Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Birds of Colombia: the joy of tropical bird feeding

This is another post about birds I recently saw in Colombia.  For the first, most important installment, click here.

Here birdie, birdie, birdie!

Where would birding be without backyard feeders?  Birder or not, most people in the US become familiar with birds as the cute little feathered things that eat seeds out of a tray in the backyard.  

Bird feeding is not as ubiquitous in the tropics as it is in the states,  but where it happens, the results are often spectacular.   

Blue-necked Tanager, Chestnut-capped Piha Reserve

Safflower and thistle won’t get you far here; it’s all about the bananas!


Silver-throated Tanager, Chestnut-capped Piha Reserve


Bay-headed Tanager, Chestnut-capped Piha Reserve


Every elevation offers a slightly different assemblage of tanagers.

Golden Tanager, Tatama National Park
Colombian Chachalaca, Chestnut-capped Piha Reserve

What?! Get out of here you chachalaca!  These bananas aren’t for you.  

Of course not all the tanagers go for bananas.  This young Multicolored Tanager (Vulnerable Colombian endemic) seemed to prefer the worms offered up by its parent.

immature Multicolored Tanager begging mom for food, Otun Quimbaya National Park
Yum!
And then there’s the nectar-feeders.  Yeah, a few lucky folks in southern Arizona might enjoy a regular hummingbird spectacle, but the diversity down here is off the charts.  We saw a whopping 50 species, including some real stunners: 

young Violet-tailed Sylph, Tatama National Park
Black-thighed Puffleg, Los Nevados National Park - Near-threatened
Blue-headed Sapphire, Valle de Cauca - Colombian endemic

Imagine if people in the US could see this array from the kitchen window.  I reckon the outlook for Neotropical birds would be much rosier.

Sadly, habitat loss threatens far too many Colombian bird species.  About 5% of the species we saw are listed as threatened (or "near-threatened") by the IUCN, including the critically endangered Munchique Wood-Wren, which is known from just one mountain ridge in Tatama National Park. 

In addition to the Cauca Guan and Chestnut-capped Piha shown in the last post, I also got decent photos of these threatened species:

Gold-ringed Tanager, Tatama National Park - Vulnerable Colombian endemic


Buffy Helmetcrest, Los Nevados National Park - Vulnerable Colombian endemic


White-mantled Barbet, Chestnut-capped Piha Reserve - Vulnerable Colombian endemic


In some places you can even feed the endangered species.  Antpitta feeding was invented by Angel Paz in Ecuador, but it has been emulated since by other reserves throughout the Andes.  At Rio Blanco reserve our antpitta whisperer, Alvero, drew four species to us with worms.  Including the beautiful, but not endangered Chestnut-capped Antpitta...

Chestnut-capped Antpitta, Rio Blaco Reserve


...and the less-beautiful, but vulnerable and Colombian endemic Brown-banded Antpitta.   
 
Brown-banded Antpitta, Rio Blanco Reserve - Vulnerable Colombian endemic
Also seen was the Vulnerable Bicolored Antpitta and Slaty-crowned Antpitta.

There’s no shame in feeder watching in Colombia where there are endemic and threatened birds to see!
In some places all you have to do is throw the compost out the back door and you’ll have rails running up to your feet.  

Blackish Rail, Tatama National Park
The previous Colombia post caused some people to reevaluate their lives and birding lifestyles.  I sure hope this one didn't ruin your enjoyment of cardinals and chickadees!

Next time we will peer through undergrowth and darkness in search of skulking species.  Hope to see you there (unlike most of the tapaculos).

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Welcome to Colombia, Birdiest Country on Earth


My retinas are still scorched from gaudy tanagers and glittering hummingbirds; my ears still ringing from exuberant antshrike and tapaculo songs; and my brain still trying to comprehend how this guan, once overhunted in dwindling forest fragments to the point of presumed extinction, sat in a tree in front of me to be photographed.

Cauca Guan, Otun Quimbaya National Park - Endangered Colombian endemic, less than 1000 mature individuals remain

This wasn’t my first time around the block in South America, but I’m not sure I’ve sustained such a fast and hard birding pace over so many days before anywhere.  Natalia Ocampo-Penuela assembled a dream team of eight natural scientist friends, planned an optimal route from Cali to Medellin, and collectively we managed to log nearly 500 of Colombia's 1900+ bird species (making it #1 in the world) in just 12 days in the Colombian Andes.  



the Dream Team atop a peak in Tatama National Park

 
To put that in perspective, I’m still waiting to tick my 500th species for the United States, the country where I’ve lived and birded for over a decade.  

For hardcore listers, that’s the magic of birding the neotropics—one can see in 12 days the avian diversity that it might take 12 years to experience in the temperate zone.   For the more aesthetically-minded, it offers the chance to see some of the most bizarre and beautiful creatures on the planet while wandering through primeval landscapes. 
Golden-crowned Tanager, Los Nevados National Park

And birds are just the tip of an iceberg for the entemologically-(or botanically)-inclined.

Will (our team lepidopterist) making the most of a midday bird lull


Our trip took us from the Pacific lowland rainforests of San Cipriano, where we rode Brujitas (“little witches” is a literal translation for the name of the motorbike-powered rail platforms used there for transport) up to the open Paramo of Los Nevados National Park. And we covered the breadth of cloud forest elevations between all over the Western and Central Andes. 


Trip Route


We saw so many birds and bird families, but I always get asked, “which was your favorite?” So let’s start there.

I struggle with favorites, especially with so many to choose from, but one of them has to be the Red-ruffed Fruitcrow, a hawk-sized monster in the cotinga family and one of New World’s largest passerines.    

Red-ruffed Fruitcrow, Otun Quimbaya National Park
Red-ruffed Fruitcrow, Otun Quimbaya National Park


We did well on cotingas on the trip, spotting 8 members of this diverse family including one that rivals the Cauca Guan in terms of absolute rarity, the Chestnut-capped Piha.
Chestnut-capped Piha (look at that cap!), Chesnut-capped Piha Reserve - Endangered Colombian endemic

An estimated 750 to 1250 Chestnut-capped Pihas remain in existence.  Not surprisingly the species is endemic to Colombia and is listed as endangered.  We saw ours in the well-named “Chestnut-capped Piha Reserve,” essentially the only place they are known to persist.

Also included with the Cotingas were three fruiteater species we saw, the most common and cooperative of which was the Green-and-black Fruiteater.  
Green-and-Black Fruiteater male, Tatama National Park
Green-and-black Fruiteater female, Tatama National Park

Natalia’s favorite bird of the trip was also a cotinga, this Black-tipped Cotinga of which we saw several in San Cipriano.  While most tropical birds are either colorful or camouflaged, this bird is one of the few in the forest that is almost entirely white.  

Black-tipped Cotinga, San Cipriano - totally blown out white in this photo

At the other end of the size spectrum from the fruitcrow lies the Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant, which is the world’s smallest passerine species.

Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant, San Cipriano - world's smallest passerine




This cute guy belongs to the much maligned tyrant flycatcher family, the most diverse bird family in both Colombia and South America.  Birders like to hate on tyrant flycatchers because “they all look the same.”  While that’s true of some groups (I’m looking at you elaenia!), we stumbled upon several of the more distinctive and attractive examples among more than 50 flycatcher species encountered on the trip.  
Fork-tailed Flycatcher is a bird that if it should appear in North Carolina might inspire psychotic birders to drive hours in chase, whereas in Colombia it’s kind of a ho-hum yard bird.

Fork-tailed Flycatcher, near Cali

Same goes for the most brilliant of all tyrannids, the Vermillion Flycatcher.
Vermillion Flycatcher, near Cali

Cinnamon Flycatchers, as cute as they look, are “trash birds” of the cloud forest.  Even the birders that scream “eagle!” at every passing Black Vulture quickly learn to ignore this ubiquitous tyrant.

Cinnamon Flycatcher, Montezuma


Unfortunately my photo of one of the cutest flycatchers of all, the Rufous-crowned Tody-Flycatcher came out blurry…

Rufous-crowned Tody-Flycatcher, Rio Blanco Reserve


…so take this Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher instead.

Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Antioquia
Let's take an interlude here for a quick, old-fashioned, near-death-experience story:

About halfway into the trip I learned about one of the risks that comes with birding in the tropics.  At night at the Montezuma Lodge in Tatama National Park, thousands of moths and other nocturnal insects would swarm at the lights over our dinner table.  A kaleidoscope of unimaginably ornate, delicate things crashing into the walls, lighting on shirt sleeves.  As I stooped to examine some sort of behemoth rhinoceros beetle that had just bounced off the ceiling when I felt a sharp pain in my neck.  Ouch!

I reflexively reached for the pain and felt nothing but a rapidly forming welt.  As my companions sitting around the table recounted the day’s dozen hummingbirds, I felt my head grow hot as if swelling.  My lips began to inflate and face grew tight.  My body itched everywhere.  Was I being bitten by bugs?  No.  I was going into anaphylactic shock!

Our team doctor, Mr. Mark K. (not an actual doctor) administered antihistamine, which may or may not have saved my life.  I spent the next couple hours wheezing, trying to will my throat not to seal itself shut.  The closest hospital was at least 6 hours away on rough roads, so a medical evacuation was never even worth considering.

This condition presented a novel conundrum for me: I figured I should try to come up with some profound and choice last words, but at the same time I didn't want to waste any breath on speech.   

Anyway, since you’re reading this, I obviously made it through.  In fact I was out birding the first thing the next morning.  But sometimes there’s a balance between chasing lifers and staying alive.

---
 
So where were we?  Right, we covered a couple of the perch-and-sally-types, the Cotingas and Flycatchers.  Let’s talk about the ducks for a hot second and call it a day!

Ducks in the tropics?  Indeed.

During our morning at the Sonso wetland down in the Cauca valley between the central and western cordilleras, we spotted Fulvous and Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, Cinnamon and early migrating Blue-winged Teal; and in Los Nevados we spotted four Andean Teal and an Andean Ruddy Duck.  

But the best duck of the trip (if not of all time!) came at a random roadside stop on the way to Otun.

Torrent Duck family, Risaralda

I had seen Torrent Ducks before, but never a whole family all together battling the rapids!

Enjoy the video.  



In the next post we will explore the joy of tropical bird feeding (expect colorful Tanagers and Hummingbirds!).

Stay tuned and stay safe!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks at Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks have been showing up all over the place recently, with brief appearances in each of North Carolina's three physiographic regions: mountains, piedmont and coastal plain, as well as northern outliers turning up Massachusetts and New Brunswick all in the last several weeks.  So on the one hand, a record of this species at Mattamuskeet is probably long over due.  Yet prior to 2013 there were only two formally confirmed North Carolina occurrences, so the pair I stumbled upon on Monday is certainly worth some excited documentation. 

It all began innocently enough. With the recent discovery of White-faced Ibises hanging around the refuge (see this post and this post) I have been giving any Glossy Ibises I see a second look if I get the chance. The long days of late June meant that after 13 hours of field work there was still plenty of daylight and I somehow had the energy to scrutinize some distant ibises.  

I picked out a couple young of the year glossies showing some odd white markings on the neck and crown, which I've never before seen in photos of field guides.


freshly fledged Glossy Ibis, Mattamuskeet NWR
Glossy Ibis, Mattamuskeet NWR
I stopped as I was driving out and hopped out of my car planning to scope some distant ibis when I noticed this cute pair of ducks right in front of me. 

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge
The provenance question always comes up with vagrant duck species.  This pair shuffled away from me, but didn't take immediate flight, which gave me some decent photographic opportunities.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Mattamuskeet NWR
They dabbled among the marsh plants (looks like the invasive Alligator Weed) a bit.

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks Mattamuskeet, NWR
Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, Mattamuskeet NWR
They seemed to be quite at home among the other impoundment denizens. 
Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks with Snowy Egret, Glossy Ibis, White Ibis
They eventually began to preen.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Mattamuskeet NWR
I'm not sure what to make of this 'dance.'


After about 30 minutes the Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks abruptly picked up.  I followed them with binoculars and then switched to my scope until they became just wiggling dots against the sky that disappeared below the horizon to the south-southeast.  I thought that perhaps they might have resettled in one of the refuge impoundments in that direction, but a half-hearted search the following day failed to turn any up.   It seems like these ducks do not frequently linger after being found. 

In between shots of the Whistling-Ducks, I noticed a male Northern Pintail that had foregone the standard northern migration. He was keeping company with what appears to be a female Mottled Duck, another southern duck species with a complicated local history of anthropogenic introduction and showing a trend of northward expansion.


female Mottled Duck (right) with Northern Pintail, Mattamuskeet NWR
All at once I've got two species of duck that could possibly be considered first records for Hyde County if the authorities can stomach provenance concerns.

What will turn up at Mattamuskeet next?  Perhaps a Purple Gallinule?  There have been plenty of those turning up in NC lately, but it would take a good bit of luck to discover one among the sprawl of habitat available on the refuge. 

Until next time...

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Mourning Warbler is a bird worth celebrating


The Friday-the-thirteenth full honey moon magic left over from our fledgling Northern Saw-whet Owl encounter continued into the early hours of the morning when I was awakened by the shrill, incessant calling of a Sora.  This is a little aquatic rail species that should be breeding in a wetland up in Canada by mid-June, but for some reason was some 5000 feet up in the mountains of NC near the Sam Knob trail head having some sort of shouting match with my tent.  Weird.

After decamping Johnny, Lesley and I ran into Marcus Simpson and Marilyn Westphal in the parking lot and following them up the Art Loeb trail to the spot where a Mourning Warbler song had been heard by Merrill Lynch (the naturalist, not the financial firm) on a breeding bird survey several days before.

Mourning Warblers are notoriously elusive skulkers and seeing one, even when you know it in a shrub right in front of you, is almost never easy.  Small numbers pass through North Carolina twice each year on migration and occasionally a male is found repeatedly singing at the same place in summer as if he is trying to breed, though there are no definitive records of nesting in the state.
Mourning Warbler spot, Art Loeb Trail, Shining Rock Wilderness
Once we reached the spot, we heard him singing almost immediately, but true to form, the little guy just didn't want to show himself.  Rather than sit on a tall perch, he seemed to prefer singing from the middle of dense bushes or shrubs.  Another problem was that he seemed to be utilizing a rather large area as his "territory."  One moment his ringing song would erupt from right in front of us and the next he could be heard barely audible in the distance and then not at all.

Alder Flycatchers, Least Flycatchers and Chestnut-sided Warblers kept us company while we listened to Marcus Simpson's stories of Blue Ridge natural history and for the warbler to return from interminable forays down slope.  After a couple hours Marcus and Marilyn left but were replaced by several other birders including a few members of the "Bird Police" (North Carolina Bird Records Committee).  At this point a cloud rolled in and the Mourning Warbler finally decided to perch up on a distant snag where he sat and sang for a couple minutes.
Morning Warbler, Art Loeb Trail
He was out of range of most of the cameras present, but I was able to get a few diagnostic shots for records purposes!

Despite the sombre name, to see a Mourning Warbler, especially a singing male, in North Carolina is definitely worth celebrating!

The Southernmost Saw-whet Owl


We arrived just in time to see the Friday-the-13th Full Honey Moon creeping up over the top of  Devil's Courthouse, one of North Carolina's most infamous of rock faces set beside the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The national park sign explained that according to Cherokee Legend the cave below the cliff is "the private dancing chamber and dwelling place of the slant-eyed giant, Judaculla."  It was a dramatic start to our nocturnal quest.  

Of course our goal was not to slay a giant, but spot the tiny Northern Saw-whet Owl, one of North Carolina's most elusive breeding bird species.  Our guide was Marcus Simpson's Birds of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which proclaims that the area around Devil's Courthouse is one of the best places in North Carolina to see this northern species.

My friend, "Johnny birder," needed to see one for his life list and his wife Lesley, though not nearly the psychotic lister, was happy to join us on a short birding trip to the mountains. 

Up on top of the Courthouse we were treated to a jaw-dropping moonlit view of the valleys, clouds and towns below. 
View of the Friday-the-13th Full Honey Moon from atop Devil's Courthouse
It was a bit windy and we hadn't heard any owls after about an hour and I was beginning to worry that it was too late in the season to hear them sing.  How many silent owls were we walking past in the darkness?  Eventually, Johnny and Lesley noticed a squeeking sound that we might have passed off for branches rubbing in the wind except that it was too regular.  Further investigation with lights revealed a nest box and a fledgling calling from a branch just in front of the opening!

Fledgling Norther Saw-whet Owl, Devil's Courthouse
 After some photos and much celebration we made a late camp for the night.  Who should we run into at dawn the next morning, but none other than Marcus Simpson himself, the very author of the bird guide that had led us to this cute baby owl.

Better yet was the back-story he shared with us.  Marcus had set up the nest box we had seen, which he has been monitoring along with 30 others in the North Carolina mountains for decades. Despite diligent annual checks, he had never found evidence that any of his boxes were being used by Saw-whets.  So the owl we found was very important!  It demonstrated that these little owls were using at least one of his boxes.  On top of that, it represents the southernmost record of breeding for this species!

I can only assume that the confluence of celestial and calendarial events led us to make this discovery.  Thanks to Johnny and Lesley for helping spot this little treasure and to Marcus Simpson for writing up the map for us (buy your copy now!).

http://www.uncpress.unc.edu/images/jackets/large/simpson_birds.jpg

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Birding the Oregon Trail



The Joint Aquatic Sciences Meeting (JASM) brought me to Portland, Oregon for a week jammed wall-to-wall with more than a dozen concurrent sessions of 15-minutes presentations from limnologists (they study lakes), oceanographers, freshwater and wetland scientists, and phycologists (folks who study algae, as I learned). 

Black-headed Grosbeak, Mount Tabor Park


The humorous among us found that amending the conference acronym with the host state’s two-letter postal code yields ORJASM, which captures the cathartic excitement that abounds whenever 3000 ecologist super-nerds assemble (insert witty Oregon Trail computer game reference here).  
 
I was there to present on my research on waterfowl at Lake Mattamuskeet in eastern North Carolina, but I wasn’t going to fly all the way across the country without fitting in some birding.  So I arrived the weekend before and stayed for the Memorial Day weekend that followed to explore Oregon’s lush forested mountains, high deserts, valley wetlands and iconic coastline in search of lifers.  

I scored a coach-surfing host in one of Portlandia’s eastern suburbs, convenient for a foray up Oregon’s famous Colombia River Gorge.  Here tree-trunks are car-sized, ferns cover the forest floor and clear trout-filled streams spill along boulder-strewn valley floors.  This is temperate rainforest and it seems like the kind of place that creatures from Avatar should appear.  Instead I found one of my top targets, the American Dipper (a.k.a. Water Ouzel).  

American Dippers, Eagle Creek

I found some other exciting birds here, like Western Tanager and Rufous Hummingbird, but the canopy was filled with invisible singing warblers that I couldn’t identify.   

Western Tanager, Eagle Creek

I had listened to all the western warbler tapes, but it seems like the songs are quite a bit more variable than the eastern species I recognize.  After giving up on seeing the Black-throated Grays or Townsend’s or Hermits or whatever was teasing me, I continued up the gorge.

Black-throated Gray Warbler, seen later in Mount Hood National Forest


The transition from rain forest to desert is dramatic.  Suddenly the Naavi homeland is replaced by a brown open scrubland, and then eventually there’s nothing but rolling hills of billowing wheat and pasture.  Here is where I saw my first Vaux’s Swifts.  

A southward turn at The Dalles brought me to the town of Tygh Valley, a crossroads that I had been told was home to an ample population of Lewis’s Woodpeckers.  It took strolling along several of the cross streets and enduring as many odd looks from passersby before I found them near the river at the base of town.   

Lewis's Woodpecker, Tygh Valley

A pair of Bullock’s Oriole’s zoomed by, but there wasn’t much else going on, so I returned to my parked car where a Lewis’s Woodpecker was circling around overhead, fitting that birding maxim: the bird you seek is usually in the parking lot.

Next stop on my loop was a managed game land where I spotted the first of four empidonax targets: Gray Flycatcher.   

Gray Flycatcher, White River Wildlife Management Area

Here I noticed a raptor high overhead being mobbed by a Common Raven—a Golden Eagle! 

Golden Eagle, White River Wildlife Management Area

This was only the second I had ever seen, though I’ve still yet to find an adult.

I worked my way back west circumnavigating the majestic Mt. Hood, which juts abruptly white through the crumpled blanket of evergreen.   

Mount Hood
As it was late afternoon by this point, bird activity was low in the high elevation forest, but I was able to track down my target here: a Varied Thrush!

Fast-forward through an enjoyable and stimulating week of ORJASM...

...and I struck out for the Pacific Ocean. On the way I stopped to bird the lush coastal range to find Pacific-Slope and Hammond’s Flycatchers, MacGillivray’s and Hermit Warblers, among others.


lush, moss-covered vegetation (with Pacific Wren), Tillamook State Forest


Hermit Warbler, Tillamook State Forest
 I heard a Sooty Grouse drumming here, but it wouldn’t show itself. 

By the time I arrived at Cannon Beach it was late afternoon and hundreds of people were out enjoying a rare sunny day on their holiday weekend.  My main targets here were Tufted Puffin and Pigeon Guillemot.  After finding a few thousand Common Murres, but neither target alcid at the “bird rocks” I made my way the mile or so down the beach to “Haystack Rock.”  Here I encountered Tim, a volunteer monitoring the rock’s puffin colony for the Fish and Wildlife Service.  Tim reported seeing 16 puffins in the morning, but regretfully informed me that all were currently sequestered deep in their burrows or out at sea feeding.   

Common Murres, Haystack Rock

There were no guillemots in sight either, though masses of perhaps 1500 Common Murres were huddled together along the cliff top along with several dozen nesting Western Gulls.   

Haystack Rock with Bald Eagle terrorizing alcid/gull colony

An approaching Bald Eagle caused chaos among the rock’s residents sending flocks of murres swirling out over the beach and into the water.  Apparently the eagles have prevented the murres from successfully breeding here over the past several years, though they remain locally overpopulated and continue to try.  The puffins are declining, but persist and breed when the crowds of murres don’t block the entrances to their burrows. If it weren’t for the Department of the Interior protecting this rock, nothing would breed here at all. 

nesting Black Oystercatcher, Haystack Rock

Tim called it a day and encouraged me to return in the morning when the puffins are easier to see.  I stuck around for another hour or so and being the lone man with the spotting scope ended up being approached by all sorts of curious beach-goers.  

“Hey man. Are those penguins flying around?”

It became clear that Oregonians have an endearing friendliness, and attracted to the area by its natural beauty, are keen to learn about local wildlife.  

The puffins never made an appearance that afternoon, nor did the guillemots.  I had a free place to stay lined up in Portland but the round trip to Portland and back to the coast would be nearly four hours—time  I would much rather spend birding (and I would be racking up quite few hundred odometer miles on rental cars already).  So I cruised up to the town of Seaside and after a delicious taco dinner at Casa del Sol staked out a secluded church parking lot and bundled myself up in the passenger seat.  How quickly I revert to budget backpacker mode when I get to birding and travelling on my own.  I spare no daytime for meals; and anything above a bunk in a hostel dorm becomes an unconscionable indulgence. Sometimes "Eat. Sleep. Bird." becomes merely "Bird."

I awoke back-sore at dawn to the sweet serenade of a Swainson’s Thrush.  Rather than return immediately to the Haystack Rock for the puffins I cruised north to Fort Stevens State Park at the mouth of the Colombia River.  At the Carolina Bird Club meeting in Hendersonville the other week I had picked up a 1978 copy of Birding Oregon by Fred L. Ramsey that had been left in the free bird book pile at the registration table.  Obviously a lot of the information contained is now, 35 years later, out of date, but the book had promised that this area, Clatsop Spit specifically, was one of the best birding spots in all of Oregon.  

I guess I didn’t pick up any lifers here, but author’s claims seemed to ring true through the decades.  The back side of the spit offers mud flats and marsh for excellent aquatic bird habitat.  It was a bit late in the spring season for shorebirds, but about half a dozen species lingered and three breeding plumage Dunlin tripped the local ebird filters (late date for them I presume).  My favorite feature here is the large elevated platform that offers a commanding view of the jetty and ocean, teaming with bird life.  Pacific Loons, Western Grebes and Surf Scoters littered the ocean, to name just a few.  I saw a smaller alcid fluttering along the water.  It was perhaps a bit larger than a Dovekie (my east coast frame of reference), but definitely smaller than a Common Murre—maybe an auklet or a murrelet?  I had to let that one go.   

Farther down the beach on a dune above the skeletal remains of a ship wreck, I was scanning the ocean when some guy came jogging up to me sputtering something about a whale.  I looked up, and—holy sea cow—a pair of whales were blowing in the middle distance.  I later was told that they were probably Gray Whales, so maybe I had a lifer after all.  

It was hard to pull myself away from the productive ocean, but my malnourished stomach was growling and I wanted to get back to Haystack Rock before too late.  Tim had suggested 10 to 10:30 as the best time for seeing puffins.

After another taco meal at Casa del Sol I raced once again to the utopic town of Cannon Beach, bustling with Memorial Day weekend activity.  By the time I found a place to park and made it out to the rock it was nearly 11.  Tim was at his usual spot for puffin surveying some 200 yards up the beach.  The Eagle was back and had chased all the Murres off the rock.  Not surprisingly no puffins were in sight.  There was this pair of Pigeon Guillemots having some sort of domestic dispute.

Pigeon Guillemots, Haystack Rock

Tim tried to tell me that the puffins were all gone, but scoping the ocean I noticed a few bobbing in the chop.   

Tufted Puffins (and Western Gulls), Haystack Rock
Quite a few were out there actually; twelve was my conservative high count.  Tim recorded this observation in his notes and thanked me for the puffin spotting (something I have some experience with in the Atlantic).   

This population of Tufted Puffins at Haystack Rock has been steadily declining over the last 50 years and it isn’t yet clear why.  I would think that having Bald Eagles constantly present predating on the overpopulated Common Murres can’t be helping the puffins’ chances for successful breeding.  How are they supposed to feed their chicks with the threat of death-by-eagle looming on top of their roofs?
 
On my way back from the coast I dropped by Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve to look for Cinnamon Teal.   

Cinnamon Teal, Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve

These beautiful ducks are local residents and I saw them immediately from the visitor’s center, but took a short stroll down one of the paths to get a closer look.  En route I was besieged on all sides by vociferous bird activity.   

Anna's Hummingbird, Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve
Anna’s Hummingbirds were zipping by, Spotted Sandpiper’s were battling for territory and a Virginia Rail shuffled away from me as I approached.  The best bird for me here was this gorgeous Lazuli Bunting that popped up briefly to sing.   

Lazuli Bunting, Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve

He probably had fledglings to feed since he didn’t stick around for a better photo.

On my final day in Oregon I jogged back east to search for some targets I had missed the weekend before: Dusky Flycatcher, Cassin’s Vireo and Cassin’s Finch.   

Cassin's Vireo, Mount Hood National Forest

I was able to track down these birds along with the other targets on this whole Oregon trip thanks to some excellent advice provided by Stefan Schlick.  Stefan seems to have the knowledge of a breeding bird atlas and was able to direct me to more life birds than I had time to try to find.   Thanks to his help I was able to see 19 life birds (21 for the ABA area) and in doing so accumulated an Oregon list of 133—not bad for just a few days!

While I’m thanking people, I also want to give a shout-out to Bethani and Kaola who were generous enough to welcome a thrifty birdaholic like myself into their homes.  

Oregon is certainly a wonderful place.  Yes, the birds and landscapes there are phenomenal and Portland is one of the most pleasant, livable cities I’ve experiences, but I was really impressed by the friendliness of the people.  

 Fortunately, I left plenty of ‘opportunity birds’ on the table and would be glad to have another chance to visit the Pacific Northwest and explore further.

MacGillivray's Warbler, Mount Hood National Forest

For now it’s back to the grind of field work, lab work and meetings in the stifling North Carolina summer.  Hopefully I can get on a trip offshore soon.