Monday, June 23, 2014

Birding Sisters Oregon - A Trip Report (Day 1 of 4)

Editors Note:
This Sisters Oregon Woodpecker Posting is part of a 4-part series on my June 2014 trip
Day 1: Arrival & self guided touring
Day 2: Ochocos Tour 
Day 3: Black Butte Tour 
Day 4: Catch up Tour - Dry Creek Burn  ***]

Two years ago, I came across a blog from the west coast of a birder who birds in Oregon and I could not help but be blown away at one of her postings in which she detailed things she saw while camping in Sisters Oregon. I did a little research on the area and realized that they have a birding festival - The Dean Hale Woodpecker Festival - in late June. For the last year or two, I wanted to go but either tried booking too late for the festival or too late to get decent prices for airfare. This year, I registered on the first day that they opened the festival for booking and bought direct flight tickets from Detroit to Portland (3 hours from Sisters) well in advance.

The reason the local Audubon Society has a Woodpecker Festival in Sisters is because they have 11 species of woodpeckers within a small radius of that town!

I was lucky enough to see all 11 species of woodpeckers very well. The 11 species of Woodpeckers that can be found in Sister's Oregon are:

1. Downy Woodpecker
2. Hairy Woodpecker
3. Northern Flicker
4. Red naped Sapsucker (life bird)
5. Red breasted Sapsucker (life bird)
6. Williamson's Sapsucker (life bird)
7. White headed Woodpecker (life bird)
8. Black backed Woodpecker
9. American three toed Woodpecker (life bird)
10. Lewis's Woodpecker
11. Pileated Woodpecker

I spent four days birding the area as follows:

Day 1: Arrival, self guided touring (the focus of this posting)
Day 2: Ochocos Tour
Day 3: Black Butte Tour
Day 4: Catch up Tour - Dry Creek Burn

Had I not gone to BC two years ago, I probably would have gotten over 50-60 life birds on this trip. I got about 35 or so life birds during this trip. Those will be the focus of this series of trip reports!

On my first day in Oregon, I drove from Portland to Sisters, driving along a highway that ran parallel to beautiful rapids. I stopped many times along the way, sometimes to look for American Dippers in the rapids. At one point, I stopped near the Hoodoo Ski Area along the Santiam Highway and immediately noticed several new birds to me: Red breasted Sapsucker, Slate colored Fox Sparrow, Western Tanager, and of course, Oregon Dark eyed Juncos!

As I arrived near Sisters, I tried to go to a campground called Cold Springs Campground, which was really nice. On the way, I stopped again several times in the area and found a White-headed Woodpecker nest, Rufous Hummingbird, Townsends Solitaire, Pygmy Nuthatch, Western Bluebirds, Hammonds Flycatcher, Downy Woodpeckers (rare in this area) and Northern Flickers.

I then went to an area called Trout Creek Swamp and saw many great birds again! Red naped Sapsucker, Olive sided Flycatcher, Stellars Jay, Western Tanager, Pygmy -Red breasted - White breasted Nuthatches, Townsends Warbler, Hairy Woodpeckers and several other birds that I will list out into Ebird. I found out as my trip went on that Red naped Sapsuckers are not as easy to find as they once were. Several people I spoke to did not even get this bird during the festival so I was lucky to find one on my own.

Red naped Sapsucker

As the afternoon wore on, I drove through park of the town looking for Pinyon Jays as well as stopped off at two locations that are great for birding: Calliope Crossing and Indian Ford Campground. Both were great spots with a few new lifers mixed in: Green tailed Towhee, Black headed Grosbeak and some unidentified flycatchers.

In the evening, I went east from Sisters to Redmond Oregon in anticipation for the next days tour that I was partaking in: the Ochocos Tour. I stopped off at a park called Smith Rock State Park which was gorgeous and hosts two wren species that I was looking for: Rock and Canyon Wrens. Golden Eagles and Prairie Falcons can be found here as well.  I missed both on my short walk but had found some great butterflies! Amazingly, the most common bird that I noticed was (wait for it).... American Robins!

So this was a summary of my first day in Oregon, just poking around at a few hotspots. It was beautiful. The weather for all four days of my trip was sunny and 80 degrees (F). The air in Oregon (funny as it may sound) was so clean and clear. There is this nice smell of Ponderosa Pine and Sage. One of my trip leaders encouraged me to actually smell the bark on a Ponderosa Pine and it smelled a little like vanilla - perhaps this was what I was sensing in the air. Travelling and birding are exciting because so many things are new. It felt so nice to experience this unique area along the west coast where the ecosystem still seems to be intact. You are completely surrounded by Pine Forests, meadows, pastures, sagebrush scrub, rapids, streams and the occasional waterfall. So beautiful!

Good Birding!

Band tailed Pigeon on the way into Sisters


  1. Wow Dwayne!! Looking forward to the rest of the report. Love the countryside pictures. I have to remember to do that more. So.... will you update us at some point on your life list count?

    1. Brian - Thanks for the comments. I was thinking of doing my life list update on my last posting. I was at 350 before this trip and picked up about 10 lifers on the first day. Stay tuned!



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