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).
The 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.
I 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.
Great 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.
Westmoreland Park, in southeast Portland, is always worth a quick visit in winter.
Westmoreland 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.
Western Canada Goose bathing
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.
Of course, every visit to Westmoreland requires a quick scan of the gull flock.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ring-billed Gull: smaller size, neat black ring around bill, long dark wingtips, yellow legs and feet.
Here’s the Ring-billed Gull at rest. Note the fine streaking on the head and the red orbital ring.
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 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.
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.
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.