Saturday, December 26, 2015

Sanibel Island, Florida December 2015

Well, it's the holidays again and that means Florida to me.  Took a whopping nine days off of work and hopped on a plane to Tampa to go stay with my mom and grandma.  My mom had the brilliant idea of getting us a place on Sanibel Island for a few nights so we could all have a bit of a vacation. My grandma used to come here almost annually to stay with friends at the beach when my grandpa was alive, so she has fond memories of the place.  It's just south of Fort Myers on the gulf coast and is a pretty chill place, not a crazy beach boardwalk with highrises on the shore. 

I pretty much left everything in my suitcase as we were driving down the day after I flew in to Tampa. We packed up the car with everything we thought we might need and hopped on 75 south for about a two and half hour trip. The weather was partly cloudy but dry and warmer than usual, about 83 degrees.  Always surreal to leave 40 degrees behind and step off the plane into 80.  Traffic on the island was being directed at the main entrance and a few other key intersections by a traffic cop waving cars onward.  I don't think there are any stoplights on the island, and I guess to avoid installing any, they bring in traffic cops during the high winter season. Can you imagine if there were no stoplights anywhere and only people directed traffic? Hmm.. So we got to our place, checked in and unloaded all the luggage.  It was the basic resort room; a bedroom for grandma, and mom and I on the sleeper pullout in the living room.  A little kitchenette with a sink and fridge and microwave, and the basics: a toaster, a coffee maker and a blender for all those imminent daiquiris. A screened-in patio looked out west over the sea grass and scrub to the ocean.  It was cute and comfortable. There was a pool and a poolside bar, a place to rent tandem ocean kayaks and bicycles, and paths out to the beach with the deckchairs and umbrellas.  There was also a sandcastle built just as you came onto the beach, replete with Disney-esque characters, which was kind of amazing. Have no idea if the hotel built it or just a random beachgoer, but it ended up being a helpful visual tool for me to pick our hotel out of the miles of similar resorts up and down the Sanibel coast line.  

We spent the next three days eating out and generally just loafing around.  My mom and I rented a sea kayak and didn't see any dolphins or birds on the water, but got in a good hour of paddling.  It was great exercise and just nice to be on the water.  Then we rented bikes and rode to the lighthouse on the east tip of the island through the back neighborhoods. Lots of the resorts on Sanibel offer bicycles and many residents ride bikes of their own, so the bike paths are great and run along most roads on the island. We drove up to the northwest side of the island, through the beautiful landscaped homes with ridiculous nautical names.  We ate at the Bubble Room in that neck of the woods, a kooky ramshackle place that is filled with 1930's through 1950's Hollywood paraphernalia, with Christmas music playing 365 days a year.  The waitstaff are dressed up like girl/boyscout meets elf working at TGIF. So, all in all, pretty surreal. I was so dazed, I managed to pour my own iced tea all over our table...

Of course the majority of my pictures are of birds, because I can't stop, and I won't stop.. (Imagine me doing some variation on the MC Hammer/running-man dance right there..)  And of course, one morning my mom and grandma were kind enough to indulge me with a drive through "Ding" Darling NWR which is right there on Sanibel. We saw two alligators right by the side of the road, and a couple of other life birds for me, the Little Blue heron and the Anhinga. The rest of the pictures are culled from walks up and down the beachfront near our hotel.  Almost exclusively Black-Bellied plover in winter plumage (aka, a white belly- so confusing), Willets, a pair of Sanderlings, three Ruddy Turnstones, and a few Snowy egrets.  Brown pelicans, Osprey, Fish crows, Laughing gull, Ring-billed gull, and an exciting Lesser Black-backed gull.  I might not have ID'd that last except my friend Jill saw the same bird on her trip down to Sanibel a month prior and we had a look at her pictures to verify.  And my favorite, absolute favorite:  the Royal and Sandwich terns. Hilarious birds, so much personality. But I'm a tern lover, they never cease to amaze me. Alas, no Skimmers, or other kinds of Plovers, no Woodstorks except on the roadside while whizzing down Highway 75 at 60 miles an hour..  And no Roseate Spoonbills, waaaah!!!  I did see a handful of Magnificent Frigatebirds flying while on our bike ride, and few other assorted species.  

Well, here are some pics to illustrate the joy of 80 degrees, sunshine, and shorebirds.  Oh, and did I mention the dizzying number of bites I received from "no see-ums"?  Insane, almost 150 on my right leg alone. I looked like I had a horrible chickenpox outbreak. I've never had that happen before on Sanibel, but it apparently can be an issue there. I didn't take any pictures of it because it was just too repulsive. But anywho, back to the birds..

 this must have taken some time..

 royal and sandwich terns and laughing gulls 

 terns and gulls (ring-billed, laughing and lesser black-backed)

 royal and sandwich tern and laughing gull

 great peach jelly brain with shell..kind of gross


 double-breasted cormorant and meal

 ring-billed gull

 ruddy turnstone

 black-bellied plover, possibly a bright juvenile

a different black-bellied plover, this one more white and gray, probably an adult

 immature laughing gull

 royal tern

 royal tern fledgling asking for food

 royal tern fledgling being ignored by adult

osprey in palm

 beach was littered with fish skeletons

 island morning glory

 snowy egret and laughing gull

 immature lesser black-backed gull

black-bellied plover, terns

 adult lesser black-backed gull

 ring-billed gull

 royal and sandwich terns

 little blue heron


 mourning dove

 white ibis

willets, american white pelican, two possible female blue-winged teals


 another alligator!!

 immature little blue heron

 not a cool monkey, no, a raccoon up a palm

 Mom and Grandma at the north beach on Sanibel island

 fish crow flock

 fish crow

 magnificent frigatebird

 lighthouse and osprey 


 snowy egret

 pileated woodpecker

 snowy egret

 brown pelican


 willet at sunset

 Sanibel sunset

 miami vice style skyscape behind the hotel

amazing and cool crab spider in the corner of the the pool back at home

So that's about it for the Florida shenanigans.  I love birdwatching there, it's beyond gratifying.  My friend Jill and I laugh about how roadside and drainage ditch birding in Florida can turn up more seemingly exotic bird life than I will see in a year in Oregon.. It's pretty fun, and I was happy to have gotten a chance to go through Ding Darling on this trip. Well, the new year is almost upon us, and I have travel plans to spend it and my birthday on Oregon's central coast so perhaps I'll see something fun to share.
I wish you all a peaceful and happy holiday and New Year, and until next time, happy trails!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

November Part Deux- Tillamook, Scappoose and Shillapoo

Tillamook Bayocean Spit & Wetlands  11.22.15

As I was typing out the title of this entry, I noticed that the three areas I visited have some similar spelling, all with double "O's" and are obviously names or words from first peoples of the Pacific NW.  I was curious, so I did a little research.  Turns out the name Tillamook is a Chinook term meaning "people of the Nekelim or Nehalem". The word Tillamook also describes the language they spoke, which was actually Salishan, not Chinook. They were the southern most peoples to speak this, divided from their northern counterparts by tribes that spoke predominantly Chinook dialects.  And to make it a little more complicated, the Tillamook peoples spoke two distinct dialects of Salishan, both Tillamook and Siletz.  In 1856 the Tillamook and more than 20 other tribes were placed on the Siletz reservation in the usual routine of manifest destiny, aka "search and destroy", perpetuated by our own federal government. Although, in a minor nod at justice in 1898, the Tillamook and the Clatsop tribes were the first to sue the feds for their loss of lands.  They and two other tribes were finally awarded $23,500, in 1907. Sigh. May we be not doomed, and that's with double "O's", to repeat history.

So I, along with most of OBOL(Oregon birders online), have been following the movements of this vagrant Dickcissel that arrived at the bayocean spit outside of Tillamook sometime around the end of the first week in November.  My friend Jill, who was heading out to Florida that week for an enviable birding trip, said it was too bad we didn't have time to go out to Tillamook and look for it.  That stuck in my head as I started my work week, and then every night, unbelievably another OBOL member would announce that it was still there, now joined by a Mockingbird, of all things.  As it got closer to my weekend, I just decided to not worry about it and made other plans for Sunday.  But there it was in my evening OBOL emails; the Dickcissel was still there!  This might have something to do with the copious amount of seed that was being left for it by eager birders.  But a big storm system was supposed to be blowing in, in fact was already two days overdue, so it just seemed like a bad birding scenario.  

I got up Monday morning, saw that it wasn't pouring and decided to throw all caution to the wind, and race to Tillamook.  After several little mishaps which should have convinced me to turn around, I raced west out Highway 6, hitting the first wall of rain not far from the coast.  I arrived at the spit to see another pair of birders in rain gear, binoculars limp on their chest.  They had been there for hours with no luck. They concluded that this bird liked to put on an AM only showing, and what with the downpour, nothing else was coming out to say hello. Knowing this was doubtless a waste of time, I threw on my rain pants, boots, and my pack and headed out into the deluge.  I stomped around every possible angle I could think of where the little guy might be, but no luck.  After taking a picture of the only bird I could find, a plastic duck decoy, I decided to call it a day.. Sigh. The drive home was not pleasant; it was a white-knuckled ninety minutes over the hills.

Anywho, after a week of noting online that the Dickcissel was eating it's way through five pounds of seed, and with the subsequent spotting of a Snowy owl, a Cattle egret, a White-tailed kite and a Northern shrike, I got the hint.  I was going back to Tillmook.  I grabbed my gear and hit the road, this time managing to get there a little after 9 am.  I found some parking right across from the venerated tree and scaled the steep muddy embankment to where a small crew of birders were lined up quietly chatting.  The little guy hopped out after about 20 minutes and obligingly let us take quite a few pictures until the next vehicle needed to drive down the exit lane we were all standing in. We said our goodbyes and a few of the guys and I drove down to check out the water east of the spit.  We skipped the hike out to the ocean, and I had wanted to case the lake, but a teenage boy with a hunting rifle and an eager dad prompting him, had kind of cleared the waters near us anyway.  

We decided to head over to do a quick check for the Snowy owl.  No luck, so then I led them out to the wetlands, where we all tromped down the trail looking for the kite, the shrike and now three Swamp sparrows spotted there the previous afternoon.  Yes on the kite, no on the other two, although we did see a lovely pair of Hairy woodpeckers.  I only caught the female on film.  The kites were about a half mile away, I only show the picture as proof, and I honestly would have missed it altogether if one of my new birding friends hadn't spotted it.  The rest of the guys had to get back to their various towns, so they took off, and I headed south on 101 to look for the Cattle egret.  Two kind birders with their scope pointed it out to me.  I was parked directly across from it, but might have never seen it on my own.  Again, horrible pictures taken only as proof that two drives to Tillamook in a week are definitely worth it.  It's cool to see vagrants, birds that some of us might never see in their natural area.  Here are some pix:

 golden-crowned in the dickcissel tree

 Aah, here he is now, ladies and gentlemen, the Tillamook dickcissel!!

 it's like a band photo..

 dickcissel, golden-crowned and foxy

 the dickcissel still eating away

 female hairy woodpecker

 white-tailed kite blob in the shrub

 the second white-tailed kite blob flying overhead

 red-tailed trying to have a moment away from crazed birders running amok in tillamook

 three gulls and one fuzzy cattle egret, second from the left

the cattle egret is dead center bending down, but is easily half the height of the great egrets to its right

Trojan Park and the CZ trail in Scappoose  11.27.15

So it was the day after Thanksgiving, I had the day off  and the sun was out.  That meant so was I.
Now it was an odd numbered date, which meant I could have hit up Sauvie Island on a non-hunt day, but I wanted to head a little further out.  I entertained the notion of Astoria briefly, but I was getting too late of a start for that.  I decided to head out to Trojan park to check out the ponds.  It would be a pretty drive even if nothing was there.  Then I could stop in Scappoose on my way back and walk some of the CZ and try my luck.  Sounds like a plan..  Man, gas is so much cheaper as you head out Highway 30, it's like 40 cents less a gallon in Linnton, and similar in Scappoose.  I think my neighborhood Shell station is priced for yuppies only, but it's irritatingly convenient to the highway.

I love driving North on 30, Linnton, then Sauvie, and Scappoose, then St. Helens and Columbia City right after each other.  Then the road turns to one lane in either direction as you pass through Deer Island, and then Goble, which is basically a store and a few houses.  Then it's about a mile to Trojan Park, which is so landscaped and pretty that you can't even resent it.  It never seems too crowded to me here, even in summer with all the frisbee golfers and families picnicking.  There's always a few quiet contemplative fishermen on the ponds rounding out the Rockwell painting created by every vantage point, except maybe that of the electrical turbines behind the left pond.  Because of course it's the site of the Trojan nuclear plant that existed here until 2008.  The plant was built by PGE and was the source of much controversy, with PGE fighting for its continuation all the way up until 1992, when after failing for the last time, it was not restarted.  The cooling tower that was visible for miles in all directions was demolished in 2006 and the reactor dome in 2008.  I feel much more conducive to the beauty of the park without the looming fixtures of doom on the horizon.  I'm not sure if PGE still generates power at the plant, perhaps from a nearby dam, but it's nice that they maintain the park.  It's about 75 acres of manicured paths and lawns mixed with patches of forest, ponds and streams.

There's a year round flock of Greylag geese that I decided to follow around for some humorous close-ups. One of them was much smaller, the size of a Cackling goose, and I so wanted to make it into an immature White-fronted goose, but I think it was just an immature Greylag after looking at some pictures online.  Oh well, don't want to create another false goose alarm.  It is interesting though, to see the variety of  hybrids of Greylags, especially if they breed with a Canada.  I headed up the bird blind path to the next pond, past some startled Hooded mergansers, a Belted kingfisher, some killdeer as usual, and popped out to see a pair of Tundra swans circling in for landing, and a pond full of ducks.  Mostly Mallards, and a few Widgeons, a Great egret and a GBH.  The usual, but they were having fun, so I crept quietly away.  There was some good tagging inside the blind, ghosts with attitude. Heading back to the truck, I said Adieu, and headed south to Scappoose.  Here are some pix from Trojan park, mostly of the Greylags:

 tundra swans

 Just wanted to show the size comparison between the one little guy and a Canada. And the adult Greylags are even bigger than the Canada's

 Hooded mergansers

 swan goose
 hybrid Greylag with a broken right wing.. aww...

 these expressions are priceless

 a pair of exotic ducks, perhaps hybrids too.. no clue, but they were hilarious as well as pretty

I love this picture just because these two seem like the loners of the flock. One with a broken wing and then tiny goose, just all stretched out with it's legs and beak pointed in the air.  Having a good time in the water..

the whole crew along with a couple Canada's that had maybe mated in, who knows?  Have to keep coming back looking for oddball hybrids.

I posted these pictures from one of my favorite childhood books so you can see where all the trouble started.. the Duck takes off into New York City, goes to the zoo, and after much ado, finally ends up at the coast with his friend the English bulldog.  You know, just cause..

The Crown-Zellerbach trail runs from Chapman, yes Chapman, Landing on the Multnomah Channel through Scappoose, across Highway 30 and then follows an old logging road alongside the Scappoose-Vernonia Highway.  It ends near the Banks-Vernonia path seventeen miles later, and is an excellent trail for birding or bike riding.  There are two parking lots next to the trail in Scappoose, so you can go as far as you like before you turn around to walk back.  I decided to park just off of Columbia Ave, and walk the short distance to my namesake landing.  

A few folks were out walking their dogs, and no doubt walking off day two of Thanksgiving dinner. I know that was my plan. . It was mostly sparrows again, and couldnt get many pics as the sun was not cooperating, either right in my eyes or birds hopping on the ground in complete shadow. The channel was pristine and quiet with a cormorant on every piling and there was some more art to laugh at and record.  Ghostie again.. Some Eurasion collared doves on the power lines and that was all she wrote. 

I drove home via Honeyman Road, once again stopping at the corner just after Ellis Farm to peer through my binocs in vain, searching through all the gulls and Great egrets in the field for the long lost Emperor goose. Alas, it was not to be.  This is my second try and no one seems to be reporting on it, so I hope it just flew away.  I say that because while we nerds were shooting the shit in Tillamook, waiting for the Dickcissel to appear, I heard talk that there is a local hunter who follows OBOL just looking for vagrant rarities he can run out to hunt and kill. The Scappoose Emperor goose was such a bird for him.. Real. Nice. Guy. Yuck.

Anywho, here's some pics from my little stop off in Scappoose, which incidentally is a Chinook word meaning "gravelly plain".  If you drive out Honeyman Road, you can see the modern result of this resource, there seem to be several major gravel digging companies with their own pit operations.  

 view from CZ trail

multnomah channel at chapman landing

 eurasion collared doves

song sparrow that I so wanted to be a white-throated, but let's face facts..

Shillapoo Lake and Buckmire Slough  11.29.15

Now in keeping with my previous text, I will elucidate a bit about the origins of the name Shillapoo. The word itself is from the Chinook spoken by the Cathlamet people, meaning ice, or frozen, which aptly describes my day there on Sunday.  With the direct sun out, the light was gorgeous in the fields and through the remaining leaves, but any areas in the shade were still covered with frost, and most of the waterways were frozen over.  It was the middle of a cold snap that our metro area isn't used to, but it was great to be out and about, crunching over the frozen ground, soaking in the sunlight while we have it.  I had seen an online posting here from yesterday of four short eared owls flying over the fields out around Shillapoo Lake. I like this area for general birding, and it's a close drive so it seemed a good choice for the day.  I got there a couple hours before sunset, to give myself some time to walk the path along Buckmire Slough.  This area is such a prodigious hunting area that the person who had spotted them the day before surmised they might have been stirred up earlier in the day than they would usually be out due to all the gunfire around their roost. Could be..  I've seen Great-Horned's in the woods along the slough, so I thought I would walk the path and see if any of them had decided to rest in there for the day away from the fray.
I made my way up and down the path, calling quietly "poo-poo-poo-poo", sounding like a complete nutter. No response and hardly any birds at all in fact.  Just dog-walkers and the pretty yellow leaves falling.  I got to the end and went out to see if there had been any progress on the bridge over the slough.  Unbelievable, it's practically done!  This makes me wonder what's going to happen to the entry road up to the bridge which has always been littered with garbage and hunter/party fire rings. Not to mention the trash and furniture left up on the actual roadside as if it was a public dump.  The hunters and locals are used to it, but the young yuppies walking their toy dogs along Buckmire Slough make me see a new constituency utilizing Vancouver Lake and all points north.  Much the same way I suspect the T in Ridgefield along the water front will someday turn into something resembling Canon Beach, I think the Erwin O' Reiger Memorial Highway might be in for a facelift.. We shall see.  Hunters despair!  

So at just about 3:30 pm, I took off into the fields looking for the owls.  I saw some white wings out near a hedge about a quarter mile in front of me, two sets in fact.  But then a Kestrel chased a Redtail hawk right into that area and that was the end of any movement.  I knew I needed to get out there. Crap, I didn't have anything orange handy, and I stupidly got rid of my reversible orange/camo vest a while ago. Oh well, I was going to risk pissing off some hunters and possibly getting shot.  But hey, what's a good birding story without a 22 slug to finish it off?  The thing was, the little channel I was headed for was frozen over, there was nothing near it larger than a sparrow, with the exception of whatever hawk/owl I'd sort of seen.  So I carefully set off through the frozen clumps of grass and made it out to the fence along the channel.  Walking along it all the way back, I got some pics of sparrows, but never did see any owls or hawks.

I did run into a full combat hunter, all in olive, face paint and all.  I would have laughed if he hadn't looked so serious.  Not a word said, he faded back into the bushes.  Yikes. On the walk back I did see something white flying low, so I figured it was one of the owls, and then I flushed a group of meadowlarks, but wasn't able to get a clear pic.  It was getting too dark.. Back at the truck, I turned and drove up the road a bit, and parked. Camera out, I managed to just catch one of the Short-eared owls cruise low in front of me.  I don't know if the others were  nearby, but I didn't see any more movement. The photos are incredibly grainy as daylight was all but gone; they remind me of some of the infrared film I shot back in college at night.. 
Don't know if the owls are still hanging around that field but it's a good bet.  That whole area from Vancouver Lake up to Ridgefield is excellent owl territory, and is the only place I've consistently been able to just find them randomly.  But getting a tip from a fellow birder is nice too. Anyway, here are some pics from the day:

 beautiful hoarfrost on the oak leaves

 the shadow of the mighty old oak

 buckmire slough path through the woods

 you could hear it when you entered a grove of these trees, you could hear the leaves falling

 buckmire slough bridge is almost done!

 the frozen slough 

 buckmire slough trail

 snowberry and oak

 fields at shillapoo lake

 kestrel out over the killing fields

 walking the fence along the channel through the fields; no owls

 but always more golden-crowned sparrows

 here's the one short eared owl I did see just at dusk

 you can make out the dark primary covert patch on its underwing, a good identifying marker
like a stealth bomber over the frozen field, hope it found some dinner..

That's all for this day out at Shillapoo, and that's it for this post. It's officially December now and I'm off to Florida for a week with the family, so hoping to get in some shorebirds and the usual amazing suspects. Thanks for looking and reading, and I wish that we all have a peaceful and happy holiday month.  Until next time, happy trails..