Broughton Beach

Broughton Beach is the stretch of shoreline along the Columbia River, just north of the Portland airport. It has been a popular spot to access the river to scan for waterfowl in winter, and the shore attracts some neat birds, like Horned Larks, American Pipits, and the occasional Short-eared Owl. There used to be free parking there, but that was eliminated when the adjacent public boat launch was expanded to include a nice new car parking lot (with a fee station).

horned grebeThere weren’t many birds on the water during my recent visit. Here is a distant Horned Grebe.

gull flockA mixed flock of gulls was loafing on a sand spit. There are at least four species in this photo, lots of California, a Mew, a Herring, and a few Ring-billed.

peregrine 1The gull flock was resting after being harassed by this guy. This Peregrine Falcon spent several minutes flying through the flock, taking half-hearted swipes at various gulls. Perhaps he was testing for any individuals that were injured or particularly slow.

Autumn Arrivals

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.

The North Coast

I made two trips to the northern Oregon Coast for my recent shorebird class. The “autumn” migration is well underway.

The Seaside Cove has a nice gathering of gulls. This California Gull is undergoing a rather extensive molt, I believe from second cycle to third. The severity of feather loss has actually created some interesting patterns.

This adult California Gull is showing a little wear, but nothing like the previous individual.

The Cove is a favorite hang-out for Heerman’s Gulls.

Young Heerman’s Gulls are a rich chocolate brown. I believe this is a second-cycle bird, given the smattering of gray feathers coming in.

This female Harlequin Duck was near the southern end of The Cove both days.

Black Turnstones, which spend the winter here, are back.

The best bird of the day Thursday was this Ruddy Turnstone, an uncommon migrant along the coast. Unfortunately, he did not stick around for my shorebird class field trip on Saturday.

Caspian Terns, seen here with California Gulls, were common on the beaches. Note the young tern in the center of the photo.

More Caspian Terns with Brown Pelicans and a Western Gull

These Elk tracks were on the beach near the south jetty of the Columbia River at Fort Stevens State Park.

At high tide, the Hammond Boat Basin has been hosting large flocks of Marbled Godwits and Whimbrels (and an unidentified dowitcher species in the middle of this image). Similar roosts in Washington attract rare migrants every year. I hope the same is true for the Oregon side of the river.

Seaside, 11/10/2011

Here are a few more images from a recent trip to the coast.


Black Turnstone at The Cove in Seaside (Birding Oregon p. 121)


Surfbirds blend in with the rocks very well until someone opens their wings.


California Gull in extremely worn plumage. Notice how the primaries have worn down almost to the shaft.


Dragonfly on the water, Neawanna Wetlands


Hooded Mergansers, Neawanna Wetlands


Fox Sparrow

Tillamook Bay, 9/24/11


I took my Portland Audubon class to Tillamook Bay (Birding Oregon p. 125). We found strong winds, high tides, and rough seas, but the weather was warm and mostly sunny. This photo was taken on the bayside of Bayocean Spit. The water was high enough to cover the mudflats, so we didn’t find any shorebirds, but we did find good numbers of gulls loafing in the shallow water.


Here is a first-cycle California Gull with two adult Western Gulls and a probable third-cycle Western Gull.


The largest concentration of birds was at the Bay City Oyster Plant. This little jetty was covered with gulls, Brown Pelicans, and Black Turnstones.


Western Gull, two Heerman’s Gulls, and a California Gull


Brown Pelicans


juvenile Brown Pelican and Heerman’s Gull


We found at least four Black Oystercatchers at the Three Graces Tidal Area.


At Barview Jetty, the rough seas and howling winds kept the expected seabirds out of the channel. But the big waves did reveal lots of Ochre Sea Stars.


This lone Black Turnstone was the only shorebird we found braving the rough conditions.

Seaside, OR 8-4-11

I spent the day birding sites around Seaside, OR (Birding Oregon p. 121).


The tide was the lowest I have seen at The Cove, revealing its sandy bottom.


The low tide allowed lots of beach-combers to wander along the rocky edges, so the only shorebirds present was a small flock of Black Turnstones.


This is a Western Gull in very worn plumage. Note the black-tipped primary just starting to grow in. The lumpy neck on this bird was caused by the large sea star he had just swallowed.


Heerman’s Gulls are normally one of the most beautiful gull species, but this individual was also extremely worn.


These birds were in better shape.


California Gulls are starting to gather along the Oregon coast. This juvenile was keeping company with an adult Western Gull.


At the north end of town is the Necanicum Estuary, also at very low tide. The exposed mud and aquatic vegetation attracted nice numbers of shorebirds.


Semipalmated Plover


Least Sandpipers


Western Sandpiper


The rarest bird of the day was this Semipalmated Sandpiper.


Notice on these shorebird tracks that the toes are partially webbed, or semipalmated. So these tracks were made by either a Western Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plover, or Semipalmated Sandpiper.


These tracks don’t show any sign of webbing, so they were probably made by a Least Sandpiper.


The estuary is a favorite hang-out for Caspian Terns, here joined by California Gulls.

 

Frozen Fernhill

An arctic air mass brought cold temperatures and ice to Fernhill Wetlands (Birding Oregon p. 61), but there was no shortage of birds. Here are some grainy gray photos from a lap around the ponds.


Horned Grebe


Tundra Swans and California Gull


Taverner’s Cackling Goose and Northern Shovelers


Cackling Geese and Northern Pintails


Snow Goose and Cackling Geese


American Kestrel


immature Bald Eagles


This American White Pelican, a very late straggler, was circling high overhead, trying to find a thermal on this cold cloudy morning.


Cackling Cackling Geese


Great Blue Heron standing on a Beaver dam. Note the frost on the bird’s back.

Bayocean Spit

It had been a while since I had walked all the way around Bayocean Spit (Birding Oregon p. 128). This is a great walk which takes about four hours, assuming you stop and look at birds along the way.

This morning was one of those misty gray days when the sky blends into the ocean. The fog and drizzle make photography rather difficult, giving everything a blurry grainy look. The dark line on the horizon is the south jetty. The crane in the distance is working on the end of the north jetty.


Shorebirds were few and far between this day. This is an adult Black-bellied Plover.


Western Gulls


California Gulls


The rocks of the jetty are home to many Ochre Sea Stars.


Brown Pelicans are constantly being harassed by other birds, especially Heerman’s Gulls, which make their living stealing fish from the pelicans. In this photo we see a young Western Gull, three Heerman’s Gulls, a Glaucous-winged Gull, and a Pelagic Cormorant, all hoping the Brown Pelican drops his fish. Notice the Heerman’s Gull hanging on to the pelican’s feet.


Brown Pelican with his posse.


The woods and brushy areas on Bayocean Spit are home to Wrentits. These birds tend to remain hidden in heavy cover, but their loud and unique vocalizations are heard throughout the year. This bird sat still just long enough for my point-and-shoot camera to get off one shot at 1/13th of a second.

Gull Gallery

Portland’s Westmoreland Park is a great place to find a variety of gull species during winter. Seven species and one hybrid are regular, and there is always the possibility of something more unusual showing up.

california
California Gull:  medium-gray mantle, long dark wingtips that extend well beyond the tail, long straight bill with both red and black gonydeal spots, yellowish legs and feet with blue-gray cast.

ring-billed
Ring-billed Gull:  smaller size, neat black ring around bill, long dark wingtips, yellow legs and feet.
ring-billed-tucked
Here’s the Ring-billed Gull at rest. Note the fine streaking on the head and the red orbital ring.

mew-gull
Mew Gull: petite yellow bill, round head, long wing extension. These small gulls will mix with the Ring-billed flock, but generally don’t mix with the larger gulls.

glaucous-winged
Glaucous-winged Gull:  Note the lack of contrast on this bird. The short wingtips are the same color as the mantle. The head and upper breast are covered with an even blurry mottling. The only parts that don’t blend in are the pink legs and feet.

western
Western Gull:  large size, dark gray mantle, short black wingtips, never any marks on the head – even in winter. This species is much more common on the coast, but a few make it in to the Willamette Valley in winter.

olympic-gull
Western Gull X Glaucous-winged Gull hybrid (Olympic Gull):  an even blending of characteristics of both parent species. The mantle is darker than a pure GW, but Westerns never show this much mottling on the head and neck.  The wingtips are dark, but not actually black. You can tell this is a third cycle individual by the tiny bit of black on the tail and by the odd pattern on the bill. These hybrids show a great deal of variation, and are often the most numerous gulls in the area.

herring
Herring Gull:  sloping forehead, pale eye, bill not too thick, black wingtips that extend beyond the tail.

thayers
Thayer’s Gull:  rounded forehead, thin bill, dark eye (usually, not always),  long black wingtips with much more white on the underside.

Parking Lots

They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot.  – Joni MItchell

One of the more common abominations of our society is the parking lot, that large expanse of asphalt or gravel that raises local temperatures, eliminates vegetation, and changes the local hydrology. It is a symptom of our car culture, and will probably be with us for the foreseeable future.

But if you are one of those folks who are “always birding,” then you will occasionally find interesting birds even in the asphalt prairies of your local shopping centers. Not that I recommend parking lots as birding destinations, but if you keep your eyes and ears open, there are birds to be found in the skies, on the asphalt, and in the isolated shrubbery of the parking lot.


A gorgeous species with subtle purple and green irredescense, Brewer’s Blackbirds are frequently encountered in parking lots.


Parking lots are often the best spots to study gulls. The birds here are used to people and can often be closely approached. This is a first-cycle Herring Gull.


Adult California Gull

Not all parking lot birds are blackbirds and gulls. I have seen Peregrine Falcons, Black Swifts, Anna’s Hummingbirds, White-crowned Sparrows, Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches, Snow Geese, and Cooper’s Hawks, to name a few. Keep alert, and the occasional avian treasure will appear even in the desolation of the parking lot.