Notes, birds, nature, meanderings.

Musings about birds, nature, and our meanderings on the Central Oregon Coast

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Birding 101 to 201 - Growing Pains

Two summers ago, my brother, a serious birder and outstanding nature photographer, visited from Tennessee and rekindled my interest in birds.

I've loved birds forever, since I was a kid and we carried a Golden bird book on every hiking and camping trip.

When I had my own home in the Willamette Valley, I had feeders and birdhouses and kept notes about who visited, and when - here's a 2001 list I put in eBird (x's are used where I didn't indicate a count).  I learned to recognize all of the frequent visitors, and bought more and more bird books to help me identify new arrivals and the occasional passer-by. 

Then life happened - I got a new job, remarried, moved to a different home...  Still loved birds and kept a few feeders, but not the lists and the notes.  It wasn't the same.

Anna's Hummingbird, 2007 Backyard

Then, four years ago, we found this wonderful home on the Oregon coast -- the only drawback, I thought, was the birds.  After all, the only birds on the coast are seagulls (as I told my husband).  A year later, not only did I know better, but my brother was in town and out looking at every different one he could see.

Yaquina Head

A month later, I got myself a camera and a couple new bird books (field guides), joined the Oregon Birders and the Yaquina Birders and Naturalists email listservs and went out to find some of them.  I studied the area around our city - looking for birding sites, nature trails and Open Spaces.  If you're familiar with my blog, you know about many of the areas (and birds) that I've found (see list at bottom of blog).

I enjoy learning about new birds, I enjoy the process of finding them - I even enjoy it when I don't find any at all.  But there are some days when I can't seem to "get" the whole identification thing.  Especially the nuances.  Gulls and shorebirds are especially tricky (it is reassuring to know that even experts find them tricky).  The truth is, I hate not knowing, and even more, I hate being wrong.  Reminds me of when I used to take piano lessons - I didn't want to practice, I just wanted to PLAY THE PIANO!

Selasphorus Hummingbird (Shore Acres)

So now, my "life list", which doesn't include the birds I saw as a young person, is over 200 bird species.  I am moving from Birding 101 to Birding 201.  It is exciting, challenging and painful.  I exalt over the discovery of a new bird - the joy of accidental discovery is exhilarating!  The embarrassment of getting an identification wrong, one I "should" know, is agonizingly painful. And discouraging.

So here I am - excited and discouraged.  I know what I had to do to get here.
  • What are the next steps?  
    • What did you do? 
      • What would you do next?  

Share your thoughts with me!  I'd love to know.

Counting Migrants, Tillamook County NAMC

This year we volunteered to help with the Tillamook County North American Migration Count.  In our few other NAMCs, we've stayed in our home county.  Coordinating our route with others who are regulars in Tillamook, we were able to see a few new places in addition to a number of our favorites.  Our route (see it on a google map) started at Hebo Lake, looped up to Tillamook Wetlands then back down the coast to end with dinner at the Pelican Pub.

There was no PYGMY OWL beside the road on our way up Mt Hebo Road, but Hebo Lake was alot more active than when I had scouted it a few days before. 

Pacific Wren

A juvenile PACIFIC WREN greeted us when we stepped onto the lake trail, not a very good picture, but he was so cute!

We saw three kinds of Jays - two STELLER'S, a single WESTERN SCRUB JAY (he was quite a surprise!), and two GRAY JAYS (the only shot I got that was even slightly in focus):
Gray Jay
One end of the lake is still covered in Water Lilies.  My hubby asked "What's that on the lily pad?"  By the time I looked he was flying across the lake, but landed on a stick in the water -

American Dipper (juv)

... another surprise, an AMERICAN DIPPER.  These guys are normally only seen by rapidly moving water!

Continuing around the lake, I was trying to pick out the various birds we were hearing when a sound suddenly came into focus.  "Do you hear that?" I asked my hubby.  "It's our owl!"  We both stopped to listen - sure enough, it was the single note call of the PYGMY OWL.  Our friend Linda had encouraged me to get familiar with the call, saying it's easy to learn and replicate.  That exercise enabled me to recognize him when we heard him - so thanks, Linda!

Our next stop was a clear-cut near the lake, where we saw our only PILEATED WOODPECKER.  Then we were off toward Tillamook - first stop, Hoquarten Slough, one of my favorite stops and it's right in town! I'm going to have to do a blog about this spot one of these days - a delightful little park, which I understand is being added to sometime in the near future.

Common Yellowthroat

It was not nearly as active as the day I scouted it, but we found 12 species, including a few COMMON YELLOWTHROATS, several CEDAR WAXWINGS and our only ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER of the day. 

Common Raven

On Goodspeed Road driving in to Tillamook Wetlands, a COMMON RAVEN was standing guard - he took off when we stopped to get a photo.

We had planned to only walk to the first pond, but we had skipped Munson Creek Falls and had some time so we walked further in - boy am I glad we did, the rest of the way was hopping with both residents and migrants - we netted 36 species at this one stop.  
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Marsh Wren

Greater Yellowlegs
Wilson's Snipe

I got my first (terrible) photos of a WILSON'S SNIPE - four of them flew into the mud and just vanished.  I was finally able to sort them out from the grass...  such interesting looking birds!

Having missed seeing a BLACK PHOEBE on our two previous stops, we made a quick tour of Fraser Road.  Still no luck, but we did see a group of TURKEY VULTURES circling above a hill.  Stopping to count them, we found four COMMON RAVENS with the 18 vultures.  Pretty impressive!
Turkey Vultures and Common Ravens
Our long, albeit fruitful, stop at the wetlands meant that we missed the optimal tide at Netarts Bay.  The bay was quiet - not sure we saw a single bird on it other than GULLS and CORMORANTS.  We stopped at Hamm Road (my favorite stop along the bay - you get the bay on one side, then walk across the road for a marsh with RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS and BARN SWALLOWS (sometimes others), along with a few fir trees for passerines and some scrub brush with sparrows.  One stop shop - but pretty quiet this day.

Driving south toward Cape Lookout, the fog slowly settled in around us - visibility at the Fish Hatchery was nil, and Cape Lookout wasn't much better.  We did manage to see some CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES and GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLETS along the parking lot.  But I was beginning to wish we had stayed in Tillamook!

Whalen Island was our last stop, and as we neared, the fog cleared and temperatures rose 11 degrees - it was warm, sunny and beautiful! 
Red-breasted Nuthatch

We walked the whole loop and encountered a nice mix of shorebirds and songbirds - 17 species.  Not a bad way to end the day!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Counting Migrants, Lincoln County NAMC

For the second year we participated in the Fall North American Migration Count (NAMC) for Lincoln County.  This year, my hubby and I covered a route on our own rather than with a team.  After talking to the county coordinator, we decided to try to repeat the route we covered for the Spring Lincoln County NAMC.

We varied our route slightly, stopping first at South 148th Street where a NORTHERN HARRIER was working marsh filled with RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS.
Northern Harrier

Common Yellowthroat

A juvenile male COMMON YELLOWTHROAT hopped out to see what was happening.

Next stop was a small beach a couple miles south of Seal Rock - last spring it was hopping, but this time there were several people walking dogs and few birds. 
First Year Western Gull

This juvenile WESTERN GULL made an interesting study on the rocks - not as much fun as a RUDDY TURNSTONE, but he'll do!

Finally we arrived at Eckman Lake east of Waldport,  last year's first stop.  
Green Heron

We spent over an hour checking out the wide variety (21 species) of birds, including three GREEN HERONS along the edges.

Heading back north, we made a couple of brief stops along Alsea Bay, then moved on to Driftwood Beach Wayside for another look at the ocean.  Here we saw our only CASPIAN TERNS, and a small flock of shorebirds - a mix of SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS and WESTERN SANDPIPERS.

Driftwood Creek Wayside

The Lost Creek stop was quiet, but as we were getting back in the car to move on, an OSPREY flew by, probably heading to the ocean waters to find some breakfast!  Our next planned stop was South Beach, but we decided to try Mike Miller County Park instead.

Juvenile Cooper's Hawk

We saw a nice variety (10 species) including the friendly HUTTON'S VIREO I already wrote about, and this juvenile COOPER'S HAWK.

Hooded Merganser

Before leaving Newport, we drove Big Creek Road, where we added 4 HOODED MERGANSER juveniles to our count.

We had planned our trip so we could enjoy the annual Depoe Bay SALMON BAKE.  Oh my, if you've never had fresh salmon prepared over an open fire, you really must come to Depoe Bay next fall!  Oh, and if it happens to be the same day as our county NAMC, let me know and you can count birds with us too!  But I digress...

After lunch, we hit three familiar additions to our route - three of my favorites!
Brown Creper

Cutler City Wetlands had a nice mix of small migrants, including BROWN CREEPERS, RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES and both BLACK-CAPPED and CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES.

Salishan Nature Trail gave us our waterfowl - every winter hundreds of waterfowl of all kinds reside in this area of the Siletz Bay.  Truly an amazing thing to see!

American Wigeon (and company)


Our last stop was Fogarty Creek Wayside, but it was one of those days -- there were far more people than birds enjoying this lovely area. 

Disappointed, we pulled out of the parking lot to head home, and had this surprise - right next to the park entrance.

At the end of the day, we had seen/tallied 54 species and walked more than 6 miles!  And to think, we still had one more day of counting to do (see my next blog for our first ever Tillamook County NAMC experience!)

Monday, September 17, 2012

Mike Miller County Park

We were ahead of schedule on our Lincoln County NAMC route, so decided to hike through Mike Miller County Park and see what we could see. At one point, while we were sorting through a small flock of migrants, this HUTTON'S VIREO decided he was very interested in my camera -- the more I snapped, the closer he came, until he was seated on a branch right in front and above me.  I just had to share him with you!

Now wasn't that fun!?!

Friday, September 14, 2012

When you stop looking

Early this year my cousin sent me an anonymous quote, in Spanish, that basically translates to "Sometimes things come when you stop looking".   I adopted it as my mantra, and have attached it to my signature line in my emails.  It reminds me of C. S. Lewis's "Surprised by Joy". 

Then yesterday I saw another similar quote that prompted this blog:
We're conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments.  But great moments often catch us unaware-beautifully wrapped in what others may consider a small one. -- Kent Nerburn
To say that it has applied fully to my birding experiences over the past year is an understatement.

Last winter there were Snowy Owls -- for the first time I was tempted to "chase" - that is, to get in the car and drive to wherever one had been spotted so I could see it for myself.  When we heard about one down near Florence, we did just that -- and "dipped" -- that is, no owl.
River Otters

But while we were looking, we saw movement along the Siltcoos River bank - a family of RIVER OTTERS were climbing up out of the water.  They rolled and played as we watched in awe. 

When we got home, I laughed at myself for succumbing to the temptation and decided to enjoy others' Snowy Owls vicariously.  Five days later, on a cold cold December day, I was walking the trail at Salishan and ran into a lady with a camera - we chatted for a bit, then she said, "I came to see if the Snowy Owl is still here".  My jaw dropped - apparently she had discovered it the previous day and came back to see it and get pictures.  "May I walk with you?"  She looked dubiously at my flip-flops and shrugged.

Snowy Owl, Siletz Bay

My first-ever live glimpse of a SNOWY OWL.  What a heart-stopping moment of joy!  How wonderful that she was willing to share her discovery with me!

Snowy Owl

She asked me not to share the location, and I didn't - but eventually word got out and many people came to see the gorgeous bird.  I went back a few times, both to get better photos and to just sit and enjoy watching him!

Walking back along the trail the same day, I startled a GREAT BLUE HERON - but rather than flying away, he circled and settled right above my head.
Great Blue Heron

Later that December, I was walking alone through another of my favorite locations, Clay Myers State Natural Area at Whalen Island - there's a point along the trail, about halfway, where there's a bit of a climb and I'm generally out of breath.  For some reason, I looked up:

Cooper's Hawk

A beautiful COOPER'S HAWK was having lunch on a branch above the trail.  It was the closest I'd been to a Cooper's Hawk since moving from my home in Keizer, Oregon, where they were regulars.

In the springtime, I had another "Surprised by Joy" day when I decided to photograph vacant nest holes in trees.  What a treat to have various homeowners not only home, but surprisingly conspicuous (see blog for the story).
Hairy Woodpecker

More recently, my Wandering Tattler experience was another great example - yes, I was out looking for it, but wow did it surprise me (you have to read the blog)!  I'm not going to recount my whole year -- these memories are just examples of many wonderful moments of living my mantra. 

I love being able to wander around the coast, discovering new spaces, revisiting old favorites - it is nearly an "embarrassment of riches" that God has given -- I am truly blessed.  Two days ago, I was driving slowly up a narrow, winding road toward Mount Hebo Lake, a new place that I've been wanting to try.  I noticed a small lump in a dead shrub -- a second glance told me it was an owl. An OWL?  It couldn't have been more than 6 inches tall.  Could it be a PYGMY OWL?  Do we have them here?

Northern Pygmy-owl (uncropped)
I snapped photos through my car window -- yes, I stopped in the road (the good news is that no one else was using it)!

So, it really is true -- "Sometimes things come when you stop looking" and even sometimes when you weren't looking at all!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Out-and-About: Lithia Springs Inn

Every now and then we head inland, this time it was for a trip to Ashland to see a play, visit family, and relax.  If you haven't been to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, you really need to try it! The trip was a surprise for me from my hubby, and the hotel he chose was a true gem.  Called Lithia Springs Resort, it sits on the north edge of Ashland just off the freeway.

We stayed two nights and could have stayed longer - the amenities were nice, great breakfast, relaxing mineral spa tub, tea and scones in the afternoon - but the thing I loved best (of course) were the birds.  Birds were everywhere, and of every kind imaginable.  We saw 25 species within yards of our cottage! 

It was no accident - the resort has laid out the grounds intentionally for optimal privacy, and mostly for optimal birds!  You enter the grounds through a grape arbor that circles an ugly, but popular fountain.
Seating in the grape arbor

Ugly Fountain
American Goldfinch

A variety of odd-looking AMERICAN GOLDFINCH were enjoying the fountain when we arrived.

Beyond the arbor, a number of cobble paths lead to the cottages and rooms, winding through fruit trees, berry shrubs, and flowers.  Comfortable chairs are scattered throughout, most arranged in sets of two.

Quiet seating
Trumpet Vine

Ripening Grapes

Star Thistle
This stream connected three Koi ponds, the largest of which was right in front of our cottage.
Koi Pond

There was plenty of seating, but my favorite spot was a bench on the edge of the pond.

We saw most of our birds while seated on this bench, sipping coffee or wine and enjoying the pleasant mornings and evenings. 

These bull frogs resided in the largest koi pond (did you notice them in the pond photo?).

At the back of the grounds is a large open meadow with a lovely gazebo.  This butterfly bush is planted nearby.
Black Phoebe

This BLACK PHOEBE was using one of the chairs as a vantage point for fly-catching.  There were also a pair of Black Phoebes using the roof of our cottage for the same purpose.

Yellow Warbler

The tree by our cottage, visible from my bench, was always full of birds - ORANGE-CROWNED and YELLOW WARBLERS, CASSIN'S VIREO, BUSHTITS and BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES. 

Acorn Woodpecker

The feeder outside our window was a popular spot for WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH, BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAKS, and ACORN WOODPECKERS (a first for me!).

White-breasted Nuthatch

Western Scrub Jay

SPOTTED TOWHEES and WESTERN SCRUB JAYS enjoyed picking up whatever fell below.

The TRUMPET VINES and other flowers, as well as the ugly fountain, were magnets for hummingbirds.  We saw BLACK-CHINNED, ANNA'S and RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRDS.  We saw most of them while walking back and forth for breakfast or tea, so I have only a couple of photos.

I love this series of an ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRD bathing. 
Anna's Hummingbird
Anna's Hummingbird


The staff at Lithia Springs Resort were considerate and helpful, and they kept the feeders full and the chair cushions clean.  The food was delicious and the facilities were comfortable, clean, and well-cared for.  It was a lovely, relaxing, wonderful experience.  You should try it!

I'll leave you with a few more of my favorite pix.
American Goldfinch

Bull Frog

American Goldfinch

Acorn Woodpecker 
American Goldfinch 
American Robin 
Anna's Hummingbird 
Black Phoebe 
Black-capped Chickadee 
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Black-headed Grosbeak 
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Cassin's Vireo 
California Towhee 
Downy Woodpecker 
House Finch
House Sparrow
Lesser Goldfinch
Northern Flicker 
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Orange-crowned Warbler 
Spotted Towhee 
Steller's Jay 
Western Scrub-Jay 
Western Tanager
White-breasted Nuthatch 
Yellow Warbler