Buff-breasted Sandpiper

A BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER was reported from the South Jetty of the Columbia River yesterday.  Today Neal Maine and I went out to do a bit of photo-documentation.

Most of the Buff-breasted Sandpipers I’ve been fortunate enough to find have been remarkably tame and this bird was no exception. Both Neal and I were able to get remarkably close shots by just planting ourselves in one spot and letting the bird come to us.

At one point Neal and I were no more than 20 feet apart and the bird casually walked between us, too close for the long lenses on the cameras.

More Buff-breasted Photos HERE.

Green Birding

I’ve spent more than a few electrons on the topic of motorless birding over the years. The concept is pretty straight-forward and given that birding is often claimed to be an eco-friendly hobby, shouldn’t cause much controversy (you’d think).  But part of birding is listing and part of listing is chasing and part of chasing is hopping in the car and driving long distances to tick a single singular bird.  For a (small) subset of birders, that’s kind of all there is to birding.  If you’re not chasing, you’re not birding.  Those folks can get a might defensive if they think they’re being criticized. The majority of birders get the paradox, however, and find some comfortable spot somewhere between leaving moa-sized carbon foot-prints and birding completely off the grid.

I’ve been keeping motorless bird lists (I call them walkabouts) for quite a while and have even taken to using the Patch Totals function at eBird to track them.  They are the framework for my plan to keep myself reasonably fit as I glide into old age.  Most are extended walks between 3 and 5 miles, but occasionally I pump up the tires on my bicycle and go for longer motorless excursions.

My efforts at being motorless pale in comparison to those of Dorian Anderson, however.   He has taken green birding far beyond anything I have the energy for.  Beginning in January, he started an attempt at a North American Big Year by foot, bicycle and a couple kayak trips- no cars, no airplanes, no buses.  He has arrived, 244 days and 543 bird species later, on the North Coast of Oregon.

I caught up with him today at Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach where he was resting up from a 108 mile dash yesterday from Westport, WA to Cannon Beach in a quest to list TUFTED PUFFINS and BLACK OYSTERCATCHERS at Haystack.  I spent most of the morning watching him photographing oystercatchers and HARLEQUIN DUCKS while he stood knee-deep in the ocean.  He seemed to be having a good time.  And there were still one or two puffins (still carrying food) coming to the rock.  He’ll probably be heading inland to Portland tomorrow and then down the valley, before turning back toward the coast.  You can follow his adventures at BIKINGFORBIRDS.

Dorian Anderson

I should note that Dorian is not the first Big Year Birding Biker I’ve encountered here on the North Coast.  In 2008, then 16-year-old, Malkolm Boothroyd and his parents came through on a 365-day adventure that began in the Yukon and ended in Florida.  Curmudgeons like to point out that his Big Year was not in a “calendar year” and that they went back to the Yukon by bus.  I say, if you’re going to start a trip by bicycle from the Yukon (or most of the US above the 40th parallel) your year should start in June, not January.  Let’s be real.  365 days is 365 days.  And taking a bus home on day 366 is, in my view, no big deal.  Most of us are going to have to get back into a car at some point in our lives after a motorless birding trip of any size.  Nit-picking the specific details gets in the way of the bigger issues Dorian and Malkolm are trying to address.

I’ll be sticking to walkabouts, but the idea of motorless listing at the Big Year level is gaining momentum, especially at the state level  There’s even a website – GreenBirding.

Please check out Dorian Anderson’s blog and watch for him if his route passes by your door

Harlequin Ducks

 

On Safari: Leadbetter Point

I don’t go north to Leadbetter Point nearly as often as I used to and to drive home the time between visits, I hadn’t heard that one now needs a Discover Pass to park in what I thought was the National Wildlife Refuge Parking lot.  The nearest place to buy one is at the General Store in Ocean Park, which lopped 45 minutes off by schedule for the day…

Leadbetter Point State Park and the Leadbetter portion of the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge share a border, the refuge is north of the last parking lot and the State Park is to the south.  I spent my day in the far more interesting and less dog infested National Wildlife Refuge (though not nearly as dog-free as one would think given all the prominently placed NO DOGS signs).

A cooperative LONG-BILLED CURLEW was pulling polychaetes out of the mud near the beginning of the trail on the Willapa Bay side.  It has, apparently been there for several days.

Long-billed Curlew

My goal was to find Snowy Plovers which meant a quick march along the yellow trail to the beach (about 3km).

While crossing the dunes I encountered one of my favorite bugs, the PACIFIC DUNE TIGER BEETLE.

Pacific Dune Tiger Beetle

The first shorebird I found on the beach was a very unexpected SPOTTED SANDPIPER.

Spotted Sandpiper

There were plenty of other shorebirds on the beach as well.

mixed shorebirds

But as is almost always the case when I go looking for Snowy Plovers on purpose, I was not seeing any of my target species.  I walked north for more than a kilometer.  I found a salmon…

And a dead seal and plenty more shorebirds.  Saw distant SOOTY SHEARWATERS out over the ocean.  No Snowies.  It was time to turn back.

As I neared the entry point back up to the yellow trail, I saw movement on the upper beach – a Snowy Plover, which mysteriously disappeared when took my eyes off it to changed the lenses on my camera.  I couldn’t chase it without stepping into the exclusion area and even when I’m all alone and no one is watching, I will not step over that line.  No photos.

A bit farther along another one – a youngster.  It seems to be able to sense what the range for my camera lens is and stays just far enough out of range to thwart anything but a record from outside the boundary signs.

Snowy Plover (juvenile)

Then just before the trailhead, a third one.  An adult.  This one outside the exclusion area in the wrack line.  But as soon as it sees me, it starts running up and into the safety zone before I can get close.  I have to think they know where the boundaries are and are messing with me.  It too finds that sweet spot where the photos are going to have to be enlarged and fuzzy…

Snowy Plover (adult)

So, 8.5km round trip hike to the beach. I hit all my targets and at the end of the walk, got see a genuine Jeff Gilligan in the bargain.  Not a bad day.

Photo Quiz: Hatch-year

This time of year we can expect to start seeing the new season of youngsters popping up out of the bushes on a morning pish.  They are often under illustrated in the field guides and may even (occasionally) trip a birders up.  Usually, a parent is nearby to help sort things out, but not always…

Here are 5 hatch-year birds.  Can you ID them all without the clue provided by parents nearby?

HY 01

HY 02

HY 03

HY 04

HY 05

All these photos were taken within the last two weeks along the Oregon Coast.

 

No. Anchovies

Every few years Northern Anchovies appear en mass off the Oregon Coast and sometimes they make a wrong turn into the Necanicum Estuary and, if the numbers are large enough, the small fish suck up all oxygen in the river and drown.

Deceased anchovies

The millions of fish, attract thousands of fish eating birds.  This morning on the Necanicum there were about 30,000 gulls, terns and pelicans loafing on the flats.

Bird flocks

The carpet of birds stretched all the way to the beach at 09:00, but by 10:00 the unleashed dogs had gone to work and by 11:00 most of the birds had moved up to Clatsop Beach.

The dead fish aren’t going anywhere soon, so chances are pretty good that the birds will be back on the Necanicum tomorrow morning.

Deceased anchovies

The meaning of two catbirds

A GRAY CATBIRD was found on 18 June at the west end of the Hatfield Marine Science Center Nature Trail by Chuck Philo.  Gray Catbirds breed in the Northeast corner of Oregon and are regular vagrants in eastern and central Oregon, but they are very rare west of the Cascades.  Coastal records are even fewer and farther between.  So a single catbird in Newport (the one in Oregon) is kind of significant.  Even more significant is that it is still being seen in the same twinberry patch 5 weeks later.

But the bigger surprise was finding a second bird in the same twinberry bush, yesterday.

Gray Catbirds

A useful question, worth exploring (I think), is: have there always been two catbirds?  I had no trouble yesterday seeing two once I realized that’s how many there were.  Last week I felt lucky seeing just the one.  What gives.  Well, I can think of three hypotheticals…

1.  There has only been one bird in the twinberries for most of the summer and the second bird showed up some time in the last few days.

2.  There have always been two catbirds, but because we birders find one catbird to be rare, we simply don’t think to look for a second one and filter against the possibility that two catbirds could be present.  This was certainly my first response upon seeing a possible 2nd bird.  I was thinking “young White-crowned?  cowbird?”  Had I not re-seen two catbirds sitting next to each other while a second birder confirmed my observations, I can easily imagine second-guessing myself into discounting a second bird.

3.  There have always been two catbirds, but only the singing male has been obvious (presumes a male and female pair).  The female has been far less conspicuous because it has been sitting on a nest incubating and for whatever reason, is no longer spending most of its time on a nest.

Gray Catbird

Unless we begin seeing bushes filled with juvenile catbirds in the area over the next couple days, we will be hard pressed to answer these questions with anything approaching certainty.  There are no reliable mechanisms for sorting male catbirds from female catbirds in the field (and even in hand it’s difficult).

Hopefully, folks will continue to monitor these birds.  I’ve had my best luck very early in the morning.  Bushes full of juvenile catbirds would be way cool.

I do it my way

There are probably wrong ways to bird-watch, but I am not brave enough to suggest what those ways of bird-watching might be. I can, however, say that for me, taking a bunch of photos of unidentified birds then bringing them home to identify on my computer screen is not the kind of bird-watching I want to do.  I have my style, my method, it includes a camera on most days, but the watching usually comes ahead of the snapping.  We are at the adult movement front end of the long southbound shorebird migration and much of my method has been built up from 30 or so years of watching shorebirds.  So I figured maybe this is a good time to talk about the way I go about sorting through shorebirds.

The southbound season usually begins right around my birthday at the end of June and stretches out to the early days of October.  Early season adult shorebirds are skiddish.  Just about anything can set a flock up.  My first order of business is to look a flock over from a safe distance, a distance that allows me to put a scope or binoculars on them without contributing to their general state of nervousness.

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From a safe distance, I can sort through the flock to see if there is anything different looking that might need closer scrutiny.  Different doesn’t always mean rare Asian vagrant.  It could be an early juvenile, an oddly bright bird, an oddly dark bird, leucism, funky molt.  From a safe distance, I can carefully observe those field marks that have attracted my attention and note them for later recall.  I can suss out the wonky, but not rare from the genuinely unusual.  Yes, I do run the risk of not getting that all important documentary photograph if I spend time looking at the bird first, but it’s a chance I’m willing to take given that at a safe distance, my powers of observation are likely to be better than any photo I can get.  If the bird I’m intrigued by seems to be hanging around AND I think it’s still worthy of documentation, then I start thinking about photos.

lesa20140722sm074

I use the ten steps method.  Take some photos move ten steps closer, take more photos, ten steps closer, more photos, ten more steps.  With luck, I can get close enough to settle in a take a few pictures of the bird behaving naturally.

lesa20140722sm058

Observe and try to identify first, shoot later is my way.  Sometimes things I would like to have had pictures of get away.  But if I start with the photography and I frighten the birds off in an attempt to get close enough for a proper picture, I have nothing, not even a good mental image to write a description from.  My patience on most days is rewarded and on the days when something gets away? those become the bird-watcher equivalent of fish stories and we all need fish stories.

I had a good time this morning not finding the bird I’m pretty sure I saw yesterday and the rest of those photos can be found HERE.

Probable Little Stint at SJCR

I went out to the South Jetty of the Columbia River (parking lot C, Ft Stevens State Park) today to check for Elegant Terns.  On my way out to the river beach, I noted about 60 peeps in the big pond on the shorebird flats.  Within the flock was a conspicuously bright individual which I recognized immediately as a juvenile peep…

Size: Smaller than the nearby WESTERN SANDPIPERS in body size, but with longish legs that made it look nearly as tall.

Head: Roundish with a medium-sized narrow bill that tapered to a point (not blunt-looking like Semipalmated  Sandpiper).  Over-all, the head had a buffy wash with reddish streaking to the crown and a streaky eye-line. The throat and upper breast were white or very pale cream.  Back of neck and nape had a buffy ground color with rusty streaking.

Breast and belly:  Creamy white to white with light streaking along the sides at the pectorals, but no streaking on the lower breast or flanks.

Back and wings:  Most striking were the bright cream-colored braced on the otherwise dark reddish-brown mantle and scapulars.  The wing coverts were also dark brown with brightly fringed buffy edges to the feathers.  The tertials were nearly as long as the primaries leaving almost no primary projection.  Tertials were also dark brown with bright, buffy fringes.

Leg and feet:  The legs were black and long looking, relative to the body proportions.  I managed a couple of good looks at the toes and did not see any partial webbing as would be expected on Western or Semipalmated Sandpiper.

I did not get photos.  My camera was still in the bag.  I was doing the closely observing stuff ahead of getting photos.  A PECTORAL SANDPIPER spooked the flock and they flew toward the river beach.  By the time I got to the beach the flock appeared to be heading out along the jetty which usually means they are going to head south.

I went to check Trestle Bay (just in case) then came back to the river beach where I spent an hour sifting through WESTERN SANDPIPERS, SANDERINGS and SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS without relocating the bird described above.  Then the guy with the dog showed up…