Birding in Place

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.

My office view of my backyard; April 14, 2020; Camas, WA.

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.

White-breasted Nuthatch; Camas, WA; April 2020
Golden-crowned Sparrow; Camas, WA; April 2020
California Scrub-Jay; Camas, WA; April 2020
Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon); Camas, WA; April 2020
Golden-crowned Sparrow; Camas, WA; April 2020
Northern Flicker; Camas, WA; April 2020
Downy Woodecker; Camas, WA; April 2020
Spotted Towhee; Camas, WA; April 2020
Black-capped Chickadee; Camas, WA; April 2020
House Finch; Camas, WA; April 2020
Bald Eagle; Camas, WA; April 2020
Canada Goose; Camas, WA; April 2020
Song Sparrow; Camas, WA; April 2020
Chestnut-backed Chickadee; Camas, WA; April 2020
Bald Eagles; Camas, WA; April 2020
Black-capped Chickadee; Camas, WA; April 2020
White-crowned Sparrow; Camas, WA; April 2020
Downy Woodpecker; Camas, WA; April 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.

July 16, 2018

I heard there were Peregrine Falcons nesting under the Marion Street Bridge in Salem.  I heard this earlier this year, I think. This did not stop me from insisting, yesterday, that we stop just south of Cannon Beach  at Cape Meares to see the Peregrine Falcons that nest on the cliffs there. I still had not seen this species, and it was troubling me. We did not make it to Cape Meares for reasons I will not discuss here.

The next day, I remembered hearing that there were Peregrine Falcons nesting under the Marion Street Bridge in Salem. This is less than 2 miles from my house. I went over and saw one of the falcons almost immediately, under the bridge. I easily could have gotten this species months ago.


Marion Street Bridge; Salem, Oregon; July 16, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt.


Peregrine Falcon; Marion Street Bridge; Salem, Oregon; July 16, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt.

New Birds for 2018: 1
2018 Year-to-Date Talley: 205

May 5, 2018

Skinner Butte; Eugene, Oregon; May 5, 2018


Skinner Butte; Eugene, Oregon; May 5, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt.


Northern Flicker (female); Skinner Butte; Eugene, Oregon; May 5, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt.


Orange-crowned Warbler; Skinner Butte; Eugene, Oregon; May 5, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt.


Orange-crowned Warbler, with the not-so-often-seen orange crown; Skinner Butte; Eugene, Oregon; May 5, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt.



Bald Eagle; Skinner Butte; Eugene, Oregon; May 5, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt.


Wood Thrush (me); Skinner Butte; Eugene, Oregon; May 5, 2018; photograph by Clint Burfitt.


A shy Bushtit; Skinner Butte; Eugene, Oregon; May 5, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt.


Phyciodes mylitta; Skinner Butte; Eugene, Oregon; May 5, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt.


Savannah Sparrow; canola field north of Corvallis, May 5, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt.

New Birds for 2018: 1
2018 Year-to-Date Talley: 156


January 14, 2018

Part of a Big Year involves looking for rare birds or finding rare birds that other birders have found. Once found, rare birds often pop up on various forms of rare bird alerts (e.g., emails, texts, etc.). Heading out to find a reported rare bird is usually a last-minute decision and involves a quick change of plans, driving, and a near full day of not eating well. Because of this, I’ve decided to put together a Rare Birds Bag. Similar in idea (and maybe contents?) to the hospital bag women pack for when they go into labor, this bag will include, at a minimum, the following:

  1. Non-perishable, filling, snacky food items that I’ll actually eat (grabbing a banana on the way out is a sure fire way to make my car smell for days because I will never eat said banana).
  2. Filled water bottle
  3. Bird field guide (I have so many, I’ll throw one in this bag)
  4. Rain jacket (my back-up obnoxiously coloured pink jacket)
  5. Layers (warm tops, toque, gloves)
  6. Extra socks (for when I’ll inventible step took close and then into some type of inundated area)

Other obvious items I’ll take with me are my optics—bins, scope, and camera–and my staple field guides, but they are always near the door and ready to go.

January 14 was a rare birds day, sort of. A Lesser Yellowlegs had been seen at a local conservation easement property, and I wanted to try again to see the Tri-Colored Blackbirds that had been reported at the Philomath Sewage Lagoons. Also, the William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge was sort of on the way (“on the way” = a debatable term in the world of birding), so I decided to stop there, too, for my first time to see what I could find. It was an overly ambitious plan. I grabbed a banana.

Stop #1: Conservation Easement Property just south of Turner, Oregon

I left Salem and immediately descended into fog shortly before arriving at the conservation easement property. Peering through the dense fog, I found moving, shorebird-shaped items far out in what appeared to be a ponded area. I put my scope on them and immediately saw the large shorebirds, which turned out to be Greater Yellowlegs. These larger birds were accompanied by mini versions of themselves, and I was hoping these were the Lesser Yellowlegs.  The fog finally started to lift, and after watching these birds for more than 1 hour and after watching them in flight a few times, it became obvious that these were definitely not Lesser Yellowlegs but were instead Dunlin. Still a new bird for 2018 and a delight to watch for so long.

Stop #1’s list:

Canada Goose
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
*Greater Yellowlegs
European Starling
Song Sparrow
*Western Meadowlark
*Red-winged Blackbird


Conservation Easement property near Turner, Oregon, post–dense fog; January 14, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt


Conservation Easement property near Turner, Oregon, post–dense fog; January 14, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt


Conservation Easement property near Turner, Oregon, post-fog; January 14, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt


Greater Yellowlegs and Dunlin at Conservation Easement property near Turner, Oregon; dense fog shortly after arriving; January 14, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt


Greater Yellowlegs and Dunlin at Conservation Easement property near Turner, Oregon, post-fog; January 14, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt


Song Sparrow; Conservation Easement property near Turner, Oregon; January 14, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt

Stop #2: Middle of Nowhere, Willamette Valley

After birding at the conservation easement, I was off to some random country farm road corner between Corvallis and Eugene to look for another rare bird, a Say’s Pheobe, that I did not find. I did, however, find hundreds of very loud Brewer’s Blackbirds—a new 2018 bird for me.

Stop #2’s list:

Rock Pigeon
*Brewer’s Blackbird
Song Sparrow


Brewer’s Blackbirds; Somewhere between Corvallis and Eugene; January 14, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt

Stop #3: William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge

As planned, I stopped in at Finley on my way to the sewage ponds. I arrived later than I wished (having wandering around too long looking for the phoebe), so my plan was to simply do a drive-through reconnaissance before heading to the ponds. At one point though, I realized that I was exceptional tired of being in the car for so long. I stopped and parked the car at a trailhead, deciding that perhaps this was my last stop for the day and that I would do my legs a favour and go for a birding walk.

For reasons that include a somewhat faulty driver’s side door and the fact that I had not eaten anything yet that day (no, not even the  banana), I locked myself out of my car. Thankfully I had my binoculars around my neck, but all other important items (e.g., cell phone) were in the car. Also thankfully, this rad lady Rachel was there, too; lent me her cell phone to deal with my adulting failure; and waited with me until a tow-truck/locksmith arrived to opened my car for me. By the time my car was “free” it was near 4:30pm, and it was time to head home. So yea, Step #4 was home, and the banana went into the freezer where it ultimately belongs.


William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge, moments before I parked and locked myself out of my car; January 14, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt

*New Birds for 2018: 6 species
2018 Year-to-Date Talley: 68 species (this includes a House Sparrow that showed up in my yard that morning and a Northern Harrier I saw while I was driving)

January 2, 2018

There is a mighty fortress around my house, and it comprises bird feeders.

Today was a feeder day. I work from home full time for an environmental consulting firm. My house has many windows. Several of my usual visitors said hello in their own unique ways today. My photos are all pretty awful because they are taken through a dirty window while I was working. I need to clean my windows, but you don’t do that in the winter in Oregon. You just don’t.

American Goldfinch*: It took the goldfinches more than 1 week to find my thistle seed feeders; they’re here every day now.

Black-capped Chickadees. It does not matter what they are busy doing (e.g., eating), they always have something to say before or after the fact. It is as if we’ll forget them when they’re gone or not be ready for them when they arrive. “Food … There’s food here … This food is good … Other chickadees in the vicinity, there’s food here … watch out for the squirrel … This food is great … This redbud tree is a great roosting tree … I’m leaving now. There’s still food … I’ll be back.”

Chestnut-Backed Chickadee*. I usually see just one or two CB chickadees at my feeders per day, and they usually get comfortable hanging out near, but not necessarily with, the black-capped chickadees. The chestnuts seem to be more independent than their BC counterparts, but this is purely a yard perspective.

Bushtits*: These darlings arrive frantically and in a group, as if they are pressed for time and need to get their suet feeding done As Fast As Possible. For this reason, they have no personal space to speak of. The dozen or so bushtits that visit will all be crowded around/on the suet feeder, and bushtit #1 is not bothered if bushtit #8 lands completely adjacent to, or on, him at the feeder. There are bigger things to worry about in the world of bushtits, and I guess with the amount of energy these darlings expel, that thing is food.


Bushtits; Salem, Oregon; January 2, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt

Dark-eyed Juncos*: I largely get the Oregon junco variety, although I did get a few slate-colored juncos last year alongside the Oregon ones. My yard juncos also arrive in a group, but unlike the bushtits, they are never pressed for time and really appreciate their personal space. If junco #2 flies near junco #8 by closer than 1 foot (by accident!), junco #2 will fly away to quickly re-establish this 1-foot junco personal space (JPS) buffer. I understand juncos.

Purple Finch*: This was a new yard bird for me today. Odd, I know.

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet*: Do I need to say anything about kinglets? They are my favourite yard bird every day they visit (UNTIL I GET A VARIED THRUSH), and I will get a great photograph of them one day. Ruby’s don’t show their ruby crowns often, and when they do, it’s usually intentional, but I do get brief glimpses of their actual ruby crowns at my suet feeder because of the acrobats they need to perform to feed at the suet feeder.


Ruby-Crowned Kinglet; Salem, Oregon; January 2, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt. Honestly the only reason I’m including this photo is because I got ONE photo of this guy that’s not 100% blurry. #tinycelebrations #theymovesofast #cantstopwontstop

Yellow-Rumped Warbler* (Audubon, I think?). I only saw one female today, and she showed up a few times.


Yellow-Rumped Warbler; Salem, Oregon; January 2, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt

European Starling*. I don’t see starlings a lot at my feeders, but when I do, they arrive like a gang of bullies, almost knocking shit over like they’ve never seen feeders before. Because they are so infrequent, I enjoy their brief sudden visits.

Western (California) Scrub-Jay*. Scrub-jays at the feeder are usually alone, but this might be because they are so big, and my feeders are not. Sometimes I get two. I love their chestnut-colored backs and their white bibs.


Western (California) Scrub-Jay; Salem, Oregon; January 2, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt

  *New Birds for 2018: 9 species
2018 Year-to-Date Talley: 28 species




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!


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.


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
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

My Birding Genesis

It sort of begins in the fall of 2017, and I’m sitting in our newish home in western Oregon, finally making time to read a damn book. The book, Lost among the Birds by Neil Hayward, recounts the author’s Big Year, a year in which he travels the American Birding Association (ABA) Birding Area* in search of as many species of birds he can find. To give you an idea of the enormity of this task, Neil broke the ABA Big Year record in 2013 and saw 749 species of birds. Since then, a few people have broken Neil’s record, the latest being John Weigel, who in 2017 came in at 783 species. How can somebody see, find, and identify so many bird species? It’s not common, but if you’re a savvy birder, are willing to dedicate 12 months of your time travelling pretty constantly, and have some coin set aside, it can be done. A little bit of luck helps, too, as it’s hard to predict when or if the rarities will show up, and oftentimes, they’re the surprised guests that help beat records.

Or does it begin in the early 1980s, when I was maybe 6 or 7, and I found an old rubber duck in my grandma’s basement (it had been one of my aunt’s). I claimed that little duck immediately and appropriately name him “Ducky.” Several rubber ducks followed until I had a rubber duck entourage that rivalled some of my friends’ doll collections. I also still have my first two duck books: The Little Duck by Judy Dunn, and Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey. This early onset love of waterfowl turned into a healthy love and appreciation for the wetlands in and near my house, or mostly the wetlands I would read about (it’s hard to get around and explore too much when you’re 7).

I started taking birding seriously in my early 20s after watching a Carolina Wren build a nest on my parents’ front porch in southern Ontario, Canada. I continued to bird a lot in this area and found a very colourful and bright group of individuals for whom I spent many Saturday mornings. I once saw 100 bird species in 1 day in May in the early 2000s. I birded from dawn to dusk, with one of my best friends Janice, and saw 100 species in what is called the Point Pelee Birding Area in extreme southwestern Ontario. If you’re familiar with birding and with this area, you’ll know that seeing 100 species of birds in one day in May is actually not that out of reach. The Point Pelee area’s habitat diversity and the park proper’s prominence as a sand spit in Lake Erie place this area in what you could call the fall and spring bird migrations’ Path of Totality. In short: it’s birdy AF over there.

Let’s come back to the fall of 2017. I decided then that I would embark on a far tamer version of an ABA Big Year. I am going to do a 2018 Oregon Big Year. In 2018, I will travel statewide, on several evenings and weekends, to explore the various habitats of Oregon and to specifically seek out as many bird species as I can. Depending on the source, there are an estimated 470 bird species that can be seen in Oregon in a given year. This does not include the odd vagrant that will end up in Oregon. Considering this, I’m going to aim for 300 species in 2018. This is still a bit ambitious, especially since I do have a full-time job, but I am going to give it a serious “go,” and as you’ve likely deduced by this point, I’m going to write about it.

I hope you’ll stick around.

Linda (Wood Thrush)

* The ABA defines the ABA birding area as including “the 49 continental United States, Hawaii, Canada, the French islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, and adjacent waters to a distance of 200 miles from land or half the distance to a neighboring country, whichever is less. Bermuda, and Greenland are not included.”  Source: