Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Banded birds.

Back in October when Famous Frank was in town and we were looking for the Emperor Goose on Sauvie Island we noticed a couple of Cackling Geese with neck bands.  I don't usually bother trying to the read the tags which is stupid because it's fun to find out where the bird came from.  Thankfully Frank was dedicated to the cause and picked out one of the banded geese and photographed it. 

Roughly 1.5% of the Cacklers that day

Above is the goose that I reported to the Bird Banding Lab.  They use funky symbols in their codes sometimes and this one read U @E.  Last week I received a Certificate of Appreciation with the details about the bird:

The goose was at least four years old and banded near Newtok, AK.  Google Maps shows me this is located on the Bering Sea, on the southwest coast of Alaska.  It would take 13 hours to get there on at least four planes.  Pretty cool. 

The next week I was driving out on Highway 14 and stopped at the Franz Lake NWR overlook to get my Skamania County Tundra Swans.  I noticed one had a neck band and decided to report this one as well. 

This one looked like N001 or 100N.  I received a Certificate of Appreciation last night:

Wow!  This swan, also banded in southwestern Alaska, was at least eight years old!  According to the Cornell website, the oldest known Tundra Swan was a 23-year-old female in Ohio, though Wikipedia says the average lifespan is about ten years in the wild. 

Could you imagine how differently we would look at a flock of birds if we knew the age of each as we viewed them?  A fifteen-year-old Mallard in a flock of four-year-olds would suddenly be the bird of interest, even if if it looked no different.  I could be scoping a 20-year-old Mew Gull from my living room window without ever knowing it.  Ordinary birds would become so damn interesting all of a sudden.  Weird.

Now I want to find more bands to submit!

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Loophole.

While viewing the Common Scoter last week one of the big year women commented on the rainy weather, wondering how we Oregonians deal with it.  I can be defensive of our wet weather, and I look forward to it returning every fall, but I also know the loophole when things get too frustrating:   driving east.  Often enough, all it takes is getting east of the Cascades and the clouds part and the sun pokes out.

On Wednesday I decided to take advantage of the loophole by driving east to a new spot for me, McNary Wildlife Area in Umatilla County.  A Summer Tanager had been reported here the week before, and folks that had gone to look for it reported Bohemian Waxwings.  This was a lifer I had long desired, and had already decided to hunt down the first ones I heard reported this winter. 

I found the entrance to the McNary Dam and followed the road down, turning left on 3rd Street.  I was looking for a sign for a Nature Trail when I noticed a couple of big berry-filled trees and I slammed on my breaks. 

There was a little gravel parking area here so I pulled up and scanned the trees seeing only Cedar Waxwings and robins at first.  Then I noticed the berry-less tree behind these trees and I caught sight of my first Bohemian.  There may have been tears.

The berry trees were hosting tons of activity but there were also many birds hanging out, as waxwings are known to do. 

I counted 67 BOWA's in this photo, plus many CEWA's

 Most of the reports I had read were of one or two Bohemians in a flock of Cedars, so I had not expected this awesome showing.  Yay berry trees.

Cedar Waxwing berry exchange

After about half an hour I abandoned the waxwings to check out the "Nature Trail" area with the mutts.  We walked around a bunch of the little trails and found many pleasant birds.  Full checklist here.

There were many cool little foot bridges and boardwalks around

 Happy Eurasian Wigeon

I am so grateful that this was not my only view of Bohemian Waxwing:

One BOWA, 22 CEWA's

Another thing I had noticed on eBird checklists from this area was Black-crowned Night-Herons.  Every checklist had 11-12 birds on it, so I figured there must be a noticeable roost somewhere.  Finally I noticed a small island in one of the ponds with some little herons tucked away on the branches:

I walked around and found a side trail that lead to the sunny-side views of the birds.  Unfortunately, despite the birds being on a protected island, I still scared the crap out of them and they swirled up into the air before quickly re-settling on the branches.  I felt like a jerk, but since they settled down quickly I decided not to leave immediately. 

When they took flight initially I was able to get a good count of 18 birds on the island, and two more not on the island.  A single bird seen earlier in the morning made for a count of 21 birds!  Pretty cool.

Train- Night-Heron combo

After the nature trail we returned to the berry trees so I could eat a sandwich.  Activity had mellowed but the waxwings were still hanging out in a tree across the street.  As I drove away I noticed another flock or two in other trees as well.  I did not get far before a Townsend's Solitaire caused me to stop in the road. 


 My plan was to bird my way back to Portland, so that's what I did.  I made a magpie friend at the Umatilla Marina:

Dog treats for me, yes?  

I found a potential emu source population along Highway 730:

I tried to turn this bird at Umatilla NWR into a goshawk:

Where's Nelson Briefer when you need him?
 At Willow Creek WMA in Gilliam County I picked up my county Tundra Swans and what I think is my county Sharp-shinned Hawk:


 Ugh, how did this post spiral into accipiter brain pain?  Anyway, my last stop was at Quesna County Park in Morrow County.  Not much bird action but it was the last time the dogs and I stretched our legs in sunshine.

And now, back to regularly scheduled wet birding.  Good times. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Scotes and 'ropes and things.

As you may have heard, a Common Scoter was found last weekend on the Oregon coast, a mere 2.5 hours from Portland.  Thanks to text alerts from Steve I was aware of this bird immediately, giving me extra time to build anxious excitement for the next few days while stuck at work.  I left early yesterday morning, joined at the last minute by my fellow bird nerd friend Eric, and made it to Siletz Bay by about 8:30.  It was fairly dark and raining and cold, but the bird was there.  Sleeping.  Way out there.

Siletz Bay
 Black Scoter, Western Grebe, Common Scoter, more grebes

This was not ideal.  What was ideal was the little gazebo that was keeping us dry, so we stood around for about an hour hoping the dude would wake up.  This happened once for a second, then again for about three seconds.  Just long enough to see the bill through the scope.  While we waited we listened to a couple of women discussing what I think were their respective big years- one woman had traveled there from Ohio, and another from Newburyport, MA (and this was her 750th bird). 

While the scoter slept he was joined by other scoters for a short while.  First a couple of Surf Scoters, then a couple of White-wingeds.  For a few minutes all four scoter species were in view...

Black Scoter, Common Scoter, Surfish Scoter, White-winged Scoter, Surf Scoter, Surfish Scoter

The ultimate scote train!  The ultimate scoter combo!  I excitedly said "four scoter combo!" out loud and one woman was like ooh, yeah, like a four kingfisher day.  I think she may have just come from viewing the Amazon Kingfisher in Texas. 

While we were getting ready to head out to our next destination (with plans to return later), a couple of Red Phalaropes appeared on the beach in front of us.  They poked around for 30 seconds and then flew right at our gazebo and over towards 101.  See ya.

Next we headed south in the pouring rain to Yachats to look for a reported White-Winged Dove, with a possible side of Tropical Kingbird.  We found the residential area and a bunch of Eurasian Collared-Doves visiting two different feeders on the street.  We drove back and forth between them till eventually we found the White-winged Dove feeding on the ground.  It took off immediately, along with the other doves, so unfortunately no photos.  Also, we could not find any kingbirds in the area. 

On our way back north we stopped at the pullouts near Seal Rock to check for rockpipers. 

We were excited to find no fewer than 15 Black Oystercatchers feeding on the beach, alongside about five Black Turnstones.  The tide would drive all the birds back up to the rocks, then they would scurry back out as it receded.  This is not how I am used to watching either of these birds feed. 

This is definitely the most oystercatchers I have seen together in Oregon, maybe anywhere. 

We continued north and stopped at the South Jetty in Newport, hoping for crushable phalaropes.  Immediately we had a couple in the road, not giving an eff about us. 

We were about to drive up the road when a crow decided to school us on how to properly crush a phalarope.

 Ughhhhhh.  The crow was not a professional murderer though, the phalarope kept escaping and the crow would catch it again.  Over and over. 

The other phalarope stuck around and watched (top left)


A car came and the crow grabbed the phalarope and flew up to the roof of a house, where we fully expected to view it's demise.  Nope.  That damn phalarope escaped again and flew down to the road with the crow in hot pursuit.  It tumbled into the tall grass and the crow seemed to decide the whole thing was too much work and flew up to the jetty sign.  I hope it finished the job, because that was one messed up phalarope.  (Side note, a possible Birdathon team name evolved from this event, the Phalarope Fucker-uppers.  It's good, no?)

After that we drove up to the "gull puddle" and found two more phalaropes hanging out under the sunshine and rainbows, not getting mauled by crows. 

The birds were so confiding we got down in the mud to crush them.  A nearby fisherman hollered over, " You guys crazy or what?!" 

 Rainbow-Eric-Red Phalarope Combo

 Bubble footprints

Birding is easy

The fisherman asked what kind of birds they were, and commented that they were not very smart due to their disinterest in getting out of the way for cars

After spending some quality time with these birds we got back in the car to head north in hopes the Common Scoter was a bit closer to shore.  We stopped at the pullout to scan Siletz Bay where we found a nice fresh-looking human turd.  We did not see a good scoter.  A pleasant mustachioed man we had seen earlier at the gazebo walked up and said the bird was below the bridge, right next to the pullout.  Holy crap.

These were not the better views we had hoped for, these were views beyond my comprehension.  We watched for a long time as the bird fed constantly, mostly on crabs.  

Bad scoter-crab combo shot

While watching the scoter a fellow from Illinois showed up who had been on the road since 3 a.m. he said.  He had flown into Seattle and rented a car.  After viewing the bird he planned to drive back to Seattle and fly to Texas for the Amazon Kingfisher.  Perhaps he is unaware that there is an airport in Portland, as well as Eugene. 

Birding is easy, again. 

Overall it was a ridiculously successful day with a life bird, another state bird, and all kinds of interesting things.   Yay birds, the ultimate distractions.  Good times. 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

That's how it goes.

"This is NOT how the story ends. This is just the part of the story where we wake the fuck up..."  -Hip Sobriety.

At a huge and devastating cost, that is the one silver lining:  people realized how fucked up things really are this week. 

This is good.  Knowledge is power.  Figure out how to cope.  Be kind and stand up for our fellow humans.  Donate money or time.  Talk it out with people who also need to talk it out.  Music can help.  Art can help.  Sitting outside watching a junco can help.  No retreat, baby, no surrender.

Anyway.  Birds.

After stumbling upon an Ash-throated Flycatcher at Chinook Landing last month I realized that finding good birds close to home is the most rewarding birding for me.  It makes me the happiest.  I even started a new bird list I'm calling a Five Mile Radius list.   I used this website to see what was in a five mile radius of my house and I have to say, I'm damn lucky.  My radius includes Broughton Beach, Mount Tabor, half of Chinook Landing, and Blue Lake Park. 

 Thankfully inside the radius at Chinook Landing (10.14.16)

So far I've seen 183 species in this radius including some fun rarities like Ovenbird, American Tree Sparrow, Long-billed Curlew, American Avocet, Common Tern, Snow Bunting, and Black Scoter.  Does anyone else keep a list like this? 

Last week I decided to bird the heck out of Blue Lake Park, a Metro manicured park that has never had much appeal to me.  But no one had submitted an eBird checklist since July and I figured why not?

I had only birded there once, briefly, and was surprised to find some neat little trails tucked away on the west end.  Birdy trails. 

Brown Creeper camo is top notch

The lone Bushtit humoring my pishing

 Tree frogs and garter snakes lurked in the leaf litter alongside the trails.

Overall I was impressed with the number of species I was able to find on a warm fall afternoon.  Full checklist here.  I was also amazed to not see a single human on the trails, not even evidence of homeless camps. 

 A couple days ago I decided to bird the heck out of Chinook Landing, with somewhat pathetic results (27 species).  Not sure if it was the wind keeping diversity low, or what exactly.  But the birds I did see were good ones!

Ravens are not easy birds away from Larch Mountain and Sauvie Island, but when they do cruise through it's usually on windy days.   They make for good silhouettes.

I was walking the perimeter of the field south of the parking lot and looked up to see a Red-shouldered Hawk fly into the trees.  Always a pleasant bird to see in these parts. 

I spent a lot of time scouring the willows by the river for sparrows, coming up with only a few.  A couple of Common Mergansers stole my attention for awhile. 

The raven and hawk combined with my county year Lincoln's Sparrow made for a good morning.  Full checklist here.

I've done some other local birding recently outside the five mile radius, like last Saturday.  I was at work when I received a text from a friend who had a Harris's Sparrow show up in his backyard.  My coworker approved a mad dash to NoPo to nab this county bird on my lunch break.  Woohoo. 

Phone through borrowed binoculars

 Yesterday I went by Force Lake, my old patch, after taking Jake to the vet (yay tapeworms).  I was most excited to see that one of the weird Pied-billed Grebe twins was close to the road so I could take its photo.

And in case you forgot what one should look like, here's a bad photo:

I think that about covers it for recent local birding.  I'll leave you with this oh so appropriate classic:

Till next time, hang in there.