My plan last week was to take Ralph on a little camping trip out to eastern Oregon for a few days and bird the three counties in Oregon I had never birded. We were supposed to leave Tuesday but the crazy windstorm pushed the trip a day to Wednesday.
Cell service disappeared pretty quickly so I birded in oblivion all morning, starting at Bull Prairie Lake in the northwest corner of Grant County.
This is a peaceful spot with lots of little walking trails, a campground, and a boat ramp. Ralph and I wandered around for a bit and picked up 17 species for my new Grant County list. Highlights included young Ring-necked Ducks, a lone pintail, and a random pipit that had just taken a bath on the boat ramp.
From here we headed south on 207, then 19, then east on 402. Sunflowers were abundant in much of eastern Oregon which is nice.
We passed the fruit stand where the Summer Tanagers had been hanging out but didn't stop because I didn't feel like focusing on rarities. Instead, I picked up several birds along the highway like Belted Kingfisher, American Kestrel and Prairie Falcon.
A little after noon I noticed a small reservoir on the side of the road and I pulled over to check it out.
I noticed I had cell service finally and I had a ton of messages. A wildfire that had started east of Lincoln City was blowing west quickly and had reached Neotsu, one community east of where our house is. The east side of Devils Lake was evacuated while the west side (our side) was at a Level 2 (which means get your shit packed, you're next). With the wind still blowing and conditions still very dry things did not look good.
This is when I started to spiral a bit. For some reason being five hours from home when you get bad news is just so much worse. I felt sick and didn't know what to do but eventually got back in the car and kept driving to John Day. More spiraling occurred in the parking lot of Clyde Holliday State Park but thankfully I still had cell service and Jacob convinced me to continue on with my trip.
I needed a place to stay for the night and Clyde Holliday was busy and $34 to camp! I drove south out of town to Starr Campground in the Malheur National Forest where amazingly not one person was camping and it was only $6 a night. A forest road next to the campground had a sign for Fall Mountain Lookout four miles away which I decided to check out.
View from the lookout area
There was a burned area along the road that had some good birds like Williamson's Sapsucker and Canada Jay.
It was a pleasant road and we only saw one other car with two dudes in it that I was grateful Ralph barked at, possibly the only time he barked the whole trip. I decided I would return in the morning and explore more. Back at the campsite one other camper had shown up, an older man with a cane and an RV from Seattle. Surely I'm not the only woman that thinks things like "oh, good, he needs a cane, I could probably take him."
In the morning I was up with the tent taken down and two travel mugs of coffee made by 5 a.m. We drove back up the forest road making many stops to listen for owls. No luck.
As it got light out I started hearing some birds and finally saw some when I reached this magical field:
This field was happening. That shrub in the bottom right held a couple Warbling Vireos and at least twenty sparrows.
Dark-eyed Juncos and Chipping Sparrows were flying back and forth while Mountain Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches called. Ruby-crowned Kinglets were in the mix with a Cassin's Finch, robins, a creeper, and a solitaire. I walked Ralph down a dirt road that bordered the field and a Pileated Woodpecker flew straight at me and over me. A Cassin's Vireo sang.
I returned to the burn area in case any cool woodpeckers were around. Instead I found Cassin's Finches gorging themselves on elderberries.
On my drive back down four Wild Turkeys shuffled off into the woods.
I was feeling much better mentally after hanging out with all these birds and decided to check out another spot to the south, Scotty Creek Road. The highway descends out of the national forest and into sage where I found a family of Sage Thrashers.
And with a meadowlark friend...
Scotty Creek Road lived up to the hype with seven new birds for my county list.
On my whole trip I only had one bird come up as rare in eBird, a random American White Pelican flying over.
Other good birds along this road included Brewer's and Vesper Sparrows, Wilson's Snipe, Prairie Falcon, Northern Shovelers, American Pipits and Horned Larks.
After finishing up here I headed south to the town of Seneca hoping for cell service (denied) and found a water drip attracting birds.
After briefly checking out a couple of other spots I decided it was hot and I drove back north to John Day, the land of cell service. Jacob gave me some promising updates on Lincoln City, that the fire had not spread as far as predicted and our house would likely be safe. Feeling relieved I decided to continue with my trip to Baker County, finishing off Grant with 59 species.
More to come from Baker, but till then I hope you all are safe and healthy and not racist.