Sunday, December 21, 2014

2014 Year in Review

What a whirlwind of a year it’s been for the Hipster Birders. The year started simply enough as other mid-winters – looking at some lovely ducks who have headed south for the season. One of my favorite spunky ducks that kicked off our year is the Ruddy Duck, who gave us lovely looks in sunny Savannah.

And the ducks didn’t stop there. We were delighted to finally have close views of the trifecta of Scoters – Black, White-Winged, and Surf. Up until this point, they were usually little black and white specks in rafts out in the distance or zipping across the coastal sky. And throw in a Redhead, and you're good to go!

Black Scoter

White-Winged Scoter, Surf Scoter, and Redhead

Fast forward to Spring time, Nick and I had the opportunity of a lifetime to move out of the South and head North, and I mean VERY north. We pretty much went almost as far as we could go in the lower 48. We set out on one heck of a road trip and took our time driving cross country for Savannah to Oregon, stopping to bird in some great habitat we had never explored before. Central and West Texas took us far away from the swampy, humid and marshes we had grown to know and love in the South & Southeast. We had reached the lands where Flycatchers gather to catch flies and put on spectacular shows in the middle of nowhere.

Male Vermillion Flycatcher

Female Vermillion Flycatcher

Western Kingbird

After a grueling 22 hour drive from Houston to Phoenix, we were not deterred from exploring the greatness of Phoenix after a refreshing 3.5 hour sleep. We will have to go back and soak up even more of its awesomeness someday, perhaps with more sleep and not getting pulled over and figuring out how to change our own headlight in the wee hours of the night. And we'll definitely have to explore more of California other than a sliver of a corner of it.

Gila Woodpecker


Black-Throated Sparrow

Yellow-Headed Blackbird in California
Once we arrived here in Oregon, it seems like it’s been almost non-stop birding and exploring. We found some great places close to home, like Minto-Brown Island Park and Ankeny NWR. We can’t believe how much variety of habitat is in this state, all within a few hours drive. We’ve gone to the coast to the desert to the mountains – each place new and exciting and filled with fun adventures.

Nesting Cliff Swallow


Black-Headed Grosbeak

Golden-Crowned Sparrows

We were welcomed by Golden-Crowned sparrows and new Jays - Western Scrub, Steller's and Gray. And one of my dreams came true when I encountered my spirit bird, the Acorn Woodpecker.

Western Scrub Jay

Steller's Jay

Gray Jay

Acorn Woodpecker

Acorn Woodpecker

Each niche of this bountiful state had some unique birds to offer. Central oregon had some mountain birds, like White-Headed woodpecker, Townsend's Solitaire, and Pygmy Nuthatches. Going even a little further east into the desert, we found Rock Wrens and Black-Billed Magpies.

White-Headed woodpecker

Painted Hills

Rock Wren

Pygmy Nuthatches

Townsend's Solitaire

Black-Billed Magpie

We've seen lots of coastal birds in our time in Florida and Savannah, but the West Coast coastal birds are something else. The nesting birds when we first visited the coast just blew our minds! Three different types of cormorants and alcids galore! I just can't get enough sea birds. And other bodies of water have great things to offer, too - like the charming little American Dippers that hang out in the waterfalls and streams.

Harlequin Duck

Nesting Common Murr'es

Black Oyestercatchers

Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area

Pelagic Cormorant

Pigeon Guillemot

American Dipper
Violet-Green Swallow

One of the waterfalls at Silver Falls State Park

Wilson's Warbler

A couple of my all time favorite moments was watching thousands of Vaux's Swifts funnel into a huge chimney in Portland and the hawk watch at Bonney Butte. There may not have been hundreds of raptors flying by, but there was a good variety. And of course the highlight was getting to release a couple of Sharp-Shinned hawks. This wasn't just a hawk watch, it was a hawk catch and release!

Vaux's Swift

Golden Eagle
To end this bountiful year, we’ve stepped up our technology, which will hopefully make this blog even greater. We geared up our gear – Nick giving me a new, higher-end camera lens for Christmas (a Canon EF 100-400 IS Lens). We’ve seen this lens in mostly every birding circle we’ve encountered, and I’ve been longing for one for a while now. And now it’s mine! So that hopefully means some upping in quality of blog photos. And now I won’t be the only contributor since I gave Nick a new DSLR camera for his birthday! Our Canon family is growing, which means great things for our readers/viewers!

2014 has been an amazing year, and we can’t wait for what 2015 has to bring!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Featured Feathered Friend - Wood Stork

Sometimes you just get to thinking about a bird and missing it. Recently for me, such a bird has been the Wood Stork. Living in Florida and the Georgia coast for a while, we would regularly see these bizarre but beautiful birds. They would dot small lakes and canals in the sunshine state, as well as appear on the lovely beaches.

Beautiful sunset lighting at Fort De Soto, FL

Once considered endangered, this hearty bird has been recovering successfully as evident in the Southeast. We've had the pleasure of seeing various large groups of these awkwardly magnificent birds in Florida and a large breeding colony in George at Harris Neck NWR. They are mostly silent birds, except when you hear funny barking and gargling noises at the nest.

Just a small section of the nesting Wood Stork Colony at Harris Neck NWR

These birds are so striking with their large white bodies and woody-looking, bald heads. As they soar, you can't miss them with their black flight feathers that glisten with a green sheen during mating season.  So as I reminisce about these lovely birds, I hope you enjoy this photo montage.

A Wood Stork in a tree sometimes seems funny as they are so tall and large

A Vision in White on Blue

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Into the Mountains, Part 2

Let us return now to the Labor Day camping excursion we took in the mountains (see Part 1 here). The great birds we had in passing through Sisters each way were but the appetizer and dessert for an epic trip. While we would have more great birds throughout the long weekend, it was the unforgettable scenery that made for some truly mind-blowing moments. Among our destinations would be two of the Seven Wonders of Oregon. Among our oft-repeated refrains would be “I can’t believe this is in Oregon.”

We made camp at Prineville Reservoir State Park in the early evening, with enough sunlight left for us to do a bit of exploring. It was around the reservoir that we picked up a lifer lagomorph: about a dozen Black-tailed Jackrabbits spread out along the edge of a clearing. Huge animals, compared with their cuddly cousins the cottontails. And fast. Later, a group of them would pass in an instant through the campground, at but a fraction of the top speed (30-35 mph).

Black-tailed Jackrabbit

The next morning we slipped out early to start on the long drive to John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. John Day has three units, spread far apart from one another, and each with its own unique natural attractions. It was to see the Painted Hills that we planned our holiday around this region of the state, checking off one of the 7 Wonders in the process. Although we’d seen a whole lot of landscape this year during our roadtrip across the country, there’s just nothing that compares to the bizarre beauty of the Painted Hills. 

Red and gold clays layered on top of one another, with flecks of black thrown in for good measure. It’s an extraterrestrial-looking sight. “I can’t believe this is in Oregon,” we’d say for the hundredth time. We could barely keep in mind that it was on Planet Earth. It was here, too, that we found a striking female Snakeweed Grasshopper, one of the coolest, most boldly patterned grasshoppers we’ve seen anywhere.

Snakeweed Grasshopper

From here we passed on to another of John Day’s units: Sheep Rock. While there wasn’t much birding to do at the Painted Hills, we set ourselves a couple of target species at Sheep Rock, being in range for both Rock and Canyon Wrens. The view here wasn’t colorful like at the Painted Hills, but it was extraordinary nonetheless, and decidedly eerie. The hike through the steep greenish-blue claystone gave the impression of wandering through the Forbidden Zone, stranded on the Planet of the Apes.

Along the Blue Basin trail was some tricky uphill climbing. To get as high up as we managed was worth it just for the views, although it was pretty quiet by that time in the afternoon. After unsuccessfully straining to identify a distant eagle we climbed back down to try a more level path, right through the claystone formations. A hyperactive Rock Wren bobbed and fed and jumped around near a burrow entrance, dug or molded into the clay. It seemed such a desolate place to make a living, but there are much worse, to be sure.

On the drive back to Prineville, just a few miles outside of the campsite, a flash of sky blue alongside the road convinced me to pull over. We found ourselves at the entrance to an RV park of all places, where had had some of the best birds of the day. A flurry of Mountain Bluebirds mixed in with equal numbers of Cassin’s Finches represented some damn fine mountain birding, which is precisely what we'd wanted. 

Mountain Bluebird

Common Ravens were much more common in the mountains than they are west of the Cascades

These Ravens were not on speaking terms

We left nice and early the next morning, but not before we spotted another Rock Wren on the way out of the campground. This one was much more cooperative than the one at John Day, but like the one a day earlier, mostly kept near the entrance to a little hideaway in the rocks. 

Rock Wren

Lark Sparrow

And in keeping with the rock theme of the post, we made one last stop before returning to Sisters, where we began and ended our adventure. Smith Rock State Park was the second of the great Wonders of Oregon this trip. Renowned as a rock-climbing playground for adrenaline junkies, it also turns up White-throated Swifts (as it did for us), Black-billed Magpies, and some of the most acrobatic Canada Geese we've ever seen -- the place inspires daredevilry in the even most unlikely creatures. 

Black-billed Magpie

Smith Rock State Park

Wherever we looked we would find people dotted along the tops of all these massive rock formations, having pulled themselves up by means entirely beyond my understanding. Our understanding was further stretched when we encountered our first lizard since moving here ("I can't believe this is in Oregon"). West of the Cascades, where we live, it's a very, very different place from the desert country we found ourselves in now, and lizards were just not on our radar. 

Western Fence Lizard?

One final critter I'll mention is a would-be hitchhiker that tried to abscond in Maureen's hat. She had it in her hands for a minute and a tiger moth flew in. Tiger moths are a beautiful group, and I've been wanting to see one since I started my moth kick last year. What I didn't realize is how difficult the group can be to identify: I posted this one on for ID help three different species were suggested.

Grammia sp.

This trip gave us a sense for how much bigger Oregon is than you might suspect from looking at a map. There's more to see and do here than we even guessed than when we first moved out here, and this adventure over the mountains has got us wondering what we'll find the next time we go exploring!