Thursday, January 25, 2018

WINGS Birding Tour to Oregon for the Solar Eclipse

This past August I led a WINGS tour to view the 2017 solar eclipse in my home state in Oregon. My spring tour had canceled for the first time in many years, so I was glad to have a chance to bird in my home state this year after all.

I flew here directly from Ecuador and had one free morning, when I joined my friends Thomas Meinzen and Alan Contreras for birding at Fern Ridge Reservoir.

We had a good time, first finding a rarish Brewer’s Sparrow on the entrance road.

Even rarer was this very distant Snowy Plover that I spotted.

We got very intimate with a group of peeps that included this very confiding Semipalmated Sandpiper, also a rarity compared to the much more common Western and Least Sandpipers.

One of the things I miss most about Oregon this time of year are the abundant and delicious, even if introduced, blackberries. We all grew up calling them Himalayan Blackberries, but it’s been determined that the correct scientific name indicates a different origin, Rubus armeniacus.

Then my tour began, with three full days of birding before the main event. We drove to La Grande and spent the next morning on the ridge above Moss Springs Campground, leading to Mount Fanny, the westernmost point of the Wallowa Mountains. Highlights here were American Thee-toed Woodpecker and Northern Goshawk, as well as fabulous scenery, flowers, and butterflies.

I included a stop at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center near Baker City, and along the road near there we had great views of a Ferruginous Hawk.

We spent a couple hours in an area known for having the highest breeding density of Great Gray Owls in its entire holarctic range, and not too surprisingly we found one, thanks to some noisy Steller’s Jays that mobbed this bird for a while.

On the big day, we arrived early at my chosen spot for the solar eclipse, starting with a picnic breakfast and birding that included Northern Pygmy-Owl and White-headed Woodpecker down the road from Magone Lake. The forest service campground had been full for probably over a week, so people were camped on wide spots on all the roads nearby. But since the eclipse was visible from everywhere in the area, the day use area and boat ramp of the lake was surprisingly uncrowded. I chose this location because the line on the NASA maps showing the longest duration of totality crossed the middle of this small, natural lake.

We  finished the tour in Burns and the Malheur National Wildlife Area, birding and noting other wildlife. On our very quick catch of Common Poorwill, we came across this Western Rattlesnake in the road, Crotalus oreganus lutosus.

This Golden Eagle was one of the more memorable sightings from our long drives in the area.

The view from Steens Mountain was the worst I’ve ever experienced, with wildfire smoke from the Cascades having drifted precisely this direction. We were very lucky to have not had any smoke during the day of the eclipse.

Fortunately the smoke didn’t stop us from finding a small family group of Black Rosy-Finches, and small critters close up were easy to see, such as this tiger beetle Cicindela longilabris.

We had a long drive back to Portland, and then, as usual for my late summer tours, we offered an optional pelagic trip out of Newport. It was a successful trip, perhaps the large numbers of Cassin’s Auklets being the more unusual sighting. In this photo you can see Black-footed Albatross and Northern Fulmar.

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