Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Oregon birding Day VI: Saving the best for last!

To get the most out of my last day of birding before returning to Portland in time for the Evolution Meetings, I got up at the crack of dawn and headed to Robert W. Sawyer State Park located along the Deschutes River in Bend. I was hoping for Canyon Wren, Dipper, and Pygmy Nuthatch, but settled for the last one. In return, I added Anna's Hummingbird and Bushtit to the bird list.
Pygmy Nuthatch (above) and Bushtit (below):

The ever-present Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel (above) and California Quail (below):

The main objective for today was to explore the unique canyons at Smith Rock State Park a few miles north of Bend, near the town of Terrebonne. This park is renowned for its nesting Golden Eagles, White-throated Swifts, Canyon Wrens, and possibly Swainson's or Ferruginous Hawks (check out their website: http://www.oregonstateparks.org/park_51.php). Unfortunately, the eagles had already fledged but their massive twig nests were visible from far away.

At the trail head parking lot I was greeted by a family of Black-billed Magpies (above), and as I hiked down the canyon towards the Crooked River this gorgeous male Bullock's Oriole (below) kept showing himself off. He joined his mate in some willows growing along the river where I suspect they had a nest.

The air above the canyon was filled with White-throated Swifts (above) and Violet-green Swallows (below):

Along the steep cliffs and boulders lining the canyon, I saw and heard many Rock Wrens (above) and my lifer Canyon Wren. Unfortunately, I was so perplexed when the Canyon Wren popped up between the rocks in front of me that I lost the photo op before it disappeared.
On the flats along the river bends I came across a family of Lazuli Buntings (below):
Frequent scanning of rocks in the river finally yielded a pair of American Dippers:
During my six day trip I didn't come across any snakes, but this lizard was very common at Smith Rock. The males had a brilliant blue throat patch seen in this photo.

After an extremely productive morning I decided it was time to wrap up my birding adventure. I took the scenic route along hwy. 26 past Warm Springs and Mt. Hood and had the car dropped off at the Airport by early afternoon. That gave me a couple of hours to relax at my home for the next five nights, the hip Jupiter Hotel before walking over to the Oregon Convention Center to register for the Evolution Meetings. I could easily have spent six days at any one of the wonderful sites visited... The west always leaves me wanting more!!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Oregon Day V, Part II: Redmond and Bend scrubland birds

 From Sisters I cut across on route 126 towards Redmond to check out an promising area of pinyon and sage scrubland. Here, I found two pairs of Ash-throated Flycatchers (lifer), Pinyon Jay (another lifer!), a newly fledged Sage Sparrow (yet another lifer!), a male Common Nighthawk performing aerial display to a perched female, California Quail, a Prairie Falcon cruising by, and Western Meadowlark.

View from Barr Rd. towards Sisters (named after the three 10000+ feet mountain peaks seen in the background). A juvenile Sage Sparrow sat in one of those juniper bushes :o)
Male Common Nighthawk displaying to his mate resting on a tree snag below:
Ash-throated Flycatcher:

After this productive stop I headed back to route 126 and continued east of Redmond and spent the afternoon checking out some back roads leading me down to hwy 20 and eventually back to Bend. Some prime sage brush habitat along Powell Butte Hwy provided excellent birding and a bunch of new trip species such as Loggerhead Shrike, Sage Thrasher, Lark Sparrow, and Brewer's Sparrow.

Mountain Bluebird:
Lark Sparrow:
Sage Thrasher:

Nice end to my second-last day of birding before returning to Portland!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Oregon Day V: Sisters - Woodpecker Alley

With Bend as base camp for the last two days of my Oregon birding adventure, I was able to catch some extra shut-eye ('till 5:45 AM!) on the morning of Thursday June 24. The target for today was the forest hills to the west of the town of Sisters, famous for harboring one of the greatest density and variety of woodpeckers in North America. I spent all morning hiking through recent forest burns and manzanita scrubs, and found many new species for the trip including my lifer White-headed Woodpecker (5 individuals seen!). I also got much better looks at a fly-by Lewis's Woodpecker, Western Bluebird, Olive-sided, Dusky and Hammond's Flycatchers, MacGillivray's and Nashville Warbler, and to much surprise a singing adult male American Redstart! This bird is very uncommon on the west coast and according to my field guide its range is limited to the extreme NE corner of Oregon.
 Male Black-backed Woodpecker (above) and Hairy Woodpecker (below):
 Male White-headed Woodpecker at Cold Springs Campgrounds:

Fresh burn near Trout Creek Swamp (above) and Dusky Flycatcher (below):

A male House Wren (above) in dispute over a nest cavity with a pair of Western Bluebirds (below):
While I was photographing the wren and bluebird, this female Rufous Hummingbird landed right in front of me:
A pair of Red-tailed Hawks must have had a nest or fledglings nearby because they were very unhappy with my presence:

Two of 11 wood-warblers seen during my trip: MacGillivray's Warbler (above) and Nashville Warbler (below):
After six hours of bush whacking and a severe sunburn I gave up on finding the two remaining woodpeckers on my wish list; Williamson's Sapsucker and Am. Tree-toed Woodpecker. Yet, I was more than pleased with the catch and headed down to Sisters for a tasty chicken burrito for lunch. After a refreshing break I headed towards Redmond north of Bend to explore a very  different kind of habitat: the dry pinyon and sage scrublands and its inhabitants.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Oregon Day IV: Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge

With my Crater Lake exploration cut short I was a bit ahead of schedule on June 23rd. I had initially planned an evening visit to Klamath Marsh to listen for my lifer Yellow Rail, but at this pace I would get there early afternoon. According to my birding guide this expansive marshland hosts over 100 territorial Yellow Rails, in addition to an impressive list of other wetland birds. I therefore took my time and made multiple stops along the way. The landscape is very different on the eastern slope of the Cascades, and is dominated by deep river gorges, Ponderosa pine forest with Sage brush understory and open ranch land. Choosing a 20 mile detour on gravel roads instead of following Route 97 all the way to Klamath Marsh was a decision I will never regret. I got great views of Mountain Bluebirds, Townsend's Solitaires, Black-backed Woodpeckers, Green-tailed Towhees, one of the western sub-species of White-breasted Nuthatches, American Magpies, and a very photogenic Western Wood-pewee.
Green-tailed Towhee (above) and Western Wood-pewee (below):
"Slender-billed" White-breasted nuthatch:
 Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge:
 The dusty gravel road intersected Silver Lake Rd. just east of Klamath Marsh. Silver Lake Rd. cuts straight across the vast marshland, with water channels on both sides. Thankfully, I had the road pretty much to myself so I could zig-zag back and forth between lanes and use the car as camouflage (again - a white car is not optimal for birding trips although covered in red dust at this point!....).
Flocks of Black Terns were foraging over the marsh and often made passes along the roadside canals. I hunkered down beside the road shoulder to get them in silhouette and nailed a few birds at close range. From the reeds sounded a chorus of Soras, Virginia Rails, Pied-billed Grebes, Marsh Wrens, Red-winged Blackbirds and Yellow-headed Blackbirds. The open water in the canals held Wood Ducks, Cinnemon Teals, Gadwalls, American Coots, and Great Blue Herons.
 Black Tern (above) and Yellow-headed Blackbird (below):
Female Gadwall:
A male Ring-necked Duck (look closely and you can actually see the purple ring on it's neck!):
Even after spending a couple of hours crossing the marsh the clock was still only 5 PM with many hours until darkness. After conferring with maps and birding guides I decided I was better off heading N towards Bend and put my faith in another Yellow Rail location at Big Marsh along hwy 58 west of Crescent. Leaving Klamath Marsh I passed some Bison and cattle pastures that had a pair of Sandhill Cranes with young, an unexpected Long-billed Curlew guarding its territory, Horned Larks and Western Meadowlarks.

I arrived at Big Marsh around 7 PM and had to wait another couple of hours until darkness, so I put on my wellies and walked the edge of the marsh. As I was leaving the car, a cow Elk walked right past me heading out into the marsh to graze.
 I ended up standing out in the marsh almost until it got dark, and what an incredible experience it was under the full moon lit sky: three American Bitterns booming back and forth, serenating Soras, Virginia Rails, Savannah Sparrows and Yellow-headed Blackbirds. And then suddenly out of nowhere; a YELLOW RAIL flushed right next to me and dropped down twenty feet away!! I never saw or heard it again. On my way out several Common Nighthawks started displaying over the woods, but despite several stops I didn't hear any owls.
 I barely made it to Bend by 11 PM and checked into a Super8 hotel for the next two nights.
What a looooong day!!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Oregon Day IV: The Majestic Crater Lake

After a three day long journey along the coast I finally reached the ultimate destination of my trip, Crater Lake National Park. This park represents a world of contrasts: The enormous volcanic crater is filled with one of the clearest and deepest lakes in the world and the jagged rim lies at about 8000 feet (2100 meters!) above sea level. The park receives an average of 44 feet (or 14.5 meters) of snow annually and the snow often lasts long into the summer months (no kidding!). They have constructed a 31.5 mile long two-lane road all around the rim of the crater, but unfortunately this spring had been record cold so half the rim loop was closed off due to snow.
I entered the park through the northern entrance from Diamond Lake and passed through the Pumice Desert, a vast area covered in toxic volcanic debris from ancient eruptions that has prevented the vegetation from reclaiming the land.
Along the edges of the desert I spotted Gray Flycatcher, Cassin's Finches, Pine Siskins, Chipping Sparrows, and Red Crossbills. (PS. I do not recommend renting a white car when birding central Oregon.....)
As I climbed higher towards the crater rim it became apparent that I would not be doing much hiking in this park.....

And there it was! What a view!
 Look at that reflection!
 The belly of the beast on Wizard Island:
The bird that I had the greatest hopes of seeing up here was the Gray-crowned Rosy-finch. However, I never expected it to be the first bird seen when pulling up alongside the rim!!
This little guy, a Golden-mantled Ground-squirrel, ran up and down the steep edge of the rim looking for treats every time a car swung by.
Another common sight at rest stops along the rim were small groups of Cassin's Finch:

The air space over the crater was patrolled by Turkey Vultures (below) and Bald Eagles:

I totally fell in love with this guy. He was just sitting in a tree next to the road waiting for someone to feed him, and did not hesitate accepting bread crumbs from my hand:

Had I known that the eastern half of the rim road was closed off at the southern access road I would have spent more time at the northern and western end of the crater, but since I would have to go all the way back the same way and the roads were getting crowded with tourists from all around the world I decided to just keep going to my next destination. The deep snow cover had kept a lot of the normal residents away from the higher altitude areas, so I figured I had seen most of the species possible to see in the Park.

Next stop Klamath Marsh!