Thursday, February 21, 2019

Chill birding.

Guys.  This whole Tufted Duck style of chill birding is totally working.  Instead of chasing 5MR year birds I've been focusing on birding spots that need more February checklists.  And I've been finding good stuff. WIN WIN WIN.

This is David Douglas Park:

I almost never want to bird there but every time I go I am glad that I did.  Case in point: see that little black dot at the tippy top of that tree?  That's a Merlin.


While I was watching the Merlin I heard angry crows and turned to see a Bald Eagle soaring, but that was not why they were upset.  Rather three ravens had dared to appear! 

Two crows, two ravens (5MR year bird #96!)

Once the ravens were successfully escorted off to the west, the crows returned still talking loudly, which briefly concerned the Merlin.

 As I made my way up the paved trail I become immersed in a large mixed flock.  This is something I love, when it's so loud and there are too many birds to count properly, and new birds are flashing in and out of view.  There were both kinglets, both chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, creepers, robins, a Downy, Pacific Wrens, Steller's Jays, and a whole flock of Varied Thrushes. 

Why did I not want to bird this park again?  I forget. 

When it snowed a couple weeks ago I decided to bird the cemetery near my house, another spot that needs more checklists.  My plan was to walk a loop out to where the Killdeer hang out and maybe get a photo of one in the snow.  That was my entire plan.  I kept expectations mad low. 

Townsend's Warbler, so chill

Since much of the ground was still snow-covered, anywhere that was clear was thick with robins and Varied Thrushes.

This was cool and I would have been completely content with just these birds, but since my plan was Killdeer, I kept on walking.  I found them in their normal area on the far east side of the cemetery.  As I got closer something else flushed from the road near me.  Seven somethings. 

I raised my binoculars and began yelling holy shit over and over.  Because it was Horned Larks.

This was mind-blowing.  I thought I would probably pick up some 5MR Horned Larks at Broughton Beach eventually, not while I was out walking in my own neighborhood.

Weirdly the night before I had a dream that I saw a huge flock of Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs in the snow in our yard.  This was about as reasonably close to that as I could get!

They flew back and forth from the road to the fields a few times before I decided to leave them be.  I finally turned my attention the Killdeer who were not pleased that I had ignored them for so long. 

See ya.

Last week I decided to stop by a hotspot I created in my 5MR, a small fenced-off marsh that looked potentially interesting.  I forgot where it was and ended up on the backside of it which worked out well because a Red-shouldered Hawk was hanging out!  Only my second time seeing one in my 5MR.

Last Friday I birded Meadowbrook Marsh since it needed a checklist for the third week of February. 

Fox Sparrow party spot

 The park list had been at a tantalizing 99 species, and finally on this trip I added two more!  Herring Gull and Northern Harrier.  Bad photos of those birds so here's something else:

Only my third time seeing a cormorant here

Now at 101 species, Meadowbrook Marsh is one of only four green/yellow hotspots in my 5MR!

Another spot that needs more checklists is the marsh along Evergreen Highway.  I've visited twice recently and both times were great.

Female and 1st year male Hoodies

Jacob spotted its ear when it was laying down

 Hoodie eating a rough-skinned newt!

At a couple spots lately I've noticed Marsh Wrens singing which I appreciate.

The softest and sassiest sapsucker

And lastly, a Red-tailed Hawk with what I assume to be nest material:

Can't wait for more chill birding, though maybe some less chilly birding.  But still chill.  Good times!!

Friday, February 8, 2019

The art of Tufted Ducking.

I learned an important lesson in December of 2012.  It was my third winter of chasing reports of a Tufted Duck hiding in the massive scaup flocks that linger in the Columbia River.  I chased and dipped, chased and dipped, froze my fingers and melted my brain trying to sort scaup.  Then one day I was walking the dogs at Broughton Beach and boom, the Tufted Duck was the closest bird to shore.  That's when I understood, you do not chase the Tufted Duck.  It chases you.

A Tufted Duck is cool, and so you must also be cool.  When one was reported by a local birder last week in my 5MR I knew exactly what to do:  be cool, don't chase, act nonchalant.  Finally yesterday I felt the urge to bird Marine Park which is connected to the park where the duck was seen.  I left my scope at home because I was not going to chase that duck.

When it's 23˚ outside you might think that sturgeon did not smell as much.  No.  It smelled a lot.

I walked west along the beach to the boat ramp where a couple of docks protrude into the river quite a bit and a bunch of scaup were swimming about.  They were less afraid of me than usual it seemed.

Most of the close scaup were Greaters, which is nice because they are generally less common. 

In some shrubs next to the dock a Yellow-rumped Warbler was having no trouble finding chilly insects to snack on.

I walked back along the beach ignoring the thousands of scaup out on the river that would require a scope to view properly, past the stinky sturgeon, and headed to the bike path.  An American Kestrel was perched at the top of a tree by the main fields of the park, a new bird for me there.

I followed the bike path through the woods to where it pops back out at the river by the condo complex.  A flock of scaup were very close to shore.  I smiled.  The Tufted Duck would be in this flock or I had not learned anything at all.

And there it was.

That's about when I started laughing to myself, semi-maniacally, because really this should not have been true at all.  Everyone else's views of this bird were distant, through a scope, or in bad light.  This bird was close to shore in fantastic February sunshine, completely unfazed by me creeping on it. At one point it even swam closer.

TUDU foot plus Lesser Scaup

 Eventually I pulled myself away from this ridiculousness and walked to the little jetty.  Two Bald Eagles showed up and sent everything scattering in starling-like swarms.  The birds settled but I did not try to find the Tufted again. 

I walked back along the bike path and heard a White-breasted Nuthatch calling.  They are almost always calling at this spot but this time one was low and allowed me to take some photos.

I made it back to my car where I found a Red-breasted Sapsucker pecking at a pine tree directly in front of me.  A pleasant way to end my outing.

This whole experience represents much of what I have enjoyed about 5MR birding.  Instead of chasing birds I am just birding places I want to bird, staying close to home and finding really cool stuff.  With that in mind let me throw out a few more fun finds from my 5MR since my last blog.

One morning I went to bird my patch, Meadowbrook Marsh, and saw movement up in the tree next to where I parked.

 Racooon sex!

Totally unexpected and interesting and weird. 

This week when it snowed Jacob and I headed to Columbia Springs Fish Hatchery, hoping for some birds in the snow.  Not a ton of photo ops but we did see a cool trail of tracks which I shared on Instagram.  It thought maybe river otter, but one guy that does a lot of camera trapping believes it to be a beaver trail with a tail drag.

Last week I visited the hotspot I cleverly named "Burnt Bridge Creek between NE 137th Ave and NE 162nd Ave."  It's a large area that includes fields, marshes, Wal-Mart, and some woods that creeps me out too much to enter.  I noticed a couple birds fly into the oak trees, one of which looked larger and interesting.  I finally picked it out from behind a million branches and found it was a Western Meadowlark!

This was very surprising to me though the habitat seems just fine for a meadowlark.  My plan that day was to finally walk all the way around this area to NE 162nd where some more fields and a dairy farm seemed promising.  I learned 162nd is very busy and noisy, but the field on the east side of it had two or three more meadowlarks!  Yay! 

On Saturday Jacob and I left our 5MR in search of some scenery and wildlife in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.  We wanted to visit an area we had been a couple times last summer but got derailed by snow, so we just drove around random forest roads.  At one point Jacob slammed on the brakes.  He had seen a grouse so we slowly backed up and found not only the female grouse he had seen, but a stunning displaying male Ruffed Grouse!

Cooler than a Tufted Duck?  Yeah, I think so. 

It's been a good week of birding!  Good times!!!!