I led a tour on Sauvie Island this week. This is a great time of year for birding Sauvie, as the hunting season is over and there are still large flocks of waterfowl and wintering sparrows.
Rentenaar Road, on Sauvie Island, is one of the better sparrow patches in the Portland area. I found ten species this morning, about typical for this time of year. This boldly patterned White-throated Sparrow was one of the prettier ones.
After the wettest March on record, April has provided a few sunny days to help awaken us from our rain-induced torpor.
Much of the loop around Fernhill Wetlands has been blocked off, supposedly to reduce disturbance to the new Bald Eagle nest.
A pair of eagles has been hanging out in this little grove of cottonwoods for years, so I would imagine they are used to birders and joggers going by, but better safe than sorry.
Sandhill Cranes, seen here with a flock of Cackling Geese, were common in the morning. But as the day progressed, many birds circled up on thermals and then headed north. By noon, most of the cranes were gone.
Most of the sparrows seen just a week earlier had moved on. Two White-throated Sparrows were a treat. Singing Orange-crowned Warblers and five species of swallows were other good signs that migration is stepping up. I’m looking forward to the next sunny day.
I took advantage of the dry weather to scout Sauvie Island (Birding Oregon p. 55) for my Little Brown Birds field trip.
We just had our wettest March on record, so water levels are high. This is the view from the end of Rentenaar Road. The white speck on the lake is an American White Pelican. White Pelicans have become increasing common on Sauvie Island in recent summers, but sightings this early in the year are unusual.
Scouting for and leading two field trips for my Little Brown Birds class gave me opportunity to bird Rentenaar Road on Sauvie Island (Birding Oregon p. 57) three mornings in a row. It was interesting to see how the species list varied each day. It served as a reminder that every birding trip, no matter how often you cover the same spot, has the potential for something new.
This location is one of the best in the Portland area to study sparrows this time of year. Between the two field trips, my class saw ten species; Golden-crowned, White-crowned, White-throated, Harris’s, Song, Fox, Lincoln’s, Savannah, Dark-eyed Junco, and Spotted Towhee. Many of these birds will have moved on in the next few weeks.
I was headed to the coast early last Friday when I heard on the radio that the area was under a tsunami warning. While a true hard-core birder might have continued on, I decided to turn around and ended up walking parts of Sauvie Island instead. This Lincoln’s Sparrow was preening in a blackberry thicket along Rentenaar Road (Birding Oregon p.57). The dark spot and line on the bird’s breast are a result of the feathers being fluffed out.
This stretch of dirt road is one of the spots we will visit for my upcoming Little Brown Birds class for The Audubon Society of Portland. The Saturday field trip is full, but a few spaces remain on the Friday trip. For information, go to http://audubonportland.org/trips-classes-camps/adult/classes/lbbs2011.
Here are a few recent shots from Sauvie Island (Birding Oregon p. 55).
While the Sandhill Cranes and Dusky Canada Geese will fly to Alaska to nest, the Great Blue Herons are in full nesting mode now on Sauvie Island. Here is a section of a rookery in a distant tree line. You can see the bulky nests and, if you look closely, several birds perched in the branches.
I always enjoy checking out the Purple Martin houses behind a home on Sauvie Island. These large swallows are one of the more popular yard birds in the eastern U.S. , but the species is much less common in the West. This site on Sauvie Island is one of the few places in the Portland area to find them.
Here a female is putting nesting material into a martin house. The “natural” nesting habitat for Purple Martins is a cavity, usually an old woodpecker hole. But for the past two centuries, most of the population has chosen to nest in man-made structures.
I am revving up for my Little Brown Birds class next month, so I spent some time with the sparrow flocks on Sauvie Island (Birding Oregon p.57). A walk down Rentenaar Road revealed five species, three of which sat still long enough to be photographed.
White-crowned Sparrows stand out with their bold head pattern.
Immature White-crowned Sparrows have the same pattern as the adults, but in brown and buff instead of black and white.
Two Golden-crowned Sparrows, immature on the left, adult on the right
This Song Sparrow was feeding right at my feet, but insisted on staying in my shadow, thus messing up the lighting in the photo.
This Peregrine Falcon wasn’t much of a threat to the sparrows, but he did make the shorebirds and waterfowl nervous.
With the autumnal equinox this week, we are seeing migrants returning to the Willamette Valley. The first flocks of Cackling Geese have arrived along with good numbers of Greater White-fronted Geese. The brambles are once again hosting Golden-crowned Sparrows.
Sandhill Cranes are gathering on Sauvie Island (Birding Oregon p. 55). These birds were seen along Sturgeon Lake on Oak Island.
Flocks of Yellow-rumped Warblers were moving through the woods and brushy areas of Oak Island today. This individual is a female of the Myrtle race. Notice how the white throat is cleanly separated from the gray cheek, with the white starting to wrap around the ear coverts. Audubon’s race does not show this clear demarcation.