The Full Dipper Experience

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

American Dipper, Lacamas Creek, Lacamas Regional Park, January 19, 2020.
Incoming (snack in bill)!
Lacamas Creek, Lacamas Regional Park, January 19, 2020.
Main bridge, Lacamas Creek, Lacamas Regional Park, January 19, 2020.
Lacamas Creek, Lacamas Regional Park, January 19, 2020.

January 5, 2020

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 office window,  January 2020. You can see my feeders at the bottom left, Lacamas Creek, and to the top right, the Washougal River. I do get work done, I promise.

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)”.

My daily fall-winter yard visitor, the Golden-crowned Sparrow, January 2020.
My daily summer yard visitor, the Black-headed Grosbeak (female), July 2019.
My daily all-season visitor, the Spotted Towhee, fall 2019.

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.

Bridge on the Washougal River Greenway Trail, summer 2019.
Me and my Dad in November 2019 on the Washougal River Greenway Trail.
Quarry pond along the Washougal River Greenway Trail, fall 2019.
Queue the Twin Peaks theme song, it’s the Pacific Northwest classic, the Varied Thrush! In December 2019 and now in January 2020, there is one very reliable spot for this species along the Washougal trail.
My Mom in June 2019 on the Washougal River Greenway Trail.

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.

Lacamas Creek Park, November 2019.
Lacamas Creek Park, Woodburn Falls, and Clint, December 2019.
Lacamas Creek Park, January 2020.
Lacamas Creek, Lacamas Creek Park, January 2020.
Who is that over there?! It’s an American Dipper! I’ve seen these in December 2019 and again in January 2020. Lacamas Creek, January 2020.
The dipper flew in closer and had a partner! This was the best shot I could get, but I was thrilled. Lacamas Creek, January 2020.

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.

Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge with Mount Hood in the background, January 2020.
Nesting Purple Martins, Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge, August 2019.
American Kestrals in some Mountain Ash, Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge, August 2019.
Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge, August 2019.
Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge, August 2019.

January 1, 2018

Happy New Years! Day 1 is off to a pretty good start. We woke up in Sisters, Oregon, after having spent December 31 skiing up at Hoodoo Ski Resort.

First bird of 2018: the American Robin. The robins were seen in trees surrounding a gas station in Sisters, Oregon.

From the parking lot of the gas station, at the top of a pine tree, was my second bird of 2018: Cooper’s Hawk.  Of course, I had to take a few grainy zoomed-in photos of this guy, because I wasn’t 100% sure if I was looking at a Sharpie or a Cooper’s, but judging from the somewhere rounded tail, I’m going with Cooper’s. Somebody tell me if I’m way off. Raptors are not my forte!

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Cooper’s Hawk, Sisters, Oregon, January 1, 2018, Photograph by Linda Burfitt

The day proceeded with a bit of road travel, and we ended up at Belknap Hot Springs where C was going to soak and I was going to bird. These hot springs are along the Mackenzie River in the middle of nowhere, Oregon, near a town called Mackenzie Bridge, on Oregon Route 126. I love visiting these hot springs because of the river-adjacent hiking trails and because I see American Dippers every time I visit. Dippers are very animated little semi-aquatic birds. What they lack in colour and other visual features, they make up for tremendously in their behavior. First, they dip. Up and down like they’re doing the squats. They are usually found on the shore of a river, on something prominent (like a boulder). They jump in and out of the cold water, sometimes diving under and popping back up, and feed on aquatic insects and other “live bits” in the water. I adore dippers.

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American Dipper at Belknap Hot Springs, January 1, 2018, Photograph by Linda Burfitt

My Belknap Hot Springs list DID include a dipper, but just one. My comprehensive Belknap Hot Springs finds are as follows:

American Dipper
Black-capped Chickadee
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Pileated Woodpecker
Song Sparrow
Stellar’s Jay

Oddly enough, that was it. It wasn’t too birdy at Belknap today. So, we left the springs and drove west down 126 until we reached the Leaburg Dam, where the City of Eugene has impounded and diverted the Mackenzie River for hydropower and created a small reservoir (Leaburg “Lake”) adjacent to Lloyd Knox Park. In addition to me and C, other visitors to  Leaburg Lake were as follows:

American Dipper
Bufflehead
Common Goldeneye
Double-Crested Cormorant
Hooded Merganser
Ring-Necked Duck

We spent a good 45 minutes scoping all of these birds while freezing to death, so after getting great looks at all of these (both males and females of most of these species), we decided to head back home to the Salem area before it got dark.

Of course, birding doesn’t stop just because you’re driving. Here’s what we saw along the way:

American Crow
American Kestrel

Bald Eagle
Canada Goose
Great Egret
Red-Tailed Hawk (lost count of how many were perched along I-5)

That concludes Day 1. I was hoping we’d get home before dark so I could add some late-day feeder birds to my Day 1 count, but they’ll be there tomorrow.

End of Day Tally:
19 species
2018 Year-to-Date Talley:
19 species