This is that long awkward time of year between winter and spring. The big winter flocks have broken up, but the spring migrants haven’t returned yet. As I have said before, there is always something to see, but we have to find simple pleasures until the full decadence of spring migration commences in a month or so.
On a recent sunny day, this Varied Thrush perched outside the living room window. I don’t often see this species in sunlight. They are usually muted by the gloom of a rainy day or the shadows of the forest.
Northwestern Garter Snake, Tualatin Hills Nature Park. I am making the identification based on the small head, although I am not completely comfortable differentiating Northwestern Garter from Common Garter.
As spring approaches, the numbers and diversity at Portland’s Westmoreland Park are starting to wain. The winter gull flock is down to Glaucous-winged X Western hybrids and two Herring Gulls. While there is no shortage of white-cheeked geese, there were very few other species of waterfowl on this visit.
We are in that late winter season when birding seems to slow. I don’t know whether there are actually fewer birds around this time of year or we have just already seen the local winter residents so they don’t hold our attention. In any case, the best birding is usually found in and around wetlands. Here are some recent shots from area wetlands from the past couple of weeks.
I led a tour on Sauvie Island this week. This is a great time of year for birding Sauvie, as the hunting season is over and there are still large flocks of waterfowl and wintering sparrows.
In honor of the winter solstice, in a month that brought Portland 7″ of rain, here are a few dark grainy images from recent weeks.
While the winter weather pattern along the Oregon Coast, a seemingly endless string of storm systems coming in off the Pacific, is not the most comfortable for birders, it does bring some interesting birds into view. Species that normally spend the winter many miles out at sea are sometimes blown in to shore. This is not always good news for the birds, since it takes them away from their normal food sources and into the range of land-based predators, but it does provide birders an opportunity to see these species that are usually out of reach.
This Northern Fulmar was swimming right along the shore at The Cove in Seaside (Birding Oregon p. 121). He didn’t seem too perky, so he may have been ill. Fulmars are fairly common sights on pelagic trips, but are not visible from shore too often.
Red Phalaropes are more commonly blown in during early winter storms. These little shorebirds spend most of the year on the open ocean. It amazes me that such a small bird can survive in such a harsh environment. But when they do occur in the calm waters of tidal ponds and inlets close to shore, they often fall victim to predators, and sometimes cars. This individual was found near the Hammond Boat Basin.
The universe has conspired to keep me out of the field for far too long. My one link to sanity, if you can actually call birding sanity, is the activity at the bird feeders.
The Portland area has seen a massive invasion of Pine Siskins in recent weeks. Numbers at my feeders have tapered off in the past week, but the nyjer feeder is still popular. This photo shows six Pine Siskins, a colorful male Lesser Goldfinch, and an American Goldfinch peeking around from the back.
This little guy has been the avian star of our property for the past month. There seems to be an irruption of Mountain Chickadees in western Oregon this year, with many reports from the Portland area, and some from as far as the coast. Even when he is turned away, he stands out from the common Black-capped Chickadees by his gray back and the narrower band of black on the nape.
The white stripe above the eye is the characteristic field mark for this species. Most reports of Mountain Chickadees in the area have been of birds with thick white eyebrows and white lores, which suggests birds from the eastern half of Oregon and into the Rockies. This bird has a narrow white brow and black lores, suggesting a bird from the nearby Cascades. While it is tempting to assign birds to subspecies (especially since Mountain Chickadee might be split into two species in the future), David Sibley warns against trying to make such distinctions, as there is a lot of overlap of characteristics between subspecies. His essay on this topic can be seen here.
A quick visit to Westmoreland Park in southeast Portland revealed good numbers of waterfowl and gulls typical of this little urban duck pond in the winter.
Of course, every visit to Westmoreland requires a quick scan of the gull flock.
Things are hopping at Fernhill Wetlands, with rising water levels, an influx of several thousand geese and other waterfowl, and a few other goodies.
A small flock of Greater White-fronted Geese were hanging out with the Mallards in Dabblers Marsh.
The resident Bald Eagles were sitting around looking majestic. I watched one carrying a stick to add to their nest.
I saw three Common Garter Snakes on this trip, including one very young newborn about the width of a linguine. The colorful individual in this photo was about 20 inches long. Note the large laceration on his neck, presumably from a predator. Despite the severity of the wound, the snake was not bleeding and he crawled away after this photo was taken, so I am hopeful he will recover.