Washington County Wetlands

fernhill lake
There are big changes underway at Fernhill Wetlands. The main lake has been drained, and the two impoundments to the south are completely gone. This is all to make way for large emergent wetlands that will replace the ponds. This should greatly increase the bird diversity at the site when work is completed.
fernhill
There weren’t any shorebirds on these newly exposed flats, but I would imagine this area would be pretty appealing to a passing plover or Baird’s Sandpiper.

american goldfinchThis American Goldfinch was enjoying the water.

lesser goldfinch right lesser goldfinchLesser Goldfinch

eurasian collared doveEurasian Collared Dove

tree swallowsAt Jackson Bottom, swallows were everywhere, with young birds out of the nest and waiting around for parents to feed them. Tree and Barn were the two species I noticed.

tree swallow female tree swallow maleTree Swallows

baby barn swallow barn swallowsBaby Barn Swallows

cedar waxwingCedar Waxwing

savannah sparrowSavannah Sparrow

red-winged blackbirdRed-winged Blackbird

least sandpiperThere were lots of Least Sandpipers about. These are birds that either didn’t make it all the way to the Arctic, or had failed nesting attempts and headed back south. Shorebird migration will really pick up in about two weeks.

wilson's phalaropeThis male Wilson’s Phalarope was reported with three downy chicks earlier in the week, but I did not see any young when I was there. Hopefully the little ones were off hiding somewhere.

Youngsters

Two species have brought fledglings around recently. Both were visiting bird feeders, but for different reasons.

lesserThis Lesser Goldfinch was eating the dead needles from a cedar tree near the feeder. The fluffy “horns” and general clumsiness reveal the bird as a youngster.

cooper's hawk A Cooper’s Hawk with two young visited my neighbor’s feeder the other evening. Low light conditions only allowed this photo of one of the babies. They were constantly screaming and crashing through the branches, so I don’t think their hunting trip was successful.

Early Spring

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.

varied thrush frontOn 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.
varied thrush profile

pine siskin sidePine Siskin at the nyjer feeder

pine siskin frontFor some reason, songbirds just look weird when viewed from the front.

lesser goldfinch backLesser Goldfinch

american goldfinchThe male American Goldfinches are starting to get their summer color.
american goldfinch clinging

golden-crowned 2Golden-crowned Sparrow, Vanport Wetlands

beaver chewThis 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 garterNorthwestern 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.

Winter in the Wetlands

We are in that late winter season when birding seems to slow. I don’t know whether there are actually fewer birds around this time of year or we have just already seen the local winter residents so they don’t hold our attention. In any case, the best birding is usually found in and around wetlands. Here are some recent shots from area wetlands from the past couple of weeks.

great blue heron 1Great Blue Herons are always around, and have started hanging out in their nesting colonies.

dusky canada stretchingThis Dusky Canada Goose was enjoying the sunshine at Ankeny NWR.

dusky canada feeding

coyoteCoyote, Vanport Wetlands

coyote ankenyAnother Coyote, at Ankeny NWR

nutriaThis Nutia at Fernhill Wetlands seemed unconcerned with the group of birders walking by.

red-winged blackbird and lesser goldfinchHere is a Red-winged Blackbird sharing a nyjer feeder with a Lesser Goldfinch at Jackson Bottom. I don’t recall seeing blackbirds eating nyjer before.

spotted towheeSpotted Towhee, Jackson Bottom

In the Bleak Midwinter

In honor of the winter solstice, in a month that brought Portland 7″ of rain, here are a few dark grainy images from recent weeks.

orange-crowned warblerOrange-crowned Warbler

anna's hummingbirdAnna’s Hummingbird

dark-eyed juncoDark-eyed Junco

american and lesser goldfinchHere is a nice comparison of American (foreground) and Lesser Goldfinches. Notice that the American Goldfinch has white undertail coverts, while the Lesser has yellow.

american goldfinchHere is a very dull American Goldfinch (probable first-year female) in front of a Lesser (probable first-year male).

chestnut-backed chickadeeChestnut-backed Chickadee, looking ever perky

Feeder Birds

The universe has conspired to keep me out of the field for far too long. My one link to sanity, if you can actually call birding sanity, is the activity at the bird feeders.

The Portland area has seen a massive invasion of Pine Siskins in recent weeks. Numbers at my feeders have tapered off in the past week, but the nyjer feeder is still popular. This photo shows six Pine Siskins, a colorful male Lesser Goldfinch, and an American Goldfinch peeking around from the back.

The color on the Lesser Goldfinch seems especially intense at this time of year, when the other finches are so dull.

I never tire of Chestnut-backed Chickadees.

This little guy has been the avian star of our property for the past month. There seems to be an irruption of Mountain Chickadees in western Oregon this year, with many reports from the Portland area, and some from as far as the coast. Even when he is turned away, he stands out from the common Black-capped Chickadees by his gray back and the narrower band of black on the nape.

The white stripe above the eye is the characteristic field mark for this species. Most reports of Mountain Chickadees in the area have been of birds with thick white eyebrows and white lores, which suggests birds from the eastern half of Oregon and into the Rockies. This bird has a narrow white brow and black lores, suggesting a bird from the nearby Cascades. While it is tempting to assign birds to subspecies (especially since Mountain Chickadee might be split into two species in the future), David Sibley warns against trying to make such distinctions, as there is a lot of overlap of characteristics between subspecies. His essay on this topic can be seen here.

Changes Continue at Fernhill Wetlands

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.

Feeding Frenzy

For the past few weeks I have been enjoying a large flock of Pine Siskins at my feeder. But as often occurs during years of high siskin numbers, I started noticing a few sick birds. So I stopped feeding for a few days. With the feeder empty, the large flocks of birds dispersed, reducing the risk of disease spreading from bird to bird.

Packing birds into unnaturally high densities at a bird feeder can create risks for the birds we are trying to help. While many of us enjoy feeding birds and other wildlife, it is important to do so mindfully. We have to be aware that feeding birds is something we do for our own entertainment, not something that the birds actually need. My feeder is outside my window for the sole purpose of drawing birds in close so that I can enjoy watching them from the comfort of my home. If the feeder wasn’t there, the birds would do just fine. It is my responsibility to be aware of how my bird feeding impacts the birds.

It was reported recently that Scotts Miracle-Gro was selling bird food treated with pesticides known to be harmful to birds (see story here). A few years ago, it was revealed that sunflower farmers in the Dakotas have taken such measures as destroying cattail marshes and poisoning and/or shooting birds to reduce the impact of blackbirds feeding in their fields. These stories illustrate how the seemingly innocuous hobby of feeding birds can have broader implications. We need to know where the food comes from and what is in it.

My feeder is filled again and, with the large flock of siskins gone, other species are becoming more visible.


Lesser Goldfinches, our smallest finch, are coming more frequently now that things have quieted down.


Two Purple Finches have appeared this week.


A few Pine Siskins stayed behind when the main flock left. A Purple Finch towers in the background.

Eat Your Greens


A pair of Lesser Goldfinches (female above) has been visiting the garden lately to feed on rainbow chard. Goldfinches eat a lot of foliage, in addition to seeds and buds.  This vegetarian diet makes goldfinches poor hosts to cowbirds, whose young require plenty of insect protein to grow and thrive.


male Lesser Goldfinch

Random Songbirds

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.


Golden-crowned Sparrow


Brown Creeper, Ankeny NWR


Song Sparrow, Ankeny NWR


American Pipit, along the Columbia River in Portland