Monday, May 28, 2018

Conboy Lake NWR / Steigerwald Lake NWR

Last weekend Jacob and I went out to Conboy Lake NWR for the birds and wildflowers and lovely scenery.  Distractions are abundant out there.  We started off our walk on the Willard Springs trail with a lifer for Jacob, a feisty male Calliope Hummingbird.

The next million photos I took were all of wildflowers and plants even though the birds were nifty too.

Phantom orchid (Cephalanthera austinae)

 Red columbine (Aquilegia formosa)

 Pinedrops (Pterospora andromedea)

Oh and this bird's nest was on the ground upside down, so I flipped it over for a photo.


At one point we started hearing some very loud woodpecker tapping and eventually found a pair of Black-backed Woodpeckers.  Very cool!

 We continued on towards the spring, stopping for more plants, and then made our way back on the parallel trail to make a loop. 

Spotted coral root (Corallorhiza maculata)

 Cascade mariposa lily (Calochortus subalpinus)

We reached an area where flycatchers were actually showing themselves, as opposed to being invisible for first three-quarters of our hike.  One pair in particular was quite cute, calling little peep sounds back and forth.  At one point one flew out like it was catching an insect but instead caught a tiny feather. 

I was guessing they were Hammond's Flycatchers based on their longer primary extension, but since I am known for nothing if not my poor flycatcher ID skills I sent one over to Seagull Steve for help.  He agreed, likely Hammond's, further confirmed by their peep sounds.

Overall it was a great little day trip!

Last week I headed out to Steigerwald Lake super early one morning to try for a county bird that had been seen there, the Yellow-breasted Chat.  I arrived a little too early, so I had to enter from the dike trail at Captain William Clark Park. 

 Bullock's Oriole randomly perched on the rubble of the old Barn Owl barn

As I turned onto the trail into the "real" part of the wildlife refuge I noticed a couple of harriers perched on fence posts.  Photographers love these harriers because they are generally pretty easy to photograph.  I gave in and took a billion photos of one that would not budge as I approached.




 I made it to the area where the chats had been heard and seen and immediately heard one.  Finding it was another thing, and from my spot on a bridge I didn't have the option of getting closer.  I thought I could wait it out and eventually it would magically appear closer and I would get lovely photos of it.  A Mallard came by to laugh at this idea.

After breathing in a few too many bugs I decided to give up on a quality visual and left with photos like this:

I did a full loop of the art trail and back along the dike, finding a few more fun things.  Particularly, this Hooded Merganser family made me happy:

House Wren

 Confused starling child

That's about it from Steigerwald.   Good times!!!!

Friday, May 18, 2018

Local May birds.

This month has been all about year birds and I'm already way above my highest Clark County year list ever (a measly 146 species).  It's been fun to see what's possible here, though I've had my share of misses too (damn you, Black-necked Stilts).  There is a lot to catch up on, let's go!

The Fazio ponds at the end of Lower River Road near Vancouver Lake was one of best county shorebirding spots this spring.  I missed the stilts and Solitary Sandpiper but did find Dunlin, Least and Western Sandpipers, dowitchers, Spotted Sandpipers, and Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs. 

Lesser/Greater comparison

One afternoon on our way out there I may have yelled a little too excitedly for Jacob to stop the car and turn around as there was a Western Kingbird perched on a post.  I thought it was a county bird for me but alas, I had one in the same area 6 years ago.

Even still it was a solid county year bird and several other folks were able to see it as well. 

I've been trying to visit my favorite 5MR patch, Meadowbrook Marsh, with some consistency and have been rewarded with good migrants. 

Nashville Warbler

 Hermit Thrush

Weirdly I was the first and last person to report Hermit Thrushes this spring and there were only two other people to report one.  They really like Meadowbrook Marsh though, so that's nice.  This one was making strange noises, almost like begging but not quite.

 Black-headed Grosbeak

Cassin's Vireo 

I'm only including this horrible pic because it turned out to be a county bird!  Plus a new 5MR bird.

One morning I decided to check out a new spot for me, the Washougal River Greenway Trail in Camas.  At first it felt a little creepy but within an hour more people started appearing and it was the opposite of creepy.  Whatever that is. 

The trail begins in a field of camas and lupine below some powerlines.

It passes several ponds to a neat big bridge over the Washougal River with rails placed at an inconvenient height for viewing. 

Someone else found them an annoying height too.

It's a short trail, only a little over a mile, and the final stretch was flooded out.  If it weren't, I believe you could continue all the way to Lacamas Lake which is cool. 

Things were fairly quiet on my walk to this point, but the walk back was birdy.  From the bridge I could look down on a Yellow Warbler singing from the ground.

Hello down there!

 Spotted Sandpiper 

 Flicker in a hole

Back at the first pond on the trail I noticed a Hooded Merganser, then his lady friend appeared and flew up to a stump (right side of photo below).  Next to a big hole.  Could they be nesting here?  Is that hole big enough?  I need to go back and check for adorable merg babies.

And on my way out I stopped for bumblebees flying around the camas.

I have also hit up Ridgefield and Frenchman's Bar this month with more good migrants like everyone's favorites:  Western Tanagers, Bullock's Orioles, and a Lazuli Bunting. 

I also had Swainson's Thrushes and a Western Wood-Pewee at Frenchman's Bar.  The gang's all here!  Not many migrants left at this point, only Willow Flycatcher comes to mind. 

Overall it was a solid month (er, 17 days) of birding with over 20 county year birds acquired.  Good times!!!!

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Larch Mountain

There are a few things I miss about Multnomah County birding, like hitting Mount Tabor every morning once migration starts, or hitting my old patch Blue Lake for a solid morning of owls and other birds.  One of my favorite spring rituals was going up to Larch Mountain for year grouse and scenery as soon as the snow is cleared.  Luckily, Clark County has its own Larch Mountain, though I had never seen or heard grouse on it before.

Jacob and I decided to head up there recently to see what scenery, wildflowers and YEAR BIRDS we could find.  We took L-1000 into the forest, stopping for various songs and flowers.  At one point I heard a rustling in the low shrubs and we waited to see the squirrel or towhee or whatever pop out.  Except not this time!  This time it was a Ruffed Grouse!  And he walked right toward us and up to the truck.


He was so close to the truck I couldn't take anything more than a phone photo at first.  Jacob got out to try get some shots and the grouse casually sauntered back into the shrubs.  When Jacob returned to the truck, the grouse came back out and walked up to my side again to show me his fancy tail.

After that show I decided to get out of the truck and and see what he did.  Well, he followed me around, charging at my ankles.  Not helpful for photos.  After I imitated his charging a few times he kept his distance and I managed a few photos of him out in the open.

Soon after a truck came up the road and the grouse surprised us by taking off after it. 

With my suitor gone, we continued on up the mountain with a few quick wildflower stops.

Oregon flag (Iris tenax)

We followed L-1500 up past a gate that had been closed earlier in the season to a dead end at the new-looking Larch Mtn Trailhead.  There was a restroom, parking area, and entrance to the Trillium Trail, in addition to two roads where motor vehicles were not permitted.

We immediately heard a Sooty Grouse booming, our second county grouse of the day, then started down the Trillium Trail, a mountain bike trail.  A fancy metal sign was hanging over the trail, which I only just noticed reads "Thrillium" rather than Trillium.  Clever. 

The ground was carpeted with fun plants like this Oregon wood sorrel:

Red Crossbills flew overhead while a Pacific-slope Flycatcher called from somewhere unseen.  We turned around to head back to the parking area where more birds could be heard.  Finally I found a bird (sometimes that's a feat all on its own) perched on top of a young evergreen upslope that looked to be a finch.  We worked our way uphill and he popped out again. 

We had assumed it would be a Purple Finch but knew there was a slight chance of Cassin's, and indeed after consulting the Sibley app we decided this was a Cassin's!  A most excellent county bird! 

There was yet one more direction we could explore from this dead end, in the direction of singing warblers, so off we went.  A flock (!) of Red-breasted Nuthatches was entertaining, and finally we had good looks at a Hermit Warbler.  Down on the ground the western trillium was looking great.

Trillium ovatum

Band-tailed Pigeons made a couple of appearances in this area, though only this one landed:

The rocky road led us up and past an old clearcut to an even rockier talus slope where we started to hear pikas.  Lots of pikas!  We slowly moved closer till Jacob found one perched out in the open, waiting to be crushed.

On the walk back Jacob noticed this insect that is probably an ichneumon wasp:

I recently read Bernd Heinrich's The Snoring Bird (which I really liked) where he writes a lot about his father's obsession with collecting ichneumons.  I've only seen a couple ever, but they are definitely cool-looking, worthy of obsession.

Back on the road I requested a stop for a small waterfall lined with these marsh marigolds:

Caltha biflora

We made another stop for my first fawn lily of the year:

Then another stop for yet another group of flowers which I think are all Oregon anemones despite how different they look from each other.  Tell me if I'm wrong!

Anemone oregana

 Our last stop was for a walk down an old logging spur where people haul out their old keyboards to shoot up.  Insert shrug emoji here.

Jacob also pointed out this little butterfly that BugGuide identified for me as a Two-banded checkered skipper.

Pyrgus ruralis

And that was about it from our day on the mountain.  We both picked up FOUR county birds, two of which I have never seen in Multnomah either.  Maybe our Larch Mountain is better?  Except with more shooting.  And possibly more clear-cutting, though that's a tough call.   Oh and definitely more sketchy anxiety-inducing cliff-skimming forest roads. 

Good times!!!