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Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving Weekend ~ Birding on the Oregon Coast

I had a great holiday weekend with the family at the Oregon Coast. The coast is beautiful any time of year, and it seems like regardless of when you go you'll end up experiencing all four seasons. This trip was no exception. When we left, the temperatures were still below freezing in Portland and the roads were icy going over the coast range. (We saw some elk crossing the road just as we were reaching the coast that night!) While there we also got rain, sun, hail, and wind. We all had a great time playing board games, watching college football, and eating great food, and I enjoyed playing with my four year old niece and newborn nephew. My dad and I also had some time to get some good birding in.

On the morning of Thanksgiving we went from Cannon Beach, where we were staying, over to Seaside to check out an area that's known as "the cove". Great birds are often reported there and I've seen some there myself on previous visits. This time there were lots of gulls (western, glaucous-winged, and ring-billed), and also a big flock of black turnstones and surfbirds (year bird 224). 

They weren't at all skittish, and most remained resting while we approached to take some pictures. They looked a bit comical standing on one leg, trying to stay warm in the morning chill. The turnstones are the black ones, and surfbirds are gray:

Here is one of the western gulls. I'm still learning about gull identification as I go along, but my understanding is the mantle on western gulls is much lighter further to the north. Down in California they would appear more like in the field guides with a darker back.
 Someone saw that we were interested in birds and came over and told us about a female painted bunting that had been hanging out nearby. He hadn't seen it in a few days, but we decided to go over and take a look anyway since we were so close. There was no sign of the bunting, but there was a lot of bird activity at the site, where we saw dark-eyed juncos, golden-crowned sparrows, and a Bewick's wren, northern flicker, downy woodpecker, and spotted towhee:

It's amazing to me that Anna's hummingbirds overwinter in the Pacific Northwest. I'm not quite sure how they manage to find enough food and survive the freezing temperatures, even though I did hear about a few considerate birdwatchers that rigged up electrical wire to keep their hummingbird feeders from freezing during this last cold spell. This female Anna's found some winter blossoms right outside the windows of the cabin we were staying in:

When there were breaks in the weather we could take some walks on the beach near Haystack Rock. I was amazed on our first walk to see about twenty dead sea birds within a stretch of a few hundred yards. I was equally amazed to come back out the next day and see only two of them remained - the rest had been swept out to sea by the last tide. It left me wondering just what we would find on the COASST survey of my dad's beach near Netarts the next day. Last year, November was the record high survey when we found 11 birds.

Sunset near "The Needles", the two rocks near Haystack Rock.

The next day it was raining on our hour long drive down to Netarts, and it stopped just as we arrived. It took us a little over two hours to survey the beach, even though the tide was fairly high so the beach was narrower than during some of our other surveys. In total we ended up finding a record (for us) thirteen birds, including six northern fulmars, two rhinoceros auklets, two common murres, two gulls, and one unknown (just a wing remained). It's always interesting to me since I have yet to find any birds on my survey beach on San Juan Island, since far more birds wash up on the outer coast than in inland waters. Here is one of the dark morph northern fulmars we found:

We saw the next storm cell moving in as we were measuring our last couple of birds, and sure enough the first rain drops hit the windshield *just* as we were stepping back into the car. It was another major downpour, but it was short-lived, and by the time we were passing Tillamook Bay after a stop for a beverage and a snack the sun was shining again and a bright rainbow could be seen over the bay:

It was already getting late in the afternoon and with limited daylight we had to just head back to the cabin without doing too much birding. There were still several possible year birds to be found on the coast, though, so we decided to drive home yesterday the longer way by going through Tillamook again and taking some time to bird in hopes of finding a Brandt's cormorant, Thayer's gull, or ruddy turnstone for the year list. We saw double-crested and pelagic cormorants, common goldeneye, bald eagles, ruddy ducks, and scaup, but no year birds as we approached Tillamook. We decided to go for one more birding stop on the Tillamook Spit before heading inland and it turned out to be a great decision. As we were driving out the Spit we were very surprised when my mom spotted a pair of red phalaropes (225) feeding right along the shoreline!

It was unexpected to see this mostly pelagic species right along Tillamook Bay, and interestingly enough the only other time I've seen this bird was during Thanksgiving weekend last year when one stopped over for a few days at Westmoreland Park in Portland.

Further out on the spit we stopped to scan a large flock of American wigeon and found a single male Eurasian wigeon in with them. There was also a great egret nearby. On the start of our drive home along the bay we also saw several belted kingfishers and surprisingly a single Bonaparte's gull as well.

It turned out to be a great weekend, and bird-wise I ended up seeing 49 species in all. Next up, it's time to head back to San Juan Island, which thankfully has thawed out from the early winter snow they experienced while we were gone!

1 comment:

lswink said...

Great article! Would you be interested in sharing it on the Oregon Coast Visitors website? You can post it here ( just give us the okay and we will feature it in our Stories page.