Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Going Coastal

View of Otter Rock from Cape Foulweather
When things get crazy here in central Oregon, we love to "go coastal." Most of the time we head to the Newport, Oregon area because of the wonderful access to the beaches, tidepools and headlands.

The beaches offer great opportunities to walk and the one stand-out this trip was Ona Beach. Tidal action had uncovered the bizarre rock outcrops along the beach, prompting me to work on a story called "Stone Seal Beach."

Gull Rock from Cape Foulweather
Though we saw gray whales daily, these summer ones are "resident" whales - ones that don't migrate all the way to the Bering or Chukchi Sea. These whales feed along the coast, helping themselves to myscid shrimp and other creatures they filter out from their bottom feeding.

The highlight of the trip was locating tufted puffins nesting on Gull Rock near the Devils Punchbowl. I observed dark alcids with light colored heads flying up to the rock while I was watching brown pelicans fishing near the rock. After a short trip back to our rental for the spotting scope, I was able to locate the puffins entering into a rocky ledge, presumably feeding young due to the multiple trips by the adults.
Common murre rookery
One other interesting observation was the common murre rookery at Yaquina Head. Possibly due to the presence of bald eagles along the coast, the murre populations have been abandoning some of their rookeries because of periodic hunting pressure by the eagles. There were several thousand murres in the water around the lighthouse and blank spots on the near-shore outcrops indicated abandoned nest sites. Several observers with either USFWS or contract companies (never did ascertain that) were observing and recording changes in nesting density on these off-shore outcrops. Though we didn't observe any predation attempts that day, I have in the past watched the murres peel off these rocks as peregrines or bald eagles make strafing runs for prey. If the eagles are doing this with enough frequency, the murres must be feeling the heat.

Yaquina Head Lighthouse
So after a week of sun and surf, I've returned home fresh with ideas and images from my "going coastal" trip. Now to translate some of those into articles.
Gray whale blow

Finding the strength in mussels

Monday, June 6, 2011

Pumice Springs

A small oasis located on the east side of Pine Mountain. Fenced off to protect the fragile habitat, Pumice Springs attracts song birds and wildlife to its two open water sources. Pumice (from Newberry Volcano or nearby Pine Mountain?) blankets the ground.

The surrounding woodlands are a mix of western juniper, lodgepole and ponderosa pine. Directly east, sits a B.P.A. substation, a stark reminder of the land's use.

But on this day, it is just me, the substation's hum, and singing birds. Black-throated gray warblers call from the nearby woods, a lone olive-sided flycatcher utters his "Quick three beers" song, western and mountain bluebirds tussle over nest boxes and Cassin's finches litter the ground.

The bluebirds do not reflect their "bluebirds of happiness" moniker. The two species go at each other like a MMA contest. Tree swallows perch on nearby wires watching the spectacle and, perhaps, hoping to usurp one of the boxes for their own.

Lark and chipping sparrows join the finches foraging on the ground and a constant flight of yellow, yellow-rumped and Wilson's warblers, red crossbills, a lone female Bullock's oriole, and others beg for some traffic control.

The springs are not large, but they are bird magnets. Nearby Sand Springs is also fenced off, but a constant parade of logging trucks detracts from the birding. A thinning project in the Deschutes National Forest keeps this area active, so I head elsewhere in search of solitude and solitaires.

Deschutes County Big Year: 169 species.