Blue Grosbeak

blue grosbeak in grassA Blue Grosbeak was found hanging out at Koll Center in Beaverton this week. This species has only been reported in Oregon about a dozen times before, so I was thrilled to add this beauty to my state list, especially when it was found only a few miles from home. The bird seemed crazy stupid, hanging out in the parking lots, and sometimes in the middle of the street. There was speculation that the bird may have been injured, perhaps by hitting a window, but he has been hanging out in the same area for several days now, so hopefully he is OK.

blue grosbeakThis bird is a classic example of a “twitch,” hearing about a vagrant bird found by someone else, then running out to add it to my own list. Seeing a Blue Grosbeak in Oregon did not require a great deal of luck, effort, or skill on my part, but I still relish the opportunity to see this species again, and to add another checkmark to my Oregon list. Yes, there is great satisfaction in finding a rarity on your own, but I am not too proud to appreciate a freebie.

Black-headed Gull

black-headed gull 1A 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.

black-headed gull preeningWhen the gull preens, you can see evidence of the dark hood that will become obvious in the breeding season.

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.

Twitching on the Coast

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.

goose oneA 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.
goose three
goose two

booby twoA 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.
booby threeTwo 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.

Deep Water Pelagic

sunriseI took a 12-hour pelagic trip out of Newport last Saturday. The morning started out with the typical cool cloudy weather one expects on the Oregon coast. Here is the sun rising over the Coast Range.

pink-footed shearwater patterThe 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.

flock 4
flock 1Pink-footed Pandemonium (There is also a Black-footed Albatross and a Sooty Shearwater)

black-footed albatross flying black-footed albatross backBlack-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.

fork-tailed storm-petrel 1 fork-tailed storm-petrel 2We saw more Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels than I had ever seen before.

wilson's storm-petrelWe saw three other species of storm-petrel, all very rare in Oregon waters. This is a Wilson’s Storm-Petrel. The other two were Black and Ashy Storm-Petrels.

bridgeBy the time we returned to port, the weather was sunny and hot. That’s just not right. I ended the day with a nasty sunburn.

brandt's cormorantsBack in the bay, families of Brandt’s Cormorants were on the pilings.

dc cormorantDouble-crested Cormorant

common murreCommon Murre.


Northern Spotted Owl

spotted owl 1After 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.
spotted owl 2The 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.
spotted owl 3Doing a little preening
spotted owl babyfuzzy baby owl, cuteness in the forest

spotted owls in flightMom and baby

Random February Birds

I have spent very little time outdoors this month, but here are a few nice birds from the past few weeks.

yellow-rumped backThis Yellow-rumped Warbler was displaying his namesake near Ankeny NWR.

shrikeNorthern Shrike, also at Ankeny.

lewis's 1This Lewis’s Woodpecker has spent the winter near Ankeny. It is unusual to find them west of the Cascade Crest. You have to love a green woodpecker with a red belly.

anna'sPortland’s recent “Snowpocalypse” was not appreciated by the local Anna’s Hummingbirds.

white-throatedThis White-throated Sparrow has spent much of the winter on our property, but I haven’t seen him since the big snow melted.

modoMourning Dove at the feeder

downyThis Downy Woodpecker has made several visits to the dead cedar  outside our living room window.

Cannon Beach

greater white-front 2While 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.
greater white-front 1
eurasian wigeon and mallardsThis Eurasian Wigeon was hanging out with the Mallards at the wastewater treatment plant.

ring-necked duckRing-necked Duck

harlequin duckIn the surf around Haystack Rock, there were lots of Surf Scoters and Black Scoters, but they kept out of camera range. This is a Harlequin Duck. No, really.

thayer'sThe 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.

red-shoulderedThis Red-shouldered Hawk was at Mill Ponds Park in nearby Seaside.
red-shouldered roustThe same bird in the middle of a roust
red-shouldered in flightI couldn’t get a flight shot of the Red-shouldered in focus, but this at least shows this species’ beautiful pattern.