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

MOUNTAIN QUAIL!!!

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 toup√©

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

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Everything That's Old is New, Part 1

Well, it looks like we've got quite the backlog of photos that haven't made it onto the blog yet. In the interest of playing catch-up I thought it'd be good to unload some of our favorite un-shared photos from 2016 over three or four posts. Not every outing becomes a grand adventure, and so we end up collecting a photo here, a photo there. You know how it goes. Also, this week marks three years in Oregon! So by happy coincidence we get to use this opportunity to take you on a mini-tour of our favorite spots around the Pacific Northwest. The photos in this post were all taken around Salem.



What's the only thing better than a Bushtit? Two Bushtits! Or better still, cuddling Bushtits.





We're fortunate that we live pretty near to a couple of excellent National Wildlife Refuges, including our go-to wetland, Ankeny NWR. There have been some extraordinary rarities in the few years we've lived here, including a Tufted Duck this winter, and a Ruff the year before.

American White Pelicans are annual at Ankeny, but never seem to stick around for long

Lincoln's Sparrow


Aside from the birds, Ankeny is still one of my favorite places for the sheer number and variety of arthropods it hosts. It's always worth stooping to closely inspect the grasses or the rails along the boardwalk trails. And it's taught me that it's always worth have a macro lens on hand, even if it's just my handy iPhone clip that I carry everywhere.

Forest Tent Caterpillar
Bush-katydid nymph, cutest of all insects.

Jumping spider


Tundra Swans are a highlight every winter when they gather at Ankeny by the dozens, sometimes numbering nearly 100. I know it's cliché to associate swans with grace, so I won't. I'll just show this series Maureen shot and defy you come up with a better, more apt word.





Ankeny isn't the only place in town to find swans, since Minto-Brown Island Park is home to a pair of their Mute cousins. Yeah, they're invasive and pose a huge menace to wetland ecosystems by aggressively driving out the competition, unsustainably devouring native vegetation, and choking waterways with their waste... but there's no arguing with those good looks.


One of the coolest finds at Minto-Brown last year was this mating pair of dagger flies. The male brings her a nuptial gift in an attempt to win her over. If he's successful she goes to work on the gift while the male starts going to work on her. 


The same pair dagger flies, as seen from above

There are so many active raptor nests in spring that even the non-birders realize how great the park is for birds, regularly stopping us to tell us where they saw this or that. Just in the past few weeks we've seen nests for Osprey, Red-tailed Hawks, and Northern Harriers. This harrier from last year was in the process of getting nest material together.


Lorquin's Admiral

Townsend's Chipmunk is the default chipmunk here in the Willamette Valley. I still haven't figured out how to tell it apart from Oregon's four other chipmunk species other than by range, but since I think Townsend's is all we get in the valley...