Thursday, June 2, 2016

Oregon Rambling and Easy Summer Promises

Below is a picture of a Burrowing Owl shot in early May, which marks the last time I did any real birding. I am ashamed, full of apologies, etc., but you've heard this all before. After so long away what I can promise is this: there will be more and better birding in the future. Southeast Arizona is off-chart with vagrants right now and the weekend draws near.

Birding had to take a backseat this year, but it has not all been grindstone and drudgery. Recently I took a trip to Oregon for some much needed 'Away from Arizona' time. Despite all the best information and encouragement from Online Oregon Hubs Hipsters Birders and Reformed Bird-hater Jen, I could not make this into much of a birding expedition, but Oregon is still Oregon, which is one of the most beautiful states there is.

The first portion of the trip was on the east side of the Cascades in Bend. Geologically recent volcanic eruptions scarred this landscape in impressive ways and for once, finally, it's not considered rude to stare at or even touch a cool scar.
Ragged basalt was strewn like lithified ocean waves, with warped vegetation clinging on to life in between, or standing monolithic and twisted in death. It was gnarly.

We have much to be thankful to volcanoes for, including good soil, significant landmarks, and giving us reason to get interested in science as 5-year-olds. Among all these things, perhaps one of the greatest testaments to the destructive and creative power of volcanoes is Crater Lake an hour south of Bend. This caldera was created when 12,000ft. Mt. Mazama lost its temper like 15,000 years ago and blew off its last 4,000 feet. The resulting crater filled with rain water and receives only the most minimal snow melt run-off, thus maintaining its azure complexion that out-blues the sky itself.

The birding options east of the Cascades are tremendous, but alas I was touring with non-birders, and while chasing Greater Sage Grouse or White-headed Woodpeckers sounded great to me, spending more time in the Bend brewery scene appealed to everyone else. The tough part was I also do well in a brewery habitat, so really I didn't put up much protest.
The second portion of Oregon time was spent in Portland, which is also within reach of broad-reaching attractions where the birds cannot help but be included. Case in point, mighty Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach has dozens and dozens of pelagic species nesting on it and its neighboring rocks.

It's time for another edition now, alas, of terrible photos of cool birds, lifers and otherwise. Common Murres, Gulls, a few Guillemots, and Pelagic Cormorants clung (or in the case of the Gulls, nested comfortably) to the rocky facades, displaying determination and stoicism otherwise belayed by their cute (Murres and Guillemots) or awkward (all the non-gulls) movement.

There were even six Harlequin Ducks hanging out by the breakers. I would love to see these birds near nesting habitat on a rough mountain stream some day, but in the meantime this will have to do.

Best of all, there were Puffins! Puffin of any variety--in this case Tufted--are probably second only to Owls in terms of broad appeal to humans. We picked out 4 individuals on Haystack and enjoyed watching them bullet around the rock in the evening. Small confession, I actually super like the second photo of the dynamos against the large blurry backdrop, but I can't really explain why.

Beach time is always exciting. It guarantees good birding and, even if Oregon beaches in late May are too chilly to host all the scantily clad beautiful people we usually go to the beaches to see, they do host lots of dead jellyfish, which are also good.
Apparently this was a banner year for velella sail jellies getting beached what with the el nino winds and all. We also found another large jellyfish, which remarkably I resisted the urge to wear as a hat.

The hiking in Oregon is crazy good. In Arizona, if one wants to walk among the spruce and fir trees, one must get above 8,000 feet. In Oregon hemlock grows in the neighborhoods, and the hikes themselves are like treks through the rain forest (but much piny-er).

Wilson's Warblers were a common sound and uncommon sight around the lower Mt. Hood trails. They continue to be a sort of photo-nemesis for me, but it was pretty cool to have them vocalizing so much.

Pacific Wrens were also very commonly heard and, weirdly, commonly seen. when they are in a singing mood they can be pretty accommodating.

With all due respect to TLC (is that very much, by the way?), when in Oregon I WILL go chasing waterfalls. Mild apologies for the photo dump here, but these cataracts are all from one 7 mile hike on Larch Mountain.

Other notable wildlife included lots of banana slugs, both cow-speckled (means they're ripened) and regular un-speckled (means they're going to taste bitter and grassy).

By trip's end the lack of crushes and clear looks was getting bothersome so I snuck out early, hoping at least to get some Chestnut-Backed Chickadee shots at the Audubon Center. Alas, it did not open until 9am, at which point I needed to mosey to the airport, and they took in all of their feeders (yes, I was getting desperate). So, pelagics aside, I think my favorite bird was this Swainson's thrush that was calling before sun-up.

Was the lack of birds in this post frustrating for you too dear reader? Worry and war not much longer, because the Santa Rita Mountains are blowing up right now with Pine Flycatcher, Aztec thrush, and Golden-winged Warbler (also, you know, like Trogons and stuff). For sake of you all, you two readers who still bear with me, I will try to go see these birds on Sunday. Proust!