.

Wasco County sunrise

I stopped once along 97 so the three of us could pee in some sagebrush listening to a morning chorus of coyote howls, and once for gas in Madras, arriving at Hatfield Lake at about 8:20 a.m.  Unsure if I was even in the right spot I walked through a gate and down a dirt path until I saw them:  birders.  There were three of them spread out over the area, but as I approached I noticed they were coming together at one spot.  By the time I caught up they were all looking in the same direction, at a glowing white blob in the distance.  Yessssssss.

The Call of the Wagtail was real. 

This bird was like a gorgeous but crazed meth-head, roving the mudflats searching for insects, never sitting still.  The other three birders and I crept towards it in small increments for better viewing and the bird did not care one bit.  After twenty or so minutes with this Siberian beauty a helicopter flew over and the bird spooked and flew off out of sight.  Sigh.

I walked back to the car, giddy that I had succumbed to the Call and now had almost two full days to rack up year birds.  My first stop was the feeders at the Sisters Best Western where a flock of Pinyon Jays took turns decimating a suet block.

From there I birded along Indian Ford Road near Calliope Crossing, deciding to put the F back in FJ. 

These two photos are of the same bird looking quite different in different light and posesI believe it to be a Gray Flycatcher.  Listen to it here

After exploring that road I drove over to Cold Springs Cutoff where I had very little success, then on to FS 1018.  I was hoping for Green-tailed Towhee along this dirt side-road but only came up with piles of Fox Sparrows and Yellow-rumped Warblers.

It was a butterfly highway.

Spring azure (or something close)


We went for a hike along a forest road where I had good luck with birds once before.  This time I barely saw any birds at all, but I did hear a Sooty Grouse, a new county bird for me there.  In the late afternoon I decided to head back to Bend to get a cheaper motel as it was too cold for me to want to camp.  I found a place on the outskirts of town adjacent to a 24-hour adult superstore.

In the morning I packed up and drove over to the Millican area to visit the Greater Sage-Grouse lek.  The birds were displaying proudly in the distance.

This sagebrush area is ripe with other sage birds and I was happy to visit with both its thrashers and its sparrows.

Sagebrush Sea

Sagebrush Sparrow

 Sage Thrasher

A Golden Eagle made for a nice surprise, perched on some kind of frame.

It got sick of me staring at it and flew across the road to another pole, and let me get even closer.

This was one of the best looks I've ever had at a Golden Eagle so I was stoked, until I remembered the scene in that Nature episode, The Sagebrush Sea, where the eagle tries to take a grouse.  Hmm.   I abandoned the sage to head back to the pines near Sisters, stopping once more at the Best Western feeders but with no birds at all this time.  A few deer nearby were entertaining.

I really wanted to see some woodpeckers and I decided the best plan was to park at some random dirt road off 242 and walk around until I heard pecking.  First bird heard was a Townsend's Solitaire, of which there were many.

Western Bluebirds were conspicuously tending to nest holes all over.

The mutts and I walked for a long time without any woodpeckers besides flickers and Hairys, but I was not discouraged.  I knew this is how it works. 

At one point Jake started acting like he was trying to catch an invisible squirrel.  It was confusing till I realized he was trying to catch a tiny frog, which I rescued and then introduced to Leonard Edward.

It was not a love connection and the frog hopped away into some branches. 

We made a second round of the area as I was convinced we were in a good spot and I immediately heard pecking from several directions.  The first turned out to be a Hairy, but the second was a Black-backed! 

I was stoked.  I could smell victory as I followed a third pecking sound...

Yes!!  I love love love White-headed Woodpeckers and I really did not want to leave Sisters without seeing one.  Leonard was quite pleased as well.

We took off towards Redmond to grab lunch, then headed to Smith Rock for one more year bird, the White-throated Swift.  I wasn't feeling a major hike so we only did the short trail to a viewpoint which was enough to find the swifts and take in the scenery.

Many thanks to the wagtail for sending the Call on Tuesday morning, and thanks to the mutts for being such good birding buddies. 

Good times!!!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Recent birds.

It sounds stupid, but I had somehow forgotten how much I love spring.  It's never boring between the birds, the bugs, the weeds, and the seeds.  Endless yard work with endless distractions.  I love it.  I was getting nervous this year as my favorite distraction, the Osprey that nest in view of my front yard, had not returned.  There were no Osprey flying over the house, no calls heard in the distance.  They usually show up the first week of April but this year their favored light pole had only been visited by the occasional starling.  Finally on Monday I caught one cruising over...

On Wednesday I went out front to check the development of an awesome red flower that had appeared and found it had been cut.  Grr.  Then I heard them.  I looked over at the high school field and saw three Osprey by the light pole, one sitting on the nonexistent nest.  I forgot about the flower.

Yesssss.  Everything is right again.

I took the dogs up to Mount Tabor twice this week for some migrant-hunting.  Much success with Cassin's and Hutton's Vireos, Orange-crowned, Black-throated Gray, Townsend's, and Wilson's Warblers, and a Chipping Sparrow.  I don't bring my camera on my dog walks there so not really any photos to share, except this one...

On Wednesday morning I went up to Ridgefield for the auto tour which turned out awesome with my first checklist since Mexico with over 50 species on it.

 Double rainbow!

Lazy sparrow.

Cinnamon Teals are back in full force

I scanned the cattails for awhile trying to find a Yellow-headed Blackbird despite not hearing any. 

 Not you.

You.  Why are they so hard to find here now??

Swallows are back of course but all I saw on this trip were Tree Swallows. 

Two pairs of geese had goslings in the slough through the ash forest...

The marsh area just beyond the forest is currently packed with rails.  Several Soras were calling and Virginia Rails were creeping, at times out in the open.

While parked and hoping a Sora would also show itself I was entertained by this:

What the hell is it?  A Marsh Wren nest!  This little fellow was actively collecting nest material with short breaks to sing his heart out. 

So common.  So stunning. 

At the end of the route my 460th year bird flew by...

Yesterday after lunch I decided it was time to find a particular bird I had been missing in the county, Sora, and headed to the Gresham-Fairview Trail where the Hinkles had reported hearing them.  I found the spot, a marshy area that can be viewed easily from the bike path as it crosses busy Powell Blvd.  It was a very birdy area and I picked up my county year Cinnamon Teal, but no rails were heard.

I started to walk away when I noticed the blackbirds were causing a ruckus.  I thought, hmm, I wonder if that would be enough of a ruckus to spook a bittern out of the grass.  And then a bittern flew out of the grass.  My jaw dropped as I watched it fly across the marsh.  I came to my senses quickly and wrestled my camera out of my bag and shot off some bad photos. 

This bittern was not my first bittern of the year.  It was not seen as well as the one at Ridgefield.  Why was this bittern of so much interest?

It was the first bittern I have ever seen in Oregon. 

Though they are easy to see at both Ridgefield and Steigerwald Lake NWR's, I have never had success with them on this side of the river.  I heard one once at Smith and Bybee years ago but never saw it.   This was practically a state bird.  Winning.

I walked back to my car, past the horse pasture littered with baby Killdeer.

One last photo of one of the many yard work distractions from yesterday afternoon:

Zebra jumping spider (I think)

Good times!!

Monday, April 18, 2016

The rest of Umatilla County.

After securing a motel in Pendleton for the night and resting up for a bit, the mutts and I returned to Coombs Canyon Road to search for owls at dusk.

Not owls.

Light rain fell during the 10-mile drive down the road but amazingly stopped when I turned around.  On the return trip I finally had a little success with two Great Horned Owls, one perched on a tree and the other in front of the bright turquoise sky on a telephone pole.  

Unfortunately this was the only owl species I could find before I retreated to my motel.  In the morning I drove down to the Battle Mountain Forest State Scenic Corridor where some forest birds were waiting for me.   At the state park I walked the dogs around in the fresh dusting of snow finding Steller's Jay, Mountain Chickadee, Dark-eyed Junco and...

Williamson's Sapsucker!

I drove the area for awhile hoping for a chicken or two, but no luck.  It was freezing with a steady breeze so I decided to head back north to explore another canyon and sage area, Gurdane Road, recommended by the ECAS Birding Oregon website.  The description of the area threw around words like Gray and Partridge (as do the descriptions for many of the spots in the area) and that was enough to hook me. 

Pronghorn pals

Gurdane turned out to be a great road with very few people and only a couple residences many miles apart.  I picked up Golden Eagle near this creek:

Vesper Sparrows were plentiful along the road.  

A deer skeleton needed to be thoroughly inspected. 

This area was the highest elevation on the road (around 4000 feet, I think) and Mountain Bluebirds began appearing alongside grass widows, lupine, and phlox.  The road wound down to someone's large property complete with old abandoned buildings, an old not abandoned barn, and other fun stuff. 

 After passing through this area the road begins to gain elevation again, and a large hill slopes upward on the right.  This is a magical hawk hill.  The wind was just right for hawks and kestrels to hover, all facing me in fun formations.  I counted three Rough-leggeds, two Red-taileds, a Swainson's, and two kestrels in this spot.  

I think this is the three Roughies and two kestrels

Past this area I found a couple of Western Bluebirds working the fence line. 

Another abandoned structure along the road, cow hides dangling inside. 

In one spot the canyon wall had crumbled in a way that created an awesome natural bridge, albeit a small one.

After exploring this area I decided to head back to Portland.  I had picked up 21 new Umatilla County birds his weekend, avoided the crazy rain back home, and got to see some awesome new places.  Umatilla might be one of my favorite counties bird-wise with the mix of Columbia River access, Cold Springs NWR, miles and miles of sage and grasslands, plus higher elevation forests.  Good times!!

P.S.  Gray Partridges do not exist.  Do not bother looking for them.