Things are hopping at Fernhill Wetlands, with rising water levels, an influx of several thousand geese and other waterfowl, and a few other goodies.
Cackling Geese have been arriving for weeks now, and the skies and fields around Fernhill are covered with these little guys.
A small flock of Greater White-fronted Geese were hanging out with the Mallards in Dabblers Marsh.
This interesting beast is a hybrid, a product of one of the local Canada Geese and a domestic Greylag Goose.
Here are some of the many Northern Shovelers feeding in their typical manner, swimming along with their faces in the water, as if their enormous bills are too heavy to hold up.
Two American White Pelicans have been hanging out at Fernhill for a couple of months now.
Shorebird numbers and diversity have dwindled. Here are a few Long-billed Dowitchers.
The resident Bald Eagles were sitting around looking majestic. I watched one carrying a stick to add to their nest.
Several Northern Shrikes have been reported around the Portland area in recent days. This one is snacking on a large insect.
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.
The weather is cooling and rain is in the forecast, as our long dry summer is finally letting go.
Cackling Geese have arrived by the thousands in recent days. This Ridgeway’s Cackling Goose is sporting a black chin stripe and a white collar.
An American Pipit, blending in with the dry cracked lake bed at Fernhill Wetlands
Two California Gulls harassing a Bald Eagle. It is probably much safer being behind the eagle than in front.
Closer to home, this Purple Finch visited the feeder. If you look closely you can see her tongue positioning the sunflower seed.
Mimi, one of my neighbor cats, is enjoying the birdbath and keeping those pesky hummingbirds out of my garden. I have two words for you, Mimi; Urban Coyotes.
I scouted Fernhill Wetlands for the Willamette Valley portion of my shorebird class. After a cool summer, we have finally gotten some triple-digit temperatures, making birding a little challenging. But there is a lot of mud and the shorebirds are moving in, joining the typical and not-so-typical summer residents.
Greater Yellowlegs are common right now, taking advantage of the shallow water in most of the area’s wetlands.
I don’t think he caught anything on that dive.
Spotted Sandpipers are often found along the rocky shoreline of Fernhill Lake.
This is a young Spotted Sandpiper, distinguished by the barring on the wing coverts (and the lack of spots).
Cackling Geese, which winter here in the tens of thousands, are a rare sight in summer. The exposed white rumps on these birds are an indication that the birds are molting their primaries, so they have obviously spent the summer here.
These three Greater White-fronted Geese are also several months too early.
Great Blue Heron and Great Egret
August is the time for baby Bullheads. Several schools were visible in the murky water.
Eight-spotted Skimmer, one of the few dragonflies that I can identify
After the wettest March on record, April has provided a few sunny days to help awaken us from our rain-induced torpor.
I made a quick trip out to Fernhill Wetlands to look for the Swamp Sparrow that has been reported there. Between the sunbreaks, I still had to dodge a few passing squalls.
I missed the Swamp Sparrow, but this Song Sparrow was very cooperative.
Here is the same Song Sparrow in a little more natural setting, if you consider invasive Reed Canary Grass to be natural.
Much of the loop around Fernhill Wetlands has been blocked off, supposedly to reduce disturbance to the new Bald Eagle nest.
A pair of eagles has been hanging out in this little grove of cottonwoods for years, so I would imagine they are used to birders and joggers going by, but better safe than sorry.
The Yellow-rumped Warblers have molted into their flashy breeding plumage. This one is an example of the “myrtle” race.
On Saturday I took some clients out to Sauvie Island for a morning of birding. This view of Mt. St. Helens is from the west end of Rentenaar Road.
Sandhill Cranes, seen here with a flock of Cackling Geese, were common in the morning. But as the day progressed, many birds circled up on thermals and then headed north. By noon, most of the cranes were gone.
Most of the sparrows seen just a week earlier had moved on. Two White-throated Sparrows were a treat. Singing Orange-crowned Warblers and five species of swallows were other good signs that migration is stepping up. I’m looking forward to the next sunny day.
I took advantage of the short breaks in the recent rainy weather to visit Vanport Wetlands in north Portland. The dark foggy conditions did not create great photo opportunities, but there are a lot of birds using this site.
The local Great Horned Owl is already sitting on her nest. This nest successfully fledged young last year.
In another sign of spring, this Great Egret is already sporting long nuptial plumes.
These Cackling Geese (and one Glaucous-winged Gull) were hanging out on the nearby Heron Lakes Golf Course. A Brandt has been seen on the golf course this week, but I didn’t find him on this visit.
A flock of ten Greater White-fronted Geese were sitting on Force Lake, just north of the Vanport Wetlands.
These geese are young birds, lacking the black and white speckling seen on the bellies of adults.
Nala is not nearly as interested in the birds of Vanport Wetlands as she is in the adjacent off-leash dog park, where she can pursue her prime interest, chasing the Orange Orb of Delight.
Best known as a local gull hotspot, Portland’s Westmoreland Park also hosts good numbers of Cackling Geese in winter. This December has been unusually dry and sunny, so instead of my photos being grainy and dark, they are now overexposed.
Ridgeway’s Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii minima) is the smallest race of Cackler, only slightly larger than a Mallard. Their stubby bills and purplish breasts are good field marks. Many individuals also display a prominent white collar.
Of course, you can’t visit Westmoreland in winter without appreciating a Thayer’s Gull. This is such a hard bird to find throughout much of the country, I always stop to enjoy them, despite their local abundance. You can’t see this bird’s eye or bill, but the white underside of the far wing and the amount of white visible on the outermost primary (p10) on the near wing are both good clues to the bird’s ID. (yeah, I’m a bird nerd, and I’m proud.)
Eurasian Wigeon is another species that Portlanders enjoy on a regular basis, while birders elsewhere can only dream.
Wintering waterfowl are returning to Fernhill Wetlands (Birding Oregon p. 61). Cackling Geese started arriving this week, and will soon be joined by a few thousand more.
a former waterfowl
Most shorebirds have moved on by now. This Lesser Yellowlegs was feeding by himself.
The Lesser Yellowlegs was eventually joined by a small flock of Long-billed Dowitchers.
One of the paths at Fernhill has recently been extended around the back side of Dabblers Marsh. This brushy area hosted a large flock of Bushtits (a female above), along with Mourning Doves, Northern Flickers, Black-capped Chickadees, and my first-of-season Golden-crowned Sparrow.
A quick walk around Fernhill Wetlands (Birding Oregon p. 61) produced two out-of-season species this morning.
Cackling Geese (Branta hutchinsii minima) winter here in the hundreds, but an individual in July is quite unexpected.
Note the stubby bill, short neck, and dark purplish breast typical of this subspecies.
Clark’s Grebe is rare at Fernhill during migration, but never expected in summer. Here you can see the white of the face surrounding the eye, unlike the more expected Western Grebe, which shows the eye surrounded by the black of the cap.
With more white on the face and neck, Clark’s Grebe shows a more narrow black line down the back of the neck than does Western Grebe.
Green Herons are often flushed from the shores. This one sat in a tree briefly.
Common Carp were spawning in the main lake. Small groups of fish were swirling near the surface in several areas.
Here are some random shots of some of the many waterfowl species that winter in the Willamette Valley
This Common Merganser was swimming with her face submerged, looking for fish. I have also seen loons hunt in this way.
the same bird preening
Here she finally shows her face. The clearly demarcated white chin helps to differentiate this species from the similar Red-breasted Merganser.
This female Eurasian Wigeon is recognized by her brown head. Notice the female American Wigeon on the right with her gray head.
Here is a distant shot of a mixed flock of waterfowl (click to enlarge). From left to right, you can see Ring-necked Duck, Canvasback, Cackling Goose, American Coot, and American Wigeon.
I took a brief walk around Fernhill Wetlands (Birding Oregon p. 61) while meeting with a reporter today. The weather was rather dreary, but, as always, there were some birds around.
Eared Grebe is an unusual visitor to the main lake. Note the thin bill and dusky cheeks. The more common Horned Grebe has a thicker bill, white cheeks, and a neat black cap.
Another view of the Eared Grebe. The back end of this species tends to float fairly high in the water.
Most of the wintering Cackling Geese were off grazing somewhere, but these two were hanging out on the lake. The bird on the right has pale feather edges, indicating a young bird.
In contrast to the Cackling Geese, these resident Canada Geese are much larger with long snakey necks.
Common Mergansers were indeed common on the main lake this morning, but did not allow a close approach.
Great Egrets stand out on a dreary gray day.