Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Chase is On! – Winter Wings Festival, Day 3

For our last official day of the Winter Wings Festival, we selected to partake in the “Chase Tour” to search for some target species and rarities. Two of the birds on the list were species we had already found on our first day out – Trumpeter Swan and Eurasian Wigeon.

A group of fourteen birders headed out early on a large white school bus to start the chase. First stop was Putnam’s Point in search of California Towhees and Red-Breasted Merganser. No luck finding either bird, but we found plenty of RBME’s cousin, Common Merganser. And we got some great looks at Common and Barrow’s Goldeneyes. We first noticed a pair of Barrows Goldeneyes swimming by. We were so excited to see this handsome male with his bright white comma on his face, but the female was in a weird position, and she didn’t move from that position for what seemed like a couple of minutes. We briefly had the horrible thought that maybe she was dead and floating with her head just sitting above water. And then we were even more horrified when the male proceeded to nip her behind the neck and mate with her. Ahhh! But then she snapped up after “the deed” and sat up like normal. Phew! We laughed at ourselves, but were gladly relieved that she was not dead, not a victim of necrophilia, and she had been just "presenting" herself.

Onward we went to Moore Park to seek Red-Naped Sapsucker and Oak Titmouse. There was the very, very slight chance of getting the extremely similar-looking Juniper Titmouse as their ranges can overlap a bit in this area. We dipped on those species, but did pick up a Red-Breasted Sapsucker. We wished we could have spent a little more time in this area to do more searching, but the trip leader was trying to get us to some other spots before the end of the day. 

We then went up to Upper Klamath Lake to relocate the Trumpeter Swan and Eurasion Wigeon we had found on Day 1. As finding that first Trumpeter was already a needle in a haystack situation, we did not have the same fortune this time. But we did luck out in finding three Eurasion Wigeon – 2 more than we had found the first day! That was certainly a nice treat to spot these cinammony heads popping out amongst the brownish-grey and green heads of the American Wigeons.

Our next stop is one in which we spent a good chunk of our time – Running Y Ranch. This is a resort area with a golf course and big fancy residential homes set in a woodsy, natural area with great hilltop views of the Klamath basin. A nice adult Bald Eagle was kind enough to pose for photos as we all scooted to one side of the parked bus to bask in its majesty. CORRECTION: What I thought was foot of a prey bird is actually the eagle's own foot dangling. Maybe he got a foot cramp. Haha. =P

As we wondered the neighborhood trying not to be too invasive in people’s yards (although most homes seemed like temporarily empty vacation homes), we spotted a few nice passerines, including Cassin’s Finch, Western Bluebirds, White-Breasted Nuthatch, and adorable Pygmy Nuthatches. 

White-Breasted Nuthatch
Cassin's Finch
We were given permission to hang out on the deck of one of the homeowners at Running Y Ranch, and what a deck it was. I wish I could just camp out for a week on that upstairs deck that bumped up against a huge cedar tree right at the center that was stringing about a dozen very active bird feeders. It was a dream! 

We didn’t have luck finding the Barred Owl that was supposed to live in the yard, but we got quite a spectacular, up-close and personal show of Pine Siskins, Mountain Chickadees, White-Breasted Nuthatches, and the prized bird of the yard – Evening Grosbeaks. 

A little feeder squabble between a Pine Siskin and an Evening Grosbeak.

Our final hours of our chase tour took us to Lower Klamath Lake and the border of Oregon and California. Here, we were on the lookout for raptors. And that’s exactly what we got! Our first stop along the road that winded through large farm fields led us to a cliff where we spotted three Golden Eagles soaring high above. Here we learned that a pair of Golden Eagles can build about half a dozen satellite or decoy nests. All along the road, Red-Tailed Hawks appeared regularly almost every half a mile. We got some amazing close looks at curious juvenile Red-Tail who put on a short, low to the ground flight display.

Juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk
Juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk in flight.
Other highlights were lots of Snow and Ross's Geese, a DOZEN Rough-Legged Hawks, which were recent lifers for us and still super awesome to see, and a Great-Horned Owl sitting on a nest. All I could see were its little “ear” tufts peaking out amongst the bare branches. And we also picked up a life mammal – Muskrat. We watched one swim in one of the channels alongside the road, moving its laterally compressed, eel-like tail in a serpentine manner to propel itself in the water. Cool and a little icky at the same time. 

Ross's Geese seen along the OR-CA border.
Look closely for the Great Horned Owls "ear" tufts. 
Muskrat smimming
Once we got back from our field trip, Nick and I wanted to still use up some of the precious remaining daylight to see if we could find some of those birds we dipped on – Oak Titmouse and California Towhee. We did not succeed in finding them that day, but we still ended the festival happy at all of the awesome things we had seen in the Klamath Basin this trip. We’ll definitely come back to Klamath Falls, especially since they are known to have dancing grebes there – a spectacle I long to see.

As you can see from this little mural on a random utility box, the dancing Western Grebes are a source of local pride.


  1. EVGR for the win!!

    Great crushes, great chasing!

    1. Thanks, Laurence! Those EVGR sure are great. Such mighty bills!

  2. Wow, that sounds like an amazing day, thanks for the description. And those goldeneyes, jeepers they are SO gorgeous--great photographs! Glad to hear the female was not dead--very much alive, thank you. =)

    Thank you for reminding me to buy some more bird seed--our last batch is SUPER lame and the birds have largely ignored it. I want my windows to be more birdy, like the deck you found. =) Random thought: I also like that the bird feeders are metal and not plastic. Seems more sustainable to me. Lovely grosbeak!

    If you are ever in San Diego, I think you'd be very happy with a hike at Lake Hodges (north end of the county). Every time I went there I saw a pretty amazing mix of birds, and once saw dancing-on-the-water grebes. SO THRILLING!

    1. Thanks! Yes, we also have learned that birds have particular tastes. Why have chopped liver when you can get filet mignon? We spoil our birds with "the good stuff" from WildBirds Unlimited - which also have great feeders that have lifetime warranties!

      And funny you should mention San Diego -- I'll be there for a work conference in late April. However, unfortunately I don't really have time to bird and explore. But we definitely need to check out more of California some time. And this past weekend we actually did get to see a little bit of dancing grebes! I just about jumped out of my skin! I was so excited and wish there wasmore going on. It was like they were rehearsing for the big showcase that will come in a few months.