I hiked from Timberline Lodge to the snow fields above Silcox Hut. My main target was Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch. I missed the finches, but there is always something fun to see on the mountain. There were a lot of skiers and snowboarders on the remaining snow fields. I don’t know how you expect to find Rosy-Finches while going that fast, but to each their own.
I hadn’t been to Powell Butte Nature Park in east Portland since they finished renovations. They had been working on one of the water system reservoirs and have added more parking, a visitor center, and new trail markers and maps. The targets of this visit were several Mountain Bluebirds that had been hanging out for a while.
The open meadows are attractive to Northern Harriers (not photogenic) and American Kestrels (slightly more cooperative). The raptors can make it harder to study the grassland songbirds, but this site is still very productive. There was one singing Savannah Sparrow while I was there. In a few weeks, that bird will be joined by more Savannahs and Lazuli Buntings.
I went to South Beach State Park, just south of Newport, to see the Mountain Plover that has been spending the winter there. I have seen this species in Kansas, but it is a special treat to see one in Oregon. Newport is beyond my normal chase radius, but this particular bird has been unusually reliable and cooperative, so I felt I needed to seize this opportunity.
As plovers go, Mountain Plovers are pretty plain. They don’t have the flashy bands or patches of color found on other species. But their drab colors match the drab habitats of their normal range, and their scarcity greatly enhances their attractiveness to birders. If Killdeer were rare, we would be dazzled by their gaudy plumage. But since they are common and noisy, we tend to pass them by.
The Mountain Plover has been hanging out with a small flock of Snowy Plovers. This species nests from the central Oregon coast south, but is hard to find further north. These birds were even more accommodating than the Mountain Plover, walking right by me at close range. As with most shorebirds, these birds will get very close if you lie down on the sand and let them come to you. If you are lying down, you are no longer a large upright predator, you are a seal and pose no threat.
Some of the Snowies were marked with colored leg bands. I appreciate the efforts being made to study and protect this threatened species, but I feel bad for birds who have to wear this jewelry their entire lives. The bands don’t seem to hinder the birds.
I spent a little time on the beach enjoying the show before the rains returned. While the six hours of driving were no fun, my little plover party on the beach was worth the trip.
A 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.
This 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.
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.