Monday, September 8, 2014

Sept 7 (Day 250) - Dorian vs. Mountain quail, round 1, encroachment by unbirders

I arrived in Corvallis last night and immediately began preparations for the Mountain quail battle that would occur today. Round 1 would would occur at Mary's Peak. This endeavor would require a 17-mile ride from Corvallis and then a steep, 10-mile climb to 3,800' or so (starting from essentially sea level). I hit the hit the road at 6:30am this morning. The ride was pleasant with cool temps and little traffic. The big key for today was to get onto the road to the peak before too many cars started up it. I ditched my bags in the woods at the bottom of the (paved!) road to the peak, and started climbing with what felt like a featherweight bike. Within the first mile, a rather loud, noisy pickup track came down the mountain road. UGH - that is exactly what I was hoping wouldn't happen. Ignoring this potential hiccup, I pressed onwards only to be passed by another car heading up the  mouton for what looked like a family hike. Crap. However, not 2 minutes after this I heard a calling Mountain Quail way off in the distance. YES! I had somehow managed to salvage "victory" over this bird despite the inauspicious start to the day. However, the bird was too far off to pursue through the woods. I would have to settle for a distant "heard-only" tick of this elusive species. Given the apparently increasingly traffic, I decided going much further wasn't worth it. I headed back down the mountain towards Corvallis.

I heard the first bird way back in the regenerating track straight ahead

Are you kidding? No way was I going to ride all the way to this spot to settle for a heard bird! I figured that after hearing the first bird, I was playing with house money, so to speak. After all, I had only covered maybe 2 of the 10 miles of the climb to the peak, so there were certainly more chances for quail between here and the top. Continuing the climb, I entered what turned out to be a 15-20 minute car-free stretch. I made another 3 miles up the road. By this time I had climbed to nearly 2,500' of elevation (as signed on the roadside). I came wheeling around a right hand turn and BOOM! 2 quail took of from the ditch along the right hand side of the winding road. These were followed by 2 more, then 4 more, then lots more! There were at least a dozen birds and there could have been up to 14 or 16! This sudden explosion sent me into scramble mode as I got the bike off the road, broke out the binoculars, and tried frantically to assemble the camera. I could see the birds scampering up the hillside to which they had flown. This hillside was much to steep and thickly vegetated to try to pursue them, and I could see my chances for documenting this species evaporating before my eyes. I could hear the birds clucking away, but there was not way for me to get to them. I would have to settle for a very brief but serviceable view of the covey as it disappeared into the forest. Bird #547 was on the books. 2 cars went speeding by me as I got back on the bike. Had I arrived at this spot 5 minutes later, these birds probably would have been gone! I had trumped over the Mountain quail in what turned out to be a remarkably easy fashion. It wasn't Mike Tyson circa-1988 easy, but, given the potential headaches that could have resulted from chasing this bird around on multiple occasions over the next 2-3 weeks, this was an incredible outcome for me!

The covey of quail flushed from ditch on the right.
They all went up the steep hill above me.

Now I was really playing with house money! I was now 1400 feet below the summit. I made the decision to keep going thinking I might be able to find a few more quail higher up. Another half an hour or so and I was able to find 2 Sooty grouse sitting right in the road. I got a distant photo of 1 of them before they flew downslope into a tree. The aperture setting had been bumped to f/22, so the pictures are terrible! I subsequently found a group of Gray jays below the summit, and a large group of ~20 pipits at the summit. I got a nice photo of the latter once I got all the camera settings sorted out.

Sooty grouse!

American pipits

Mary's Peak

After my quick descent, I grabbed the rest of my stuff, loaded up the bike, and headed back to Corvallis to celebrate at Dairy Queen. Since I had an open afternoon, I hit the road to Eugene to make some miles in the southerly direction. The ride was fast and uneventful. At the end of it I was flagged down on the roadside by a man who introduced himself as Newt. He asked about my "Biking for Birds" license plate, and we got to talking. It turns out he works in the solar industry, so we had a nice chat about alternative/renewable energy sources and the poor government support given to them. Sigh...its the same old story. Old, rich guys in government who make money from oil companies don't want to so anything on that front. I'll save that for another day though.

A big climb and 97 miles!

Me and Newt at roadside

One thought I had on my ride down from Mary's Peak today is how frustrating it can sometimes be to be a birder. What I mean by this is how easily unbirders can influence the outcome of a morning of birding or bird photography. Clearly everyone has a right to be out recreating, but it is amazing how much some other outdoor activities negatively affect birds and birders. My descent today perfectly example of this. I was hoping to take a hike down a specific trail when family came bounding along the trail with 3 very loud kids. That option was out. I next found a dirt road that looked good, but there were gunshots coming from half a mile down it. That was out too. A couple of motorcycles next came racing up the road ensuring that no birds would be within a half mile of me for the entire descent. Birding under such circumstances can be incredibly frustrating. I have on many occasions been viewing or photographing shorebirds when some clown with an unleashed dog ruins my entire morning. I have had even birds scared off by kites! It is so frustrating that so birding (and especially bird photography) can be so negatively influenced by unbirders. As I said, everyone has a right to be out there, it just sucks that everyone can disrupt birders while birders seem to disrupt so few. 

Tomorrow I am going to look around Eugene for Red-breasted sapsucker and perhaps Purple finch. After this I'll head back to the coast for several hundred miles!


  1. I understand the frustration with nonbirders, but I'd rather see a family with three noisy kids outside than inside any day. If we could get MORE families with kids outside, maybe, just maybe, we would see more effort toward habitat conservation.

    1. Excellent point - we should celebrate those out recreating outdoors. Maybe they are not doing so in the ways we appreciate but the more people are outdoors, the more support the treasured locations receive.

  2. You got me with the end of your first paragraph, I really believed that you must be running on empty to go and turn around after a heard only bird!

    thanks for writing every day, I really enjoy reading your posts every day!

  3. Agree with first comment; isn't conservation awareness and lifestyle supposedly one of the main points of the blog? If kids want to enjoy their hike loudly, I'm not going to stop them.

    I'd have to say that I find it funny hearing the encroachment comments coming from a photographer. When a rare bird is staked out, it's always the photographers that are pushing the limits of getting too close to the bird and potentially ruining it for everybody else. Birders just there to observe can study it at a much greater distance through spotting scopes.

  4. Kids learn from the adults in their lives. Wouldn't it be nice -- and not just in the birding context -- if adults behaved in ways that respected the rights of those who prefer quiet and solitude? There's a good chance their kids would grow up to behave the same way. I don't recall ever hearing a complaint that a solo birder ruined an outdoor experience for someone else.

    In my experience, by the way, photographers are not even close to being as much of a problem as groups of birders are. I wish I could forget the number of times I've been trying to get a glimpse of a furtive warbler at a place like Cape May when around the curve of a trail comes of group of birders -- often led by a tour-leader who should know better -- that creates such a disturbance that the bird disappears.

  5. The only scenario I can think of where a birder might disturb a non-birder is by doing a lot of phishing to attract birds. I generally stop phishing when I see people coming. Also conservation-minded folk may not like birders going off-trail into the woods to echo-locate because of the damage to the undergrowth. I do live in a area with lots of trails that don't see much foot traffic and poison-ivy is rare so I do occasionally go off trail. Mostly for Black-backed Woodpeckers.

  6. Yes, we all have an equal right to access our natural areas, but I disagree with the notion that more people out in them is better that fewer, especially if that is said without qualification. More people who are appreciative of, have some basic knowledge of and are respectful towards nature and who are also respectful of the other people out trying to enjoy nature would indeed be a very good thing. More people who are unnecessarily loud, obnoxious, destructive and disrespectful, well, I think we would all appreciate it if they stuck to the theme parks, concert halls, sports venues and other more urban locales, or just stayed home.

    Just bringing your kids out in nature doesn't necessarily mean that they are learning respect for it, or are learning anything about it, other, maybe, than that it is a fun place to be loud and destructive. The parents are the key! Teach them about the wonders of nature. Teach them respect.

    And, don't get me wrong, dogs are great. I absolutely love dogs and can't get enough of them- except when I am birding. Most of the dogs That I have met have put a big damper on the birding. I realize that people love their dogs and feel that they should be able to be "free" from time to time (or, at least they are tired of it tugging at the leash). I get that. I've been there. There are dog parks and back yards for that. Sensitive natural habitats are not the place for that, or places where people would like to look at birds.

    In all of these cases, others' use of the Great Outdoors should not interfere with my use of the Great Outdoors. Yes, our natural places must be shared and sharing means making compromises. I have compromised many times when I have met a loud group of non-birders or a dog off of its leash (often in a city park with leash laws), and I smile, politely wave and quietly cede the territory and move down the trail (the birds are long-gone anyway). I have compromised when I arrive at my chosen birding spot only to see that the non-birders have beaten me there, so I cede the territory and move on to my Plan B. When do they compromise? Does someone's beer party in the woods ever get relocated or postponed because there are birders around?

    It is all about respect. Respect nature and respect the others out in it. Enjoy nature as you will, but make it possible for others to do so as well, and leave the place as you found it, or make it even better. If "more people" agreed to those terms, I would gladly welcome them to our natural places. Otherwise, I hope they will just stay home.

  7. I am a photographer of wildlife. There have been many, many times that I have thought nothing would be in the woods because of all the people and noise but sometimes pleasantly surprised. I spent three hours once watching a Grizzly that roamed within 20 yards of me and even took a nap. 200 yards away, the public was eating, playing Frisbee and etc. They had no idea what I was photographing and doing. It was a great day. Has happened with Goshawk, moose, elk, deer, grouse and nesting birds.