Sunday, April 27, 2014

Wasco County Birding

Yesterday, Saturday April 26th, I was lucky enough to be invited to do some county birding by locals Stefan Schlick and Justin Rodecap.  Stefan lead the Sooty Grouse trip that I went on a few weeks ago and is an amazing birder and well of knowledge. Justin was a Wasco County regular who lived out in The Dalles.

I was also trying out a new camera.  Since all of my gear was stolen 2 weeks ago (here come the tears again) I was really suffering from photography withdrawals.  Heavy thinking led me to consider replacing my Canon 7D and lenses with a superzoom point and shoot, aka bridge camera.  I narrowed down my choices to the Canon SX50 HS and a Panasonic Lumix FZ70.  Both had zooms out to 1200mm (35mm equivalent). The Canon started at 24mm and the Panasonic started at 20mm. The local Target had them both side-by-side so I was able to play around with them for a bit. I ended up taking the Panasonic home because I liked how it felt in my hands, the buttons made a bit more sense to me, and it was $100 cheaper than the Canon.  But after using it for a weekend, I may try the Canon out.  Another plus for this camera system is the size, it would be nice to not have to lug a DSLR system around Europe, plus I'm really paranoid of being robbed again.  But I digress, let's get back to the birds.

Our target birds were Sagebrush Sparrows, White-Headed Woodpecker and Resident Sandhill Cranes, all found in Wasco County.  This would also be my introduction to "County Birding" aka, what birders do when their life-lists get really, really long. Apparently it's a popular thing here on the West Coast.  Getting 100 or more birds in each county in each state.  Some fabled birders have managed to get 300 in each county in Oregon.  I'm still working on my ABA list, but it's nice to know that I'll have a head start on my Oregon County lists with 72 species seen during the day.

Wasco County is East of Portland and on the other side of Mount Hood.

Mt. Hood from the East
Mt Hood from Wasco County OR
Our first stop was some grassland mixed with sagebrush for Sagebrush Sparrows.  We managed to see and hear lots of Vesper Sparrows, but no Sagebrush Sparrows. But a pleasant surprise were 3 or 4 Sage Trashers who were out calling from various parts of the prairie.

Sage Thrasher
Sage Thrasher - Wasco County Oregon
This was a county bird for my companions, and a state bird for me.
But let me show you what I do like about the Panasonic Camera.  The above photo is zoomed in and uncropped to 1200mm. Standing in the same spot, this is the same scene at 20mm.

Sage Thrasher, 20mm
Same shot as above at 20mm
The Sage Thrasher had flown when I took this, but it was sitting on that box structure on the right of the image.  Very impressive if you ask me.
We also saw a few Mountain Bluebirds flying around.

Mountain Bluebird
Mountain Bluebird - Wasco County Oregon
But we never did see or hear any Sagebrush Sparrows.  But we did see a badger along the road, it was so awesome.  We stopped the car to watch it, but it had turned tail and was running away from us through the fields.  What a great animal to see in the wild, even the locals were excited.

Our next target was up in the mountains, White-Headed Woodpeckers.  But there was a chance to maybe see some Long-Billed Curlews along the way, which would be lifers for me.  But alas, they weren't around. But we did get to see a picturesque farm.
Mustard Farm
Curlew Spot - Wasco County Oregon
We made our way up into the mountains of the Mount Hood National Forest and the White River Wilderness Area.  We were following up reports of White-Headed Woodpecker sightings from 6 years ago, but were hoping that they were still around. Despite seeing lots of good signs of woodpecker activity, we didn't see any.  But we did spot a Sapsucker way up in a tree.

Williamson's Sapsucker
Williamson's Sapsucker - Wasco County Oregon
It was a male Williamson's Sapsucker, and a lifer for me! This also closed out the sapsucker family for me, I have seen all 4 species found in the US. 
Once again I'll show you the zoom range of the FZ70.  The above photo is at 1200mm equivalent, and this one is zoomed all the way out at 20mm.  The orange box is roughly the area where the Sapsucker is.

Williamson's Sapsucker zoomed out
Sapsucker zoomed out to 20mm
Again, neither photo is amazing, but these were both hand-shot with the same camera and lens and it was $300.
There were lots of birds in this remote area.  We watched a Red-Breasted Nuthatch working on it's nest.

Red-Breasted Nuthatch
Red-Breasted Nuthatch - Wasco County Oregon
This Black-Throated Grey Warbler was hopping around with some Yellow-Rumped Warblers and Chickadees.

Black-Throated Grey Warbler
Black-Throated Gray Warbler - Wasco County Oregon
This warbler shot shows what the camera can do in good light and not at max zoom.   We had plenty of Chickadees around, this Chestnut-Backed Chickadee was curious as to who it was walking around the woods.

Chestnut-Backed Chickadee
Chestnut-Backed Chickadee - Wasco County Oregon
Unfortunately, this is the typical quality of photos from the camera.  But there is still a learning curve that I need to overcome.
While we were getting ready to leave without seeing any White-Headed Woodpeckers we had a bit of a lunch.  And low and behold, a small flock of moochers heard or smelled the food and decided to come see what we had to eat.
Gray Jay
Gray Jay - Wasco County Oregon
Another okay shot, but also with really good conditions.  But since we weren't sharing, the Jays quickly left the area, and we were moving on too.  But as we were getting into the car we heard some drumming!  We all looked at one another and took off through some really dense brush towards the sound.  We finally got to the area where we heard it from and saw a woodpecker... a Hairy Woodpecker though.  Still a nice bird to see, but no White-Headed, that's for sure.  So it was back through the brush and then down off of the mountain.
As we were driving along one of the forest roads we saw a single shorebird near a pond.  We stopped the car and stealthily made our way back to take a look.  It was quickly ID'd as a Solitary Sandpiper, lifer for me and county birds for Stefan and Justin. 

Solitairy Sandpiper
Solitary Sandpiper - Wasco County Oregon

Solitairy Sandpiper
Solitary Sandpiper - Wasco County Oregon
We would also see some more Kinglets, Yellow-Rump Warblers and we heard a calling Hammond's Flycatcher.  There were also some non-birds around the pond.

Garter Snake
Garter Snake - Wasco County Oregon
Frog - Wasco County Oregon
Further on down the road we came to a canyon which the road was most of the way up the northern rim of.  Below us was some wetlands, fields and some trees.  The far rim showed some grass, more large trees and a bare, vertical cliff face broken here and there with more trees. We stopped because a nice sized bird flew across the road in front of us into some trees.  We stopped and got out to see an Acorn Woodpecker inspecting a nest cavity.

Acorn Woodpecker house shopping
Acorn Woodpecker - Wasco County Oregon
We saw a second one nearby and later on watched a Lewis' Woodpecker fly in to inspect the same hole.  On the other side of the road we looked down on some more Ruby-Crowned Kinglets and even some Nashville Warblers flying through the top canopy, which was just below us.
Stefan said that he heard some Mountain Quail calling from across the canyon, a bird which I would really like to see before I leave.  As I was scanning the far side of the canyon I noticed a dark bird soaring along the canyon's far wall.  I initially thought Turkey Vulture, but then the bird turned and I glimpsed a white tail.  That's when I said "Bald Eagle!" and everyone turned to look.  It had a dark head and we thought that it was an Immature Bald.  But then Stefan got his scope on it and upon further inspection we decided that it was a Golden Eagle! The white on the tail was more of a band which had a dark edge border which I couldn't make out through binoculars. What a treat, I love those eagles much more than their more famous cousins. 

Everywhere around us were flowers in bloom. I was looking at some Balsam Root along the road when I noticed a well camouflaged spider lurking in wait.
Crab Spider on Balsam
Crab Spider on flower - Wasco County Oregon
We finally made our way out of the mountains and parted ways with Justin.  Stefan knew of a small breeding colony of Tricolored Blackbirds nearby.  I was really excited to finally see one, but wasn't getting my hopes up after not seeing White-Headed Woodpeckers earlier.  
We made our way East toward Pine Grove and found the farm. Sure enough there were 2 Tricolored Blackbirds on the ground near some horses, but they flew off before I could get any photos.  Stefan mentioned earlier that the epaulets on the Tricoloreds would be very clean white with no hints of yellow. And when I saw them, I saw that he spoke the truth, so clean.
Stefan wanted me to see the very small wetlands nearby where they nested.  The stand of cattails were very small and a bit off of the road in farmland.  There were Red-Winged Blackbirds and Brewer's Blackbirds around too. We observed some birds through the scope and Stefan taught me a useful field-mark.  Red-Winged Blackbirds tended to sit really high on reeds and cattails while Tricolored Blackbirds tended to sit lower down in the reeds.
We also saw some birds up ahead sitting on fences and criss crossing the road.  Here's one of the Tricoloreds sitting on a fence.

Tricolored Blackbird
Tricolored Blackbird - Wasco County Oregon
And one more series of shots showing the zoom range on the FZ70.  Here is the road and the Blackbirds are far down sitting on the fence.

Blackbirds on a wire zoomed out
FZ70 at 20mm, orange square is the photo below
Blackbirds on a wire
Zoomed in shot from above, FZ70 at 1200mm
I understand that National Geographic won't be sending me any requests for photos any time soon.  But balance these photos against the fact that the camera is $300 and no lenses need to be changed out, and that most of the birds can be identified, it's almost a good trade-off.  I still need to figure out the focusing.  I can't seem to be able to switch zoom points and manual zoom is really awkward when you are using the viewfinder.
After we were done seeing the Blackbirds, we stopped by a nearby yard that had plenty of feeders out.  We watched Chickadees, Warblers, Sparrows, including a late Golden-Crowned, some Brown-Headed Cowbirds and a few hummingbirds fighting over a feeder.  This male Rufous Hummingbird really stole the show though.

Rufous Hummingbird
Rufous Hummingbird - Wasco County Oregon
As late as it was, we weren't done yet.  Stefan wanted to try and get Sandhill Cranes that breed in the county.  They were said to be at the Camas Prairie in Mt Hood National Forest in the Western part of the county.  We stopped by about 90 minutes before dark.  I was worried about rain, so I left the camera in the car.  We started out walking along a trail but were only able to get brief glimpses of the open spaces.  We hard some geese and again saw some Yellow-Rumped Warblers, dozens and dozens of American Robins and the usual Chickadees.  We were also hoping to see Black-Backed Woodpeckers, but dipped on those too.  The closest we came was seeing a sole Northern Flicker and hearing a Pileated Woodpecker off in the distance.  But there were signs of Black-Backed Woodpeckers everywhere, large areas of bark scraped off of trees.  Plus lots of fallen trees which they and American Three-Toed Woodpeckers like to be near.  We also spotted lots of large nesting holes and some looked new.  

We made our way through very marshy areas and then through thick areas of fallen logs trying to get a better view of the prairie to no avail.  We followed an Elk trail for a few hundred yards too, but we never did find a better viewpoint. But, just before we turned around to head back to the car, we heard Sandhill Cranes. Anyone who have heard their calls will immediately identify them, and it was nice to hear them again.  I really regret now staying in Oregon long enough to try and see some new chicks.  But my time here is running out.
We're here for just 2 more weekends, which will be busy. If I'm lucky I'm going to make it out to the coast to see some Puffins, but I fear that my window to find Mountain Quail and Goshawks is over.  Soon I'll be out looking at Chaffinches, Corn Crakes and European Starlings, I mean Starlings.

As far as cameras go, I really don't know what to do.  Part of me wants to try the Canon out alongside the Lumix.  Of course I want another DSLR and another white lens or 2.  But I'm still thinking that waiting is best.  

Thanks for making it far,


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Swiper, no Swiping!

This is my second attempt of saying that I recently had all of my photography gear stolen from my parked and locked van.  My kids and I were at Washington Park here in Portland enjoying a beautiful Friday afternoon, along with lots of other people.  But yada, yada, yada I'm currently camera-less. The van had a broken window and some other damage which has already been fixed.  But I'm still waiting to hear from our renters insurance about the theft claims.  My Canon 7D, 100-400L and 24-105L were all taken along with my Lowepro backpack and some other odds and ends which were inside.  All told about $5,000 worth of stuff. And that isn't counting the few gigs of photos on my CF cards which never made it onto my camera yet.

I'm currently in the market for a new camera. I'm thinking of just getting a bridge camera, super-zoom point and shoot, for the time that we'll be in Europe.  Being honest with myself, that will serve me for the type of photography that I do, which is blurry bird photos for this blog. I'm pretty set on picking up a Panasonic Lumix FZ70 any day now.  And maybe I won't return it for the Canon equivalent a few days after that.

Until then, I'm not sure what else I can do with this blog. We're less than a month away from landing in Ireland.  We have a house, car and flights all sorted out. There's some spring warblers that I want to see before I leave. And I also had the chance to see 2 Sooty Grouse and a Northern Pygmy Owl last weekend, but no camera to get photos.

Until next time,


Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Crossley ID Guide: Britain and Ireland

I was fortunate to receive a copy of the new Crossley ID Guide: Britain and Ireland from it's publisher, Princeton Press.

I feel that I'm in a unique position to give this guide a proper review since I'll be moving to Ireland in less than 2 months from now.  So consider this a preliminary review and I'll follow it up once I really put it to use across the pond. 

My immediate impression was it's size.  If you are familiar with David Crossley's previous 2 ID guides, Eastern (US) Birds and Raptors you will know that they are large tomes. Both are 7.5x10 inches,with Eastern Birds being much thicker.  But the Britain & Ireland guide is smaller, only 6x9 inches.  But feels much more compact and portable.  This is still not a book to be casually placed in a pocket when heading out into the field, but it would more easily fit into a bag.  From what I can tell, the descriptions of the individual birds are not located at the bottom of each page, there's no wall of text in the back of this guide like the Raptor guide, the only other one that I own (I've been waiting for the Western version of NA to be released since I first saw test plates of the first book).  Unfortunately too, my copy of the Crossley ID Guide: Raptors is one of the many books that are currently sitting in a warehouse in New Mexico somewhere.
I really like it, I even had a chance to use it too.  There was a Tufted Duck in Portland last month and I went down to try and see it.  Unfortunately I only saw a thousand or so Greater and Lesser Scaup.  But I knew the proper field mark, dark back, because I had the ID Guide with me.  I really can't wait to use it in Ireland, which is less than 2 months from now.  I plan on writing a follow-up post about how well I pick up on their birds.  I already know that their short-hand codes don't make sense to me. And I'll learn to call Chickadees Tits and Loons Divers to fit in.

So far I can't recommend the guide enough for anyone hoping to go to the UK and/or Ireland from the US.  I agree with another review that I read which said that the North American names of birds found in both hemispheres should have been included, and I plan on doing that myself with post-it notes at some point.  But I guess that I'll just have to get used to Loons being called Divers, Chickadees becoming tits and not looking at Starlings and House Sparrows with scorn. 

I had also taken some photos of the book, but my camera and lenses were recently stolen, which I'll come back to.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Oregon Coast part 2

I started describing my trip to Newport Oregon in this post here.  I made it through the first day's photos and decided that it was long enough.  I woke up early on Sunday, found a place with sourdough pancakes and went back to the beach.  I wanted to visit Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural area, but wanted to head up the coast a bit more to try and see Wrentits and maybe a King Eider which had been spending the winter in the area. I found the place easy enough and there were plenty of birds in the water.  And the view of the Yaquina head lighthouse was pretty amazing.

Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area
Yaquina Head Lighthouse - Newport OR
The light wasn't the best for me to pick out a scoter a "bit warmer than the other females there" and ID the Eider, but I got to watch some good fishing going on none-the-less. 

Surf Scoters
Scoters fishing - Newport OR
I saw lots of Surf Scoters and Black Scoters too.

Black Scoters
Black Scoters (top) and Surf Scoter (bottom) - Newport OR
I never did see the Eider or the Wrentits which were supposed to be nesting near the parking area.  But I did add one lifer there, some Black Oystercatchers were flying around and standing on the rocks as the surf was coming in.

Black Oystercatcher
Black Oystercatcher - Newport OR

Black Oystercatchers
Black Oystercatchers - Newport OR
I also managed to see a Bald Eagle cruising down the beach.
Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle - Newport OR
After an hour or so I decided to head down to Yaquina Head Outstanding Area and the Lighthouse there.  I saw huge flocks of birds from the Eider spot and wanted to get a closer look.  They ended up being Common Murre by the hundreds.  I thought that they looked like flying penguins, it was amazing to see so many medium size birds flying around in flocks.
Common Murre
Common Murre - Yaquina Head OR
There were also lots of Cormorants flying around.  We watched Pelagic Cormorants flying to the rocks with nesting material and some Brandt's Cormorants were also nesting nearby.
Pelagic Cormorant
Pelagic Cormorant - Yaquina Head OR
I also saw some Pigeon Guillemots floating down below the cliffs.
Pigeon Guilletmots
Pigeon Guillemots - Yaquina Head OR
     There were a few people out standing around the base of the Lighthouse looking for migrating Grey Whales.  I missed the first one that the other's saw, but then there it was, some spray from a passing whale breathing!

Grey Whale
Grey Whale Breath - Yaquina Head OR
     Not much to see, but another first for me.  I was hoping to see one breach, but it wouldn't be that day.  Seeing the whale I decided to move on and drove down to the visitor's center of the natural area. I saw some guys with cameras and binoculars all standing together and all looking at the same spot on the cliffs above the parking area, typical signs of the North American Birder, a very common species found in varied habitats throughout the world.  Almost as prevalent as House Sparrows.
Turns out they were watching a Peregrine Falcon resting near her scrape. 

Peregrine Falcon
Peregrine Falcon - Yaquina Head OR
     The locals filled me in the details.  The female was very randy and ready to start the season's family, but the male would seem to not be too interested.  They were on the lookout for copulation displays, as infrequent as they appeared to be.  We stood there and watched a Northern Harrier fly right over her and she didn't do anything.  The Falcon that I'm familiar with in Pittsburgh would have been escorting any raptors out of the area post-haste, so this was odd behavior to me.
     Another thing that the locals mentioned were that Wrentits were common down in town by the South Jetty, where I had been the night before.  They gave me directions and told me that they could be pshht out if I worked hard enough at it. These little birds are very shy, as expected with something with "wren" in it's name.  So I drove back down to the jetty and drove towards the middle and parked.
     I found some paths into the chaparral-type vegetation opposite of the road from the water.  I saw some Song Sparrows and even some White-Crowned Sparrows, but no Wrentits.  I kept at it for over half an hour, crouched down in thick shrubs to no avail. And then I heard some calling a way's off, which sounded like their songs on the Sibley app. So I hurried over to that area, psssht some more and then there they were.  But they were so fast, and so spastic, that I wasn't able to get any photos.  But I ended up seeing 3 of them and got great looks at their long tails and their electric looking eyes.  Great birds to see and the highlight of my Sunday there.  I made my way back to the road and decided to see what was in the water.  I saw a yellow bird which flew into some bushes, a Western Meadowlark.

Western Meadowlark
Western Meadowlark - South Jetty Newport OR
I made my way to the rocks and it saw that it was high tide, or close to it.  It was low tide the night before when I was there.  The strip of rocks that the seals were laying on was now under water and even the raft of Scaup under the bridge was dispersed.  I noticed some Harlequin Ducks hanging out on some rocks and they let me get pretty close to them.

Harlequin Duck
Harlequin Duck - South Jetty, Newport OR

Harlequin Ducks
Harlequin Ducks - South Jetty, Newport OR

Harlequin Ducks
Harlequin Ducks - South Jetty, Newport OR
As I looked further up the rocks, I noticed a bit more where there, along with some sleeping Western Grebes.

Western Grebes and Harlequin Ducks
Western Grebes and Harlequin Ducks - South Jetty, Newport OR
And some Common Loons were floating nearby too.  I had seen both a Common Loon and a Pacific Loon in the same week back in New Mexico, both rare birds there.  And both were in their drab winter plumage.  But the Loons here were getting into their beautiful breeding plumages.

Common Loon
Common Loon - South Jetty, Newport OR
Walking along I saw a Bufflehead sitting on a rock.  I'm not sure if I've ever seen them on dry ground before.  But I was able to get a pretty good shot of it sitting there.

Bufflehead - South Jetty, Newport OR
I've never noticed the iridescent sheen on their heads before either, such great little ducks to see, and they appear to be everywhere here in Oregon.  There were some in New Mexico, but I don't think they were as widespread.
At this point I was feeling pretty good about seeing the Wrentits and adding so many other birds to my list.  But there was one last duck that I had hoped to see, a Long-Tailed Duck.  They were being reported and everyone had said that they were around, but I hadn't noticed any today.  But a fisherman who was along the jetty said that he had seen an "Old Squaw" earlier, which is their old name.  So I kept scanning the channel, as far out as I could with just my binoculars (I really need a scope), when I saw a white shape bobbing along.  I looked figuring to see another gull, but it wasn't.  Finally a Long-Tailed Duck, and the last of my target birds for the weekend.

Long-Tailded Duck
Long-Tailed Duck - South Jetty, Newport OR
Sure the photo is crap and I didn't get the looks that I was hoping.  But that head coloration is unmistakable, and it was really far out in the water.  This duck gave me my 12th lifer for the weekend, but just 40 total species.  But all in all a great trip, and a great break. 

Trip details:
I stayed at the Inn at Yaquina Bay, a nice place withing walking distance to the fishing pier and the South Jetty, and right across the street from Rogue's Brewery on the Bay, which has a kitchen and a very nice gift shop.  
Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area has tide pools, an awesome Lighthouse and Peregrine Falcons that you can see from your car.
Here is ebird's hotspot information on the South Jetty at Yaquina Bay, where you can get directions from anywhere, but is a relatively short 2 hour drive from Portland. 

I just heard that the Puffins are back at Cannon Beach, so it looks like I need to make one more trip to the coast.  And my family and I want to visit Tillamook before we leave, so hopefully we get to do that.  Plus a trip East to the falls and Mount Hood.