Mountain Birds

Klamath mountain Revisited

Klamath Mountain, Part 1

It’s hot in Ashland, Oregon – about 85 degrees and getting warmer – a change entire from the Scotch mist morning I woke up to the day before yesterday.

On the way down to southern Oregon, I had added in a trip to Ocean Shores, Washington to pick up a few species – if I can. Most shorebirds should be on their way to the Arctic by now but hope springs eternal, as they say. I stop at Gray’s Harbor Wildlife Refuge and make the long hike out to the tidal flats. Alas, aside from a small flock of Canada Geese and a few gulls and terns there’s nothing out there to see. I hear yellow Warblers and Common Yellowthroat in the brush as I pass but see not a bird. Normally, I’d linger and wait but I’m not in the mood today.

Out on the boardwalk, I see a Common Tern and hear Caspian Terns. Four Brown Pelicans pass by in the distance too. Not much to show for the hike. There’s nobody here either. That should have been my first clue. I’m packing up my scope when, out of nowhere, three Wimbrel cruise in. I’m excited. I like all the curlews and have done since I read ‘The Last of the Curlews’ when I was eight or nine. The birds come down about a half a mile away across the mud and instantly vanish. I reset the scope and scan the flats for half an hour but I never do locate the darn things. I guess they set down in a depression. In any case, they are invisible from my vantage point. Finally, I give up and pack up. Sometimes you just have to let things go.

Later, at Ocean Shores, to my surprise I find mixed flocks of Godwits, Red Knots, Sanderlings and a few peeps working the line between beach and surf. I thought I’d see rien. It’s the first time I’ve seen Red Knots in their breeding plumage. I’d love some pictures of these birds but, as it happens, I’ve decided not to bring my camera on my walk, mostly because the sun was so low in the west. I could have got some great shots nevertheless. There’s a lesson in that somewhere. So, in place of a gloriously colored Red Knot, a picture of a charming Yellowlegs will have to do.

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The next morning, the Scotch Mist one, I drive out to Hoquiam and then take 101 south to Astoria and Cannon Beach. Cannon Beach has Haystack rock and Haystack Rock has Tufted Puffins. They’re nesting now and I have to hit it right if I’m going to see the birds because the parent providing the food is way out to sea collecting it. They return en masse and I know from having watched a documentary on the subject that the flock of the returning birds swings back and forth with individuals dropping out over their burrows. The behavior is supposed to confuse gulls which will seize the chicks if they can find them.

Well, I did hit it right. The flock returns and, for the better part of a half hour does its confuse-a-gull back and forth manoeuvrings. It’s remarkable and a real thrill to see. I wish I had a picture, or a video but I left my camera – darn it – in the car.

I visit Baskett Slough, which is one of my favorite birding sites. More about Baskett Slough in another post. I overnight in Salem and then take i-5 to Ashland.

Ashland is a small university town with theaters, book stores, coffee shops and some decent restaurants. It’s got a nice vibe to it. Apparently, Lithia water had something to do with the founding of the town but I’m not sure how. The town square does have a battery of antique fountains that constantly flow with the aforementioned Lithia water so the story must be true.

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I’m driving my ’86 Alfa Romeo this trip. I had fun getting the car ready for the journey. Actually, fun is the wrong word. I feel like one the folks who drive the Mille Miglia in Italy. My mechanic, Sam, takes a propitiatory interest in the car and does lots gratis. Sam’s an Eritrean who lived for years in Italy so he knows the car and doesn’t flinch when bizarre Alfa things come up – as they often do. He also speaks Italian.

I really like driving the Alfa. The sound of the tuned exhaust, the pleasant vibration of the steering wheel in my hands, the sun, the sound and smells make for an intoxicating combination. I think so anyway.

I’m here for the Klamath Mountain Bird Festival. I’m at the Nature Center in time for a glass of wine and the opening speeches. My first field trip is that evening. We’re going out to see and hear the barn owls that have taken residence in a nesting box in a small barn near Medford, which is about 10 miles away.

Vince drives slowly. He’s afraid to hit a deer. in fact, we see deer often, including a herd of ten in a ditch right beside the road. It is getting dusk when we arrive. Our host, the woman who owns the property, meets us and after introductions takes us to the small barn and shows us the nest box. The intense smell of dry grass, flowers perfume the summer night air. We wait, seated in a semi-circle, far enough away (we hope) so that we don’t alarm the birds.

The first hint that the birds are there is the faint mewing of a chick. Long minutes pass. The light is almost gone. Motion! An adult bird leaves the box on silent wings and hunts the nearby field. We can hear its hoot and then a blood-curdling squeal. Suddenly, the owl materializes out of the darkness in front of us, hangs in silhouette, long wings black against the sky and then vanishes. We listen to the owls for another half hour and then it’s time to go. Vince drives us back to Ashland and we disperse to out various lodgings. It’s been a great day but I’m beat. and so to bed, as Pepys said.

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