Fernhill Wetlands

With the ongoing renovations taking place at Fernhill Wetlands, each visit throughout the year is a new experience. Most of the breeding species have done their thing, and the resident waterfowl have molted into ugly duck season. Water levels are still a little too high to provide shorebird habitat, but that should change soon enough.

brush rabbit
Afternoon temperatures have been getting quite warm, so the brush rabbits come out early in the morning to enjoy the cool. The backlighting on this guy highlights the blood vessels in his ears.

purple martin
Purple Martins are a new addition to Fernhill this year. A new nesting box installed beside the main lake has attracted at least one pair. If you build it, they will come.

cinnamon teal
These Cinnamon Teal were plowing through a thick mat of algae. Note the very large bills on these ducks, which help identify them in their summer plumage.

merg
This hatch-year Hooded Merganser was hanging out in the middle of the lake. The unusual habitat choice and the unfamiliar juvenile plumage caused many birders, myself included, to initially call this a bird a Red-breasted Merganser. While a Red-breasted had been documented at this site in May, closer inspection of this bird reveals the solid head shape and the slightly smaller bill of a Hooded. Another reminder to actually look at every bird and don’t rely on others to identify them for you. 

turkey vulture
Turkey Vulture, experiencing some wing molt

red-winged
This Red-winged Blackbird was one of a large flock feeding in the cattails.

barn swallow chicks
Some of the local breeders are working on a second clutch. These young Barn Swallows are waiting for someone to come feed them. Soon the power lines will be crowded with young swallows preparing for their first migration. 

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Jackson Bottom

savannahI made a quick visit to Jackson Bottom in Hillsboro. This is a very busy spot in the summer. The Savannah Sparrows are still in full song.

puddlePintail Pond has been drained to accommodate some restoration work on the site, so it has dried out about two months earlier than normal. This is normally one of the better shorebird sites in the Portland area during the summer, so we will have to find other spot this year.  There is only about three weeks between the end of northbound shorebird migration and the beginning of southbound migration. Western and Least Sandpipers have arrived in good numbers, and were feeding in the little puddle that remains of Pintail Pond.

western least
Western (l) and Least (r) Sandpipers

spotted adult
Spotted Sandpipers are common nesters in the area.

spotted chick
Spotted Sandpiper chick

greater yellowlegs
Four Greater Yellowlegs made a brief appearance.

swallow box
Tree Swallows are everywhere at Jackson Bottom, thanks in part to the many nesting boxes that have been installed here.

swallows 3
The first broods are grown up now, and it looks like second broods will be arriving shortly.

swallow 2
pretty boy

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Smith Rock State Park

I hadn’t been to the dry side of Oregon for far too long, so I took a trip to Smith Rock State Park. The avian stars of this site are the White-throated Swifts that nest here. They did not disappoint, but those little winged rockets are far too fast for my photographic abilities.

Unlike the swifts, the abundant Violet-green Swallows will occasionally pose for a photo.

There was apparently a good crop of Black-billed Magpies this year, so lots of youngsters were hopping around near the parking lot.

Direct sunlight and iridescence make for a lovely flash of color on these black birds.

Desert Cottontail. Note all the ticks on the edge of his ear.

itchy rabbit

I hiked over the rock formation on the aptly named Misery Ridge Trail, then back along the Crooked River. Rock Wrens were plentiful, but whenever I try to photograph that species I end up with crystal clear images of rocks with blurry birds on them.

Mule Deer were common in the grassy areas along the river.

The river held lots of Mallards, like the family pictured here, and Canada Geese.

Looking up at the cliff face from the river

Say’s Phoebe, looking regal

The same Say’s Phoebe, about to hork up something

By noon, the park was getting pretty crowded and the heat was intense so I headed for home. Birding was quite good despite the heat and the lateness of the season. I think a trip here in early June would be even more productive.

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Lawrence’s Goldfinch

For the second week in a row, I chased a vagrant to add to my life and Oregon lists. A Lawrence’s Goldfinch turned up in a back yard in Sherwood. Since this species is hard enough to find in its normal range (southern California), when one appeared a half-hour’s drive from home, I was compelled to chase.

It was a dark rainy morning, so the bird was a bit bedraggled and a decent photo was impossible, at least with my camera. But a lifer is a lifer. This was a twitch, a quick look to identify the bird so it can be added to the list and then move on. Someday perhaps I will see a flock of Lawrence’s Goldfinches in their proper range and habitat and enjoy extended views to study plumages and behavior. But for Oregon, a damp bird at a backyard feeder is still a pretty sweet deal.

The finch appeared soon after we arrived (there was a group of nine of us that descended on this yard) then moved on. While we waited for the bird to return, we enjoyed a pair of Eurasian Collared Doves.

Anna’s Hummingbird, singing in the rain

I know that two events do not make a pattern, but it would be nice if this run of a new bird each week would continue. I won’t hold my breath.

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Bar-tailed Godwits

This spring has brought an unprecedented number of Bar-tailed Godwits to the Oregon coast. This species spends the winter in New Zealand, then flies to China and the Korean Peninsula to fatten up for a month before flying to northern Alaska and northern Eurasia to nest. This year,  a weather event apparently blew some birds off-course to the east. Four birds appeared near Newport in April. Another 16 were found near Sunset Beach north of Gearhart in late May and into June.

The Bar-tailed Godwits are associating with flocks of Whimbrels.

Here is a comparison of a male (l) and a female (r). The female is noticeably larger and paler.

It would be interesting to know where these birds will end up this summer. It seems late in the season to make it all the way to the arctic to nest at this point. If they don’t make it all the way north, what will their southbound route be? Normally, Bar-tailed Godwits that nest in Alaska fly from the west coast of Alaska directly to New Zealand. A few juveniles get lost and work their way down the west coast. Will these adults stay in North America as they head south, or will they find their way to the south Pacific? It will definitely be worthwhile to scrutinize flocks of Marbled Godwits this summer and fall for adult Bar-taileds.

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Northwest Portland Wetlands

I went out to Smith and Bybee Wetlands and Vanport Wetlands to check for migrants. The Smith and Bybee area was pretty slow. Water levels were high so some of the trails were inaccessible. Vanport had some really interesting birds, including several Redheads and Yellow-headed Blackbirds, both hard to find in the Portland area.

The small colony of Cliff Swallows at Smith and Bybee was active with nest building.

This House Sparrow had moved into an old Cliff Swallow nest.

American Bullfrogs were enjoying the spring weather.

Brush Rabbit scratching an itch

At Vanport, most birds were pretty far away, like this Yellow-headed Blackbird. His song was easily heard, even from across the lake.

This Ruddy Duck was doing his motorboat impression to impress the ladies.

This Cooper’s Hawk was atop a tall tree overlooking the racetrack. The loud engines did not seem to bother him. I can’t say the same for me.

A few birds, like this Cedar Waxwing, were down in the small trees along the near shore of the lake.

Bullock’s Orioles are often obscured by foliage in the treetops. This individual was low enough for a brief glimpse among the blossoms.

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Spring on the Coast

I have made four trips to the Oregon Coast in as many weeks this spring. For three of the four, I was leading groups. That, combined with rainy weather, limited my photo opportunities, but here are a few shots. The big news on the coast this spring was a Laughing Gull and at least four Bar-tailed Godwits. I missed these birds, but as I like to tell myself, there is always something to see.

Rainy skies at Ft. Stevens. The wreck of the Peter Iredale is visible in the center of the photo.

Harbor Seals enjoying the sunshine in Netarts Bay.

It was fun to see this Red-breasted Merganser hauled out on a rock at the Netarts boat launch. I don’t see them out of the water very often.

Belted Kingfisher, Netarts boat launch

Surf Scoter, Yaquina Bay

Common Loon, still in winter plumage, Yaquina Bay

Harlequin Ducks on Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach

former whale, Ft. Stevens

Sanderling have been one of the more common migrants along the coast this spring.
Sanderling, Ft. Stevens

Whimbrel with a Mole Crab, Ft. Stevens

Black-bellied Plover, with a Sanderling in the background

Black-bellied Plover, still in mostly non-breeding plumage. Such faded birds often show some brown coloring, which fosters ideas of Pacific Golden-Plover. But eventually the birds raise their wings to reveal black axillaries (wing pits), and confirm the Black-bellied ID.

 

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Soggy Songbirds

This has been the longest February ever. I know the calendar indicates that it is actually late May, and we have had several lovely dry days, but the cold wet weather continues to dominate. Despite the nasty conditions, spring migration has progressed nicely. Here are a couple of shots from Cooper Mountain Nature Park (sunny day) and Mount Tabor (dreary rainy day).

IMG_9494This American Crow was finding either food or water in the top of the stop sign post on Mt. Tabor.

IMG_9500Black-headed Grosbeaks returned to the Portland area in large numbers last week. This damp individual was singing in low brush on Mt. Tabor.
IMG_9487Another Black-headed Grosbeak singing in the sun at Cooper Mountain, but from the top of a tall tree

IMG_9513An Olive-sided Flycatcher, singing in the rain. This species often hangs out at tree-top level, but this guy came down for some nice eye-level viewing.

IMG_9504House Finches were munching on dandelions on Mt. Tabor.

swainson'sHere is a typical view of a Swainson’s Thrush, seen on Cooper Mountain during our Warbler and Flycatcher Class. This bird did not vocalize and stayed partially hidden in the brush the whole time, but we decided on the ID based on her warm buffy color, lack of dark spots on the breast, and lack of tail dipping behavior. Darker breast spotting and tail dipping would suggest Hermit Thrush.

The weather forecast calls for warm sunny weather for the next week. We will see how accurate the forecast is, and how long it takes me to complain about how hot and sunny it is.

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Spring at Fernhill

While we continue to get above-average rainfall in the Portland area, there have been a few dry days of late, so I ran out for a quick tour of Fernhill Wetlands. Most of the wintering geese are gone, and there are signs that spring is slowly making progress.

Yellow-rumped Warblers, both Audubon’s and Myrtle (shown) races, are coming through in large numbers.

Red-winged Blackbirds are in full song and are staking out territories.

Song Sparrows start singing in January, but are increasingly vocal now.

Several pairs of Cinnamon Teal were courting.

Northern Harrier

A flock of Dunlins was using this log to get out of the mud for a while. They were all still in winter plumage. Dunlins are one of the first species to arrive in spring.
Spring shorebird migration peaks in late April/early May. There is still room in my shorebird class with Portland Audubon April 27/29.

This Sora was being typically elusive.

The red currants were is full bloom, attracting both Anna’s and Rufous Hummingbirds.

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February Doldrums

img_9341I think February is the most challenging month to live in the Portland area, as it is typically wet and dreary. This past month had three times the normal rainfall, so the brief sun breaks were especially appreciated. A quick trip to Broughton Beach provided looks at a large flotilla of Great Scaup (with some Lessers mixed in).

img_9336This Great Blue Heron was staring at the ground at the airport, waiting for a vole or some other rodent to appear. The dark mud at the end of his bill suggest previous attempts at napping some land-based prey.

img_9326American Crow, calling from the top of the dike

img_9337A few Horned Grebes were on the Columbia River. They are just starting to show some color on their necks.

img_9319The first real harbinger of spring was this Say’s Phoebe. Several of these birds have been reported in the Portland area in recent weeks. It has been too cold for many insects to be out, so I imagine it has been tough for these flycatchers to find enough to eat. Hopefully March will be a little more pleasant for all of us.

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