Siuslaw River Jetty – Summer, 2013

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The Siuslaw (pronounced: sigh-YOU-slaw) River originates in the Cascade foothills and empties into the Pacific Ocean, along the south side of the town of Florence.  The jetty area hosts many, many species of shorebirds and pelagic birds.  Mid-summer is particularly productive, as it’s migration season for shorebirds.  I made several trips to the area between late July and early September.

There is a pond on the south end of the jetty known as the “Dog Pond” (no idea where the name originated).  The water level tends to be rather high in the summer, but this year’s drought conditions created enough shoreline and mudflat to attract several species of shorebirds.

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Migrating Least Sandpipers are very common in July

 

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Greater Yellowlegs

 

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Dowitcher.  I’m not good at differentiating Long- vs. Short-billed, but the rust-colored belly on this one suggests that it’s an adult Long-billed Dowitcher.  (Somebody can correct me if I’m wrong.)

 

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Spotted Sandpiper.  I see so few of these in basic plumage that I thought it was a tattler at first.

 

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Belted Kingfisher

 

The Dog Pond also hosts a number of larger shorebirds:

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Great Egret

 

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Great Blue Heron

 

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American Bittern

 

The north end of the jetty has a mudflat area that also attracts several shorebirds.  One of the most exciting sightings this summer was a pair of Willets.  Willets breed in the interior west and are rare migrants along the Oregon coast, where they’re observed once every few years or so.  A friend of mine has lived in and birded Lane County heavily for over 25 years and has observed a Willet here just twice.  One was heard (in the fog) by Barbara Combs in mid-August.  I observed both later that evening, just before sunset.

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Migrant Willets in Florence.  I didn’t have a proper camera with me, so I aligned the lens of my iPhone with one of my binocular lenses.  Hence the not-so-awesome photo quality.

 

ImageA sort-of-better photo of one of the Willets, taken in late August.  The early morning fog kept it from being a good photo.

 

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The same foggy morning yielded a migrant Red-necked Phalarope

 

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These Brant, photographed in late July, were another surprise along the mudflats.  Brant are much more common here in the winter.

 

And, of course, there are birds on the beach.  A trip to the beach in the summer is likely to afford peeps (small sandpipers), surfbirds, and possibly plovers and sanderlings.  And maybe some more interesting stuff if you’re lucky.  I got sort of lucky in September.

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Western Sandpipers migrate in large flocks

 

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Whimbrels are uncommon-but-annual migrants on the Oregon coast.

 

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Caspian Tern

 

The jetty rocks host a slew of other species.  I spotted the following on the rocks of the North Jetty:

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Surfbird

 

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Wandering Tattler

 

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Black Turnstone

 

I will return to the coast again in October, when species such as Dunlin, Sanderling, and Snowy Plover should be out and about.

Fern Ridge Reservoir – Spring and Summer, 2013

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Fern Ridge Reservoir is situated in between the city of Eugene and the small town of Veneta in Lane County.  Known to many as “Malheur West,” it is arguably the best all-around birding site in Western Oregon.  Fern Ridge’s open water supports large numbers of wintering waterfowl, while the marsh and mudflat areas support many migrating and some breeding shorebirds.  Several species that overwhelmingly breed east of the Cascades are known to nest regularly or semi-regularly at Fern Ridge, including Black Tern, Black-necked Stilt, Redhead, Wilson’s Phalarope, Yellow-headed Blackbird and, more recently, American Avocet.  American White Pelicans can also be found annually at Fern Ridge, though I don’t know if proof-of-breeding has been determined yet.  In addition, the reservoir attracts rare Eurasian vagrants semi-annually.  Recent examples include Ruff and Spotted Redshank.  Fern Ridge also hosts numerous raptors and passerines.  The latter often congregate in certain areas of the reservoir during spring migration.

I birded Fern Ridge frequently between April and August of this year.  In April, the area is alive with calls from numerous breeding Marsh Wrens, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Song Sparrows.

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Marsh Wren

 

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A Black Phoebe forages for insects.  Black Phoebes are primarily found in Coastal California and Mexico, and used to be rare in Western Oregon.  However, they are now merely “uncommon” in appropriate habitat in Eugene.

 

In early and mid-Spring, many migrating waterfowl are present in the seasonally-full ponds.  Some on their way in, some on their way out.

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Northern Pintail, primarily a winter resident

 

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Pied-billed Grebe, a summer resident and local breeder

 

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Northern Shoveler, a year-round resident in this area

 

At least two species of Ferns can be found at Fern Ridge in the summer.  As mentioned before, Black Terns are summer breeders.  The Army Corps of Engineers recently introduced a controversial plan to “persuade” the Caspian Terns that live near the mouth of the Columbia River to nest at Fern Ridge instead.  (The terns have been deemed to be eating too many salmon, particularly hatchery salmon.)  They set out to accomplish this by building an island near the shore of the lake.  From what I can tell, they’ve been successful at attracting some to Fern Ridge, though I wouldn’t expect the Caspians to abandon the hatcheries on the Columbia simply because there is now available real estate 100 miles south.

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A Black Tern forages near the edge of the lake
 
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Caspian Terns enjoying the recently-constructed island.  From my vantage point, I could not tell if they were nesting.

 

By June, most of the waterfowl has migrated, with a handfull of species hanging around to breed (Mallard, Shoveler, Grebes, etc.).  Much of the water in the ponds surrounding Fern Ridge Lake evaporates in our very dry summers, leaving shallow pools and mudflats.  These areas attract southbound-migrating shorebirds.

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Greater Yellowlegs

 

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Long-billed Dowitcher

 

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Least Sandpiper

 

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Western Sandpiper

 

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Pectoral Sandpiper.  This is an uncommon fall migrant and noteworthy.

 

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Semipalmated Plover

 

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A Black-bellied Plover molting into basic (winter) plumage

 

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Pacific Golden-plover.  This is a rare migrant, and we have been treated to at least three (possibly four) this month.

 

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This basic-plumage Red-necked Phalarope is en route to its wintering grounds in coastal CA, Mexico, and South America

 

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An Aechmophorus grebe in mid-summer.  It’s difficult to tell from this bad photo, but the apparent dark coloring around the eyes suggests that it’s a Western Grebe.

 

In August, migrant passerines can often be found in the reservoir….

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A worn female Black-throated Gray Warbler forages for insects

 

Vagrant sparrows, such as this Clay-colored Sparrow, also tend to show up from time to time.

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Numerous Savannah Sparrows breed in the refuge’s fields.

 

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Fern Ridge is one of the most reliable spots for Northern Harrier

 

With Fern Ridge’s mudflats quickly drying up (we’re in mild drought conditions right now), I will probably be exploring other areas for the remainder of the summer.  When the October waterfowl and November rains return, it will be undoubtedly jumping again.

 

 

 

Harney County – Memorial Day Weekend

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Harney County is located in the “high desert” (over 4000′ above sea level) of Southeast Oregon, at the Northwest tip of the Great Basin.  It is mostly arid grassland, with sagebrush and scattered juniper being the dominant vegetation.  It’s the 9th largest county in the U.S., but only has a population of about 7,400.  Doesn’t sound like the most exciting place in the world.  And if your definition of “exciting” is high-end shopping and an evening at the theatre, it is not where you want to be.  But if you’re into Sandhill Cranes, Long-billed Curlews, and vagrant warblers, Harney County is the bomb-diggity.  Certain areas of Harney contain two elements that birds find very useful: water and occasional patches of trees.  (Both of which are generally in short supply in much of the interior west… particularly the former.)  Waterfowl and shorebirds make use of the large lakes and seasonally-flooded fields during the breeding season.  Migrating passerines roost in the clumps of trees and shrubs that grow along these bodies of water.  The result is more species of birds in one spot than you’re likely to see anywhere else.

I spent the equivalent of three full days in late May at two sites in Harney Co…

Part 1 – Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

The legendary Malheur NWR is hands-down the best overall birding spot in the Pacific Northwest.  It is roughly 30 miles south of Burns, sandwiched between two large lakes on the north and the town of Frenchglen on the south end.  (See map.)  One of the most popular spots is Malheur Headquaters, located on the bank of Malheur Lake.  The water attracts waterfowl and shorebirds, and the many trees attract migrants and vagrants.  Highlights from HQ this May included…

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Warbling Vireo (abundant at HQ)

 

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Townsend’s Warbler (one of my favorite winter yard birds)

 

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Dusky Flycatcher

 

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Black-chinned Hummingbird (by far, the must abundant hummer)

 

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Calliope Hummingbird (uncommon migrant)

 

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Stunned Western Tanager that collided with a window.  (It recovered.)

 

The shore area of HQ (Marshall Pond) offered several interesting species…

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American White Pelican

 

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Black-crowned Night Heron

 

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Black-necked Stilt

 

Immediately south of HQ is arid grassland that contains much of what one would expect in such an area:

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Sage Sparrow

 

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Sage Thrasher

 

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Loggerhead Shrike

 

In a highland juniper forest area just south of Frenchglen, we found a pair of (likely breeding) Blue-gray Gnatcatchers.  A very uncommon species in this area…

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Benson Pond is another hotspot on the refuge.  Unfortunately, I took fewer photos at this spot than I did at HQ.

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Eastern Kingbird (regular breeders in Eastern OR)

 

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White-faced Ibis

 

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A blurry Lazuli Bunting

 

Page Springs Campground, near the south end of the refuge, is a riparian/marshy area that is usually good for Yellow-breasted Chat.  Sometimes, migrating Ash-throated Flycatchers can be seen in the junipers along the hillside above the campground.

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Yellow-breasted Chat

 

Numerous vagrants visit the refuge each spring.  Early June is peak time for Eastern vagrants, so Memorial Day Weekend is always unfortunately a little early.  But we always manage to find a few.

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Rose-breasted Grosbeak, HQ

 

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Black-and-white Warbler, Benson Pond

Part 2 – Fields

Fields is a tiny (not “small”) town in Southern Harney Co, just north of the Nevada border.  It is the embodiment of “out in the middle of nowhere.”  But the center of town has an oasis area with trees and a pond, so migrating birds love it.  The residents are also very friendly and accommodating of us staring at their trees for long periods of time.

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Great-horned Owl chick

 

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Bullock’s Oriole

 

We found one vagrant at Fields:

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Horrible photo of a Tennessee Warbler

 

For more information on recent sightings in Harney Co, check out Tim Blount’s Harney Birder site.

Unintentional Birding – Heceta Beach, Florence

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We had a very warm and dry spring.  Our dead heat pump had not yet been replaced in early May, so we decided to head to the cool, breezy coast.  We left 89-degree Eugene in the late morning and arrived at… 90-degree Florence just over an hour later.  This was one of those strange days when the wind was blowing out of the East (the opposite is the norm).  The hot easterly wind was actually blowing bees into the ocean!  Nonetheless, it was a fun time.  I had brought my camera with my walk-around 18-135 mm lens because I was supposed to take pictures of our three-year-old, and perhaps some landscape shots.  Inevitably, other subjects occupied by attention.

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Early May is smack in the middle of shorebird migration, so I wasn’t terribly surprised to see large numbers of sandpipers (above) and plovers probing the sand.  Western Sandpipers and Dunlin were most heavily-represented.

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Western Sandpiper

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Breeding-plumage Dunlin are easily identified by their black bellies

Semipalmated Plovers (below) were also numerous.  They actually outnumbered their noisy, omnipresent cousins (Killdeer), which was nice for a change.

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I didn’t have binoculars on me, so potential pelagic species such as jaegers or scoters were out of my field of vision.  However, I was able to clearly see a half dozen or so Brown Pelicans “fishing” just off shore:

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A Bald Eagle surveys the water for lunch

All in all, not bad for a day where I wasn’t planning to see anything and not equipped with the proper optics.

Interestingly, the wind shifted in the mid-afternoon.  Very abruptly.  Within about 10 seconds, the easterly furnace shut down and was replaced with the southwesterly air conditioner (complete with fog and blowing sand).  Much more typical of a summer day on the Oregon coast!  With sand in our eyes and all restored in the world, we headed back to the car.

Welcome to Oregon Field Notes

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Welcome to Oregon Field Notes.  I have maintained a yard bird blog for almost five years and the creation of this site is arguably long-overdue.  Despite what its title may suggest, the purpose of this site is simply to document and photo-document my birding trips around Oregon.  It is not meant to be an exhaustive list of rare bird sightings around the state.  I also do not regularly chase rare birds, so there’s a good chance that you will not see a nice picture of that ultra-rare Spotted Redshank or McKay’s Bunting.  But I do see and document a lot of other interesting stuff out in the field, and I’m sure that you’ll enjoy my posts.

I plan on maintaining both this site and my other site, with updates for each every six weeks or so.  New posts on this site are forthcoming.