Tuesday, January 30, 2018

January birds.

This month has been packed with birding for me, much more than normal.  It's been great.  Let's catch up on all the birds I haven't yet blogged about. 

Clark County

I've been hitting all the hotspots as well as the not-so-hot spots trying to get my county year list over 100.  Success and then some.  One morning I planned to walk the trails at the Ridgefield NWR Carty Unit but as I drove into Ridgefield it started pouring.  The auto tour sounded far more appealing in the bad weather and it turned out to be a good choice.

First bittern of 2018

In the forested section of the loop I heard a chip note I couldn't identify and drove myself nuts trying to locate the bird.  Finally I got my bins on a Swamp Sparrow, only my second time seeing one in Clark County.

I had another banded Cackling Goose on that day also.

And the gentleman's info:

One day I took Jake for a walk at Lacamas Lake for my year American Dipper with a bonus confiding Varied Thrush.

A chilly walk at Steigerwald Lake NWR did not turn up the shrike I had hoped for but rather a pheasant that failed at hiding. 

Another afternoon I had another banded Cackler near Vancouver Lake and this one turned to be a bit older.

The best part of living in a new county is "discovering" new places that I didn't know existed.  For example, I had no clue you could walk from Marine Park to Wintler Park.  Brilliant.  I tried that recently and found it to be quite pleasant and birdy. 

Greater White-fronted Goose is never a guarantee but four of them were spending time with a small flock of Canadas on the lawn by the parking lot. 

The trail, a nice paved bike path, passes a wooded area with some flooded marshy sections, before turning back to follow the Columbia River.  Down in the flooded area a Pied-billed Grebe was deciding how to eat this giant fish it caught:

Along the river a huge flock of goldeneyes had gathered, too many for eBird's liking.   In person I guessed there were maybe 50-75 birds, but when I got home and zoomed in the photo I counted at least 160, almost all Common.  My estimating skills need work. 

On the opposite side of the path from the river are fancy-ish apartment complexes that seem to provide enough hummingbird feeders to keep quite a few birds around.  One male in particular kept posing for me so I kept taking his photo. 

Pink on pink on pink

 Last week I was in the backyard picking up a pile of dog poop when I noticed something in my peripheral vision.  A junco was sitting about two feet from me looking messed up.

I snapped this one photo before quickly herding the interested dogs inside.  When I went back out to see if she was okay she flew over to a small table, then when I took another few steps towards her she flew down into a shrub and disappeared. 

This was extra sad because this is the ONE junco that visits that I recognize, our sweet female slate-colored.  Of all the juncos that visit why did this one have to go die in the bushes?   Oh but she didn't!  Several days later I looked outside and saw her hopping around on the ground, flying up to the tray feeder, flying over to the tube feeder, acting totally fine.  Her eye still looked a little funky but otherwise she seemed to have recovered.  Yay!

Jacob and I did some birding recently that turned up my second county bird for the year, a Red-throated Loon at Frenchman's Bar. 

Clark County bird #202!

Two county birds in January is a good sign for the rest of the year!

Owl Hunts

Outside of the county Jacob and I have gone searching for a couple of owls.  One Saturday we took a random day trip to a random cemetery in Yakima County where I found some eBird reports of a Northern Saw-whet Owl.  Looking at a satellite image of the area it looked appealing, not too big of an area to cover with some good trees.

We made the rounds, moving from tree to tree, when I noticed a small dense juniper coming up.  I thought to myself, that owl is in there if it's anywhere.  Quickly we found a dead junco and then some whitewash.  I ducked down under the branches and looked up and there it was. 

Yeah!  Lifer for Jacob.  That bird barely opened its eyes as we tried to find a decent angle to get a photo, but really there just wasn't one.  That's okay though, it was still awesome to look at.

Last Saturday morning we were getting ready to head to the Portland Art Museum when Jacob happened to check OBOL and saw a vague Snowy Owl report from Oregon City.  Google said it was 30 minutes away.  I texted Sarah who texted Eric and the next thing we knew we were in a pack of birders driving slowly up and down a random rural-ish road in Clackamas County. 

We saw white domestic birds and white fence post toppers and white things on rooftops.  We did not see a Snowy Owl.  The decision was made to give up.  As we were leaving the area we noticed a guy leaning out his car window photographing something.  It turned out to be Eric and it turned out he found a Northern Pygmy-Owl perched on a real estate sign.

It did not care about Eric, or about us, or about Sarah and Max when they arrived, or my coworker that showed up, or that kid and his dad that showed up, or the lady that lived nearby that asked what we were all doing.  It just sat there, thinking about its next meal.

Muppet blink

After 20 minutes or so (this was a lifer for Jacob mind you, and both his kids too) the owl flew up onto a higher branch of a nearby tree where it continued to ignore us all.

It was not the owl we had come for but it was still a damn good one!  I had not actually laid eyes on one in almost four years, only heard them.  So yay! 

Now I am all caught up on recent birds, phew. 

One last thing:  remember those banded Snow Geese I wrote about a couple weeks ago?  Well I finally heard back on their origins and turns out they are a male and female banded on Wrangel Island in Russia!  My first non-U.S. banded birds!

I found an article online here that mentions Wrangel Island had an exceptional number of breeding Snow Geese last year, 100,000 pairs!  My hope that they were a pair seems highly likely now that I know they were banded the same day, and they would not leave each others side.  I love it.  

Anyway, good times!!!!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The end of a 5-Mile Radius

Let's wrap up this whole 5MR thing.  Last year I decided to keep track of the birds seen within a 5 mile radius of my home in Portland.  You know this.  You probably also know that at the end of the year I moved out of that radius to Vancouver.  By November I had mostly lost interest in trying for new 5MR birds so this was not exactly my best effort. 

I ended the year at 155 species 156 species (American Dipper!).  Here are the highlight:

Burrowing Owl

January 1st.  This was far from a bird I had expected to be in my 5MR, but this one showed up at Broughton Beach in December of 2016 and kindly stuck around into the new year.  This was not the only fantastic bird Broughton Beach produced either.

Sabine's Gull/Parasitic Jaeger

September 20th.  County bird combo!  This was a dream come true, and two birds I had been ITCHING for in Multnomah.  Thanks, Broughton Beach.

Bohemian Waxwing

January 13th.  A few days after it snowed a foot I made the sketchy drive to Mount Tabor to search a massive flock of active Cedar Waxwings for this bird.  I found it twice, the first time I had dismissed it as a Cedar because my brain was frozen.  So good.

Rock Wren

April 29th.  This Rock Wren showed up on Mount Tabor, as has happened in the past, but this one kindly stuck around for a few days (maybe longer?).  An overdue county bird that was conveniently in my 5MR. 

Brewer's Sparrow

April 20th and 28th.  Quiz:  which of these two Brewer's Sparrows is better?  Answer:  the one that was in my freakin yard.  The first was at Salish Ponds in my 5MR, a great find on its own.  But then 8 days later one appeared in my yard to really blow my mind.  Best yard bird in Gale Ranch history. 

Barn Owl

September 6th.  When I picked Blue Lake Park to be my patch for a year I hoped for good migrants, a variety of ducks, maybe a Great Horned Owl.  I had not anticipated spending most the year checking on a semi-reliable Barn Owl.  She disappeared soon after a Barred Owl showed up in the park. 

Red-eyed Vireo

June 9th.  Blue Lake Park did give me good migrants including this surprise Red-eyed Vireo.  This species tends to show up in a couple of known spots in the county, but this was not one of those spots.  A 5MR bird I had definitely not expected. 

Common Tern

September 21st.  Common Tern is one of those birds that shows up every year, usually at Broughton, but is far from reliable.  I was happy to snag this distant bird in both Multnomah and Clark County as it flew back and forth across the river. 

Some of the other quality birds I managed to look at in my 5MR included Say's Phoebe, Black Phoebe, Dusky Flycatcher, Baird's Sandpiper, Snow Goose, Barrow's Goldeneye, Eurasian Wigeon, Red-throated Loon, Merlin, Red-shouldered Hawk, and five species of owls (Burrowing, Barn, Barred, Short-eared, Great Horned).  

 Short-eared Owl in a battle with a Peregrine in the snow, Broughton Beach 1.12.17
Even though I kinda gave up in November, I still did alright!  I brought my 5MR life list up to 193 which is respectable.  This year I won't be focusing on my new 5MR but maybe in 2019 I will get back to it.  I hear 5MRs are big in SoCal right now, so it's only a matter of time before they take over the whole country.

Good times and happy new year!!!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

My new county.

Birding underbirded places has always been the most fun for me, and as it turns out Clark County is kind of underbirded.  I never realized how much so until I moved here.  A quick check of eBird confirms that despite being the 5th most populous county in Washington, Clark is way down at #24 (out of 39 counties) in number of eBird checklists submitted. 

Good thing I'm here to help.  Heh. 

I've been birding a ton since the month began, attempting to reach 100 species in the county in January while also exploring both old and new places. 

My patch, Meadowbrook Marsh, has continued to offer me motorless (and year) birds such as this pleasant Purple Finch blending in perfectly:

Intergrade flickers seem to be as common as pure flickers in these parts.

On that day I also had a Red-breasted Sapsucker at the park, which was the first one reported in the county in 2018.  When I noticed that is when I realized that this county is not as heavily birded as I had thought. 

One day Jacob and I had off together we went up to Yacolt where a small population of Monk Parakeets lives, though we failed to find them.  In the afternoon we went to get his lifer Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in a county that was not Clark, followed up by a walk on the Salmon Creek Trail in Clark.  This was a new spot for us with fantastic habitat and four whole year birds. 

 Commonwealth Lake, Beaverton

Salmon Creek, checking out the Canvasbacks

Last week I went to do a Gilliam raptor survey and drove over 100 miles before realizing I had forgotten my wallet.  No wallet, no gas.  Luckily I had enough to get home!  In an effort to save the day from complete disaster I went out to the Vancouver Lake area to look for the reported Ross's Goose.

Banded Cackling Goose!

I found three banded geese that afternoon but have only heard back about this one so far.  She was born in 2012 and banded in April of 2013 near Scappose, OR by the same woman who has banded many of my reported geese.

Along Lower River Road near Frenchman's Bar was the huge flock of Snow Geese that contained the Ross's.  The birds were unconcerned with people on the bike path close by so I was able to scan them for quite a while.  Here's a taste of the scene:

A lone Greater White-fronted Goose stood out immediately.

A couple of blue Snow Geese were in the mix too:

When I realized how overwhelming the flock was I decided my goal would be to find a banded Snow Goose, but instead I found two! They seemed to be pretty bonded, never losing each other even when a nearby gunshot sent the flock briefly into the air.

I reported them but haven't heard back yet unfortunately. 

Settling after the gunshot

On my way home I stopped at the riverfront bike path by McMenamins, a spot I had never explored before.  Immediately I found a big flock of American Goldfinches, my first for the year, and searched for wayward redpolls.  No luck.  The best bird of my walk was a female Barrow's Goldeneye close to shore.

A Cooper's Hawk was perched on a path light, not caring about people walking right below it.  This is not my usual Cooper's Hawk interaction. 

This was my 5th Cooper's Hawk of the year, kind of a high number for only being a couple weeks in.  Another day I took Jake and Rexi for a walk at Columbia Springs and had my first Sharp-shinned of the year. 

A new 5MR bird for me.  This weekend one turned up in the yard eating a junco, making it a new yard and motorless bird for me too.

Yesterday was a holiday and so I would have expected there to be tons of eBird checklists going around.  In my former county, Multnomah, I see over 40 for the day.  In Clark, aside from the checklists Jacob and I submitted there are 2.  TWO.  You see what I'm saying about underbirded?

Anyway.  We went out to the Vancouver Lake area so we could get some more year birds and look for the reported Glaucous Gull.  First up was Vancouver Lake itself where we got our year Pileated Woodpecker flying by. 

We birded the end of Lower River Road where the Snowy Egret continues and then headed to the other side of the lowlands where the Snow Goose flock landed.  Unfortunately they all took flight and headed west before we had a chance to try for the Ross's.  Instead we found an extremely tolerant Cooper's Hawk, my 6th for the year.

From there we headed to the area where the Glaucous Gull had been seen at a transfer station.   A flock of Cackling Geese was in the field to the east so I started scanning them for rarities.  A Brant was in the mix! 

We ended up dipping on the gull so finding a different county bird in the same spot was rather fortuitous.  My first new county bird since I moved here, #201! 

There's plenty more to explore here but so far so good in my new county.  Good times!!