Sunday, December 31, 2017

End of 2017 adventure.

Jacob and I had a grand plan for our days off together this week, a plan that involved driving east to track down a Snowy Owl and tons of other birds.  This was Plan A.  But icy weather in the gorge and all the way to Walla Walla made us reconsider and implement Plan B instead.  Plan B began with warmer and wet driving up to the Tacoma area to look for a Gyrfalcon.


It was exactly where it was supposed to be at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.  Easy peasy.  We set off on our next quest in Seattle where a flock of Common Redpolls had been hanging out at Green Lake.  Again.  I had looked for these birds with Audrey back in February 2016 and dipped.  This time we got out of the car and walked the dogs over to the nearest birch trees and there they were.  Easy peasy.


Also, life bird!  Most likely my last lifer of 2017.  Views were not amazing but we were going to walk the dogs around and then return.  Before we could do anything a Bald Eagle showed up and tried to nab a coot. 

 C'mere lil cootie

 And a miss

Oh well

There are a lot of tame-ish ducks at Green Lake including Northern Shovelers.


Shovelers are not usually so friendly in these parts so it was nice to look at one close up.  So handsome.

We eventually turned around and walked back to the redpoll area.  Some Bushtits made us look up and I was psyched to see some closer redpolls than earlier.



After several minutes one flew down even lower and gave brief looks without a white sky background. 


Such cute and weirdly colored little birds.

Next stop on our bird-chasing adventure was a backyard not far from Green Lake where a Rose-breasted Grosbeak had been visiting.  Someone had even left chairs for watching the feeder over the fence.


We had sparrows and a Bewick's Wren and Steller's Jays.  A couple showed up after we had been there for 20 minutes, and the man proceeded to declare a male House Sparrow the grosbeak.  It took the woman a few tries before convincing the man he was wrong.  We left after giving it an hour and headed to Naked City Brewery for lunch.  The artwork on the walls had a theme and that theme was weirdly snowmen.  And birds.


After a delicious beet burger, pile of fries, and a Crossfire IPA I was recharged and ready for our next idea, which was take the ferry from Edmonds to Kingston and drive to Port Angeles for more birding. 

My first time on a Washington ferry

Birding from the ferry was not as good as I had hoped, with the most birds seen after we had to get back in our cars.  We managed the only Brant of the trip though.


We stopped at Salsbury County Park on our way to Port Angeles, where we had also stopped over the summer on a trip.  A little spot to walk the dogs and see some alcids.

Pigeon Guillemot

 It was a little windy.

 After that we drove straight to PA and checked into the Red Lion.  In the morning after taking advantage of the free breakfast we headed to Ediz Hook, a place known for good birding.  Unfortunately when we arrived it was still dark, pouring rain, and super windy. 


Eventually we decided to get out of the car and give it a go.  It was miserable.  We decided to car-bird instead, and quickly learned that Harlequin Ducks love this spot. 


Our main targets here were Long-tailed Duck and Ruddy Turnstone, neither of which we found.  Instead it was a lot of Red-breasted Mergansers, Common Loons, Horned and Red-necked Grebes, Bufflehead, wigeons, Surf Scoters, and a lone Black Turnstone. 

We began the long drive home in the pouring rain, which never ended.  We stopped at Dosewallips State Park briefly where we had seen elk last summer, but no mammals this time.  A Long-billed Dowitcher was randomly poking around the grass with the Killdeer though.


From there we headed straight home, only stopping for snacks and to clean up some dog puke.  It was a pretty successful trip overall, even though the second day was pretty dark and rainy.   Good times and happy new year!!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

December leftovers.

Although I would enjoy forcing leftover cookies and cupcakes on you all I am instead talking about leftover birds.  Per usual I've done some birding this month that never made it to the blog, so here I am to fix that.  Let's start with a morning at Ridgefield NWR a couple weeks ago.

No one dislikes hoodies.

I took 50 photos of this Gadwall because it looked weird to me.  Of course now it looks like a completely normal Gadwall.


 It's common to watch birds murder their meals at Ridgefield.  This is why people go there. 

Western Meadowlark vs. woolly bear caterpillar

 Great Blue Heron, before

 Great Blue Heron, after

 American Kestrel, before

 American Kestrel, after

 Always a delightful place to spend a few hours.

Another trip I failed to blog about was a search for a reported Snowy Owl at Leadbetter Point, at the tip of the Long Beach Peninsula.  Jacob and I stopped a couple times on our way there, first for some reported Trumpeter Swans at Black Lake in Ilwaco.



On the road closer to Leadbetter Jacob got to see his first Northern Saw-whet Owl.  Unfortunately it was dead.


We made it to the parking lot and began the hike out to the beach where the Snowy had been seen a couple days earlier.  There were two possible routes so we chose the shorter one.  A mile or so in we found the trail turned into a river.


Hmm.  We decided to hike back and go the longer route, hoping that trail would not require a kayak or waders. 

No such luck.  We rolled up our pants and went for it.


After half a mile of cold cold water ranging from ankle-deep to knee-deep we made it to the beach where the sun was thankfully shining.


We hiked down the beach checking the whole area for owls with no luck.  We decided to stop and have snacks on a log and found a Snowy bird running along the shore. 

Snowy Plover, why can't you be an owl?

We had to make the hike back on the flooded trail with zero owls under our belts.  Sigh.

Earlier this month I was driving by the high school near my (old) house and saw the field was covered in Cackling Geese.  I stopped to scan the birds for rarities and found one had a neck band.  It read 11* and I knew immediately I had seen this goose before. 


I checked my email for old band submissions and found the one for her. 


I had seen her in January at my (old) patch, Mays Lake, almost a full year ago.  So cool.  Plus her name is 11 so she wins. 

Last weekend Jacob and I drove up to Woodland to do some birding.  No Short-eared Owls as I had hoped but we may have been too late as the Rough-leggeds were already out and about.  We managed to find the Black Phoebe that's been reported since late summer.


Lots of good birds were around and I picked up over 20 Cowlitz County birds, mostly from the warmth of the car. 

Lastly, Jacob's yard is now my yard too so I added a new yard list page to the top of the blog.  Before moving in I had seen 42 birds in the yard, and on Christmas I added my first new one as a resident:  a Fox Sparrow.  Very cool but no photo.  Instead, here's a nifty female slate-colored junco:



I can't recall ever seeing a female like this one in Portland Vancouver before.  And a Golden-crowned, just because:


I think I'm all caught up now so I better go do some more birding!  Good times!!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Gilliam County North.

Last week I went out to Gilliam County for another raptor survey, this time the north route which includes lots of back roads between I-84 and Condon.  It was cloudy and in the 20's most of the day.  My first check mark of the day was a Merlin on Hoag Road that allowed me to creep up right next to it in my car.  It seemed genuinely curious about me which is rarely the case with a Merlin.



Sometime after that I found a nice big herd of at least 30 pronghorn lounging way out in a field. 


Along Ridge Road a Golden Eagle was keeping watch over an abandoned home.


The route began to appear frosty and now I have learned a new term:  hoarfrost



The link above explains it well but basically moisture in the air meets a frozen object like grass or a fence and the moisture turns from gaseous to solid state.  The photos above are mild compared to what I saw later that day.

Back to birds, along Flett Road a Northern Harrier spooked up three Chukars who promptly dove into a bush.


Along Middle Rock Creek Lane I stopped to look at a tree packed with doves.  Almost immediately a bunch of the doves flushed as a large bird landed in the middle of the tree, and an agitated harrier flew up and perched nearby.  I looked back at the first large bird and realized it was a Great Horned Owl.  Interestingly all the doves returned to the tree, unconcerned with their owl neighbor.


The harrier carried on for awhile before quieting down, though it remained perched while I was there. 


McDonald Ferry Road runs along the John Day River on the westernmost part of my route.  On this occasion a small flock of Mountain Chickadees and a kinglet were working the trees by the river.


There's a gravestone along this road which I had never bothered to research until this week.

Old Oregon Trail 1843-1887

Turns out it's a marker of where the Oregon Trail crossed the John Day River, a spot called McDonald Ford.  I have now delved into the Oregon Trail bowels of Wikipedia and learned that this gravestone is actually a "Meeker Marker."  Ezra Meeker arrived in the Pacific Northwest via the Oregon Trail in the 1800's, and later in life feared the trail was being forgotten or taken over by farmers.  He worked hard to have granite markers created at various points along the trail so it would be remembered.  Wikipedia says it all better here.

After this road I saw very few raptors for almost 20 miles as the hoarfrost really began to impress.  Pennington Road was the most spectacular, mainly because there was no fog but still tons of frost. 


The last segment of the route heads south along 19 to Condon.  I briefly considered skipping it because of the fog but then I figured what the hell, the roads seemed fine.  Within a mile or so I had 8 or 9 Rough-legged Hawks, which doubled my count for the day. 


Condon itself was impressively frosty and I wished I had brought my macro lens, though I didn't really have time for all that. 

Overall it was a pleasant day in Gilliam with 45 raptors total.  Not as crazy as last month but still about 20 more birds than previous years. 

Good times!!