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.
Wintering waterfowl are returning to Fernhill Wetlands (Birding Oregon p. 61). Cackling Geese started arriving this week, and will soon be joined by a few thousand more.
a former waterfowl
Most shorebirds have moved on by now. This Lesser Yellowlegs was feeding by himself.
The Lesser Yellowlegs was eventually joined by a small flock of Long-billed Dowitchers.
One of the paths at Fernhill has recently been extended around the back side of Dabblers Marsh. This brushy area hosted a large flock of Bushtits (a female above), along with Mourning Doves, Northern Flickers, Black-capped Chickadees, and my first-of-season Golden-crowned Sparrow.
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.
Tundra Swans and California Gull
Taverner’s Cackling Goose and Northern Shovelers
Cackling Geese and Northern Pintails
Snow Goose and Cackling Geese
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.
Here are a few images from Fernhill Wetlands (Birding Oregon p. 61) on July 30, 2010. Songbirds push the limits of a point-and-shoot camera, but occasionally a bird will be close enough and stationary enough to allow a decent portrait.
Cedar Waxwings were flycatching from the brushy edges of the ponds.
This Song Sparrow was going through an extensive molt. He lacked most of his tail, and his body plumage is very disheveled.
Brown-headed Cowbird. The scaly pattern on the scapulars and wing coverts identifies this bird as a juvenile.