Category Archives: rarities
A Black-headed Gull has been hanging out in Umatilla, OR for the past week or so, and after some internal debate I gave chase. The drive to Umatilla is about twice the distance of my normal “chase radius.” I am not one who tends to drive great distances for an individual bird. But this bird is special enough to warrant an exception to the rule.
First of all, this is a gull I hadn’t seen before, one I have been hoping for for many years. Black-headed Gull is a Eurasian species, with a small population in northeastern Canada and in Greenland. So finding one anywhere in North America away from the northeast coast is extremely rare.
Secondly, this particular bird seems to have established himself in a park in Umatilla and in the adjacent golf course, so my chances of seeing the bird after such a long drive were relatively good. I would not drive so far to look for a warbler or other small songbird, as these tend to move on much more quickly.
After the drive, finding the bird took about five minutes; step out of the car, walk to the edge of the pond, and there he was. ID is pretty easy for this species. They are similar to Bonaparte’s Gull, but with a red bill and a dark underwing pattern, visible in flight.
The Black-headed Gull is being seen at the McNary Wildlife Nature Area, just downstream from McNary Dam on the Columbia River. I will write more about this area next time.
While I normally don’t go too far to chase individual birds, two rarities have been hanging out on the coast, so I braved the cold winds to add a couple of tics to my life list.
A Tundra Bean Goose has been staying at Nestucca Bay NWR. This is the first of this species recorded in Oregon. (They typically breed in Siberia and winter in Japan.) He has been reliable in the field below the observation platform at the lower parking lot.
A Brown Booby has been along the bayfront in Newport. She would coast downwind, then fly upwind close to the water, diving for fish and occasionally catching one. Brown Boobies are typically found in warmer waters south of California, but several have been seen along the Oregon coast this fall.
Two lifers in one day, especially two this rare in Oregon, made for a great day on the coast, despite the cold temperatures and the blustery winds.
The most common species of the day was Pink-footed Shearwater. The largest concentration of birds was gathered behind a fish processing ship. While I am opposed to the strip-mining of our oceans, these ships always attract a lot of birds.
Black-footed Albatrosses are common once you get out about 20 miles. This individual had an odd lump in her neck. I hope it is just a large food item in her crop and not a disposable lighter or some other piece of trash.
After 13 years in Oregon, I finally had the opportunity to see a Northern Spotted Owl. This subspecies continues its decline, so I was losing hope of ever seeing one. But this female and her fluffy baby gave me great, albeit distant, looks. For the record, I did not call this bird in, nor did I leave the trail to attempt a closer look.
The habitat these birds were using was marginal at best. One one hand, it is encouraging that the birds were making use of younger fragmented forest, since large tracts of old growth are now so rare. On the other hand, using this habitat increases the chances of encountering Great Horned and Barred Owls, both of which can prey on Spotteds.
Doing a little preening
fuzzy baby owl, cuteness in the forest
I have spent very little time outdoors this month, but here are a few nice birds from the past few weeks.
While I recognize the serious nature of the current drought, it is hard to be unhappy about sunshine in January. So after many weeks of not birding, I finally got out and spent a day on the coast. On the path around the Cannon Beach wastewater ponds, I came across a flock of Greater White-fronted Geese.
This Eurasian Wigeon was hanging out with the Mallards at the wastewater treatment plant.
The mouth of Ecola Creek, at the north end of Cannon Beach, is a favorite hangout of the local gulls. I found Western, Glaucous-winged, California, Mew, Herring, and Thayer’s. Unfortunately, photographing white birds in bright sunshine against a dark background is beyond my rudimentary skills. Most of my shots consisted of glowing white blobs surrounded by lovely blue water. This shot of a third-cycle Thayer’s Gull bathing in the creek is at least recognizable.
This Red-shouldered Hawk was at Mill Ponds Park in nearby Seaside.
The same bird in the middle of a roust
I couldn’t get a flight shot of the Red-shouldered in focus, but this at least shows this species’ beautiful pattern.
I made another trip to see the Rusty Blackbird that has been hanging out behind the Hillsboro Public Library for the past month. This species nests in boreal wetlands across Alaska, Canada, and the northeastern states. They typically winter in the southeastern U.S., so they are extremely rare in Oregon.
Unfortunately, they are becoming extremely rare in their normal range, as well. Since the 1960s, the population of Rusty Blackbirds has declined by between 85 and 95 percent. Probable causes include the drying of boreal wetlands due to climate change, mercury contamination, changes in breeding habitat caused by logging and farming, changes to bottomland forests in the birds’ winter range, and poisoning of “nuisance” blackbird flocks. Information on the situation can be found here and here.
So even though I have seen Rusty Blackbirds before, and added this one to my Oregon list a few weeks ago, it was worth another trip to appreciate an encounter with a species that has become increasingly hard to find.
Nala and I went out to Dawson Creek Park in Hillsboro to look for a Rusty Blackbird reported the day before. This site, a private park associated with the office park behind the public library, is a manicured park with paved trails around a series of small ponds. It attracts good numbers of waterfowl in winter, some migrant songbirds, and a few resident Acorn Woodpeckers.
Just as I was finishing my tour of the site, I finally saw my target bird (the Rusty Blackbird, not the Mallard). It would have been nice to get some full-frame photos like some other birders were able to get about three minutes earlier, but I was glad to add this species to my Oregon list. There are less than 20 accepted records of this species in the state. Rusty Blackbirds have experienced drastic population declines in the last few decades.
While scouting for the upcoming Birding and Blues Festival, I found this Ferruginous Hawk soaring over the Clay Myers State Natural Area (aka Whalen Island). This appears to be the first record of the species in Tillamook County. Ferruginous Hawks are normally found in the sage steppe east of the Cascades, and are rare visitors to the Willamette Valley in winter.
The bird was loosely associated with a kettle of Turkey Vultures, and serves as a valuable reminder to check every bird in the flock for something different.
I took my Little Brown Birds class to Sauvie Island. The sparrow flock along Rentenaar Road is thinning out, but all the expected species are still there. For the third year in a row, the star of the day was a Harris’s Sparrow. There is a White-throated and a Golden-crowned Sparrow in the background.