Author Archives: John Rakestraw

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.

Random Images

Here are a few photos from recent ramblings.

kestrel 2After delivering some books to Tualatin River NWR, I took a quick walk on the path that leads through some newly planted oaks and along the river. This male American Kestrel had just captured a shrew.

waterfowlThese Western Canada Geese (and the Common Merganser on the log in the foreground) were napping at the Sandy River Delta.

beaver chewThe Beavers are really enjoying the young trees at Sandy River Delta.

IMG_6001This old American Robin nest was tucked into a crevice of a tree.

pileatedPileated Woodpeckers are fairly easy to find at Sandy River Delta. This one was perfectly hidden behind a branch.

peregrine 2Peregrine Falcon, Sandy River Delta

hermit thrushThis Hermit Thrush was chasing another outside my bedroom window early in the morning.

Yaquina Bay

Yaquina Bay, at the town of Newport, is one of the more productive sites on the Oregon coast. On this visit, high winds reduced the number of birds that were out and about, but there was still a lot to see.

loon eatingCommon Loon with the catch of the day
common loon

rt loon 1Red-throated Loon

pelagic cormorant 2Pelagic Cormorant

horned grebeHorned Grebe
horned and western grebesHorned Grebe (above) and Western Grebe

pelican yawnBrown Pelicans

long-tailed duck 2Long-tailed Duck

surf scoter 2Surf Scoter

peregrineThe flats behind the Hatfield Marine Science Center. There were lots of Mew Gulls, some Brant, and Northern Pintails. Note the Peregrine Falcon at the base of the fallen tree.

california gullCalifornia Gull

sea lion 1Large numbers of California Sea Lions loaf on the jetties and docks on the bay.
sea lion 2

Twitching on the Coast

While I normally don’t go too far to chase individual birds, two rarities have been hanging out on the coast, so I braved the cold winds to add a couple of tics to my life list.

goose oneA Tundra Bean Goose has been staying at Nestucca Bay NWR. This is the first of this species recorded in Oregon. (They typically breed in Siberia and winter in Japan.) He has been reliable in the field below the observation platform at the lower parking lot.
goose three
goose two

booby twoA Brown Booby has been along the bayfront in Newport. She would coast downwind, then fly upwind close to the water, diving for fish and occasionally catching one. Brown Boobies are typically found in warmer waters south of California, but several have been seen along the Oregon coast this fall.
booby threeTwo lifers in one day, especially two this rare in Oregon, made for a great day on the coast, despite the cold temperatures and the blustery winds.

Random Images

Home improvement projects are keeping me inside lately, so here are a few images from dog walks and the bird feeder.

IMG_5742Double-crested Cormorants on the Columbia River
IMG_5748IMG_5749California Gull

IMG_5740former sturgeon, Columbia River

IMG_5727Lesser Goldfinch

IMG_5736I only see Purple Finches once or twice a year at my feeder.

IMG_5678young Douglas’s Squirrel in the shadows, Tualatin Hills Nature Park

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