Saturday, June 7, 2014

Sprague's Still Got Hold Of His Pipit

One cool thing about Oregon: it's got geology all over it, which means it's habitat soup. Ocean, mountain, rain shadow, high desert: there's something for everybody. So this year our intrepid Birdathon team, The Murre The Merrier, headed east for a change, away from the ocean, into sunny and dry climes, where we might hope to find entirely different sorts of birds. Hot, dry birds. There is a drawback, from a bird-counting perspective. If you glance at the list of possible species, you'll notice that the shorebirds and ocean-going types take up a lot of room. There are places on the coast where you can stand in one spot and watch the birds paddle by in alphabetical order. You can polish off the whole category with one long mark through the check-column. It's like counting bubbles in a bathtub. But we were heading to Sparrowville.

There is a certain serenity to being the crappiest birder in the van. I can only improve. Ten minutes into the big day, I already had a life bird: the yellow-headed blackbird. I was thrilled, but it doesn't really bode well for the team that I'd never seen a bird that lives in fat flocks fifteen minutes away from my house. After about an hour, we had knocked off the great blue heron, the osprey, the raven, the bald eagle, and all the rest of the large items I had any confidence about, and it looked like we were going to be eking out flycatchers for the rest of the afternoon. Unfortunately for the team, I was still anxious to contribute, and my own eyeball floaters all look like birds. After the first dozen times I sang out the ID of my hallucination and the van skidded to a halt--hollering cerulean warbler! in a birding van in Oregon is like having your own brake pedal--it was clear something needed to be done about me.

"Murr, did you raise money?" Yes, I did. "Murr, did you bring cookies?" Yes, I did. "Murr, maybe you've already contributed enough. Maybe you could sit back and let someone else do the identifying!" I sat back and confined myself to locating a chuckler, a hoot, and a flock of lesser quips.

We did fine, even without the bathtub birds. On one gravel road we really larked out (meadow-,
horned-, and -sparrow). That was also the scene of our greatest near-triumph, as intrepid leader Sarah Swanson commenced freaking out about a ball of feathers in the distant dust.  "It's a pipit," she squeaked, leaning out of the window and directing the van forward three inches, then back, then forward again. "Omigod, it's a Sprague's pipit! No one is going to believe that!"

A Sprague's pipit, it transpired, is a stranger in these parts. In no time at all, nine reliable pairs of eyes, and also mine, were scanning the prairie like astronomers looking for a new comet. The elusive quarry seemed to be hanging out with our horned lark. Much speculation ensued. The horned lark and the Sprague's pipit were, after all, next to each other in the field guide, so naturally--we reasoned--they'd socialize in the wild.  Eventually we looked at it so hard that it turned into a juvenile horned lark, which might arguably be even more inclined to hang out with a horned lark. And anyone would believe that.

But that's birding. Around the next corner might be great glory. Or just a horned lark and her baby. Either way you win.

As the sun began to set, I was presented with a prize for fundraising--a prize chosen by someone who obviously reads this blog. It was an IPA, with a bird on it! Thank you to all who sponsored me (below). I salute you, and will happily share this beer with you. But you'd better get on over here quick.

Janyce O'Keefe
Kim Beard
Barb Padgett
Carolyn Barkow
Linder Freedman
Mary Ann Dabritz
Merran Phillips
Margaret Herrington
Sara Montag
Dallas DiLeo
Jon Steuerwalt
Melissa Bartlett
Bruce and Jeannine Hubbard
Scott Terrall
Hetty Friedman
Beth Glisczinski
Margo Reifenrath
Gerry O'Scannlain
Scott Teitsworth
Sally Bays
Dave Price


39 comments:

  1. Ah, but could you spot what kind of bird was on the IPA bottle! I hope it was a chuckler.

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    1. I tried, but I got more interested in the top end than the side.

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  2. I believe it is a guzzling guffaw, but it's hard to tell at this distance.

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    1. I couldn't tell, and I was real, real close. Real close.

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  3. What a nerdy thing to do. Sounds like a blast, I love birds. I am an amateur birdwatcher, it would be great to do it with more experienced birders.

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    1. I recommend it. Your count will shoot up from around twenty to 92.

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    2. Joeh,

      There are three great ways to go birding with experienced birders.
      1) Check out the Christmas counts - go to Audubon's local or national site to find them. - Anyone can go and you'll be helping to see movement and will have experienced birders with you.

      2) join an outdoor, birding or even the local Sierra club. All do bird trips.

      3) go to birdingpal.com and find a area in which you want to go birding. Then find a volunteer willing to take you birding. And if you know were te local bird hotspots are in your area, you can take the heavy-duty birders out and learn a lot from them. It's great fun.

      These are just the low-cost ways to bird. There are also birding guides all over. You can even use Birding Pal to find them.

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    3. Will you look at that. Every now and then, someone posts useful information in this place. You just never know what to expect, do you?

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    4. never. i am as astounded as you are. thanks tho, very good "Useful Info". Kudos, Marilyn.

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    5. Marilyn has an open invitation here. Well, everyone does, so...

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  4. I am a bird-hearer instead of a bird-see-er. Unfortunately, not an identify-er.

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  5. My contribution to the birding world is pretty much just not letting our cats loose outside. Not that we have any famous birds in these parts. But I'm rather fond of the robins and chickadees and crows, and even the starlings.

    Very funny account, Murr. Thanks for the smiles!

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    1. We approve of your contribution to the birding world. Love them indoors!

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  6. How beautiful they are and what an amazing feeling it must be to know you share the planet with them. Where I am there are mostly hummers, jays, crows, finches and hawks.

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    1. I'm with you on the first four, plus chickadees. That's most of our yard right there!

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  7. You won - and we won. Thanks Murr. As always.

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  8. I can't believe you had to bring the "pipit" into this. So embarrassing!!! I hope you'll be back again next year to entertain us and gently mock us afterward. :)

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    1. NOT embarrassing! You're a total hero! That sucker was a million miles away in the dirt and you're picking out field marks. And we all know how good you are. Good to us, too.

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  9. Very entertaining and you too. You definitely have a whole different bird world out west than we have in the midwest. Thanks for the education and the counting.

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    1. You get those sage grouses though...I guess we do too, somewhere, but I visualize the midwest packed with the buggers.

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  10. So where, specifically, did you go on this trip? It wasn't Malheur Lake, was it? I was there several years ago in May, and I saw very few birds. (Too early?). I stayed at the Hotel Diamond in Diamond, OR (pop. 5). It was still worth the trip just for the amazing terrain.

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    1. No, we went out to Tom McCall Nature Preserve and points east, to The Dalles and around there. Pelicans!

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  11. I love the first photo and recognised it as an owl immediately.
    What do you mean, "what type of owl?'
    There's more than one?
    Ha ha

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    1. There's Fuzzy, there, and there's also Peaches and Fred.

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  12. Hey Murr! My garden is full of funny little brown things that flap occasionally. Perhaps I need glasses. It's easier to spot the badgers, certainly. And by the way, I get complaints if I count bubbles in the bath. Or at the very least, I have to open a window. Roth x

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    1. Don't some badgers come already spotted? Maybe not. I do like how you reliably warm up this place, though.

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  13. Best sighting ever for me: burrowing owls in Ft. Myers, FL area. I was with a VERY experienced birder. Otherwise I wouldn't have known what they were, standing there on the ground next to their burrows. They are endangered I guess, and someone official had cordoned off the whole soccer field with yellow tape and official signs commanding people to stay away! Congratulations on your day out birding.

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    1. There are probably a mess of birds down that way you need to see before the invading pythons get to them. Get on it!

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  14. Replies
    1. Way to go to the heart of the issue. Chocolate chocolate chip.

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  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. actually, I do know what robins look like, meant to say that the small brown birds we get are, I think, sparrows -

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    2. Sparrows, finches, wrens, female anythings...beats me.

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  16. Come north a bit. Apparently we're famous for our raptors. Something about highest number in smallest area? I don't know. Better bring the Zuck with you or something. I'm far too enamored with my three just-hatched ducks to look up much right now, except to curse the red-tailed, the sparrow, and white-tailed hawks. Maybe they're harriers? Oh, and the golden eagle nesting in the hood, and the bald eagles all around. I tell them all what I think of them when they circle overhead. My own Audubon angel is up there, smiling and shaking her head, I'm sure. Hell, she may be the one sending those birds over!

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    1. Yeah--you don't get to pick and choose, but with the spread you've put out, it sounds like your raptors do. Good luck!

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  17. Replies
    1. At what? Not at bird identification. I do make a mean cookie.

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