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.
I had three species of chickadees attending my feeder recently. The Black-capped Chickadees are year-round residents and visit every day.
The star attraction on this day was a Mountain Chickadee. While common along the crest of the Cascades and points east, they are a rare treat in the Willamette Valley. This bird is the seventh record for Washington County.
I believe the Pacific Northwest is the only place where you might find three species of chickadees in one flock. Range maps indicate that in southeastern Alaska, you might be able to find four species in the same area. That sounds like a worthy birding challenge.
I haven’t been out much lately, a situation I hope to remedy this week. In the meantime, here are a few images from around home.
We have had no measurable rain in the past month or so, so the birdbath has been a little more popular than usual.
It is unusual for me to see Chestnut-backs at my house during summer, as we don’t have the larger conifers that they prefer for nesting. This bird might just be a product of post-breeding dispersal, or might be ranging farther to find water.
I noticed an Anna’s Hummingbird checking out the cedar tree near the bird feeder. A closer look revealed this brown lump near the trunk.
A pair of Chestnut-backed Chickadees has been lingering in the yard this week. They will soon leave for the summer, as this species prefers large conifers and higher elevation, unlike the more suburban Black-capped Chickadees.
While the Chestnut-backs readily take sunflower seeds from the feeder, these birds were especially fond of a vegan suet block, currently in development by Nepo Suet Company . It is made from coconut oil. While not available yet, it promises to be a great alternative for those of us who don’t buy animal products.
The grounds around Pittock Mansion in northwest Portland are a favorite spot for spring migrants. Most people visit this park to tour the ostentatious limestone house, but birders prefer the brushy hillsides and the woods around the parking lot.
Since we are still locked into a cold, damp weather pattern, most of the spring migrants have not yet arrived, but good numbers of winter residents were flocking and ready to move out.
I spent a day exploring part of Mt. Hood National Forest along Forest Service Road 58 (Birding Oregon p. 75). A hot day in July is not the best time to find lots of birds, since singing has greatly diminished and there is so much great habitat for birds to hide in, but the scenery and solitude are well worth the trip.
This area of the forest is a patchwork of clearcuts, young forest, and groves of mature trees. While not nearly so scenic, clearcuts are often very productive for certain species of birds and other wildlife.
The chickadees are starting to excavate their nest cavities. This Chestnut-backed Chickadee was working on a dead snag right along the trail at Nestucca Bay NWR. Even though the birds choose soft dead wood on which to work, it seems a herculean task for a bird with such a diminutive bill to excavate a cavity large enough for nesting.
She can fit about half her body into the cavity so far. It takes about seven days to complete a nest.
Here she spits out a mouthful of wood chips. Larger chips are carried away from the nest site before being dropped. A big pile of wood chips at the base of the nest tree would alert predators to the location of the nest.
I did a little birding in Portland’s Forest Park yesterday. I live on an ash swale, so it is nice to get out into an actual coniferous forest, the type of habitat that the Pacific Northwest is known for. Among the many Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets were a pair of Varied Thrushes, several Winter Wrens, a Brown Creeper, and a flock of Chestnut-backed Chickadees. My camera is a simple point-and-shoot, hardly suitable for small, fast-moving targets. But I like the way this photo turned out. The bird’s face is in focus (close anyway) while the rest of the bird is a blur of activity. A very fitting portrait of this frenetic species.