Author Archives: John Rakestraw
Double-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.
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.
These 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.
It 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.
On 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.
I 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.
I 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.
Nala and I walked along the Columbia River from Broughton Beach to the Sea Scout base.
Greater Scaup was the most numerous species on the river, with smaller numbers of Lesser Scaup (fifth bird from the right)
Great Scaup (upper left) with Lesser Scaups, showing a nice comparison of size and head shape.
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.
Gulls 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.
A 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.
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.
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.
The 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.
I took Nala to the dog park next to Vanport Wetlands in hopes of seeing a bird or two between throws of the ball.
I walked through Smith and Bybee Wetlands after an unsuccessful gull chase in northwest Portland. Here are a few highlights.
A pair of River Otters were in the slough. It is always a treat to see this species.
There were actually a few birds around. I ran into several mixed flocks of small birds that defy point-and-shoot photography.
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.