My lucky day started when I stepped out of the shower, checked the clock and decided it wasn’t too late for a day-trip to Astoria. I wanted to find two rare-for-Oregon birds, a Snow Bunting hanging out on the Riverwalk trail near a warehouse and a Tropical Kingbird, a new life-bird for me. Floyd agreed to come as long as we didn’t do a side trip to the jetty and could be home by dinner. No problem! En route, an email from OBOL (Oregon Birders Online listserv) gave the location of an Indigo Bunting, another Oregon rarity, that was visiting a bird seed pile in a residential area of Seaside. We decided that a quick stop there on our way home was worth it. So three cool birds in one day! The Snow Bunting was ridiculously easy to find as it practically stepped onto the trail as we approached the designated location. We watched this rather tame bird as he seemed to find grubs and seeds to eat in this strange concrete location and then disappeared in the rocks along the water.
Next we went up and over the hill to where the Tropical Kingbird was seen near a pizza parlor. We walked a few blocks up and down the streets with no luck. Just as I was ready to give up, the beautiful yellow kingbird came flying into trees in the parking lot sounding out his trilly call. Not photographable but a good sighting nevertheless! Watch this video to see and hear this amazing bird.
As we were heading south over the Young’s Bay Bridge, I checked on the OBOL listserv again and started screaming, “There’s a Snowy Owl on a rooftop in the Burlingame neighborhood back in Portland – right now!” This was only three miles from our home and was really not the place you would expect to find a Snowy Owl – in a highly urban setting – but it was two hours from our present location provided we made no stops and traffic cooperated. I had to see this if at all possible! Now the race was on. We decided to stop briefly for the Indigo Bunting – Yes! We saw it quickly and then a cat came and flushed all the birds from the seed pile – so another bird seen without a photo. We made a one-minute stop for a cup of tea for the driver (Floyd) – I was too revved up to add caffeine to my system. And then a five-minute stop to pick up some crab at the Bell Buoy fish market for dinner. Looking at the clock, I wasn’t optimistic. It was now a little after 3 pm and Google Maps on my iPhone said we would arrive at the Snowy Owl address at 4:45 pm. Sunset was at 4:30 pm. “Hey” I thought, “dusk is OK. If the owl is still there I don’t need a photo, just an amazing sighting!” But would the owl still be there five hours after its first reporting??? That was the million-dollar question. Floyd puts the pedal to the metal and off we go. We made pretty good time until Google Maps (I love this program!) tells me there is a traffic jam ahead beginning at the Sylvan Exit of Hwy. 26 and Hwy. 214 is also a mess. Now, I was raised in the Portland west hills so – no problem – we will take the back roads… Turn right here, left here, right here – Floyd has no idea where we are – but I do. I am bouncing up and down in the car seat now as the race concludes and we arrive in Burlingame at 4:45. There are people milling about – a good sign! We park the car and lo and behold the Snowy Owl is looking right at us – it’s the Snowy Owl smiley-face look! It is getting dark so I needed to prop my arm against our car to still the camera for this shot –
The owl flies to the other side of the roof and I try for a couple more shots but now it is already too dark. If we had arrived 10 minutes later, no photo could be taken. I am elated and puzzled by a woman driving by who says out of her car window, “That bird has been here all day” with obvious annoyance in her voice. But the kids with their parents are thoroughly into it and say, “Goodnight Snowy Owl” as they traipse off to dinner. This superfecta rare-bird lucky day began when I checked the clock this morning at 10:11 on 12-13-14. The daylight disappeared at 4:56 pm.
Finishing up my birding year, I visited a lot of north Portland watering holes and the Columbia River. A new life-bird was found – although I didn’t realize it at the time. A very all-white gull was hanging out at Vanport Wetlands. It was puzzling me but I still sort of ignored it. Shame on me, as I am really trying to learn my gulls. It was a Glaucous Gull and I had to go back two days later and get a picture after another birder id’d the gull as rare. Also a cool (and rare) Tufted Duck came very close to shore for a good photo op –
At Whitaker Ponds Nature Park, the short loop trail yields an abundance of birds. This year a Red-shouldered Hawk has decided to winter there. I watched him being harassed and shoved around repeatedly by the crows until finally he was able to settle into a peaceful resting place.
I made a few trips to Washington County refuges, lakes and fields – one to find the rare Clay-colored Sparrow – which I spotted but only briefly. Instead I brought home a picture of the raspberry field where he, other sparrows and a pair of Red-necked Pheasants are wintering. And at Tualatin National Wildlife Refuge a Bald Eagle was being scolded for not bringing home the goose to his mate – we watched his five unsuccessful tries to nab an obviously injured goose who was quick to submerge in the water on each pass. Go Goose!
We celebrated New Year’s Eve day with a trip to Canby Community Park to look at the most colorful, exotic duck that you will ever see. The first time you see a male Mandarin Duck is a definite “WOW” moment. This guy was lurking in the reeds, hard to see and photograph but definitely worth it! Also my photographic nemesis, the Black Phoebe, finally posed for a pic nearby. What a great birdy park!
So a New Year begins and for a birder that means starting a new list for 2015. We plan to travel and a trip to Arizona is in our near future. But until then, I will continue to enjoy my local habitats – here’s a few 2015 birds from Reed Lake, Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden, Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge and the Milwaukie boat launch where a rare Black-and-white Warbler has been wintering. May 2015 bring you beauty in all forms – including birds!