Day 53 – Neah Bay, home of the Makah Tribe

The Indian Reservation on which we’ve been staying unfortunately lacked any effective WiFi, so I’m playing catch-up.

New birds: Rufous Hummingbird, Tufted Puffin, Ancient Murrelet & Red-necked Grebe

Record shot of Rufous Hummingbird – observed whilst checking in to our ocean-view cabin

This morning we drove west along the Straits of Juan de Fuca to Neah Bay – home of the Makah tribe. With the benefit of an early check-in at Holbuck Beach Resort – ticking up Rufous Hummingbird as we were filling in the Registration card, we unloaded our luggage and headed for the Cape Flattery trail in search of some oceanic species. Tatoosh Island, which lies just off-shore, is the most north-westerly point of the 48 (contiguous) States and practically our journeys end. With the aid of a telescope we could see several species of Alcids, off-shore, including Pigeon Guillemot, Common Murre, Marbled Murrelet and Rhinoceros Auklet. With a bit of persistence we did managed to find several distant Tufted Puffin, which breed in small numbers on the island. Perhaps the bigger surprise came when we drove back to Neah Bay and scoured the harbour and surrounding waters for possible sea ducks. We quickly found White-winged and Surf Scoter, Greater Scaup, Harlequin Duck, Common Loon and Red-necked Grebe, along with Pacific Cormorant and Rhinoceros Auklet. A quick look over the outer harbour wall and a ‘black and white’ auk-like bird immediately caught my attention. I was pretty confident that it was an Ancient Murrelet – the identification later confirmed from photographs. Although this species does occasionally turn-up along the coast it’s much more likely to be found out at sea on a pelagic. A very welcome and unexpected addition to the list. 

Tufted Puffin, seen off of Cape Flattery – record shot

Ancient Murrelet, Neah Bay, outer harbour

Day 52 – Hurricane Ridge & coastal birding

New species for the day: Varied Thrush & Pacific Wren

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The view from Hurricane Ridge towards Mount Olympic – before the weather closed in

We were up early this morning for our excursion to Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park – 5,242 feet above sea level. Within ten minutes of arriving at the top, we were ticking-up on our first additional species for the trip – Varied Thrush. What a bird – despite the difficult viewing conditions! The supporting cast on the  nearby alpine meadows included American Pipit – which we’d not seen since Big Bend, Horned Lark and Gray Jay.  As the weather  closed in we descended to Port Angeles and spent the afternoon visiting Mary Mere Falls and Elwha River estuary. At the former site we added another trip-tick – Pacific Wren and had better views of American Dipper, which we’d last seen in Yosemite NP. At the estuary we had a flock of Harlequin Duck off-shore and several migrating Cedar Waxwing. Tomorrow we’re in the Holbuck Beach resort at Neah Bay, with limited internet, so it may be a few days before my next post.

Record shot of Varied Thrush – what a stunner

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At Mary Mere Falls we added another trip tick – Pacific Wren

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Day 51 – Canada for coffee

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The Victoria waterfront, prior to disembarking onto Canadian soil – another stamp in the passport 

This morning we took the ferry to Canada. We did it mostly as a tourist thing rather than for birds, which we’d already been advised were likely to be few and far between. As it turned out it was uncharacteristically calm across the Straits of Juan Fuca and there were virtually no birds, certainly none that we couldn’t see from the shore, but the experience of disembarking onto Canadian soil and then standing in the US Customs line to get back was definitely worth it. I exaggerated when I suggested Canada for coffee – actually, by the time we’d cleared customs & immigration, it was too late to get coffee on the mainland so we had to have one on the boat on the way back! The afternoon was spent in a fruitless search for shorebirds along Three Crabs Road, Sequim. We also had an enjoyable walk around the National Wildlife Refuge at Dungeness, but again very few birds. It was only on our way back to the motel, to meet up with Rob & Gi, that we called in at Ediz Hook Road and found our new bird for the day / trip – Harlequin Duck.

Record shot of distant Harlequin Duck  – our new bird for the day

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Day 50 – Final transition day

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Jane, on the board-walk, at Wildwood Recreation Site

Today we travelled nearly 400 miles north from Bend to Port Angeles, Washington State, – on the shores of the Straits of Juan de Fuca, which separates America from Canada. With so much time spent travelling we hardly did any birding, but we did stop off at the interesting temperate rain-forest reserve of Wildwood, off Hwy 26, and called in at the John Wayne marina at Sequim (apparently a favourite spot of the movie star, who then gave the land to the people). The latter site providing todays new bird for the trip – Marbled Murrelet. With that last big transition day behind us we look forward to sharing our final week in America with brother Rob and his wife Gi, over here from Australia, touring north west Washington State.

No new birds at Wildwood but nice views of Common Yellowthroat

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Record shot of Marbled Murrelet – off-shore from the John Wayne Marina, Sequim WA

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Day 49 – Listing milestone reached

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Trumpeter Swan – one of a trio of new species seen today. (These swans have been variously reported as Tundra and Trumpeter – I think the latter, but happy to be corrected if anyone would care to comment).

Our day pretty much followed the same format as yesterday, with the morning spent looking for woodpeckers and the afternoon exploring another local wetland. Early morning temperatures on the lower slopes of the Three Sisters were a little over freezing, with a cold wind and the occasional flurry of icy rain. We spent several hours standing around the ‘new burn’ areas of the forest, along the NFD Road 1018 – habitat of choice for two of the most difficult species of woodpecker – American Three-toed and Black-backed. We’d practically given up and decided to go and look for other species around Trout Creek Marsh, when half way along the trail, in a ‘new burn’ area, we came across a Black-backed Woodpecker. Brief but good views – alas no time to lift my camera before it was gone, was justifiable reward for our efforts over the past 24 hours and brought up my twentieth woodpecker species (flicker & sapsucker included) for America. We intended to take it easy this afternoon with a gentle stroll around a nearby waste-water reclamation scheme – Hatfield Lakes. Either we misinterpreted the scale of the map or it was wrong, but we ended up doing a two hour / five mile yomp! Although the birds of the adjacent brush were fewer and further between than we’d expected, the lakes themselves did deliver, with eleven species of duck and a trip tick & USA tick into the bargain – Trumpeter Swan. I’d just finished photographing a male Bufflehead when I flushed a large ‘game-bird’ from bushes by the shoreline. As it flew away I could clearly see that it was a Ruffed Grouse – my 500th species seen in America.

I’d just finished photographing this Bufflehead at Hatfield Lakes when I practically stood on a Ruffed Grouse – my 500th species seen in America

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Day 48 – Keeping our peckers up

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Grab shot of our only new pecker today, the aptly named Willamson’s Sapsucker

We set off early from our ‘touch of luxury’ condo on the Eagle Crest Golf Course – we’ve got a whole floor of bedrooms and bathrooms we’re not using, for the delightful town of Sisters, in pursuit of woodpeckers. But a hard day in the field produced just four species, only one of which was new. Still, there’s always tomorrow! We did an early afternoon stint at Calliope Crossing – seeing both male and female Calliope Hummingbird which, after our woodpecker debacle, was something of a relief. An unexpected bonus came with the discovery of the wildlife delights of Black Butte Ranch – a privately run golf course and exclusive housing development. The nature trail was excellent, giving close-up views of some decent birds.

Other new birds for the trip, USA and World lists included, Calliope Hummingbird 

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and Fox Sparrow – another grab shot I’m afraid

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Afternoon at Black Butte Ranch provided superb scenery and close-up views of water birds. The nature reserve, adjacent to the golf course – both in the shadow of more snow-capped mountains

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We’ve seen Wilson’s Phalarope in several States, but never this close before

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I missed Sora in California, nice to see it so well in Oregon

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Tomorrow, keeping our peckers up, we’re back on the trail of those elusive woodpeckers.

Day 47 – Cranes to Cascades

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I rarely mention accommodation, except in passing, in this blog but I make an exception regarding our motel for the past two days – Aspen Inn, Fort Klamath. Run by a delightful couple, Heidi & Shannon, who immediately make you feel right at home. The rooms are large, comfortable and well equipped. The grounds are well-kept and colourful with several bird feeders. Heidi is keen on birds and eager to share her local knowledge. If you are birding in the Crater Lake / Upper Klamath Basin area, you couldn’t do better than book in here. Thanks Heidi for the specific information regarding Sandhill Crane this morning – it was spot on and saved us a lot of hassle!

Bird of the Day – Sandhill Crane. Seen just down the road from the Aspen Inn and not seen again during an extensive tour of their breeding grounds at Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge. A bird we thought we’d missed out on

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The rest of the day was spent visiting several of the lakes in the East Cascades. We added a dozen or so Oregon ticks, including another GABRAT trip tick – Barrow’s Goldeneye. The scenery was superb, once you’re clear of the monotonous pine forests along Hwy 97 that is.

Davis Lake, with the snow-capped Cascade Mountains behind

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Day 46 – Memorable Memorial Day

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Today is Memorial Day in the USA, a public holiday in remembrance of those who have died in military service. This is Fort Klamath Historical Cemetary, decorated for the occasion

Today was a day of two halves. We were out early to get to the rim of Crater Lake NP before the crowds descended on this Memorial Day holiday. We practically had the place to ourselves for the first couple of hours. Apart from taking in the truly spectacular vista, we were on the lookout for some particular birds – high alpine species, only found above the tree-line. It took us several stops before we found the first of them, Gray-crowned Rosy-finch. Reminiscent of our own Crimson-winged Finch, with similar approachability, once they were pinned down. The second was easier to locate, being a classic ‘car-park’ bird – scavenging scraps from the tourists, Gray Jay.

The truly spectacular Crater Lake, formed in the bowl of a massive volcano. Six miles across at it’s widest point, the lake is nearly 2,000 feet deep and is estimated to hold 4.9 trillion gallons of water

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Top target of todays birds – Gray-crowned Rosy-finch. A ‘World tick’ and every other sort of tick as well!

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The other ‘alpine species’, new for the trip et al was Gray Jay

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As the days go on it becomes harder and harder to add new birds, so we were pleased to finally add this ‘trip tick’, which should have fallen long ago – Golden-crowned Kinglet

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In contrast to the alpine birding of this morning, our afternoon was spent walking part of the causeway which bisects the excellent Wood River Wetland reserve, with extensive marsh to the north and Agency Lake – part of the Upper Klamath Basin, to the south. A delightful walk with waterfowl and ‘bush-birds’ everywhere. Although we didn’t add any more trip ticks, we did see plenty of State ticks. Perhaps the biggest surprise of all came right at the end when we were watching a migrating flock of Franklin’s Gulls, hawking insects over the reserve. Jane spotted a ‘hawk’ flying amongst them. Turned out to be Common Nighthawk (2) – a most unexpected addition to our Oregon list. All in all, a truly memorable Memorial Day.

View from the causeway, Wood River Wetland reserve – looking across Agency Lake to snow-capped Mt. Shasta in the far distance

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Perhaps the biggest birding surprise of the day, a Common Nighthawk, hawking insects amongst a large flock of migrating Franklin’s Gull

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Day 45 – Klamath Falls to Fort Klamath

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View over Klamath Lake, with Mt Shasta in the background

After the madness of yesterday we took it easy today. A slow drive from Klamath Falls to Fort Klamath, only forty odd miles if you take the direct route, which we didn’t. Instead we visited a number of mainly woodland reserves along the western edge of Upper Klamath Lake. We started a new State list for Oregon yesterday, so we’ve been slowly adding to it during our various excursions. Bird of the Day, an addition to the GABRAT list, America List and my World List – the lovely White-headed Woodpecker. One of a trio of nice ‘peckers’ today, the other two being Red-breasted Sapsucker – a ‘grip-back for Jane, and Hairy Woodpecker. We’re just getting our eye in for what we hope will be a bit of a Woodpecker-fest, when we get further north, in a few days time. Meanwhile we’re really enjoying the scenery of this State. High, pine-clad, snow-topped mountains, lush green ‘alpine’ meadows, fast flowing crystal-clear rivers and mirror-like reed-fringed lakes which stretch to the horizon – and birds – lots of them!

First of three good ‘peckers’ today – World ‘tick’ – White-headed Woodpecker

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A most welcome ‘grip-back for Jane – Red-breasted Sapsucker. Missed at Whitney Portal

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Finally, Hairy Woodpecker (western interior race) in our ‘local’ wood this evening

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Day 44 – Klamath kaleidoscope

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First new bird of the day was this dazzling Mountain Bluebird

After six weeks of continuous birding – dawn ’till dusk, I confess to occasionally feeling a little jaded. If the weather’s not good or you have to work particularly hard for the birds, the days can seem long. But then you get a day like today and all that changes! When we arrived in Weed yesterday it was pouring with rain, the light was fading and there was low cloud restricting our view. As we drove out of Weed this morning, heading for Klamath Falls, the scenery was transformed – the rugged landscape dominated by the imperious, snow-capped Mt Shasta, a potentially active volcano, and at just over 14,000 feet, the fifth highest mountain in the USA. We visited several reserves in the Lower Klamath Basin during the day, adding nearly twenty new birds for California and seven trip ticks. The day just got better and better! As we drove to our motel in Klamath Falls this evening we crossed the State line into Oregon – a new State and a new list!

Lower Klamath Basin is a regular winter location for Bald Eagle. Although they’d mostly dispersed, we did see around half a dozen, including this low-flying immature 

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Having missed out in other States, we were keen to ‘score’ with Sage Thrasher, before we get too far north. Looking not unlike our own Song Thrush

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This is one of those birds that if you think you’ve seen it – you haven’t. When you do, it’s immediately obvious – Tricolored Blackbird. At long last, after scrutinising every Red-winged Blackbird since we got to California

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Last of the days highlights was Bufflehead, on the amazing Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge reserve. We saw fourteen species of duck today, that’s the same number as breed at the internationally recognised wildfowl hotspot of Lake Myvatn, Iceland 

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