January 28, 2018

When not surprisingly showing up along the Oregon coast, the Steller’s Eider, a wee sea duck, spends its time much further north, breeding in freshwater tundra ponds and spending its non-breeding hours in nearshore, shallow marine waters. Their worldwide range is coastal Alaska, northern Russia, and northeastern Europe. Sadly, the species is in decline, and the Steller’s Eider is federally listed as threatened.

From the Alaska Department of Fish and Game[1]:

Almost all Steller’s eiders nest in northeastern Siberia, with less than 1% of the population breeding in North America … In the winter, most of the world’s Steller’s eiders are found in the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian Islands.

This winter 2018, a female Steller’s Eider showed up in Seaside Cove, Oregon, in nearshore waters. This is the fourth time in birding-recorded history[2] that this species has shown up in Oregon. Looking back at my rarebird emails, Ms. Eider was first recorded at Seaside this year on or near January 13, 2018. She has been sticking around this area for weeks now and has been very cooperative for birders. Few if any days have gone by since January 13 where the eider doesn’t show up on the daily rare birds reports.

For various reasons, I did not get out to see Ms. Eider until this past weekend. She was incredibly cooperative for us, and even flew closer to shore to provide me with a spectacular view. She also did not mind the surfers who swam quite close to her. With just my binoculars, I could see her chunky bill and the white borders or her speculum. We spent a little more than 1 hour here at Seaside Cove, appreciating this rare sighting and catching some more species. How on earth did she end up down here? Would she find her way back to Alaska? I felt a bit sad while I watched this little brown nugget of a duck and pondered her fate.

Seaside Cove Highlights:

Steller’s Eider* (lifer!)
Harlequin Duck* (lifer!)
Surf Scoter*
Horned Grebe*
Pelagic Cormorant* (lifer!)
Double-crested Cormorant
Herring Gull*

Other highlights from these past two weeks include Golden-crowned Sparrows* at Riverside Park in Salem, Oregon, and a Mute Swan* (likely a domestic escapee; counting it for now) in the Willamette Slough at Minto-Brown Island Park in Salem, Oregon.


Steller’s Eider; Seaside Cove, Oregon; January 28, 2019; photograph by Linda Burfitt


Surfers; Seaside Cove, Oregon; January 28, 2019; photograph by Linda Burfitt


Surf Scoters; Seaside Cove, Oregon; January 28, 2019; photograph by Linda Burfitt


Pelagic Cormorant;  Seaside Cove, Oregon; January 28, 2019; photograph by Linda Burfitt


Herring Gull; Seaside Cove, Oregon; January 28, 2019; photograph by Linda Burfitt


Harlequin Ducks; Seaside Cove, Oregon; January 28, 2019; photograph by Linda Burfitt


Seaside Cove, Oregon; January 28, 2019; photograph by Linda Burfitt


Horned Grebe (with a fish!); Seaside Cove, Oregon; January 28, 2019; photograph by Linda Burfitt


Mute Swan; Minto-Brown Island Park; Salem, Oregon; January 15, 2019; photograph by Linda Burfitt

*New Birds for 2018: 8
2018 Year-to-Date Talley: 76

[1] Alaska Department of Fish and Game. 2018. Steller’s Eider (Polysticta stelleri). Species Profile. Available at: http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=stellerseider.main. Accessed January 29, 2018.
[2] Oregon Birding Association. 2017. The Records of the Oregon Birds Records Committee.  Available at: http://orbirds.org/recordsdec2017.pdf. Accessed January 29, 2018.

January 14, 2018

Part of a Big Year involves looking for rare birds or finding rare birds that other birders have found. Once found, rare birds often pop up on various forms of rare bird alerts (e.g., emails, texts, etc.). Heading out to find a reported rare bird is usually a last-minute decision and involves a quick change of plans, driving, and a near full day of not eating well. Because of this, I’ve decided to put together a Rare Birds Bag. Similar in idea (and maybe contents?) to the hospital bag women pack for when they go into labor, this bag will include, at a minimum, the following:

  1. Non-perishable, filling, snacky food items that I’ll actually eat (grabbing a banana on the way out is a sure fire way to make my car smell for days because I will never eat said banana).
  2. Filled water bottle
  3. Bird field guide (I have so many, I’ll throw one in this bag)
  4. Rain jacket (my back-up obnoxiously coloured pink jacket)
  5. Layers (warm tops, toque, gloves)
  6. Extra socks (for when I’ll inventible step took close and then into some type of inundated area)

Other obvious items I’ll take with me are my optics—bins, scope, and camera–and my staple field guides, but they are always near the door and ready to go.

January 14 was a rare birds day, sort of. A Lesser Yellowlegs had been seen at a local conservation easement property, and I wanted to try again to see the Tri-Colored Blackbirds that had been reported at the Philomath Sewage Lagoons. Also, the William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge was sort of on the way (“on the way” = a debatable term in the world of birding), so I decided to stop there, too, for my first time to see what I could find. It was an overly ambitious plan. I grabbed a banana.

Stop #1: Conservation Easement Property just south of Turner, Oregon

I left Salem and immediately descended into fog shortly before arriving at the conservation easement property. Peering through the dense fog, I found moving, shorebird-shaped items far out in what appeared to be a ponded area. I put my scope on them and immediately saw the large shorebirds, which turned out to be Greater Yellowlegs. These larger birds were accompanied by mini versions of themselves, and I was hoping these were the Lesser Yellowlegs.  The fog finally started to lift, and after watching these birds for more than 1 hour and after watching them in flight a few times, it became obvious that these were definitely not Lesser Yellowlegs but were instead Dunlin. Still a new bird for 2018 and a delight to watch for so long.

Stop #1’s list:

Canada Goose
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
*Greater Yellowlegs
European Starling
Song Sparrow
*Western Meadowlark
*Red-winged Blackbird


Conservation Easement property near Turner, Oregon, post–dense fog; January 14, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt


Conservation Easement property near Turner, Oregon, post–dense fog; January 14, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt


Conservation Easement property near Turner, Oregon, post-fog; January 14, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt


Greater Yellowlegs and Dunlin at Conservation Easement property near Turner, Oregon; dense fog shortly after arriving; January 14, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt


Greater Yellowlegs and Dunlin at Conservation Easement property near Turner, Oregon, post-fog; January 14, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt


Song Sparrow; Conservation Easement property near Turner, Oregon; January 14, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt

Stop #2: Middle of Nowhere, Willamette Valley

After birding at the conservation easement, I was off to some random country farm road corner between Corvallis and Eugene to look for another rare bird, a Say’s Pheobe, that I did not find. I did, however, find hundreds of very loud Brewer’s Blackbirds—a new 2018 bird for me.

Stop #2’s list:

Rock Pigeon
*Brewer’s Blackbird
Song Sparrow


Brewer’s Blackbirds; Somewhere between Corvallis and Eugene; January 14, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt

Stop #3: William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge

As planned, I stopped in at Finley on my way to the sewage ponds. I arrived later than I wished (having wandering around too long looking for the phoebe), so my plan was to simply do a drive-through reconnaissance before heading to the ponds. At one point though, I realized that I was exceptional tired of being in the car for so long. I stopped and parked the car at a trailhead, deciding that perhaps this was my last stop for the day and that I would do my legs a favour and go for a birding walk.

For reasons that include a somewhat faulty driver’s side door and the fact that I had not eaten anything yet that day (no, not even the  banana), I locked myself out of my car. Thankfully I had my binoculars around my neck, but all other important items (e.g., cell phone) were in the car. Also thankfully, this rad lady Rachel was there, too; lent me her cell phone to deal with my adulting failure; and waited with me until a tow-truck/locksmith arrived to opened my car for me. By the time my car was “free” it was near 4:30pm, and it was time to head home. So yea, Step #4 was home, and the banana went into the freezer where it ultimately belongs.


William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge, moments before I parked and locked myself out of my car; January 14, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt

*New Birds for 2018: 6 species
2018 Year-to-Date Talley: 68 species (this includes a House Sparrow that showed up in my yard that morning and a Northern Harrier I saw while I was driving)

January 13, 2018

One of the reasons why I’ve always loved birding is that it essentially brings me to some of my favourite places, namely forests and wetlands. This is also a fair assumption by folks who find out you’re a birder:

birder = a person who spends time outdoors in beautiful, natural places looking for birds

While this is often the case, on Saturday, January 13, I headed out to one of my area’s seriously birdy Hot Spots: the Philomath Sewage Ponds.

The Philomath Sewage Ponds are just south of the town of Philomath. They comprise three lagoon cells (i.e., ponds). After passing through the facility’s headworks, raw sewage is stored in these three ponds, which are designed to kick-off the treatment of raw sewage by “storage under conditions that favor natural biological treatment and accompanying bacterial reduction.”1 The water from these ponds is treated further when it is eventually pumped to what’s called a chlorine contact chamber. Eventually it is either discharged to the Mary’s River or is used for irrigation, depending on the season.

Anyway, these sewage ponds did not let me down. I found myself going from pond to pond, as if I were opening up Christmas gifts of birds to myself. After feeling pretty comfortable with the ponds, I moved onto the adjacent shrubby-wooded area to the south of the ponds where I saw a new-to-2018 species and lifer, a Black Phoebe.

Breaking the rest down for you here:

Northern Shoveler
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Duck
*Lesser Scaup
Ruddy Duck
Red-tailed Hawk
Bald Eagle
American Kestrel
*Black Phoebe (lifer!)
American Crow
European Starling
Dark-eyed Junco
*Savannah Sparrow


Black Pheobe; Philomath Sewage Ponds; January 13, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt


Black Pheobe; Philomath Sewage Ponds; January 13, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt


Northern Shoveler; Philomath Sewage Ponds; January 13, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt


Northern Shovelers; Philomath Sewage Ponds; January 13, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt


Red-tailed Hawk; Philomath Sewage Ponds; January 13, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt


Savannah Sparrow; Philomath Sewage Ponds; January 13, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt

American Kestrel; Philomath Sewage Ponds; January 13, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt

*New Birds for 2018: 3 species
2018 Year-to-Date Talley: 60 species (this includes two additional 2018 species I saw earlier in the week on January 10—*Gadwall and *Green Heron—both of which were at the Koll Center Wetlands Park near my eye doctor in Beaverton, Oregon. I stopped there for a few minutes before I went back to work).

  1. Westech Engineering, Inc. 2017. Wastewater System Facilities Plan. Philomath, Oregon. Available at: http://www.ci.philomath.or.us/vertical/sites/%7B2CFF016E-1592-4DB3-9E2B-444FA3EFC736%7D/uploads/PhilomathFacilitiesPlanV3.pdf

January 7, 2018

I do not get Varied Thrushes in my yard yet (insert High Fidelity reference here), and because my friends Jim and Diana do get Varied Thrushes in their West Salem yard right now (along with Townsend’s Warblers, etc.), I started my Sunday birding day at their house to check out their feathered visitors. Jim also made pancakes with real maple syrup, so one could say the morning and day in general were being set up in a damn fine fashion. I had already had coffee at home, obviously.

Jim and Diana’s January 7, 2018 morning Top 5 yard list (yes, another High Fidelity ref):

Anna’s Hummingbird*
Downy Woodpecker*
Northern Flicker (red-shafted)
Townsend’s Warbler*
Varied Thrush*


Townsend’s Warbler; January 7, 2018; West Salem, Oregon; photograph by Linda Burfitt



Varied Thrush; January 7, 2018; West Salem, Oregon; photograph by Linda Burfitt


After not too many pancakes and a few new 2018 bird species, Diana and I headed over to the conservation area just past Peter Courtney Minto Island Bridge in downtown Salem to hunt down a Harris Sparrow that I caught wind of on Saturday¥. Although we did not find the Harris Sparrow, we did find the following highlights in or near the river, ponded areas, and adjacent, drier areas.

California Quail*
California Scrub-Jay
Common Merganser
Fox Sparrow*
Great Blue Heron
Mourning Dove*
Northern Shoveler
Pied-Billed Grebe*
Ring-Necked Duck
Song Sparrow


California Quail; Minto Conservation Area January 7, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt. Apologies for the branch in front of him. This was taken with full 50X optical zoom.


That afternoon, after a quick trip home for lunch and to check out my feeders (the usual fare of visitors were there, plus a Downy Woodpecker), Clint and I headed over to the quarry ponds just northwest of Minto-Brown Island Park. My goal was to find the RedThroated Loon I found on December 30 (but was, of course, not countable for my 2018 big year). This individual was still there, albeit in the one of the larger ponds this time. Highlights from my quarry pond trip (in or near the ponds):

American Coot
American Wigeon
Bald Eagle
Belted Kingfisher
Common Merganser
Double-Crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Green-Winged Teal
Hooded Merganser
Red-Throated Loon*
Song Sparrow
White-Crowned Sparrow*


Red-Throated Loon; Quarry Pond NW of Minto-Brown Island Park; a January 7, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt



Red-Throated Loon; Quarry Pond NW of Minto-Brown Island Park; a January 7, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt



Red-Throated Loon; Quarry Pond NW of Minto-Brown Island Park; a January 7, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt


En-route in between places: Rock Pigeon* and Ring-Billed Gull*

¥ I attended the TEDx Salem event on Saturday and Noah Strycker was one of the speakers. I actually had no idea who the list of speakers was before I went, so this was a pretty awesome surprise for me. Noah did a world Big Year in 2015 and saw more than 6,000 bird species of birds. They had his book, Birding Without Borders, and he was kind enough to sign it and chat with me for a good 20 minutes or so about birding, his talk, and the Harris Sparrow he spotted earlier in that conservation area.

*New Birds for 2018: 12 species
2018 Year-to-Date Talley: 55 species

January 4–5, 2018

I saw a Ruddy Duck today!

I wasn’t even going to venture out today, because I wanted to give my “new” eyes some rest, and because it was pouring rain this morning. I was going to chalk it up as another feeder-yard day and leave it at that.

But, the sun came out, so I hastily grabbed all of my birding paraphernalia and set off to Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is approx. 2,800 acres and comprises cropland; wooded swamps; large, ephemeral wetlands; and various forms of edge habitat in between. The refuge was established in 1965 to provide optimal wintering habitat for the “dusky” Canada goose, which is a subspecies of the Canada Goose that nests only in the Willamette Valley.

I focused my birding today in the wetland areas. My list is as follows, followed by some photographs.

American Coot*
American Crow
American Wigeon*
Belted Kingfisher*
Bewick’s Wren*
Black-capped Chickadee
Canada Goose
Great Blue Heron
Green-winged Teal*
Northern Flicker*
Northern Pintail*
Northern Shoveler*
Ring-Necked Duck
Ruddy Duck*
Tundra Swan*


Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge; January 5, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt


Bufflehead (male) and the backside of an American Wigeon (male); Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge: January 5, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt


Mallard and American Wigeon; Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge; January 8, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt


Tundra Swans (and a coot); Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge; January 5, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt

And, my feeder list from today and yesterday:

American Goldfinch
Bewick’s Wren*
Brown Creeper*
Dark-eyed Junco
Lesser Goldfinch*
Red-Breasted Nuthatch*
Song Sparrow
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Western Scrub-Jay


Dark-Eyed Junco; Salem, Oregon; January 5, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt


Lesser Goldfinches; Salem, Oregon; January 5, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt

And on that note, I need to stop staring at this screen and rest my eyes for the rest of the evening. Tally below.

*New Birds for 2018: 14 species
2018 Year-to-Date Talley: 41 species



January 2, 2018

There is a mighty fortress around my house, and it comprises bird feeders.

Today was a feeder day. I work from home full time for an environmental consulting firm. My house has many windows. Several of my usual visitors said hello in their own unique ways today. My photos are all pretty awful because they are taken through a dirty window while I was working. I need to clean my windows, but you don’t do that in the winter in Oregon. You just don’t.

American Goldfinch*: It took the goldfinches more than 1 week to find my thistle seed feeders; they’re here every day now.

Black-capped Chickadees. It does not matter what they are busy doing (e.g., eating), they always have something to say before or after the fact. It is as if we’ll forget them when they’re gone or not be ready for them when they arrive. “Food … There’s food here … This food is good … Other chickadees in the vicinity, there’s food here … watch out for the squirrel … This food is great … This redbud tree is a great roosting tree … I’m leaving now. There’s still food … I’ll be back.”

Chestnut-Backed Chickadee*. I usually see just one or two CB chickadees at my feeders per day, and they usually get comfortable hanging out near, but not necessarily with, the black-capped chickadees. The chestnuts seem to be more independent than their BC counterparts, but this is purely a yard perspective.

Bushtits*: These darlings arrive frantically and in a group, as if they are pressed for time and need to get their suet feeding done As Fast As Possible. For this reason, they have no personal space to speak of. The dozen or so bushtits that visit will all be crowded around/on the suet feeder, and bushtit #1 is not bothered if bushtit #8 lands completely adjacent to, or on, him at the feeder. There are bigger things to worry about in the world of bushtits, and I guess with the amount of energy these darlings expel, that thing is food.


Bushtits; Salem, Oregon; January 2, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt

Dark-eyed Juncos*: I largely get the Oregon junco variety, although I did get a few slate-colored juncos last year alongside the Oregon ones. My yard juncos also arrive in a group, but unlike the bushtits, they are never pressed for time and really appreciate their personal space. If junco #2 flies near junco #8 by closer than 1 foot (by accident!), junco #2 will fly away to quickly re-establish this 1-foot junco personal space (JPS) buffer. I understand juncos.

Purple Finch*: This was a new yard bird for me today. Odd, I know.

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet*: Do I need to say anything about kinglets? They are my favourite yard bird every day they visit (UNTIL I GET A VARIED THRUSH), and I will get a great photograph of them one day. Ruby’s don’t show their ruby crowns often, and when they do, it’s usually intentional, but I do get brief glimpses of their actual ruby crowns at my suet feeder because of the acrobats they need to perform to feed at the suet feeder.


Ruby-Crowned Kinglet; Salem, Oregon; January 2, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt. Honestly the only reason I’m including this photo is because I got ONE photo of this guy that’s not 100% blurry. #tinycelebrations #theymovesofast #cantstopwontstop

Yellow-Rumped Warbler* (Audubon, I think?). I only saw one female today, and she showed up a few times.


Yellow-Rumped Warbler; Salem, Oregon; January 2, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt

European Starling*. I don’t see starlings a lot at my feeders, but when I do, they arrive like a gang of bullies, almost knocking shit over like they’ve never seen feeders before. Because they are so infrequent, I enjoy their brief sudden visits.

Western (California) Scrub-Jay*. Scrub-jays at the feeder are usually alone, but this might be because they are so big, and my feeders are not. Sometimes I get two. I love their chestnut-colored backs and their white bibs.


Western (California) Scrub-Jay; Salem, Oregon; January 2, 2018; photograph by Linda Burfitt

  *New Birds for 2018: 9 species
2018 Year-to-Date Talley: 28 species




January 1, 2018

Happy New Years! Day 1 is off to a pretty good start. We woke up in Sisters, Oregon, after having spent December 31 skiing up at Hoodoo Ski Resort.

First bird of 2018: the American Robin. The robins were seen in trees surrounding a gas station in Sisters, Oregon.

From the parking lot of the gas station, at the top of a pine tree, was my second bird of 2018: Cooper’s Hawk.  Of course, I had to take a few grainy zoomed-in photos of this guy, because I wasn’t 100% sure if I was looking at a Sharpie or a Cooper’s, but judging from the somewhere rounded tail, I’m going with Cooper’s. Somebody tell me if I’m way off. Raptors are not my forte!


Cooper’s Hawk, Sisters, Oregon, January 1, 2018, Photograph by Linda Burfitt

The day proceeded with a bit of road travel, and we ended up at Belknap Hot Springs where C was going to soak and I was going to bird. These hot springs are along the Mackenzie River in the middle of nowhere, Oregon, near a town called Mackenzie Bridge, on Oregon Route 126. I love visiting these hot springs because of the river-adjacent hiking trails and because I see American Dippers every time I visit. Dippers are very animated little semi-aquatic birds. What they lack in colour and other visual features, they make up for tremendously in their behavior. First, they dip. Up and down like they’re doing the squats. They are usually found on the shore of a river, on something prominent (like a boulder). They jump in and out of the cold water, sometimes diving under and popping back up, and feed on aquatic insects and other “live bits” in the water. I adore dippers.


American Dipper at Belknap Hot Springs, January 1, 2018, Photograph by Linda Burfitt

My Belknap Hot Springs list DID include a dipper, but just one. My comprehensive Belknap Hot Springs finds are as follows:

American Dipper
Black-capped Chickadee
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Pileated Woodpecker
Song Sparrow
Stellar’s Jay

Oddly enough, that was it. It wasn’t too birdy at Belknap today. So, we left the springs and drove west down 126 until we reached the Leaburg Dam, where the City of Eugene has impounded and diverted the Mackenzie River for hydropower and created a small reservoir (Leaburg “Lake”) adjacent to Lloyd Knox Park. In addition to me and C, other visitors to  Leaburg Lake were as follows:

American Dipper
Common Goldeneye
Double-Crested Cormorant
Hooded Merganser
Ring-Necked Duck

We spent a good 45 minutes scoping all of these birds while freezing to death, so after getting great looks at all of these (both males and females of most of these species), we decided to head back home to the Salem area before it got dark.

Of course, birding doesn’t stop just because you’re driving. Here’s what we saw along the way:

American Crow
American Kestrel

Bald Eagle
Canada Goose
Great Egret
Red-Tailed Hawk (lost count of how many were perched along I-5)

That concludes Day 1. I was hoping we’d get home before dark so I could add some late-day feeder birds to my Day 1 count, but they’ll be there tomorrow.

End of Day Tally:
19 species
2018 Year-to-Date Talley:
19 species