Saturday, June 18, 2016

A Bird Bonanza in Bend

In late April, one week after returning from Malheur via Deschutes County, a White Wagtail was reported in Bend. We were still recovering from a jam-packed weekend in Eastern Oregon, and didn't especially feel like retracing that part of our route so soon, but… a White Wagtail? We were powerless against the allure of a dapper Eurasian vagrant. It turned out that the bird didn't stick around long enough for us to have to worry about it, but then we'd begun daydreaming about all those Deschutes County breeding birds, so we started planning a weekend trip anyway.

Target numero uno was Green-tailed Towhee: a would-be lifer, and a bird I'd wanted to make a concerted effort to track down this year. We left after work on a Friday, and arrived in Sisters that evening to look for the Towhees in Deschutes National Forest. This patch of forest looked like the place where trees to go die, and we made slow progress trekking over the terrain as we climbed over old, fallen tree trunks. But there was plenty of places to perch, and offered terrific visibility. One of the first birds we found was a distant Lewis's Woodpecker on a very distant snag. There was plenty of Towhee's around -- Spotted Towhees out in the open the way we wished the Green-tailed would appear. We did catch the decent looks at a handful of Thick-billed Fox Sparrows, though (lifer sub-species!).

View of Mt. Washington from Deschutes National Forest

(Thick-billed) Fox Sparrow

Maureen was having better luck with the Towhee's than I was, and they always dropped out of sight before she could put me on them. It must have happened four or five times that she called them out, and then they'd vanish. At least I could hear them "mew"-ing around me, but with the light fading, I was starting to get desperate. Then just as we were heading back to the car, we tracked one down that popped up right in the open, 10 feet away, and starting singing it's heart out! We thought this would have been our best (only?) bet for Green-tailed Towhee's this trip, but the very next morning, we found ourselves serenaded by a pair shortly after stepping out of the car amid a vast, open expanse of sagebrush. But the most salient, and numerous, birds were the dozen or so Gray Flycatchers, singing, and tail-dipping all over the place. 

Green-tailed Towhee

Gray Flycatcher

We did swing by Hatfield Lake, where the wagtail had been seen. We didn't have any hopes that it had stuck around and eluded everyone else for the past two weeks, but the place is otherwise renowned for vagrants, and would be an easy place to pick up all sorts of waterfowl. We ended up taking a trail that turned out not to be a trail, and flushed something huge that flew off a short distance. We tracked it down, and soon found ourselves face-to-face with a Great Horned Owl. Also along the trail / not-a-trail was a beautiful Nelson's Hairstreak that was intensely committed to a particular Pale Wallflower. We suspected it was laying eggs, but couldn't find any after it flew off. 

Great Horned Owl

Just a neat-looking tree

Nelson's Hairstreak

Next on the agenda: woodpeckers. We got a tip about some spots to look for Black-backed Woodpecker, and some spots for Williamson's Sapsucker. We gave the sapsuckers a go, and were rewarded with brief but spectacular looks at a female flycatching. One foray brought it right out over our heads! Not bad for our first encounter.

Williamson's Sapsucker


Western Fence Lizard? Sagebrush Lizard? I can never tell them apart

We thought we would head to Smith Rock SP the next day and pick up White-throated Swifts, but the place was absolute chaos. We arrived about 10 minutes before they set up for a half-marathon. We were faced with either leaving immediately, or getting stuck there. We opted to leave for Sisters, and were glad for it. But not before a quick stop at Cline Falls SP where we had a nice Prairie Falcon circle overhead for a few minutes.

Prairie Falcon

Some cool fungus

More cool fungus

Common Garter Snake

Our first stop in Sisters was Calliope Crossing, for, what else? Calliope Hummingbirds. We met a couple who hadn't seen them where they're usually found, but we managed to find something special on our own. After establishing that the buzzing that blew past us was definitely a hummingbird, and not a bee, we tracked it to its small, silken nest. What luck! 

Calliope Hummingbird

Townsend's Warbler

Friendly and interesting bugs kept landing on us in Sisters to our great delight. Clockwise from left: ribbed pine borer, mayfly, giant stonefly

Then on to Cold Springs Campground, where a pair of White-headed Woodpeckers was still busy preparing for nesting season. The male was doing all the excavating, while the female was farther off calling to check on his progress. His brief reply seemed to say, "yeah, yeah - I'm working on it." His industriousness outlasted our visit, and he was still hard at work by the time we left.

White-headed Woodpecker getting down to business



  1. I knew I shouldn't look at this post because it would make me want to drive straight to Sisters. Great representation of the area, from the bugs to the birds to the flowers, not to mention a Calliope nest!! Amazing!!!

    1. Thanks, Jen! A trip to Sisters is always a good idea, so I don't feel too guilty about tempting you :)