Oregon trip part 3.1: to the Pacific

Sunday was what turned out to be my only major birding trip of my Oregon visit. I’d planned to go further afield on Monday to the Bend area, but the coast trip took a lot out of me.

This post and the next will be very picture-heavy, so apologies in advance!

I’d scoured eBird for the previous week for sightings along the coast as well as along the drive out there. I saw some promising reports of Mountain Quail and Wrentit (some of my wanted species) from clearcuts in the Coast Range. A clearcut near Timber, Oregon (fitting name) turned up a number of species, but neither of my targets. I did near some quail-like sounds from the forest edge, but without knowing whether I could walk past the gate and onto the logged area, they remained mystery sounds. I did see an singing House Wren, a family of Orange-crowned Warblers, a couple of fitz-bewing Willow Flycatchers, and heard more of the hauntingly beautiful Swainson’s Thrushes. I also made a stop at the nearby Reehers CCC camp, though I don’t recall what for. The area was really pretty, with a trail winding down into a river gorge. If I’d had more time, it would have been a nice stroll, but it was already late in the morning and I wanted to get to the coast.

My first destination was Fort Stevens State Park at the extreme northwestern tip of Oregon. I just learned that this area was the only continental military target during World War II. The fort was shelled by Japanese submarines in 1942. There is also an early 20th century shipwreck that I missed. Oh well.

At the south jetty, I got my second-ever view of the Pacific Ocean and the opportunity to see some bird species I hadn’t seen since visits to California and Washington a few years ago when I wasn’t birding as much. The birding here was a little slow; this place fills up with resting gulls, terns, and shorebirds later in the summer. But it was nice to walk on the beach behind the jetty and see the beginnings of some pretty spectacular scenery. In the panoramic photo above, you can make out the rugged coastline to the south.

A few dozen Caspian Terns were loafing on the sand. As I approached, they took off with harsh screaming calls. Had there been nests nearby, they certainly would have attacked me and I didn’t want to receive any blows from there spiky bills. These were probably terns who either didn’t breed this year or whose nests failed for whatever reason. I read on the Oregon bird email list that Bald Eagles and Ospreys had been harassing nearby tern colonies and eating eggs and young. That’s one drawback to the spectacular recovery of these predators. Things will sort themselves out eventually. Two Black Brants that didn’t head north last spring also remained nearby. Offshore, I spotted a couple of lingering Pacific Loons and a Lesser Scaup. Also out of season was a pair of Surf Scotors. More seasonable species were some Brown Peilicans, Brandt’s Cormorants, and three gulls: California, Western, and a single Glaucous-winged. The latter two hybridize extensively in this area, so some of them may not have been fully either species.

I really wanted to see a Wrentit, so I searched some scrubby areas near the point and also around Coffenberry Lake. This spot was supposed to be great for this species. The Wrentits is a confusing species resembling both wrens and tits (or chickadees). It could be a babbler, an old world group or birds, or part of the Old World Warblers (unrelated to the often stunning New World Warblers or wood warblers). Similarity in its habits and morphology to some old world scrub-loving birds may be a case of convergent evolution. Despite all this information, I found none. The sky was getting cloudy and, despite it being 2 PM, the day felt very late. I had puffins to see and couldn’t stay any longer.

Not these puffins! Nice try, hotel, but the Horned Puffin is rare in Oregon and only in Winter!

Haystack Rock is located just offshore from Canon Beach, Oregon. The rock is famous for its small seabird nesting colony, though other offshore rocks host even larger numbers of gulls, cormorants, and alcids (birds like puffins and auklets). The rock is special because it is the closest to shore and gives birders and other wildlife enthusiasts great views of the often hard to see puffins. A spit of sand and rocks connects the beach and rock at low tide and is filled with tidal pools teeming with sea life. (Wikipedia points out that Haystack Rock “is the third-tallest…’intertidal’… structure in the world” but unhelpfully does not indicate what the other two taller ones are.)

The town is jammed with people during the summer and it took me forever to drive through town and then find a parking spot. I had to walk through a hotel parking lot and along a street of beach rentals and could have parked closer. Luck was with me; I arrived very close to low tide, although I did not have the right footwear or pants to wade in the tidal pools. Volunteers spend time near the rock showing curious beachgoers views of bird nests through spotting scopes or telling them about the tidal pool animals.

Many dark birds were flying around the rock with the distinctive wingbeats of alcids. My first puffins…no, these birds were white below and Tufted Puffins are all black. I had forgotten that I might see Common Murres here as well. A surprise life bird! After scanning the steep grassy slope, I spotted a stocky all black bird with a white cheek, yellowish tuft over the eye, and a comically large bright orange bill. Yep, there was the Tufted Puffin! Now and then I saw one fly in large circles near the rock.

A Tufted Puffin. No, really.

Here are some better pictures, courtesy of flickr:

Common Murre photo taken by Alexispz in Alaska used under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Tufted Puffin photo taken by Francesco Veronesi in Alaska used under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Common Murre photo taken by Tom Talbott at Haystack Rock, Oregon used under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Tufted Puffin photo taken by Tom Talbott at Haystack Rock, Oregon used under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Brandt’s and Pelagic Cormortants had some nests on some smaller nearby rocks:

Most of the nesting birds on Haystack were Western Gulls. One of the volunteers mentioned that a Bald Eagle had been buzzing the rock and scaring all the murres away. This was causing them to keep flying around the rock and not landing. She pointed out a large raft of murres just past the waves–how had I missed them? Rounding out the coastal Pacific rock denizens, a pair of Black Oystercatchers noisily went about their business.

A light sea mist came on the beach and the scene was exactly how you’d envision the beach in the Pacific Northwest: overcast but nice.

Western Gulls were scoping out unattended bags.

The town does have an accurate statute of Tufted Puffins, but it’s too bad it’s not in color.


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