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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!


Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

Seems strange that between the wars and then through the DDT/overfishing of more recent years the population of Pelicans has been low in your area until the last decade then POW mega explosion - surley a sign of something happening. Any increases in other fish eating or 'normally' more southern species?



Monika said...

I personally haven't noticed any other population booms for other species, but I have heard some birders suggest that the trend may be occurring across all pelicaniformes, such as the cormorants, boobies, and frigatebirds. There have been a few reports of brown boobies much farther to the north than anticipated, now that I think about it.