Sunday, November 15, 2015

Kicking Around Campus

Yesterday (Saturday) Maureen had to work for a little while. With nothing better to do, and since we could head over to Finley NWR right after, I commuted down to Corvallis with her, and spent a couple of hours lugging her camera with me all across campus. There's nothing terribly exciting to see here, but I also didn't want these photos to just go to waste, so here you go!

I'd actually planned on reading while I waited (The Wilderness Warrior, by Douglas Brinkley), but a pair of Spotted Towhees started cavorting around me as soon as I was about settle on a bench. Once I actually grabbed the camera, though, I ditched the Towhees in favor of an Anna's Hummingbird that perched right in front of my face. Such a prima donna.

By the time the hummer and I had finished with one another, the Towhees had flown out toward the street. This time it was a White-breasted Nuthatch that stole my attention away. Overhead was a flock of Cedar Waxwings, and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to admire them more closely than most sightings generally allow.

Trying to relocate the Towhees, I saw a whole lot of activity in a nearby parking lot, so I wandered over to investigate. A couple dozen Dark-eyed Juncos had invaded a bush chockablock with bright red berries and were gorging themselves silly. Even though the Towhees had started the whole series of events, I never actually got a decent shot of them.

At Finley NWR, we headed straight for the prairie overlook, where some good birds had been reported recently. Our main target was White-tailed Kite, which we hadn't seen since a day-trip we'd taken to Galveston, TX in December, 2010. In the interim, we'd worked up quite an appetite for them. Maureen eventually spotted one just as we were about to give up and walk back to the car. The other raptors weren't quite as shy: Northern Harriers, Rough-legged Hawks, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Bald Eagle, and American Kestrels who all made an appearance over our nearly two hours at the overlook. Distant raptors on an overcast day doesn't make for great photography, but I'll leave you with a this Golden-crowned Sparrow that was more than happy for a chance in the spotlight.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Butterflies of Crater Lake National Park

For July 4th weekend this summer, we took advantage of the long weekend to do some camping at Crater Lake with my cousin and his wife. Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the U.S., and the site was the first of several National Parks established under T.R.'s tenure as President. Any fears that the scenery wouldn't live up to all the hype were quickly blown to smithereens, much as Mount Mazama itself -- the volcano whose massive eruption left the caldera where the lake sits. The water was an indescribably deep crystalline blue, placed amid a vast and sprawling rocky landscape. 

We had our hopes set on some close encounters with high elevation birds, and maybe a few different mammals than we see in Salem (like the fleeting glimpse of Snowshoe Hare at our campground). Our first hike of the trip was up to Plaikni Falls. It wasn't particularly birdy aside from a handful of Townsend's Solitaires, Brown Creepers, and Mountain Chickadees. As we neared the falls, though, the path crowded with more and more butterflies. Patches gravel and mud had soaked with spray, which drew isolated groups of assorted fritillaries and blues. It was a bonafide puddle party -- the kind we'd read about, but had never seen quite like this.

Plaikni Falls

I'm no Vladimir Nabokov, but its clear that were a variety of blues in our midst (the Lolita author was a noted lepidopterist, who specialized in blues). One photo below has (as far I can tell) at least four species: Boisduval's, Anna's, and Acmon/Lupine Blue, and at least one representative of the "Buckwheat" Blues in the Dotted-blue and/or Square-spotted Blue complexes. You can imagine how incredible a sight it was, notwithstanding this neophyte Lep-lover's frustration in trying to come to terms with some of the most difficult ID challenges around.

Euphilotes sp.

The fritillaries gave excellent looks, but I still can't say whether they're Zerene or Hydaspe. Ah, well…Speyeria sp. it is. The most tame butterfly of all was a beautiful Lorquin's Admiral (fortunately, there's no mistaking that one), which landed on my cousin, before getting passed around and posing for close-ups.

Speyeria sp.

Lorquin's Admiral

Closer to the falls were more puddles, and even greater diversity. Painted Lady, Hoary Comma, Hoffmann's Checkerspot, and immense swarms of more blues than I've seen in one place. I've been meaning to step-up my butterfly game, but Plaikni Falls caught me off-guard. I have my work cut out for me trying to key these mystery Leps, but at least we know where to go once I have a better handle on things. Crater Lake provided plenty more "wow" moments over the weekend, but I'll save the others for a future post.

Painted Lady

Hoffmann's Checkerspot

Hoffmann's Checkerspot

Hoary Comma

Hoary Comma

Monday, November 2, 2015

Malheur NWR: Day 2

The rainy and cloudy days of late this fall season have us reminiscing of the sunny days of late spring/early summer. After a full first day at Malheur NWR, we were rested and ready to hit the country roads again in search of what other awesome things we could find. 

Brewer's Blackbird

Female Yellow-Headed Blackbird

We awoke to the haunting, mechanical sounds of the Yellow-Headed Blackbirds. And as we stepped out of our teepee to enjoy our cold, quick breakfast before heading out, we noticed some movement in the hot springs pond behind us. There were two lovely American Avocets lurking in the foggy mist blanketing the pond. We gazed upon them as they elegantly swished there slender up-turned bills to and fro in search of food.

We were already off to a great start and couldn’t wait to get out and really get our marathon birding in. Once again, Highway 205 gave us some cool birds on our drive to the refuge headquarters. Using our car as a moving blind, we were able to get some nice up close views of Willets and a Long-Billed Curlew out in the fields along the road. I never cease to be impressed by their long, curved bills that could seem so cumbersome, but yet is wielded with such poise. 


Long-Billed Curlew

As we continued to drive, we halted suddenly and kicked it in reverse when we came upon quite a sight. Not only did we see two statuesque Sandhill Cranes, but they were in the middle of a confrontation with a nearby coyote! One of the cranes lifted and stretched out his wings, making himself appear larger and quite intimidating as he approached the coyote head on. The coyote didn’t appear to be afraid, but did seem to come to the conclusion that it wasn’t going to be worth the fight to take on these large birds. He casually kept walking in the direction of the cranes – the two parties agreeing to go on about their business. Amazing.

The confrontation. The coyote contemplates his next move with his tongue sticking out.

The Sandhill Crane's wings widen.

The negotiation.

The final resolution as they part ways.

When we go to Malheur NWR headquarters, we were greeted by a number of sunny little Yellow Warblers. The feeders again hosted lovely male Black-headed Grosbeaks. 

Watch out for swallows on the bridge!

Yellow Warbler

Black-headed Grosbeak

Red-winged Blackbird

We headed back to the water to see what we could see. Before we got to the blind, a handsome Lark Sparrow stopped us in our tracks as he hopped just feet away from us on the ground, allowing for nice views of his stunning plumage. Once back at the water, the Black Terns again dazzled us with their dapperness and smooth, gliding flight.

Lark Sparrow

Black Tern - under

Black Tern - over

Two Black Terns hanging out on a log

As we walked around the grounds of the headquarters a bit more, we heard and caught sight of a couple of Cassin’s and quite a number of Warbling Vireos. However, what stole the show were a couple of stealthy birds that were actually quite visible. A Common Nighthawk perched on a branch, sleeping the day away and only casually opening his eyes every once in a while as crowds were gathering to gawk at him. (And I do mean crowds. This place was like birder Disneyland!) 

Warbling Vireo

Cabbage White on Lilacs

Common Nighthawk

We moved on just a little bit farther down the path to find another crowd forming to view a Great Horned Owl that was nesting in a tower on top of a hill. Even one of the fuzzball babies made an appearance later on taking a look at all the fuss of birders.

Great-horned Owl

Mountain Cottontail

We continued on our way to check out some new spots around the refuge, including P Ranch where we saw a very uncommon Least Flycatcher that had previously been spotted. It did its distinctive “che-bek” call. We also picked up our first state Bobolinks there! 

Mourning Cloak

Black-tailed or Mule Deer

Abandoned Swallow nest under a low foot bridge

We then moved on to Page Springs Campground and were inundated with half a dozen Yellow-breasted Chats! This was quite unusual, for us anyway, as we usually only see (or hear) one, maybe two, in one place. It was otherwise pretty quiet there, so we started making our way back to our home base, making what we thought might be some quick pit stops.

Yellow-Breasted Chat

House Wren

Likely a Montane Vole? Or maybe Long-Tailed Vole?

We had heard that there were sightings for Short-Eared Owls in a field just off what was called “The Narrows.” We staked out the area for quite some time, enjoying the sights of some Say’s Phoebe. We were close to giving up after about 30 minutes of scanning the large open fields with no luck. But then, we saw our target bird! A Short-Eared Owl glided like a Northern Harrier over the grassland in search of prey as dusk was coming upon us. Whenever it would land, it seemed to just disappear in the tall grass. But for a few heavenly moments, it landed on a perch just above the grass line. It was a glorious 5 minutes or so as we looked so intently on this beautiful owl that we had only previously seen in the dead of night with a flashlight.

Say's Phoebe

We just couldn’t tear ourselves away watching this gorgeous owl through our scope. And just as we were feeling so fulfilled by this sighting, a Long-Eared Owl decided to join in the game… Incredible! This was also a lifer for us, so we lingered even longer as the light faded because this was just too amazing to step away from. They seemed to be content circling in their own patches of the grassland, but at one point, they did come face-to-face in a little, very short-lived tussle.

Short-Eared Owl

White Pelican flock

It was getting darker by the minute, so we decided it was finally time to jet to get back to our teepee to revel in another amazing day at the refuge. Malheur had other plans for us, though. We stopped at a tiny little pond in front of a large group of very loud cattle to find 36 Wilson’s Phalaropes swirling and whirling away! They not only fed upon whatever was in the water, but they would also look up and snap their bills at the bugs flying around them, catching them like Mr. Miyagi with flies. These gorgeous birds were in their full breeding plumage that we could barely appreciate as darkness was coming upon us and we were pushing the light-gathering capabilities of our optics to the max. Finally, it was time to go, but what a way to end the day!

Wilson's Phalarope