I have spent very little time outdoors this month, but here are a few nice birds from the past few weeks.
I 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.
On 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 Warbler on the rocks.
Yellow-rumped Warbler on ice. This 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.