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Sunday, February 26, 2017

February 19: Finches Steal the Show

On Day 2 of our birding weekend we headed across the border into Oregon near Pendleton in search of some other new species. On a snowy back road we made several stops among the beautiful scenery and turned up a couple of mountain species, including a small group of Cassin's finches which was another life bird:

Cassin's finch - life bird (but no new life list number as it was mistakenly already included on my life list - listing is hard somteimes :) ) and photo year bird #114
Still a decent amount of snow on the ground at higher elevations
Mountain chickadee - photo year bird #116

In many of these fairly remote areas, I think people are pretty used to seeing birders. To the uninitiated, though, some might wonder just what the heck these crazy people are up to!

Again as we hit mid-day the birding slowed down for a couple hours, but the scenery more than made up for it. The terrain is just so different east of the Cascades, and it's enjoyable to see!

Herd of elk in the rolling hills near Pendleton, OR

We did spot a fair number of birds of prey, though most were too far away to photograph. Along one back road we saw American kestrels, red-tailed hawks, rough-legged hawks, and prairie falcons! Heading up another road, we found this yellow-bellied marmot, which along with coyotes, raccoons, and a couple of squirrel species helped fill out our mammal list for the weekend:

It's so interesting to me how some areas can be just bird dead zones, and then you come across another area that has birds of various species all over the place. Such was the case along this back road near Pilot Rock, Oregon, where suddenly we added several more year birds.

Early migrants: mountain bluebirds, photo year bird #118. A western bluebird was in with them as well.

Say's phoebe, photo year bird #119
Then, as with the great gray owl the day before, a grand finale awaited us in the form of about 100 gray-crowned rosy-finches coming in to roost in the seasonally abandoned cliff swallow nests. Looking at their range, you'd expect a life long Pacific Northwest birder like myself might have seen gray-crowned rosy-finches before, but in fact they were a life bird not only for me but both my parents and my husband as well! They can tend to hang out at pretty remote high elevation places, but thankfully our birding guide from KTBirding knew just where to find them. 

Gray-crowned rosy-finches - North American life bird #371 and photo year bird #120

Their aerial acrobatics were amazing as they swooped into nesting holes, then bickered over who got which hole, then flew out and looped around to start the whole thing over again. We were treated to watching them for about half an hour at close range until they finally started settling down for the night.

Gray-crowned rosy-finches peeking out of their roosting holes, aka commandeered cliff swallow nests

While the photo opportunities were great, it took a video clip to capture the real essence of the experiences.

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