Tuesday, February 7, 2017

2016 Recap

Better late than never, right? Sure.

2016 provided some incredible birding memories, and some pretty decent numbers. It was my third year in a row of seeing more than 400 species in the ABA area (2014: 511, 2015: 441), and I think I want to make 400 a benchmark goal from here on out. I also saw over 300 in Oregon, which was my second time doing that in a state—though it was quite a bit less effort than doing so in Illinois.

This is a quick collection of the main highlights. To keep from clogging this post with pics, most of the photos below are links to albums showing more photos of a given trip/experience.

A February trip to Texas with my dad netted me 9 ABA lifers, a group including a few RGV I still needed, and highlighted by goodies like Northern Jacana, White-throated Thrush, and Crimson-collared Grosbeak. The trip was also loaded with tons of awesome photo ops.

Texas - February 2016

An April weekend in Bend got me back into the birding swing of things, highlighted by a pair of Spotted Owls, a Great-gray Owl, and Greater Sage Grouse.

April 2016 Weekend - Bend Area

One of the two blogs I wrote last year detailed an awesome early May weekend that I extended all the way from the Klamath basin to the Lane Coast.

Later in May, while Jen was out of town, I took an intense trip that included, in order, the following elements (to give you an idea of the skeletal structure of the adventure): worked 4 10s and getting off work on Thursday with enough time to make it to Klamath NWR by dusk, where the trip began with a Yellow Rail chorus and a Common Poorwill; camping nearby; waking up the next morning to take in and photograph the sunrise at Crater Lake NP; driving from there to Portland to pick up Khanh Tran, then east to meet up with my dad for a weekend of birding; Great-gray Owls at Spring Creek (the same day I woke up in Klamath, mind you); staying Friday night in Enterprise; displaying Spruce Grouse at McCully Creek the next morning; Great-gray and Flammulated Owl that evening in Union County (flat tire included!); staying Saturday night in the thriving metropolis that is Ukiah; displaying Dusky Grouse the next morning, then driving all the way back to Eugene on a donut tire by Sunday evening. By the end of that trip, I was starting to gain an appreciation for the incredible diversity of my new home state.

Oregon Weekend - Crater Lake to the Wallowas, early May 2016

Jen and I travelled to Chicago to see friends and go to a wedding at the end of May. Andrew and I got a day of birding in that was incredibly productive. We put a lot of effort in to hitting the 300 number for our buddy list before I left Chicagoland in the Summer of 2015, but our last couple trips just didn't pan out, and we fell short of the mark by a couple birds. Well, that shortcoming was rectified on May 31 when we snagged Laughing Gull, White-rumped Sandpiper, Piping Plover, and Hudsonian Godwits (a state lifer for me even!) in a single morning! It was with great satisfaction that we finally met our goal, but aside from the numbers, it was great just to be birding together again!

Hudsonian Godwits

Later in June I took another camping trip in which I covered an absurd amount of ground, this time seeing almost all new-to-me sites: Summer Lake, tons of Lake and Klamath Counties, Jedediah Redwoods in northern California, then up through Curry and Coos Counties. I picked up a handful of state and a bunch of county birds, and my lifer Allen's Hummingbirds!

Southern Oregon Camping Trip, June 2016

I logged a lot of miles on Oregon's pristine and picturesque trails, but no hike was as grueling and rewarding as South Sister. I did it on a whim, which is a mistake I won't make again. I don't think I've ever been quite so physically worn out, but I can't wait to get back up there again this Summer! The stunning view from the top is even accompanied by Gray-crowned Rosy Finches on both sides of the Lane/Deschutes County line!


First time up South Sister, July 22 2016

In August, I joined my dad in Ocean Shores and Westport for a couple days of birding, the highlight being my lifer Bar-tailed Godwit! The Elegant Tern photo ops in Astoria on the way home were pretty great, too!

Late August 2016 - Washington/Oregon

Baird's Sandpipers showed up in ridiculous numbers in the Fall, and we were treated to a couple lovely Buff-breasted Sandpipers at Fern Ridge. Two of my favorite shorebirds.

Buff-breasted and Baird's Sandpipers, 8/20/16

I did my first Oregon pelagic in September, highlighted by my lifer South Polar Skuas and Buller's Shearwater, plus the jaeger slam! The trip dipped into Lane County, so it was fun to pick up some pelagic species for the home county. It was a bizarre day though, as we missed fulmar and only saw a lone Black-footed Albatross.


Oregon Pelagic - September 2016

This was my lifer Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, which arrived at Fern Ridge in October, and put on quite the show one perfect morning.

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper

November storms dumped a ton of Red Phalaropes across the entire western portion of the state, which made for some fun photo ops. Tropical Kingbird, White-winged Dove, and Chestnut-sided Warbler were great state lifers. But that all paled in comparison to the ABA's 2nd Common Scoter, which showed up and stayed in Siletz Bay for a few weeks. My parents made the trip out from Spokane and our first view of the bird actually came from their hotel balcony! Later in the day we got to spend some quality time with the bird while we watched it feeding at close range. Amazing.

November 2016 Highlights

The now long-staying Harris's Sparrow on Bond Road showed up way back in December, my last state lifer of the year. At Christmas, my dad and I had some fun with Long-eared and Northern Saw-whet Owls in eastern Washington.

December 2016 Highlights

Mammal highlights abounded in 2016 as well. I had a confiding Mink at the Skagit Wildlife Area in Washington. Oregon provided a Mountain Goat, a Badger, a Long-tailed Weasel, and by far the most exciting—a pair of my lifer Pine Martens at Benson Lake!

By the numbers, here's how things looked at the end of 2016.

Year lists:

ABA: 433

Oregon: 308
Washington: 190
Texas: 190
Illinois: 102

Lane, OR: 232

Life lists:

ABA life: 626 (added 15)

Oregon: 329 (added 40!)
Washington: 324 (added 2)
Illinois: 324 (added 1)
Texas: 305 (added 40!)

Lane, OR: 247 (added 45)

Monday, May 9, 2016

Excellent Early May Weekend

I knew it was going to happen. May arrived, and with it came photos and checklists from my friends in Chicago. Migration was beginning to ramp up there, when a walk to work can produce more warblers than I'll see all year in Oregon. I love every part of living in the PNW again, but for these couple weeks (and a couple more in the fall) I do miss Chicagoland and its neotropical migrants.

That sentiment hasn't changed altogether, but my regrets over not being back in Illinois right now have been mitigated after an awesome weekend of birding in my new home state. All told, I picked up 133 species on Friday, and 173 by the time Saturday's total had been added to it. Fifty-four year birds. County ticks galore. And, seven state lifers brought me into the 300 club for Oregon. Here's how it happened.

Friday, May 6.

The alarm went off at 3:05 AM and I was on the road a little after 3:30. I was headed south and hoped to get to my first destination at sunrise. I timed it just right and had a really lovely hike at dawn.

Sunrise
Lower Table Rock, Jackson Co, OR
May 6, 2016

The early morning sun lit up a new location for me— Lower Table Rock in Jackson County. I had picked this spot at the suggestion of Russ Namitz after sharing some of my target birds with him. I began the day with 295 species for Oregon, and since this was my first time birding the southern part of the state, I was hoping for a nice bump in the state list. It didn't take long for that hope to come to fruition in the form of this enjoyable bundle of birds.

#296:
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Lower Table Rock, Jackson Co, OR
May 6, 2016

#297:
Lark Sparrow
Lower Table Rock, Jackson Co, OR
May 6, 2016

#298
Oak Titmouse
Lower Table Rock, Jackson Co, OR
May 6, 2016

#299 was the California Towhee, chilling with an Ash-throated Flycatcher.

California Towhee with Ash-throated Flycatcher
Lower Table Rock, Jackson Co, OR
May 6, 2016

It turned out that Ash-throats and their distinct calls were rather ubiquitous all the way from the parking area to the top of Lower Table Rock.

Ash-throated Flycatcher
Lower Table Rock, Jackson Co, OR

My next stop was at the ponds along Avenue G where I was hoping for one state lifer and came away with another. Upon getting out of the car I heard an elongated call that seemed to me to belong to a mockingbird, but I couldn't see the bird. So I checked the pond area, where I got skunked by the resident Great-tailed Grackle. I returned to my car and drove in the direction of the call I had heard earlier. Sure enough, on the other side of Avenue G, there was my Oregon #300 singing its little masquerading heart out.

Northern Mockingbird
Ave G, Jackson Co, OR
May 6, 2016

The Kirtland Ponds had some waterfowl diversity and a little group of shorebirds, including some Black-necked Stilts and a handful of Western Sandpipers.

Black-necked Stilt
Kirtland Ponds, Jackson Co, OR
May 6, 2016

As I finished there, it was 10:30 and I had a decision to make. I knew I wanted to end the day in southern Klamath County, but I was also interested in the Grizzly Peak area. My day had been efficient enough to that point that I decided to book it south for a little montane birding.

The drive up to Shale City Road was a treat for me as the extended oak habitat was new to me; as I continually climbed the views back down the valley behind me grew more and more impressive. A Bullock's Oriole was singing away around one corner, a Black-headed Grosbeak around the next, with some more gnatcatchers in between.

Trees topped with my first Western Tanagers of the year began Shale City Road for me, and the next four and a half miles up to the trailhead were an absolute blast. I had the window down as I cruised along, hearing the usual suspects. A Cassin's Vireo and a buzzy warbler call caused me to pull over and take my first extended stop along the road. I got on the vireo and kept hearing some other passerine activity, so I started the pulsing whistle of a Pygmy Owl to see if I could rustle up some more.

To my surprise, I got a response from an owl almost immediately! I was about to strike a dialogue with it when a Ruffed Grouse began its drumming display nearby, another surprise! I put my owl interest on pause for a moment to try to track down the grouse. I ended up seeing it briefly, but not satisfactorily, as these kinds of searches usually ago. Still, it had been a long time since I had heard one drumming, so I was pretty excited.

The owl was calling all the while, so I put some effort into finding it. I was unsuccessful, but the search wasn't in vain because in the process I ran into the source of that buzzy warbler song, a very friendly Hermit Warbler! These were some of my best looks at this species, an absolute delight.

Hermit Warbler
Shale City Rd, Jackson Co, OR
May 6, 2016

Then a Nashville joined the party.

Nashville Warbler
Shale City Rd, Jackson Co, OR
May 6, 2016

By this point I was a big fan of Shale City Road. I continued towards the top and made my next stop when a group of Chestnut-backed Chickadees caught my ear. I tried the owl imitation again and got an even quicker response this time! This one gave the trill first then slowed to its regular pace on a few occasions. It also took a great deal more interest in me than the previous individual and provided my best views of this species in years!



Came well equipped to deal with that itch:

Northern Pygmy Owl
Shale City Rd, Jackson Co, OR
May 6, 2016

I eventually made it up to the trailhead where the views were limited by some low hanging clouds. I decided to walk around a few minutes before heading back down, and in that time I had a couple of Mountain Quail calling simultaneously!

All this fun had taken a little more time than I had expected, but it was totally worth it and I was still in a good position to get to Klamath on schedule, more or less. I checked out Keno Access Road on the way, where I picked up a few more Jackson County species (and my Hermit Warbler count swelled to eighteen!), bringing my total for the day up to 101. I had no goals number wise for the day, so hitting triple digits before even getting to one of my primary locations seemed like a solid accomplishment.

I drove over the pass, enjoyed the snowy views, then descended into the little town of Keno, now into Klamath County. Forster's and Caspian Terns dominated the scene at the river crossing in Keno, which was rather birdy. A flyover Black-crowned Night Heron was a year bird, plus a nice group of Western and Clark's Grebes added nicely to the day list.

From there it was on to Township Road and the Oregon Drain. As it turns out, most of the fields were dried up in this area, which was a bit disappointing, but the habitat along the Oregon Drain was still sufficient to provide some nice highlights.

Bald Eagle
Oregon Drain, Klamath Co, OR
May 6, 2016

Forster's Tern
Oregon Drain, Klamath Co, OR
May 6, 2016

There was a lone American Avocet and a lone Wilson's Phalarope amidst a healthy and diverse flock of waterfowl, along with a few other repeat shorebirds. Two of the species I was most hoping to see down here were Willet and White-faced Ibis, and I lucked out with both. Got an award worthy shot of the Willet too, wouldn't you say? :P

Willet
Oregon Drain, Klamath Co, OR
May 6, 2016

White-faced Ibis
Oregon Drain, Klamath Co, OR
May 6, 2016

I dipped into California ever so briefly and picked up a handful of state lifers at Sheepy Lake. My only Eared Grebe and Ring-necked Pheasant of the day were on the Cali side of the line.

Long-billed Dowitchers
Sheepy Lake, Siskiyou, Co, OR
May 6, 2016

I still had a little time to spare as I was wrapping up there, so I checked Birdlog and saw that there had been some interesting birds at the wetland along Old Midland Road. I decided to stop by on my way back and found about fifty American Avocets along with my first Semipalmated Plovers and Dunlin of the day.

American Avocets
Old Midland Rd, Klamath Co, OR
May 6, 2016

A distant Golden Eagle and a few alternate plumaged Franklin's Gulls rounded out a nice set of additions to the day list at this last birding stop of the day.

Franklin's Gull
Old Midland Rd, Klamath Co, OR
May 6, 2016

My route home took me up 58, and I find it rather tough to drive past the 286 foot beauty that is Salt Creek Falls when it's right off the highway! I managed to get to the overlook as the sunset was emerging in a rather spectacular fashion. I paused a minute to take in the magnitude of the scene before me and the day behind me. Turns out Oregon in May is going to be alright after all.

Sunset
Salt Creek Falls, Lane Co, OR
May 6, 2016

Saturday, May 7.

I took the morning to sleep in and have breakfast with a friend who was coming through town, both of which helped me feel rested and rejuvenated for a little half day of birding on the coast in Lane County.

I made it to the North Jetty of the Siuslaw at noon where I quickly picked up a few year birds, my favorites being alternate plumaged Bonaparte's Gulls, Rhinoceros Auklets, and Marbled Murrelets. Viewing conditions we're great as it was getting a little foggy, but I could tell birds were moving so I headed to the Siltcoos to try for some shorebirds. Going into the day, I was thinking Whimbrel, Ruddy Turnstone, and Red Knot would be really excellent finds...

I parked the car and climbed to the crest of the dunes, gathered myself, and not a moment later I spotted some Black-bellied Plovers flying by. I put the binocs up to find that there were some smaller red birds in with them, so I scrambled to get the scope on them quickly. Sure enough, Red Knots!

Red Knots with Black-bellied Plovers
Siltcoos Estuary, Lane Co, OR
May 7, 2016

I didn't even have time to celebrate as this group of Whimbrel flew by just a few moments later!

Whimbrel
Siltcoos Estuary, Lane Co, OR
May 7, 2016

One minute in and my stop had already been worth it. I was hoping the hot start would be a harbinger of good things to come, and indeed it was. I walked south down to the mouth of the river, picking up Snowy Plovers in the designated nesting area. Along the shore there was a large flock dominated by Western Sandpipers, Sanderling, Dunlin, and Semipalmated Plovers. I love the Western putting the landing gear down a little prematurely:

Western Sandpipers and Semipalmated Plover
Siltcoos Estuary, Lane Co, OR
May 7, 2016

I walked back to see how much of the back water estuary was visible, as there were flocks of shorebirds streaming in and out of that area almost incessantly. I could see most of it, though there was a portion out of view that seemed to be attracting a lot of birds. Always how it goes, right?

I turned around to see another huge flock of shorebirds landing along the shore, followed by a group of twenty-five Whimbrel, most of which are pictured here:

Whimbrel
Siltcoos Estuary, Lane Co, OR
May 7, 2016

I walked back towards the shore and stationed myself with scope and camera ready. What followed was unlike anything I've ever had the chance to see before. I realized while standing there that I had never been out to the coast specifically to see spring shorebird migration, and there it was happening right before my eyes! It's definitely one of my new favorite things.

Short-billed Dowitcher with Western Sandpipers
Siltcoos Estuary, Lane Co, OR
May 7, 2016

These dudes are so sharp:

Black-bellied Plovers
Siltcoos Estuary, Lane Co, OR
May 7, 2016

This Baird's was a really nice spring pick up.

Baird's Sandpiper (front right)
Siltcoos Estuary, Lane Co, OR
May 7, 2016

The picture below pretty well sums up my time there (you can click to enlarge it). In this one photo we have Dunlin, Sanderling, Western, Least (back left), and Baird's (front right) Sandpipers, Short-billed Dowitchers, Black-bellied Plover, Black Turnstone, and Ruddy Turnstone (hiding behind the BBPL). Nine species in one shot!

SHOREBIRDS!
Siltcoos Estuary, Lane Co, OR
May 7, 2016

Oh, right, I got my other target. There were two Ruddy Turnstones hanging out with three Black Turnstones:


 Black and Ruddy Turnstone
Siltcoos Estuary, Lane Co, OR
May 7, 2016


Ruddy Turnstone
Siltcoos Estuary, Lane Co, OR
May 7, 2016

And anytime I looked over the breakers, the loons were streaming by at a crazy rate. The Pacifics, with those shiny silvery heads, were a site to behold.

Loons
Siltcoos Estuary, Lane Co, OR
May 7, 2016

Every once and a while the steady northwest wind would blow one inland a bit.

Common Loon
Siltcoos Estuary, Lane Co, OR
May 7, 2016

Shorebirds
Siltcoos Estuary, Lane Co, OR
May 7, 2016

With a successful outing already under the belt, I headed to Cape Mountain and snagged my first Lane County Hermit Warblers. I followed that up with a nice little hike from the Dry Lake Campground area, then headed back home. I stopped by Fern Ridge briefly on the way back where the resident Grasshopper Sparrow cooperated ever so slightly, my seventh county bird of the day and seventh state bird of the weekend.

Hermit Warbler
Cape Mountain, Lane Co, OR
May 7, 2016

Here's the full list of 173 species (plus one hybrid) between the two days:
  1. Canada Goose
  2. Gadwall
  3. American Wigeon
  4. Mallard
  5. Blue-winged Teal
  6. Cinnamon Teal
  7. Northern Shoveler
  8. Northern Pintail
  9. Green-winged Teal
  10. Greater Scaup
  11. Lesser Scaup
  12. Surf Scoter
  13. Bufflehead
  14. Common Merganser
  15. Red-breasted Merganser
  16. Ruddy Duck
  17. Mountain Quail
  18. California Quail
  19. Ruffed Grouse
  20. Wild Turkey
  21. Red-throated Loon
  22. Pacific Loon
  23. Common Loon
  24. Pied-billed Grebe
  25. Horned Grebe
  26. Eared Grebe
  27. Western Grebe
  28. Clark's Grebe
  29. Brandt's Cormorant
  30. Double-crested Cormorant
  31. Pelagic Cormorant
  32. American White Pelican
  33. American Bittern
  34. Great Blue Heron
  35. Great Egret
  36. Black-crowned Night-Heron
  37. White-faced Ibis
  38. Turkey Vulture
  39. Osprey
  40. Golden Eagle
  41. Bald Eagle
  42. Swainson's Hawk
  43. Red-tailed Hawk
  44. Virginia Rail
  45. Sora
  46. American Coot
  47. Sandhill Crane
  48. Black-necked Stilt
  49. American Avocet
  50. Black-bellied Plover
  51. Snowy Plover
  52. Semipalmated Plover
  53. Killdeer
  54. Spotted Sandpiper
  55. Greater Yellowlegs
  56. Willet
  57. Whimbrel
  58. Ruddy Turnstone
  59. Black Turnstone
  60. Red Knot
  61. Sanderling
  62. Dunlin
  63. Least Sandpiper
  64. Western Sandpiper
  65. Short-billed Dowitcher
  66. Long-billed Dowitcher
  67. Wilson's Phalarope
  68. Common Murre
  69. Pigeon Guillemot
  70. Marbled Murrelet
  71. Rhinoceros Auklet
  72. Bonaparte's Gull
  73. Franklin's Gull
  74. Ring-billed Gull
  75. Western Gull
  76. California Gull
  77. Glaucous-winged Gull
  78. Western x Glaucous-winged Gull 
  79. Caspian Tern
  80. Forster's Tern
  81. Rock Pigeon
  82. Band-tailed Pigeon
  83. Eurasian Collared-Dove
  84. Mourning Dove
  85. Northern Pygmy-Owl
  86. Anna's Hummingbird
  87. Rufous Hummingbird
  88. Belted Kingfisher
  89. Lewis's Woodpecker
  90. Acorn Woodpecker
  91. Red-breasted Sapsucker
  92. Downy Woodpecker
  93. Hairy Woodpecker
  94. Northern Flicker
  95. Pileated Woodpecker
  96. American Kestrel
  97. Peregrine Falcon
  98. Dusky Flycatcher
  99. Pacific-slope Flycatcher
  100. Ash-throated Flycatcher
  101. Western Kingbird
  102. Cassin's Vireo
  103. Hutton's Vireo
  104. Steller's Jay
  105. Western Scrub-Jay
  106. Black-billed Magpie
  107. American Crow
  108. Common Raven
  109. Horned Lark
  110. Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  111. Purple Martin
  112. Tree Swallow
  113. Violet-green Swallow
  114. Bank Swallow
  115. Barn Swallow
  116. Cliff Swallow
  117. Black-capped Chickadee
  118. Mountain Chickadee
  119. Chestnut-backed Chickadee
  120. Oak Titmouse
  121. Bushtit
  122. Red-breasted Nuthatch
  123. White-breasted Nuthatch
  124. Brown Creeper
  125. Rock Wren
  126. House Wren
  127. Pacific Wren
  128. Marsh Wren
  129. Bewick's Wren
  130. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  131. Golden-crowned Kinglet
  132. Wrentit
  133. Western Bluebird
  134. Swainson's Thrush
  135. Hermit Thrush
  136. American Robin
  137. Varied Thrush
  138. Northern Mockingbird
  139. European Starling
  140. Orange-crowned Warbler
  141. Nashville Warbler
  142. MacGillivray's Warbler
  143. Common Yellowthroat
  144. Yellow Warbler
  145. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  146. Black-throated Gray Warbler
  147. Townsend's Warbler
  148. Hermit Warbler
  149. Wilson's Warbler
  150. Grasshopper Sparrow
  151. Chipping Sparrow
  152. Lark Sparrow
  153. Dark-eyed Junco
  154. White-crowned Sparrow
  155. Golden-crowned Sparrow
  156. Savannah Sparrow
  157. Song Sparrow
  158. California Towhee
  159. Spotted Towhee
  160. Western Tanager
  161. Black-headed Grosbeak
  162. Lazuli Bunting
  163. Red-winged Blackbird
  164. Western Meadowlark
  165. Yellow-headed Blackbird
  166. Brewer's Blackbird
  167. Brown-headed Cowbird
  168. Bullock's Oriole
  169. House Finch
  170. Purple Finch
  171. Pine Siskin
  172. Lesser Goldfinch
  173. American Goldfinch
  174. House Sparrow
And just like that I'm up to 233 for my Oregon year list and 340 for the ABA. I've got 72 hours of Oregon birding coming this Thursday evening through Sunday evening. Should be good times.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Top Ten Highlights Since Returning to the PNW

At long, long last I am finally getting back to this blogging thing. It's been nice to take a break and not always feel the (self-imposed) pressure of cataloging my outings in written form, but I am ready to get back to it!

Though my writing has subsided for a time, my adventures have not. In fact, they've ramped up considerably. My wife and I moved from Wheaton, IL to Eugene, OR last summer. As part of that move I took a ten day cross-country birding/solo camping trip that eventually lead to my 600th ABA lifer. It was amazing, and I hope to write about it sometime this summer. In the ten months since we've been back to our native PNW I've had some truly astounding birding days already, and I'm finding that my hobby of birding is actually just nestling into wider appreciation for all things outdoors.

When we arrived last summer, I already had 251 species on my Oregon state list thanks to some trips with my dad when I was just a little guy. Great Gray Owls, Greater Sage Grouse, and Tufted Puffins were some of those lifers that irreversibly cinched my love for birding from a very young age. Now it's great to be back here, to call Lane County home, and to have the opportunity to become well acquainted with the remarkably diverse avifauna of Oregon.

With summer and a long list of places to go and things to see just around the corner, I'm figuring there will be plenty to write about, but I want to catch up, however briefly, on some of the highlights since becoming an Oregonian. Below you will find the ten experiences that stand out to me the most. They're in no particular order, but number one would be pretty tough to top. :)


1. Red-throated Pipit

It's the rarest bird I've ever found. Perhaps the rarest I'll ever find.

The day was Friday, September 11, 2015. A report of a potential rare shorebird had drawn me out to Fern Ridge to do a little looking around. I pulled off the busy Highway 126 to scope the area east of Perkins Peninsula, and while the shorebird turned out to be a false alarm, the stop was not all in vain because that's where I met John Sullivan for the first time. We chatted for a bit then decided to head over to the Royal Avenue area.

We arrived and walked west from the parking lot, then north onto the dried out mudflat that eventually led to some shorebird habitat. The shorebird numbers were down, and the ground was crawling instead with pipits. We started scoping through the flock hoping for something rare, when I admitted to John, "I have not brushed up on my rare pipits lately." "Just look for a streaked back," he replied. This jogged my memory and all of a sudden I was on the alert.

We hadn't been scouring the flock for more than a minute when I came across a bird that struck me as different. Along with its noticeably streaked back, it also had an orange-red wash on its throat. I got John on the bird and excitement began to build. We scrambled to get identifiable photos, which turned out to be quite the struggle in the hazy and monochromatic conditions.

The photos aren't great, but they sufficiently display the diagnostic features of the bird. Red-throated Pipit. The first ever record for Lane County, and only the fourth for Oregon. What a bird.

Red-throated Pipit
Royal Ave, FRR, Lane Co, OR
September 11, 2015

2. Spring Weekend in Bend

Some of these highlights have to come in bunches, otherwise this post would be impossibly long. A huge perk of moving to Eugene is that one of my best friends from undergrad and grad school is living just over the cascades in the delightful town of Bend. I've had a few opportunities to visit, and this last time included some outstanding birds.

I had my first chance to see "Northern" Spotted Owls thanks to a couple surveyors who kindly took us to see them. Getting to watch and listen to this pair interact is an experience I'll never forget. The views couldn't have been better.



Spotted Owls
Oregon
April 22, 2016

And the next day I got to relive some of the birding wonders that had gotten me hooked more than twenty years ago. At dawn I headed out to Millican for some really enjoyable high desert birding, the main attraction being a lek of displaying Greater Sage Grouse!


Greater Sage Grouse
Deschutes Co, Oregon
April 23, 2016

That afternoon I headed home to Eugene and made a stop by Sunriver on the way. It wasn't the right time of the day, but I couldn't pass up the chance to look for a couple Great Gray Owls in the area. Jeff Harding had given me some information on where he had them a couple weeks prior, so I decided to do a thorough check then be on my way.

The initial meadow I came across had no owl activity, but felt remarkably similar to the habitats in which I had seen Great Grays before. This gave me a little hope that I may be able to scrounge one up after all.

About twenty minutes in to my search I was walking across a new meadow, pursuing a chattery bunch of passerines, when a Great Gray flushed from about thirty yards in from of me! It headed off into the woods away from me and I tried to follow it but quickly lost it, amazed that the largest owl in North America could utterly disappear before my very eyes.

I thoroughly canvased the area in the direction the owl flew, but came up empty. I was bummed that I hadn't managed a photo, but content to have at least seen the bird for the first time in a long while.

I decided to go check the other end of this massive meadow before heading out, and just before I turned towards the trail to go back to my car, a light blemish in a sea of conifers caught my eye. I put up my binoculars and was astounded to find a Great Gray sitting atop a pine, regal as a king on his throne! I got to enjoy the bird for a few minutes before, just like the other, it disappeared into the forest. Paired with the Sage Grouse from earlier in the day, and the memories of these two species from my childhood, it was one of the richest birding moments I've ever had.



Great Gray Owl
Deschutes Co, Oregon
April 23, 2016

3. Great Shearwater

We're Oregon residents now, but with both of our families living in Washington we make it back up there fairly regularly—and far more frequently now the the trip takes just a drive and a tank of gas rather than a flight and the bulk of our savings account. So last summer I got to meet up with my parents at the coast on my birthday weekend. I had asked for a pelagic for my birthday and I was thrilled to get my first chance to bird out on the open ocean. The trip out of Westport, Washington was remarkable, and a day of lifers was topped off by the Atlantic vagrant found by Chris Warlow, the Great Shearwater!

(with Sooty Shearwater)


(with California Gull)

Great Shearwater
Offshore Waters, Grays Harbor Co, WA
August 15, 2015

4. White-tailed Ptarmigan

With the other side of the family over Labor Day weekend, my father-in-law and I did a hike out of Artist Point up to Ptarmigan Ridge. I was mainly in it for the scenery, but of course I had three target birds in the back of my mind as we went along. About five minutes into the hike a pair of Sooty Grouse passed just below us, my first time seeing them in many years. At the top I had a Gray-crowned Rosy Finch, which completed my Rosy Finch slam for 2015 (I had my lifer Black and Brown-capped on my drive out that summer), a pretty cool feat to accomplish over the course of the summer rather than at a backyard feeding station in the winter.

And in between those two targets, I had the utter delight of my 322nd Washington State bird, this incredibly confiding White-tailed Ptarmigan!


White-tailed Ptarmigan
Whatcom Co, WA
September 5, 2015

5. Mountain Quail

I knew that Mountain Quail were regular residents in Oregon, but I never imagined that I would find a whole family the first time I went looking for them! This was a thrilling lifer for me to pick up shortly after moving here.

Mountain Quail
Mary's Peak, Benton Co, OR
August 10, 2015

6. Lincoln Co Day

Back to the bunches. On October 27, I had the chance to chase the rarities that had piled up in Lincoln County, and went three for three!

There was an odd, widespread of dispersal of Common Ground Doves last fall, and this was one of them:


Common Ground Dove
Yachats, Lincoln Co, OR
October 27, 2015

And this Brown Booby in Newport was a lifer for me!


Brown Booby
Newport, Lincoln Co, OR
October 27, 2015

The familiar call of this Great-crested Flycatcher made me feel like I was right back in Illinois for a moment, though the coastal views preceding and mountain views following this particular Oregon lifer jostled me out of that thought rather seamlessly. Great bird for the Oregon list!

Great-crested Flycatcher
Thornton Creek, Lincoln Co, OR
October 27, 2015

7. Tillamook Co Day

About a month later I had a similar day as I chased some rarities to the north. Again, these were familiar Illinois birds for me, and quite the delight to add to my Oregon list! The first two are far rarer for Oregon.

Cattle Egret
Tillamook Co, OR
November 23, 2015

Dickcissel
Bayocean Dike Rd., Tillamook Co, OR
November 23, 2015

And it turns out these guys winter out here in small numbers:

Palm Warbler
Bayocean Dike Rd., Tillamook Co, OR
November 23, 2015

8. Rockpipers and Other Great Shorebirds

Rockpipers. Shorebirds on the rocks, basically. And they're one of the coolest parts of birding along the coast.

Rock Sandpiper
Seal Rock, Lincoln Co, OR
January 15, 2016

Black Turnstone, Surfbird, and Rock Sandpiper
Seal Rock, Lincoln Co, OR
January 15, 2016

Surfbird and Black Turnstone
Newport, Lincoln Co, OR
January 11, 2015



Surfbird and Black Turnstone
Yachats State Park, Lincoln Co, OR
October 27, 2015

Black Oystercatcher
Boiler Bay, Lincoln Co, OR
August 13, 2015



Wandering Tattler
Newport, Lincoln Co, OR
September 25, 2015

And there have been a couple other shorebird treats since moving here, too! Here is my lifer Ruff!

Ruff

Ankeny NWR, Marion Co OR
November 9, 2015

By the end of 2015, I had picked up 39 new Oregon lifers, six of which were ABA lifers, bringing my Oregon list to 290 and ABA list to 610. My first new Oregon lifer of 2016 was this long, long staying Mountain Plover!

Mountain Plover
South Beach, Lincoln Co, OR
January 15, 2016

9. Breeching Humpbacks From Shore, and Marine Wildlife in General

Over the course of the fall John Sullivan and I made a handful of trips to the coast for some seawatching and had some truly amazing occurrences. In addition to seeing Pink-footed Shearwaters, Red Phalaropes, and a host of other enjoyable seabirds from the shore, we were met one morning in early November by a truly breathtaking spectacle. A group of Humpback Whales were moving through the area, and on several occasions we got to see them breech! Further out, and impossible to photograph, there was a large group of Pacific White-sided Dolphins, too!



Humpback Whales
Siltcoos River Estuary, Lane Co, OR
November 6, 2015

That same day we headed down to Cape Arago where we had this Gray Whale:

Gray Whale
Cape Arago, Coos Co, OR
November 6, 2015

In addition to the birds, Cape Arago boasts an impressive four species of pinnipeds: Harbor Seals, California Sea Lions, Northern Sea Lions, and best of all, Elephant Seals!

Elephant Seal
Cape Arago, Coos Co, OR
November 27, 2015


Northern Sea Lion
Cape Arago, Coos, Co, OR
November 6, 2015

I love the personality these guys have:



California Sea Lions
Cape Arago, Coos Co, OR
November 6, 2015


California Sea Lions
Westport, Grays Harbor Co, WA
August 15, 2015


California Sea Lions
Heceta Head, Lane Co, OR
September 18, 2015

10. Waterfalls, and Scenery in General

It's hard to believe it was a year ago that Jen and I were living in Wheaton and in the job search process. We had no idea what we would be doing, we only knew that no matter what, we'd be moving back to the PNW. In addition to our proximity to family and the slower pace of life, here's why:


Shellburg Falls

Proxy Falls

Lane County Coast



Sparks Lake

South Sister

Broken Top

Salt Creek Falls

Cape Perpetua



Sweet Creek Falls

Spencer's Butte

Sahalie Falls

Mt. Hood from the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival


So, yeah, we love it out here. My bucket list for 2016 is already long and growing by the day, so hopefully the blog posts will be following.

Thanks for reading!