Crow Magnons: A Day in the Life of a Birdathon Team

Ever wonder what it takes for a Birdathon team to spot 104 species in a single day? David Mandell, co-leader of the Crow Magnons, talks us through all the places and species they saw on their 15 hour birding trip through Wasco County, all while raising funds to protect native birds and habitat!

By David Mandell, Birdathon co-leader and former board president

On Saturday June 1, twelve intrepid Crow Magnons ventured out to Wasco County for another successful Birdathon. Our team gathered at 6 a.m. at the Walmart parking lot in Wood Village, ticking off our only WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW of the day, before hitting the road for the hour long drive to Wasco County.

A group of birders stand in the forest on Mt. Hood looking for Green Jays.
Seven out of our twelve participants looking for Canada Jays on Mt. Hood.

The real birding began at our first stop of the day – a bathroom and finch break at the Frog Lake Sno Park. Flocks of PINE SISKINS and RED CROSSBILLS swirled around the parking lot, posing cooperatively in the trees, on the ground and on top of the bathrooms. The team was able to enjoy the wide range of crossbill plumages from brick red males, dark yellow females and a couple of brown and streaky young birds. After enjoying the show, we hopped back in the van and headed over to Clear Lake, just a few miles further down HWY 26.  On the way down to the lake, we pulled over hoping for CANADA JAYS. The jays took their cue and a family of jays almost immediately materialized at eye level in the trees right next to the van. Our luck continued when we got the lake shore. Joe pulled out a female BARROW’S GOLDENEYE that was hugging the shore. An OSPREY soared over head and a young BALD EAGLE made a pass over a small flock of COMMON MERGANSERS, while a SPOTTED SANDPIPER called from across the way.

Next it was off to one of the most magical places in Wasco county – Camas Prairie.  On the drive in we came across a doe and two very young fawns who immediately pressed themselves into the ground as if to hide. Not wanting to cause them any more anxiety, we quickly continued along our way. As we walked towards the edge of the opening of the grassy wetlands, we could hear CASSIN’S and WARBLING VIREOS singing, a few HERMIT WARBLERS, HAMMOND’S FLYCATCHER, and a winnowing WILSON’S SNIPE.  At the opening, we were delighted to find a pair of SANDHILL CRANES standing in front of us.  While we were watching the pair, we noticed a baby crane (otherwise known as a “colt”) mostly hidden in the tall grass! From Camas Prairie we headed over to the Bear Creek campground and picnic area where we added SWAINSON’S THRUSH, MACGILIVRAY’S WARBLER, COMMON YELLOWTHROAT and BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK. As we headed back to the van, Andy and Heather picked out a calling PILEATED WOODPECKER.

Our next stop was an over grown clearcut just a few miles down the road. By this time the sun was already heating things up and the bird activity was already greatly diminished. We had no luck with Fox Sparrows, but were still able to eke out few DUSKY FLYCATCHERS, NASHVILLE WARBLERS, a look at a spectacular WESTERN TANAGER and our first SPOTTED TOWHEES of the day. On our way out, Ali spotted a bird flitting through the trees – a bonus BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER!

After the clear cut, we left the forest of Mt. Hood and entered in the drier – and hotter — open oak and juniper woodlands. A quick stop at some feeders in Pine Grove gave us ANNA’S and RUFOUS HUMMINBIRD without leaving the van. We continued to Enderby Road, where we were able to add WESTERN BLUEBIRD, WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH, MOUNTAIN CHICKADEE, and a surprising pair of PYGMY NUTHATCHES that called as they darted across the road before disappearing into a pine tree, never to be seen again. We were also treated to a GOLDEN EAGLE in an interesting transitional plumage from immature to adult that soared low over road right in front of us.

Freddy Trujillo points to a Macgillivray's Warbler

We then darted over to Walter’s Corner Store to see if we could pick up a sun hat for Heather. In addition to the hat, we also picked up BULLOCK’S ORIOLE, WESTERN KINGBIRD and SAY’S PHOEBE, all of which afforded everyone with great views in the scope. It was now past noon and we are all getting hungry, so decided to head over to the Tygh Valley Fairgrounds for some picnic tables and shade. On our way, we made one quick stop along Fred Ashley Road.  As we were driving down the road, our target birds – a pair of EASTERN KINGBIRDS – landed on the fence right next to the van! We got out of the van to further enjoy the Kingbirds, also adding BANK SWALLOW and SAVANNAH SPARROW.

Back in the van, we headed over to the fairgrounds, but our lunch was further delayed as we spotted LEWIS’S WOODPECKER swooping over the trees. We pulled over to the side of the road and everyone got great views of these bizarre and wonderful woodpeckers. Now it really was time for lunch! We all enjoyed a welcome break from the sun, listening to YELLOW WARBLERS and a LESSER GOLDFINCH as we ate. Just as we were getting ready to leave, Freddy yelled out “there’s a hummingbird!” A male BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD briefly landed on a branch above our table before taking off and continuing on its way.

After lunch we stopped at Wasco county’s prime wetland on Price Road.  The afternoon light allowed decent if not distant looks at a number of new birds including GREAT EGRET, GADWALL, YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD, CINNAMON TEAL, AMERICAN COOT, PIED-BILLED GREBE and RUDDY DUCK, all the while we were serenaded by an albino Peacock we had seen in a barnyard on the drive in. A walk in from Dodson Road yielded our only GRAY FLYCATCHER just as we had decided to turn around and head back to the van.  Then it was off to Driver Road to look for the colony of TRICOLORED BLACKBIRDS. The blackbirds were cooperative providing satisfying scope views along with good comparisons with Red-winged Blackbirds.

We decided to return to the Juniper Flats area to see if we could pick up some of the open area birds we have missed earlier in the day. It was now past 4 p.m. and the temperature was starting to cool a bit and the winds, which had been pretty calm all day, were still only a light breeze. While we were not able to pull out Long-billed Curlew or Grasshopper Sparrow, we were successful in tracking down MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD, CALIFORNIA QUAIL and HORNED LARK. We dashed over to a rocky out cropping along Oaks Spring Road hoping for Canyon Wren and Lazuli Bunting. It looked like we were going to miss out on both, but then a LAZULI BUNTING appeared on a telephone wire during our drive out and provided satisfying views from the van.

It was now getting on towards the end of the day and we embarked on a 45 minute drive to the Columbia River for a few last stops. As we turned on to I-84, a flock of AMERICAN WHITE PELICANS rose into the sky soaring over The Dalles Dam.

A stop along the cliffs on the way to the Deschutes River yielded a few quick looks at a WHITE-THROATED SWIFT. A couple of team members also spied a PEREGRINE FALCON before it disappeared behind the rock wall. The highlight of the stop was probably the two foot long rattlesnake that decided to slowly cross the path – twice!  We ended the day at Heritage Landing. By now the wind had really picked up, but we were still able to add RING-BILLED and CALIFORNIA GULL. With a satisfying total of 104 species, including some great east side specialties, we headed home!

A rattlesnake's rattle - Photo by Andy Frank