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. They are easily accessible, and, as I have said many times, owls make people stupid. The worst birder behavior I have seen over the years has always been around owls. Some people try to get too close; for a better view, a clearer photograph, or just to get close to these amazing animals.

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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Winter Waterfowl

Waterfowl seem to dominate the birding scene in the Willamette Valley in winter. Year-round residents, like this Pied-billed Grebe, are joined by a host of winter migrants.

My camera hates white birds, but managed to capture this Common Merganser pretty well.

I usually gloss over Mallards, but they are a pretty duck.

Ring-necked Duck

Eurasian Wigeon have been hard to come by the past couple of winters, so it was nice to see this pretty boy at Dawson Creek.American Wigeon remain common on grassy lawns and ponds.

Green-winged Teal, also at Dawson Creek.

There are other birds around this time of year, like sparrows and raptors. But while it is nice to see that Merlin fly overhead and the flocks of Golden-crowned Sparrows deep in the brush piles, sometimes it is good to take the time to study and appreciate the waterfowl that sit out in the open in the daylight.

Happy Winter

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Beach Birds

I spent a few days on the north Oregon coast to escape the New Year’s fireworks in Portland. As expected this time of year, there was plenty of wind and rain. But there were enough breaks in the weather to get out and enjoy some coastal birds.

Sanderlings are always a treat. This bird was squinting into the howling wind.

A blurry photo of typical Sanderling wave-running

This time of year, the largest shorebird flocks are made up of Dunlin.

This gull caught my eye. The marbled pattern on the bill indicates a third-cycle bird. The dark mantle and black wing tips suggest Western Gull. The heavy mottled hood suggests some Glaucous-winged Gull in this bird’s ancestry.

I ran into a small flock of Snowy Plovers. This species is making a great comeback on the Oregon Coast after nearly being extirpated.

A flock of Snow Buntings was a special treat. The high winds kept the birds moving around and usually hunkered down in the beach grass, so I couldn’t get a clear photo.

A washed-up log hosted a colony of Pelagic Gooseneck Barnacles. These were actually quite lovely despite the strong fishy smell. The gulls were delighted to find these tasty snacks.

Bodhi and Nala love a good romp on the beach, despite the weather.

We play hard, we rest hard. Happy New Year

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Orchard Oriole

An Orchard Oriole has been showing off for birders in southeast Portland for a few weeks now. This is the 15th record of this species in Oregon.

The chances of just running across an Orchard Oriole in Oregon are very slim, so when one sets up camp at an accessible site close to home, I am obligated to go see her.

My current birding goal is to see 400 species in Oregon. There are very few regularly occurring species that I haven’t seen, so if I am going to make my goal I must rely on seeing vagrants, such as this bird. My chase radius is short, and I don’t get to travel much, so local rarities are my only hope.

Happy Winter

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Jackson Bottom

I spent a foggy morning at Jackson Bottom Wetland Reserve. This Great Egret was blending in with the foggy background at Pintail Pond.

Belted Kingfishers are almost always distant subjects for my photos. They are quite skittish.

The Coyote Hill Trail is a nice loop around a weedy field that can be good for upland species, like this American Kestrel.

House Finch

Northern Pintail was the most abundant species of waterfowl on this day.

The north end of the reserve hosted a flock of 20 Tundra Swans, always a nice find.

There weren’t any great rarities on this trip. But there were a lot of good birds and a nice four-mile hike without any rain – a great trip for December.

Happy Autumn

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Force Lake

Force Lake, a small lake at the edge of a golf course in north Portland, is not a terribly attractive site, but it can be quite birdy at times. On this visit, a large flock of Golden-crowned Sparrows was feeding in a little patch of lawn.

When startled, the birds would take cover in a patch of blackberries, but would soon come out again to resume feeding.

I only found two birds in the flock that weren’t Golden-crowned Sparrow. One was this White-crowned Sparrow.

The other was this White-throated Sparrow. This species has become increasingly common in Oregon over the past couple of decades, but I am still stoked to find one. This bird was especially cooperative.

The lake hosted a decent variety of waterfowl, but I was intrigued by the Canvasbacks.

This male would dive down to root around in the muck at the bottom of the lake, then come up and do this little dance on the surface. He didn’t seem bothered by the mud facial.

Happy autumn

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Fernhill Wetlands

A recent foggy morning found me at Fernhill Wetlands. Birding was a little slow overall, but there were a few neat finds. These were two of about 100 Long-billed Dowitchers out that morning.

Black Phoebe has become an expected species at Fernhill in just the past few years. My camera insists on focusing on vegetation instead of birds.

The best bird of the morning was this Harlan’s Hawk soaring over the wetlands.

There has been a huge crop of Nutria at Fernhill this year. There were babies everywhere. I realize this is an invasive species in North America, but baby Nutria are pretty adorable.
Happy Autumn

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