Double-crested Cormorants

cormorant 1Double-crested Cormorants always put on a good show along the Willamette River in Portland. For being an all black bird, they really show a lot of interesting details in their plumage. The blue eyes on an orange face are also striking.

cormorant 3This bird is just starting to sprout his crest feathers.

cormorant 4This young bird is still showing his pale gray breast and neck, but the facial skin is getting pretty bright.

IMG_6772This is what it looks like when a cormorant catches a fish that is just a little too big. The bird swam around for quite a while with this odd posture and bulging neck.

Wetland Birds

While spring migration has not really ramped up yet, locally nesting birds at Fernhill Wetlands and Jackson Bottoms are starting to pair up, and the winter flocks are breaking up.

least sandpiperA few Least Sandpipers have arrived at Fernhill.

killdeer quartetThese Killdeer were vying for position. I think this species would be more highly regarded if their voices weren’t so grating. Their plumage and red eye ring are rather stunning, but they just don’t shut up.

bushtitI found a pair of Bushtits weaving a nest. The normally gray birds were stained bright yellow with pollen.

cinnamon tealCinnamon Teal, looking all dapper

golden-crowned frontGolden-crowned Sparrow

white cheeked golden-crownedThis Golden-crowned Sparrow had odd white patches on the cheeks, and a few white feathers on the nape.

tree swallowTree Swallows are everywhere, pairing up and claiming nest boxes.

song sparrow 3Song Sparrow, not unusual, but unusually cooperative

red-winged blackbirdRed-winged Blackbird. Females and immature males have much more interesting plumage than that of the adult males.

house finch 1House Finch, just because

North Coast

signIt had been ages since I visited the coast, so I packed up the dog to check out some spots between Cannon Beach and the Columbia River. I have seen an increasing number of these signs in the area, an attempt to attract nesting Snowy Plovers back to the area. I hope it works.

sanderlings 1On the beach at Gearhart, I saw more Sanderlings than I have seen in many years. I don’t know whether the population has rebounded a bit, or if I just timed my visit with a good wave of early migrants. We’ll hope it is the former.

dunlinThere was a small flock of Dunlin at Gearhart, and a much larger flock at Fort Stevens. None had started molting into spring plumage yet.

american crowAmerican Crow on the beach. There were a few Common Ravens around, too, but they usually don’t allow a close approach.

mixed gull flockI found two mixed flocks of gulls. The gull numbers around Portland this winter have been very disappointing, so it was nice to see a good variety of species on the beach. Since I had Nala with me, I couldn’t get close enough to identify everyone. This little group is mostly California, with a couple of Mews and possible Thayer’s.

black-legged kittiwake adultThe best gulls of the day were Black-legged Kittiwakes. This species is usually found out to sea, so it is nice whenever they come to shore. Here is an adult in the middle of the frame.

black-legged kittiwake first cycleA first-cycle Black-legged Kittiwake near the center, with a dark auricular patch and a black bar across the back of the neck.

Western GullThis Western Gull seemed very dark compared to the other gull seen that day. I think she might be of the southern subspecies.

harlequin femaleA quick check of Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach usually reveals some Harlequin Ducks.
harlequin male 2

nalaNala at Haystack Rock

Sauvie Island

mixed flockI took my waterfowl class out to Sauvie Island. The trip produced a nice variety of ducks and geese, and the weather was freakishly nice for February. Here are some Ring-necked Ducks, Dusky Canada Geese, and a couple of Buffleheads.

dusky canada geeseSome more Dusky Canada Geese. The red neck collars help to clinch the ID. Lesser Canada Geese are fitted with blue collars, while Ridgeway’s Cackling Geese have yellow ones.

hybrid goose 1One of the more interesting birds of the day was this hybrid Greater White-fronted X Cackling Goose.
hybrid goose 2

satyr commaThis Satyr Comma was basking in the sun. While the early spring is enjoyable in the short term, it may have negative effects on the flora and fauna in the long term.

Broughton Beach

Nala and I walked along the Columbia River from Broughton Beach to the Sea Scout base.

scaup flock 2Greater Scaup was the most numerous species on the river, with smaller numbers of Lesser Scaup (fifth bird from the right)
scaup flock 1Great Scaup (upper left) with Lesser Scaups, showing a nice comparison of size and head shape.

western grebeA few Western Grebes were snoozing on the water.

common goldeneye 1A Common Goldeneye came close enough to shore for some great looks.
common goldeneye 2
common goldeneye 3

song sparrow 4Broughton Beach usually holds some interesting songbirds, but this Song Sparrow was the only one I saw on this visit.
song sparrow 3

beaverA Beaver had been nibbling willow saplings when we approached. He swam out just a few feet offshore and continued downstream.

McNary Wildlife Nature Area

Looking past the rather awkward name, the McNary Wildlife Nature Area is a great little spot for birding. The park, which came to my attention by hosting the recent Black-headed Gull, is located in the town of Umatilla, just downstream from McNary Dam on the Columbia River. Along with views of river, the park has several small ponds, areas of sagebrush, and riparian woods.

The park can be reached from 3rd street, on the north edge of town. From Hwy 730, west of I-82, turn north on either Switzler Avenue or Brownwell Blvd, then east on 3rd to the park. If you are east of I-82, turn north on Devore Road, then west on 3rd.

black-billed magpieBlack-billed Magpies are common in the area. I have always loved these birds, despite my total inability to get a decent photo of one.

cedar waxwing flockI sorted through hundreds of Cedar Waxwings, looking for the few Bohemian Waxwings that had been reported in the area, but I found no joy.
cedar waxwing

american white pelicansAt least six American White Pelicans were using the park.

black-crowned night-heronAn island in one of the ponds serves as a roosting site for Black-crowned Night-Herons.

common goldeneyeThere was a nice diversity of waterfowl, including this Common Goldeneye.

mixed gull flockGulls were well represented. Along with the abundant Ring-billed, and the famous Black-headed on the left, this shot shows a Mew (just right of center) and a California (right edge, gray legs). Herring and Glaucous-winged were also present.

american robinAmerican Robins and other songbirds were abundant in the brushy areas. A very birdy area overall.

Black-headed Gull

black-headed gull 1A Black-headed Gull has been hanging out in Umatilla, OR for the past week or so, and after some internal debate I gave chase. The drive to Umatilla is about twice the distance of my normal “chase radius.” I am not one who tends to drive great distances for an individual bird. But this bird is special enough to warrant an exception to the rule.

First of all, this is a gull I hadn’t seen before, one I have been hoping for for many years. Black-headed Gull is a Eurasian species, with a small population in northeastern Canada and in Greenland. So finding one anywhere in North America away from the northeast coast is extremely rare.

Secondly, this particular bird seems to have established himself in a park in Umatilla and in the adjacent golf course, so my chances of seeing the bird after such a long drive were relatively good. I would not drive so far to look for a warbler or other small songbird, as these tend to move on much more quickly.

After the drive, finding the bird took about five minutes; step out of the car, walk to the edge of the pond, and there he was. ID is pretty easy for this species. They are similar to Bonaparte’s Gull, but with a red bill and a dark underwing pattern, visible in flight.

black-headed gull preeningWhen the gull preens, you can see evidence of the dark hood that will become obvious in the breeding season.

The Black-headed Gull is being seen at the McNary Wildlife Nature Area, just downstream from McNary Dam on the Columbia River. I will write more about this area next time.

New Year Birding

I went out for a few hours on New Year’s Day to scout locations for my upcoming gull class. The weather was freakishly sunny for a January day in the Portland area.

ring-billed gullsThe only gull flock I found was at Amberglen office park in Hillsboro. Most were Ring-billed Gulls. Here is a first cycle Ring-billed with an adult. As you can see, I am totally incapable of getting a good photo of white birds in bright sunlight.

ring-billed gulladult Ring-billed Gull

mew gullsThese two Mew Gulls were looking very petite among the larger species.

hooded merganserA couple of Hooded Mergansers were swimming near the fountain.

common merganserCommon Merganser

ring-necked duckRing-necked Duck

mallard 2Finally, a bird that doesn’t have a lot of white. This Mallard was looking gorgeous in the bright sun.
mallard 1

Vanport

I took Nala to the dog park next to Vanport Wetlands in hopes of seeing a bird or two between throws of the ball.

eurasian wigeonA male Eurasian Wigeon made a brief appearance.

green-winged tealGreen-winged Teal

gadwall drakeA pair of Gadwalls swam in the nearby slough. gadwall pair

ring-billed gull preeningThe large flock of gulls that had been hanging out in the area were not around that morning, but a large puddle hosted this Ring-billed Gull along with some Mew Gulls. ring-billed gull

mew bathingMew Gulls bathing
mew gulls

Smith and Bybee Wetlands

I walked through Smith and Bybee Wetlands after an unsuccessful gull chase in northwest Portland. Here are a few highlights.

otter headsA pair of River Otters were in the slough. It is always a treat to see this species.
otter shakeotter tongueriver otter 1otter tail
There were actually a few birds around. I ran into several mixed flocks of small birds that defy point-and-shoot photography.

orange-crowned warblerOrange-crowned Warbler

ruby-crowned kingletRuby-crowned Kinglet
ruby-crowned kinglet 2The same bird, showing just a peek of his namesake ruby crown.

american wigeonThe slough had a few waterfowl, all keeping a safe distance from the otters. Here is an American Wigeon.

northern shovelerNorthern Shoveler

ring-necked duckRing-necked Duck

Raptors were well represented by Bald Eagles, Red-tailed Hawk, and Red-shouldered Hawk, none of which wished to be photographed. Despite the rainy conditions, it was a productive trip.

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