Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Nighthawk season!

Common Nighthawk season in my area of the Pacific Northwest kicks off in June, indicating summer is upon us and it's time to head to higher elevations to cool off.  It could also be code for mountain wildflower season and I will tell you right now, there are more wildflowers than birds in this post.  Skip it if you can't handle the awesomeness.

Portland in the distance
Friday night Jacob and I went up to the Clark County Larch Mountain to do some birding, wildflowering, and hopefully find nighthawks.  We quickly found Jacob's county MacGillivray's Warbler but it was too quick for a photo. 

Tough-leafed irises were incredibly common.  I can't remember ever seeing so many up there, it was impressive.

Iris tenax

A patch of penstemon was attracting all kinds of insects.

Tiger beetle? 

 Goat's beard overlooking a clearcut

Eventually it was getting to be that time when we should be listening for peents and booms, so we headed to a spot we thought would be good.  As we were driving down the narrow gravel road with a decent cliff on our left, an SUV came plowing down the road behind us and eventually found a tiny bit of room to pass us.  It was pretty scary since they seemed like they might just push us out of their way.  It took another 45 seconds or so before we realized what was going on as a sherriff also came plowing down the road at full speed.

We walked around the pullout we thought had nighthawk potential and listened to people shooting, people blasting music, and realized Friday night is not the time to be on Larch Mountain.  But regardless, we finally started to hear one!  It was several minutes before we started to catch a glimpse of the bird, then a second one.

Sweet!  I was a little disappointed that so many clouds had accumulated so there was no real sunset, but then a bright pink line appeared along the horizon to the southwest.

It wasn't much but it was enough to cast amazing pink light on the nearby hills.

It was pretty dark on the way down but we couldn't resist stopping for this crazy daisy display.

I *think* that's Silver Star in the distance

 The next day we decided to follow a tip from a fellow named Russ Jolley, who wrote a most incredible wildflower guide to the Columbia River Gorge.  Not only is it filled with photos and descriptions of wildflowers, but it also tells you where and when to find them.  It also includes suggested day trips for almost every week from March through September. 

The last week of June he suggests visiting South Prairie Road in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, barely over an hour from our home.  I was excited as soon as we made it to the area as the road was deserted and it smelled of pine forest, reminding me of the Sisters, Oregon area. 

It was even paved!

We quickly found a couple of our wildflower targets, like this Prince's pine aka Pipsissewa:

(Chimaphila umbellata)

In another area we found it's buddy, Little prince's pine (or Little pipsissewa):

(Chimaphila menziesii)

What I was most excited to find was Sugar stick (or candystick), a super cool-looking parasitic plant.  We found patches of the plant several times and saw it in various stages of bloom.

I love it!  A plant that legit looks like a freakin candy cane.  Who knew? 

You're right.  Lots of people probably knew. 

Past prime.  (Allotropa virgata)

We wandered down one of the many side roads in the area where we found the Little prince's pine, and we also found this lonely skinny orchid:

 I am fairly confident it is a short-spurred rein orchid.

Piperia unalascensis

Jacob was itching to drive down one of the side roads into the lava beds but I made sure we checked out the whole area Russ mentioned before we got too distracted.  This led to us finding this snowshoe hare chowing down on plants:

Aka varying hare (white toesies!)

We pulled over for this Nevada deer-vetch:

 Lotus nevadensis

I got distracted by an ant carrying a bumblebee.

Finally we finished up the area I wanted to see and we went back to the side road, NF-711, that Jacob wanted to check out.  At the beginning of the road was a patch of this funny-looking flower that I learned is Bladder campion.  How gross does that sound?

Not a native.

The forest road was pretty awesome, leading between lava rocks and manzanitas.  We paused at one point and heard a surprising "peent!"  It was 11:30 a.m., not exactly prime nighthawk time but I'll take it!

I *told* you it was nighthawk season!

At one point a Turkey Vulture soared in and made for a weird combo.


While we were watching the flying birds we could hear a Western Wood-Pewee calling behind us.  I took a couple quick shots of the nearest flycatcher I could find and noticed later that it was not a pewee, but rather an Olive-sided.

This was a fun spot but there was a dude with three roaming dogs nearby so we decided to find another area to sit and have a snack.

 Nighthawk spot

Snack spot

This whole area is like a giant lava playground with potential caves and crazy cool scenery. 

Perfect manzanita

After snacking we took a walk down the road and found a small watering hole filled with salmanders and water bugs.  I think they were most if not all rough-skinned newts. 

 We turned around after spending a long time here, annoying the juncos that wanted to come down and drink.  A Western Tanager was catching insects on our walk back.

A large family of Chestnut-backed Chickadees was flitting around a couple of pine trees, occasionally pausing to look at us.

That was about it from our Skamania County adventure.  Even though I think of summer as my least favorite season, I sure do love nighthawk season!  Good times!!!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Crane WMA and more.

While I was visiting my family I made one early solo birding trip to Crane Wildlife Management Area in hopes of finding some different kinds of birds.  The internet describes the area better than I could:  "Crane WMA is largely flat, with dry, sandy soil. Habitats include forested uplands, pitch pine/scrub oak barrens, sandplain grasslands, scattered wetlands, and small forest openings and fields that were once used for vegetable farming and pasturing livestock."

One of the big attractions here is also the most conspicuous:  Grasshopper Sparrows.  They were all over, singing from any perch they could find.

 Eastern Meadowlarks were also around and I did not remember them making such weird sounds. 

In the forested area I found more cool stuff. 

Active Baltimore Oriole nest

Eastern Towhee

Gray Catbird

Field Sparrow

 I made a loop back around to the open area where a couple of combos happened.

 Eastern Bluebird-Chipping Sparrow combo

Field Sparrow-Mourning Dove combo

 A Red-tailed Hawk flew in low over my head and immediately received attention from a pair of Eastern Kingbirds. 

The kingbirds dive-bombed the hawk for awhile before the hawk flew to another spot, then eventually took off.  One of the kingbirds showed off its little red patch (that I didn't know it had) when it got worked up.

 Bad photo of the red patch

See ya

I never found the Blue Grosbeak that was being seen in the area but it was still a solid morning of birding with two new Barnstable County birds.

That evening my dad and I returned at sunset in hopes of hearing (and maybe seeing) American Woodcocks.  The big fields seemed ideal for woodcock displays and they had been reported a couple times on eBird. 

What I had not counted on was a steady flow of helicopters coming in and then circling before heading to the joint base nearby.  Ugh.  But eventually...

There's only one woodcock peent at the beginning of that video.  We heard two birds for a bit, but they disappeared (or stopped calling) by 9:00. 

I birded other spots around the Cape with my dad while I was there so here are some of the highlights...

Piping Plovers, Dowses Beach

 Pink lady's slipper (Cypripedium acaule), Hawthaway Pond

Frog, Hathaway Pond

Great Crested Flycatcher, Long Pasture Wildlife Area

Prairie Warbler, Sandy Neck

 Sandy Neck 

 Red-eyed Vireo, Barnstable Great Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary

 Ovenbirds, Skunknett River Wildlife Sanctuary

Willet, Forest Beach

 So many fiddler crabs, Forest Beach

 Dad, West Barnstable Conservation Area

 Wild Turkey, West Barnstable Conservation Area

 More Cypripedium acaule, WBCA

Lastly, also at the WBCA, was this thrush:

I'm assuming Hermit, but I am not used to having options...

That's it from Massachusetts.  Good times!!!