Sunday, August 23, 2015

Of Boats and Birds

    I finally made it out to the Douglas County Coast again, my second of a planned 5-6 trips looking for shorebirds.

The red X is where I put in. The blue is Matt's Flats around A'eron Island. The black is "The Point" of Triangle Island. The green is where you can put in in Gardiner OR.  
    On Friday I walked from Sparrow Park road, which is located where the small creek runs out to the Pacific Ocean on the very north part of the map, three miles up the beach to Tahkenitch Estuary, and back, for a nice 6 mile slog. I was expecting a nice variety of shorebirds, but I only found two species: 1 Semipalmated Plover and about 1,550 Sanderlings.


    I was happy to find some Elegant Terns later that evening, a bird I was pretty sure I had seen earlier in the year but hadn't gotten photos of.

Elegant Terns. The top bird is a juvenile.
    The next day I psyched myself up for a paddle out to the Umpqua Estuary. I put in at Winchester Bay, which is marked with a Red "X" on the map. The paddle up from Winchester bay early in the morning was nice but against a slow moving tide (around 2 feet). I paddled up and around A'eron Island with Matt's Flats beneath me (about two miles), but there were only peeps on the exposed banks, and I was looking for larger shorebirds. 

The view of the dunes from the west side of A'eron Island. The Pacific Ocean is just over that there hill!
    When I made it around I looked across the river and decided Triangle Island wasn't too far away (black "X" on map). About halfway across the river I realized it was indeed quite far. Using Google Earth at home I estimate it was about 1.25 miles. I finally made it, and pulled my kayak ashore. I had spooked some Black-Bellied Plovers on my approach, and grabbed my camera and binoculars to try and get a picture. 
    As I walked north I had to intimidate a bull to leave me alone, and then realized that there were actually a lot of shorebirds on "The Point." My scope was about a half mile back through muddy flats, and I was fighting time, between making sure my boat didn't get taken out with the tide, and making it back before the powerful afternoon winds picked up. 
    I decided not to go back for my scope, and took some "spray n' pray" pics with my camera.

Dowitchers. Notice the straight bills and lighter "eyebrow."

    This worked against me as the lighting in the first few shots I took made some look like they had upturned bills. I thought these were Marbled Godwits, but now realize they are presumably Short-Billed Dowitchers. I also took some poor shots of distant Black-Bellied Plovers.

White undertail coverts = Black-Bellied Plovers in this case. 

    I tried getting closer, but the birds kept spooking, and the clock was ticking. I trudged back through the mud to my kayak, and started paddling. Fortunately the wind hadn't picked up too much, but there was enough wind and current to create some nice little waves to paddle through. This was a fun instance to test my kayak's sea-worthiness. I handled the natural waves perfectly fine, but the wakes kicked up by some of the fishing boats I was sharing the water with made me have to turn bow or stern first into them to avoid the possibility of getting swamped.
    I don't think many of the boaters are familiar with sharing the water with kayaks, just as I am unfamiliar with how to share with them. Most every one gave me a wide berth, but a few would start to pass on one side, then change their mind and pass on the other, causing me to have to turn about again and again. At one point I was passed concurrently on both sides, which caused some interesting wakes to come at me from both directions.     It took me about an hour and a half to paddle back, and my shoulder was starting to hurt quite when I got back. But I was happy to have seen some target birds. I partially re-inflated my boat to dry it out and took a short nap in the afternoon after a morning of hard paddling. I birded the bay later that day but didn't find anything interesting.
    The next morning I was up bright and early to check Triangle Island again, but this time I was going to put in from Gardiner (Green "X" on map). However, when I started to pump up my kayak, I was horrified to hear a faint hissing noise, I had developed a small tear along one of the seams! I tried to patch it with only rubber cement, but had no luck. I had to call it a day and came home, where I bought some clamps and put on a vinyl patch. I am going to test it on Tuesday at the respectively shallow Plat I Reservoir, but if it doesn't work I need to pick up some "Tear-Aid Type B," which is evidently a super-patch for my problem. I will also contact the company who made the kayak, I believe it is still under warranty, and I should be able to get a new tube without having to replace the whole kayak. Not a great way to end the weekend, but it is an inflateable boat, and tears will happen.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Year Bird # 235 and the Quest for a Solitary Sandpiper

    I have been on the search for a Solitary Sandpiper, which would be a life bird, not to mention a county year bird for me. With or without this bird, my numbers have been steadily climbing. It seems like Solitary Sandpipers are being reported everywhere in Oregon except for here. I still have a couple of weeks before their migration "window" starts to close, but they are casual in Douglas County during migration, and every day I can't find one I grow a little more nervous.
    This morning I received a pleasant early surprise when 5 American White Pelicans showed up at a very shallow Ford's Pond. They usually show up in the beginning of October. I don't know if the water at any point is deep enough for them to stick their heads in, so their feeding was comical as they held their heads sideways to get their bills in the water. However, my best moment came as a photo and a bit of luck. Bald Eagles sometimes like to perch in some oaks on a hill near the pond, and I failed to get a really great shot the last time they were there. Today I walked up and balanced my camera on my spotting scope, and just as I was about to take a picture, the bird flew. "Oh well," I thought. But when I got home and downloaded the pictures I realized I had taken a fair takeoff shot:

My what big wings you have!

 On the way around the pond I ran into an almost-Solitary Sandpiper. This Lesser Yellowlegs had me looking for about 5 minutes before I eliminated the possibility of Solitary.

    The bill on this bird is a little too long and thin for a Solitary Sandpiper. Also, the legs are a little long (easier to see in the field) and there wasn't a strong eye-ring. The dark back and dark breast made me double-take.

    My quest for a Solitary continued with a 2 hour paddle around Plat I reservoir. While I didn't find my target bird their either, I did find a very lonely Baird's Sandpiper, which bumped me up to #235. I figured I would find this bird here or at the coast this weekend, but after probably missing Calliope Hummingbird for my year list (which is sad because multiple people had them at their feeders this spring and I figured I could find one in the mountains) I'll take it when I can get it.

Notice the long wingtips.
    Baird's Sandpipers have long wingtips that extend beyond their tail. They also are a bit larger and slimmer looking than Western Sandpipers. I studied a lot of upright and preening Western Sandpipers looking for a Baird's. But this Baird's stood out when I finally found it.
Also notice the narrow, dark bill.

    Earlier this month I found a Snowy Egret at the coast, which is a good bird for the county. I also lucked out and saw a Wandering Tattler bobbing up and down far out on the jetty. It helped that I had been looking at a Black Turnstone for a while, and I was able to compare sizes. I'm keeping my finger's crossed for Solitary Sandpipers, but I'll take what I can get.

Year Total: 235
Year Goal: 245
County Record: 265

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Virginia Rail-Take Two

    A couple of weeks ago I got some poor pics of Virginia Rails on Plat I Reservoir outside of Sutherlin, OR. Today I was delighted to see that at least one bird was foraging on a small section of mudflats that I have started calling "Rail Cove."

Do YOU see ME?
    According to, Virginia Rails are able to swim underwater using their wings for propulsion. They and other Rail species also have,"... the highest ratio of leg muscles to flight muscles of any birds" ( Drumstick anyone?
    When I realized that it didn't seem to be bothered too much by my presence, I decided to capture a video.

Strong Legs = Fast Running!

    I have some more videos of the bird that I may upload later, but this is the best one. What a treat! I hadn't ever SEEN a Virginia Rail until earlier this year, and now I have gotten extended looks!