I did the Tillamook Death March this week, walking the six miles around Bayocean Spit (Birding Oregon p. 128). After two weeks of warm sunny weather, we have returned to a more normal gloomy, rainy pattern, so I only took out the camera for this Red-necked Grebe in nice breeding attire. There is currently an interesting mix of winter, migrant, and breeding species around. Tillamook Bay still held Common and Pacific Loons along with this grebe. All should be moving north very soon.
Things are hopping at Fernhill Wetlands, with rising water levels, an influx of several thousand geese and other waterfowl, and a few other goodies.
A small flock of Greater White-fronted Geese were hanging out with the Mallards in Dabblers Marsh.
The resident Bald Eagles were sitting around looking majestic. I watched one carrying a stick to add to their nest.
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.
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.
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.
In preparation for my shorebirds class for Portland Audubon, I have made several trips to Fernhill Wetlands (Birding Oregon p. 61) in recent weeks. As expected in the Willamette Valley in late summer, species diversity is fairly low, but there is always something to see.
The shorebird class found at least six Stilt Sandpipers on their field trip. This species is a rare migrant in Oregon. I had only seen one individual in Oregon prior to this trip, also at Fernhill.
Two Stilt Sandpipers
Late summer is the ugly duck season, with most birds in their summer alternate, or “eclipse” plumage. I think I know what this little duck is, but I would be interested in your opinions. Leave a comment.
This is a school of young bullheads, I assume Black Bullheads. The young school together while the adult male stays close by to protect them. There were many broods of these little fish in Cattail Marsh.
My shorebird class had its field trip last Saturday. One of the more unusual sightings of the day was this Lesser Yellowlegs perching beside a Rock Pigeon on a metal roof.
Another quick trip to Fernhill Wetlands this afternoon produced a couple of species that were not present a few days ago.
A Long-billed Dowitcher (left) and a Pectoral Sandpiper. Both birds are in juvenal plumage, indicated by the pale edges on the scapulars and wing coverts which create a scaly pattern. The Pectoral has a clump of mud on the base of his bill.
Another view of the Pectoral Sandpiper with two Long-billed Dowitchers. The crouching posture suggests that the bird is on alert and ready to flush. That is a good clue for the birder to back off.
Greater Yellowlegs on the left, Lesser Yellowlegs on the right
The big news in Oregon birding this week is the Wood Sandpiper found at Fern Ridge Reservoir west of Eugene (Birding Oregon p. 90). This is the first record for Oregon, and one of only a few records for North America south of Alaska. Of regional interest was a Buff-breasted Sandpiper at Tualatin River NWR, just west of Tigard. I wasn’t able to chase either of these birds, so I had to settle for a few more common species at Fernhill Wetlands (Birding Oregon p. 61).
While we can’t see the bill on this individual, the bold stripes and orange tail identify this bird as a Wilson’s Snipe.
Here is a Greater Yellowlegs. The bill is more than half the total length of the head. On a Lesser Yellowlegs, the bill is about half the total head length, and the bird is considerably smaller overall.