Bird Notes - Winter, 2005-2006
by Jim Rogers
The first of several '"Pineapple Express" winter storms on December 18-19 prompted a humorous police report by Port Orford Police Chief Mark Creighton. The officer observed a small bird disrupting traffic on Highway 101. He stopped traffic and took the bird into protective custody. However the bars on the holding cell were too far apart to hold the bird and handcuffs didn't work either. The officer then proceeded to the True Value Hardware store whereupon he "gaveĒ Lois Miller the bird. Lois took the bird, a Red Phalarope, to Garrison Lake where it "happily" paddled around in circles as phalaropes do. She fervently hoped it would remain there until the Christmas Bird Count on December 23. By the time the bird count rolled around there were hundreds of Red Phalaropes in town and thousands more on every puddle in the count circle. Red phalaropes spend their entire life on the ocean except during their breeding season on the shores of the Bering Sea. They're occasionally blown inland by hurricane-force southwest winter winds. I don't know how many make it back to the ocean but I only saw one on New Year's Day and it was flying by. Since I saw very few corpses I assume that many made it back to the ocean and their diet of fish larvae, crustaceans and small jellyfish.
Port Orford Christmas Bird Count Day, December 23rd, saw a break in the stormy weather and our small but intrepid group of topnotch birders was able to find 141 species-in the 15-mile diameter circle centered on Sixes. I understand that this was the second highest count in Oregon topped only by Coos Bay's 160. If their Snowy Owl hadn't been shot a few days before, in their count they would have had 161, an all-time high for Oregon, and Terry Wahl and I would have had a new lifer because we covered the North Spit where the owl had been living. Port Orford's count of 141 was only four shy of our record 145 found in 2002. We found several new and exciting birds such as a lone Cattle Egret grazing with Scott McKenzie's cattle. To my knowledge we haven't seen a Cattle Egret in the county since '92. Prior to that we usually had a few around every winter. The five Cinnamon Teal found by Don Munson out on Cape Blanco (Beaver Marsh or Sixes estuary?) was the earliest Iím aware of in the county. A few usually show up around the end of February passing through on their way to more preferred nesting habitat somewhere up the Coast or Willamette Valley or Eastern Oregon. A very exciting find was a Gyrfalcon spotted by Tim Rodenkirk near the mouth of Floras Creek. Terry and I saw it three days later near Elk River. An occasional one shows up in Coos or Curry County, apparently hunting up and down the Southern Oregon Coast. This was the first time one has been sighted on the POCBC. A lone Ruddy Turnstone found by Terry Wahl on the Star Ranch was likewise a first for the count although it has been found on 10 occasions on the Coos Bay count. Over 2800 Red Phalaropes were tallied (not counting the dead). For the first time in several years we were unable to find any Barred Owls. Does this mean they've left and the Spotted Owls will return? Probably not. Apparently the Red Crossbill population has crashed. Last year we found 177 while this year we had none. I.ikewise the Red-breasted Nuthatch population dropped from 82 on last year's count to three this year.
On New Year's Day Lois Miller and Troy Guy found a male Harlequin duck at the Port Orford dock. A few years ago this wouldn't have been noteworthy but Harlequins have become quite uncommon and we haven't seen one in the port for years. Don Munson found three out on the Cape but we used to find over 20 on the count.
Who knows what else the winter may bring? Get out there with your scopes and 'nocs and let me know what you find.
Phone or fax me at 541-332-2555 or write to 95187 Elk River Rd., Port Orford OR 97465.
Kalmiopsis Audubon Society
P.O. Box 1265
Port Orford, OR 97465