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!!


  1. That was you guys who found the White-wings?! So awesome! Looks like a wonderful beach weekend.

    1. We learned later that Ryan Merrill had some there the day before, but for some reason didn't post it to any listserv or eBird.

  2. Is the Pacific Northwest actually real, or just some sort of fantasy novel? I wouldn't be surprised if those Crossbills talked to you.


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