2015 Coastal Excursions

I made it out to the coast a handful of times this year. Not as many as I would’ve liked, as real life always imposes limitations. But you do what you can, when you can, and you’ll likely be rewarded with a few interesting things.

A Common Ground-Dove in Yachts

A Common Ground-Dove in Yachats

The Common Ground-Dove above was found in the seaside town of Yachats (pronounced: YAH-hots) back in October. This is a rare vagrant in Oregon, and I believe that there were something like five accepted sightings in the state before this individual. Common Ground-Doves are residents on the southern U.S. and Mexico. Common there, not so common up here.

GroundDove2

In its more common position on the ground

Back in September, I managed to have a good day at the Suislaw (sigh-YOU-slaw) River estuary, just south of Florence. This location is a protected breeding ground for Snow Plover and, despite this, I’ve struck out on them several times in the past. I had one or two at this location last September, but the lighting was bad and my photos sucked. My persistence finally paid off in late August. I had eight Snowys (mostly juvies) on the beach and a good 70 or so Sanderlings.

A Snowy Plover!

A Snowy Plover!

One of many Sanderlings on the foggy, rainy beach.

One of many Sanderlings on the foggy, rainy beach.

The Siuslaw Jetty was also good for migrant terns on this day. I had a nice mixed flock of Caspians (relatively common migrants), Commons (ironically not common), and Elegants (unusual). Elegant Terns are more typically observed on the California coast in the late summer and fall, as they (apparently) like the warmer water. However, this is an El Niño year, and there have been many reports of Elegants on the Oregon coast. There were several reports in the relatively warm summer of 2014 as well.

Elegant (smaller, left) and Common Terns

Elegant (smaller, left) and Caspian Terns

Caspian and Common (right) Terns

Caspian and Common (smaller) Terns

Many more common migrants were also out and about in the late summer and early fall.

Common Snipe

Wilson’s Snipe

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

Western Sandpiper

Western Sandpiper

Black Turnstone

Black Turnstone

Hooded Merganser (juvenile, I think)

Hooded Merganser (juvenile, I think)

Teal

Some sort of hatch-year teal. Looks like a Cinnamon to me.

Poor pic of a really cool bird: Red-throated Loon

Poor pic of a really cool bird: Red-throated Loon

Many migrant Brown Pelicans roosting on a large rock formation

Many migrant Brown Pelicans roosting on a large rock formation

You know it's fall when Golden-crowned Sparrows return to Western Oregon.

You know it’s fall when Golden-crowned Sparrows return to Western Oregon.

My 2015 inland excursions will be posted in another month or so.

 

Random Stuff

I’m too busy to put together a proper post right now, but wanted to append a couple of photos that I forgot to include in previous posts.

Female Calliope Hummingbird

Female Calliope Hummingbird

The Calliope Hummingbird shown above showed up at one of my sugar-water feeders in May of this year. At first, I wasn’t even sure that it was a Calliope, as females typically have a light-but-noticeable spotted pattern on the gorget (throat). I wondered out loud if this individual may have been a freak occurrence of a very early hatch-year female Rufous Hummer, but a friend of mine set me straight. Apparently the spotted gorget pattern is rather variable.

Nonetheless, a Calliope Hummer during spring migration is a nice sight. The vast majority migrate through the interior West, but a small number do make their spring journey west of the Cascades, particularly if it’s a cold spring (that was not the case this year). I typically see one at my hummingbird feeders every other year or so. A few days after photographing this individual, I had a male Calliope at the same feeder. Unfortunately, it didn’t return for a photo shoot.

Male Hooded Merganser

Male Hooded Merganser

The Hooded Merganser photo above was taken in December of 2013 and apparently slipped through the cracks. Hooded Mergansers are easily my favorite duck. So elegant.

OK, that’s it for now. Later this month, I’ll have a more thorough post of sightings from this year.

2014 Highlights

Yes, I know. I’m WAY behind. Sorry. Anyhow, here are some highlight photos from 2014. I’ve broken this up into two parts.

Part 1 – West of the Cascades

I typically have good late fall/winter/early spring birding at Delta Ponds in Eugene. I didn’t spend much time there in 2014, but have a few decent pics.

RingNeckedDucks

A pair of Ring-necked Ducks

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant

Great Blue Herons nest in the trees nearby.

Great Blue Herons nest in the trees nearby.

Fern Ridge Reservoir has arguably the best birding in Western Oregon. It is the place to go for waterfowl migration in early spring and especially for shorebird migration in mid/late summer. The year 2014 didn’t disappoint.

Fern Ridge is great for shorebirds that are typically only seen in the Interior West. Small numbers of Black-necked Stilts breed annually at Fern Ridge.

Fern Ridge is great for shorebirds that are typically only seen in the Interior West. Small numbers of Black-necked Stilts breed annually at Fern Ridge.

Hooded Mergansers are not regular breeders on the Willamette Valley floor, so I was happy to find these at Fern Ridge in April.

Hooded Mergansers are not regular breeders on the Willamette Valley floor, so I was happy to find these at Fern Ridge in April.

Cinnamon Teal are common summer residents and are rather easy to find.

Cinnamon Teal are common summer residents and are rather easy to find.

Cinnamon Teal

Cinnamon Teal

Large flocks of Dunlin overwinter at Fern Ridge.

Large flocks of Dunlin overwinter at Fern Ridge.

Dunlin

Dunlin

Large flocks of shorebirds are typically not homogeneous. A handful of Black-bellied Plovers were hanging out with the Dunlin on this day.

Large flocks of shorebirds are typically not homogeneous. A handful of molting Black-bellied Plovers were hanging out with the Dunlin on this day.

A bad photo of an unusual find: This Bonaparte's Gull was waaaay the heck out on the water.

A bad photo of an unusual find: This Bonaparte’s Gull was waaaay the heck out on the water.

Cooper's Hawk

An immature Cooper’s Hawk

Osprey

I occasionally even find interesting stuff in my yard (and used to have an entire blog dedicated to this!).

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Coastal Lane County is great during shorebird migration. I didn’t bird this area as heavily in 2014 as I did in the previous year, but still managed to find some good stuff.

Snowy Plover on the beach near the Siltcoos Estuary. Snowys are classified as "near threatened" and a breeding program has dramatically increased their numbers on the Oregon coast over the past couple of decades. Note the bands on the legs.

A Snowy Plover on the beach near the Siltcoos Estuary. Snowys are classified as “near threatened” and a breeding program has dramatically increased their numbers on the Oregon coast over the past couple of decades. Note the bands on the legs.

This Baird's Sandpiper was foraging near the Snowy. The poor lighting in this photo is unfortunate, as it's the only pic I have of a Baird's.

This Baird’s Sandpiper was foraging near the Snowy. The poor lighting in this photo is unfortunate, as it’s the only pic I have of a Baird’s.

Poor photo of a Yellow-headed Blackbird. These are very uncommon west of the Cascades.

Poor photo of a Yellow-headed Blackbird. These are very uncommon west of the Cascades.

Part 2 – East of the Cascades

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, at the northern edge of the Great Basin in Southeast Oregon, is easily the best birding spot in the Pacific Northwest. One could argue that it’s the best in the country. I head out there at least once a year and always come back with some nice photos.

Western Grebe

Western Grebe

Clark's Grebe. This species is far less common than the Western out here.

Clark’s Grebe. This species is far less common than the Western out here.

Black-headed Grosbeak

Black-headed Grosbeak

Wilson's Warbler

Wilson’s Warbler

A "Western" Flycatcher. This is the old name for this species. To the chagrin of many, the powers-that-be split the Western Flycatcher into the Pacific-slope Flycatcher and the Cordilleran Flycatcher not too long ago. Eastern Oregon happens to be where their ranges overlap. Since they're impossible to differentiate via plumage and this one wasn't vocalizing, it's a "Western" Flycatcher.

A “Western” Flycatcher. This is the old name for this species. To the chagrin of many, the powers-that-be split the Western Flycatcher into the Pacific-slope Flycatcher and the Cordilleran Flycatcher not too long ago. Eastern Oregon happens to be where their ranges overlap. Since they’re impossible to differentiate via plumage and this one wasn’t vocalizing, it’s a Western Flycatcher to me.

Western Wood-pewee. Also a flycatcher, but much easier to ID than most.

Western Wood-pewee. Also a flycatcher, but much easier to ID than many of the other flycatcher species.

Townsend's Warbler

Townsend’s Warbler

An immature Bullock's Oriole

An immature Bullock’s Oriole

This Cassin's Vireo was hanging out in the shadows. I had to jack up the exposure on this one.

This Cassin’s Vireo was hanging out in the shadows. I had to jack up the exposure on this one.

White-headed Woodpecker

White-headed Woodpecker

A mediocre photo of a Western Meadowlark. I'm posting this picture because, despite the fact that it's our state bird, I rarely see them.

A mediocre photo of a Western Meadowlark. I’m posting this picture because, despite the fact that it’s our state bird, I rarely see them.

One of my favorite spots in Central Oregon is Whiskey Springs, located northeast of Black Butte in Jefferson County. No, whiskey does not flow from the spring. It’s a spring at approximately 5,000 ft. in elevation and, being in a high desert, the water attracts numerous summer breeders and fall migrants. The lighting is poor, though, so my publication-quality photos are limited.

Golden-crowned Kinglets are notoriously difficult to photograph. This one was more cooperative than most.

Golden-crowned Kinglets are notoriously difficult to photograph. This one was more cooperative than most.

A Mountain Chickadee, omnipresent in the East Cascades.

A Mountain Chickadee, omnipresent in the East Cascades.

Alright, so that was 2014 in a nutshell. I’ve taken MANY more photos this year and will begin posting them in October. Until then…

Yeah, yeah…

I know, I’m sorry. It’s not my fault, really. I got busy. I ran out of gas! I got a flat tire! I didn’t have change for cab fare! I lost my tux at the cleaners! There was an earthquake! A terrible flood! Oh, you’ve heard that one before…

Actually, what happened was a combination of me picking up a new and very time-consuming contract at work and simultaneously having a new addition to the family. Thankfully, things have lightened up (somewhat) on both fronts and I’ve been able to vacation a little this summer and, more importantly, go birding. So, I’ll be posting some 2014 highlights soon (yes, really) and I already have some good shorebird pics taken recently. But it’ll have to wait until next week because I’m exhausted right now.

It's all her fault.

It’s all her fault.

Until next week…

Florence in Fall

PecSandpiperSmall

While middle-to-late summer is the peak of shorebird migration, late September through November offers the opportunity to see both some of the later-migrating shorebirds and migrant ducks.  I took a few trips to the Florence area to take advantage of this and was rewarded handsomely.

Uncommon migrants such as Pectoral Sandpipers (above) can occasionally be observed working ponds with exposed mud.  I was pleasantly surprised to find three of them associating with a flock of dowitchers in a small pond just south of Florence in late September.  I encountered some of the larger, more elegant shorebirds in the mudflats on the north side of the Siuslaw River jetty:

GodwitSmall

Marbled Godwit, an uncommon fall migrant, but typically easier to find than Pectoral Sandpiper

 

CurlewSmall

Long-billed Curlew.  This was a surprise, as they’re rare-but-regular migrants and very rare on the coast.

 

WilletSmall

This is one of the Willets that hung out at the North Jetty Mudflats from early/mid August until at least late September.  They’re also rare migrants, so observing two of them was that much more unusual.

 

When the fall rain comes, the mudflats begin to fill and this provides appropriate habitat for ducks and phalaropes…

RNPhalaropeSmall

Red-necked Phalarope.  They constantly change direction when they swim and, thus, are a real pain to photograph.

 

Bufflehead

Bufflehead, a regular winter migrant.

 

Grebe1

This immature Eared Grebe was a bit of a surprise.  They are rare and somewhat irregular winter residents in shallow ponds near the coast.  Horned Grebes are much more regular in this location/habitat.

 

GreaterWFGooseSmall

Migrant geese will also use these shallow ponds.  This immature Greater White-fronted Goose was observed during a period when large flocks of migrants were being spotted west of the Cascades.

 

A visit to the shoreline is a must at any time of the year, and many winter residents have been conspicuous over the past two months.  One of the most common at this time of the year are Surf Scoters.  Scoters are overwintering sea ducks that feed near the coast.  Their large, chunky bills really make them stand out and the mature males are particularly cool-looking…

ScoterMale

Adult male Surf Scoter

 

ScoterImm

Immature Surf Scoter.  The white patches on the head/face are highly variable in size and brightness.

 

CommonLoon

Common Loons are… well, common along the estuaries in winter.  As the name implies, they are also the most abundant of the loons.

 

PelagicCormorantSmall

Pelagic Cormorants are year-round breeders and the most abundant cormorant along coastal Lane County.

 

DCCormorant

Double-crested Cormorants are a less common along the coast, but still not terribly difficult to find.  They are the only cormorant species that can be found inland in Oregon.

 

BrownPelicanSmall

Brown Pelicans are common just offshore from May-November.

 

WesternSandpipersSmall

These Western Sandpipers are on their way south.

 

Peregine

A Peregrine Falcon hunts near the end of the North Jetty rocks

 

Seal2

Seals are relatively easy to find along the coast.  I spotted this one while searching for Snowy Plover near the Siltcoos River estuary.  I believe that this is a Pacific Harbor Seal.

 

Well, that’s it for now.  I’ll have more from the Eugene area in a month or so.

The Oregon Outback – September, 2013

Image

The “Oregon Outback” is a colloquial term that geographically encompasses much of south central and southeastern Oregon, including parts of Klamath, Lake, and Harney Counties (and possibly more, depending on who you ask).  It is mostly high desert plateau (~4000′ above sea level), with a few small mountains here and there.  Vegetation is overwhelmingly sagebrush and juniper, with some open ponderosa pine forest in the western portion.  Despite being overwhelmingly arid, the Outback contains several large lakes, often surrounded by seasonal marshland.

While the “high desert” label might seem to imply an inhospitable environment for wildlife, this area is teeming with birds and is a great place to catch fall migrants.  This September, I visited migrant traps in Harney and Lake Counties.

Part 1 – Malheur NWR

Famous for its spring migration, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge also has quality birding from mid-September through October.  Fall migration is generally more diffuse than spring migration, so the show is typically a little exciting.  But it is still worth the visit.

Image

Migrant Yellow Warblers were making their way through Malheur when I visited in mid-September

 

Malheur NWR Headquarters is a remarkable passerine migrant trap.  It’s located smack-dab in the middle of sagebrush country and contains numerous mature deciduous and coniferous trees and shrubs.  That it simply provides a place for birds to land makes it popular with our avian friends.  Throw in the fact that many of the trees and shrubs provide edible seed and berries, and we now have a food source.  Headquarters is also adjacent to a large pond that provides both water to and attracts insects for our friends.  The combination of these factors makes HQ a veritable bird magnet.

Image

A Wilson’s Warbler grabs and shakes a small moth.  Immediately after this shot was taken, it dropped the moth, swooped down, and caught it before it hit the ground.  Too bad that I didn’t have my camera in video mode.

 

Image

This Nashville Warbler was one of the neater migrants found at HQ

 

Image

Warbler-palooza!  A relatively large movement of migrating Orange-crowned Warblers was also underway during my visit.

 

Image

This Willow Flycatcher was calling from high atop a pine

 

Image

Townsend’s Solitaires are thrushes that are typically found in high-desert juniper woodlands in the fall and winter

 

Image

Malheur NWR HQ contains the most tame California Quail I’ve ever seen.  Most run for their lives when they get a whiff of a human.

 

All of the hummingbirds that breed in this area migrate south (Harney County’s winters are some of the coldest in the Lower 48).  By mid-September, most have moved on, though a handfull were still hanging around.

Image

Black-chinned Hummingbird (female)

Image

Rufous Hummingbird (hatch-year male)

 

Like most areas with ample open spaces, raptors are abundant on the refuge as well.  Red-tailed Hawks and Great-horned Owls are not terribly difficult to find, and the latter are common at HQ.  In addition to what is shown below, I found a pair of Osprey hunting near the pond as well.

Image

A Great-horned Owl hoots away just before dusk

 

Image

A Northern Harrier hovers over its prey

 

Migrant sparrows were relatively easy to find in the shrub and grass surrounding HQ’s Marshall Pond.  White-crowned and Savannah Sparrows were the most abundant.  Lincoln’s Sparrows were also in the area.  Many of the regular wintering sparrows, including American Tree and Golden-crowned, had not yet arrived.

 

WCSparrowJuv

White-crowned Sparrow (immature).  Many, many of these recently arrived from their breeding grounds in Canada and Alaska.

 

Vesper

Vesper Sparrow, heading south soon

 

Unfortunately, shore birds had significantly thinned out by the time I arrived.  I did not see any Black-necked Stilts or Sandhill Cranes.

WesternGrebe

Western Grebe

 

Shovelers

Part of a flock of 1000+ migrant Northern Shovelers

 

Many thanks to Tim Blount for accompanying me for much of this weekend, and for correcting my original ID of the Vesper Sparrow.

 

Part 2 – Cabin Lake Campground

Cabin Lake is in northwestern Lake County and has neither a cabin nor a lake.  And to say it’s a campground would be a bit of a stretch.  You are technically allowed to camp there, but there are no cooking areas or restrooms.  There is a ranger station on the premises, though it appears to be abandoned.  Cabin Lake does have a few useful things, though, including water guzzlers with photo blinds.  It’s also conveniently located on the interface of two ecosystems: the ponderosa pine forest the east Cascades and the sagebrush land of Central Oregon.   (The trees literally stop at the eastern boundary of the campground.)  Thus, species of both habitats are present.

Crossbill2

Red Crossbill (female).  Males are variable hues of red or orange (see the photo below).

 

Cabin Lake is one of the most reliable spots in the state for Red Crossbill.  Crossbills feed on pine cone seeds and frequently visit the campground’s water guzzlers.

CrossbillFlock

There were well over 200 crossbills in the area this weekend

 

CassinsFinchJuv

Cassin’s Finch (immature male).  These are the interior West’s version of the Purple Finch, and can be found in high-elevation coniferous forests.

 

MtnChickadee

Mountain Chickadee.  These are the dry, interior forest analogue of the Black-capped Chickadee.

 

PygmyNuthatch2

Pygmy Nuthatch

 

YRWarbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s subspecies) in basic plumage

 

Cabin Lake was not as productive as it usually is.  Many of the cool species that I typically see there (Lewis’s Woodpecker, Williamson’s Sapsucker, Green-tailed Towhee, etc.) were absent this weekend.  Pinyon Jays were around, but didn’t come close and pose for photos.  Oddly enough, I managed to see a couple of unexpected birds that I grew up around…

WBNuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch, probably the lest-abundant nuthatch in Oregon

 

AMGO

American Goldfinch.  Goldfinches are common in general, but not so much in the high desert.  This individual was all alone and appeared to be lost.

 

Chipmunk

Central Oregon campgrounds are typically full of chipmunks.  I don’t know what species this is, but they’re bold little guys.  I was eating a sandwich in the photo blind and one of these guys foraged for crumbs between my boots.

 

Finally, I’d like to give “big ups” to the East Cascades Audubon Society for maintaining the Cabin Lake guzzlers and photo blinds.