In light of recent events keeping us at or close to home, starting on March 24, 2020, I started a quarantine yard list as part of a challenge kicked off by 5MR Jen. Even though no cloud of any sort has truly lifted (e.g., we are still staying close to home), that yard challenge ended yesterday, April 30, 2020.
I ended with 62 species of birds on my quarantine yard list and a total ongoing yard count of 80 species. I even managed to summon a Western Tanager yesterday morning, species #80 for my yard and my final species for this yard challenge! I found it in the lower part of the canopy in one of our Doug-fir trees.
This was a rewarding time of the year to participate in this challenge because bird species are coming and going. During this window of time, I said goodbye to the Dark-eyed Juncos and Varied Thrushes and hello to the Black-headed Grosbeaks, Ospreys, and Yellow-rumped Warblers.
What follows are some yard bird photos from this final week. My quarantine yard list is at the end of this blog post. The ongoing yard list continues though! And May 9 is the eBird Global Big Day!
Our yard continues to yield new “quarantine” bird species almost every day. A few of these have been new yard species, too. We have been at this location for almost 1 year.
Yesterday on the way back from my daily morning coffee walk around my neighborhood, I saw a Chipping Sparrow in our next-door neighbour’s flowering dogwood tree. I slowly walked past the tree and onto our driveway. Chipper was still in the tree! Bam! Yard bird #78! Sadly I have no photograph of Chipper because I don’t bring such luxuries as a camera on my morning coffee walk. I’m fresh out of bed and usually in my PJs.
Last weekend, a new and quite surprising yard bird, a Greater Yellowlegs, flew along Lacamas Creek and wadded around long enough for me to get a few terrible photos from my office window.
Other highlights from this past week included my yard’s second Lincoln’s Sparrow and yard’s first Brown-headed Cowbird.
As of yesterday, my total yard count is at 79 species and my quarantine list is at 58 species.
Here is a photo blog update of some of the birdy highlights, new and old, from our yard over the past week and a half.
Quarantined birding for me isn’t much different from non-quarantined birding. We live on a bluff overlooking a creek, river, and ash-dominated floodplain, and I’ve worked from home full-time, in this location, for nearly 1 year. It’s backyard birding as usual except that now it’s spring, so the migrants are passing through (north [or up]) and the residents are setting up territories and building nests.
On March 24, 5MR Jen kicked off a yard challenge. This generally means counting birds you see or hear in or from your yard. Because I work from home, this feels like one very long birding point count, but with long, nighttime breaks for sleep and many breaks during the day for cheese and crackers (many).
I’ve been participating in this yard challenge since March 24. My office window faces our backyard and my feeders. During the day, I catch what I can while I’m working. After work, I sit outside and catch the late afternoon/evening bird activity.
As of today, April 14, my yard challenge list since March 24 is 47 species.
Here’s a selection of yard birds that I was able to capture with my pretty basic camera. Check out my YouTube channel for videos of a Varied Thrush and a Fox Sparrow.
Last month, I put on my snowbird training wheels for the second time and flew to Fort Myers, Florida, to visit my snowbird parents and to, of course, bird. This year’s trip doesn’t necessarily top last year’s trip because last year’s trip resulted in a waterfall of lifers. This year’s trip did involve the following:
Visiting some of my favourite birding spots
Visiting some new birding spots
Complaining about the humidity
Enjoying the ubiquitous serenade of the Northern Mockingbird
We no longer live 1 hour from the coast. It’s more like 2 hours now, so we have yet to make the trip since we moved north. In late January, we decided to head to Cannon Beach, the birthplace of our PNW love.
We started (birding of course) at Ecola State Park, which was a new stop for both of us. It was mostly be accident. When we entered the town of Cannon Beach, we turned right at some point, then drove down a very long road through an enchanting forest to Ecola State Park.
This park is breathtaking, and I’m happy that it’s the closest part of the coast to our house.
I need to visit the coast more often because my shorebird ID needs some work. Almost every time I see shorebirds, it’s like I’m starting over in bird ID. I guess that keeps things interesting, and I’m glad I have a decent camera that allows me to bring home bird ID homework.
Go ahead and roll your eyes at me. I’ll give you a few minutes. Don’t run out of eye rolls though, because once I define this marvelous abbreviation for you, you’ll be back at it again.
PPP = the Philomath Poo Ponds, aka the Philomath Sewage Ponds.
Note: Access to these ponds is restricted! You need to have a permit, which is available free of charge from the Philomath Public Works Department.
It’s been several months since I’ve birded the PPP because it’s now more than 2 hours away. But, enter the Willamette Valley Birding Symposium in Corvallis, plus a visit from my birding sister Lindsay, and I’m back down in arguably the best birding area in Oregon (IMHO). The symposium was on the Saturday, and we birded on Sunday. We planned on birding the PPP and Finley, but hitting both in 1 day is difficult when the sun sets at 4:30-ish and you’ve slept in and had a lazy morning birding your AirBNB property.
I ventured out my front door today to find the American Dippers that are regulars, at least for now, above and below the Lower Falls in Lacamas Regional Park.
The streamflow in the creek today was fast, and as soon as I got to the bridge, I found one dipper, dipping and bobbing on a big mossy rock on the side of the creek. The water was rough today, but Dipper took to the air and masterfully dived into the creek and returned to the mossy rock seconds later with a tasty treat. I was close enough today to get a video capturing the full dipper experience (FDE)! It’s short and worth it! Check is out at the following link, especially if you’ve never seen the FDE: https://youtu.be/4VwPwQJws_g
January 8, 2020, and a new yard bird—#73—makes a dramatic appearance in the backyard.
#73 is a Sharp-shinned hawk.
#73 flew in quickly today, snatched a specimen belonging to #16 (Spotted Towhee), and settled down in the grass for a few minutes (very-still towhee in talons) before flying off. I noticed this skirmish after hearing a small but loud cry (poor towhee) then looked over to see the latter half of the scene.
Wild! I feel awful for the towhee. I bait towhees with delicious seed and inadvertently baited a sharpie with a delicious towhee. I have a lot of towhees, so I suppose I can spare a few? I still feel a bit awful. RIP towhee. I think you went quickly.
It’s a blog revival! Since you were last here, the blog has appropriately changed from Oregon Big Year to Sauntering Birder, and I have changed locations. I’m still in the Pacific Northwest, but we moved up to southwest Washington in June 2019. Moving is all consuming, and the months that followed were made up of many highs and and one real low. Nevertheless, the blog was unintentionally put to sleep for a bit.
I haven’t stopped birding of course, and I haven’t stopped taking photos. So, consider this a long photo-based catch up of the birds and birding locations I’ve enjoyed these past several months in my new backyard and 5-mile radius (5MR).
My new 5MR is HOT. Let me tell you about it right now.
As you can see, our backyard overlooks some great habitat and is thus exceptionally birdy. This may have been a key factor in deciding on this exact location. Since we moved here in June, my yard list is at 72. On eBird my yard is called “Lacamas Creek-Washougal River Confluence Area (and backyard feeders)”.
Beyond our backyard is a series of walking paths (some paved, some not) that make up the Washougal River Greenway Trail. I can see part of the unpaved trail from my yard. The unpaved trail winds through a floodplain comprising mainly Oregon Ash. The paved portion follows the Washougal River, crosses the river, and passes through and by a young riparian forest and some old quarry ponds.
Down the street and a 2-minute walk from our house is the trailhead to Lacamas Creek Park. The approximately 40-acre park is in a dense Douglas-fir forest (some old-growth) and has myriad unpaved trails and three waterfalls. The main trail follows Lacamas Creek, whose flow is controlled from a dam upstream at Round Lake. Round Lake is also part of the park and provides added habitat diversity and superb flatwater kayaking.
Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge is just barely within our 5MR. The refuge features riparian forests, wetted fields, and ponds. It’s currently undoing a massive makeover, the Steigerwald Floodplain Restoration Project. The project will eventually connect the refuge and Gibbons Creek Watershed to the Columbia River and restore approximately 900 acres of Columbia River floodplain habitat.
Salem, Oregon, and I’m sure other parts of the Pacific Northwest, is abundant in Bushtits. These little nuggets of pure joy are currently out and about, building their nests, amending the insides, feeding, and calling. No matter where I go in Salem these past few weeks, I hear and see Bushtits (they are calling right now outside my window).
During nest construction, Bushtit males and females gather plant materials (e.g., moss) and other fine items (e.g., spider webs) to make a sock-like nest with an opening near the top. This sock is attached firmly to a tree or large shrub. Post-construction, they continue to amend the inside of the nest, preparing the inside for egg-laying perfection.
While birding the Capitol property last week, I found three Bushtit nests and confirmed that two were active. On April 29, I visited one of the active nests in a cedar tree (Cedrus sp.) to see if I could get some shots of one of the adult Bushtits arriving or leaving nest. I set up my camera and tripod, pointed up at the nest and focused, sat down, and waited and watched from a distance as they came and went from their nest. With an incredible amount of patience, and a lot of crappy, blurry shots, I managed to catch a few decent shots of an adult female leaving the nest (adult females have white eyes).