This is my third winter doing raptor surveys out here and I warned Jacob that numbers are usually pretty low, only about 25-30 raptors all day. That includes all hawks, falcons, eagles, and owls. Things started off mellow with a young Northern Shrike on Airport Road.
We got started on Hale Ridge Road when a rabbit appeared in the road. A big rabbit. It hopped off into the tall grass but I managed enough photos to identify it as a white-tailed jackrabbit. Life mammal!!!
It's listed as a sensitive species in Oregon and is one of two species of rabbits that you are not allowed to hunt (the other is Pygmy rabbit). Thankfully there seemed to be plenty of habitat in this area for them.
By the time we made it to Buttermilk Canyon we already had 14 raptors down after only 25 miles. This day had potential to blow my past surveys out of the water. We drove slowly down the into the canyon and as we passed a valley I noticed a tree. Something caught my eye and I asked to back up a bit. As you know, you will back up to look at something bird-like 100 times without it being a bird. But that 101st time makes it all worthwhile.
A snoozin screechie! Eeeeek! I don't think I've ever found a screech-owl in a cavity on my own. Also, fun fact: this is the FIRST Western Screech-Owl in eBird in Morrow County! I was really hoping it was in Gilliam but GPS don't lie.
A little ways further along I saw a bird land in the road that turned out to be a freakin Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch! It flew away but came back and landed on this thing:
A lifer for Jacob!
We finished about a third of the survey route with about 55 birds, and a hundred miles to go.
A Prairie Falcon along Lonerock Road didn't mind a few photos.
Raptor numbers continued to be strong as we made the loop around Ramsey Canyon, Carter Hill, Quinn Road, and Wehrli Canyon. Jacob noticed our only (certain) Golden Eagle of the day along Wehrli Canyon Road.
Deer are always abundant, but nice big bucks less so.
We headed back through Condon and west to the next segment that includes Devils Butte Road and Mikkalo Road. This area had a dense fog that kept us from seeing much initially but we managed our only Merlin of the day as it cleared up.
Last winter I was saddened to see all the wildfire damage in the area, blackened hills for miles. This time around showed a lot of vegetation had bounced back which made me very happy.
What a difference a year makes! This was all black dirt and rocks last year.
On the ascent out of that valley we stopped for our second big Chukar flock of the day. Crap photo of the two that didn't immediately hide in the grass:
A sweet view of the nearby foggy hills:
We finished off the survey route around 4:15 with 89 total raptors including:
21 Red-tailed Hawks
19 Rough-legged Hawks
14 American Kestrels
20 Northern Harriers
Plus the falcons, eagle, and owl already mentioned. There were 11 unidentified buteos.
An amazing day in Gilliam County with my favorite person! Good times!!!