Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Oregon, Ocean to Desert

Monday, May 10, 2010 continued

The days were getting longer as as the solstice approached, and as I worked north. After birding the border, see the previous post, headed straight north from Klamath Falls to the east side of Crater Lake. There's a Refuge there, Klamath Marsh, part of the complex. Birding has been good there before and was today also. Too bad I was feeling hurried. Enjoyed talking with the guys in the office, and when I left I took a different route to bring me back to the highway near where the main road went to the coast. Made a couple of stops, one very good one since a Williamson's Sapsucker revealed the secret of it's drumming. which is very distinctive. Just random stops proved productive.

When I got to Rte 138 I followed it on to Roseburg. I had been down this way before after camping at Crater Lake. I set up in one of the Forest Service Campgrounds, and birded up the creek there. I had found a couple of American Dippers, which I'd forgotten about. It was before rabid record keeping. A quick story: When I got the hundred species notion I had been thinking back through early birding trips, and I knew that I'd seen quite a lot in Oregon, but had no records. So once digging through some saved checklists, the one for Malheur NWR showed up. There were lots of tics, and it brought my state total to 99. Not 100. So Oregon was a target state. When I checked the computer, I'd not marked the Dipper, so I actually had 100, just barely. Too late now, I was already in OR, so I just decided to make a good job of it. Ended up adding 80 species.

I had tagged a place called Bandon Marsh NWR, and it was the next goal. It's not very remarkable, a small protected area along a tidal inlet. Found a couple of new birds, also poked into a state park there, but the surf was big and grey and it was doing a heavy drizzle. Scanned for sea ducks, no luck. I drove further up the coast and took the highway headed back to Eugene. The campground I'd picked to be in position for the next day was closed, so I just parked at the gate, being pretty tired, I'd started in the dark snow 16 hours earlier. Very pleased to have a singing Varied Thrush celebrate the dusk. Also amused to have a couple of young men, maybe teens, on bicycles, one with a little trailer of gear. They needed a place to crash too. So I gave them permission to camp there, just told them to keep out of sight and not light a fire. And they did, while I guarded the gate.

Tuesday, May 11

Stopped along the way into Eugene at a little store that catered to the truckers hauling supplies to the coast. First birding stop was Finley NWR, one of several refuges in the Willamette Valley. Nice short talk with a woman jogging who pointed out trails to the lake visible from a gazebo. I get people hunger on these trips, yearn for a little conversation beyond counter-talk. Finley was good, I'd been there before, but the Visitor Center was new, and unfortunately not open very early. But there was a pond there that had some good birds including Wood Duck. A little further north after a brief bit of Interstate and I was at Ankeney NWR. This place was great. I stopped at the first parking lot from the thruway, which accessed a gallery woodland along a small waterway. It was the birdiest place I'd seen on the whole trip, trees literally filled with birds, a migrant trap I guess.

Several other stops had marsh and pond views, raptors including Eagles and Ospreys, lots of ducks and waders. Passerines were good also in the patches of woods. I ended up spending three or four hours there, making sure I checked out everything I could find using the refuge map. My notes say twenty plus new tics between the two morning refuges. Further north I caught a road leading back to the coast which passed Basket Slough NWR, not much habitat variety, one big open wetland with a well sited overlook. Serious scope territory.

Following the coast highway north I stopped at Nestucca Bay NWR, a place I'd not tried an the previous trip. Small but surprisingly good, due in no small part to another birder, Mark the carpenter who was looking for a reported Northern Pygmy Owl. We played tapes all up and down a couple of hundred yards of road, no luck on thee owl, but kept finding other good birds. I finally broke out the Screech Owl tape and pulled in several more critters, new warblers and flycatchers, he knew his empids. A real blessing since he was up to date on area sightings and provided several heads-up. It took too long to get out to Cape Mears, and I was feeling hurried since I was out of phone range and needed to arrange a meeting the next day, so had to get back to the mainland. I did bother to take the back way to see some new road and coast. It looked like a whole day wouldn't be too much for that area if one worked the wooded ridges and the beaches both.

I got ahold of my friend Emily, who didn't have room for a couch crash. Her style is restricted by the two young daughters and their meal and sleep schedules, but we arranged for lunch the next day. I took Rte 6 back toward Portland and lucked into a sort of undeveloped campground in a State Forest, nobody else there, and stopped early enough to get in some evening chorus birding. A really nice spot. A really great day too.

Wednesday, May 12

Dawn lived up to its promise, and several stops on the way to Portland were good as well, except that I couldn't scare up a Bittern in a big wetland along the highway where they were supposedly reliable. I hit morning rush hour in Portland, escaped the freeway, then climbed the high ground overlooking the city on the west side. That's where the Portland Audubon Sanctuary was located. Very nice place, had to wait for the bookstore to open to see the feeders, poked around on the trails until then. Ended up buying books and seeing great birds from inside, charmed by a 60 yr old docent, foxy and bright, good birder too. Yearning. Spent a couple of hours there, then down into city center to Powell's Books. Everything in Portland is named Powell, possibly even the restrooms. The bookstore was heaven, but I managed to keep it around fifty bucks. Found the third and last missing volume of the Bent's Life's Histories, a ten year project completed.

Made contact with Emily, met her at a Mexican restaurant in her neighborhood. Loved Portland, then I heard they had 200 days of rain a year. Still want to go back and hang out for a decent visit. Lunch was good and cheap, her four year old daughter Georgia was shy at first, (Olivia slept through lunch in the car outside) but she soon was charming and bright. Emily was beautiful and vibrant, the conversation sparkled. Left reluctantly to head into the interior of Oregon. Took forever to get through the eastern burbs, and then drove through Mount Hood NF, no stops, still snow covered and campgrounds not open yet. Ended up sleeping in a snow-mobile parking area in Ochoco NF after birding some of the side roads in there looking for a campground.

Thursday, May 13

The first problem was finding some gasoline; I'd fetched up in thinly settled semi-arid country. I was finally near John Day Fossil Beds NM, which I knew nothing about except that it was one of the very last Park Service natural sites that I'd never visited. Ended up seeing two units, Painted Hills, which was deserted and beautiful rolling bare layers of colored clays. Actually got good birds there including Ash-throated Flycatcher, and some unexpected ducks on a small pond on private land but scope-able. Further east I found the main unit, called Sheep Rock, of the fossil beds, with a big visitor center and a really knowledgeable and talkative ranger. The orientation movie was really well done too. Learned a lot of local geology quickly, and re-kindled my interest in that subject, good for slow birding days and highway driving understanding. Started buying the roadside geology books soon after.

Sheep Rock

A little way north of the VC was the Blue Canyon trail, which had some great "in situ" fossils, partially excavated but left in the original matrix and then protected from the weather.

Fossil Turtle

Fossil Saber-toothed Carnivore

It had gotten hot and brilliantly desert sunny. I was glad to head off on a side road into some mountains in Malheur NF. Found a nice campground where I probably should have stayed with good birding including Crossbills. There was still a lot of daylight left so I drove on down to Malheur NWR, which I'd loved before, and the checklist from which had saved my OR list. Arrived there mid-afternoon, found the headquarters area which has some sweet habitat managed to pull in passerines, and a decent small pond. Got several good hummers, other unexpecteds. Conversation with another birder led me to a small lake on a side road that was simply covered with waterfowl, waders, shorebirds, gulls including one Bonaparte's. and probably got me a half dozen tics standing in one spot. I ended up crashing at Kubo Reservoir, not really supposed to do that, but it was deserted. Had one of those obnoxious parking lots that slopes in all directions, and nothing level. Makes sleeping a little less comfy. The new moon made great stars and solid darkness.

Friday, May 14

Decided to finish up with some thorough exploring. First went south to French Glen and birded around the hotel after some roadside scoping efforts. One netted Black-crowned Night-Herons, which I was told were seldom seen in spite of being fairly common. I wanted to go up on Steens Mountain, but the loop road was closed just past the campground, so instead I drove up the dirt patrol road that paralleled the highway. Mostly I was working on sparrows. Got Brewer's with not too much trouble, but was eluded by Sage in spite of what looked like lots of habitat. Made a stop at the research station, and then another couple of hours at HQ. Always good birding there, serious effort at Sage Thrasher, also no luck even though folks said they had seen it. Made up for it with the drive back north into Burns, One stop had a Burrowing Owl, and there were several grass-piper species in the flooded pastures.

Filled up with gas for the drive into Idaho. I was crossing the Alvord Desert, one of those places with signs saying, "No Gas next 105 miles". I had the front escarpment of Steens on the right the whole way, with its own weather. It was not very birdy, not even raptors after I got away from a little greenery along some drainages. Took most of three hours to get to the ID border. I ended Oregon with 179 species, which meant adding 80 in five days of a wide variety of habitats.


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