Inland Shorebirds

From the end of April through the middle of May, migrant shorebird numbers peak along the Oregon coast. I haven’t made it out to the coast yet this spring, but my local inland sites have produced a few species. There isn’t much shorebird habitat in the Portland area in the spring since most bodies of water are full and thus lack mudflats. Muddy edges and flooded soccer fields have to do.

The most unusual find so far has been this Solitary Sandpiper. Solitaries are quite rare in spring (They are pretty rare in autumn, too.) so this bird was a nice surprise.

Least Sandpipers have been passing through in small flocks. This individual is modeling all the classic marks of the species; yellowish legs, upperparts that are brown but not too rusty, and a tiny drooping bill.

On the coast, Western Sandpipers travel in flocks of hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals. In my 5-mile radius so far, I have seen two. Note the dark legs, longer bills, and more rusty coloration.

Other shorebirds seen but not photographed include a flock of Long-billed Dowitchers, the local Killdeer, and my first Spotted Sandpiper of the year.

A trip to the coast next week should give me a good taste of spring shorebird migration. It will seem odd venturing out of my 5MR, but sometimes you have to go to where the birds are.

Happy Spring

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Early Spring in the 5MR

The weather has gone from winter rain to spring rain, still rather gloomy but definitely more pleasant overall. Spring migration is slowly picking up with new species gradually accumulating in my 5-Mile Radius.

Most of the new sites that I have explored in my 5MR have been very underwhelming, but I was recently introduced to Cedar Mill Wetlands in Beaverton. This little site has produced 45 species in two short visits, as well as this encounter with a Coyote.

Sharp-shinned Hawk at Cedar Mill Wetlands

Great Egret, sporting their nuptial plumes

The little wetland associated with Commonwealth Lake Park continues to be a favorite site with local birders. The flock of Wilson’s Snipes has thinned out a bit.

This Greater Yellowlegs was a nice surprise at Commonwealth. Hopefully the habitat will attract other shorebirds as the spring progresses.

Commonwealth is the only reliable spot in my 5MR for House Sparrow.

Bufflehead, Commonwealth Lake

Koll Center Wetlands in Beaverton is not the most pleasant place to bird. You are basically peering into the wetlands from various parking lots. But there are a few species here that are hard to find elsewhere. This Black-crowned Night-Heron was barely visible through the brush.

A small flock of Band-tailed Pigeons is reliable at Koll.

Yellow-rumped Warblers have been common all year at Koll, but some are just now molting into breeding plumage.

I have only birded outside my 5MR twice so far this year, both times while teaching Little Brown Bird Classes. This Rufous Hummingbird was at Jackson Bottom Wetlands in Hillsboro. I have yet to find this species in my 5MR, but it is one of many that I expect to see in the coming weeks.

Happy Spring

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Virginia Rail

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As many people are jumping on the “bird local” bandwagon, little Commonwealth Lake Park in Beaverton has been getting a lot of birding attention and producing an increasing array of interesting species. One of the stars of this winter is this Virginia Rail. While Virginia Rails are scarce in winter, and almost always hard to see, this individual has been venturing out into the open to feed, sometimes onto the athletic field.

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We should appreciate the value of little parks like Commonwealth Lake to wildlife. But we should also remember that the reason birds can be easy to see in such places is because the habitat is so limited. This park is a small isolated patch of wetland surrounded by high-density housing. Wildlife thrives in large tracts of habitat. Since large tracts are no longer available in many areas, we should at least strive to preserve corridors between smaller parks to allow wildlife to safely travel from site to site, and to allow young to disperse.

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Dreary February

February weather can be the most challenging, with cold temperatures and frequent rain. We desperately need the moisture so I am not complaining, but it is harder to get motivated to get out into the cold and damp. I continue to concentrate on my 5-mile radius, with my total currently sitting at 70 species for the year. I expect that to jump up a bit this week.

This lovely American Wigeon has been hanging out at Commonwealth Lake Park. Birds with this much white on the head are known as Storm Wigeon.

This Killdeer, along with two others, was doing a pretty good job hiding in a little clump of leaves.

Wilson’s Snipes continue to be common at Commonwealth. That long bill helps him blend in with the sticks.

Red-winged Blackbird in fresh spring plumage. I imagine those rusty fringes will wear off to reveal a more uniform black outfit soon.

Happy winter

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5MR: The First Month

For the month of January, virtually all of my birding has been conducted within my 5 Mile Radius. This included dedicated birding trips and keeping track of birds while at the dog park and on family hikes.  (This Red-breasted Sapsucker was at Greenway Park.) Some birds came quite easily, like the Barred Owls that sang in my yard and at the dog park, while others were hard to find, like Rock Pigeon which I didn’t see until January 30.

The purpose of the 5 Mile Radius challenge, in addition to reducing your gas consumption, is to explore under-birded sites close to home. I visited several sites I had never birded before, and explored some familiar sites in greater detail.

The hope is that you will find previously unknown great birding spots, but this was not my experience. Of the new places I visited so far, all of which are eBird “Hotspots,” none of them are sites I am particularly motivated to visit again.

My circle has a few great birding sites that include wetlands, mixed forest, and hilltop migrant traps. If I concentrate my birding on five sites, I will have the opportunity to see the vast majority of species likely to occur within my circle. Yes, great birds can show up anywhere. If you are lucky enough to be able to go birding every day, then it makes a lot of sense to visit as many different sites as possible. But if your birding time is limited because you have a life (oops, did I say that out loud?), I think it makes more sense to spend your time in the best habitats. I also enjoy my birding more when the habitat is more pleasant. I have peeked into people’s back yards to see rare birds (Brambling, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Ovenbird, Costa’s Hummingbird), but I would much rather hike around a nice park.

Here are a few photos from the past month.

Brown Creeper, Greenway Park

Nutria at Koll Wetlands

Wilson’s Snipes at Commonwealth Lake

I dipped on the American Dipper that has been hanging out in my circle this winter, but I did see lots of dipper poop, so that should count, right?

Onward to February.

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In the Bleak Midwinter

Between the holidays, work, and family activities, there has been very little birding in recent weeks. One of the more enjoyable outings was a hike on Larch Mountain. The dogs loved the snow and it was great to get outside and hike around for four hours. Birds, as expected this time of year at this location, were very few. But we did hear a few kinglets, chickadees, and a flock of Red Crossbills.

The big new thing in 2019 is the Five Mile Radius, the brainchild of Jen Sanford of I Used to Hate Birds. This is where you concentrate your birding efforts to within five miles of your home and see how many species you can find within that circle. Not only does this reduce your gas consumption, but it forces you to explore many areas close to home that you normally wouldn’t. Who knows what avian goodies and birdy little patches you can discover?

Most of my 5MR efforts so far have been keeping track of birds I see at the dog park and at home, but I have already exceeded 50 species, and have yet to visit any wooded habitats or open fields. 

If the recent gale-force winds ever die down, I look forward to getting out and racking up some more local species.

Happy Winter

 

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Fernhill Wetlands

I visited Fernhill Wetlands in Forest Grove on a rare sunny December day. The sun is so low at this time of year that if there is no cloud cover the sun is either at your back or directly in your eyes. The latter makes birding very challenging, but the former can produce some lovely light, as seen on this Mourning Dove.

At least one Black Phoebe has been hanging out near the ponds behind the picnic shelter this fall. Black Phoebes were unheard of in Washington County a few year ago.

Any shorebird seen at this time of year is a treat. This lone Greater Yellowlegs was one of four shorebird species found on this trip. (Long-billed Dowitchers and Wilson’s Snipe were flybys.)

This Killdeer was probing with her foot to try to stir up food in one of the new gravel filtration tanks.

The main lake at Fernhill is hosting a nice variety of waterfowl, but most were distant or in the harsh sunlight. A  Swamp Sparrow was a nice find, but stayed in the cattails to avoid being photographed.

Happy Autumn.

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Commonwealth Lake

When time is limited or weather is sketchy, I appreciate having Commonwealth Lake close to home for a quick birding fix.

Early in the morning, River Otters will often visit the lake to fill up on fish. There were three otters present on this visit, but they stayed out in the middle of the lake most of the time.

This Belted Kingfisher called from the tangled branches that overhang the water.

Male Common Mergansers lent a splash of color with their red bills.

This female Hooded Merganser kept to the far shore.

Some of the dogwoods still had a few berries, and this Hermit Thrush was taking advantage of this seasonal food.
It was a treat to see this species sitting out in the open, rather than skulking in the undergrowth.

So nothing too exciting this trip, but it is enough to ward off insanity/crankiness until the next outing.

Happy Autumn

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Random Ramblings

Most of my recent outings have been while leading trips or in dreary conditions, both of which limit any photo opportunities. So here are some dribs and drabs from recent weeks.

This Black-tailed Deer and her fawn were at Cooper Mountain Nature Park in Beaverton. There was a second fawn present out of frame.

This Long-billed Dowitcher was blending in well with the rocks at Parking Lot C at Fort Stevens State Park. I often find shorebirds, usually Least Sandpipers or Dunlin, in this little patch of rocks.

I saw this Pied-billed Grebe on a cloudy morning at Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden.

Crystal Springs is thick with Wood Ducks.

Eastern Gray Squirrel at Crystal Springs

Sandhill Cranes have arrived in good numbers at Sauvie Island.

Crane fight

A young Bald Eagle flying by on Sauvie

This White-crowned Sparrow posed nicely in filtered sunlight along Rentenaar Road on Sauvie Island. This is a first winter bird, but he was singing from this perch for a while.

Most shorebird migration is long past, but this mixed flock of Dunlin and Long-billed Dowitchers were hanging out at the small ponds near the parking lot at Fernhill Wetlands.

Long-billed Dowitcher at Fernhill. This intense sunlight is certainly not the norm for mid-November, but the rains will return soon enough.

Happy Autumn

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Fernhill Wetlands

We have had a long stretch of sunny warm weather lately. On one hand, it is lovely to be warm and dry on an outing. On the other hand, water levels continue drop and the harsh lighting makes for lousy photos. Nevertheless, here are some images from a recent trip to Fernhill Wetlands.

The Cackling Geese have returned for the winter.

The Tundra Swan that has spent the entire summer at Fernhill is still around. Hopefully, some more swans will arrive soon to keep him company. It must feel odd to be the only one of your kind. It’s like being a vegan in Kansas (been there).
Here is a more traditional view of the Tundra Swan.

A small group of Northern Harriers flew over the wetlands while I was there.

Shorebird migration is quickly winding down, so it was nice to see this Pectoral Sandpiper.

Long-billed Dowitchers in one of the little ponds by the picnic shelter

A Nutria swimming through the duckweed

This is the first turtle I have seen at Fernhill. Unfortunately, I think he is a non-native Slider, a species common in the pet trade and frequently released into areas where they don’t belong.

Happy Autumn

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