Twitching in the rain

One of the more popular avian celebrities in Portland this fall is a Virginia’s Warbler that has been visiting the suet feeders at a home for the past several weeks. This is a great bird for Oregon, and the bird has been very cooperative.

Like many area birders, I went to see this bird. It was early in morning and raining. I stood on the sidewalk in front of the house, and in a few minutes I was rewarded with nice looks at a Virginia’s Warbler. It was too dark for decent photos, so I left. This was a twitch; Going to see a bird reported by others, adding the species to your list (Oregon state list in my case) and moving on.

Twitching is not my favorite style of birding, but one I am increasingly reliant on. I would like to bring my Oregon bird list to 400 species. A couple of years ago I sat down with a state checklist and figured out what species I needed to bring my list up to that magical (and totally arbitrary) goal. To my surprise, I discovered that there were only about six regularly occurring species that I hadn’t seen. I could conceivably just go to where those species are regularly found and add them to my list, but that would not get me to my goal. Any other species I added would be a rarity, like, for example, a Virginia’s Warbler.

If I had unlimited time and funds, I could travel around Oregon and find a good number of rare birds on my own. But lacking both of those things, I must take advantage of any opportunity to see an Oregon rarity that shows up close to home. I still want to take my time enjoying a birding site and finding my own birds, but I am not above the occasional twitch.

Virginia’s Warbler, at dawn in the rain. I never claimed to be a photographer. I kept my camera in its bag until after I had gotten good looks at this bird. I have seen this species before, but it had been a long time.

This Yellow-rumped Warbler was a better poser.

After twitching the warbler, I went to Broughton Beach to enjoy the Mew Gulls.

Ring-billed Gull, Mew Gulls, and a Western/Glaucous-winged hybrid

After waiting out a downpour at Smith and Bybee Wetlands, I was treated to this brief rainbow. A nice end to damp morning.

Prothonotary Warbler

The Portland birding scene was abuzz recently with news of a Prothonotary Warbler that was visiting a bird bath at a home northwest of town. For about a week, this little eastern warbler would arrive just before sundown, take a couple of quick baths, then disappear until the next evening. This made for a pretty easy tic for my state list.

This is only the eighth record of Prothonotary Warber in Oregon. The odds of someone finding and recognizing this bird were amazingly small. She was not associating with other birds, and the yard she was visiting was out in the country and not particularly birdy. One has to wonder, for every rarity like this that birders see, how many others go undetected?

Several southern species have been found in British Columbia but not in Oregon, including Black Vulture, Gray Kingbird, Mexican Violetear, and Xantus’s Hummingbird. Did these birds fly through Oregon before reaching Canada, or did they take another route?

This is what draws us outside to look through all the familiar birds. Most of the time, we just find the usual chickadees and such.  But wayward birds pass through Oregon all the time. Most probably pass through unnoticed, but we just might find one the next time we go out.

Lawrence’s Goldfinch

For the second week in a row, I chased a vagrant to add to my life and Oregon lists. A Lawrence’s Goldfinch turned up in a back yard in Sherwood. Since this species is hard enough to find in its normal range (southern California), when one appeared a half-hour’s drive from home, I was compelled to chase.

It was a dark rainy morning, so the bird was a bit bedraggled and a decent photo was impossible, at least with my camera. But a lifer is a lifer. This was a twitch, a quick look to identify the bird so it can be added to the list and then move on. Someday perhaps I will see a flock of Lawrence’s Goldfinches in their proper range and habitat and enjoy extended views to study plumages and behavior. But for Oregon, a damp bird at a backyard feeder is still a pretty sweet deal.

The finch appeared soon after we arrived (there was a group of nine of us that descended on this yard) then moved on. While we waited for the bird to return, we enjoyed a pair of Eurasian Collared Doves.

Anna’s Hummingbird, singing in the rain

I know that two events do not make a pattern, but it would be nice if this run of a new bird each week would continue. I won’t hold my breath.

Bar-tailed Godwits

This spring has brought an unprecedented number of Bar-tailed Godwits to the Oregon coast. This species spends the winter in New Zealand, then flies to China and the Korean Peninsula to fatten up for a month before flying to northern Alaska and northern Eurasia to nest. This year,  a weather event apparently blew some birds off-course to the east. Four birds appeared near Newport in April. Another 16 were found near Sunset Beach north of Gearhart in late May and into June.

The Bar-tailed Godwits are associating with flocks of Whimbrels.

Here is a comparison of a male (l) and a female (r). The female is noticeably larger and paler.

It would be interesting to know where these birds will end up this summer. It seems late in the season to make it all the way to the arctic to nest at this point. If they don’t make it all the way north, what will their southbound route be? Normally, Bar-tailed Godwits that nest in Alaska fly from the west coast of Alaska directly to New Zealand. A few juveniles get lost and work their way down the west coast. Will these adults stay in North America as they head south, or will they find their way to the south Pacific? It will definitely be worthwhile to scrutinize flocks of Marbled Godwits this summer and fall for adult Bar-taileds.

February Doldrums

img_9341I think February is the most challenging month to live in the Portland area, as it is typically wet and dreary. This past month had three times the normal rainfall, so the brief sun breaks were especially appreciated. A quick trip to Broughton Beach provided looks at a large flotilla of Great Scaup (with some Lessers mixed in).

img_9336This Great Blue Heron was staring at the ground at the airport, waiting for a vole or some other rodent to appear. The dark mud at the end of his bill suggest previous attempts at napping some land-based prey.

img_9326American Crow, calling from the top of the dike

img_9337A few Horned Grebes were on the Columbia River. They are just starting to show some color on their necks.

img_9319The first real harbinger of spring was this Say’s Phoebe. Several of these birds have been reported in the Portland area in recent weeks. It has been too cold for many insects to be out, so I imagine it has been tough for these flycatchers to find enough to eat. Hopefully March will be a little more pleasant for all of us.

Siletz Bay

common-scoter-1This Common Scoter was recently found in Siletz Bay, just south of Lincoln City. This is only the second record of this species in North America, so he was definitely worth chasing.

common-scoter-2The Common Scoter seems pretty comfortable in Siletz Bay, feeding and resting near the pull-out just south of the Schooner Creek bridge, so he was an easy tick. I just showed up and there he was. It can seem a little anticlimactic when a staked-out bird is too easy to find. But the advantage of such a situation is that you have the time to explore the surrounding area. On this day I birded from the D River in Lincoln City to Boiler Bay. This whole area is covered on pages 155 – 157 of Birding Oregon. There are a lot of birds packed into just over two pages. Or perhaps my writing is just very concise.

bonapartesThis Bonaparte’s Gull was hanging out at the D River.

brewers-1male Brewer’s Blackbird, D River

brewers-2female Brewer’s Blackbird, D River. I find female Brewer’s to be much more photogenic than males. Perhaps my camera just doesn’t do well with extreme blacks and whites.

surf-scotersSurf Scoters in the surf

harbor-sealsThe sand spit at the mouth of Siletz Bay is a favorite haul out spot for Harbor Seals.

harbor-sealhappy Harbor Seal

red-throated-loonRed-throated Loon

brantA little farther up the bay, I found two Brant. I don’t get to see then often enough.

red-phalarope-1Recent storms have brought a lot of Red Phalaropes to the coast and points inland. These birds were hanging out at the Salishan golf course.
red-phalarope-2It’s nice that a golf course is actually being good for something.

thayers-1I saw some nice birds at Boiler Bay, but most were too far out for photos. This Thayer’s Gull was perched on this little knob of rock for several hours.

black-oystercatcher-3One can often get close looks at Black Oystercatchers at Boiler Bay. This bird was particularly vocal.
black-oystercatcher-2Black Oystercatcher, sleeping with one eye open

The Siletz Bay area is typically not a big birding destination, with the exception of Boiler Bay. But this stretch of the coast can be very birdy, so it was nice that the Common Scoter has inspired so many birders to explore the area. Cheers.

Timberline

landscapeI hiked from Timberline Lodge to the snow fields above Silcox Hut. My main target was Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch. I missed the finches, but there is always something fun to see on the mountain. There were a lot of skiers and snowboarders on the remaining snow fields. I don’t know how you expect to find Rosy-Finches while going that fast, but to each their own.

clark'sSeveral Clark’s Nutcrackers were hanging out near the lodge. This species can be quite tame, but the ones near Timberline tend to be shy and keep their distance. Perhaps I need to carry more snacks.

lupineLupines were one of several wildflowers that are currently in bloom.

horned lark 3A couple of Horned Larks were pretty cooperative.
horned lark

rock wrenThis blurry creature is a juvenile Rock Wren. The pale sandy brown plumage had me stumped for a while, as the adults are more clearly marked with cold brown and gray colors and speckling.

gm ground 2No visit to Timberline is complete without Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels, the Alpine Ambassadors of Cuteness.
gm ground

marmot pairYellow-bellied Marmots reign over the higher slopes. The vegetation is so sparse here it is hard to imagine how these guys find enough to eat.

yb marmot 1
yb marmotwalking that fine line between majestic and adorable

Powell Butte

I hadn’t been to Powell Butte Nature Park in east Portland since they finished renovations. They had been working on one of the water system reservoirs and have added more parking, a visitor center, and new trail markers and maps. The targets of this visit were several Mountain Bluebirds that had been hanging out for a while.

mt bluebirdI found a male and two three females, all of whom kept their distance.

yellow-rumpedThere was a big wave of Yellow-rumped Warblers in the park. All that I got a good look at were Audubon’s race, and most were male.

say'sAnother regional rarity that has been hanging out at Powell Butte is this Say’s Phoebe. This bird was active and vocal, but also kept his distance.

kestrelThe open meadows are attractive to Northern Harriers (not photogenic) and American Kestrels (slightly more cooperative). The raptors can make it harder to study the grassland songbirds, but this site is still very productive. There was one singing Savannah Sparrow while I was there. In a few weeks, that bird will be joined by more Savannahs and Lazuli Buntings.

Plover-palooza

mountain 1
I went to South Beach State Park, just south of Newport, to see the Mountain Plover that has been spending the winter there. I have seen this species in Kansas, but it is a special treat to see one in Oregon. Newport is beyond my normal chase radius, but this particular bird has been unusually reliable and cooperative, so I felt I needed to seize this opportunity.

mountain 2As plovers go, Mountain Plovers are pretty plain. They don’t have the flashy bands or patches of color found on other species. But their drab colors match the drab habitats of their normal range, and their scarcity greatly enhances their attractiveness to birders. If Killdeer were rare, we would be dazzled by their gaudy plumage. But since they are common and noisy, we tend to pass them by.

mountain 3Mountain Plover, giving a subtle “come hither” look.

snowy 1The Mountain Plover has been hanging out with a small flock of Snowy Plovers. This species nests from the central Oregon coast south, but is hard to find further north. These birds were even more accommodating than the Mountain Plover, walking right by me at close range. As with most shorebirds, these birds will get very close if you lie down on the sand and let them come to you. If you are lying down, you are no longer a large upright predator, you are a seal and pose no threat.

snowy 2Snowy Plover, taking a break

snowy 3Some of the Snowies were marked with colored leg bands. I appreciate the efforts being made to study and protect this threatened species, but I feel bad for birds who have to wear this jewelry their entire lives. The bands don’t seem to hinder the birds.

I spent a little time on the beach enjoying the show before the rains returned. While the six hours of driving were no fun, my little plover party on the beach was worth the trip.

Blue Grosbeak

blue grosbeak in grassA Blue Grosbeak was found hanging out at Koll Center in Beaverton this week. This species has only been reported in Oregon about a dozen times before, so I was thrilled to add this beauty to my state list, especially when it was found only a few miles from home. The bird seemed crazy stupid, hanging out in the parking lots, and sometimes in the middle of the street. There was speculation that the bird may have been injured, perhaps by hitting a window, but he has been hanging out in the same area for several days now, so hopefully he is OK.

blue grosbeakThis bird is a classic example of a “twitch,” hearing about a vagrant bird found by someone else, then running out to add it to my own list. Seeing a Blue Grosbeak in Oregon did not require a great deal of luck, effort, or skill on my part, but I still relish the opportunity to see this species again, and to add another checkmark to my Oregon list. Yes, there is great satisfaction in finding a rarity on your own, but I am not too proud to appreciate a freebie.