Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A Week on Monhegan Island

Right after my Oregon tour I was treated to a blissful week of birding in a totally new location for me, Monhegan Island, Maine by my friends Beth McCollough and Will Russell.

WINGS has long offered a delightful week-long tour here during the peak of fall migration, and Will timed our visit to coincide with the tour led by Derek Lovitch, and he rented what’s known to everyone here as the Red House ­– 3 bedrooms, 1 1/2 bathrooms, living room, full kitchen, and a mud room – for ourselves and Derek (while the WINGS participants stayed in the inn a very short walk away).

We each walked around the island a few hours each day, seeing what new migrants were coming through, and enjoying the scenery and socializing with the many birders there to do the same thing. Roads give access to the inhabited southwestern corner of the island, while trails crisscross throughout and circumnavigate the perimeter.

Double-crested Cormorant and Common Eider were common on the shorelines.

We encountered lots of migrant birds, but I didn’t get photos of many. We saw anywhere from one to nearly a dozen Merlins each day.

Blue Jays were actually migratory here – we could see flocks of them flying around the island, thinking about heading over the water back to the mainland, about 10 miles away.

There were some days with obvious waves of Red-breasted Nuthatches.

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher was scarce; I think I saw just two.

Black-billed Cuckoo is pretty rare here, so lots of birders gathered to see this one.

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron used to be extremely rare anywhere in Maine, but now a few show up every year, and this week there were at least two on the island.

Monhegan Island is the best place in Maine to see a few western migrants, such as Lark Sparrow and Clay-colored Sparrow. Here are both together, along with a Chipping Sparrow in the foreground.

Dickcissel is also pretty rare in Maine, but quite regular on the island. I had scattered some seed by our house attracted at least three and several Purple Finches.

Of course, I took photos of all sorts ot things on my daily hikes. This is the slime mold Fuligo septica, along one of the forest trails.

The forested part of the island is lovely.

Lycaena hyllus, Bronze Copper

Melanoplus femurrubrum, Red-legged Grasshopper

Sympetrum obtrusum, White-faced Meadowhawk

Vespula maculifrons, Eastern Yellowjacket

Thamnophis sirtalis, Common Garter Snake

Viburnum nudum, Possumhaw

Minke Whale

Beth and I also had fun every day in the kitchen. These next three photos are from her:

My rolling out pie crust using a wine bottle. (The kitchen wasn’t totally complete.) The apples were from a feral tree in the yard, and the pie was out of this world.

Pão de Queijo – a Brazilian breakfast bread which I made with povilho azedo I brought from Brazil.

Pizza night!

Here are Beth and I the day we left.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Sunrise at Marys Peak

I had a day and a half in Corvallis, based at my dad’s, house to turn in the rental and clean, pack, and store all my tour gear. On the morning of my afternoon departure, my friend Hendrik and I went up to Marys Peak at dawn to greet the sunrise and see (and hear) if there were any migrants navigating over the peak. In short, the only migrants we had were American Pipits, which were birds that could have been there for a few days.

What we did see was the most amazing show of Cascade Mountain peaks I’ve ever seen. From north to south:

Mt. Rainer and Mt. St. Helens

Mt. Hood

Mt. Jefferson

Mt. Washington

The Three Sisters

Looking towards the coast, we hoped to see the Yaquina Bay bridge, but the whole coast was under a blanket of low clouds. I noticed what appeared to be a dark gray cloud bulging above the low, white clouds, and studied this strange formation for a minute, noticing how oddly similar it was to the familiar shape of the Marys Peak skyline as seen from Corvallis. Suddenly it became clear – right after sunrise, with such clean, dry air, we were seeing the very shadow of Marys Peak on the entire 20+ miles of Coast Range between us and the Pacific Ocean.

On our way down we had this Sooty Grouse in the road, more cooperative than the one I had on the tour.
Sooty Grouse

I would have liked to stay another hour or two on Mary’s Peak to see what other migrants might pop in, but our friend Russ Namitz had reported a Bobolink late the afternoon before from the Philomath sewage ponds, which we could actually see from the peak. But in case it was still there, Hendrik and I wanted to be there earlier and rather not get the news that a bunch of local birders were there at dawn and had seen it fly off. Instead, we arrived about an hour after sunrise to see no birders, and within a few minutes we had great views of this tremendous rarity and even got some of the best photos ever of this species from western Oregon.
Bobolink, Benton County

We also saw this adorable, if despised family of introduced Myocastor coypus, Nutria, or Coypu.
Myocastor coypus, Nutria, or Coypu

Friday, October 21, 2016

Oregon in Late Summer – A Favorite WINGS Tour

This past early September I led my fourth Oregon tour in summer. It’s actually late summer, bordering even on early fall, considering the migration of birds well underway, and each time I do this tour it’s a bit later. Birding is fine in late July too, when I first offered this tour, but many birds are molting and not so pretty then, and southbound migrants aren’t quite as numerous yet either. An advantage over the spring tour is the opportunity to do a pelagic trip, and we went about 25 west of Newport as a pre-tour extension. We saw the necessary Black-footed Albatrosses and a few other tubenoses (Buller’s Shearwater was nice to see), but the highlight for me was the large number of Sabine's Gulls, many very close to the boat. I got just one photo.
Sabine's Gull

We birded from Portland to Corvallis on the first day of the main tour. I always take my tours up Marys Peak at dawn, hoping for Sooty Grouse, among other birds. This time we drove to the top then back down, then back up and back down, and on the second pass down one grouse was in the road, a hallelujah moment. But the weather wasn’t very good, so we returned here a second morning and had this most cooperative of Northern Pygmy-Owls.
Northern Pygmy-Owl

With better weather, we birded some meadows and forest edge before the very top, flushing a single Mountain Quail, then hiked to the peak itself.

We had this Lophocampa maculata, Spotted Tussock Moth caterpillar at our picnic lunch spot on the Alsea River on the way to the coast.
Lophocampa maculata, Spotted Tussock Moth

On our full day on the coast from Florence, we made many stops, all of them stunningly picturesque, and some with birds such as White-winged Scoter and Red-necked Grebe.

We also made a stop of botanical interest for Darlingtonia californica, the California Pitcherplant, where we also had great views of Pacific Wren.
Darlingtonia californica, California Pitcherplant

This Wrentit was amazingly cooperative at the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center.

Before heading inland and over the Cascades, we had a picnic breakfast at the Siltcoos River area. A Steller’s Jay here was a perfect mimic of Red-shouldered Hawk.

Then came our time in utterly different eastern Oregon. Here’s the scenery at Lake Abert, where there were hundreds of American Avocets but no Wilson’s Phalaropes.

Near there at Summer Lake I found a rare Stilt Sandpiper, getting photos just good enough for documentation purposes.
Stilt Sandpiper

Another bonus to doing a late summer tour is the chance to drive to the top of Steens Mountain, where the views are gorgeous.

One has a good chance of seeing Black Rosy-Finches here, but we didn’t find the flock despite walking at least 2 miles at 9700 elevation along the rim. Still, there was stuff to see. This is Epilobium obcordatum, Rockfringe Willowherb.
Epilobium obcordatum, Rockfringe Willowherb

I specifically looked for this grasshopper, having found it here two years ago – Bradynotes obesa, Slow Mountain Grasshopper.
Bradynotes obesa, Slow Mountain Grasshopper

This appears to be a Steiroxys sp., katydid.
Steiroxys sp., katydid

This grasshopper is probably in the huge genus Melanoplus, and no blue-legged ones look like this and are known from here in either Bugguide or in the grasshopper field guide, both of which are woefully incomplete. But there are probably more than 300 species in this genus in North American, many identifiable  based on the shape of itnernal genitalia of the male. Yet I still hope to eventually have a name for this one.

Down at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge below Steens, we birded along the Center Patrol Road, with the HQ still being closed to the public. This is Lycaena helloides, the Purplish Copper.
Lycaena helloides, Purplish Copper

Thamnophis elegans, Western Terrestrial Garter Snake
Thamnophis elegans, Western Terrestrial Garter Snake

Crotalus oreganus lutosus, Great Basin Rattlesnake
Crotalus oreganus lutosus, Great Basin Rattlesnake

Crotalus oreganus lutosus, Great Basin Rattlesnake

Sage Thrasher
Sage Thrasher

Arphia pseudonietana, Red-winged Grasshopper
Arphia pseudonietana, Red-winged Grasshopper

We returned to Portland via the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument., including the visitor center (which has the most reliable Chukar anywhere – check the hillside behind the parking lot), and at the Painted Rocks sector, where we had our final picnic lunch and found this Mantis religiosa, European Mantis.
Mantis religiosa, European Mantis

The ride back was merely scenic, but we did stop for some quick photos of the patch of lovely Mimulus cusickii, Cusick's Monkeyflower.
Mimulus cusickii, Cusick's Monkeyflower

We had dinner within site of one of Oregon’s most beautiful sights and an iconic photo opportunity– Multnomah Falls.