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:
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
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..