Friday, June 20, 2014

Hittin’ the West Coast Coast

For most of my life, I’ve haven’t lived anywhere more than an hour away from the ocean (or at least a gulf). I think I have to live somewhere with moisture in the air or I’ll just shrivel up like a dry sponge. So, although I loved birding Arizona, I know I could never live there for fear of constantly being dehydrated.

Art Deco Style Yaquina Bay Bridge

Nick and I enjoying the rocky west coast
When we moved to Oregon just a short time ago, we knew that we’d have to hit the West Coast coast – to see all the crazy new birds that were sure to come (or should I say SHORE to come… bah-dum-dum-CHHH!). We took advantage of a three-day weekend to spend a whole day exploring the coast, seeing the Pacific Ocean after moving away from the Atlantic Ocean. To do a two-for-one deal, I thought we could go somewhere that was going to be near the Rogue Brewery where we could enjoy some beer-bird beers that we just knew we were going to earn. Nick found Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area just a few miles away. With a name like that, we had high hopes for its outstanding-ness, and boy did it live up to it! 

I've become a little obsessed with panoramic photos, especially with views like this.

The drive out there was so lovely as we curved around the mountains to reach the open water. This was a much nicer drive than our pitch black, rainy, snowy, stuck between 18-wheelers, treacherous drive through the mountains when we first entered Oregon. Right before we got to our destination, we made a playful bet of how many lifers we’d get that day – Nick said eight and I said six. As soon as we arrived and pulled over to the first lookout, we almost immediately got as many as I had predicted. We looked down at a cliff to see lifer Pelagic Cormorants NESTING! We were awestruck, but we had no idea what we were in for that day. There were a handful here and some flying back and forth gathering nesting material. We even had a nice peak at some eggs!

Pelagic Cormorant tending to her eggs

Pelagic Cormorant Parents on their nest

Pelagic Cormorants nesting on the side of a rocky cliff

Gorgeous portrait of a Pelagic Cormorant - phoniscoped by Nicholas

Our eyes didn’t linger long, though, as we quickly saw lifer Pigeon Guillemots – GUILLEMOTS! We’d been dying to see Alcids, and here were our first ever. They really do have a pigeonous look to them. They were quite the characters frolicking in the water with their goofy yet stunning red legs and inside of their mouths and those broad white brushstrokes on their wings.

Another lovely phoniscoped portrait by Nicholas - Pigeon Guillemot

Pigeon Guillemot

Check out those bright red feet on that Pigeon Guillemot!

Pair of Pigeon Guillemots

"Look Jack, I'm flying!"

A couple of Pigeon Guillemots yucking it up!

We had been dreading trying to ID the gulls out on the West Coast, but there were some clear specimens hanging about amongst some hybrids. We picked up lifer Western Gulls and Glaucous-Winged Gulls and their hybrids (a.k.a., Olympic Gulls). Oh, and while we’re at it, let’s go ahead and pick up a lifer Wandering Tattler – a wandering migrant that we were very fortunate to pick up at this time.

Western/Olympic Gull

Western/Olympic Gull

Western/Olympic Gulls either kissing passionately or fighting over food.

Wandering Tattler

We stopped by the visitor center as a set of friendly birders told us about nesting Peregrine Falcons in the vicinity of the building. Almost immediately we spotted an adult Peregrine perched near the top of a cliff with people walking on a path directly a few feet above him. They were totally oblivious to his presence. He was literally under their noses, but they couldn’t see him from their point of view. The falcon swooped across the parking lot and perched in a little rocky nook that allowed our best views of this truly magnificent predator. We also did spot the nest with another adult in it, but she was very hard to see clearly. We actually couldn’t stay away long and went back to Yaquina Head a few weeks later and saw three fluffy little chicks! Papa stood guard a few feet up while Mama was likely hunting for dinner.

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon

Fluffy Peregrine Falcon Chicks

Fluffy Peregrine Falcon Chicks

A little down the road, we came up to the lovely lighthouse that sits amongst a bunch of little yellow wildflowers. But what was most impressive is what was all around that lighthouse. As we got closer to the edge of this cliff, our jaws dropped as we came upon the rocky cliffs just beyond the shore that hosted hundreds of nesting Brandt’s Cormorants and at least a couple of thousand Common Murres! (Two more lifers!) The proximity and the overwhelming number of all of these seabirds was absolutely astonishing. These birds that you would usually only expect to see on a pelagic trip were yards away. And I just could not get over those electric blue gulars on those cormorants.

Yaquina Head Lighthouse

Those dark spots atop this cliff aren't just rocks… those are Common Murres and Brandt's Cormorants!

Common Murres and Brandt's Cormorants. What stunning gulars!

Remains of a Common Murre Egg

The pictures just don’t do the experience justice. Even non-birders were struck by this ridiculous amount of birds on these huge rocks. But who seemed even more intrigued by all of these nesting birds was an adult Bald Eagle who unsuccessfully swooped in trying to get a delicious snack. The Murres started spilling off the cliff like an avalanche rushing down a mountain to escape this hungry predator.


Bald Eagle on the move!

"Why have you forsaken meeee!?!?!"

And not too far away from all the action was a presumably nesting pair of Black Oystercatchers. I had first heard a familiar squeaky, panic-of-a-call that was very similar to that of their cousins that we were used to seeing back East – American Oystercatchers. These guys definitely helped to fill that Oystercatcher void that I didn’t even realize that I had felt until that moment. 

Black Oystercatchers

As we looked around with our scope at the top of the cliff, one of the park volunteers pointed out that there were Harlequin Ducks at the bottom of the rocks! Are you kidding me?!? These jester-like ducks were something else. They look so unreal with their wild patterns of black, white, gray, brown, and rusty orange. Once we went down to the cobblestone shore to check out the tide pools, we got even better looks at these wild and crazy ducks.

Pair of Harlequin Ducks

The frontal view of the male Harlequin Duck makes me giggle ;-)

Stunning male Harlequin Duck

Harlequin Duck

And just as we were slowly pulling ourselves away from this outstanding place, we spotted our first Western Grebe! I’ve been dreaming of seeing this bird ever since I’ve seen videos of them dancing in perfect synchrony during mating season. Although this was a lone grebe, it was still a beautiful bird to gaze upon.
West Coast Hipster Birders

So, how many lifers did we walk away that day, you ask? Twelve. So on one hand, neither of us won our little bet, but on the other hand, we had TWELVE LIFERS so who cares about some silly bet! The birds we didn’t get photos of were the passer-by Pacific Loons and the lone Chestnut-Backed Chickadee that hopped around in the pines. All in all, we definitely earned that trip to the Rogue Brewery. You know it’s an awesome day when you have brewery-birds rather than just beer-birds in one outing! 

I'll take one of those, please!

Beer Heaven


  1. Wow and woah...everything in this post would be an amazing lifer for this AZ birder as well, excepting the Bald Eagle, which is sweet anyway, and the crushingly awesome views of Peregrine Falcon!

    Y'all hit the jackpot indeed. It's fun how inverted it is. In a place with so much water, a bit of high bare rock is a breeding oasis for birds. It's the total opposite in central Arizona.

    It has been great to have the Hipster Birders back in action; all of the recent posts have been splendid.

    When is CRATER LAKE coming!?!?

    1. Thanks, Laurence! So true about the water and high bare rocks. It's really amazing to see all these fantastic breeding birds here. And Crater Lake is bound to happen! Just gotta wait and see ;)

  2. Great writing and pictures as always. I love seeing what is on the "other" coast. Also, I was delighted to see a picture of my favorite birding couple on page 44 of the latest Birder's Guide to Conservation & Community.
    - Mary Lambright (Savannah)

    1. Thanks again, Mary! This "other" coast is something else! And glad you noticed our photo. We're so close to being famous! Haha ;-)