Tillamook County has more than cheese
Do you ever overlook birding locations? Erik and I do for a variety of good and stupid reasons, including: they are too close, not enough eBird sightings to make it worthwhile, low possibility of lifers, etc. For episode 2.02, we decided to cut the crap and bird around Tillamook County, Oregon. If you have ever heard of Tillamook, it's probably for the world famous cheese factory (now known as the Tillamook Creamery), which is a top tourist attraction in the state for good reason - great cheese, ice cream, and a peek into how the process works. Also, this is one of the reasons that we never gave Tillamook too much of a chance, it smells like cows. Erik and I grew up in Oregon and "cows" are what we think of with Tillamook, we thought there were lots of farmers, farmland, and from that came cheese. We've birded around a bit, but never gave it a good chance.
It wasn't until 2014, when the Visit Tillamook Coast (VTC) was formed through the Economic Development Council, and the image of this area was rebranded, that our impression of Tillamook changed. In the last 5 years as the official tourism organization for the county, this section of the North Oregon Coast has been promoted as a destination for outdoor recreation, culinary tourism, and cultural heritage and emphasizes respect of environmental stewardship and natural resources.
So, Erik and I head to our trip planner (eBird) and route out a location and compare it against the suggested birding locations from the VTC website, many of which are the same. That is something that impressed me about the "birding" link on the site, many of the listed hotspots are actually good birding locations. There have been many times when I've looked at websites detailing birding locations and it says that you will see a "White Egret" or "Buzzard Vulture" or something ridiculous like that. With VTC, that was not the case. It seems that they had a birder vet the information on the site because it is pretty accurate.
We began our adventure at a place I've always wanted to visit: Tillamook Forest Center. While working as an interpretive park ranger, I saw many job openings at that spot that were pretty tempting and wondered what it was like. The center is located in the Tillamook State Forest and has a wonderful nature and history museum. Fortunately, there was an interpretive program scheduled for the day we had planned to visit, titled: Killer Birds. We enjoyed the program, learning new information and facts about kingfishers, herons, and eagles and then headed off on the trail. The trail took us along the Wilson River and is apparently the headquarters for SWAINSON'S THRUSH, as I have never heard nor seen as many as I did that day. They were in the trees, on the trails, along the water...it was crazy. Have you ever seen a SWAINSON'S THRUSH side-by-side with an AMERICAN ROBIN? Well, we did and never really realized how big of size difference there is! Lots of PACIFIC WRENS calling along the trail too...
We went on to grab lunch at Fat Dog Pizza. Pretty good slices and bread sticks, centrally located in town.
Then onto Bayocean Spit, which is literally a spit of land separating the bay and ocean. In 1906 a resort community was built in this section that included houses, a theater and a dance hall. Due to the construction of a jetty at the mouth of the river the sand began shifting and washed the town into the ocean. For more see this link. It looks like the kind of place that probably coughs up good rarities every once in a while. The tide was in when we arrived, so there was not much space for foraging shorebirds. However, we did find a little flock of WESTERN SANDPIPERS and two LESSER YELLOWLEGS. It is a FANTASTIC spot to work on gull ID, we had mostly WESTERN GULLS, a single GLAUCOUS GULL, and the whole spectrum of hybrids. The berm had SONG, SAVANNAH, and WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS bouncing around in front of us, and many COMMON RAVENS bronk-ing overhead. We'll definitely have to be back and spend more time.
Lastly, we were off to Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint in search of seabirds. Which we found right away! There are PELAGIC CORMORANTS, COMMON MURRE, PIGEON GUILLEMOT, and DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT that make their homes on the cliffs of the cape. One of the things I love about this site is that you are above the birds on top of the cape, so it is easy to see them and the views are absolutely stunning. After surveying the seabirds, we walked through the short stand of coastal forest to the lighthouse. There were lots of high-pitched calls coming from the canopy and we finally found the calls coming from a family of GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLETS all the way at the top. Also, there were more SWAINSON'S THRUSHES and PACIFIC WRENS. New for the day were BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES, ORANGE-CROWNED SPARROW, and a juvenile BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD chasing a poor HERMIT WARBLER around waiting to be fed. The Cape Meares Lighthouse is also a beautiful site to see. Also, it is a great whale watching location and is residence to the largest Sitka Spruce in Oregon.
With the new focus on outdoor recreation with a mind on our environment and natural resources, I now feel like Tillamook County is definitely a "not to be missed" birding location for local birders and those traveling to tick some things off. As a tourism and outdoor recreation professional, these efforts were made with great care and I am excited to see this happening in my state.
For more about our trip through Tillamook County, check out our episode here.