Red Hot Pokers

While birding at the Whiskey Creek Fish Hatchery in Tillamook County, I stopped to check out a stand of Red Hot Poker, or Torch Lily. This plant is not native, but the flowers are very attractive to hummingbirds, orioles, and warblers.

orange-crowned warbler 1 smallOrange-crowned Warblers were the only warbler species around that day, but several individuals came out of the heavy cover to feed on nectar.
orange-crowned warbler small
When I first arrived at the patch, a female Anna’s Hummingbird was feeding. She took off before the camera came out, and then the patch was dominated by a male Rufous Hummingbird.

rufous hummingbird small
Whiskey Creek Hatchery is a small site, but offers a little patch of woods and access to Netarts Bay.

Sandy River Delta

Nala and I spent the morning at the Sandy River Delta east of Portland. Bird activity is definitely picking up, although many of the summer residents haven’t arrived yet.

white-crownedWhite-crowned Sparrows were singing

savannah sparrow 2as were Savannah Sparrows.

rufous 3Rufous Hummingbirds were zipping around everywhere. All the birds I could get a look at were males.
rufous 2
rufous scratchingscratching an itch

yellowthroatHere is a typical view of a Common Yellowthroat.

wood ducksThe recently reopened channel hosted a lot of birds, including this pair of Wood Ducks and a sleepy Mallard.

spotted sandpiperSpotted Sandpiper, not yet spotted

great blueGreat Blue Heron in a tree

common merganserCommon Merganser, proving once again that I have no idea how to control the white balance on my camera.

nalaOf course, Nala will tell you the main reason to visit this site is to go swimming. Here she is in the Sandy River, while the mastiff on shore waits to try to steal her ball.

Sauvie Island

I made a couple of trips out to Sauvie Island for my Little Brown Birds class. The weather was freakishly nice for late March, although the mild winter has not been conducive to large sparrow flocks.

quail (3)One highlight of the trip on Saturday was a large flock of California Quail. This species has become more difficult to find in recent years.
quail pair Wapato Access Greenway State Park is a great place for herps on Sauvie Island.
garter 2This is a large Common Garter Snake. The subspecies found in this area is Red-spotted Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis concinnus)
garter 1

pacific chorus frogPacific Chorus Frogs (also known as Pacific Tree Frogs) were common in the grassy areas. Their call is surprisingly loud for such a small frog.

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.

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