I took my Little Brown Birds class to Sauvie Island. The sparrow flock along Rentenaar Road is thinning out, but all the expected species are still there. For the third year in a row, the star of the day was a Harris’s Sparrow. There is a White-throated and a Golden-crowned Sparrow in the background.
Harris’s Sparrow with Golden-crowned Sparrows
A sparrow mix of White-crowned, Golden-crowned, and Song Sparrow, along with a Red-winged Blackbird
Red-winged Blackbird, surrounded by Golden-crowned Sparrows and a White-crowned in the background
One of four White-throated Sparrows that came to our seed slick
This is that long awkward time of year between winter and spring. The big winter flocks have broken up, but the spring migrants haven’t returned yet. As I have said before, there is always something to see, but we have to find simple pleasures until the full decadence of spring migration commences in a month or so.
On a recent sunny day, this Varied Thrush perched outside the living room window. I don’t often see this species in sunlight. They are usually muted by the gloom of a rainy day or the shadows of the forest.
Pine Siskin at the nyjer feeder
For some reason, songbirds just look weird when viewed from the front.
The male American Goldfinches are starting to get their summer color.
Golden-crowned Sparrow, Vanport Wetlands
This fairly large tree has been felled by Beavers at Smith and Bybee Wetlands. None of the branches appear to have been eaten, so I don’t know why the Beavers felled it, perhaps because it was there.
Northwestern Garter Snake, Tualatin Hills Nature Park. I am making the identification based on the small head, although I am not completely comfortable differentiating Northwestern Garter from Common Garter.
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.
Golden-crowned Sparrows are the most common sparrows along this stretch of road.
Lincoln’s Sparrow, one of my favorites and one of the hardest to photograph
Spotted Towhee with two Golden-crowned Sparrows
The rarest bird of the day was this Harris’s Sparrow. This is the third winter in a row that a Harris’s (perhaps the same bird) has been wintering at this location.
Harris’s Sparrow with Golden-crowns
Harris’s with White-crowned
and finally, the Harris’s with a tan-morph White-throated Sparrow in the background. It’s nice that this visitor from the Great Plains gets along with everyone.
While certainly not a sparrow, this American Robin was just begging to be photographed, so here you go.
Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge, located just a few miles southwest of Portland on Hwy 99W, is a wonderful refuge for wintering waterfowl, despite its location in such an urban area.
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.
Northern Pintails and a Ruddy Duck
several Double-crested Cormorants perched on a log
a congregation of Northern Pintails, Mallards, and Ring-necked Ducks
The star of the refuge in recent weeks has been a lone Emperor Goose. He is the pale gray blob with the white neck tucked under his wings, right in the center of the photo. No, really.
This Dark-eyed Junco was a little more photogenic than the goose was.
Given the amount of brown on the crown and hind neck of this Dark-eyed Junco, I’m guessing she is a first-year female.
Golden-crowned Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco
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.
Lincoln’s Sparrows are among the most beautiful sparrows in North America, but are also rather shy, so they tend to stay out of range of point-and-shoot photography.
Lincoln’s Sparrow, with a Song Sparrow in the background
Fox Sparrows tend to lurk in the thicker cover.
He finally emerged for some millet.
White-crowned Sparrow, first winter
White-throated Sparrow, with a Golden-crowned in the background
Here are a few shots of random songbirds seen on recent outings.
Lesser Goldfinch at the feeder. The Lessers arrive early in the morning before the American Goldfinches take over.
Brown Creeper, Ankeny NWR
Song Sparrow, Ankeny NWR
American Pipit, along the Columbia River in Portland
Autumn brings an influx of sparrows to the Willamette Valley. Like many groups of birds, the sparrows aren’t that hard to identify, they are just hard to get a good look at.
White-crowned Sparrow, hiding behind a twig
Golden-crowned Sparrow, also hiding behind a twig
Fox Sparrow, being unusually cooperative
I’ve recently made two trips to Grays Harbor in Washington, once to scout and the other to lead my shorebird class. This estuary is a major staging area for migrating shorebirds in spring.
Marbled Godwit, Dunlin, and Short-billed Dowitcher feeding at Damon Point, near the mouth of the harbor
Don’t neglect to look at all the little brown ducks! This is a King Eider, a rare visitor from Alaska. It is distinguished from Common Eider by the slender bill and the scalloped markings on the sides.
Bowerman Basin is an inlet on the north shore of the harbor. It is the last area to fill during high tides, so shorebirds often congregate here. This is a view from the boardwalk.
Peregrine Falcons are attracted by the large numbers of shorebirds in the harbor.
This is a view of the boardwalk on a Thursday morning.
This is the boardwalk on a Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately, birders outnumbered birds by about five to one on this afternoon.
Greater White-fronted Geese
Marsh Wrens are common along the marshy edges of Bowerman Basin.
The willow thickets and woods along the boardwalk attract migrants like this Golden-crowned Sparrow.
I enjoyed a quiet walk around the main lake at Fernhill Wetlands (Birding Oregon p. 61). By mid-morning, most of the geese that roost at this site are off feeding elsewhere.
Double-crested Cormorants are commonly seen perched on dead trees and utility poles when they are not fishing. The light breast, neck, and head identify this individual as a young bird. The orange gular pouch is diagnostic in differentiating this species from the other two cormorants found along the Oregon coast.
Several Tundra Swans were lounging in the marsh, always a delight to see. To get an idea of the size of these birds, compare the Cackling Geese and Mallard at the far right of the photo.
Golden-crowned Sparrows are common in the brushy areas. I was pleased that Nala, the Birding Dog, sat still long enough for me to capture this image.
While scouting for my little brown birds class I found these three posing on a fence rail. I had just filled the feeder at the Oak Island unit of Sauvie Island Wildlife Area, and the birds were appearing out of the cold fog to take advantage of the free food. From left to right are a Spotted Towhee, a Golden-crowned Sparrow (winter plumage), and another Golden-crowned (closer to breeding plumage). The foggy conditions made photographing birds (or even seeing them for that matter) very difficult. I had to boost the contrast of this photo to bring the birds out of the haze.