Saturday, August 13, 2016

"Heeey Yooouuu Guuuuuuys!" - Birding in the Footsteps of the Goonies

In July we took our first trip to the Goondocks, where we'd follow in the famous footsteps of Chester Copperpot (Goonies), Det. John Kimble (Kindergarten Cop), Johnny Utah (Point Break), and Johnny 5 (Short Circuit) -- (why so many Johns?). Believe it or not, there's actually more to do in Astoria than visiting the sets of '80s movies.

We camped at Fort Stevens State Park, which was loaded with historical artifacts like a WWII battery, and the 110-year old remains of the Peter Iredale shipwreck. It's also got some pretty righteous birding opportunities. We started our morning by heading over to South Jetty, hoping to wrack up shorebirds and gulls. Auspiciously, an Elk walked across the road ahead of us on the drive over, and when we pulled into the jetty, three bull Elk feeding along the edge of the parking lot. We were no longer thinking about gulls.

An elusive Two-headed Elk!

The Elk casually grazed and paid us little attention, other than occasionally looking in our direction. We only had our first, brief, Elk encounter earlier this year, and had hoped we'd get a chance to see and enjoy them like this. Eventually we went up the observation tower that looks out over the jetty. We couldn't find much out to sea, we did see a gull harassing a Common Murre that somehow found it's way on shore. It wasn't a great sight, so here are more Elk shots instead.

On the observation tower itself, Barn Swallows had built several nests, and were periodically returning to feed their little ones, nestled right up against the stairs.

Barn Swallow

Over at the insipidly-named Parking Lot D, Caspian Terns flew past with some regularity. We counted ourselves fortunate when a handful swooped and dove not far off from us, along the river. After several minutes, we crossed the parking lot and walked a short path and found ourselves surrounded by that tearing call of theirs. Spread out over the mudflats where close to 50 terns along with a good number of Semipalmated Plovers and some peeps.

Caspian Tern

The conventional wisdom is that if you want to see Tufted Puffins, you go to Haystack Rock. Since we've found puffins at other spots along the coast we didn't think about it too much. Our mistake for being so dismissive. As soon as we set up the scope, we were staring at groups of 3 or 4 puffins at a time, and close. Occasionally one would dive off its ledge and circle over our heads before heading out to sea. If you want to see Tufted Puffins, you go to Haystack Rock. Got it.

Tufted Puffin and Common Murres. You can see a nesting burrow center-left

Diving off Haystack Rock

The puffins were joined on Haystack by countless other seabirds, mostly cormorants and gulls, but also decent numbers of Pigeon Guillemots. A male Harlequin Duck came in closer than I'm used to, and I almost got stranded taking snapping photos as the tide kept creeping in around me.

Haystack Rock

Pigeon Guillemots

Harlequin Duck

At low tide, this is a good spot for tide-pooling, and several volunteer naturalists were showing off the anemones and keeping people from climbing where they aren't supposed to.


I'd wanted to swing by Del Rey Beach after checking out eBird reports, but it was pretty quiet when we got there. But we did pick up a lifer moth in the parking lot, where Red-shouldered Ctenuchas had swarmed all over the ragwort and the dune tansy. We pushed onward to Ft. Clatsop to visit a recreation of Lewis and Clark's winter camp (1805-6) and picked out some Red Crossbills kip-kip-kipping high overhead. I guess we lucked out -- of all the animals Meriwether Lewis described along their journey, Red Crossbill wasn't one of them.

Red-shouldered Ctenuchas

We started the next day back at South Jetty, but only saw one Elk this time. We took the trail that leads to the beach and came across hundreds of Heermann's Gulls congregating on a sandbar. Farther off was a massive mixed flock in the midst of a feeding frenzy. Assorted pelicans, cormorants, gulls, and terns were gathering up whatever they could find, and there must have been plenty of it, whatever it was. On the way out, an Elk family crossed the road just ahead of us, and we got our fist glimpse of an Elk baby!

Heermann's Gulls

Baby Elk!!

We'd heard that Seaside Cove was worth checking out, and it was indeed. Right along the shore were several adult and first-summer Heermann's Gulls -- the closest we've managed to get to these handsome larids. The water was relatively calm, and we were able to pick out a lone Marbled Murrelet and a good 80 or so Western Grebes.

Heermann's Gull

While we were there some guy asked us if we'd seen any Harbor Seals or sea lions anywhere at Seaside Cove (we hadn't). Then he asked if we'd seen the Walruses back in Astoria. He obviously knew the difference between seals and sea lions, so I wanted to believe he knew what he was talking about while also remaining cautiously skeptical. PRO TIP: there are no Walruses in Oregon. But we were heading into town anyway, and there might have been something good -- Maureen suspects he meant Elephant Seals, which would have been great, but instead there was nothing.

Great Blue Heron

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Final Day in Malheur

I’m finally going to take you back for the final installment of our trip to Malheur NWR from back in April. The day started with a fiery, glowy sunrise. We got some sweet light looks at a Willet and American Avocets in a little pond, as well as a Red-Tailed Hawk that flew alongside the car as we drove by at the same pace with the camera poking out the window. 

We had been having a blast with our lens rental (which we have since purchased!), and this day was highlighted by more American Avocets. These birds are usually very distant, including during the previous days of this trip. But these few individuals were VERY accommodating and allowed us to get these beautiful shots.

Did you know that a more upturned bill indicates females? 

Love seeing that delicate upturned bill just slightly open. 

Aren’t these birds just amazingly gorgeous? I love seeing these graceful birds in their beautiful breeding plumage. Well, just take a look for yourselves and relish along with us. 

That tiny water droplet...

Look at those grey legs! And notice the straighter bill on this one. 

Someone got a nice, juicy worm snack! Yum!

Not far from these guys were the also lovely Black-Necked Stilts. We used to see these guys so super close back in our South Florida days, so it was nice to once again see these beauties so near. Can’t get enough of those bright red legs!

Using the car as a mobile blind works so well with a place like Malheur. This place is like a giant safari park, but with native birds being the subjects of adoration, with the occasional fun mammal. We’ve gotten our best looks of Horned Lark here. Their little “horns” always crack me up. They can never look like they are not up to something mischievous.

Two out of the two times we’ve been to Malheur, we have had fantastic looks at another mischievous-looking bird, perhaps even devious-looking – Ferruginous Hawk. His wide, sly, yellow smile looks like he is surely up to no good. But who couldn’t fall for his devilish charm and handsome good looks?

As we made our last rounds on the farm roads of Malheur, we stopped by a lush little pond rattling with the demonic sounds of Yellow-Headed blackbirds. In the pond itself were a few ducks and other floating little baubles. 

Looking like such a bad@$$ on that barbed wire

Northern Pintail

And looking more closely, we saw that those baubles were a group of handsome Horned Grebes! We are so used to seeing these guys in non-breeding plumage that it was so striking to see them now outfitted in bold black, rufous, and gold. We also got a nice farewell look at a statuesque Sandhill Crane.

On the way back home, we popped over to the town of Sisters for our routine check-in at the Best Western there – not to stay, but to check our their feeders butting up against the Deschutes National Forest. We saw the usual suspects – Pygmy Nuthatch and White-Headed Woodpecker, which I never get tired of seeing. 

View of the Three Sisters Mountains

Pygmy Nuthatch

White-Headed Woodpecker

We then had a very strange Pinyon Jay encounter. We very rarely have seen Pinyon Jays, and when we have, it’s only been in Sisters and usually a solitary individual. But this time, we heard this huge raucus coming towards us from the forest. A band of 10 jays came swooping in close to where we were, jumped around noisily in the trees, and then after a minute, all rushed back into the forest. This was so bizarre and delightful at the same time! We couldn’t quite wrap our head around what had just happened, and we waited and wandered around a bit hoping they would come back, but alas, they did not. 

Pinyon Jay - the only one I could capture from that big party

Pine Siskin

We made one more stop before heading home. We pulled into Detroit Flats in hopes of finding some good flycatchers. We did find one, but could not get good enough looks at it to seal in an ID. But a pleasant surprise was finding a dozen American Pipits. You could have almost missed them when looking at the sand and rocks as they just blended right in. Only when we noticed that that some of the “rocks” started moving, that we pinpointed the pipits.

American Pipit blending in with the rocks

It was another fabulous trip to Malheur. No Bundys and good birds, just the way it should be.