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.

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