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.

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.

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

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

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

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.

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!

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:

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!

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.

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

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!