I made an early morning trip to the Sandy River Delta. This late in the summer, with the weather being so hot, most bird song is limited to the hour or so around dawn. This Willow Flycatcher was singing right at sunrise.
I took Nala on a hiking/swimming tour of the Sandy River Delta. We were there at midday, so we missed the dawn chorus, but the common species were still active and vocal.
Nala’s main interest in the trip was swimming. She swam in a vernal pool, the Sandy River, and the Columbia River.
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.
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.
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.
While late July is normally pretty slow birding in the Willamette Valley, the Sandy River Delta continues to be active. The regular nesting species that are local specialties at this site (Yellow-breasted Chat, Lazuli Bunting, Willow Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, etc.) are still easy to find. A very vocal Indigo Bunting has been a rare treat the past week or so, and an even rarer Yellow-billed Cuckoo has been reported. On my recent visit, I enjoyed brief views of the bunting, but the cuckoo has not been relocated.
Water levels are dropping, so Nala’s pond will soon be too shallow for swimming. But the the Sandy River has dropped enough to be accessible now, and the water in the river is a lot cleaner than the brown pond water.
As luck would have it, a recent streak of clear sunny days has coincided with my battle with an influenza virus. So rather than traversing the state enjoying birds in the sunshine, I have been stuck on the couch and at my work station watching the birds at the feeder. The feeder has been very busy, however, thanks to a new batch of large clean sunflower hearts and an influx of ravenous finches.
I am hoping the weather holds and my lungs clear so I can go a little farther afield next week.
I spent more time working on an article about birds this week than I did actually birding, so I had to get my birding fix by looking out the window. Cloudy skies and dirty windows aren’t the best conditions for viewing, but it is better than nothing.
This species really stands out in the winter with their bright yellow underparts and cold greenish backs. Note the white wing bar and the little white patch at the base of the primaries. The more common American Goldfinch has a warmer golden brown cast in winter, and has buffy, not white, wing bars.
Pale females, like the top bird, are harder to distinguish from female American Goldfinches, as they lack the bright yellow underparts. Note the cold greenish back (not golden brown) and the white (not buffy) wing bars.