While I recognize the serious nature of the current drought, it is hard to be unhappy about sunshine in January. So after many weeks of not birding, I finally got out and spent a day on the coast. On the path around the Cannon Beach wastewater ponds, I came across a flock of Greater White-fronted Geese.
This Eurasian Wigeon was hanging out with the Mallards at the wastewater treatment plant.
In the surf around Haystack Rock, there were lots of Surf Scoters and Black Scoters, but they kept out of camera range. This is a Harlequin Duck. No, really.
The mouth of Ecola Creek, at the north end of Cannon Beach, is a favorite hangout of the local gulls. I found Western, Glaucous-winged, California, Mew, Herring, and Thayer’s. Unfortunately, photographing white birds in bright sunshine against a dark background is beyond my rudimentary skills. Most of my shots consisted of glowing white blobs surrounded by lovely blue water. This shot of a third-cycle Thayer’s Gull bathing in the creek is at least recognizable.
This Red-shouldered Hawk was at Mill Ponds Park in nearby Seaside.
The same bird in the middle of a roust
I couldn’t get a flight shot of the Red-shouldered in focus, but this at least shows this species’ beautiful pattern.
I spent a warm sunny morning around Cannon Beach and Seaside. The first stop was Silver Point, just south of Cannon Beach, for a sea watch. There were plenty of birds out there, way out there. It is what I call birding at the edge of imagination. You have an idea of what you are seeing, but realistically, there is a lot of guessing involved. I did see the wing flash of Sooty Shearwaters and several flocks of White-winged and Surf Scoters, but most of what I saw were unidentifiable specks. Nala was waiting somewhat patiently in the car, so we soon went to Tolovana Wayside and walked to Haystack Rock.
The tide was coming in, so I couldn’t get too close to the rocks. Still, you could see several Harlequin Ducks. Here is a male and female, with a Black Oystercatcher on the right. I didn’t see the Oystercatcher when I was in the field, only when I developed the photo.
another Black Oystercatcher
A log, which has obviously been in the water for a long time, had washed up on shore, and the American Crows were busy picking at the barnacles.
Nala, taking a break
The next stop was the Cove, at Seaside. As is often the case, there was a nice congregation of Black Turnstones on the rocks.
There were also good numbers of Surfbirds.
Heermann’s Gulls should be heading south very soon.
Our last stop was the Necanicum Estuary. This spot is very hit-or-miss, with either lots of birds or none. Today was closer to the latter. But along with the few California Gulls were several Caspian Terns still feeding young. Most Caspian Terns have already moved south, so it seems late to have begging fledglings still around.
I took a client to Cannon Beach this week to see the Tufted Puffins nesting on Haystack Rock (Birding Oregon p. 124). While he was photographing his lifer Heerman’s Gull, I had a chance to study a small flock of Western Sandpipers. Cannon Beach is a very popular tourist town, so the crowded beach usually holds very few shorebirds. But this flock had found a particularly slimy patch of rocks that was effectively repelling the tourists, so I was able to watch the birds feeding undisturbed.
This individual, probably a female, given the long bill, was still in full breeding plumage. Note the rufous, black, and white upperparts and the streaks and chevrons extending along the sides.
This bird is probably a male. The bill is short and straight, but still tapers to the tip. He is already starting to molt into his gray winter (basic) plumage, although he still retains a few colorful scapulars.
This probable female shows bold streaks and chevrons on the breast and sides.
Here we see the partial webbing between the outer toes. Western Sandpiper and Semipalmated Sandpiper are the only two species of stints (or “peeps”) that show this trait.
I will be teaching a class on autumn shorebirds at Portland Audubon on September 16. For more information, click here.