Any Minute Now

yellow-rumpedSpring migration is picking up, with good numbers of warblers just starting to arrive, just in time for my Warblers and Flycatchers class next week. Here is a Yellow-rumped Warbler in a field of little flowers which I think are spring beauties. How appropriate is that?

Townsend's WarblerTownsend’s Warbler

black-throated gray sideBlack-throated Gray Warbler
black-throated gray frontMigrant warblers are often found in big leaf maples this time of year. The blossoms attract insects that the birds feed on.

kingfisher burrowNot a warbler, but still a neat find is this Belted Kingfisher burrow along the Columbia River. The burrow is pretty low, and in a area that gets a lot of human and dog traffic, so it will be interesting to see if the birds can successfully nest here.

Fernhill Wetlands 10 April 2014

I took a quick tour of Fernhill Wetlands this week. Great changes are planned for this site. The main lake will be made smaller, and the other two impoundments will be replaced with emergent wetlands. I am looking forward seeing how things progress. Here are some birds and other critters from the trip.

yellow-rumped warblerMany Yellow-rumped Warblers were passing through, mostly the Myrtle race, with only one Audubon’s.

cackling geeseFlocks of Taverner’s Cackling Geese were feeding in the fields north of the main lake.

garter snakebaby Garter Snake. I’m not sure if this is a Common or Northwestern Garter.

muskrat climbingI don’t think I’ve ever seen a Muskrat climbing a tree before. This one was gnawing off a branch to get to the leaves.
muskrat front

tree swallowTree Swallows are swarming around Fernhill Wetlands, no doubt encouraged by the many nesting boxes that have been installed at the site.
tree swallows

northern shovelersNorthern Shovelers were the most common duck species on the lake.

carpSeveral schools of Common Carp were active at the surface. I don’t know if they were feeding on aquatic insects or involved in spawning.

marsh wren singingMarsh Wrens are starting to sing.

red-winged blackbirdA few Red-winged Blackbirds were displaying. There aren’t very many Red-wings at Fernhill since most of the cattails died off several years ago.

Random February Birds

I have spent very little time outdoors this month, but here are a few nice birds from the past few weeks.

yellow-rumped backThis Yellow-rumped Warbler was displaying his namesake near Ankeny NWR.

shrikeNorthern Shrike, also at Ankeny.

lewis's 1This Lewis’s Woodpecker has spent the winter near Ankeny. It is unusual to find them west of the Cascade Crest. You have to love a green woodpecker with a red belly.

anna'sPortland’s recent “Snowpocalypse” was not appreciated by the local Anna’s Hummingbirds.

white-throatedThis White-throated Sparrow has spent much of the winter on our property, but I haven’t seen him since the big snow melted.

modoMourning Dove at the feeder

downyThis Downy Woodpecker has made several visits to the dead cedar  outside our living room window.

Birds and Brew Fest, 12 October 2013

pelicansI led a tour of Fernhill Wetlands for the Birds and Brew Festival. Since there were about 50 people in the group, including many who didn’t have optics, we concentrated on the “charismatic mega-fauna,” like these American White Pelicans.

A Great Egret and a Great Blue Heron were looking all artsy with their reflections.

egret 2
egret 1
heron 2
heron 1

kestrelThis distant American Kestrel was showing off his colors.

yellow-rumpedAfter the group dispersed, I took another lap around the lake so I could check out the smaller birds. Along with five species of sparrow, there were lots of Yellow-rumped Warblers moving around.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

yellow-rumped reflection 1On a recent trip to Fernhill Wetlands (Birding Oregon p. 61), I watched this Yellow-rumped Warbler feeding over the water. The air temperature was below freezing, so I believed the bird was searching for insects in the slightly warmer zone near the water’s surface. This theory was challenged on the other side of the lake when the bird was seen foraging on the shoreline, and then on the ice itself. Yellow-rumps are known to feed on arthropods and fruit in the winter, so I can only assume there were some small insects on the surface of the ice.

yellow-rumped on rocksYellow-rumped Warbler on the rocks.
yellow-rumped feathers  Yellow-rumped Warbler on ice. yellow-rumped soloThis individual is a member of Audubon’s race of Yellow-rumped Warbler (eye crescents, buffy throat). The Myrtle race also occurs in Oregon in winter, but reportedly seldom feeds on the ground.

yellow-rumped with feather

April Teasers

After the wettest March on record, April has  provided a few sunny days to help awaken us from our rain-induced torpor.


I made a quick trip out to Fernhill Wetlands to look for the Swamp Sparrow that has been reported there. Between the sunbreaks, I still had to dodge a few passing squalls.


I missed the Swamp Sparrow, but this Song Sparrow was very cooperative.


Here is the same Song Sparrow in a little more natural setting, if you consider invasive Reed Canary Grass to be natural.


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.


The Yellow-rumped Warblers have molted into their flashy breeding plumage. This one is an example of the “myrtle” race.


On Saturday I took some clients out to Sauvie Island for a morning of birding. This view of Mt. St. Helens is from the west end of Rentenaar Road.


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.

Stalled Spring

This March has been one of the coolest and wettest on record in the Portland area. Aside from keeping me indoors far more than I would like, the weather has created a bit of a stall in spring’s progress.


The winter residents, like this skulking Varied Thrush, have started to thin out. There are still a lot of waterfowl around, but gull numbers are greatly reduced.


A long walk on the beach north of Gearhart produced a few Sanderlings, but the northbound shorebirds haven’t arrived yet.


Activity at the bird feeder has slowed down as the winter flocks are breaking up and the local birds start pairing up. Here is one of the resident Black-capped Chickadees.


A Norway Rat has been taking advantage of the seeds the birds drop.


Despite the dreary weather, there are signs of the coming breeding season. This Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s race) is showing off his fresh breeding plumage.

When we experience long bouts of bad weather, and spending the month of March in Arizona sounds very appealing, we still need to get out into the field. Spring may be slow in coming, but there are still birds out there. Slow birding gives you the chance to study the common local species more carefully, and you never know what might turn up.

Autumn Movements

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.

Best Bird Attractant Ever

With all due respect to Pete Dunne, I have never been a big fan of pishing. I am not very successful at bringing birds in with the technique, and I find it rather annoying in the field when other birders do it. But I still try it, having been taught for several decades that it is the thing to do.

So it was recently as I birded Blue Hill in Maine. I heard some bird activity near a little rock bluff, and started pishing to draw birds down from the rim into better lighting. At first I heard Red-breasted Nuthatches and Black-capped Chickadees, joined by Golden-crowned Kinglets and Dark-eyed Juncos. More and more birds joined in as the flock started moving to the edge of the bluff.


The pishing seemed to be working. Birds started dropping down over the bluff.

A Blackburnian Warbler joined the flock, as did several Yellow-rumped Warblers

Perhaps I had finally mastered the art of pishing. No. What really had this flock of birds worked up was nothing I was doing. It was something far more interesting to them, and myself.

It was an Eastern Milk Snake, a beautiful specimen about three feet in length (pretty large for this species). The birds were following the snake through the woods to keep an eye on it. Being at the right place at the right time allowed me to enjoy the snake and her entourage. My little pishing noises were of no consequence. So once again I am reminded to watch, blend in with the surroundings, and enjoy what happens by.