Saturday, May 23, 2015

Marathon Birding: Black Oystercatcher Surveys

For the last two weeks, we have been surveying Black Oystercatchers for the Portland Audubon Society. They have taken over the Oregon coast-wide abundance survey that Elise Eliot-Smith had done for USGS for about eight years, then, when her funding for that program ran out, continued purely as a volunteer coordinator for another couple of years. Now with Portland Audubon at the helm, the study has been revitalized. And so I leaped into my areas with great enthusiasm. Johnny's enthusiasm was a little less, especially after our first Cape Lookout survey in rain and cold on May 12.

We did, however, find a pair of BLOY on one side of the cape and a single from another of the five, yes five, observation points that all require much hiking between. BLOY surveying at Cape Lookout is challenging. But the views, when you can see them, are lovely.

Here is the north cove, where we found two BLOY on our first survey, May 12, after the rain quit.

Here is a view from the south side of the cape, looking toward Cape Kiwanda, obscured in clouds.

Cape Lookout does sometimes have other rewards. Our follow-up survey on May 19 (when the above photo was taken) netted somewhat better weather... and whales! Johnny spotted two cows and two calves right below us. Well, way down below us as the Cape is very high over the water. Whales keep their calves close to shore as they round the cape heading north to avoid the deep sea predators, so they have no choice but to follow the steep sides of the cape around, affording great viewing opportunities to people on the trail high above.

But BLOY were the main objects of these surveys...

On May 14, I had surveyed Cliff Creek Falls alone. I found no BLOY at this site where I had watched a chick grow up and fledge in 2012.

But there were plenty of sea lions below me, barking and herding fish.

 ...And wildflowers on the long hike back to my car, giving me rest stops for photographs.

 BLOY provided excitement at North Cascade Head the next day, May 15. After a difficult, steep hike bushwhacking, we arrived at the cove where I had seen two BLOY in a scouting trip earlier. None were to be seen when we arrived, so we sat down to wait. After almost an hour, we heard and saw two land on a foraging rock next to the big flat rock where I had seen them the last time. They flew to the flat rock, preened, copulated, and then the female walked stealthily toward the cliff... and sat down on two eggs! We had not seen the eggs before as they were behind tree branches from us. I never knew BLOY to leave eggs that long untended but BLOY continually surprise us. And who knows if he was there, behind the tree branches, and had left without us seeing him to meet his incoming mate for her turn on the eggs.

the nest rock

the pair soon after alighting on their nest rock

female on nest with bit of post-preening down on her bill

More BLOY excitement happened at Road's End on May 20, although we didn't know it until later, when I examined my photographs. I had hiked to the North Observation Point while Johnny hiked up The Thumb. I could see my North Rock BLOY below me, doing nothing. Eventually they moved to a spot that they were apparently considering a nest area as they scraped and scratched and wandered around as though to say, "How about here?" while the other replied, "No, I think this is better over where I am."

When I tired of watching them, I canvased the back of the Middle Rock and South Rock with my camera from my great distance away. It was in one of those photos that I found the South Rock BLOY nest... but thought I'd found the Middle Rock until I compared photos two weeks later. Johnny could tell both North Rock and Middle Rock pairs were nesting... somewhere on their respective rocks... because one of the partners of each was on guard duty. But they nest on the west side of their rocks, out of Johnny's view. And, I thought, out of my view to the north of them as well.

 The rock in the middle below is "Middle Rock", far away even zoomed up a bit in my camera. The rock far left is "South Rock".

 I zoomed my camera all the way up and shot blindly all over the rock. I did not think I had a prayer of finding the nesting bird. But here she is...

On Friday, May 22, we did our last survey. This time it was more about fun than birds. We hiked the beach at Oceanside at low tide, then met friends for lunch in Netarts. All of us then went to Short Beach to see if that pair were nesting yet (apparently not).

 At Cape Meares, we found the pair that nests on the North Cliff but they are not yet nesting.

North Toe at Cape Meares

The real excitement, though, came from the Peregrine Falcons that nest on that cliff. Their aerie is high on the cliff and hidden behind thistles. However we hiked down to the lowest viewing platform and were able to see the female's head, sort of, above a pair of buttercups and left of the thistles. It is a *very* long way across the cove to the north cliff, but Johnny managed a photo through our scope. If you strain your eyes, you can make out a peregrine's mustachioed head above two yellow flowers.

As we started to leave the Cape, a Bald Eagle flew over the cove. Papa Falcon took out after it screaming and diving at the eagle, who barrel rolled to avoid being struck between the shoulder blades by a furious falcon. The falcon loudly escorted the eagle all the way out of the cove.

Today, we heard that one chick and possibly a second were seen the morning we were there!

During our two week BLOY surveys, we saw a total of 21 BLOY. Not all those sites are mine to survey officially, though... I was just checking for nests which I do monitor until fledging. We found 17 BLOY in "my" sites.

And we did a bit of gardening between trips... That story and photos in another post... someday... after I rest up.

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