Thursday, May 27, 2010

Oregon in Spring WINGS Tour: 375 Miles of Unending Scenery

Here are some photos from the last day of the tour, as we drove from Burns to Portland via some of the most scenic forests and landscapes in the state.

Mountain Bluebird has been a common sight while birding east of the Cascades.

We stopped at this wet meadow in the Ochoco Mountains for Lincoln's Sparrow and ended up with a huge group of birds riled up at my imitation of Northern Pygmy-Owl.

This appears to be a Red-naped x Red-breasted Sapsucker hybrid. These birds are common in the central and southern Cascades, where the ranges of the two species overlap, but here we are at least 120 miles east of where Red-breasted Sapsucker should occur.

 Several Red Crossbills came in, and these are probably Type 2 birds.

 A stop to troll for Veery (which probably occurs here in very small numbers) resulted in this stunning male Calliope Hummingbird.

On our short detour up Aldrich Mountain were some nice wildflowers. 

Dwarf Purple Monkeyflower, Mimulus nanus

 Allium species

 Yellow Fritillary, Fritillaria pudica

 Lunch was at the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.

A Say's Phoebe nest with three nestlings was in the rafters of the log shack behind the historic John Cant ranch house.

The layers of eroding soil are one of the scenic attractions of this area, which has one of the most complete and longest continuous fossil records anywhere. The fossils found here are from 5 to 45 million years old and contain many plants and mammals (but no dinosaurs – they were already long extinct by the time this part of the earth's crust became land).

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Wilson's Snipe Chorus

While waiting for a Great Gray Owl to appear at a mountain meadow north of Burns (fruitlessly, it turned out), we enjoyed the sounds of the Wilson's Snipes winnowing overhead. Here's a short cut of four or five of them, tirelessly flying over the meadow.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Forests North of Burns

We drove through some of the most scenic coniferous forests in the world today. Several species of pine, fir, spruce, larch, and Douglas-fir give the forests here an interesting shape. And great bird diversity. Today we had trees with three species of nuthatches and overall we saw or heard 9 species of woodpeckers. We also saw "Canada" Gray Jay, "Slate-colored" Fox Sparrow, and Clark's Nutcracker, all new to our list, now about 250 species and forms. There aren't many left for us to look for now.

Here are some habitat shots from the day, from the area of Malheur National Forest north of Burns.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Oregon in Spring WINGS Tour: Catlow and Alvord Basins

With temps starting at freezing this moning, we got a slightly later start than usual and began a few blocks from our hotel, where the yard of Larry Hammond must be the #1 feeding station in Harney County. There were dozens of Western Tanagers and Bullock's Orioles fighting for a place among the fresh fruit. These two Western Tanagers were soaking up the morning sun on the lawn. I glimpsed the Baltimore Oriole that Larry found yesterday, but it flew before anyone else got on it.
(Addendum: all present got to see it on our second attempt in the afternoon.)

This is the where we took shelter for lunch yesterday – along with a half dozen other birders and about 20 motorcross riders. Today we just stopped briefly on our way past to check for migrants. Nothing unusual here, other than a sighting of Eugene birders Kitt Larsen, Larry McQueen, and a friend of theirs.

We rose into the higher elevation Catlow Valley were it must have snowed much more than in the Blitzen Valley. Vesper Sparrows were all over the highway shoulders, making it nearly impossible to keep from hitting them. Cars blasting through at the usual 70 mph must have killed many.

This is the usual stop below the Catlow Rim north of Roaring Springs Ranch where we had Yellow-breasted Chats – unusually beautiful with a snowy background.

Sage Sparrow was one of our targets today.

As was Burrowing Owl – our 10th owl of the tour. The only other possible owl on the route would be Great Gray. Maybe tomorrow?

At the Fields Oasis were rather few birds. This Wilson's Warbler was probably trying to conserve energy after struggling to find food the past few very cold days.

Great Horned Owl is an annual breeder here.

I dove suddenly to catch this Common Racer, which was warm to the touch after sunning down in the windless grass. But I forgot that I had been carefully cradling upright one of the Fields Station's famous milkshakes in my vest pocket. It made more of a mess all over my vest and pants than the snake's musk.

Alvord Hotsprings over a mile below the 9722-feet peak of Steens Mountain.

We stopped to stretch, get some fresh air, and look at the many wildflowers at the northern pass of the Alvord Basin.

Prickly-leaved Phlox, Phlox aculeata

Sheathing Lomatium, Lomatium vaginatum

Stiff Vetchling, Lathyrus rigidus

Toothed Balsamroot, Balsamorhiza serrata

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Oregon in Spring WINGS Tour: Cold Fronts Blast the Northwest

Brrrr. I guess this is all good preparation for my upcoming trip to Gambell, Alaska, but everyone else was at least hoping for much warmer weather.

The day before yesterday, we greeted dawn at Marys Peak west of Corvallis, when all was still nice. Mount Jefferson can be seen in the distance here.

But showers, followed by cooler air arrived by late morning, and this will likely go down as the coldest Oregon in Spring tour ever.

It's never too cold for Rough-skinned Newt in the Northwest.

We dressed up well for our walk into the restored native prairie at Finley NWR, where we saw Savannah Sparrows (but no Grasshopper) and lots of great wildflowers.

This Lazuli Bunting with a Savannah Sparrow was also nice.

We then worked our way eastward over the Cascade Mountains. We stopped a couple times to look for Harlequin Duck here, but since we had seen them on the coast didn't spend too much time here.

By the time we had arrived at Lost Lake to look for Barrow's Goldeneyes, the snow level had already dropped to the elevation of the passes.

But we dropped out of the higher elevations to look for woodpeckers in some areas west of Sisters, such as the GW Burn.

This is where we found our only Black-backed Woodpecker.

Yesterday, on the way from Bend to Burns, we stopped by the Harmon Road fields just a mile off the highway and were treated to 12 Ferruginous Hawks, 2 Swainson's Hawks, a Golden Eagle, a Bald Eagle, a Prairie Falcon, and some lovely Lark Sparrows in the course of a few minutes.

Last night the really cold air hit, and we were met by near blizzard conditions at times. This is very unusual weather for late May.

A Long-billed Curlew in the Silvies River hay fields probably had no trouble finding food.

But Gray Flycatchers were absolutely everywhere, and I suspect many insectivores, such as these, warblers, and swallows perished in this cold.

We saw many migrants of all kinds throughout Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, and it was a treat to see Lewis's Woodpeckers so well.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Oregon in Spring WINGS Tour: A Blustery but Birdy Day on the Central Coast

We spent a bit of time checking the habitats at the Salmon River at Cascade Head.

Say "Tillamook!" Naomi and Joan.

Black Oystercatcher at Boiler Bay

Glaucous Gull is a rare bird in winter, and a very rare bird this late in the spring. This one was first reported by Darrel Faxon at the mouth of D River in Lincoln City. The smaller gull is a California Gull.

What's all the salt and pepper on this rock at Yaquina Head?

It's hundreds of Common Murres and several pair of breeding Brandt's Cormorants and their guano.

The historic and picturesque Yaquina Bay Bridge

A pair of Red-breasted Mergansers seen from the South Jetty of the Yaquina River

Oregonians are lucky to have countless access points to the public beaches and headlands. We made a quick stop here and had our only Wandering Tattler.

View N from Devils Punchbowl. Nearly every stop has a stunning view.

The American Crows here are noticeably smaller and higher-voiced than inland birds. If they aren't Northwestern Crows, what are they? Yachats Crow was a nickname devised by Oregon's more clever birders to indicate these beachcombing dwarfs.

The Yachats Waterfront, pronounced YA-hots. Here we saw hundreds of Surf Scoters, two White-winged Scoters, three pair of Marbled Murrelets, and a Red-necked Grebe.