Thursday, December 31, 2015

Reedsport CBC

The first Reedsport Christmas Bird Count occurred on Wednesday the 30th.  I have never birded that far south on the coast, so I thought I would volunteer to wander the North Spit of the Umpqua River. This area is part of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area.

My area was to cover the interior of the spit, not the beach.  I knew it might be limited as to birds and wet with all the rain that has hit Oregon. And I could have predicted the bird list,  but you never know what is there until you look.

A map of my area:

Information on the geology of the dunes:

Dune Geology

As you can see I was able to access only a small portion of the area I was assigned.  I would like to have had the time to bird behind the beach dunes, or at least time to see if there was a trail there.

A view looking south into the deflation plain.

Meadowlarks, juncos, and White-crowned Sparrows were birds seen in these areas.  Flyover Ravens, crows and a few eagles also said hello.

I had the brilliant idea to attempt to cross this nice sand flat and bird the woods nearer the beach.  My dog, Huck, was walking out in front of me.  The sand under him turned to jello, he turned, looked at me and decided this was not a good idea. He dashed back to solid ground.  I took one more step and went down to my shins.  The sand was far to soft to risk a crossing, I was lucky to get back to solid ground with both my boots still on my feet.  Of course being me I still tried a few other spots, there was no solid trail to be found.

To give me time to bird the entire area , I got a lift to the center of the spit in a jeep.  The driver decided to do some exploring after I was dropped off.  He was the first to discover soft sand.  I caught up to him and found this sight.  We tried to dig it out, no success. He said he would be okay and sent me on my way.  I birded on.  Six hours later Russ came in with his rig and yanked him out.

Western Meadowlark was my first bird on the checklist.

These are the areas on spits I love to find.  A nice bog.  These areas are a magnate for the birds.  

Fox Sparrows, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Varied Thrush, Northern Flickers, Dark-eyed Juncos, White-crowned Sparrows, Black-capped Chickadees, Song Sparrows and Spotted Towhees were all using this one little bog.  I stay at these sites for as long as I can in the hopes a rarity pops up. 

I was walking through brush south of this bog when I flushed a bird into a big Christmas tree sized Douglas-fir.  The bird landed in the center of the tree. I could not see the bird well, it was hard to identify. It finally dawned on me I was looking at a Virginia Rail sitting in a fir tree.  Wish I was able to get a photo of that..

The dominate bird of the area:

Yellow-rumped Warbler

A first-year Bald Eagle.

Not a Swainson's Thrush ....

but a Hermit Thrush.

Birds seen and a rough guess on my numbers, I left my data sheet with the compiler..

Mallard  5
Surf Scoter  2
Bufflehead  9
Common Goldeneye  2
Common Merganser  2
Double-crested Cormorant  3
Great Blue Heron  3
Northern Harrier  2
Bald Eagle  3
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Virginia Rail  1
Spotted Sandpiper  1
Western Gull  2
Western x Glaucous-winged Gull (hybrid)  3
gull sp.  4
Downy Woodpecker  2
Northern Flicker  6
American Crow  4
Common Raven  8
Black-capped Chickadee  12
Chestnut-backed Chickadee  6
Pacific Wren  2
Marsh Wren  7
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (caerulea)  1     seen on edge of river in brush.  Hanging with Yellow-rumps.  Blue back. white outer tail
Golden-crowned Kinglet  10
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  7
Wrentit  3
Hermit Thrush  1
American Robin  2
Varied Thrush  5
Yellow-rumped Warbler  90
Fox Sparrow  6
Dark-eyed Junco  60
White-crowned Sparrow  12
Golden-crowned Sparrow  15
Song Sparrow  10
Spotted Towhee  10
Western Meadowlark  8
Red Crossbill  12

Thanks to all the organizers, I had a blast and will be back next year. Since it was the area's first CBC, the organizers asked for tips to help with count next time.  

The bird area marked on map might be accessed from the north jetty on a falling tide.  Go in and get out before tide cuts you off.  

How to bird the area between the plain and the beach dunes?  It probably depends on water level, this year was an exceptionally wet December.  Maybe the area is an easy access with out the soft sand.  It is hard to guess how best to bird that area without more exploration.

Thanks for the visit!

Walk out onto the sand he says, looks easy he says....

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Walk on the Beach: Red-legged Kittiwake

I was eager to get out of town and do some birding after an eternity of heavy storms and a tree falling on my house (all okay).  I was hoping for a window to get down to Corvallis and explore the EE Wilson WMA and look for some longspurs south of there.  However I was also thinking of hitting the coast to see the stormy seas.  I decided on the coast after I saw a gap in the weather at 10 am today, Sunday the 13th, and a low tide. Also a challenge was thrown down by a coastal birder to get out and to see what could be found along the beaches.  Clatsop County was being well covered today by the Seaside/Astoria gang, the fine folks in Tillamook currently have their beachfront a few miles inland of where I usually go.   So that left my second favorite beach town on this planet (next to Barnegat Light), Newport, Oregon.  

I arrived right at 10 am as the rain let up.

I tried to go out onto the South Jetty but the gate was locked.   I decided to go to South Beach State Park and to attempt to walk the beach north back up to  the South Jetty.   It would be a short walk , but good enough with the tide rising on a log-strewn beach under storm conditions.

When I got to the beach, I saw a group of birders up north.  I knew they were looking for a Mountain Plover that has been on beach for a number of days.  They found it before I got to them.  Good thing, I would have walked right by it as they had when they first looked for the bird.

The decline in the population of Mountain Plover has been dramatic.  Or has it?  I always wonder about politics and scientific reports at government agencies.  Do they bounce species on and off watch lists at a whim or is it real science.   Based on info available at the time, O'Brien, Crossley and Karlson in The Shorebird Guide (2006) said there were less than 9,000 birds alive.  By 2011 , the Fish and Wildlife Service said there were actually 20,000 birds and that local declines did not represent overall condition of the species.

Latest info I could find.

I started walking up north to the jetty, I saw a flock of gulls on the beach.  I had not noticed it yet, but note the bird sitting off to right.  It is at the bottom of a line of  gulls. From this distance ( at full zoom) I did see the Black-legged Kittiwake to the front and left of the bird.

I was studying a number of Black-legged Kittiwakes in the group. 

While I was tracking the Black-legged Kittiwake in the center, I noticed the small black-backed gull off to the right.  It also had short legs!  Short red legs to be exact..

It spent all the time cleaning itself, the wind was howling right in my face and I could see a serious squall heading my way.  But I could see the all dark primary tips on the underside of the wing and the darker back than the Black-legged, so I went quickly to a Red-legged Kittiwake.  I wanted to see a tiny pale bill but it did not cooperate. 

While I had my camera on it, it stopped once and turned its head a bit.  A tiny pale bill.

Back to cleaning it went. I was having trouble getting a perfect shot in the wind. I decided to swing-wide and move up wind of it to get a face shot before all hell broke loose with the coming squall.  I did not move in time, I was blasted by hail, I had to cover my face and get myself and my dog, Huck,  to cover.  A tidal surge, helped along by the wind blast, sent water roaring up the beach and all the gulls were gone. 

This is Oregon's 11th Red-legged Kittiwake, the third if you do not count dead and dying birds. It is the first living Red-legged Kittiwake (assuming accepted) found on land in Oregon.  The other two were off-shore sightings.  Lifer!

I have read about Red-legged Kittiwakes in case I ever found one, I knew they were darker than Black-legged Kittiwakes, but I never bothered to compare them to Western Gulls.  I thought I would be seeing a bird slightly darker than a Black-legged Kittiwake.  According to Howell's Gulls of the Americas, the Red-legged has a back that is Kodak 8.5 to 9.5, Black-legged are 6.5 to 8, Western Gulls are more variable, but from 8.0 to 9.5 for our northern subspecies.  This Red-legged was obviously the darkest gull on the beach except for a few Westerns.  Below is one of the Black-legged Kittiwakes that was sitting by the subject, taken in same light with same settings on camera.   Much paler bird.

I saw 6 Black-legged Kittiwakes in the area.

I saw 6 Snowy Plover.  I tried to capture the bands on all.  Here is what I was able to get:

Left leg: Red-Yellow-Red  Right leg: Dull yellow?

Left leg: Orange-Green  Right leg: Green

Left leg: Green-Yellow  Right leg: Dull Yellow?

This was a different bird, had a green over yellow, but never saw other leg.

Same here, could not see leg without disturbing bird, but looks like top band was purple or light blue?

The beach was littered with stressed-out-but-seeming-to-be-doing-okay  Red Phalaropes.

Nice thick-billed Red Phalarope.


Typical view if you go on a pelagic, minus the waves and a bouncing platform.

A number of Harlequin Ducks were hugging the jetty.  I pointed this one out to some storm watchers, much to their delight.

The tip of the north jetty.

The bar had huge breakers coming across.

The Coast Guard swept by, these beaches are dangerous as the tide comes up.  One big wave and you are in a death dance with all the moving logs.

The beach had little room for the expired.  Not many located.

Expired Cassin's Auxlet.  One seen.

Red Phalarope.  One seen.

Western Grebe.  2 seen.

I did stop by EE Wilson on the way home, just to give Huck a longer walk.  Not much activity. A heron wondered why I was out in the rain.

Thanks much for the visit.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Early winter in the White River WMA

On Saturday, Nov. 28,  I decided to go back to the east side of Mt Hood for one last trip this year before the forest roads are closed. There has been snow out there already, but the past few days have been nice and sunny.  Forest Road 48 will be closed anytime now, it is not plowed.  The drive out FR 48 had its share of icy stretches and frozen clumps of slush.  It was 14 degrees when I arrived at my parking area.  I doubt it got much above 20.  My purpose was to see if I could detect any Pine Grosbeak in the woods that line the creeks in the Wildlife Management Area.  

I decided to try to find a nice loop through the western side of the WMA.  I found just that by starting off on a road I went down in June (June Trip)  and simply kept turning left when I had the option.  I started off at the lower star on the map and went counter-clockwise.  I found myself back on the paved FR 27 at the top star.  From there back to the car down the left side of my loop is all paved.  7 miles in all.

There is a lack of variety of birds in these woods this time of year, but the birds you do see are in groups that are fun to discover and hunt through. The birds all seem to be in fresh plumage.

For a more general map of the White River WMA, try this one.  I have updated it with other bird hikes I have done on area.

Woodpeckers were a common species seen.  This Williamson's Sapsucker triggered a rare bird alert in eBird, I found it right before I returned to my car along FR 27.  I would assume only due to lack of effort, but eBird has only two records of this species in this area of the  county between Sept-Mar, 8 records for the entire county during this period.

Hairy Woodpeckers were the most common woodpecker found.

This Black-backed Woodpecker was up near where the dirt road I hiked hooked up with FR 27.

Not all Mountain Chickadees are in Western Oregon now.  Beautiful birds.

I have tried to pay more attention to the subspecies of White-breasted Nuthatch. These were all chattering with a rapid call.  A feature of the tenuissima subspecies (lumped with nelsoni in Sibley's  Interior West bird), the subspecies which should be found in Eastern Oregon. 

Interior West birds have narrower black crowns than the Pacific group,  and they lack a black mark behind the eye which can sometimes be found on the Pacific group.

Compared to the Pacific group the Interior West birds have darker but not black centers to the greater coverts, they are shown here as the dark dashes on the gray background.  The Pacific group supposedly has paler, less contrasting centers on the greater coverts.

The flanks are supposedly darker gray, rarely suffused with buff, the Pacific birds are paler on the flanks and can be suffused with buff.

Taken with my iphone, most of the hike was on bare ground or patchy snow.  This dark canyon is where Tygh Creek crosses FR 27. It was 2 pm, the area was still dark and cold, no winter sun reaches this area.

This is Tygh Creek down in the WMA, just as dark and cold.  I spent some time searching the grove for owls.  

This Mule Deer ( I think)  was on FR 27, it was a beautiful beast, it just stood there and watched me walk towards it. Black-tailed Deer are subspecies of the Mule Deer.  Mule Deer are larger and have big mule-like ears. They also have a larger white rump and a smaller black tipped tail compared to smaller white rumped and larger, solid black (dorsal surface) tail on the Black-tailed.   Black-tailed Deer are a western Oregon species but I understand they do occur on eastside of Mt Hood.

This print in the snow was the size of my hand.  Tons of animal tracks were seen, of all sizes and shapes.

Gobble gobble

Mt Hood glowing in the late afternoon sun.

eBird list:

White River WMA Loop, Wasco, Oregon, US
Nov 28, 2015 9:15 AM - 1:15 PM
Protocol: Traveling
7.0 mile(s)
Comments:     temps 14-22 degrees F, no wind clear skies.  Went to see if any Pine Grosbeak or Redpolls had shown up in area.  No juncos.
16 species

Wild Turkey  1
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Williamson's Sapsucker  1
Hairy Woodpecker  5
Black-backed Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  4
Steller's Jay  8
Common Raven  4
Mountain Chickadee  23
Chestnut-backed Chickadee  14
Red-breasted Nuthatch  6
White-breasted Nuthatch  6
Pacific Wren  4
Golden-crowned Kinglet  30
Varied Thrush  5
Red Crossbill  9

Thanks for the visit