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.
In the open brushy habitats, you can’t turn around without seeing a Lazuli Bunting.
It was nice to find a couple of native Red-legged Frogs. This species often succumbs to introduced American Bullfrogs.
Nala’s main interest in the trip was swimming. She swam in a vernal pool, the Sandy River, and the Columbia River.
During the long hot walk back toward the car, she needed to cool off in this convenient mud hole.
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.
Pine Siskin at the nyjer feeder
For some reason, songbirds just look weird when viewed from the front.
The male American Goldfinches are starting to get their summer color.
Golden-crowned Sparrow, Vanport Wetlands
This fairly large tree has been felled by Beavers at Smith and Bybee Wetlands. None of the branches appear to have been eaten, so I don’t know why the Beavers felled it, perhaps because it was there.
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.
Here is a nice comparison of American (foreground) and Lesser Goldfinches. Notice that the American Goldfinch has white undertail coverts, while the Lesser has yellow.
Here is a very dull American Goldfinch (probable first-year female) in front of a Lesser (probable first-year male).
Chestnut-backed Chickadee, looking ever perky
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.
The color on the Lesser Goldfinch seems especially intense at this time of year, when the other finches are so dull.
I never tire of Chestnut-backed Chickadees.
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.
This Yellow-breasted Chat was singing away in the blackberry thickets. He stayed out of sight most of the time, but popped up briefly for a distant photo.
American Goldfinches were common in both the grassy and brushy habitats.
An Eastern Kingbird was using this pipeline marker as a hunting perch in the middle of a large grassy area.
Western Tiger Swallowtail at the mud near the edge of Nala’s favorite swimming pond
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.
Prior to this week, I had only seen a few Pine Siskins this winter. But now a flock of several dozen are present most of the day.
The American Goldfinches are starting to show some summer color.
One Purple Finch has been joining the fray. I only see them once or twice a year at the feeder.
The resident House Finches have had a hard time finding room at the feeder, and have been waiting until the flock of smaller finches move on for the day.
Two male Varied Thrushes are competing with the squirrels for seeds under the feeder.
With the increased activity, the local Dark-eyed Juncos have given up trying to use the feeder, opting to scratch around the periphery instead.
As always, the Black-capped Chickadees sneak in and grab the occasional seed.
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.
The Western Scrub-Jays have been hitting the feeder hard, filling their crops with seeds and flying off to hide them somewhere.
I recently came across a small flock of Lesser Goldfinches. This species has become much more common in the northern Willamette Valley in the past decade.
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.
This is a male, probably a young bird given the lack of an extensive black cap. Notice the white patch on the spread tail feather. Females do not have white patches on their tails.
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.
Compare this female American Goldfinch to the Lessers above and below.
The birds have been taking advantage of occasional breaks in the rain lately to stock up on sunflower seeds.
Pine Siskins have not been plentiful this year, with only a few individuals appearing at the feeder.
This Pine Siskin has more yellow in the wings than the bird pictured above. There is a lot of individual variation with this field mark, not necessarily related to gender.
Fern Ridge Reservoir is a large impoundment just west of Eugene, OR. Much of the property on the eastern and southern sides of the lake is included in the Fern Ridge Wildlife Area (Birding Oregon, p.89), and some of the best birding is found at the west end of Royal Avenue.
The area just north of the parking lot is grassland, bordered on the east by oak savannah. Here an American Goldfinch and a Savannah Sparrow share a moment on the fence.
A target species of many birders at this site is Grasshopper Sparrow. This species is quite rare in western Oregon, and the field north of the Royal Avenue parking lot is one of their few reliable nesting sites. This individual repeatedly returned to this perch to sing. I believe the nest was nearby so I didn’t get too close.
Walking west from the parking lot takes you to the marshes at the eastern edge of the reservoir. Nesting species include waterfowl, herons, rails, and this Black Tern. As the summer progresses, water levels drop to create muddy habitat for migrant shorebirds. This is where Oregon’s first Wood Sandpiper appeared last year.
These little fish were common in a shallow puddle near a culvert. I think they are some species of topminnow, but I didn’t take any out of the puddle to look at their fin configuration. If you recognize these, please leave a comment.
This is a sad reality at some good birding sites. Several people have had the catalytic converters removed from their vehicles. Others have had break-ins. On the day I was here, the Corps of Engineers had sent a couple to serve as “Park Hosts.” They remained in the parking lot, with their cute little dog, and had educational materials available for visitors. I think I have an advantage in areas like this by driving an old car, which may be less attactive to evildoers.