Rentenaar Road, on Sauvie Island, is one of the better sparrow patches in the Portland area. I found ten species this morning, about typical for this time of year. This boldly patterned White-throated Sparrow was one of the prettier ones.
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.
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 finally had a few hours to get out birding, and had planned to visit some of the Washington County wetlands. But a Brambling visiting a feeder in Woodburn presented me with a dilemma. Should I spend my birding time standing around in someone’s back yard hoping to see a particular bird, or should I explore large areas of habitat and find birds on my own?
The Brambling, an uncommon visitor from Asia, was only a 30 minute drive from home, well within my “chase radius.” (I will drive up to an hour and a half to chase a rarity, although it had better be a darned good bird if it is over an hour away.) The species would be a lifer for me, a nice tick on my Oregon list, and this would perhaps be my only chance to see this species. Then again, if the bird didn’t show up, I would have spent my limited birding time not looking at birds. With some reluctance, I decided to go for the twitch.
When I arrived at the stake-out site, a small group of birders informed me that I had just missed the Brambling. How typical is that? So I began my wait, hoping that the bird would maintain her schedule of repeated visits to her favorite feeder. I had come this far, so I might as well stick it out.
As luck would have it, this yard was very birdy. A small flock of Evening Grosbeaks was a rare treat. Several species of finches and sparrows worked the feeders, interrupted occasionally by a hungry Cooper’s Hawk. After about an hour of waiting, three things happened; my cell phone rang, the owner of the home came out to offer me a cup of coffee, and the Brambling appeared.
So with one hand holding my phone (it was an important call), I used the other hand to hold my binocular to get a brief look at the bird, then snap a few photos, all while thanking my host for the coffee (he didn’t realize that I was on the phone, and didn’t know that I don’t drink coffee). Then the Brambling flew away.
So now what? I had gotten a brief glimpse of the Brambling, although not a very satisfying view of a lifer, and had no idea if any of my photos would be usable or not. The bird had established a pattern of visiting the yard about once an hour for less than a minute. Do I hang out for another hour (did I mention it was really cold?), or do I cut my losses and go do some real birding? I was leaning toward the latter when an acquaintance of mine arrived to look for the bird. The prospect of visiting with him, along with the general birdiness of the this yard, convinced me to stay and try for another look at the Brambling.
Notice that the Dark-eyed Junco on the left has some dark gray on the sides and a darker back than the typical Oregon race birds.
Here is the same bird from the back. The brownish cast on the bird’s back is not right for a pure Slate-colored Junco, so I think this bird is an intergrade Slate-colored/Oregon.
So I had gotten my lifer, adding my twitch to the checklist, but I had also gotten some actual birding in, as well. I had seen about 20 species in that little yard, and had a nice visit with some other birders. While I really enjoy getting out and finding large numbers of species, there is often birding to be had in confined situations such as this. I will still struggle with the choice of birding or twitching, but hopefully I will allow myself to find the joy in either.
The dikes around the wetland areas are closed to public access in the winter to prevent disturbance to the birds. But the trail leading through the wooded habitat beyond the wetland is open year round.
I spent the morning in Scappoose, OR, this morning looking for a Brambling that was seen about a week ago. I didn’t have any luck with the Brambling, but it was great fun watching the variety of sparrows that were feeding in the area. Winter brings great flocks of sparrows to the Portland area. I saw the eight species pictured below, all within a few minutes, while sitting at the edge of the trail.
Between Portland’s worst snow storm in forty years and working more hours for the holiday season, I have not ventured out birding lately. I am ever grateful for those birds that come to the feeder and provide me with a birding fix. The most common visitors are Dark-eyed Juncos.
Here is an adult female Dark-eyed Junco. Note the bit of brown on the crown and nape and how the hood is not an intense gray.
This male shows a solid dark gray hood (the light flecks on the crown are water droplets).
This American Goldfinch is already showing flecks of yellow.
Here are a few species that have been coming to the feeder lately. The sun is so low in the sky this time of year that photographing birds at the feeder is especially challenging, given the slow shutter speeds, diffused light, and dirty windows.
Always a treat, the Northern Flicker seems enormous when compared to the finches that usually visit the feeder.
American Goldfinch, with a House Finch behind
Dark-eyed Juncos nest a block away from my house, but they only visit my feeder in the winter.
Native to eastern North America, Eastern Gray Squirrels have been introduced to cities on the west coast. They are quite attractive in their winter pelage, with their white ears, white halo around their tails, and the faint olive green streak down their backs. I find the concept of green fur rather intriguing.