Looking past the rather awkward name, the McNary Wildlife Nature Area is a great little spot for birding. The park, which came to my attention by hosting the recent Black-headed Gull, is located in the town of Umatilla, just downstream from McNary Dam on the Columbia River. Along with views of river, the park has several small ponds, areas of sagebrush, and riparian woods.
The park can be reached from 3rd street, on the north edge of town. From Hwy 730, west of I-82, turn north on either Switzler Avenue or Brownwell Blvd, then east on 3rd to the park. If you are east of I-82, turn north on Devore Road, then west on 3rd.
Gulls were well represented. Along with the abundant Ring-billed, and the famous Black-headed on the left, this shot shows a Mew (just right of center) and a California (right edge, gray legs). Herring and Glaucous-winged were also present.
I went out for a few hours on New Year’s Day to scout locations for my upcoming gull class. The weather was freakishly sunny for a January day in the Portland area.
The only gull flock I found was at Amberglen office park in Hillsboro. Most were Ring-billed Gulls. Here is a first cycle Ring-billed with an adult. As you can see, I am totally incapable of getting a good photo of white birds in bright sunlight.
I took Nala to the dog park next to Vanport Wetlands in hopes of seeing a bird or two between throws of the ball.
I took my shorebird class to the coast, from Cannon Beach to Hammond. While birding overall was good, the shorebirds were less than stellar in both number and diversity.
The rocks at the Hammond Boat Basin continue to be a reliable high-tide roost for Marbled Godwits and Whimbels.
Of course, you can’t go to the coast without appreciating the gulls. Here is a Heermann’s Gull in a rather unflattering stage of molt.
First cycle Ring-billed Gull
One of the more interesting sightings of the day was a pair of Red Crossbills on the shore of The Cove in Seaside. These birds are usually hard to see as they cruise the tops of large conifers. This pair was down to take salt from the rocks in the intertidal zone. (male pictured, the female eluded the camera)
For the purposes of my shorebird class, it would have been much better to find Black Turnstones, Ruddy Turnstones, Wandering Tattlers, and Surfbirds at this site, but you can’t complain too much when you get to see Crossbills on the 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).
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.
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.
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.
Ring-billed Gulls (Larus delawarensis) are common winter visitors throughout western Oregon. They prefer fresh water environments, so you find them more often at inland sites and in estuaries than you do on the beach. They breed in eastern Oregon and along the Columbia River.
This is a first cycle Ring-billed. Unlike the larger species that take four years to reach maturity, Ring-billed Gulls are a three-year gull, so first cycle birds already show gray on the mantle. Note how far the wing-tips extend beyond the tail.
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.
Schoodic Point is part of Acadia National Park in Maine. It is located on the mainland, away from the big crowds that visit the more popular Mount Desert Island. There are nice patches of boreal forest and shrubby habitat, but on a clear day the highlight of the area is the rocky shore. There is ample area to sit on a big rock and watch the seabirds fly by. On the morning I took these photos, I also enjoyed seeing Harbor Porpoises and Harbor Seals.
Common Eiders, in their rather scruffy summer molt.
Herring and Ring-billed Gulls, two species that I can find at home, but nice to see them on the “other” coast, too.
Great Black-backed Gull. These monsters are the largest gull species in North America, dwarfing the Western Gulls of the Pacific.