Saturday, July 19, 2014

Camping and Birding at Detroit Lake

Oregon has a laudable tradition of opening up all of its state parks for free camping during the first Saturday of every June. That we would take advantage of our first State Parks Day was a total no-brainer, but settling on only one of Oregon’s 170 state parks took some consideration. Since we’d be staying for one-night-only we decided to stay relatively close to home, but far enough away that we could see a new side of Oregon, and wouldn’t be tempted to pop back to our apartment for whatever we’d left behind. Detroit Lake fit every criteria, and offered some pretty breathtaking views, to boot.

The view of Mt. Jefferson behind Detroit Lake

Since we arrived well before check-in time, we headed over to an nearby area called Detroit Flats. It’s a place that often shows up on my eBird county needs alert email, so it seemed like a good opportunity for boost our Marion Co. numbers. And we did have get a singing Willow Flycatcher, a couple of Band-tailed Pigeons that appeared briefly before disappearing over the trees, and a male Rufous Hummingbird who gave us some great looks.

Rufous Hummingbird

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel

As we headed down the trail alongside the lake, we heard snake after snake slipping away through the grasses, on either side of us. Eventually, we found one that stayed put long enough for Maureen to snap some shots of it, and I *think* we were dealing with Common Garter Snakes. I always thought garter snakes were garter snakes, but later on we’d come across a different-looking specimen at a roadside stop called Tumble Creek Trail. This little fella was much more drab, and I’m inclined to call it a Northwestern Garter Snake. Garter snakes species are all extremely variable, though, and I’m certainly no herpetologist. If anyone had a better handle on snakes, please go ahead and correct me.

Common Garter Snake

Common Garter Snake

Northwestern Garter Snake

Once we’d successfully navigated all the snakes and emerged at the end of the trail we found a female Common Merganser and her nine tiny ducklings. All ten of them were huddled together on a rock hardly bigger than the group of them, and with the mother trying to tuck all the little ones in underneath her. It was a sweet sight, and when we came back the next day to check up on them, the family was in the same area, but swimming. The precocious ducklings were feeding on their own, and all keeping pace with mama… except for one rascal who hitched a ride on her back instead.

Common Merganser and brood

Merganser duckling hitching a ride on his mother's back

A different merganser family, with somewhat older ducklings

We discovered Tumble Creek Trail on the way over to our campsite, which is an uphill hike that runs alongside a fairly steep, rocky stream. Right at the trailhead we could hear a warbler, but weren’t able to place the song, or even locate it, close as it was. We decided to push on up the trail, but before getting very far, I realized that I’d left our scope in the car and ran back down to get it.

Western Columbine, Aquilegia formosa

Since I had to pass the warbler again and it was still singing, I gave it another go and came up with a Hermit Warbler! A West Coast warbler that had so far eluded us. I managed to catch Maureen’s attention for her to join me, but by the time she had it had vanished. Disappointed, we trudged on up the hill, but within just a couple of minutes Maureen found us a different lifer warbler — MacGillivray’s Warbler! He was on the other side of the water from us, and high up in the trees, but at least I’d gone back for the scope. Plus, he was singing and he stuck around for a good long while, so there was plenty to be excited about.

MacGillivray's Warbler

Even though neither of us had ever seen salamanders in the wild, Maureen somehow got the idea that this stream would be a perfect place to look for salamanders. And she was right — she found one under only the third rock she lifted! Maybe it was beginner’s luck, because we never found any others, but we both got a good look at it. Before we could get any photos, though, it vanished instantaneously, seemingly dissolving into the rock. Luckily, not all slimy creatures are quite so fast, and I found a Pacific Banana Slug patient enough to stick around and pose with me.

Pacific Banana Slug (bottom)

This looked like some kind of fungus mimicking dead oak leaves

Our butterflies that weekend included the widespread Silver-spotted Skipper, which we’ve found previously when we’d visited Atlanta, but is always a welcome sight. Juba Skipper and Pacific Fritillary are two species with more limited ranges (the latter being restricted to the Pacific Northwest), and both were lifers. One other arthropod I want to mention was a sharp-looking ground spider (Sergiolus sp.), decked out in argyle, that we found on the campground. As an argyle fancier myself, I approve of this spider’s sartorial choices. I prefer to wear it in my socks, but if I had eight feet to dress every morning, I might settle for a vest, too.

Juba Skipper

Silver-spotted Skipper

Pacific Fritillary

Pacific Fritillary

Ground spider (Sergiolus sp.)

Back over on our actual campsite, we were sitting at the picnic table when we saw two MacGillivray’s Warblers — a male and female — just behind our tent. They were sticking pretty closely to the bushes, and never stayed put for very long. But they helped get us off our asses, and start exploring. Not long after we turned up a pair of Hermit Warblers. And then another pair. And another.

Hermit Warbler

We were surrounded by Hermit Warblers now, more than compensating for the one Maureen had missed a day earlier. We also turned up a Black-throated Gray Warbler, completing the trifecta of breeding warblers in the county. Black-throated Gray, like the others, is an awesome western warbler that we’re glad to have around, but is actually a species we saw in 2010 as a stray to south Florida, and was one of the very first vagrants we chased.

Black-throated Gray Warbler


  1. Oregon is so rocking! Nice work with these Warblers. I shouldn't publicly admit that I still have no decent shots of Hermit of MacGillivray Warbler though the pass through AZ every year.

    That Merganser pile is so cute it makes me uncomfortable.
    Great post, enthralling as always with the Hipster Birder's natural medley.

    1. Cuteness overload is a hazard we all risk facing in the field. It's all about lowering our defenses, like with Rabbit of Caerbannog (been a while since we've had a Monty Python reference)! Next time you get that uncomfortable feeling, head in a calm and orderly manner to your nearest shelter, preferably one with Wi-Fi so you can continue reading the post through to the end.

      Oregon IS so rocking! We couldn't believe our luck in getting such good looks on our first encounter. The MacGillivray's still leaves room for improved looks, so at least there's that to look forward to.

  2. I am uber jealous of that trio of warblers. How fun to have them so near your campsite!

    1. It was certainly more than we dared hope, and set a high bar for future camping trips! Thanks for the comment, Josh!