I took a quick tour of Fernhill Wetlands this week. Great changes are planned for this site. The main lake will be made smaller, and the other two impoundments will be replaced with emergent wetlands. I am looking forward seeing how things progress. Here are some birds and other critters from the trip.
Many Yellow-rumped Warblers were passing through, mostly the Myrtle race, with only one Audubon’s.
Flocks of Taverner’s Cackling Geese were feeding in the fields north of the main lake.
baby Garter Snake. I’m not sure if this is a Common or Northwestern Garter.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Muskrat climbing a tree before. This one was gnawing off a branch to get to the leaves.
Tree Swallows are swarming around Fernhill Wetlands, no doubt encouraged by the many nesting boxes that have been installed at the site.
Northern Shovelers were the most common duck species on the lake.
Several schools of Common Carp were active at the surface. I don’t know if they were feeding on aquatic insects or involved in spawning.
Marsh Wrens are starting to sing.
A few Red-winged Blackbirds were displaying. There aren’t very many Red-wings at Fernhill since most of the cattails died off several years ago.
I led a tour of Fernhill Wetlands for the Birds and Brew Festival. Since there were about 50 people in the group, including many who didn’t have optics, we concentrated on the “charismatic mega-fauna,” like these American White Pelicans.
A Great Egret and a Great Blue Heron were looking all artsy with their reflections.
This distant American Kestrel was showing off his colors.
After the group dispersed, I took another lap around the lake so I could check out the smaller birds. Along with five species of sparrow, there were lots of Yellow-rumped Warblers moving around.
Fernhill Wetlands, south of Forest Grove, is a great place to see the onset of autumn. Water levels on the main lake are still very low, but the recent rains will soon change that.
Migrant shorebirds, like these Western Sandpipers, are enjoying the mudflats. Shorebird numbers are starting to thin out.
This Pectoral Sandpiper was checking out the new vegetation on the lake bed.
The first Cackling Geese have arrived. They will soon be joined by a few thousand more.
This Common Merganser was resting on an exposed mud bar. I don’t get to see mergansers out of the water very often.
American White Pelicans, once considered rare in the Willamette Valley, are now an expected species in late summer.
Eurasian Collared-Doves are another species that are increasingly common in the area.
The annual Fernhill Wetlands Birds and Brew Festival will be held on October 12. I will be leading the 8:00 tour for that. Here is a link for more info.
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.
Exciting changes continue at Fernhill Wetlands (Birding Oregon p. 61). This photo is from the drying lake bed of Fernhill Lake. Low water levels this summer have created some great shorebird habitat. Notice the clump of cottonwood trees that have sprung up already. The construction (note the equipment in the background) will create rocky waterfalls that will cool and aerate the water that flows into the lake. I will be leading a free tour of the site on Saturday, October 6, at 10:00 AM as part of the Birds and Beer at Fernhill Wetlands event. Click on the Classes page for more details.
In addition to creating shorebird flats this summer, the low water levels are also helping to purge the lake of carp, which compete with birds for aquatic prey and muddy the waters with their feeding habits.
Greater Yellowlegs, sinking into the soft mud
In the Mitigation Marsh, two Wilson’s Snipe were feeding out in the open, which is rather uncharacteristic of this species.
On this visit, a flock of Lesser Goldfinches was working the weedy patches. It is always a treat to get close looks at these birds.
The coming weeks should see increases in sparrows, shorebirds, waterfowl and raptors.
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
I visited several sites in Washington County to check for migrant shorebirds, inspired by the recent appearance of a Spotted Redshank at Fern Ridge Reservoir (Birding Oregon p 89) . I didn’t find anything so rare, but a few birds are moving through and there is promising mudflat habitat available.
A lot of work is being done at Fernhill Wetlands (Birding Oregon p. 61), resulting in the closure of a small section of the trail around Fernhill Lake.
The big news at Fernhill is the low water level of Fernhill Lake, creating mudflats along the shore for the first time in many years. Several species of shorebirds were feeding there today.
Water levels in Mitigation Marsh are quite high, so there wasn’t much mud. These Long-billed Dowitchers were hanging out with a Mallard.
This Great Blue Heron caught a Bullhead (I can’t tell if it is a Yellow or Black Bullhead). He caught the fish near the middle of the lake, then flew to the shore to eat it.
There was some mudflat habitat at Jackson Bottom Wetland (Birding Oregon p. 60), but not a lot of shorebirds yet. The Hardhack is in bloom, adding a splash of color to the marsh.
One of these days I may have to break down and buy a field guide to dragonflies. Or maybe I will just learn to appreciate beautiful creatures without putting a name to them.
Tree Swallows are thick at Jackson Bottom. Notice the dusky wash across the upper breast. Young Tree Swallows can show extensive dark coloring here, leading some birders to confuse them with Bank Swallows.
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 walked around Fernhill Wetlands (Birding Oregon, p. 61) in the mid afternoon. Most of the waterfowl that roost here on winter evenings were still off feeding in the area fields, but there is always something to see.
A flock of Brewer’s Blackbirds were hanging out in a tree by the parking lot.
This American Kestrel was in the same tree as the blackbirds, but the two didn’t seem to pay any attention to each other.
A pair of Bald Eagles is usually visible in the grove of large cottonwoods on the southeast corner of the property.
The eagles have started a new nest this year.
This observation platform was destroyed by arsonists. Fernhill Wetlands is not a park, but is owned by the area waste water department. As a result, there are few resources for facilities or habitat management.
Tundra Swans were flying in to roost. They tend to stay in the more distant parts of Mitigation Marsh.
Great Blue Herons are nesting in the trees to the east of the wetlands. This individual was resting on a snag in Cattail Marsh.
The deeper water of Fernhill Lake attracts divers like this Horned Grebe.