Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Gilliam County Raptor Run

Last weekend Jacob and I went out to Gilliam County to complete my first raptor survey of the season for East Cascades Audubon Society.  I chose to do the south route that begins in Condon and ends in Arlington with 150 miles in between.  Distractions are abundant out there and before we even reached Condon we stopped to check out some Chukars and then some impressive fog. 


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. 

Near the top of Lonerock Rd
 
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!!!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Clark County.

Last week Jacob and I went up to Ridgefield to look for a reported Harris's Sparrow in the rain.  He found it easily. 


Yesss!  This was Clark County bird #200 for me, and Jacob's life bird #299.  Exciting numbers. 

The sparrow was hanging out with mostly Golden-crowneds but also this funky Purple Finch:


There were other fun birds around like a flock of 50 Wilson's Snipes and this sneaky American Bittern.


We saw some geese fly and I noticed one had a red neck band.  I took a ton of photos of it with hopes of being able to read the band.  Success! 


Another photo showed the rest of the code and I sent it off to the Bird Banding Lab that day.  By evening I had details on the bird (so much faster than they used to be!).


At least 8 years old!  Pretty cool. 

After Ridgefield I asked if we could make a stop on the way home and Jacob agreed despite being super sick.  I had snooped in his eBird account and saw he needed a couple birds for the county that were at Vancouver Lake.  We only found one, a Western Grebe.  I took the long way back along Old Lower River Road to scan the Cackling Goose flocks for rarities.  I had been thinking Brant, but instead we found a Ross's Goose!


After about fifteen minutes of watching it they all took flight.


Such a great bird for Jacob's 300th!  Yay! 

The next day we were out running errands and I suggested a stop at Wintler Park to see if goldeneyes had returned.  Indeed they had, and at least one male Barrow's was in the mix. 

Broughton Beach background

I think this was a 5MR year bird for me but not sure because eBird is down for maintenance.

Oh!  Since this is a Clark County post I just remembered some photos of squirrels I took at Jacob's house last month.  There were a couple interacting that I assume were mother/baby but they kept licking each other and running around like crazy.  It went on for hours.




 Secret handshake

 Feed me.




Squirrels are weird.  Good times!!

Saturday, November 4, 2017

A year of patch-flogging.

A year ago I visited Blue Lake Park when I realized it was in my newly created 5-mile radius.  I had only been there once before, a brief stop on my bike in 2013, and had no idea just how much good habitat was tucked away there. 


For whatever reason, they made this map upside down.  On the west end (right side of map) that dotted trail is awesome with boardwalks and viewing decks around a wetland planted with native plants.  The open field in the middle floods and the geese and ducks love it.  The lake itself has non-migratory Wood Ducks, kingfishers, Bald Eagles, and all the things you would expect.  Shorebird habitat is the only thing missing.

After seeing how much potential it had and how little it was eBirded I decided to make it my new patch for a year.  eBird had 72 species reported in the park, now there are 112.  I have had 99 myself.  Let's check out some highlights. 

Last December I hung out with Jacob for the first time outside of Birds and Beers and I chose Blue Lake as our destination.  He noticed a Snow Goose in the massive goose flock on the lawn.

Not an easy 5MR bird.

In mid-December I visited on one of our many snow days.  The park was often technically closed because of snow/ice/fallen trees/etc but I would park up the road and walk in.



Fox Sparrow

On Christmas afternoon I walked around and found the owl spot.  Pellets everywhere, many that looked fresh, though I could not spot an owl that day.


In January I finally discovered the owl but couldn't get photos at first.  On my 5-mile radius Big Day Challenge against Steve and Nate we didn't see the owl, though the park gave us our only Hermit Thrush of the day.


Later in January I experienced my first squirrel-in-a-trash-can there.


Also my first Hutton's Vireo for the park.


One afternoon in mid-February Jacob and I found a Say's Phoebe fly-catching around the main field.


In March I realized California ground-squirrels live there.


I also managed photos of the resident owl for the first time.


Yeah.  A freakin Barn Owl.  It was a semi-reliable sight at the park for almost nine months.  Unfortunately Great Horneds and a Barred may have sent it on its way, either to another location or to its grave. 


In April things started to get fun with migrant warblers including Nashville, Wilson's, Orange-crowned, Black-throated Gray, and of course Yellow-rumped.



A drizzly May morning produced a family of Hooded Mergansers which I never saw again.  I am guessing they hijacked a Wood Duck box, which I fully support.


That same morning I stumbled upon a Great Horned Owl family.



In the evening I went back with Jacob and Matthew to check them out, and we had bonus piles of Western Tanagers and an impressive double rainbow.



In June I was surprised to find a Red-eyed Vireo in the trees as this is not an easy bird in the county away from a few known locations. 


The Great Horned owlets were growing up but still being cute.


In July I met this ugly baby American Goldfinch:


August was good for flycatchers, like this Western Wood-Pewee taking on a moth:


The loudest Cooper's Hawk ever was also present.


Late September brought more new park birds like Purple Finch and Lincoln's Sparrow.


October brought in a flock of American Pipits plus my first White-throated Sparrows for the park.


I concluded my year of birding Blue Lake this week on a surprisingly sunny morning.  There are no longer fresh owl pellets to poke, and I haven't seen an owl in awhile.  I had 41 species for my efforts, a fine checklist for a November morning.  Townsend's Warbler was my 99th bird for the park.


I also had five Greater White-fronted Geese which I had not seen there since 2013. 



Not a bad way to end a year of patch-flogging!  It was nice to always have somewhere to bird, somewhere with no dogs and no homeless camps, yet never a lot of people.  Watching a location change from month to month is fun, and I hope to find somewhere just as great to call my patch in my new 5MR. 

Good times and happy patch birding!