Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A Birding Bonanza

Wow. What a day.

October 20 started out to be just a trip to the coast, which I have been missing since Black Oystercatcher monitoring season ended, to pick up friend Dawn and go look for a rare-to-Oregon bird that had been hanging around Yachats, a bit over an hour south of Dawn's home in south Lincoln City. Mountain Chickadees had also been sighted in Yachats and Dawn "needed" those for her Lincoln County list. But we had no great expectations other than to have fun birding together, whether or not the birds showed up.

My day started with a good omen: the first of the season White-throated Sparrow eating seed in front of the barn with the horde of Golden-crowned Sparrows and California Quail. I didn't take the time to get a photo. The next day, I tried for a photo but all the small birds were very skittish. The best I could do was the sparrow peeking out from under bushes.

But it, along with all the other birds, soon disappeared. The jays kept up a constant warning clatter. The reason appeared suddenly in the dead tree behind the feeding grounds. A Sharp-shinned Hawk.

My first stop on THE day was at Dawn's, where she invited me to spend a few minutes out on her deck overlooking the ocean where she had her scope set up on the rafts of birds in the water. I have been wanting to do a seawatch from her deck with her telling me what I'm seeing. To me, they look like dark and light birds... not a clue what they are. She started explaining how to tell the Heerman's Gulls from the Shearwaters or whatever when we spotted whales, apparently lots of them, swirling around in the water, blowing almost constantly, with birds, hundreds of birds, swirling around above them. When the whales dove, the birds dropped into the water where the whales had been, apparently scarfing up fish that the whales had churned up. We had never seen Gray Whales, common on the coast, doing this. Then I saw a whale dive with its beautiful black and white tail flukes straight up in the air. They had to be Humpback Whales! But soon they moved on south... and so did we. What a start to our day!

At Yachats we found the street where the Common Ground Dove had been seen but saw no birders or birds so decided to park behind the nearby Presbyterian Church and walk the neighborhood. As we got out of our car, binoculars and cameras draped around our necks, a woman behind the church next to a grassy playground raised her hand as she looked through her binoculars at something in the grass ahead of her. She had the bird sighted! It turned out to be Judy Meredith, who said there were many other birders who had been walking around looking for the bird since 9 in the morning. It was now a bit after noon. We had spent zero minutes looking, thanks to Judy, who had spotted us getting out of our car with our bins and knew we were looking for the dove. She then called the person she rode down with and soon all the other birders arrived.

Common Ground Dove, sparrow-sized

Dawn and I felt a little embarrassed to have had such good, fast views with no effort. We left the rest of the newly-arrived birders and headed for the park to have lunch... and look for my favorite coastal bird, Black Oystercatcher. Again, the bird (birds this time) appeared in front of us with no effort. We hiked down the road along the rocky coastline a bit where Dawn spotted 3 sub-adult BLOY with 4 adults! I took photos of one juvenile foraging...

and finding a bit of something to eat...


Another juvenile called...   and soon all flew a bit farther off and foraged together.

I would have been content to call the day superb already... we had seen our target bird, the uncommon in Oregon Common Ground Dove, and my beloved Black Oystercatchers. But the fun had only begun...

Next stop was Eckman Lake by Waldport. Dawn birds there often and thought we might see some shorebirds. We did see hordes of Dowitchers and noisy Greater Yellowlegs, but also a pair of Bald Eagles and lots of various ducks, most of which I have forgotten (Dawn keeps a list) because I was so entranced by this Double-crested Cormorant trying to get a big fish into position to swallow.

Before the bird succeeded, two otters swam up to try to steal the fish. Amazingly, the cormorant was able to take off with that fish in its bill and fly away.

Dawn had me drive to a gravel road at the end of the lake by a marsh. There we heard a Virginia Rail calling. Dawn played a recording to bring it out but it never appeared. However, as we stood looking across the marsh, having given up on the rail, it let off a series of grunts so loud it made us both jump. It must have been very close to our feet but completely hidden in the marsh vegetation.

We left Eckman Lake and drove along Alsea Bay back toward Hwy 101. We stopped at a few pull outs along the bay and saw 27 Western Grebes in a raft together and a dozen or so Great Egrets on the far bank, all too far for photos. Then we were back at 101 and off to Seal Rock, where we saw whales again... and Brown Pelicans...

... more Black Oystercatchers, and Dawn saw a Hermit Thrush while I was off taking photos of the beautiful scenery. I had never been to Seal Rock park to do more than use the restroom before. I had no idea it had such wonderful trails and viewpoints and odd rock formations.

This vista looks like it belongs in eastern Oregon but it is right by the ocean

By now we were joking that every time we stopped and got out of the car, we saw something wonderful. So Dawn guided me to the South Jetty in Newport... where we got out of the car and saw...

...a pair of Common Loons...

...two Horned Grebes...

...and a Brant...

Dawn still wanted Mountain Chickadees for her Lincoln County list and had heard that they had been seen at Yaquina Head. So that was our last stop. We drove in, parked, got out of the car, and were immediately entertained by a flock of Chestnut-backed Chickadees and at least three, probably more, Mountain Chickadees.

Wow! What a day!

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