I’ve just finished leading my 17th tour in my home state of Oregon. Most of my tours are in the Neotropics, so this is always a fun and refreshing departure, though it is even more tiring than most – I do all the driving, and this particular itinerary had me driving an average 190 miles per day for 14 days. Yes, that’s 2660 miles in two weeks. It was totally worth it.
When I do this grand Oregon itinerary in the summer, which is about every other year now, I start with a pelagic trip as an extension, driving down to Newport. Only three of the four participants of this year’s group signed up for the pelagic trip. This year we were also joined by the newest member of the WINGS leaders group, Fabrice Schmitt. Originally from the Alsace region of France, Fabrice has been based in Chile and guiding for himself and several other companies throughout South America for the past several years, and we’re all very pleased to have him with us. He was along as an observer on this trip, only his second time in North America. He saw more new birds than all of the other participants combined!
While we saw nothing unexpected, the pelagic trip was a great success, with good numbers of close Black-footed Albatross, Pink-footed Shearwaters (way outnumbering the normally numerous Sooty Shearwaters), and very close Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels. Here’s a group of the shearwaters with a single albatross.
Black-footed Albatross frequently sailed right past the boat.
The commonest gulls far out at sea were juvenile California Gulls; here’s one attending an Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola). No one seemed to know what the gull expected from the fish, and Fabrice was particularly curious as to why the fish wasn’t readily preyed upon by sharks, dolphins, or albatrosses. It just lies there on the surface, often considered the world’s largest plankton as it drifts on ocean currents.
The main part of the tour started in Portland, and after our group dinner, we had dessert at Salt and Straw, a fabulous ice cream shop that uses local ingredients to make some extremely clever flavor combinations. I don’t promote it only because the founders and owners are related to my cousin Belinda’s husband; I’m just a huge fan of ice cream and local ingredients in any event.
On our first morning of birding my friend Steve Nord met up with us at Jackson Bottom Wetland Preserve south of Hillsboro, where we had good shorebirds, including Semipalmated Sandpiper and this rare Solitary Sandpiper.
A highlight for me on any Oregon tour is a visit to Marys Peak, the highest point in the Coast Range.
Here’s the group at the top of Marys Peak, happy after seeing Mountain Quail on the way up, then a lovely Pileated Woodpecker as we were starting our picnic breakfast.
I stopped to get photos of this Pine White, Neophasia menapia, on the introduced Tansy Ragwort.
Then I noticed some bumblebees and remembered that the Pacific Northwest is particularly rich in species. This one is actually identifiable as Fernald's Cuckoo Bumble Bee, Bombus fernaldae. It’s a social parasite, not having workers of its own.
There were also tons of grasshoppers, and I was hoping to find the endemic flightless grasshopper but instead found mostly the very common and widespread Red-legged Grasshopper, Melanoplus femurrubrum.
One of them turned out to be the much lesser known Melanoplus immunis. I had thought it was an immature with the wings not yet developed, but apparently this is one of several species in this genus that are flightless as adults.
Our last birding in the Willamette Valley was at Fern Ridge Reservoir, which was a huge highlight. Here were joined by Alan Contreras who helped by suggesting where we might best spend our time here.
There were lots of these Red Swamp Crayfish, Procambarus clarkii, apparently accidentally introduced only about 15 years ago. One can only hope that this will lead to the natural colonization of Yellow-crowned Night-Herons...
We were amazed to see a juvenile Peregrine Falcon appear in a group of isolated dead trees at the same time that juvenile Cooper’s and Red-shouldered Hawks landed in the same trees, apparently to harass the Peregrine.
At our picnic lunch at the nearby Perkins Peninsula we enjoyed views of many Clark’s Grebes (and a few Western), then noticed a bunch of these giant mayflies, Hexagenia limbata. These were apparently the food that attracted a very active mixed flock of Black-capped Chickadees, Black-throated Gray Warblers, and Cedar Waxwings.
We had an afternoon and full day on the coast at Florence, where the famous Heceta Head lighthouse offers an iconic view.
After a morning full of Northern Pygmy-Owl, Red-necked Grebe, White-winged Scoter, and Marbled Murrelet, we made a quick stop at the US Forest Service wayside to view California Pitcher Plants, Darlingtonia californica.
We birded the north and south jetties of the Siuslaw River and took a walk on Siltcoos Beach. There we easily found a few Snowy Plovers, and then noticed a very large group of shorebirds a few hundred yards north. Here there were a few roosting gulls with a flock of what I estimated were 1800 Sanderlings, with a single Western Sandpiper. Fabrice got very close to them and obtained a very cool video.
We then made a very long drive to the east side of the Cascades via the Willamette Pass, with a long stop at Salt Creek Falls – very scenic but devoid of Black Swifts at this time of day, if not this time of year.
We made it to the Fremont-Winema National Forest south of Silver Lake, with a picnic lunch at Thompson Reservoir. This clown beetle in the subfamily Saprininae seemed to have a predilection for the almond butter. I’m still waiting to see if the experts at Bugguide will have a species name for it.
After lunch we stopped at the Fremont Point overlook on Winter Ridge. Smoke from several fires in SW Oregon and NW California obscured the view of the Summer Lake basin below.
This is where we had spectacular views of this responsive Canyon Wren.
The next day we birded the Summer Lake Wildlife Area, full of very cool birds such as early Greater White-fronted Goose and many shorebirds. This exposed volcanic tuff is up on Winter Ridge, visible from the refuge.
We had an amazing experience here with a family of Virginia Rails. One even came up on the wooden bridge just below the group, Fabrice getting amazing photos.
These are the closest Sandhill Cranes we saw on the entire tour.
On the drive onward to Hines we passed by Abert Lake which was nearly dry, quite a contrast from the past two years when tens of thousands of Wilson’s Phalaropes staged here. This time we saw only (“only”) a few hundred American Avocets.
We had three full days based out of Hines-Burns. We started at Malheur National Wildlife Headquarters where there were plenty of migrants, including our first vireos – Warbling and Cassin’s, as well as our first and only Yellow-breasted Chat and Willow Flycatcher. This Gadwall was close to the new observation blind dedicated to David Marshall.
Benson Pond, still full of water, was our next stop, and here we saw Trumpeter Swans and several more migrants such as MacGillivray’s Warbler. Farther along the Center Patrol Road we had close looks at Carolina Grasshopper, Dissosteira carolina, a very widespread species, easily recognized by this wing pattern.
We also saw Lorquin's Admiral, Limenitis lorquini, here.
Every day for 10 days we had a picnic lunch, which I tried to vary each day with tuna, salmon, and egg salad as well as Grammy Hoyer’s olive spread and guacamole. This is our lunch at Page Springs Campground. It was great to have everyone help out.
We completed the Malheur loop via the Diamond Craters (see my blog from this past June), finding this Red-shouldered Hawk (our fourth of the tour) near there.
Nearly devoid of birds, but still of interest was the Pete French Round Barn and the amazingly diverse gift shop there. This is where I tried to get pictures of the several insects visiting the rabbitbrush flowers; this fancy bee fly Thyridanthrax fenestratoides was one I managed here.
We had our only Ferruginous Hawks on the drive through New Princeton, Crane, and Lawen as we returned to Hines.
In addition to Marys Peak, Steens Mountain is one of my favorite places on Earth. We saw several new birds on our day here, including Green-tailed Towhee, Cassin’s Finch, and a very curious female Calliope Hummingbird on our way up, and then our fifth Red-shouldered Hawk at the very high elevation Lily Lake. We then made a first official stop at the heart-stopping view of Kiger Gorge. Two years ago, this is where we finally saw Black Rosy-Finch. This year we tried harder than ever, and we were among many who missed finding this bird anywhere on the mountain. We still enjoyed below-eye-level views of Golden Eagle and Prairie Falcon and migrant Red-breasted Nuthatches on the crags. This is where we also finally got very good views of Horned Larks.
One day we took a break from the stark beauty of the Great Basin and headed north to the incredibly diverse mixed forests of Malheur National Forest of Grant County. Our planned drive up to the lookout of Aldrich Mountain was prevented by the South Fork Complex fire, which had been going on for over a month; the fire was mostly out, but they were still using the road for shoring up the perimeter and putting out hot spots. So we tried other side roads, hoping in vain for Dusky Grouse. The diversity of conifers is nearly unparalleled in these forests: spruce, larch, pine, fir, douglas-fir, cedar, and juniper combine to create an absolutely stunning landscape.
If you find Ponderosa Pine mixed with Quaking Aspen, you should find Red-naped and Williamson’s Sapsucker, which we did.
There there’s Black-backed Woodpecker, most partial to Lodgepole Pine that has been burned recently.
At our picnic lunch near the two-year-old Parish Cabin burn we were visited by this longhorned beetle, the Spotted Pine Sawyer, Monochamus clamator. Its larvae and eggs are almost certainly what the Black-backed Woodpecker was after.
This is a great time of year to see bugs that like nectar of rabbitbrush. This is Western Banded Skipper, Hesperia colorado.
On the same bush were Woodland Skippers and this Sandhill Skipper, Polites sabuleti.
Our longest drive of the tour is the return to Portland, and I make it very scenic experience, but not without stops for nature. Along the scenic South Fork John Day drive north of Izee, we came across a group of Bighorn Sheep that had just taken a drink and were clambering back up to their cliffs.
We had our final picnic lunch near the Painted Hills of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.
On way north of Fossil we stopped for our final new species of the tour, a pair of Lewis’s Woodpecker. We then had dinner in view of Multnomah Falls, the tallest in North America.
One last view of the Columbia River from Crown Point.
Here’s a map of Oregon with our complete tour route.