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…

Cascades Adventure

I’ve just returned from an extended tour of the Central Oregon Cascades.  Michelle had not yet been to Crater Lake and there were other points of interest we thought might be amusing.  So, we packed up the car and headed south.

Wizard Island and Crater Lake

We landed in Cottage Grove on the first day, then headed toward Diamond Lake via Dorena Lake and the Steamboat cutoff on day two, arriving at Crater Lake by late morning.  We found the CLARK’S NUTCRAKERS to be friendly.

Clark's Nutcracker

We landed in Klamath Falls for the second night and took some time to check out the Link River Birding Trail.

Common Mergansers

On day three we drove through Klamath Marsh, a bit too late in the season for good birding, but the butterflies were impressive.

Common Buckeye

We spent the afternoon at Newberry Crater National Volcanic Monument.  Once again, the butterflies outnumbered the birds…

Speyeria zerene (?)

We spent two nights in Bend and explored some of our favorite Deschutes County locations.  While the girls slept in, I took an early morning stroll on the river walk near the motel and was surprised to find PINYON JAYS walking along the path like blackbirds.  Apparently, Pinyon Jays are walkers, like crows, rather than hoppers, like regular jays.  I learn new stuff every day in spite of my advanced age and alleged experience.

Pinyon Jay

We headed to one of our favorite spots, Cold Springs for an mid-morning nature walk.  This is my go-to place for woodpeckers.  The special treat was an almost cooperative  WILLIAMSON’S SAPSUCKER.

Williamson's Sapsucker - 7/10/2014

We then headed to P. S. Ogden State Park for the expressed purpose of ticking WHITE-THROATED SWIFTS.  They are pretty much guaranteed at the very scenic gorge along with 100′s of VIOLET-GREEN and CLIFF SWALLOW.  They’re very difficult to photograph, however.

Crooked River Canyon

We finished our day with a visit to the High Desert Museum where I spent a good bit of time watching the squirrel bird feeder.

Yellow Pine Chipmunk

We came home via the old McKenzie Highway.  Stopping to count PINE SISKINS at the Dee Wright Observatory and mosquitoes at Scott Lake.

Scott Lake

In five days we found 111 species of birds and 20 species of butterflies (plus a couple identifiable day moths).  I also took over 400 pictures, the best of which are available at my Flickr Site as a Collection.

Chestnut-sided Warbler

As has become my habit, I was checking the recent day-list posting at eBird last evening, just to see who might be lurking in Clatsop County and what they might be seeing and I came across this list:

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S18973927

Someone had found a CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER at Battery Russell in Fort Stevens State Park AND they had pictures and audio to confirm it.  Back in the olden days, we might not have ever heard about a bird like this, or at best, found out about it days or weeks after the original sighting.  Thank you John Trent for posting this on eBird in a timely manner and with unequivocal supporting documentation.

Ah, what a brave new world…

I arrived at Battery Russell at around 09:30 this morning to find that Dianna Byrne had already seen the bird (and documented it thoroughly).  Within a few minutes Lee Cain was on the scene followed minutes later by Steve Warner.  It took us about 30 minutes to relocate the bird by ear.  The song is very loud and sounds like it’s coming from somewhere closer than it actually is.  I was eventually able to get identifiable photos…

Chestnut-sided Warbler

and a good Chestnut-sided Warbler song recording

It is hanging out in the trees between the area around the outhouse at the parking and just south of the cyclone fence up the gravel trail.  It seems to prefer higher trees, you will almost certainly hear it way before you actually get to see it and it really does sound a lot closer to you than it is when it sings.

Now for the embarrassing part.  I almost certainly heard this bird as far back as June 10.  I normally only stop at Battery Russell to use the outhouse.  I prefer birding along the bike path area on the north side of the road and don’t spend much time around the actual battery.  I heard this bird on June 10, did not recognize it, tried to pish it out, could not locate it (probably because I thought it was closer than it was), then dismissed it as probably just a funky MacGillivray’s or Yellow Warbler.  I heard it on a couple subsequent visits that included a stop at the outhouse, said to myself “there’s that funny sounding Yellow, again.” and went on to other things.

So, once again, thank you John Trent for sharing. I missed it completely.

All the photos I took today are HERE

Proof positive

My daughter came home from school the other day deeply offended.  She had been working on a science project about bumblebees and was using an online crowd-sourced ID site call bugguide.net to help with ID’s.  Using the site requires a photograph.  Submitted photographs become part of a communal database for documenting range and phenology as well as providing tools for helping others identify species.  In other words, submitted photographs become part of a giant communal field guide for bugs.

Photographs that fail to be useful in identifying a species are labeled “frass” and are put into a queue to be discarded.  Michelle entered a photo that was deemed frass.  Frass is the term used by bug people for bug poop.  Given that bugguide is supplying the disk space for all the photographs at the site, it is perfectly reasonable that they might choose to discard photographs that are not useful to their mission.  Labeling those unuseful pictures as frass is meant to be a cute, bug-centric euphemism intended to lighten the act of saying no.  Michelle took it personally that her contribution had been labeled poop.

There are a lot of online data collection sites out there on the interwebs and they all have rules about providing evidence for what we send to them.  Some are tougher than others.  These folks don’t know me.  They don’t know what skills I have.  I’m just one of the thousands of users they interact with on a daily basis.  They are providing a service, usually free of charge and they have to have some sort of regulatory mechanism for processing, verifying and storing the data that gets sent to them.  Their house, their rules.  It’s not an unreasonable expectation that any claim I might make to one of these sites be supported by tangible proofs and failing that, it’s not unreasonable for them to either ask for additional data or reject my contributions.  So, why do we complain so much about having to submit additional documentation along with our report to these communal data bases? And why do we feel so angry when we’re told no?  Who is doing whom the favor?

I regularly submit information to bugguide.net, odonata central, bumblebee watch, iNaturalist.org, Butterflies and Moths of North America, and eBird (which turns out to be the most liberal of the bunch).  I have had records accepted, modified and rejected at all of these sites.  They all have their own rules of operation and they all have regional experts who interpret those rules uniquely, often producing inconsistent outcomes.  The bee people at bugguide (for example) are much less forgiving about the quality of photographs than the fly people and the folks who set the filters on eBird for Tillamook County set them differently than the folks who set the filters for Clatsop County.

My solution? be my own best filter.  Make a game of documentation.  If the filter says more than 50 California Gulls is too many, I don’t get mad (anymore), I take a picture of that flock of gulls and attach it to the bird list.  Rather than complaining about having a photo rejected because it’s ambiguous, I challenge myself to take another better picture.  Can’t get a photo? draw a picture, write a written description.  My rule for eBird?  If it’s a rare species and I can’t document it, it doesn’t go on eBird.  It may go on OBOL and I will almost certainly alert Steve and David and Neal, but eBird will get hummingbird sp. (or whatever).

There are reasons why documentation is important to these communal databases and none of them should be taken as personal affronts.  I always try to remember: the folks doing the hard work of evaluating my input don’t know that I am the smartest, most gifted Natural Historian in Clatsop County (and a swell guy).  I have to provide them with evidence to that effect.  And even after they’ve made the discovery that I am God’s gift to the Natural Sciences and infallible, I need to be a good role model and continue to thoroughly document things for appearances sake.

Nobody is making you or me send data to these sites.  We choose to send in data, hopefully, because we want to contribute to something greater than ourselves.  We are, consequently, bound by the rules set by the house.  Don’t like the rules? Don’t play the game.  That’s a tough lesson for a fifteen year old, newly passionate about bumblebees.  It’s a tough lesson for us old farts, too.

Bombus mixtus