Monday, June 14, 2010

Oregon trip - Part 2

Last week I posted about the first half of our trip to Oregon, where we spent a few days on the coast in Cannon Beach. Here I am going to continue to tell you about the last few days that we spent east of the Cascades in and around Sisters.  We had made arrangements to bird with my buddy Steve Shunk, who is probably a bigger woodpecker fanatic than I (he's writing the Peterson's Guide to the Woodpeckers of North America, which hopefully will be out towards the end of next year) and who owns and runs Paradise Birding.  If you have the opportunity to ever bird with Steve, I would highly recommend it - he really knows his stuff, not to mention he's just a great guy.  Our first day out, Steve picked up us bright and early and within 10 minutes we were watching our first target of the day, a stunning pair of Williamson's Sapsuckers:

Note that in these first 10 minutes we also spotted Northern Flickers (the red-shafted variety) and more Hairy Woodpeckers (one of which had a nest cavity in the same tree as the above sapsucker!)  We then continued on to Cold Springs Campground where Steve suspected there was a pair of sapsuckers where one was a Red-breasted Sapsucker, and the other was a Red-breasted x Red-naped Sapsucker hybrid.  He picked the call note out pretty quickly, and soon we were getting nice looks of the hybrid:
It then flew to another tree and into a cavity where it proceeded to continue excavating the nest cavity.  We spent quite a bit of time watching (and photographing) as one ofter another mouthful of sawdust were thrown from the cavity.
We then continued on to see what else we could round up while there.  This was one of the places I knew were one place to check out for one of my biggest targets of this part of the trip - White-headed Woodpecker, but we didn't happen upon any here.  We were treated to quite a performance by a Spotted Towhee:
As we continued on to our next stop, Camp Polk Meadow Preserve, we spotted a pair of White-headed Woodpeckers going to a cavity at eye level right beside the road! We moved the car back a bit and stepped out to watch them as Steve noted the GPS location of the cavity. We could hear young at the cavity and when one adult went in and didn't emerge again after a few minutes, we decided to move on, not wishing to influence their behavior in any way.  And there were likely to be many more WHWO's over the next day - Sisters is a great area for them.  At Camp Polk Meadow, we had several Wilson's Warblers, a skulking MacGillivray's Warbler, a singing Yellow-breasted Chat (which is pretty uncommon in OR) another pair of White-headed Woodpeckers, as well as calling Virginia Rails, and a Sora in the little pond area.
Heading back through Sisters we spotted a pair of California Quail sitting out in the open which I got a quick pic off before they scampered away.
A quick check of another nest site that Steve knew of ticked another woodpecker off the list - this time a pair of Lewis's Woodpeckers.
Soon after (in another location) we also ticked off Downy and Black-backed Woodpeckers - is it any wonder that this area can be easily called a Woodpecker Wonderland?
We stopped for lunch at Camp Sherman as well as checking out to see what other birds were in the area (another good spot for White-headed Woodpeckers) and we watched another pair of sapsuckers going to an eye-level cavity with another Red-breasted x Red-naped Sapsucker Hybrid.
Yes, this is an area where there are quite a few hybrids.  Steve has made quite a study of them, and actually had an article printed in Birding Magazine back in 2005 about recognizing hybrids.  The article can be found in PDF format here.

While we were watching the sapsuckers, Steve's sharp ears picked up the peeping of some nestlings nearby, which turned out to be a cavity full of Red-shafted Northern Flicker chicks!
While on this trip, I wasn't just interested in the woodpeckers (although it was indeed very difficult to pull my attention away from them) but also some of the regulars out there.  Whereas we have Blue Jays here in New England, which can be easy to look past because they are common, out in Oregon, the more common jays are the Stellar's Jay, and I really wanted to get a photo of them.
Another comparison could be the chickadees.  Here in New England, Black-capped Chickadees are never very difficult to find, whereas while we were east of the Cascades, Mountain Chickadees were pretty easy to come across.
Even the juncos, which are the same species, have different races, and the Oregon race were almost constant within earshot.

I've spent a lot of this post talking about White-headed Woodpeckers, but haven't posted any pics yet.  We'd seen several, but spent more time looking than photographing, as they seemed pretty skittish.  Before the day was over though, I'd revisited one of the nesting pairs we'd seen earlier, and using the car as a blind, took a few minutes to photograph one of my favorite birds of this trip.

We did have one more full day with Steve, with quite a surprise, but I'll save that for one more post...