Friday, January 29, 2016

Overcoming the Charadrius Radius

The slow, excruciating torture of the eBird needs alert email is an awesome, but ultimately just punishment for the mortal birder's crime of having limited time and resources, while cultivating a series of dependent, voracious lists. When a Mountain Plover first popped up in Newport, OR in early December, inclement weather stopped us from driving out to the coast at the first opportunity. Holiday travel would take us to New York, and later to Texas. And throughout it all, without fail, a daily reminder of our limitations alighted remorselessly in my inbox.

Mountain Plover

For over a month, the plover has been camped out at South Beach State Park, and on January 10 the fates finally cleared the way for us to have our go at it. We parked, crested the sand dune, hiked a quarter mile north, and with only a minimum of effort found ourselves staring down our bins at a small mob of estranged friends: 9 Snowy Plovers and 3 Sanderlings - our first since leaving Georgia almost two years ago. And, oh yeah, the Mountain Plover. It's larger size set it apart, drawing our eyes right toward it, so that it ended up being the first bird we saw along the beach.

Snowy Plover

Plover snacking on an tasty invertebrate

Sanderling & Snow Plover


From South Beach it was just a short distance to Hatfield Marine Science Center, where an overwintering Bullock's Oriole has been the center of some listserv discussion over the possibility of its being an Orchard Oriole. We kept an eye out for the Oriole, but didn't make a concerted effort to turn it up. Instead, we delighted in close-approaching Surf Scoters, and a pair of Horned Grebes. A Common Loon dove and swam right under us, stretching its wings when it surfaced on the other side.

Surf Scoter

Surf Scoter shoving down a bivalve

Horned Grebe

Common Loon

Next, a pit stop at the Rogue Ales brewery, where we ran into a local birder who had just seen a hybrid Common x Barrow's Goldeneye, and a second Goldeneye that was discussed as a possible backcross with Common. Both of them males. The hybrid had intermediate markings, like the white spot in front of its eye, which wasn't quite circular, and not quite a crescent. We saw plenty of pure Commons throughout the afternoon, but no pure Barrows. It looks like we may have to wait until the Winter Wings birding festival next month before we're able to find them easily.

Common x Barrow's Goldeneye

Common(-ish?) Goldeneye

You've got to admire a gull with sideburns

Over at South Jetty, we struggled to stay on a female Long-tailed Duck that spent much more time underwater than above it. If only they were as desperate for our attention as the Golden- and White-crowned Sparrows that gallivanted a few feet away. We pulled the scoter trifecta, turned up loons-a-plenty, and even spotted a male Red-breasted Merganser in breeding plumage.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Black Scoter

Red-breaster Merganser (not the aforementioned one)

Belted Kingfisher

After such an excellent outing, we thought we'd push our luck and hopefully end the day with a Wrentit at Yaquina Bay State Park. The skulky buggers proved too elusive, so we had to content ourselves with half a dozen or more Fox Sparrows, easily the most conspicuous bird along the park's labyrinthine trails. But it would have been asking too much to find literally every bird we wanted with the same ease as the Mountain Plover.

Golden-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

(Sooty) Fox Sparrow


  1. I love the plover pics! So glad that it waited for you.

    1. Thanks! I would have been happy with just a decent scope look, but it just kept coming closer and closer. I hope it set an example for all future vagrants.

    2. A large piece of driftwood was a perfect blind to hide behind to get those close ups. Such cuties those plovers are!

  2. Plovers are always cute. Sanderlings are cute, too, but have a look of intense determination with whatever they're doing.

    1. Ha! I never would have thought to say Sanderlings look determined, but I reviewed these photos again and I certainly can't argue. Although it's a different story when they're frantically avoiding an incoming wave.

  3. I'm so glad you got the plover. The White-crowned Sparrow and the Surf Scoter photos are very nice. I'm going to really try to see a Surf Scoter this year, as they've eluded in the past.

    1. Thanks, Charlotte! I hope you get to see a Surf Scoter this year - there are few ducks as mesmerizingly bizarre. Looking forward to seeing your photos when you do!

  4. What a beautiful and interesting set of pics and species! Drooling over plover sightings and all. Now I can look more closely at goldeneye for hybrids and know what to look for. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks, Dianne! We certainly had a full day with a great variety of birds. You never know what you're going to find when you visit the Oregon coast. Good luck Goldeneye-ing!