Friday, April 18, 2014

A Day Worth Writing About

Black-throated Green Warbler
During spring migration, seeing a large number of migrants on a single day is a matter of some science, some luck and a lot of patience.  On their migration route, many birds have to cross the Gulf of Mexico, flying all night until landing, usually on the first bit of land they see where there is some food to be had.  Usually there is a steady stream each  night for a few weeks, but occasionally a series of storms in the Yucatan, for example, might prevent birds from launching for a few days, packing loads of migrants into one night's flight. Their path across the water is affected by several factors including the presence or absence of storms and wind speed and direction.  So, based on some lucky circumstances, a single area of the coast and a mulberry tree filled with ripe fruit can become a bird magnet.  Unfortunately, predicting which area of the coast will get all those birds on a given morning is a tricky business.  When you guess correctly,  and you hit the right place at the right time, it can be a day worth writing about.

Tennessee Warbler
April 14 and 15 were stormy and windy in the Yucatan, over the Gulf and along much of the coast of Florida.  I went out birding on both days and saw very little, but the conditions were ripe for a fallout on Wednesday the 16th.  For a variety of reasons, I hoped Cedar Key would be one of the hot spots.  The Red Van Gang pulled into the Episcopal Church parking lot early in the morning and was greeted by Rex Rowan who pointed to a tree and said "Black-throated Green!"  What a great bird!  What a great way to start the day!  Two trees over was a Tennessee Warbler.  Behind us in the mulberry trees were 50 or more Cedar Waxwings and both Rose-breasted and Blue Grosbeaks feasting on ripe berries.  Over in the bushes were several Indigo Buntings and at least six Orchard Orioles.  Then everything scattered as a Merlin flew through in hot pursuit of a breakfast of a different sort.  Soon a Black-and-white Warbler made an appearance, skittering along the branches of an oak.  Then a Worm-eating Warbler was seen nearby.  We scrambled over to the spot and saw it almost immediately.  Amazingly, all of these birds were in a space no bigger than a third of an acre, packed tightly together like a big family at a reunion buffet table.

Baltimore Orioles
Eventually we crossed town to the cemetery, usually a really good birding spot.  At first there was little to look at.  Then we reached the northwest corner and things got better quickly.  A Blue-winged Warbler grazed in one tree while a male American Redstart ate in another.  Two Baltimore Orioles hopped from tree to tree.  There were several Indigo Buntings in the grass and a Summer Tanager overhead.  Other species included a Blue-headed Vireo, a Prairie Warbler, a Common Yellowthroat and several Yellow Warblers.

With all of the day's success, I hadn't yet seen a Scarlet Tanager.  We heard there were several at the museum, so we headed there next.  We struck out on that bird, but found several others worth noting. Another birder told us of two birds we definitely wanted to see, a Wood Thrush and a Lincoln's Sparrow, both in the brush beyond the house.  We walked over there and saw the thrush right away.  A little effort paid off and we found the sparrow - a real surprise for April.  We also added a Northern Parula to our day's warbler list.

Yellow Warbler
Suddenly our museum visit was cut short by a phone call - there was a Nashville Warbler downtown.  We raced to the site, but soon learned that the bird had disappeared into the bushes along the canal.  We weren't able to relocate it, but were rewarded with a Gray Kingbird, an Ovenbird, a Hooded Warbler, and a Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Then the phone rang again.  There was a Cerulean Warbler back at the church parking lot, just a few blocks away.  We dashed over there and this time we had success.  The Cerulean put on a nice little show.  She moved too quickly for my photography skills, but I got several good looks at her.

Our next destination was the Trestle Nature Trail.  As soon as we arrived we saw a gorgeous Magnolia Warbler, but the trail itself was nearly devoid of birds.  But Grove and Live Oak Streets were busy.  Several Indigo Buntings and the day's second Lincoln's Sparrow were within a few feet of the trail's entrance.  I also saw a Least Flycatcher that had been previously seen and identified by several others.

After some discussion, we decided to go back to the museum to search for the Scarlet Tanager.  On the way, we drove through some neighborhoods, searching for anything new.  Other than some Purple Martins and Tree Swallows, we had little luck.  And once again, our museum visit was cut short by a phone call.  A Kentucky and a Swainson's Warbler had been found at the sirport.  Another mad dash got us there in just a few minutes.  We dipped on both of them but saw a wonderful Golden-winged Warbler. 

Scarlet Tanager
It was getting late, but we weren't ready to quit just yet.  We decided to check the church again, and at first there was nothing new.  Then I saw a flash of red fly into a bush behind the mulberry trees.  I couldn't see anything up high, and the rest of my view was blocked by a fence.  I got closer and peered through a narrow opening.  And there at last was a Scarlet Tanager.  I put my camera to the opening and snapped a few shots.  You can see the results on the left. 

With that success under our belts, we decided to go back to the neighborhood near the Trestle Nature Trail.  It was still quite busy.  Several Yellow Warblers darted from tree to tree.  While we followed them, I saw a flash of a rich reddish-brown moving through the leaves.  I looked again and saw a bright yellow cap looking down at me.  It was a Chestnut-sided Warbler in brilliant, magnificent, gorgeous spring plumage.  The photo below isn't perfect, but it's the best we could get.  Still, you can clearly see how spectacular the bird was.  Our persistence had paid off, and it was a fitting end to a day worth writing about.


Chestnut-sided Warbler



Orchard Oriole



Black-throated Green Warbler



Baltimore Oriole



Indigo Bunting

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Feeder Watching

Pool Party!  Yellow-rumped Warblers enjoying a dip on a hot day.


There are many reasons to love the fall.  When I lived in Pennsylvania, it was the reds, golds and oranges of the leaves and the cool, crisp days before the long winter.  Now it's college football and fall migration ... and Project FeederWatch. 

Are you talking to me?
PFW is an initiative of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  Under its auspices, thousands of bird lovers around the country agree to watch and count the birds that come to the feeders and birdbaths in their own backyards.  I should mention that there is a small fee for participation ($15, I think).  The rules are simple.  You agree to count the birds you see over two consecutive days by recording the largest number of each species that you see at one time.  You agree to do this no more than once a week (or once every two weeks if you want to mail in your forms) from mid November until early April.  It's not a problem if you can't do it that frequently, you just can't do it more than that.  Also, you don't have to agree to a certain amount of time during a count period.  You can just glance out a window whenever you pass by, or you can sit and count all day long.  It's your call.  But for me, it's a reason to sit on my porch with a cup of coffee and simply enjoy the birds in my backyard.


Pine Warblers love the peanut butter and jelly suet.
As you can tell from my blogs, I can get a bit obsessive about birds.  That carries over to my feeders.  At this time of year, I have as many as 25 feeders including suet, thistle, millet,  sunflower,  meal worms, jelly and sugar water.  I also have some dripping water.  As a result I get a decent variety of birds, usually between 14 and 18 species over the two days and up to 30 species over the course of the winter.

But PFW is about more than the numbers.  I've learned so much from watching the "ordinary" feeder birds.  I've learned about the grab and fly birds.  The Tufted Titmouse will fly in, grab a seed and fly away to a safe place to crack it open and eat.  Then there are the leisurely eaters like the House Finches that come in and sit a while.  There are the skittish birds like the Gray Catbirds that fly at the first sign of movement.  And there are the calm ones like the American Goldfinch that freeze when I move.  If they decide I'm not a threat, they just go back to eating and ignore me.  And of course, there is the "Hour of the Cardinal."  It seems to me that Northern Cardinals are the last birds to eat before dark, congregating in bigger numbers as dark creeps in.

Goldfinches show up in big number and eat LOTS in March.
Over the years I've learned that Goldfinches come and go more than once.  I get a couple early in winter, then none.  Then a bunch will show up in January or February, and then they'll disappear again.  Finally they come back in huge numbers and empty all of my seed feeders in a few days until they migrate out of here.

Also, I've watched the House Finch numbers decline dramatically as they fell victim to the eye disease that blinded so many of them.  I used to get 12 at a time.  Now I rarely see more than three.

I love to watch the bathers.  Gray Catbirds in particular really love the water.  They'll get in the pool and flutter and flop for the longest time.  I believe they're in the water much longer than it takes to get clean, so I think they're just having fun!

Carolina Chickadees and Chipping Sparrows are bold!  After I've filled a feeder, I get no more than a few steps away and they're back at it.  They often sit right above my head as I fill the  feeder, squawking at me, telling me to hurry up!

I was stunned when this Eastern Bluebird stopped by.
I was thrilled to learn that three types of warblers love suet.  I regularly get Pine, Yellow-rumped and Yellow-throated Warblers, especially at the peanut butter suet cakes.  I've also had three woodpeckers eat the suet, Red-bellied, Downy and on one memorable occasion, a Hairy.

Which brings me to my last point for today.  The more you watch your feeders, the more likely it is that you'll be present when the surprise bird shows up.  I'm convinced that many more birds come to my feeders than I actually see.  But during PFW season, I watch more frequently and as a result, I get more surprises.

My greatest surprise was probably looking up into a nearby pine and seeing an adult Bald Eagle staring down at me!  And there was the New Year's Day when I was shocked to see seven Pine Siskins spread out among the feeders.  I was thrilled to see a Pileated Woodpecker do a belly flop into my birdbath.  And this season I had two really unusual visitors at my feeders - an Eastern Bluebird munching mealworms and an Orchard Oriole enjoying some grape jelly and orange suet.

I'm tempted to rattle on for hours here.  Instead, I'll draw this blog to a close by urging you to consider becoming part of Project FeederWatch.  Why should I be having all the fun?

Dang it!

Usually the Red-bellied Woodpeckers like the nut suets, but this is fruit cake.

This Orchard Oriole was a surprise visitor last month

This Brown Thrasher likes the fruit cake suet.

Tufted Titmouse.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Wrong Turn, Right Place

Surfbirds at Barview Jetty near Tillamook


Surf Scoter
Newport, Oregon, February 21, 2014
Tillamook and Netarts, Oregon, February 22, 2014

I knew that I had to cross the bridge and then immediately turn right, so I did.  I didn't know I had to turn left shortly thereafter, so I didn't.  As a result, I ended up exactly where I needed to be.

It was late on Friday afternoon when I finally pulled into Newport after leaving Corvallis and crossing the Coast Range.  I had heard about a Long-tailed Duck that might have been hanging out at the end of the south jetty, but my sense of where I had to go was fuzzy at best.  Instead of taking that left, I stayed to the right, passed some place that looked like it was hosting a party or giving away free beer, and ended up at the Marine Science Center.  I parked and looked out the window in front of me - Pelagic Cormorant, lifer.  I got out of the car and a California Gull flew right over my head - lifer.  After tracking it I looked out at the pier ahead of me - Brandt's Cormorant, lifer.  I took a few steps along the water and looked down - Western Grebe and Surf Scoter - lifer, lifer.  I raised my eyes to heaven to thank God, but stopped mid-way - Northern Fulmar, lifer!  This was incredible.  I could hardly take a breath without picking up another life bird.  I'm still breathless just thinking about it.  I'd like to say that as I saw each new bird, I gazed lovingly at it, carefully noting each field mark.  I did that eventually, but at first they came so fast I barely had time to register one when the next presented itself to me.

Brant
After that initial flurry I looked around and realized that I wasn't where I had planned on being and that time was slipping away.  I drove out to the end of the jetty, stopping at a few spots along the way.  At one I saw a Yellow-billed Loon, another lifer, the seventh in the last hour.  I also saw a beautiful Brant.  I had seen a Brant in Florida, but it was not in a beautiful plumage like this bird.  However, my luck changed the farther out I drove or walked.  The wind whipped over the dunes, staggering me as I tried to find a spot to scope the Pacific.  The combination of sand and wind made my face sting.  I checked the nearby waters to no avail.  There was nothing new.

I would have loved to stay there for another hour or two but there was little daylight left and I still had a couple of stops to make.  A local birder had mentioned an eider at the 68th Street boat ramp.  Russ Namitz had told me to look for the bird at Moolak Beach which was a little farther north.  I decided to check them both if time permitted.  Unfortunately, it did not.  I scoped the ocean from the end of 68th but saw only Surf Scoters.  By the time I packed up, it was getting dark and I had to drive all the way to Tillamook.  That proved to be my only real regret for the entire trip.  I had hoped to bird my way up the coast, but the darkness prevailed.

Find the Sanderling among the Surfbirds
On Saturday morning I started a bit north of Tillamook at the campground at Trask River and the north jetty at Barview Jetty Park.  At first, the birding was slow.  A Robin and an American Crow were the only species in the first half hour.  Then it got a lot better quickly.  A secretive Wrentit showed itself long enough to make an ID.  Then a Varied Thrush, Hermit Thrush and Spotted Towhee popped up looking for a little attention.  Then there was a commotion of birds at the far end of the campground from where I stood.  I walked over and immediately heard Chestnut-backed Chickadees in the trees near the entrance.  It took some patience, but at last I got a clear look.  What beautiful little birds!

I walked out to the jetty and saw a flock of shorebirds swirling out over the channel between the jetties before returning to the rocks ahead of me.  I put the scope on them and saw about 25 Surfbirds!  There was another bird I had wanted for years.

I then spent some time chatting with a birder from Portland.  Actually, he was new to Portland having moved there from Michigan.  I told him it was about time for me to head back to Portland for a plane for home at 6:00 the next morning.  I wish I could remember his name, because I owe him one.  He asked me what bird I still hoped to see and I mentioned two, Rock Sandpiper (but there were none anywhere) and Western Gull.  We shook hands and parted, but less than a minute later I heard him yell my name.  He pointed up at a gull flying over him and toward me - a Western and what proved to be my final lifer for the trip.  He gave me a thumbs up and turned away.  Whoever you are ... thanks.  I hope someone does the same for you some day.

Western Gull
There was still much to do, but it is brief in the telling.  I glanced out at Tillamook Bay from the roadside pullout with the historical marker commemorating Captain Robert Gray, the first American to circumnavigate the earth, and Markus Lopeus, one of Gray's crewmen who was the first man of African descent to enter Oregon.  I drove out to Cape Lookout State Park but saw no birds.  I drove along Netarts Bay and saw some waterfowl, but nothing new.  I ended on the beach at the town of Netarts, in awe at the Three Arches and charmed by the town itself, but again there were no new birds.  So I turned to the northeast and Portland and a 3:00 AM alarm.

The final tally was wonderful: 116 species and 32 lifers.  Oregon itself was gorgeous and its people were friendly.  I'm also a real fan of their many, many coffee kiosks, and I made really good use of them throughout the seven birding days.  I needed another day or two along the coast, and I should have planned to bird some in the high desert of the eastern half of the state. But that's the thrill and the trap of birding ... there could be something really great at the next spot, and there's never enough time to get to all of the next spots.  And so the birder is always left with the same thought.  Maybe next time.


Tillamook Bay from the pullout with the Captain Gray historical marker



The North Jetty at Barview Jetty Park

The Three Arches, Netarts Bay





Sunday, March 2, 2014

Finley NWR and a Lost Couple of Hours

American Kestrel
Corvallis, Oregon
February 21, 2014
 
Friday morning was overcast but without rain.  Again, my luck was holding.  I had encountered plenty of rain and snow on this trip, but it had little impact on my birding.  Yesterday's snow storm and downpour had all occurred while I drove and was gone now.  Left behind were hundreds of ponds in farm fields and roadsides.  All of which had the potential to attract birds.

My goal for this day was three-fold.  First, I wanted to take a look at Finley National Wildlife Refuge, just south of Corvallis.  Second, I was curious about an eBird report from a day or so earlier.  A Western Grebe and a Clark's Grebe, both potential lifers,  had been reported in a place called Cartney Park, somewhere to the southeast.  Finally, I needed to reach the coast at Newport and bird my way north to Tillamook.  As it turned out, the plan was a bit too ambitious.


Varied Thrush
Finley NWR was wonderful!  As soon as I pulled off  SR 99, I had to pull off to look at an American Kestrel who stared down at me from his hunting perch on the wires.  Farther in, I saw birds on both sides of the road.  On one were ponds with Blue-winged Teal, Hooded Mergansers and Northern Shovelers.  On the other, Killdeer scoured the earth for tasty treats and a White-tailed Kite did the same from above.  I saw an observation platform up ahead, so I stopped, but it took me a while to get to the deck.  I was distracted by Red-winged Blackbirds, Song Sparrows, and White-crowned Sparrows in the brush near the parking area.  A Rough-legged Hawk found something to eat not too far away, and in the distance what I believe to be a Great Horned Owl perched briefly on a tree top before flying away for a morning's rest.  Dark-eyed Juncos and Golden-crowned Sparrows soon joined in the feeding frenzy.  And now a Northern Harrier joined in.  This was wonderful birding!

I tore myself away from that area only to find myself  in yet another one filled with birds.  A large pond to the right of the road held some Mallards, Northern Pintails, and Green-winged Teals, each one gorgeous in its own way.  A Stellar's Jay noisily moved from bush to bush, and then I froze.  I saw one of my all-time favorite birds - a Varied Thrush.  I had seen my first one at the very top of a Sitka Pine in Alaska only eight months earlier, and here in Oregon I had caught a few quick glimpses of several others.  Now here was one right in front of me.  I slowly reached for my camera, not wanting to startle the bird.  Agonizingly slowly, I unhooked it from the Spider Holster attached to my belt, raised the camera, and got off only two photos before it took off.  The photo above, right, is the better of the two.

Hutton's Vireo
A little farther on I saw something perched high on a snag well off to my right.  I decided to use my scope, but as soon as I got out of my car I got distracted.  I heard the song of a Hutton's Vireo.  It took only a moment to find it, at eye level in a dense shrub right in front of me.  It took some patience, but I finally got a clear view of it, the first lifer of the day.  Then from behind me I heard another sound.  What was that?  A small, secretive brownish bird hid and scolded repeatedly, rarely giving me more than a very brief and partial glimpse.  Could this be a Pacific Wren, another of my most sought-after targets?  Finally, I got a good look - a Bewick's Wren.  It's a great bird, and only the second or third of my life, so I had no right to be disappointed, but still ...

I hopped back in the car and drove out to the parking lot at an observation pavilion that overlooks the lake.  I scoped the area and found Wood, Ruddy and Ring-necked Ducks.  A large flock of Canada Geese flew in while a Bald Eagle circled the lake.  Meanwhile, a Spotted Towhee chattered in the brush beside the pavilion.

Mallards at Finley NWR
Everywhere I went in this park there were so many birds!  I hadn't covered a quarter of it yet my allotted time was well past.  Now I had a decision to make.  I had much more I could do in this park, I could head southeast and look for those two grebes, or I could turn my back to the Willamette Valley and drive to the coast.  Many of us as birders are driven by the possibility of what might be around the next bend in the trail and what we might miss if we don't turn that corner.  I chose to turn that corner because I couldn't stomach the idea that I might miss those two grebes,  I left Finley and started looking for Cartney Park.

It took a lot longer than I expected.  To reach the park I had to drive south to Junction City before turning east and crossing the river at Harrisburg.  Then I turned north to look for the park.  It was not where it was supposed to be.  The Google Earth pin placed the park squarely in the middle of a plowed field. I finally found a road to a boat ramp that appeared to lead to the park.  The park, however, was gone.  The road led directly into the river, the yellow line disappearing into the murky water.  The little building that holds the restrooms was in the middle of the river.  The only bird in sight was a single Great Blue Heron.  There were no grebes anywhere.

I hurried back to Harrisburg and grabbed a quick sandwich at a Subway.  I realized that it was getting very late, and that depending on weather and traffic, I'd have only a couple of hours of daylight on the coast.  Determined to make the best of the time I had left, I drove north to Corvallis and took US 20 toward Newport.

Dark-eyed "Oregon" Junco


A Bewick's Wren hiding from me


The Restrooms at Cartney Park

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

It Pays To Be Lucky

Following a snow plow toward the Santiam Pass
Bend,  Oregon
Sisters, Oregon
February 19-20, 2014

Pygmy Nuthatch at Sawyer Park in Bend
I arrived in Bend late on Wednesday afternoon.  I grabbed something to eat and decided to visit Sawyer Park.  It was close and daylight was limited.  I saw no maps, brochures or directions, so I followed some bird sounds near the parking lot.  There were Pygmy Nuthatches in the trees, happily singing their little hearts out.  I watched them for a bit, saw a few people walking down what looked to be a nature trail, and I followed it.  Unfortunately, those nuthatches were the only birds in the area.  I got back to the parking lot and decided to walk over the foot bridge that crossed the Deschutes River.  I watched some Mallards waddling along the edges of the river, saw a Great Blue Heron standing on a log, and noticed an American Dipper disappearing into some vegetation that poked out of the turbulent waters.  I crossed the bridge, walked up the hill, and saw nothing except a tent apparently being used by a homeless person.  With the light fading, I decided to call it a day.

My reason for being in Bend was simple.  Some very kind Oregon birders had sent me some specific directions as to where I might find my three target raptors.  However, I had already found all three.  So early the next morning I made the short drive to Sisters.  What a charming place!  Obviously the city fathers made the decision to honor the city's heritage as a frontier town.  It was beautiful with consistent architecture, clean streets, quaint shops and friendly people.

My first stop was an impromptu visit to a little park that occupied one square block of the downtown area.  The ground was alive with Robins and a few Starlings, the trees shook with the feeding frenzy of a group of Cedar Waxwings, and there among them was a gorgeous Varied Thrush.  This bird had been #1 on my most wanted list before my trip to Alaska in 2013.  I saw a few there, but never tired of looking at it.  Now here was another, just as wonderful as I remembered it!

Calliope Crossing
I had heard that Pinyon Jays and White-headed Woodpeckers might be found in the woods behind the Best Western, so that was my next destination.  I pulled into the parking lot and was immediately struck by an unusual sight.  The hotel maintains a set of feeders, both seed and suet, at the end of the parking area with a couple of benches for quiet bird watching.  The only activity I saw involved a few Mountain Chickadees, but just the idea of the hotel putting out so many feeders and keeping them filled was extraordinary.  But the woods behind the hotel were silent, and the only life I saw was a small group of Black-tailed Deer, so I decided to move on.

The next place I planned on visiting was Calliope Crossing.  Unfortunately the entrance road was snowed in.  I parked on the highway, walked down to the creek, crossed it and walked up the opposite bank.  I searched for the jays and woodpeckers to no avail. 


Pinyon Jay
My third stop was Cold Springs Campground, just west of town.  Again, the entrance was closed and covered with snow.  I trudged in, eventually reaching the day-use parking lot and the trees just behind it.  I searched carefully for my two targets, but failed again.  I had to be in Corvallis that night, and the weather seemed to be threatening snow, so I finally gave it up.  I was really upset.  I had missed the Great Gray and Spotted Owls, and now I was leaving my last chance for Pinyon Jay and White-headed Woodpecker with nothing to show for my efforts.  As far as life birds were concerned, this day was threatening to become the trip's first complete bust.  I plowed back to the car, getting snow in my boots along the way, and turned toward Sisters.  The plan was to grab a quick lunch and then cross the Santiam Pass. 

As Lee Corso might say, "Not so fast, my friend!"  I don't think I covered more than a half mile when a flock of about 25 or 30 birds flew across the road directly in front of me.  Did I see blue?  I hopped out of the car and instantly heard the unmistakeable chatter of Pinyon Jays!  I had searched all over Sisters throughout the morning and found nothing, and now they seemed to have found me!  And while I stood there in wonder, I heard a different sound ... a White-headed Woodpecker.  There it was, high in a pine tree, ignoring the chaos of the jays below.  Both of my targets ... both lifers ... in the same field ... and they found me.  Sometimes, birding is just weird.  Often luck is more productive than careful planning.

White-headed Woodpecker
After a terrific lunch of a hot meatloaf sandwich, soup and coffee at The Gallery in Sisters, I began the trek to Corvallis.  The weather was fine when I started out, and the roads clear.  But as I climbed up the Cascades, that all changed.  At first the snow was light and melted on contact with the ground.  Then the road took on a faint dusting, then an inch, and then more.  When I reached the point where the road splits, I took the turn to Corvallis and immediately wished I were elsewhere.  Here the snow was deeper and there was no evidence of any previous traffic.  I shifted into four-wheel drive and kept an easy pace. 

Once again, I proved to be luckier than I deserve.  Within a couple of miles two snow plows turned onto the road ahead of me.  A driver of a pickup truck and I tucked in behind the plows and followed them over Santiam Pass (elevation about 4900 feet).  The photo at the top of this blog shows you what it looked like on the way up.  Each twist and turn I made was freshly plowed.  Under the circumstances, I could not have been safer.  Eventually the plows did a u-turn and headed back up the mountain, plowing the other side of the road.  Soon the snow changed to rain, the roads cleared, and the danger diminished.   The rain followed me all the way to Corvallis -- the second time on this trip I drove into Corvallis through a heavy rain.  I arrived too late to bird anywhere, and too tired to try.  I ordered a pizza for delivery and settled in for the night.  Today I had been lucky in so many ways, and tomorrow would bring new places and, I hoped, new birds.

Another view of the White-headed Woodpecker


Sisters, Oregon.  I really enjoyed this town.


Believe it or not, this was in the lower elevations before it got really bad!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Upper Klamath Basin


Klamath Falls, Oregon
Klamath Marsh NWR
February 17-19, 2014

I think of my forays into California as a separate part of the trip than the more extensive birding of Oregon.  So even though the days overlap, I treat them in this blog as if they were consecutive.  But two important stops occurred between the trips to the marshes of California.

Common Merganser
On Monday, I finished at Lower Klamath with about an hour of daylight left.  Instead of going directly to my hotel in Klamath Falls, I made a quick side trip.  Russ Namitz had told me of a specific field where a Ferruginous Hawk could be found.  It was just a couple of hundred yards inside the Oregon border and quite close to the exit of the auto tour, so I decided to try my luck.  The drive took only a minute or two, but the stakeout lasted perhaps 40-45 minutes.  The wind was really picking up and the temperature dropping, but I decided to wait it out.  I've read that Ferruginous Hawks like to hunker down in a field and stay put for a while.  This field was supposed to be a favorite, and it did not disappoint.  Eventually, it flew in and landed in the back end of the area, well away from the road.  It was too far for my little camera, but my trusty Leica APO Televid gave me a terrific view.  Thrilled does not begin to describe it.  My three raptor targets for this trip were Rough-legged and Ferruginous Hawks and Prairie Falcon.  After only three days, I had all of them! 

Tuesday's primary target was Tule Lake NWR, but I decided to make a quick run to Moore Park in Klamath Falls to take advantage of the morning chorus.  I thought this was a small park and would take only a short visit.  Not so.  If I ever get back to Klamath Falls, I'll go to Moore Park again.  I first checked out the small area on the southern tip of Upper Klamath Lake.  As soon as I got out of the car, I saw a pair of Barrow's Goldeneyes and a Common Merganser (above, right).  What gorgeous birds!  My only previous Common Merganser was in washed out plumage on a golf course in Florida.  This guy was wonderful.  It wasn't a lifer, but it felt like one, and all of you birders out there know exactly what I mean.

Can you see why it's called a Crossbill?
Across the road was the larger portion of the park, and I only got to bird a small piece of it.  However, it took a short time to find a bunch of great birds.  Mountain Chickadees scurried from tree to tree chasing their morning meals.  Another bird sat high atop a pine.  I couldn't ID it until I looked at the photos - a Red Crossbill!  I had seen a few of them in Alaska, but they were quite distant.  This one was much closer, albeit surrounded by the glare of an overcast sky.  Again, I felt the joy of re-discovery!  Meanwhile, Western Scrub-Jays scolded me, and I had the impression that the latter might be nesting somewhere close to where I stood.  They did NOT like my presence so I moved on.  I drove as far into the park as I could before I hit a closed road.  I hopped out and birded the area for a bit, pishing my brains out.  No luck so on a hunch, I played a tape of a Pygmy Nuthatch.  I had read that they could be found in Moore Park and they liked this habitat, so why not?  After maybe a minute, there they were.  They came down to me, checked me out, found me lacking in interest, and moved on.  But it was another lifer!

My final stop in the Klamath Basin was Klamath Marsh NWR on Wednesday.  The drive from town up to Silver Lake Road was mostly uneventful, but snow obviously had been falling during the night and/or the day before.  Route 97 was clear, but Silver Lake Road was another story.  Most of it was plowed but still snow covered.  Other parts were icy under the snow.  Then again, its beauty was beyond my attempts at description.  The pristine snow sparkled on every tree limb, more brilliant than diamonds.  The frozen marsh afforded the Canada Geese a chance to show off their Olympic spirit as they ice skated along the edges.  Meanwhile, Rough-legged Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks and Bald Eagles hunted overhead and stood sentinel on fence posts.  I reached the visitor's center and had a great conversation with a park ranger and three volunteers.  The ranger recommended birding an area just west of the office where Great Gray Owls hunt at night.  The volunteers recommended driving out on Military Road to get a close view of Tundra Swans.  I took both suggestions.

Klamath Marsh Olympics, Pairs Figure Skating
The photo at the top shows you the field of the Great Grays.  I pulled off the road through a forest service gate and parked the car.  I started working the edges hoping to see an owl.  Eventually I saw some birds flying behind the first level of trees so I went in to take a look.  There at the very top of a tree was a Clark's Nutcracker, one of my target birds for the trip.  This stop had already paid off!  Unfortunately, the Great Grays were not cooperative.  This time I didn't even hear one.

Military Road had not been plowed at all, but the snow was only a few inches deep and the Tahoe had no trouble with it.  I stopped repeatedly to bird but had little luck.  That changed when I reached the spot where the park volunteers wanted me to visit.  Here the marsh had open water with dozens of Canada Geese and Tundra Swans.  Their calls filled the air with the music only a birder could love.  I admit to having to learn more about identifying Tundra and Trumpeter Swans and Canada and Cackling Geese.  I read as much as I can and look at the photos of what I saw, and sometimes I have to shrug and resign myself to more study.  The photo below is almost certainly of Tundra Swans and a Canada Goose.  But if one of you experts tell me otherwise, I won't be surprised.

I made my last stop of the morning at a small field just northwest of the open water.  After a bit of searching, I heard some Pygmy Nuthatches and saw some Mountain Chickadees and a Hairy Woodpecker.

That concluded my time in the Klamath Basin.  I next turned my attention to Bend and the high desert.  I'll have that blog posted in a couple of days.

Tundra Swans and a Canada Goose, I think ...


Silver Lake Road on the way to Klamath Marsh NWR


Snow-covered Ponderosa Pines


A Mountain Chickadee at Moore Park