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Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Olympic Experience

“Let’s go CAN-A-DA! Let’s go CAN-A-DA!” This simple phrase embodies the spirit of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, British Columbia. It is not only heard inside Olympic venues, but it also spontaneously erupts on street corners, in restaurants, or in department stores. Indeed, it can be heard just about anywhere there is a television showing live Olympic coverage, which, as you may have guessed by now, is just about everywhere.

The first clue you get that the Olympics are underway after crossing through the Peace Arch just north of Blaine, Washington, are the Canadian car flags. First I saw two attached to the windows of a mini-van, then four boldly flapping from the corners of a pick-up truck. One morning I even saw the red maple leaf waving from an RCMP patrol car parked in front of a Tim Horton’s. Before long you also see flags hanging in the window’s of people’s homes, decals plastered in the windows of businesses, and giant banners you can’t miss draped for several stories over the side of a skyscraper. It is undoubtedly clear that Canadians are 100% behind their athletes and are very proud to be hosting these twenty-first winter Olympic games.

Once you make your way into downtown proper the streets are packed with people heading every which way, many of them decked out in international colors. Of course, the Canadian red-and-white predominates, and during my first visit to the city I estimated about one in every ten people was wearing a Team Canada hockey jersey. On the day when Team Canada was actually playing in an Olympic hockey game, this ratio rose to one of every two people. It wasn’t just jerseys, either: fans carried flags of all sizes, the larger ones draped as capes across their backs. Many children had red maple leaves intricately drawn with face paint on their cheeks. I even saw one young man walking down the street decked out in full goalie gear.

Despite the overwhelming sense of patriotism immediately evident as soon as you step foot into Canada, including their “Own the Podium” campaign and reader boards displaying the daily-updated Canadian medal count, Vancouverites don’t come across as cocky or unwelcoming. In fact, they are just the opposite. Everyone on the street is helpful to visitors, offering assistance and directions to anyone who is clearly an out-of-towner. Those that work the venues, from the security guards to the volunteers, greet you with a smile and are chatty as you wait in line (which you do a lot of at the Olympics). Even the bus drivers, who could easily be excused for being cranky given their overloaded runs, instead wave you aboard, overlooking the fact that you can’t pay for your bus fare since you didn’t know you had to pay in coins.

The main part of the city is like one giant carnival that seemingly doesn’t end for the 16-day duration of the Olympics. As you walk the streets, you can be entertained by musicians, jugglers, acrobats, magicians, and street performers of all types. There are public works of art, like trees displaying lanterns decorated by Vancouver school children. Every few blocks you come across a public pavilion, such as LiveCity Downtown where you can party in the streets as coverage is shown live on giant elevated screens. There’s also Robson Square where children skate on the free public rink and above the brave soar from one tower to another on a zip line. There are houses dedicated to different regions of Canada, such as the Northern House where culture, art, and sports from the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut are featured. While there, we saw a couple of young athletes demonstrating the two-foot high-kick, an Inuit game where they have to jump and, with both feet, touch a target elevated from a pole up to eight-plus feet off the ground, then land solidly on both feet. Nations also host their own party centers, such as the German Deutsche Haus or the Dutch Heineken House. Many of these hot-spots were inaccessible unless you were willing to wait an hour or more in line, such as the Royal Canadian Mint where in the rain visitors lined the streets in three different directions hoping to gain access to the place that produced the Olympic medals and also minted the popular Canadian Olympic quarter collection.

Viewing the Olympic cauldron was tops on my list, and it was the first place we visited after reaching Vancouver. The flame is, somewhat disappointedly, protected behind a chain-link fence, which obviously hinders photographic opportunities. While there are some holes cut in the fence for picture-taking purposes, most stand in a queue to wait anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour to be allowed up to the viewing platform where you can get an unobstructed view of the impressive four-flamed cauldron from above. Thanks to a tip from the concierge at the front desk of my hotel, I found the best photos were actually to be gotten by standing on one of the concrete benches set a ways back from the chain link fence, and allowing for the hills across Burrard Inlet to be the picturesque backdrop.

It was at the cauldron where I also got my celebrity sighting of an Olympic athlete. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know who he was at the time, but he was being followed by the press and many excited fans to I decided to shot first and ask questions later. Turns out it was Jon Mongomery, the Canadian gold medalist in the skeleton.

The main thing to do downtown other than visit the various public displays and party houses is shop. The main souvenir hotspot is known as the Olympic Superstore, a corner of the Hudson Bay Company roped off and dedicated to Olympic keepsakes. You actually have to wait in line to get into the store (like I said, you have to wait in line everywhere), and once there, the selection was actually rather underwhelming. Being well into week two of the Games, they were low on many of the popular items, such as the signature red Olympic mittens that, as predicted, are easily the most sought after souvenir item. The prices at the Superstore also proved to be even more outrageous than expected, so a wider and more affordable variety of official Olympic shirts, sweatshirts, pins, hats, scarves, stuffed animals, posters, post cards, picture frames, shot glasses, keychains (you get the idea) are available at other downtown gift shops, which are also accordingly packed with shoppers. Early in the Olympics protesters actually set up outside the Superstore in opposition to the commercial nature of the Games, but I must admit I’m as guilty as the next visitor of wanting an Olympic keepsake to take home (and so were some of my friends – I received several requests to buy souvenirs for others, too!). As one bright spot, however, my fellow environmentalists will be happy to hear that all official Olympic outlets use no paper or plastic bags, instead providing customers with an appropriately sized reusable shopping bag. Due to this and many other things, these Games are in fact that most sustainable, by far, to date.

The main reason for my visit was to attend an Olympic hockey game. It’s no secret that I’m a die-hard hockey fan and I decided some time ago that Olympic hockey was an item on my Bucket List. Seeing as Vancouver is only a six to seven hour drive north of my hometown of Portland, this was clearly my easiest chance to make good on that promise to myself. There’s little chance, for example, that I’m going to make my way to Sochi in 2014. I dutifully got involved in the ticket sales process a whopping three years ago, receiving periodic e-mails on when and how I could enter the lottery to earn a chance to pay an arm and a leg to attend my Olympic events of choice. When I finally got a chance to purchase my tickets, during the second sales phase about a year prior to the Opening Ceremony, I balked at the prices for medal round hockey tickets. Not wanting to sign up for an as-yet-to-be-assigned round-robin game (which, no offense to these non-hockey-powerhouses, could feature a match-up such as Belarus vs. Latvia), I settled on a semi-final game, guaranteeing myself a chance to see some medal-contending teams.

As luck would have it, Team USA somewhat overachieved by winning all three of their round-robin games, including a shocking 5-3 victory over Canada, and ended up ranked first of twelve teams coming out of the preliminary round. They then won the required match-ups to put them in the very semi-final I had tickets for! Perfect!

On the way into the venue for the game we dutifully bought a couple of American flags to counteract the sea of blue-and-white Finnish flags entering the arena around us. Once we reached our seats we found ourselves near another couple of people from Portland, who came up for the same two nights in Vancouver to see the very same hockey game. Funny! I should mention that the prospect of purchasing advanced lodging for the Olympics in Vancouver was out of the question. If I thought the tickets were ridiculously expensive, the hotel rooms were even more so. After first planning to somehow finagle my way across the border and back in a single day (complicated by the fact you cannot park at any of the Olympic venues), I luckily took some well-timed advice and looked for lodging again less than a month prior to the games. It was still expensive, but I was able to find an at least somewhat-affordable room, thus taking a major stress off the traveling and transportation component of the trip and giving me some more time to take in the sights of the Olympics.

For those who didn’t see the game, Team USA cruised to a 6-0 lead over the Finnish team just thirteen minutes into the game. It didn’t give much for the mostly-Canadian crowd to cheer about, seeing as most of them were eager to see the USA ousted from the tournament as payback for beating their beloved Canadians earlier in the tournament, but it allowed me to get plenty of use out of the aforementioned US flag! Sure, it may have been more exciting to see a slightly more competitive match-up, but not being involved in a nail-biter gave me a chance to sit back and enjoy the fact of watching live some of my favorite NHL superstars, such as the US goaltender Ryan Miller and forward Ryan Kesler.

On the way out of the venue, the Canadian fans, always good-natured, would shout, “We’ll see you in the final!” after spotting my American flag. Canada was involved in the second semi-final later in the afternoon against a surprising Slovakian squad, and their game definitely fell into the nail-biter category during the last few minutes when the Slovaks put up a pair of goals to make it 3-2. I was out for dinner at the time and it was the loudest I’ve ever seen a restaurant over a sporting event. Every TV screen in the place was tuned in to the game and every eye in the building was glued to the screens. Fans cheered “Luuuuuooooo” every time Team Canada goalie Roberto Luongo made a save, and during the last minute of play all the waitresses (including the one who took my order while watching the TV screen above my head) huddled in the corner to see the last few tense seconds of action, because, really, who wanted to order anything at a time like that?!

One note on Olympic TV coverage, since I have heard so many people state-side complain about our US broadcasting: I’m actually very appreciative of the NBC primetime coverage every night. While I do wish there was the opportunity to watch events live like there is in Canada, the primetime coverage in Canada every night left a lot to be desired. It was repetitive, would often tell you the results before showing the event, and they also failed to show any highlights at all of some events. It’s funny that despite the TVs all over the city, I actually saw much more of the Olympic sporting events at home in front of my TV every night than while I was at the Games!

Spending two nights in the Olympic city turned out to be plenty for me. While I by no means saw all there was to see, with all the crowds and excitement and walking I was beat every night, and flat out exhausted by the time I crossed back into the United States. At times it felt overwhelming, particularly for this nature lover who spends the better part of each year living on an island with a population that is less than half of the capacity of a hockey arena. Still, it was memorable, and I’m glad I spent the time, money, and effort to do it. Several moments will always stand out in my mind, such as standing in the rain eating a delicious hot dog from a street vendor, taking a second to just look around me and take in all the activity. There’s also nothing like seeing so many people from so many nations come together in one place, all carrying flags and signs, all smiling and chatting away in their native language. Everyone truly seemed to be enjoying themselves.

While I truly appreciate the hospitality of the Canadians, the “Let’s go CAN-A-DA!” chant has no room in my heart today. It’s just a couple of hours until one of the final Olympic events, the men’s gold medal hockey game, and no one could have scripted it better: it’s USA vs. Canada. So as these 2010 Winter Olympic Games draw to a close, there’s only one cheer I’ll be saying today: U-S-A! U-S-A!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Winter Birds on San Juan

I'll keep this post brief since I'm just briefly online at an internet cafe before catching my ferry off-island, but I wanted to share a few photos from birding around the island in the last couple of days....

Bufflehead are still everywhere, as expected during the winter months. In this particular flock, the males were doing a lot of head-bobbing (hence all their strange poses), probably in preparation for pairing off for mating this spring:

Probably my favorite shorebirds, this was one of a pair of black oystercatchers that weren't too skittish since I was using my car as a blind. Check out that limpet in his beak, which he had just pried off of a rock. How do they get the meat out of the shell, I wonder?

My third year bird for this short San Juan visit was the trumpeter swan (104). Swans are another one of those bizarre cases where trumpeter swans are regular island visitors while the similar tundra swans seemingly bypass the islands all together. Of course that fact wasn't enough to ID these swans, but luckily they were close enough to the shore of the lake to get a nice look. One definitive feature is the straight line on the beak from the nose to the tip, while tundra swans have more of a "ski slope" curve. These trumpeter swans also lack the yellow tear drop mark on the beak, though this isn't diagnostic since some tundra swans lack it also.

Now it's off to the ferry, as I'll be heading up to Vancouver, BC for a couple of Olympic days! Tomorrow I'll be going to the USA vs. Finland semi-final hockey game in hopes of seeing the US squad guarantee themselves a medal and advance to the gold medal game.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

February San Juan Visit

The temperatures had dropped considerably, but yesterday still dawned bright and clear, which made nice weather for driving north to San Juan Island. While I’ve never seriously done it before, I’ve often pondered keeping a bird list of birds identified while driving 50+ mph, because it’s pretty amazing how many birds you can see out of the corner of your eye and identify while on the freeway. Most remarkable yesterday was four raptor species seen from I5: the always abundant red-tailed hawks as well as a bald eagle, northern harrier, and rough-legged hawk.

We got to the ferry landing early enough to enjoy the splendid view of Mt. Baker (above) while eating lunch in the car, and then I took a quick walk over to the wetlands near the bay to check out the bird life. I noted thirteen species, including three gulls. Most plentiful were the 100+ mew gulls, but there were also a few glaucous-winged gulls and at least one ring-billed gull.

The weather report is for cloudier skies and likely some rain for the rest of the week, so after unpacking the car I wanted to head over to the westside of the island to take in what ma be the only visible sunset during the time I’m here. It was chilly, but calm and peaceful, and I walked along the shoreline enjoying the end of the day with a bald eagle, a single harbor seal, and a couple of tourists.

As promised, today I woke up to gray skies, but no rain as of yet. I think there could be as many as five year birds to easily add here if I can make a birding trip or two around the island in my couple of days here. After taking care of some errands I’m going to see what birds are hanging out on the island this February!

UPDATE: Two successes so far - northern shrike (102) and harlequin duck (103)!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Day at the beach, plus gull fighting

Today the family decided to head to the beach to enjoy the unseasonably pleasant weather and also do a COASST beached bird survey near Tillamook, Oregon. Before leaving this morning a rare bird alert came in that someone had spotted a female dickcissel near Nehalem, about 25 miles north of Tillamook. On the way out we made the detour to look for it, but the meadow where it had been spotted just hours earlier was empty except for a group of crows and a handful of starlings hanging out in a nearby tree. Too bad, that would have been quite a catch!!

The birding the rest of the day was nothing to write home about - just the expected species and not even many of those. The first reports of tree swallows have been coming in this week, but despite being in some good locations to look for them I didn't spot any. I was really hoping to pick up at least one more year bird, but no such luck today! The beached bird survey didn't turn up any birds, either, but I did find this salmon (I think?) carcass being picked over by a raven and a couple of gulls:

Since I don't have many pictures to share from today, here are the gull fighting photos I took on the last trip to the beach. I'm not sure what got these two western gulls going, but they started by biting on to each other's wings as they circled around one another. Then, one started getting the upperhand, and would flip the other bird over and attempt to pin it to the ground. This continued for several minutes before something disrupted the flock and they all took off. I've seen some pretty vicious-looking bird mating, but that didn't seem like what was going on here. I've never seen anything quite like it.

Next up: I'm heading north! On Monday I'll be going to the San Juan Islands for a visit of a few days before heading to Vancouver to check out a semi-final Olympic hockey game! Internet access will be spotty but I'll try to get an update or two in during the week.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Sunny Weather Continues at Tualatin River NWR

Rain is in the upcoming forecast, but for now I've still be enjoying the sunshine! Today I went for my first real walk since the unfortunate foot injury about a month ago. Very sore afterward, but worth it to hit the trails (no jacket required!) this afternoon.

I saw 20 species while walking through the refuge, mostly waterfowl. Here a flock of Canada geese was flushed as a bald eagle soared through:

Another highlight was a flock of about 15 dark-eyed juncos hanging out in the same area and thus cooperating for some photographs. Was this guy looking up at the geese as they flew overhead?

I also heard a wren in the forested part of the trail. It was either a house or winter wren, and either one would have been year bird #102, but unfortunately it didn't show itself despite some "psshing" on my part and I don't trust my ability to tell them apart by voice. So the year count remains at 101 for now, but with some travels scheduled for the next week I'm sure that number will rise before the end of the month!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Spring is in the Air

Today, for the first time, it really felt like spring could be just around the corner. It was pleasant enough out that I got to eat outside, drive with the windows down, and even take my first flower photographs of the year! While this unseasonably mild weather has been difficult for the winter Olympic games taking place here in the Northwest, it has been great for getting outside. Today I took advantage of it to spend 45 minutes at the Rhododendron Gardens where I saw 19 bird species, including all the expected waterfowl.

There were two double-crested cormorants hanging out on the lake. In this version of the photo it's harder to see, but click to see the larger version and look at that turquoise eye!

The birds are sensing the changing of the seasons, too. There was lots of courting going on among the mallards and wood ducks, and the American wigeon and gadwall were definitely hanging out in pairs rather than large mixed flocks. This male wood duck wasn't far from his prospective mate:

The neat thing about the Rhododendron Gardens is that you get great views of a wide variety of duck species. It's a great place for the beginning birder to learn the common local waterfowl. The mallards and Canada geese also get fed a lot there, making them especially tame. That makes for some unique photo ops, like this close-up of part of the wing of a female mallard:

Canada geese normally dominate the scene at this park, but today there were easily more than 400 cackling geese there. They look so petite and, I must say, cute, compared to their larger cousins. Look at those tiny beaks!

As mentioned, the flowers are starting to bloom as well. The first of the rhododendrons are blossoming as well as some early daffodils. As far as native plants go, I also noticed yesterday the first Indian plum blossoms while on a walk in my neighborhood. Indian plum is always one of the earliest plants to flower every year.

When I got my new camera in December, I also got new lenses that don't feature some of the macro options my old lenses did. I'll have to take a different approach to flower photography, but I liked a few of the results today.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Great Backyard Bird Count - Days 3 and 4

The second half of the Great Backyard Bird Count yielded much better results. For starter's, here's what I saw:

American crow - 3
Black-capped chickadee - 3
Red-breasted nuthatch - 2
Spotted towhee - 1
Brown creeper - 1
House finch - 2
Song sparrow - 1
Western screech-owl - 1

American crow - 5
Black-capped chickadee - 7
Red-breasted nuthatch - 3
Brown creeper - 1
House finch - 2
Song sparrow - 1
American robin - 2
Steller's jay - 3
Varied thrush - 3
Northern flicker - 3

The single dark-eyed junco that came through the yard this morning - odd to see it by itself!

Thirteen species were seen and heard in the yard this weekend - not too bad! I definitely saw more activity by going out early this morning as opposed to counting in the afternoon.

The Great Backyard Bird Count helps give scientists a snap-shot of bird activity across the continent, but I can only imagine the monumental task of trying to pull meaningful trends out of the masses of data that are admittedly somewhat prone to error when including information from all levels of birders putting in varying levels of effort. For instance, I saw that there are eight different reports of blue jays , an eastern species, in Oregon; these are almost certainly actually sightings of Steller's jays, which are in fact blue in color so often get referred to by novices as blue jays. While I imagine pulling population trend data must be near-impossible, some of the other questions they are asking include the timing of migration movements, the status of irruptive species in a given year, and the differences in bird diversity in urban, suburban, rural, and natural areas.

All this backyard bird-watching also got me thinking about changing trends in my own back yard. There are several species that I used to see fairly regularly growing up here, but not anymore. Some examples are the pileated woodpecker, downy woodpecker, and band-tailed pigeon. Sadly, they have most likely been pushed out of this region as the surrounding city has developed further of the last two decades. Still, it's cool that I can be right in the middle of a metropolitan area and see more than a dozen species in the yard over the course of a winter weekend.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Great Backyard Bird Count - Days 1 and 2

It's been a pretty quiet start to the Great Backyard Bird Count for this backyard birder, with not many species or many birds spotted in the last two days. I've only spent about half an hour a day out in the yard, but the feeders have been very quiet which also contributes to the low counts. Here are my counts from the last two days:

American crow - 7
Red-breasted nuthatch - 2
American robin - 2
Northern flicker - 1
Steller's jay - 1

American crow - 11
Black-capped chickadee - 2
American robin - 2
Northern flicker - 1

Only six species in these two days, so there's definitely some other possibles to be added in the next two. Unfortunately everything has been pretty far away, so no photos yet, but I'll report back at the end of the weekend and I'll try to get some pictures to share too!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Back to Stormy Weather

While yesterday was clear, calm, sunny, and mild, today was the exact opposite: cloudy, windy, rainy, and cold - more what you would expect for the Oregon Coast this time of year. That made birding a bit more difficult but a half day out still yielded some good finds.

A drive along the estuary adjacent to Yaquina Bay led to sightings of some large mixed flocks, perhaps seeking shelter from what was a very stormy looking ocean today. One flock was made up mostly of ruddy ducks and western grebes (99), with a few bufflehead and lesser scaup mixed in for good measure. A little further along was a raft of surf scoters with one pair of white-winged scoters (100) - yay!!

Later in the afternoon I stopped by Yaquina Head Lighthouse where it was so windy I had trouble getting my car door open. I snapped this shot through the open window of the car....

...and the only reason I wanted to get out of the car was to get a better look at these common murres (101) that were all huddled together on the top of a rock. The photo is a bit blurry because it was so windy I couldn't hold the camera still enough!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Closing in on 100 in Newport

The weather for today's birding excursion around Newport could not have been better: sunshine, blue skies, and a slight breeze that put just enough chill in the air to remind you it was February and not the middle of summer. It really lifted my spirits to be out and about in the sun today!

First stop was Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, pictured above. From this vantage point over the jetties the first bird I saw was a new year bird, the brown pelican (92). Brown pelicans are not "supposed" to be this far north this time of year, but the fact of the matter is there were pelicans everywhere I looked today. A lot of people are concerned about why they never headed south this year (global warming?!) and indeed many of them are not fairing so well - I saw several dead ones today that probably succumbed to the cold temperatures or lack of food the pelicans have to deal with if they're going to winter on the Oregon coast. Many are speculating about whether or not they are going to start breeding here.

Brown pelicans were listed as endangered from 1970 until just three months ago when they were officially delisted off the Endangered Species List. This means their population has recovered from issues they faced like DDT and other contaminents, and I have to wonder if some of their range expansion might be due to a burgeoning population and not just climate change. Whatever the reason, there are certainly a lot more of them around to be seen, and they've been starting to get some major media attention. This article reports an interesting fact: from 1918 to 2002, the Aubudon Society reported less than 100 brown pelicans wintering in Oregon. This year, they estimate there are more than 3000 of them here.

But back to today's birding! After a rather disappointing stop at the Hatfield Marine Science Center, the birds at South Jetty State Park more than made up for it. In addition to the surf scoters, common loons, common goldeneyes, bufflehead, horned grebes, and double-crested and pelagic cormorants that were fishing the bay, I added four more year birds literally within the span of about 100 yards! First, I spotted a red-necked grebe (93) among the other divers. Then I zeroed in on the California gull (94) standing patiently in the parking lot. The biggest surprise of the day was a solitary horned lark (95), pictured below. And then to top it all off, a fox sparrow (96) emerged from the bushes and perched right next to a song sparrow, providing a lovely direct comparison.

Down at Seal Rock State Park the wave action was awesome, but the birding even more so. At the overlook there were about a dozen black turnstones (97) hanging out. Walking down to the beach flushed two black oystercatchers (98), the last year bird of the day.

In addition to the pelicans flying about (the above pelican photos were taken at Seal Rock), the gulls also proved to be quite entertaining. There was a mixed flock of western and California gulls that hung out nicely for some photographing. Here's a nice western gull with its reflection in the photo below - I also witnessed an intense gull fight and took some pictures I'll save for an upcoming post....all I'll say for now is I've never seen anything quite like it!

After a late picnic lunch of cheese and crackers a drive down through Waldport to near Yachats didn't yield much more in the way of bird activity, so it was back north to Newport for a stop at the historic waterfront before calling it a day. The roads were all under construction, but that didn't stop the California sea lions from hanging out on the docks in the bay. Check this guy out:

After a quick stop for groceries it was time to call it a day, and in the end I saw 35 bird species including seven new year birds. Will I be able to top 100 on this trip?! I hope so! I couldn't have asked for a better conclusion to the day than a glass of white wine and a sunset over the Pacific Ocean. I love this photo and just had to share.....Cheers!

Monday, February 8, 2010

A Seven Raptor Day at Finley NWR

I thought my trip to the beach early this week was going to be delayed due to fighting off the head cold that seems to be going around like a wildfire, but luckily (though it hit me hard) it was short in duration and I was feeling much better this morning. I was inspired to take a slightly different route to the beach and stop by Finley National Wildlife Refuge a little south of Corvallis. Amazingly, I've hardly ever been through this refuge, having visited maybe only once before.

The refuge was set aside to provide wintering habitat for the protected dusky Canada goose, but of course many other species of plants and animals benefit. While I did see lots of duskies today, including many wearing the distinct red neck band, it wasn't the waterfowl that stood out on today's birding trip. It was the whopping seven different species of raptors!

It started near the entrance to the refuge where I got a beautiful drive-by look of a rough-legged hawk. I did see one earlier this year at Ridgefield NWR, so it wasn't new to the year list, but that one was far away, and this one was perched right by the road. It's probably the best view of a rough-legged I've ever had: it was patient enough for two drive-bys on the way in, and it was still perched there on the way out.

As expected, red-tailed hawks and American kestrels were perched everywhere. In fact, including the hawks I saw perched along the I5 corridor on the drive down to Corvallis, I probably easily saw 20-30 red-tails today. The next big find was at the Prairie Overlook within the refuge, where very surprisingly a white-tailed kite (89) flew by! Here it is "kiting", or hovering in mid-air as it looks down for prey:

At one of the marsh overlooks I did finally spot some dunlin (90), which I would have expected much earlier on the year list. While I was excited to pick these up, it was then back to raptor watching as the next species seen included an immature bald eagle and a northern harrier. It was leaving the refuge where the seventh raptor was spotted - definite icing on the cake for a good afternoon's birding - a Cooper's hawk (91) perched alongside the road.

Several thousand geese land near a barn in Finley NWR

There was a refuge count of 33 species for the day, with three being new year birds. Not bad at all! I hope to further boost that year bird total during the next few days which I will be spending near Newport, Oregon on the coast. Stay tuned!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Upcoming: Great Backyard Bird Count

I wanted to remind all of my North American blog readers that February 12-15 is the Great Backyard Bird Count. Participating is easy - all you have to do is count birds for a minimum of 15 minutes and report your findings on the website. I've added a button to the side bar that I'll leave up through the count to help remind you (and me!) to participate. Last year, observers reported an astounding 620 species! It was during the bird count last February that I added a life bird of my own, the pine grosbeak.

This morning I did a little backyard bird count preview by spending an hour reading in the yard. During that time I heard and saw about seven or eight species, including black-capped chickadees, American crows, northern flickers, a varied thrush, and this red-breasted nuthatch:

There was another persistent trilling call that I couldn't recognize, but neither could I locate the bird. Many of the birds were "heard only", which can make counting up a tally of them difficult, but maybe I should brush up on my calls a little bit for the backyard bird count weekend anyway!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Koll Center in the Rain, Ridgefield in the Sun!

Yesterday it was drizzling all day, but I had to get out at least a little bit so I went over to Koll Center Wetlands where I can bird mostly from the car (I get the foot checked out again tomororw - hopefully I will have increased freedom to roam shortly!). I saw 27 species there, a pretty decent number, and the most photogenic of which was this red-tailed hawk. I stayed in the car so I wouldn't flush it and actually opened the sun roof and photographed it in the tree above me that way!

But today, guess what?! Sunshine!! There have been some great sightings recently reported at Ridgefield NWR so I've been waiting for a good day to jet up there and hopefully add some birds to the year list, and today was clearly that day. Look at all that blue sky and sun over the Ridgefield wetlands! It was even warm enough to drive the whole auto-tour route with the windows down.

Surprisingly, there seemed to be fewer species out enjoying the nice weather than have been reported recently. I only turned up 30 today, a pretty low species count for Ridgefield....and none of them were the great horned owls, greater white-fronted geese, American bitterns, or pileated woodpeckers others have seen in the last couple of days. Ah well, there were still some nice sightings, and it was worth just being out in that great weather! One of the closest birds I got to was this western scrub-jay who posed nicely just outside the (open) car window:

As far as raptors go, there were several bald eagles and red-tailed hawks about, but the most numerous today were the northern harriers. This female (differentiated from the males by being brown instead of gray) flew overhead and looked straight down into the camera lens for this photo:

While this red-tail was hunched over preening, I was hopeful I might have spotted a great horned owl. Once it lifted its head it was clearly a red-tailed hawk, but it was generous enough to stay put for a nice photo-op:

One of the coolest sightings of the day was actually mammalian instead of avian. I saw a total of three river otters, but this one had caught a fish that it hauled towards shore in order to eat it:

This great blue heron looked on as the otter ate its prize, but it made no attempt to steal it:

There were lots of great blue herons about, including a couple that were right in the road. When I stopped to look at one, it walked right by the car allowing for some great close-ups, like this one:

In the end, only one new bird was added to the 2010 bird list: the greater scaup (88). It was a good find, though, as lesser scaup with their purplish heads are way more common on inland lakes in the winter, whereas greater scaup are mostly oceanic. I'm lucky it was sunny out, because that's the only way I would have been able to distinguish the greenish sheen on the heads of this small group of greater scaup like I did today!