Birding the Oregon Coast is written by guest blogger Sheila K. Sheila is a seasoned Ottawa-area bird-watcher who spends her winters living and birding in southwest Florida.
A week-long September road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway from Seattle to San Francisco was the perfect opportunity to combine vacation with life birds for this Eastern birder. I traveled with a non-birder and the trip was equally impressive for both parties. Expect: non-stop stunning and awe-inspiring coastline coupled with endless state parks and ample hiking opportunities.
Read on for my experience birding the Oregon coast.
First up was the research. I needed to know what I could expect to see driving Highway 101, hiking in the Pacific Coast rain forest and strolling the beaches of Oregon with a non-birder as a companion. This proved easy as there is an excellent website that I used as my main reference pont: Oregon Coast Birding Trail.
Using this website and eBird, I generated a list of birds that I hoped to see and then got out my Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America (available on amazon.com and amazon.ca) to do a bit of studying. I knew that travelling with a non-birder would not allow for hours of chasing down birds so I needed to be able to quickly identify what I was seeing.
My first target group was the gulls: Western Gull, California Gull, and Glaucous-winged Gull would all be lifers.
Western Gulls were everywhere and the distinctive colour of this year’s juveniles made identifying them easy.
California Gull required more scrutiny as I needed to see both a black spot and an orange spot on the bill of the adult. I only positively identified them in Astoria where they were roosting on an abandoned dock.
Glaucous-winged Gull should have the same colour on the back as on the wing-tips when standing. On our last day in Oregon, I found a gull that matched that description at Yachats.
My shorebird targets were Black Turnstone and Black Oystercatcher and I found them both on the rocky shores of Yachats.
There was a bird sleeping among the same rocks as I found the Black Turnstones and I realised afterwards that it was a Wandering Tattler – definitely a bird we don’t see in the east.
Although I didn’t go to specific shorebird habitat as I didn’t have my scope with me, the Oregon coast has great shorebird locales and Oregon Coast Birding Trail website will tell you exactly where to find them.
Three species of cormorants occur in Oregon: Pelagic, Brandt’s, and Double-crested. It was the first two that I was most interested in adding to my life list. Fortunately both were still raising young on Cannon Beach’s famous sea bird nest site, Haystack Rock. I thought I might have trouble telling them apart, but was pleased to find that the field mark I needed to look for was visible on both species: the flash of white on the side of the Pelagic and the pale throat of the Brandt’s.
Haystack Rock is best known for its breeding colony of Tufted Puffins and Common Murres. I had to be content with talking to the volunteer naturalist at Haystack Rock who told me that both birds had not long departed for the open sea. A visit to the excellent Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport, which only features creatures found on the Oregon Coast, allowed me to see what I had missed. I didn’t include these on my bird list (try explaining to a non-birder why birds in an aquarium don’t “count”!).
Surf Scoters, and Harlequin Ducks completed the sea birds that I wanted to see. Photographing the ducks in the rolling surf was tricky and my pictures were just ‘okay for the record’!
Any of the rocky cliffs along the Oregon Coast were worth a scan for Brown Pelicans, Cormorants, and Gulls.
I knew that finding forest-dwelling birds wasn’t going to be easy in the gigantic Oregon forests but I didn’t expect to come home with only one woodpecker, a flyover Acorn Woodpecker, on my sightings list. I wanted Chestnut-backed Chickadee and luckily I had a small flock in the parking lot at Ecola State Park.
During our hike at Ecola I could hear Wrentit but never got to see one. A few seconds of Pacific Wren playback brought in both Pacific Wren and Gray Jays! Steller’s Jays were fairly easy to find as they are not shy and are very noisy. One flock in the park was filling up on blackberries.
White-crowned Sparrows were very common in brushy areas, occasionally mixed with Song Sparrows that were much duskier than the ones I was used to seeing.
In terms of songbirds, I also saw a Brewer’s Blackbird in Crescent City, California:
In addition to the wonderful birds, two stops on the Oregon Coast are a must for seeing marine mammals.
Make a stop at Depoe Bay for the only breeding group of Gray Whales on the coast. Whales can be seen at any time of year, but migration yields the largest numbers (mid December-January and end of March-early June). Click here for more information.
The magnificent Cape Arago overlooking Simpson Reef is the largest marine mammal haul-out in Oregon for a large breeding colony of two species of sea lions and two species of seals. The noise made by the sea lions was amazing!
Birding the Oregon Coast: Trip Round-up
The Oregon coastline is absolutely stunning and birds aside, it is absolutely worth the drive. My bird trip list totaled 61 species in five days and included two life birds that I was unable to photograph: Band-tailed Pigeon and Violet-green Swallow. I saw only one hummingbird which was an Anna’s Hummingbird and only one warbler, an Orange-crowned.
What did I see? Click here for the trip list.
- Accommodation along the Oregon Coast Highway is limited, so it would be best to book hotel rooms in advance
- Car rental is much cheaper if you pick the car up in downtown Seattle rather than at the airport – a train links the airport with downtown which brought us to a couple of blocks from the car rental offices
- Where Highway 101 offers a scenic loop – take it! Vistas, photographic opportunities, birds and marine mammals will make it worthwhile.
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