Monday, November 27, 2017

The coast.

Over Thanksgiving weekend Jacob's parents kindly let us stay at their house in Astoria for a couple days with the mutts.  The first thing we did was tire the mutts out on a bird-less stretch of beach so we could do some birding without them in the afternoon.

After having lunch we stopped at the Hammond Boat Basin on our way to Fort Stevens.  A Red-throated Loon was hanging out close-ish to shore.

From there we headed to the south jetty at Fort Stevens and spent a lot of time walking the edge of the beach grass looking for longspurs and buntings.  We scared up a couple of birds, one of which was probably a longspur.  A big flock of Least Sandpipers and a rainbow appeared on the walk back to the parking lot. 

Jacob vs. LESAs (plus random family staring at him)

While we were out there the tide came in quite a bit so we ended up getting pretty damp on the walk back.   Despite our soaked feet we decided to check out Coffenbury Lake to get out of the howling wind and ended up walking the whole 2-mile loop (though eBird's new feature said we walked 2.8 miles).  This is a pretty perfect Pacific Northwest hike, filled with amanita mushrooms, dripping ferns, mossy branches, and all the birds you would expect.

 Varied Thrush


 Pacific Wren

Other highlights were big numbers of both Common and Hooded Mergansers, a flock of 8-10 Fox Sparrows, and Red Crossbills flying around the tree tops.  Though it rained quite a bit on the first half of the hike, the sky cleared up for the second half.  By the time we got back to the house the sun had set and the sky was looking lovely. 

The next morning we planned to visit Cape Disappointment State Park on the Washington side of the river.  After crossing the Astoria-Megler Bridge we stopped for the sunrise. 

Once at Cape Disappointment we found the road to the north jetty was closed so we had to park a bit farther away than planned.  As we walked the closed road we found that the whole area must have flooded because the road was covered with sand and beach logs and debris. 

There weren't too many birds close to the jetty but there were plenty of seals and sea lions.  Also a confiding Pelagic Cormorant. 

Standing alone on the jetty was a sad Sanderling with a fresh bite taken out of its wing. 

Hopefully it's okay. 

After the jetty we decided to walk up the beach a bit to try again for longspurs and buntings.  Again we failed, but we kept going to try to find a trail to loop back to the car.  Instead of a trail we found jelly fingers.  Lots of them.

Thankfully someone posted the same creatures on Instagram so we quickly learned they are pyrosomes and they have been showing up in big numbers on the West Coast this year.  OPB did an article about them earlier this month here.  

Finally we found a trail leading us off the beach and were greeted by a perfect amanita.

 The trail led us back to the main road, nowhere near where we intended on being.  That was fine though, there were more creatures to find in the marshes and woods along the road like a grunting Virginia Rail and this deer that failed at hiding.

 Oh hey.

You can't see me now.

We took the McKenzie Head trail up to Battery 247, an old WWII battery.  The history is fun and all but I was more excited to get decent views of Red Crossbills finally.

The crossbills were coming down to drink from puddles on the roof of the battery, but I was too low to see that action.  I was high enough to look down on a soaring Red-tail though.

We did a quick walk through the dark and creepy battery before climbing to the top where the view of the jetty was pretty sweet.  Columbia River on the left, Pacific Ocean on the right.

We hiked back down to the main road to finish our ridiculous loop back to the car.  As we were nearing the campground Jacob pointed to a tree ahead of us and said there were crossbills down low.  I took a few shots and something did not compute.  These birds had big white wing bars.  I told Jacob who had been conserving his dying camera battery to take photos while I did a quick Sibley check to confirm what I was thinking:  we had just found a freakin flock of White-winged Crossbills! 

There's a dozen of them in this photo, which I'm not sure captures all the ones we saw.   This was a lifer for Jacob and only the second time I had ever seen them. 

Apparently White-winged males are much pinker than Red Crossbills, and the females are super streaky.  They don't generally slum it at the coast this far south but it sounds like it's an irruption year for these finches.

This was the perfect ending to our morning of birding and we made it back to the car as the rain began.  eBird told me we had walked 6.588 miles.  Not too shabby. 

Overall it was an excellent couple of days at the coast!!!  Good times!!

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!!