Spring on the Coast

I have made four trips to the Oregon Coast in as many weeks this spring. For three of the four, I was leading groups. That, combined with rainy weather, limited my photo opportunities, but here are a few shots. The big news on the coast this spring was a Laughing Gull and at least four Bar-tailed Godwits. I missed these birds, but as I like to tell myself, there is always something to see.

Rainy skies at Ft. Stevens. The wreck of the Peter Iredale is visible in the center of the photo.

Harbor Seals enjoying the sunshine in Netarts Bay.

It was fun to see this Red-breasted Merganser hauled out on a rock at the Netarts boat launch. I don’t see them out of the water very often.

Belted Kingfisher, Netarts boat launch

Surf Scoter, Yaquina Bay

Common Loon, still in winter plumage, Yaquina Bay

Harlequin Ducks on Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach

former whale, Ft. Stevens

Sanderling have been one of the more common migrants along the coast this spring.
Sanderling, Ft. Stevens

Whimbrel with a Mole Crab, Ft. Stevens

Black-bellied Plover, with a Sanderling in the background

Black-bellied Plover, still in mostly non-breeding plumage. Such faded birds often show some brown coloring, which fosters ideas of Pacific Golden-Plover. But eventually the birds raise their wings to reveal black axillaries (wing pits), and confirm the Black-bellied ID.


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.

Siletz Bay area

I spent a day birding around Siletz Bay (Birding Oregon chapter 37). This part of the coast is not one of the more scenic areas, but there are a couple spots tucked away that are worth a look.

The main stop for the day was Boiler Bay State Wayside. This spot gets a lot of press as one of the best birding sites on the Oregon coast. While it is true that Boiler Bay is the most likely spot to find a lot of seabird species from shore, the birding here is not easy. On many days, you must patiently scan the ocean with a scope, hoping to find a robin-sized seabird from several hundred yards away. While bird numbers were low overall, two hours of scanning produced a nice variety of birds, including Ancient Murrelets (a nemesis bird for me), Marbled Murrelet, Horned and Western Grebes, and a Rhinoceros Auklet.

Several Harbor Seals were snoozing near the mouth of Siletz Bay. You can often see seals hauled out on the beach near the entrance to the bay.

Cutler City Wetlands is a nice patch of woods worthy of exploration, especially during migration. From US 101, turn west onto SW 63rd Street. About one block from the highway, there is a small parking area on the right side of the road, just across from this sign.

The property has a nice network of trails through a variety of habitats.

This Pacific Wren put on a good show, singing and perching out in the open for a few minutes. This species is seldom so visible.

Black-tailed Gull

A Black-tailed Gull (Larus crassirostris) has been hanging out on a log boom in Tacoma, WA, for the past couple of weeks. Tacoma is normally far outside my “chase radius” for a single bird, but Marsha was working a conference in Seattle last Saturday, so it was only a half-hour drive from there to the bird. Since this is probably the only chance I will have to see this Asian species, I was happy to spend the four and a half hours standing on the shoreline waiting for this bird to appear.

While waiting for the gull, I enjoyed watching the many Harbor Seals in the area. Most were just resting on the logs, while others swam around munching on salmon.

I really want to give this seal a belly rub.

The Black-tailed Gull finally arrived around 2:30 and provided extended views of the field marks that make this species so distinctive. This photo and the ones that follow were taken through my scope. While the camera and scope are obviously not compatible for digiscoping, these photos show that you can obtain documentation of rarities without a lot of special equipment. The key field marks for this species include: yellow drooping bill with bright red tip and black subterminal band, solid black tail with white terminal band, pale irises, white crescents above and below the eyes, and dusky markings on the nape that wrap around the head (winter).

Barview Jetty

Barview Jetty (Birding Oregon p. 125) forms the northern edge of the entrance to Tillamook Bay. It is a good site for viewing rock-loving shorebirds, gulls, and seabirds. The jetty was rebuilt last year, so the surface is now smooth enough that you can walk out all the way to the end. After the first few winter storms, most of the gravel and smaller rocks will wash away, leaving the jetty too rough to safely walk on. The photo was taken from the end of the jetty. I broke my first rule of jetty birding to take this picture; Never turn your back on the ocean. One never knows when a big sneaker wave will wash over the jetty, sweeping oblivious bird-nerds such as myself into the sea.

The only shorebirds visible on this visit were this flock of Red-necked Phalaropes swimming near the end of the jetty. A cold front had just gone through, creating strong NW winds. You might think those conditions would have brought in migrating shorebirds. But it has been my experience that cold fronts move out any shorebirds that have been staging in an area. It then takes several days for new migrants to trickle in. So the the longer it has been since the last cold front, the more likely it is that you will find larger numbers of south-bound migrants.

Two Harbor Seals were swimming in the channel, along with a few Pelagic and Double-crested Cormorants, and a very distant Rhinoceros Auklet.

Worst Pelagic Trip Ever

I made my second attempt to visit Machias Seal Island off the coast of Maine this week. On my first attempt last year, the seas were “the roughest we’ve had all season” and it was too foggy to see much on the way out. When we arrived at the island, it was deemed too rough to land, so we coasted back and forth in the lee of the island before heading back. We still saw lots of birds, but couldn’t get on shore for nice close looks.

So I was really looking forward to this year’s trip. The forecast was for calm seas and sun. But I am a magnet for rough seas. The ocean was angrier than last year and the fog was thicker. I caught a brief glimpse of a Wilson’s Storm-petrel on the way out, but that was it. We couldn’t land on the island (although it didn’t look that bad to me) so we cruised around looking at foggy birds.

Here’s a foggy Atlantic Puffin

a foggy Razorbill

a very foggy Common Murre

This is our view of the island. Believe it or not, there is actually a lighthouse, several buildings, and observation blinds here.

When we returned to the harbor in Jonesport, the sun emerged and revealed these harbor seals enjoying the beautiful summer weather. And so it goes. Perhaps, after enough time has passed to dull the memory of this trip, I will someday actually make it to the island and enjoy some face-to-face interaction with some Maine seabirds.