Broughton Beach

Broughton Beach is the stretch of shoreline along the Columbia River, just north of the Portland airport. It has been a popular spot to access the river to scan for waterfowl in winter, and the shore attracts some neat birds, like Horned Larks, American Pipits, and the occasional Short-eared Owl. There used to be free parking there, but that was eliminated when the adjacent public boat launch was expanded to include a nice new car parking lot (with a fee station).

horned grebeThere weren’t many birds on the water during my recent visit. Here is a distant Horned Grebe.

gull flockA mixed flock of gulls was loafing on a sand spit. There are at least four species in this photo, lots of California, a Mew, a Herring, and a few Ring-billed.

peregrine 1The gull flock was resting after being harassed by this guy. This Peregrine Falcon spent several minutes flying through the flock, taking half-hearted swipes at various gulls. Perhaps he was testing for any individuals that were injured or particularly slow.

Maine, June 23-29, 2013

blackburnian warbler 2I spent last week in Maine, around Bangor and the central coast. The weather went from hot and muggy to cold and rainy, which might have to contributed to the overall poor birding compared to previous visits. I did see two lifers, one on the first day (Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow) and one on the last (Great Cormorant). It is always nice to see some eastern warblers, like this Blackburnian.

eastern phoebeEastern Phoebe, Mount Desert Island

great black-backed gullsGreat Black-backed Gulls, Schoodic Point

great black-backed gullGreat Black-backed Gulls in this area are rather shy, perhaps because biologists have been “discouraging” them from hunting on the offshore tern nesting colonies. The gulls do not allow a close approach and quickly take off if you point a camera at them.

herring gullThe Herring Gulls are happy to pose for mug shots.

great shearwaterGreat Shearwater, Gulf of Maine

great cormorant 1Great Cormorant, Schoodic Point, way out there, in the rain, but he still counts.

bullfrogAmerican Bullfrogs are an invasive species here in Oregon, so it was nice to see them in their natural range.

petit manan nwr MaineThis dragonfly species was common in wooded areas, where they blended in with the tree trunks.

petite manan nwr, METhis more colorful species was at the edge of a meadow.

spotted sandpiperSpotted Sandpiper, Petit Manan NWR

spotted and willet smallSpotted Sandpiper and Eastern Willet, Petit Manan NWR

willet 2aEastern Willet, looking a little sleepy
willet 3a

Westmoreland Park

Westmoreland Park, in southeast Portland, is always worth a quick visit in winter.

canvasbackThis Canvasback has a mud on her face from rooting around in the bottom of the pond.

canvasback scratching

lesser scaupLesser Scaup

eurasian wigeon2At least two female Eurasian Wigeons have been spending the winter at Westmoreland. No males have been reported yet this year.

herring gullThis 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.

taverner's cackling gooseWestmoreland 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 cackling goose leftRidgeway’s Cacking Goose (stubby bill, round head, dark breast)

canada goose 1Western 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 bathingWestern Canada Goose bathing

Westmoreland Park

A quick visit to Westmoreland Park in southeast Portland revealed good numbers of waterfowl and gulls typical of this little urban duck pond in the winter.

Two duck butts in the middle of the pond stood out because of their large size. They turned out to be Tundra Swans, the first I have seen at this park.

Of course, every visit to Westmoreland requires a quick scan of the gull flock.

Ring-billed Gull

Herring Gull

Thayer’s Gull

Gadwalls don’t sport a lot of color, but are lovely little ducks.

Schoodic Point, Maine

Schoodic Point is the mainland section of Acadia National Park. It is not as well known as the main portions of the park on Mt. Desert Island, but the Schoodic section is free to get into and less crowded. The wooded section offers great hiking, and the point itself is a good place to seawatch.

This Snowshoe Hare was eating a mushroom. Love those big feet!

Black Guillemots are common in the waters off the point.

Common Eiders

A Common Eider drake showing the strange bill structure.

Common Eider hens

Two Great Black-backed Gulls hanging out with Herring Gulls. Laughing Gulls are present in small numbers, too, but they tend to keep farther away from the mainland.

These irises were blooming in many areas along the rocky shore. Anyone know the species?

Ft. Stevens, 11-10-2011


I spent a warm sunny November day at Ft. Stevens (Birding Oregon p. 119). The tide and winds were both high, so the sea was too rough to find any birds on the water near the south jetty at parking lot C.


The best birds of the trip were a flock of five Snow Buntings, a species that has eluded me in Oregon until now. They appeared on the beach near the jetty, then quickly moved on.


This image shows three Snow Buntings in flight. No, really.


There were hundreds of California Sea Lions in the area, both on the jetty and in the surf.


A flock of at least 35 Semipalmated Plovers were working the wrack line. There are ten in this image. No, really.


Here’s a better view of a Semipalmated Plover.


This Palm Warbler was a nice surprise. This species is rare along the coast in autumn.


Brown Pelicans were very common. The Heerman’s Gulls that harass them during the summer have already moved south for the winter, so the pelicans can feed in relative peace.


An adult (left) and juvenile Brown Pelican


Western Gull (left) and Herring Gull. The gulls on the beach are much more wary than those that spend the winter in Portland.


Sanderlings and Mew Gulls

Other goodies that escaped the camera were a Peregrine Falcon on the beach, a Northern Shrike, and three Western Meadowlarks. It was a great day to enjoy the sun before the cold wet weather settles in to stay.

Thayer’s and Herring Gulls

Once considered to be part of the same same species, Thayer’s and Herring Gulls can appear quite similar at first glance.The pattern on the spread wing is very different between the two, but that doesn’t help you with birds at rest.


Here is a Thayer’s Gull on the left, and a Herring Gull on the right. In direct comparison, we can see that the Thayer’s has a slightly darker mantle, rounder head, dark eyes (usually), and a bill that is greenish-gray at the base and yellow at the tip.


Here is a closer look at the Thayer’s Gull. This is probably a male, given the long bill and slightly sloping forehead. Note the color pattern on the bill, typical of Thayer’s Gulls in winter.


Another Herring Gull, probably a female. This bird has a smaller bill and a slightly more rounded head than the bird in the first photo, giving this individual a more Thayer’s-like quality. Note the all-yellow bill, the pale eye, and the light gray mantle.


This Herring Gull, probably a male, has a larger bill and a more sloping forehead.


This is a first-cycle Thayer’s Gull. Note the round head and small bill. The overall color is rather pale, with fine markings.


First-cycle Herring Gulls are darker overall, with heavier markings. This is most apparent on the greater wing coverts. Note the sloping forehead and slightly larger bill.

Second cycle gulls

Here are a few gulls in their second plumage cycle (often referred to as their second year, but that is not always the case). The first two birds are four-cycle gulls. On a four-cycle gull, the second cycle looks much like the first, but the mantle feathers are coming in gray.


Western Gull, second cycle.  Note the blackish primaries and tail, the dark gray mantle, the heavy bill, and the fairly extensive mottling on the underparts.


Herring Gull, second cycle.  Note the pale iris and the slender pinkish bill with the black tip.

Three-cycle gulls skip the all-brown phase seen on young four-cycle gulls. (So a first cycle Ring-billed Gull has a gray mantle like a second cycle Herring Gull.) The second cycle on a three-cycle gull shows a gray mantle and wing coverts, but the primaries lack the white tips and mirrors seen on an adult.


Ring-billed Gull, second cycle.   Note the sloping forehead, pale eye, yellow bill with dark near the tip, fine streaking on face, and crisp scaly pattern on breast and sides.


Mew gull, second cycle.  Note round head and very thin bill.

 

Gull Gallery

Portland’s Westmoreland Park is a great place to find a variety of gull species during winter. Seven species and one hybrid are regular, and there is always the possibility of something more unusual showing up.

california
California Gull:  medium-gray mantle, long dark wingtips that extend well beyond the tail, long straight bill with both red and black gonydeal spots, yellowish legs and feet with blue-gray cast.

ring-billed
Ring-billed Gull:  smaller size, neat black ring around bill, long dark wingtips, yellow legs and feet.
ring-billed-tucked
Here’s the Ring-billed Gull at rest. Note the fine streaking on the head and the red orbital ring.

mew-gull
Mew Gull: petite yellow bill, round head, long wing extension. These small gulls will mix with the Ring-billed flock, but generally don’t mix with the larger gulls.

glaucous-winged
Glaucous-winged Gull:  Note the lack of contrast on this bird. The short wingtips are the same color as the mantle. The head and upper breast are covered with an even blurry mottling. The only parts that don’t blend in are the pink legs and feet.

western
Western Gull:  large size, dark gray mantle, short black wingtips, never any marks on the head – even in winter. This species is much more common on the coast, but a few make it in to the Willamette Valley in winter.

olympic-gull
Western Gull X Glaucous-winged Gull hybrid (Olympic Gull):  an even blending of characteristics of both parent species. The mantle is darker than a pure GW, but Westerns never show this much mottling on the head and neck.  The wingtips are dark, but not actually black. You can tell this is a third cycle individual by the tiny bit of black on the tail and by the odd pattern on the bill. These hybrids show a great deal of variation, and are often the most numerous gulls in the area.

herring
Herring Gull:  sloping forehead, pale eye, bill not too thick, black wingtips that extend beyond the tail.

thayers
Thayer’s Gull:  rounded forehead, thin bill, dark eye (usually, not always),  long black wingtips with much more white on the underside.

Parking Lots

They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot.  – Joni MItchell

One of the more common abominations of our society is the parking lot, that large expanse of asphalt or gravel that raises local temperatures, eliminates vegetation, and changes the local hydrology. It is a symptom of our car culture, and will probably be with us for the foreseeable future.

But if you are one of those folks who are “always birding,” then you will occasionally find interesting birds even in the asphalt prairies of your local shopping centers. Not that I recommend parking lots as birding destinations, but if you keep your eyes and ears open, there are birds to be found in the skies, on the asphalt, and in the isolated shrubbery of the parking lot.


A gorgeous species with subtle purple and green irredescense, Brewer’s Blackbirds are frequently encountered in parking lots.


Parking lots are often the best spots to study gulls. The birds here are used to people and can often be closely approached. This is a first-cycle Herring Gull.


Adult California Gull

Not all parking lot birds are blackbirds and gulls. I have seen Peregrine Falcons, Black Swifts, Anna’s Hummingbirds, White-crowned Sparrows, Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches, Snow Geese, and Cooper’s Hawks, to name a few. Keep alert, and the occasional avian treasure will appear even in the desolation of the parking lot.