While I recognize the serious nature of the current drought, it is hard to be unhappy about sunshine in January. So after many weeks of not birding, I finally got out and spent a day on the coast. On the path around the Cannon Beach wastewater ponds, I came across a flock of Greater White-fronted Geese.
This Eurasian Wigeon was hanging out with the Mallards at the wastewater treatment plant.
In the surf around Haystack Rock, there were lots of Surf Scoters and Black Scoters, but they kept out of camera range. This is a Harlequin Duck. No, really.
The mouth of Ecola Creek, at the north end of Cannon Beach, is a favorite hangout of the local gulls. I found Western, Glaucous-winged, California, Mew, Herring, and Thayer’s. Unfortunately, photographing white birds in bright sunshine against a dark background is beyond my rudimentary skills. Most of my shots consisted of glowing white blobs surrounded by lovely blue water. This shot of a third-cycle Thayer’s Gull bathing in the creek is at least recognizable.
This Red-shouldered Hawk was at Mill Ponds Park in nearby Seaside.
The same bird in the middle of a roust
I couldn’t get a flight shot of the Red-shouldered in focus, but this at least shows this species’ beautiful pattern.
As spring approaches, the numbers and diversity at Portland’s Westmoreland Park are starting to wain. The winter gull flock is down to Glaucous-winged X Western hybrids and two Herring Gulls. While there is no shortage of white-cheeked geese, there were very few other species of waterfowl on this visit.
The highlight of this trip was a pair of Hooded Mergansers squabbling over a large crayfish. The female finally won possession and, with a great deal of effort, swallowed the crustacean.
There must be some powerful muscles in that little neck.
Two Eurasian Wigeons, both females, remain with the local American Wigeon flock. Here is one of the Eurasians next to a male American.
Here is a close-up of the Eurasian Wigeon. Note the warm brown color and the lack of a black outline around the base of the bill.
Taverner’s Cackling Goose, with a partial white neck ring. It will be just a few weeks before these birds head back north, and we will have to console ourselves with warblers and flycatchers.
Westmoreland Park, in southeast Portland, is always worth a quick visit in winter.
This Canvasback has a mud on her face from rooting around in the bottom of the pond.
At least two female Eurasian Wigeons have been spending the winter at Westmoreland. No males have been reported yet this year.
This park is one of best gull sites in Portland, although by this time the gull flock is starting to thin out. This is a sleepy Herring Gull.
Westmoreland is also a good spot for studying the various subspecies of the white-cheeked goose complex. This is a Taverner’s Cackling Goose, identified by her medium bill (covered in down for some reason), blocky head, and pale breast.
Ridgeway’s Cacking Goose (stubby bill, round head, dark breast)
Western Canada Geese have long snakey necks, long bills, and pale breasts. While common in Cackling Geese, it is unusual to see such a distinct white neck ring on a Western Canada.
Western Canada Goose bathing
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.
It’s always nice when similar species pose side by side for direct comparison. These two wigeons, Eurasian on the left, American on the right, were engaged in some synchronized grazing. The female Eurasian Wigeon is a warm brown color, compared to the colder gray/brown tones of the American.
Male wigeons are easier. The Eurasian has a rusty head with just a hint of green behind the eye, and a clear demarcation between the pinkish breast and the gray vermiculated sides.
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 combed the wigeon flocks at Portland’s Westmoreland Park and found examples of both species.
The bird in front is a male Eurasian Wigeon; the two in back are male American Wigeons. On the Eurasian, note the rusty head with the blond crown and the clear demarcation between the rose breast and gray sides.
another shot of the male Eurasian
The female Eurasian Wigeon has a warm brown head that blends in with the breast. The markings on the head are diminshed in the throat area.
Here’s the female Eurasian Wigeon with the male in the background.
On a female American Wigeon, the gray head contrasts with the brown breast. The head markings remain bold in the throat area.
On some male American Wigeons, the cream color of the crown extends over much of the face.
The bird in back is a typical male American Wigeon. The bird in front is a hybrid American X Eurasian Wigeon. The hybrid shows the rusty head coloring of a Eurasian with the green eye-stripe of an American. The bird’s sides show both rose and gray.
The same hybrid, showing an even blending of characteristics from both species.
With the onset of cooler temperatures and short days, a birder’s attentions are drawn to the avian stars of the Willamette Valley in winter, waterfowl and gulls. Yes, there are sparrows about, and the American Goldfinches are emptying my feeders on a daily basis. But I really enjoy the cacophony of a few thousand Cackling Geese and the challenging genetic soup that makes up the gulls of the West Coast.
American and Eurasian Wigeons