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Monday, March 22, 2010

Tillamook COASST survey and birding

Last Friday I went with my dad to Tillamook on the Oregon Coast to conduct a beached bird survey for COASST and do some birding. On his beach at Happy Camp we discovered one dead bird - a somewhat gory-looking headless brown pelican, so I'll spare you the photos today. It does represent the fact that brown pelicans are still persisting on the Oregon Coast throughout the winter and spring, an unusual time for them to be here, especially since many are not finding enough to eat and are dying off.

The weather at the coast was fantastic. We were able to walk along the shoreline wearing T-shirts and no jackets - something you aren't always able to do in the Pacific Northwest in the summertime, let alone on the last full day of winter. After doing the survey while we went birding for three hours, we were also able to do so with the windows on the car rolled down. It was so pleasant and mild out, and while it was still breezy it was a very warm wind.

First we drove around Netarts Bay, where we still saw a few bufflehead, common loons, and surf scoters, but in noticeably diminishing numbers. We also stopped by Cape Meares Lighthouse, where in addition to spotting a lone live brown pelican, a pair of black oystercatchers, and one of the resident peregrine falcons, we also saw about five gray whales heading north on their spring migration. They were quite a ways offshore, but their spouts were visible with the naked eye, and through binoculars you could see their lumpy backs and once even the flukes (unusual for a gray whale) as a whale went down on a deeper dive.

Next up was Bay Ocean Spit, which often turns up some good waterfowl and occasionally good shore birds. My dad really wanted to find a tern among the gulls, and said, "I bet there's one out there," pointing to a condensed flock of gulls on a sand bar way out in the middle of the bay. His insight was spot-on, as once he got the scope on the clump of white birds he found a lone Caspian tern (117) hanging out among the western and glaucous-winged gulls. [I guess this is a good time mention that last week I also saw my first turkey vulture (116) of the season soaring over Highway 26 in Portland!]

As we continued along the spit, we saw about a half-dozen brant as well as many northern pintail, mallards, ring-necked ducks, and lesser scaup. There were also two great egrets, four great blue herons, and a northern harrier hanging out in the same area. The biggest surprise, however, was a pair of marbled godwits (118), who were both standing one-legged in the surf and only occasionally would look up, revealing their remarkably long, up-turned bills.

While driving along Tillamook Bay I saw a small, black bird deftly catch an insect and alight on a wire overhanging a creek. "Stop! Stop!" I told my dad, recognizing something out of the ordinary before getting a good look at it. It turned out to be not one, but two, black phoebes (119) - occasionally reported this far north but the first time I've ever seen this species in Oregon. They were hanging out near a big red barn and looked likely to be a nesting pair, so they may be hanging out there for some time.

Our last stop before heading to the COASST social pizza dinner was a drive along Fenk Road, which goes through some farms along a creek and always seems to turn up something good. We saw a pair of American coot, some green-winged teal, four tree swallows, and our third belted kingfisher of the day along the water. On the farm side of the road were about a thousand Canada geese out in the fields, as well as mixed flock of new fewer than four different blackbird species: European starlings, red-winged blackbirds, Brewer's blackbirds, and a couple of brown-headed cowbirds (120).

No pictures of any of the 40 species we saw that afternoon - it was a great days birding but most species were too far away to pull out the camera. Next up, I'm going to try my luck at finding a pair of wrentits reported near the Sandy River delta about 25 miles east of Portland. They have been spotted regularly over the last week, but I'm a little skeptical, as locating the small brown birds admist acres of blackberry brambles will be somewhat like finding a needle in a haystack. Wish me luck!


Warren Baker said...

Wrentits! Thats a new one on me!

You could locate them by call Monika ?

Monika said...

I'm hoping so Warren! That is the most common way to find them, but this pair seems to be fairly quiet much of the time, so we'll see...

Lancs and Lakes Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

Good luck - what are they? - please try to get some pics as they're not in my Eastern States F/G


PS Oh for a Caspian Tern - twitched and dipped several so not yet on my British list...dohhh...maybe I'll fluke one this spring

The K said...

Here's a useful Wrentit link