Birdathon

Our team for the Audubon Society of Portland’s Birdathon made a 360-mile loop through the Willamette Valley, across the Cascades, and east to the high desert. We tallied 110 species for the day. Here are a few.

Acorn Woodpeckers are reliable near Ankeny NWR. This one was hanging out in a nest hole.

Also at Ankeny, this Yellow-breasted Chat posed and sang for us.

This Pygmy Nuthatch was nesting at Black Butte Ranch, just east of Sisters.

Calliope Crossing, north of Sisters, came through with several examples of its namesake hummingbird. The feeder, placed by one of my teammates on a scouting trip, made watching these little guys easier.

Mountain Chickadees were nesting in a hollow stump just inches from the ground.

Calliope Crossing is also famous for hosting a great variety of woodpeckers. This is a hybrid Red-naped X Red-breasted Sapsucker.

At Smith Rock, we watched this Golden Eagle nest with one downy chick.

Bald Eagles were also nesting at Smith Rock.

Ogden Wayside hosted a colony of ground Squirrels. I believe these are Merriam’s Ground Squirrels, although I have trouble distinguishing Merriam’s from Belding’s Ground Squirrel. I need to do some rodent research.

It was a fun, albeit exhausting, day. There is still time to contribute to Portland Audubon’s fundraiser. Click here for more information.

 

 

Chickadee Trifecta

I had three species of chickadees attending my feeder recently. The Black-capped Chickadees are year-round residents and visit every day.

Chestnut-backed Chickadees appear occasionally, most often in winter, although I have been seeing them more often in recent months.

The star attraction on this day was a Mountain Chickadee. While common along the crest of the Cascades and points east, they are a rare treat in the Willamette Valley. This bird is the seventh record for Washington County.

I believe the Pacific Northwest is the only place where you might find three species of chickadees in one flock. Range maps indicate that in southeastern Alaska, you might be able to find four species in the same area. That sounds like a worthy birding challenge.

Where the Deer and the Antelope (and the Birders) Play

Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge includes about a quarter million acres in Lake County, OR. It is not close to anything, but is definitely worth the trip. The weather here in early June tends to be cool and breezy, and my recent visit was true to form.

In the morning, I parked at the campground and walked up toward the top of the large fault block that is Hart Mountain. It was a four-hour round trip through low sage steppe with aspen groves along the creeks. The riparian areas held MacGillivray’s and Yellow Warblers, Dusky Flycatchers, Bullock’s Orioles, and lots of Robins. In the more open habitats, the most common birds were Brewer’s and Vesper Sparrows, Rock Wrens, and Horned Larks.

These two Mule Deer kept a close eye on me as a walked up the jeep trail.

Pronghorns are the main reason this refuge came into being. Not actually antelope, Pronghorns are the fastest land animals in North America, having evolved alongside the now-extinct American Cheetah. Most of the Pronghorns I saw that day were rather skittish, keeping a good distance from me.

This individual was apparently not too concerned. On my way up the mountain, he lay fairly close to the road and watched me go by.

Near the top of the ridge is this large cairn, which stands almost eight feet tall. I’m not sure why some people are compelled to stack things. Monty Python addressed  this issue with their Royal Society for Putting Things On Top of Other Things.

Exposure to cold and wind limits plant growth near the top of Hart Mountain, but many of the rocks host colorful lichens.

On my way back down the mountain, I again passed the unconcerned Pronghorn.
Despite the cold, he has already started to shed his winter coat. If you look closely, you can see just a bit of a yellow tag in his left ear. This identifies this animal as part of a study tracking Pronghorn migration between Hart Mountain and Sheldon NWR in Nevada.

Farther south on the refuge lies a little patch of Ponderosa Pine forest known as Blue Sky. Since the habitat is so different from the surrounding sage steppe, it is worth exploring for different bird species, especially in migration. On this cold blustery day, I found Lazuli Bunting, Green-tailed Towhee, Warbling Vireo, and White-crowned Sparrows. The large trees are attractive to various owls, I am told.

Another Mule Deer

Brewer’s Sparrow. Like most small songbirds, they live their lives in defiance of auto-focus point-and-shoot cameras.

Mountain Chickadee, in slightly better focus.

 

Of Birding, Computer Pinball, and Insanity

Before shutting down my computer for the night, I sometimes play the video pinball game that came with the machine. Typically, I score about 400,000 points. On rare occasions, I have scored around 4 million points, through no skill or knowledge of my own. Last night, I scored 8,166,000 points, again, through no control on my part.

And what does this have to do with birding? The experience was actually amazingly similar. How many times have you walked through the same patch of woods looking for a bird you haven’t seen before? Experience tells you what species are likely to be at that location, just as experience tells me what my pinball score will likely be. But you keep hoping for something different, and sometimes, you get lucky.

Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. But that is exactly what birders do. We cover the same birding sites over and over, year after year, hoping for something different. It is that hope that keeps us going. If we accepted the likelihood that each trip to a given site will produce the same species, we would be less likely to go into the field. It is the insanity of expecting something different that makes birding such a joy.


I approached this nest box at Hart Mountain with the expectation, or at least hope, of finding a Flamulated Owl. Instead, this large nest box was occupied by a pair of Mountain Chickadees.


Pelagic birding is the epitome of insanity. You cover hundreds of square miles of open ocean, hoping to run across a rare bird that just happens to be at the same spot you are. Here are two Laysan Albatrosses swimming with the abundant Black-footed Albatrosses off the Oregon coast.

Am I insane for engaging in this hobby/sport/avocation/obsession that we know as birding? Heck yes, and loving it.