Sunday, February 26, 2017

Sunny, Winter’s Day on the Coast

It’s our third winter here in Oregon. The first one was very mild and was a good easing in to living in a place with actual seasons (at least for me, anyway). The second year was a bit more typical for Oregon. But this year has been especially wet and cold. There’s been heavier rain showers rather than just gray mist, and lots more snow and ice. So, when there are sunny days with no rain in sight, we have to take advantage of them and head outside!

What a gorgeous day at Hatfield Marine Science Center Trail

A couple of weeks ago, one of these precious sunny days meant going to the coast. The birds seemed to enjoy this lovely sunshine just as much as we did. There were lots of leaps for joy! Ok, so more like leaps for food, but still fun, nonetheless. It so happened that I got good shots of some of these hopping water birds. Can you guess what they are? Test your bird ID skills with this fun little quiz. Answers will be revealed at the end of the post. (Those of you who already know the answers from following me on facebook or instagram, let others guess!) No peeking!

Bird ID Quiz Pic #1

Bird ID Quiz Pic #2

Bird ID Quiz Pic #3

It was quite a ducky day, overall. We saw both Greater and Lesser Scaup, Common Goldeneyes, tons of Surf Scoters, White-winged Scoter, Bufflehead, Hooded and Red-breasted Mergansers, and Harlequin Ducks.

Female Common Goldeneye

Female Common Goldeneye

Pair of Surf Scoters

We had especially good looks at some Surf Scoters as a few individuals kept floating close by and sometimes underneath us, popping out on either side of the fishing pier where we stood. Most other people on this pier were crabbing and looked oddly at this pair of birders loaded with optics and no crab traps. But it wasn’t just crabs they were catching. One guy pulled up a couple of Sculpin, which he tossed right back into the water, but not before I got a shot of that oh-so-amazing face.

Male Surf Scoter

Female Surf Scoter

What an amazing face on this duck! That bill is wild!

But this face is even wilder! And it looks like his side fins are fingers. 

While walking the trail at the Hatfield Marine Science Center, we had a super close encounter with a gorgeous male Northern Harrier. It was so odd to see him on this estuary trail, and he gave us quite a great show! It was almost overshadowed by our frustration of getting a good flight shot of him, but Nick prevailed and got one awesomely clear shot.

Looks like he's hunting something in the tall grasses

Boom! There it is!

It was also a pretty good grebe and loon day, too. Just ask this adorable Common Loon! We saw a few Red-throated loons, too, but they stayed farther away.

The South Jetty in Newport was especially productive that day. We had super close looks at a Brant. We saw plenty of them at Hatfield, but this one was kind enough to hang out close and in good light. These are definitely one of my favorite geese. They are so elegant and chic.

We also had not just one, but two Long-tailed ducks turn up! We had a male and a female. The male did some funny butt-scooting in the water, almost as if he were trying to sit on his rump. It was weird, and it made for some funny poses.

Female Long-tailed Duck

Male Long-tailed Duck

Duck booty-scootin' boogie!

The South Jetty is a good spot to watch gulls. They gather at the parking area and sit nice and still while you work on your gull ID skills. One other birder there pointed out what looked like what could have been a Glaucus Gull. His wife and he deliberated, and we examined it, as well. It was so evenly light-colored all over, and it did have a dark tip on the bill. But alas, the not clean bill (black bleeding into the inner bill) indicated that it was a very glaucussy-looking Glaucus x Glaucus-winged Gull Hybrid. Bah!

NOT a pure Glaucus Gull, unfortunately for us

So, now that you’ve had some time to look at the bird ID quiz photos, here come the answers. Number one is a female Greater Scaup! I think this one was especially tricky. It’s hard enough to ID a lone female brown duck in the first place, let alone with her head dunked under water.

Female Greater Scaup

If you guessed a grebe for number two, then you were on the right track. And if you guessed Red-necked Grebe, you were 100% right! This was also a tricky one since it is a mottled, grayish grebe, and the bodies of Eared, Horned, Western, and Red-necked Grebes (all of which we saw) can all look quite similar in the winter.

And lastly, this long-bodied bird with a greenish sheen and white flank patch indicates the ever lovely Pelagic Cormorant! The sun was hitting this guy just right, making his iridescent feathers gleam so nicely. And even the colors of his orange bill and red gape really popped. 

Thanks for playing along! I hope you had fun with the quiz and seeing the sights of our sunny coastal day.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Birding in France, Part 6: Farewell to the Pyrenees and Tarbes

For our final morning in the Pyrenees we circled back to some of the hotspots we visited with our guide, Charles, a few days earlier. We had unfinished business, in that we were still missing some birds we’d hoped to pick up earlier. Not necessarily Pyrenean specialties, but certainly species on our European wish list, since who knows when we’ll be back? We were running out of time now, and hungry for some last-minute trip birds. Our first stop was Lac de Gaves, where we’d had a fleeting glimpse of White-throated Dippers that had left us wanting more.

White-throated Dipper

Not only were the dippers out, we picked up Common Kingfisher, which we had wanted to see oh-so-badly. The dippers and the kingfisher were fairly cooperative, in that they stuck around for long stretches of time, although they stayed mostly along the opposite shore, so these digiscoped shots will have to do.

Common Kingfisher

Gray Wagtails. Can I adequately convey how great they are? Probably not, so I’ll let the photos do the persuading for me. Among wagtails, their tails are the longest, which was super apparent compared with the nearby White Wagtails. They also have the shortest legs, which gives them a low, horizontal look. As with the other location we’d seen them, they were exploring the exposed rocks down in the riverbed, as opposed to the White Wagtails, which we’d seen in a greater variety of habitat types, including road signs.

Gray Wagtail

We were hoping to turn up the Whinchats we saw on our earlier visit for better looks, or maybe pish something new and exciting out of the tall grasses, but the mowers, bane of my existence, had other plans. At least I had the Leps to keep me company. The Peacock is a butterfly I had desperately hoped to see. They’re widespread, from Europe all the way to Japan, but this was our first of the trip, and by the way, they’re gorgeous. The Painted Ladies were also vying for my attention, which I granted them, since I wasn’t totally sure if it was the same species we have here (they are).


Painted Lady

Hummingbird Hawk-moth

Next, we headed to the hawkwatch site at Le Pibeste, where we’d spent an hour with Charles. We had quite an adventure trying to find it on our own, navigating by way of landmarks on the distant cliff face. Eventually we found it by accident, approaching from the exact opposite direction than we’d meant to. Sometimes the birding gods smile on ignorant American tourists. This time around we only had six species, none of them new, but I’m getting teary-eyed just thinking about them: 21 Honey Buzzards, 16 Eurasian Griffons, 1 Short-toed Eagle, 3 Red Kites, 2 Common Buzzards, and 2 Egyptian Vultures. Our only other sighting of Short-toed Eagle was on our earlier visit to this same spot, but never came anywhere near close enough for photos. The Egyptian Vultures, on the other hand, were glorious. Back and forth, they drifted along the cliff, close enough to easily make out their wedge-shaped tails and fleshy yellow faces.

Egyptian Vulture

Grayling sp.

Heavy hearted, but glad to have reconnected with some amazing raptors, we bed farewell to the Pyrenees. Rather than head straight back to Maureen’s aunt and uncle’s place in Boudrac, we set a course for Tarbes, where we could take our lunch sitting in the botanical gardens. The locals were amused to see us laden with our gear, and several stopped to ask if we were looking for “oiseaux”. We were moderately scolded once, but not knowing French, I’m not sure if we ever stopped doing whatever we weren’t supposed to be doing. The birds, however, refused to judge us.

View from Jardin Massey - the Tarbes botanical garden

Here, we had our best looks yet at Long-tailed Tit, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Firecrest, and Red Squirrel (a rare mammal sighting for this trip!). We did happen to find a treecreeper – although no photo, apparently – which was either a Eurasian or a Short-toed, nearly identical to one another. I think they can separated by elevation, in which case this was probably Short-toed, but I think we’ll have to call this one the lifer-that-got-away.

Blue Tit

Blue Tit with a feather twice its size. I don't think he molted that


Great Tit

Fortunately, there was one Tarbes lifer that didn’t get away: Eurasian Nuthatch. I had actually spotted it at the exact moment Maureen had found the treecreeper, which led to several rounds of “Nuthatch!” “No, it’s a treecreeper!” “No, it’s a Nuthatch!” Eventually we both got on both birds. They each quickly vanished somewhere along the tangles of branches, but luckily we were able to re-find the Nuthatch out in the open. 

Eurasian Nuthatch

Long-tailed Tit

And with that, we closed the book on our French birding adventure. We tallied 91 bird species (including 73 lifers), 2 mammals (both lifers), loads of great butterflies and moths, along with various other miscellanea. Awesome. We haven’t any plans for traveling abroad in 2017, but who can say for sure what the year will bring?

Spotted Flycatcher

Red Squirrel

European Robin