Saturday, June 10, 2017


It's momentarily calm here, now that we’ve exhausted ourselves with several consecutive weekends of high adventure. Two weekends ago was our annual trip to Malheur, which you’ll see in a forthcoming series of posts once we come to terms with the ~4,100 photos we took. The more recent adventure was no less exhilarating, but perhaps less daunting to recap, so let’s start there and work backwards: The 2017 Dean Hale Woodpecker Festival was incredible!

We set up camp Friday evening at Cold Springs Campground, which we’ve visited several times before to see nesting White-headed Woodpeckers, but this was our first stay. We set out immediately after setting up the tent and soon found ourselves surrounded by singing Thick-billed Fox Sparrows. Good butterflies, too.

Thick-billed Fox Sparrow

Hammond's Flycatcher

Western Tailed-blue

After dinner we took another little excursion and were halted by a high-pitched raptor-y squeal. About halfway up a tall pine was the floofiest Great Horned owlet imaginable. Neither the nest nor its parents were anywhere in sight, but when it stretched, we could see how surprisingly well its wings were developed, and that it was more mobile than might be assumed from looking at this bundle of cotton balls. We were happy when, the next day, it had stayed put and we were able to share it with the rest of the crew from our field trip.

Great Horned Owlet

The festival runs for four days, but we’d only booked one (full) day’s worth of trips, including our best chance of seeing Black-backed and American Three-toed Woodpeckers. Early in the morning the group was polled for their top-priority target, and we were surprised that about half the group said Pileated. After living in southeast U.S. where they’re abundant and in western Oregon, I hadn’t realized how many people are deprived of their awesomeness. Our first stop was at an older burn where we hoped for Lewis’s Woodpeckers and Williamson’s Sapsuckers.

Lewis's Woodpecker and Williamson's Sapsucker habitat

Female Williamson's Sapsucker

This was an older burn, no longer used by Black-backed or Three-toed, who depend on the insects (bark and wood-boring beetles) that invade forests after they’ve been devastated by fire. We found our first Williamson’s Sapsuckers sometime last year, a female. Since the male and female were once thought to represent different species, the male that our guides had staked out at his nest cavity was a semi-lifer, of sorts. He had been inside incubating and after about an hour of waiting, the female flew in to relieve him and we watched them switch places.

Getting ready for the switcharoo

At Calliope Crossing there was, appropriately enough, a gorgeous male Calliope Hummingbird perched at the top of some short, dead willows. We couldn’t have asked for a better warm-up act as we waited, looking past the hummingbird, for activity at a Red-naped Sapsucker nest. Sisters, OR is right in the Red-naped x Red-breasted Sapsucker hybrid zone, and one of the nesting pair did look a little questionable to us, while the other seemed, at least from a distance, to be pure Red-naped. We had good luck with flycatchers at this stop, also, with both Dusky and Gray Flycatchers vocalizing, and a Western Wood-pewee who’s nest Maureen spotted.

Calliope Hummingbird

Western Wood-pewee nest

From there it was on to a White-headed Woodpecker pair making frequent visits to a cavity to feed their nestling(s). As we would learn, nests with hatched young are far less trouble (for us, the group) than those with birds still incubating eggs.

White-headed Woodpecker

Townsend's Solitaire

Next, we headed out to a recent burn (~5 years) where our guides had staked out an American Three-toed Woodpecker nesting cavity. We had a long time waiting, and one of the guides expressed some anxiety that they may have abandoned their nest. After close to an hour I noticed the female sticking her head out slightly – either to scrutinize us interlopers, or to try an spy her tardy partner. I called it out, but she pulled herself back inside before most of the group could get on her, including Maureen. The brief encounter was enough to bolster our guides’ hopes, who decided to stay another 30 minutes.

American Three-toed Woodpecker habitat

California Tortoiseshells were everywhere in this habitat, including landing on people's hats and fingers

That extra 30 turned into 60, and still no luck. At the two-hour mark the guides polled the group on our next move, and there was near-unanimous support for pushing on to the Black-backed site. I should note that for the past hour Maureen, determined not to miss another chance, had been GLUED to the scope. I mean she had not moved an inch. She couldn’t leave empty-handed now! I appealed to the group that it was only a matter of time, and (thank goodness) a mere five minutes later the male flew in to feed the incubating, and probably famished female. This was definitely the longest we’ve ever waited in one place for a bird. What a wait; what a payoff!

American Three-toed Woodpecker

In contrast to the last stop, the Black-backed Woodpecker was comparatively quick and easy. Our guides had us on a female within 20 minutes. Against the black char of the scorched tree trunks, she was nearly invisible. All around us the trees bore signs of the woodpeckers having ravaged the blackened bark for beetles, which will be a useful clue in the future when we venture to find Black-backs on our own.

"Black-backed Woodpecker wuz here"

Black-backed Woodpecker

With 11 woodpecker species possible in Deschutes County, our field trip turned up all 11 (I think it may have been the only one to do so this weekend – at least up through Saturday). Obviously we were riding a woodpecker high, and anything else we found that day was gravy. With an owl prowl scheduled for that evening, we were about to have some of the richest, fattiest bird gravy you can imagine. Obviously, the light was not conducive to photography, but I’ll give a brief rundown of the evening. Early on we had Northern Pygmy-owl and Common Nighthawks before venturing into Deschutes National Forest where we had a Flammulated Owl respond to playback. We would also had two separate stops with Northern Saw-whet Owl, and at least a couple of Common Poorwills that were heard, but never seen despite our guide’s best efforts. So yeah, good gravy.

Our sunset view while Northern Pygmy-owl was calling nearby

We were on our own the next day and decided we wouldn’t mind another look at a Black-backed Woodpecker, so we returned to the burns. No woodpeckers this time, but a booming Sooty Grouse kept luring us farther into the forest. Afterward we drove to Shevelin Park in Bend, where we’d heard about four woodpecker species nesting right in the parking lot. We weren’t so lucky (we were probably in the wrong parking lot), but were able to find a pair of Lewis’s Woodpeckers who looked as if they were investigating various nest cavities like prospective homebuyers.

Lewis's Woodpecker

 One last stop on the way out of Sisters is the Best Western in town, which is among the most reliable places anywhere for White-headed Woodpecker, not to mention Pinyon Jay, and other mountain specialties. This time the area just over the fence (which becomes Deschutes National Forest) was chockablock with deer. The preponderance of them were just chilling in the shade in a ring. We paid our respects to the Mountain Chickadees and Pygmy Nuthatches one last time and then headed the rest of the way home.

Black-tailed Deer

Mountain Chickadee

Pygmy Nuthatch

Silver-spotted Skipper

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mountainous Marion County

A sunny and rain-free weekend was all we needed to take a mini getaway. Itching for dryer times, we headed east towards Central Oregon. But first, we had some cleaning up to do in our home county (Marion).

Detroit Lake

Detroit Lake

Canada Goose enjoying some sun

We had been getting eBird needs alerts for Marion County for some really cool stuff, so we took the opportunity of a nice weekend to try to fill in some gaps. Marion County is interesting as it stretches from Salem to the Cascade Mountains, maybe 80 miles or so across at its widest point. So this makes for an interesting list of birds you can get. We’ve been wanting to tackle the eastern end of the county to pick up some mountain species that we can’t get in other areas of Marion county, and that’s just what we did.

Tumble Creek

Pine Siskin

We hit up the Detroit lake area and stopped at one of our favorite little trails, Tumble Creek Trail. As soon as we got out of the car, we found some Red Crossbills hanging out high in the conifers! These crossbills were the first of the year for us. Minutes later, we walked towards the head of the trail from our car and flushed TWO Mountain Quail! LIFER!!! We cautiously tried to relocate them as they scurried under the bridge. We quickly crossed the road and saw them just below us. The morning was a bit dark and cloudy, so lighting wasn’t perfect, but the view definitely was just about as perfect as we could imagine! These birds are notorious for being hard to find, so we just could not believe our luck.

Red Crossbills silhouette


Notice the lovely "tiger" striping on its flanks

That face, though...

We watched one for a couple of minutes before the two of them flew across the creek. We were totally stocked to SEE these birds. We thought if we would ever find them, we’d only hear them. And to get these clear views of them was absolutely amazing. The rest of the trip was just going to be sprinkles on top.

Its little head feather is like a tiny sword

We next headed to Detroit Flats where there is a small trail along the lake. This tiny area is a great spot for Flycatchers, and that’s just what we got. Our Empid ID skills were put to the test, and we still weren’t 100% sure about all of our sightings. We felt really good about identifying Gray Flycatchers with its yellow lower mandible and tail pumping. And we usually felt pretty good about IDing Dusky Flycatchers, but we could not confirm if we had a Hammond’s Flycatcher.

Gray Flycatcher

Dusky Flycatcher

Dusky Flycatcher

We had never spent so much time looking at and discussing primary projection than we had with these empids. (Hahaha!) We kept going back and forth saying: “Are they long enough? Does the tail look short to you? They look kinda long, but not SUPER long. Its head looks round – no, now it looks like it has a crest. Does it look like it has a clear vest? Why won’t it call or sing?! Oh forget it, just put down empid sp.” And that’s how it goes sometimes. If you have any wisdom you’d like to share, please do!

Empid sp.

Empid Sp.

Empid sp. Cresty and vesty, but the primaries didn't seem long enough for Hammond's

Our last stop for our Marion County hit list was up on Byers Peak. On our drive on the windy road up the hill, we found a Townsend’s Solitaire – county bird! We didn’t get too much else up there, but we had exact coordinates to find a Sooty Grouse, and we were successful! Yet another lifer! We only heard this little trickster. We tiptoed around this steep little pullout trying to get a visual, but it was not going to happen. We could just hear its low "hoots" (and feel them in your chest), but we could not locate this darn bird. Sometimes it sounded like it was behind us, and other times right in front of us, and we’d be standing in the same exact spot looking in one direction! We recently saw that someone posted a photo of one up in a tree, and we did not even think to look up. It did not cross either of our minds that a Sooty Grouse could be up in a tree! It was probably sitting up above us, throwing its voice and giggling at us weirdos.

Townsend's Solitaire

You can see the ruby crown of this Ruby-Crowned Kinglet! Now summering in the Cascades.

Wilson's Warbler with his adorable toupé

We moved on to Sisters before spending the night in Bend. We stopped at Calliope Crossing and picked up a couple of Calliope Hummingbirds. We also found a few more Red Crossbills that confused us at first as the flock we saw had only juveniles. From a distance, the streaking on the body threw us off, and it took us a second to realize those weren’t just chunky Pine Siskins.

Juvenile Red Crossbill

You get a better look at the bill crossing in this pic

Our go-to spot at the Best Western in Sisters reliably turned up White-Headed Woodpecker and other mountain species including Pinyon Jays, Pygmy Nuthatches, and Mountain Chickadees. There’s a water trough were the little birds like to go drink, and I love that someone had the brilliant idea to nail a little wood board that goes down into it that now allows the woodpeckers to scoot down in there to get a drink.

Female White-Headed Woodpecker

Male White-Headed Woodpecker going down for a drink

We drove to our delightful AirBNB home for the night. It was a perfect little spot with great mountain views and, get this, alpacas!!! That may or may not have been my main motivation for booking this place. Plus it had adorable sheep, little lambs, and chickens. It was a perfect way to end a fantastic day. More from our next day in my next post!

Alpacas, sheep, and little lambs!

I'm in love with this alpaca face! Best AirBNB!

Can't forget the fluffy chickens!

View of the mountains from our AirBNB