Smith and Bybee Wetlands

I went out to Smith and Bybee Wetlands in north Portland. This site can be a little challenging to bird, as the noise from Marine Drive makes it difficult to hear bird song and other natural sounds. But as you make your way farther from the road, birding tends pick up.

One of the first critters of the trip was this Eastern Cottontail. This species has been introduced into several urban areas in the Pacific NW. The rusty nape and blazing white tail help distinguish this species from the native Brush Rabbit.

Long-toed Salamanders have been the only species of salamander I have been able to find lately. This individual is the largest I have seen.

The weather was quite cool, so there were no snakes out. I found this baby Northwestern Garter under a little piece of asphalt. He was too cold to flee, so he just coiled up tightly.

Water levels were very high, so there wasn’t much shorebird habitat. This lone Greater Yellowlegs put on a nice show.
Shorebird migration is just starting to pick up, just in time for my shorebird webinar on April 13.

Happy Spring

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A Slow Start

I have been complaining a lot lately about how slow the birding has been. We are in that lull when many of the winter birds have moved on and the spring migrants haven’t returned. But, say it with me, there is always something to see. So here are a few birds to help get us primed for the spring birding bonanza that will inevitably arrive.

white-fronted gooseThis lone Greater White-fronted Goose was at the Tualatin River NWR. Not many of these geese touch down in the Portland area, but huge flocks pass overhead in spring and autumn.

Yellow-rumpedThe western U.S. does not get to enjoy the great diversity of warblers found in the east, but we do get Yellow-rumped Warblers all winter. This male Audubon’s race is coming into breeding plumage.

IMG_5091-SharpenAI-motionWe also get Myrtle race Yellow-rumps in winter. I keep hoping that these two forms will be split into separate species, as they once were. This individual seems to have a little yellow on the throat, suggesting some mixed parentage somewhere in this bird’s family tree.

bald eagleThis young Bald Eagle was looking regal in a parking lot.

savannahSavannah Sparrows have started returning to their nesting areas. This rather faded individual was at Jackson Bottom.

Happy Spring

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Still Waiting for the Birds

beaver chew
Spring migration has not really picked up yet. There are a few new avian arrivals, but birding remains pretty slow. But, as I often say, there is always something to look at, so here are some non-avian images. The Beaver chew above is at Tualatin River NWR.

nutriaI very rarely get to see Beaver, but Nutria (pictured above) are everywhere, giving me my daily allowance of large aquatic rodents.

itchyIt is always a treat to see Black-tailed Deer.
deer 1
deer 2

ens 2Partially because birding has been slow, and partially because I am preparing for a herping class in May, I have been looking for amphibians and reptiles a lot this spring. This is an Oregon Ensatina, a very small specimen that was about two inches long. Ensatinas are recognized by their proportionally large head and eyes. The Oregon subspecies typically has the yellow coloring at the base of the legs.

newtThis is the smallest Rough-skinned Newt I have seen, about two inches long.

lt salaThese Long-toed Salamanders were creating some neat shapes.

nw garter 4Northwestern Garter Snake

nw garter 3Two courting Northwestern Garter Snakes. Notice the variation in color pattern, typical of this species.

fishWestern Mosquito Fish

I will have some bird photos next time, promise.

Happy Spring

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Late Winter Ramblings

towhee

Birding has been rather slow lately, as many of the winter residents have moved on and the spring migrants haven’t arrived yet. The local nesters, like this Spotted Towhee are becoming more active and vocal.

IMG_5017
A remnant of last autumn’s rut, this “buck rub,” where the local Black-tailed Deer used these small trees to polish their antlers, is in Cooper Mountain Nature Park.

skink

Also at Cooper Mountain was this Western Skink basking in the sun. This was a lifer herp for me.

Here’s another Western Skink that emerged from a burrow in a rocky hillside.

ca ground
Also enjoying the morning sunshine was this California Ground Squirrel at Fernhill Wetlands.

IMG_5030-SharpenAI-sharpen
Long-toed Salamanders are the only species of salamander I have seen so far this year, but they are everywhere.

pacific treefrog
This Pacific Treefrog was hiding under a small board. It might be from the bright sunlight, but this frog’s golden eyes were intriguing.

Warmer weather is coming soon, so I am anxious to see what creatures arrive with it.

Happy Spring

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First Herps of the Year

The nights are still cold, often below freezing, but the days are starting to warm. With the first hints of spring come the first amphibians and reptiles of the year. You can hear Pacific Treefrogs calling all year, but this is the first one I have seen. They were hanging out under a small log. The temperature was in the 30s, so they didn’t move at all while I was there. I snapped a quick photo and replaced the log over the frog.

Long-toed Salamanders are one of the first amphibians to breed in the spring, so they are everywhere right now. These three were under a single board. Lifting a small piece of plywood revealed about a dozen of these critters.
Another Long-toed Salamander

My first snake of the year was this Common Garter Snake soaking up some sun. The subspecies we have in this area is Red-spotted Garter. I was thrilled to find this individual, but quickly saw several dozen more on this sunny morning.

The red coloring on the face is common in this subspecies.

These two Red-spotted Garters were enjoying a little amour in the sunshine.

They were soon joined by a third individual, forming a mating ball.

Happy almost spring.

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Fernhill Wetlands

Despite morning temperatures near freezing, signs of spring are appearing at Fernhill Wetlands. This Black Phoebe was posing with some colorful buds.

The winter sparrows, like this Fox Sparrow, are still around.

Waterfowl numbers are dropping as northern breeders start to head out. This pair of Northern Pintails was grooming along the main lake.

Lesser Scaup

This young Red-tailed Hawk was very comfortable around people, perching right above some nearby birders.

The number of Nutria at Fernhill continues to grow. I don’t know if they are causing any problems or not.
We are in that late-winter slow birding time, but spring migrants should start showing up any day.

Happy final days of winter

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Winter Birding

We finally had a bout of winter weather in the Portland area. The west side of town got more ice than actual snow, so travel conditions were not ideal. Since we had an appointment in Hillsboro anyway, I made a quick stop at Amberglen Park. This Ring-necked Duck was putting on a nice show.

This Bufflehead spent much more time below the surface of the water than above it, but I managed a quick photo. Note the streaks of sleet.

This habitat doesn’t seem right for Hooded Mergansers, but I often see them here.
The Portland area doesn’t seem to have a good winter gull roost these days. Amberglen attracts a few, mostly Ring-billed Gulls.

I think gulls are really attractive in the snow. Note the slight pinkish tones on this bird.

Here are some Ring-billed Gulls swimming with an “Olympic” Gull (Western X Glaucous-winged hybird).

This is a “Cook Inlet” Gull (Herring X Glaucous-winged hybrid). The bill pattern is classic winter Herring Gull. The eye is dark and the primaries are not quite true black. It gives the impression of a Thayer’s Iceland Gull with a giant bill.
On the home front, snow often brings Varied Thrushes to the yard. We had four at one time cleaning up seeds under the feeder.

I am always grateful for the splash of color provided by this Townsend’s Warbler.

The snow is gone now, and birds are starting move. Spring will be here any minute.

Happy Winter

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Ankeny NWR

I made a quick trip to Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge, just south of Salem. Like the other refuges in the Willamette Valley, most of Ankeny is closed in winter to protect wintering waterfowl. But there are spots on the refuge open to birders year-round. Here is a male Ruddy Duck just starting to get a little color in his bill for spring.

Song Sparrow at the edge of Pintail Marsh

This Lincoln’s Sparrow popped up for just a second, but long enough for me to take his portrait.

Here is a very distant Eurasian Green-winged Teal, or Common Teal, or Eurasian Teal, depending on who you talk to. In Europe, this is considered a separate species, but in the U.S., it is considered a subspecies of Green-winged Teal. I have been hoping for many years that North American authorities would recognize this form as a species (so I could add another tick to my list), but it doesn’t look like that is going to happen.

This pair of Great Horned Owls was hanging out along the trail to the Rail Trail boardwalk, once again proving that my camera would much rather focus on branches than on birds.

The main reason for my visit was a communal roost of Long-eared Owls discovered a few days before. This species is usually very hard to find in western Oregon, and had been a state nemesis bird for me.

There has been a lot of concern expressed about birders disturbing this group of birds. In Kansas and Ohio, where I have seen Long-eared Owls before, visiting winter roosts is the only way for birders to see this species. I believe it can be done without stressing the birds if birders speak softly (or not at all), maintain a respectful distance, and keep their visits brief. That is pretty easy to do at this site. Birders are confined to a boardwalk (assuming they are not assholes), and it is easy to make a quiet approach. If everyone exhibits just a modicum of self-control and common courtesy, this could be a sustainable birding experience for weeks to come. Fingers crossed.

Happy Winter

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Winter Birding

February is usually cloudy and damp in the Portland area, making it hard for me to get too motivated to venture out. But there is always something to see, like this lovely Lincoln’s Sparrow.

This Cedar Waxwing was flycatching over the water at Koll Wetlands.

This Spotted Towhee spent quite a bit of time perched out in the open in a blackberry bramble.

Winter is a great time to study waterfowl in the Willamette Valley. This little gang of Lesser Scaup was at Force Lake in north Portland.

I was initially excited to find this young male Northern Shoveler standing out in the open, but then I realized the poor guy was ill. He was gasping for breath and his eyes were partially closed. I’m guessing he has respiratory infection caused by Aspergillis, a common type of fungus, which has been affecting a lot of waterfowl this winter.

Back home at the feeders, my vegan suet has been very popular this winter. I mix equal parts of coconut oil, peanut butter, and flour, then pour the mixture into molds to solidify. This recipe only works in the winter, as it will melt if temperatures get above 60 degrees F. Here is a Chestnut-backed Chickadee working on the last bit of a cake.

A Bushtit, one of many that come through the yard every day

Happy Winter

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Random Images

Here are some random birds from recent weeks. This Great Blue Heron was wading deep at Commonwealth Lake. The white face and yellow eye really popped, giving her a creepy look.

A Black-capped Chickadee was excavating a cavity in a dead tree at Commonwealth Lake. It is a little early for nesting, but birds will be pairing up soon.

This is a lousy photo, but it documents the Yellow-billed Loon that hung out at Hagg Lake for a few days in early January. Lifers are few and very far between for me, so it is great when one shows up relatively close to home.

This Black Turnstone was taking shelter from the high tides on the little lawn at the Seaside Cove.

Western Gull at the Seaside Cove

The marbled pattern on the bill and the bit of dark smudging on the tail suggests this is a third cycle Western Gull.

Varied Thrush at Summer Lake Park in Tigard

Black-crowned Night-Herons have been regular at Koll Center Wetlands for several years now. They used to be a little more accommodating, but lately they have remained in dense cover most of the time.

This Bushtit was hanging out in the back yard for quite a while. I hope the extreme puffiness of this bird was due to it being cold and was not an indication of illness.

Happy Winter

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