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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Oregon: Woodpeckers, Owls and the Solar Eclipse

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Oregon boasts an extremely high diversity of woodpeckers, including the White-headed Woodpecker Photo: Rich Hoyer

We’ve added a special tour to coincide with a rare total solar eclipse. Skies are almost always clear this time of year, and we’ll be in one of the most light-pollution-free areas in the entire lower 48 states. And, of course, we’ll be in a setting of incomparable beauty. Beginning in Portland, we’ll move eastward into the rain shadow of the Cascades, an area of superb and diverse coniferous forests and a desert-like shrub-steppe with endless vistas of sagebrush, vast canyons, and immense fault-block mountains. We’ll bird the Blue Mountains and Wallowa Mountains, and end up among isolated lakes and marshes in the northern Great Basin at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. 

Day 1: The main trip begins at 6 p.m. in Portland. Night in Portland. 

Day 2: We’ll start the morning’s birding just beyond the eastern edge of the Portland metro area at the Sandy River Delta on the south side of the Columbia River. Birds more typical of the Willamette Valley, such as Western Scrub-Jay, Bushtit, Song Sparrow, and Bewick’s Wren, are likely here, but it’s also the western limit of several eastern species such as Eastern Kingbird and Red-eyed Vireo, which could still be present. We’ll then drive through the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, perhaps stopping to ogle one of the countless picturesque waterfalls and search for American Dipper. After a picnic lunch we’ll arrive at our hotel in time to take an afternoon outing to the local sewage ponds or a marshland to look for migrant shorebirds. Night in La Grande. 

Day 3: We’ll concentrate our birding in the western fringes of the Wallowa Mountains, reaching some higher-elevation coniferous forests where Dusky and Spruce Grouse, and American Three-toed Woodpecker are known to occur. Even Red and White-winged Crossbills are possible, while Mountain Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Dusky Flycatcher, and Brown Creeper are more common inhabitants. We’ll have a picnic lunch at a campground in this scenic forest before we return to our local hotel by the late afternoon. Night in La Grande.

Day 4: We’ll take a slight departure from our wilderness experience to visit the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center outside Baker City. Early morning birding around the center might yield Ferruginous Hawk, Swainson’s Hawk, Golden Eagle, and Horned Lark, and nearby we’ll keep an eye out for Burrowing Owl and Sage Thrasher. In the latter half of the day we’ll drive some scenic back roads where we might see White-throated Swift in some cliffs, Vesper and Lark Sparrows in roadside fields, or Great Gray Owl in a stand of pine trees near a mountain meadow. Night in John Day.

Day 5: This is the morning we’ll have been waiting for, and we can only hope that the skies are completely cloud-free, as they usually are this time of year. We’ve chosen a scenic spot at a lake and campground in the Umatilla National Forest northeast of John Day, directly under the line of greatest totality for the solar eclipse.

The morning could start with some fabulous birding in the mixed-conifer forests with White-headed Woodpecker, Red-naped Sapsucker, Pygmy Nuthatch, Cassin’s Finch, the long-billed interior form of White-breasted Nuthatch, and Clark’s Nutcracker among the many possibilities. We’ll then be in place by 9:00 a.m. for the start of the partial eclipse, which lasts for about an hour and 15 minutes until totality begins. Totality will last two minutes and seven seconds at this location. Perhaps a Flammulated Owl will be fooled by darkness and begin to call.  

We’ll have the rest of the morning to bird the pine forests and perhaps find some feeders with migrant Calliope and Rufous Hummingbirds. We’ll finish the day with a visit to the fascinating John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, an area of breathtaking beauty that includes the Painted Hills. We’ll be in a drier, more open habitat where Ash-throated Flycatcher and Chukar are among the possibilities. On this or another evening we’ll make a special attempt for Flammulated Owl, occurring at its greatest densities in this region. Night in John Day. 

Days 6–7: We’ll have two full days to bird in and around the famous Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. We’ll stop by the headquarters’ oasis of trees, lawns, and feeders; seek out any of the marshes and wetlands that could host migrants; and check sagebrush steppe for sparrows and thrashers. One of the tour highlights will be our drive to the top of the wonderfully scenic Steens Mountain, a fault-block mountain with Oregon’s highest road at 9500 feet, not passable before July each year due to snow. The view of the Alvord Basin, Oregon’s driest desert, stretching 5600 abrupt feet below, is awesome. We even have a chance of seeing Black Rosy-Finch in its only known breeding location in the state, as well as an isolated introduced population of Bighorn Sheep. Nights in Hines-Burns. 

Day 8: This will largely be a travel day, but the route we take will depend on what we’ve already seen and what has been reported. We may begin with a return to the Malheur NWR headquarters, stop to check some ponds and lakes along the way, and finish with a scenic drive across the Cascade Mountains. Raptors on power poles could add Prairie Falcon to our list, while groups of stately American Pronghorn may be out in the sagebrush flats. Night in Portland. 

Day 9: The main tour concludes this morning in Portland. 

Newport Post-Tour Pelagic 

Day 9: The post-trip extension begins with some morning birding either in the Portland area or at points southward in the Willamette Valley; we’ll have flexibility to respond to reports of any rarities in the region as well. It’s a three-hour drive to Newport, though we might take a more scenic route through one or more of the valley’s national wildlife refuges, with a lunch stop at a winery where Acorn Woodpecker and the shorter-billed coastal form of White-breasted Nuthatch can be seen. Once at the coast we may have a chance for some coastal birding before we stock up on snacks and lunch for the next day’s boat trip and check into our hotel. Night in Newport. 

Day 10: We’ll get to the Newport harbor early in the morning for our all-day boat trip, which departs at 7:00 a.m. As soon as we leave the jetties of the Yaquina River behind, we could start seeing nearshore species such as Common Murre and Pigeon Guillemot, and we’ll make a special effort to look for Marbled Murrelet as well as mammals such as Gray Whale. We’ll then motor for a couple more hours to the edge of the continental shelf, stopping whenever we see birds, such as the likely Sooty and Pink-footed Shearwaters. At the farthest point we should see Black-footed Albatross, migrant jaegers (all three species are possible), Arctic Tern, and both Red and Red-necked Phalaropes. We’ll be back in port by about 3:00 p.m., finishing the day with our drive back to Portland. Night in Portland. 

Day 11: The tour ends this morning near the Portland airport.

Updated: 12 June 2016

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* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

This tour is limited to seven participants with one leader.