“Autumn” Shorebirds

Late summer is a challenging time to bird. The local nesters have finished raising their families and have grown quiet and harder to see. Most southbound migrants have not arrived yet. The weather is hot and many parks are crowded. The biggest return on your birding investment this time of year is shorebirds. Southbound migrants are showing up in good numbers and species diversity is increasing. Here are few shorebirds from the past week.

Baird’s Sandpiper, Gearhart. Most individuals of this species migrate through the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains, but Oregon always gets a few juveniles that head a little too far west.

Semipalmated Plover, Fort Stevens SP. While these adorable little plovers can be found anywhere in migration, a great many are found working the coastal beaches.

Black Turnstone, Seaside. A quick stop at the Seaside Cove will usually turn up a lot of Black Turnstones.

Surfbird, Seaside. Surfbirds are also regular at the Cove, still sporting a little of their breeding plumage.

Ruddy Turnstone, Seaside. Scanning the flocks of Black Turnstones will often produce one or two Ruddy Turnstones.

Killdeer, Fernhill Wetlands. Not a migrant, but Killdeer still counts on a shorebird list.

Pectoral Sandpiper, Fernhill Wetlands. I have seen several Pectoral Sandpipers lately. It seems a little early for them, as they are often found well into October.

Shorebird numbers should continue to build for the next couple of weeks, and by then we should start seeing some other migrants as well.

Happy Migration

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Racetrack Lake

Racetrack Lake, located on Sauvie Island, sort of in between the end of Rentenaar Road and the east shore of Sturgeon Lake, has been quite good for shorebirds recently. Good shorebird habitat has been very hard to find in the Willamette Valley this summer, with conditions either too dry or too wet, so this patch of mud has been quite attractive to southbound migrants. Unfortunately, birds were pretty distant so they didn’t present great photo opportunities.

Long-billed Dowitchers were one of the more common shorebirds on this visit.

There were a few Short-billed Dowitchers mixed in, although the distance made identification challenging. Note the whitish belly, the spotted sides of the breast, and the tiger-striped tertials.

Semipalmated Plovers rank near the top of the most adorable shorebird category.

American White Pelicans were considered pretty rare in the Portland area not that long ago. Now you can expect 100 or more around Sauvie Island in the late summer.

Great Egrets are also very common this time of year.

Water levels continue to drop at Racetrack Lake, so there should be some decent mud for a while longer. Happy Summer.

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Dog Days

I am not sure why the hottest days of mid-summer are referred to as “dog days.” My dogs want nothing to do with the heat, and the hot weather puts a damper on bird activity as well. Wetlands tend to be a little more active than woodlands this time of year, so here are some recent images from area wetlands.

This Purple Martin is from the colony at Fernhill Wetlands. The recently installed nesting boxes there have been a great success.

Tree Swallows are everywhere. It is nice to find one perched on a stick instead of on a nest box.

Ospreys on the nest at Jackson Bottom

This House Finch was feeding on green Elderberries at Smith and Bybee Wetlands.

Spotted Towhee at Smith and Bybee

Bewick’s Wrens seem to be very fond of dust baths this time of year.

It is baby crow season. These youngsters were exploring the shallow waters of a slough at Smith and Bybee.

It is harder to find herps in the hot weather. This Northwestern Garter was stuck in a vault for a water shut-off valve. I lifted him out and sent him on his way.

This is a very small, very thin Long-toed Salamander (note the insect parts nearby for scale).

Smith and Bybee Wetlands is thick with Green Herons right now. There were at least a dozen in this little slough.

Shorebird migration is starting to pick up. Unfortunately, there is very little mudflat habitat in the Portland area right now. This Greater Yellowlegs was one of several sharing the slough with the Green Herons.

Three Lesser Yellowlegs were also present at Smith and Bybee.

On the home front, we were treated to three baby Western Screech-Owls playing in the back yard. Two of them perched on the rope holding the sunshade and tried to untie the knots. It was almost too dark to see, so this is the best image I was able to get (6400 ISO). Pretty adorable.

Happy Summer

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Into the Woods

We left Portland for ten days to escape the fireworks which terrify our dogs. We stayed on a farm in the Coast Range in Benton County. The birds where we stayed were typical Coast Range birds which stayed high in the dark trees, so no great photos there.

I think this pile of feathers is the result of someone munching on a Sooty Grouse.

Bodhi and I flushed four Black-tailed Deer on the far side of a clear-cut.

This very old scat consisted of just fur and bone. From the size, I am assuming it is from a Mountain Lion.

The pond at the farm where we were staying was full of Rough-skinned Newts. I assume they were congregating to lay eggs.

To bee, or not to bee? This newt actually did take a swipe at the honeybee, but I don’t think she was able to get it down.
We didn’t get in the car very often on this trip, but when we did we usually saw Wild Turkeys along the road. Here is a crappy cell-phone-through-the-dirty-windshield shot.

I have never had a reaction to Poison Oak, but I take great care to avoid direct contact.

One morning a drove down to Fern Ridge Wildlife Area in Lane County. There wasn’t as much shorebird habitat as I had hoped for, but the Black-necked Stilts were well represented. Here is a juvenile Black-necked Stilt passing in front of a Killdeer. The juveniles are recognized by their scaly backs and dull legs.

Like most birds, they bring their leg over their wing when they need to scratch their head.

Here’s a lovely adult Black-necked Stilt, with solid black upperparts and bright pink legs.

Black-necked Stilts are fairly common breeders east of the Cascades, but harder to find on the west side. Fern Ridge, at the southern end of the Willamette Valley, is a consistent breeding site for this species. Southbound shorebird migration is starting to rev up.

Happy Summer

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Troutdale

I spent some time exploring the area just west of the Sandy River Delta in Troutdale, OR. A section of the 40-Mile Loop Trail starts just north of I-84 and runs north along the Sandy River, then west past Company Lake along the Columbia River. This baby Great Horned Owl was hanging out near the mouth of the Sandy.

The area is home to large FedEx and Amazon facilities, but there are still some weedy fields that attract open country birds like Savannah Sparrow and this Lazuli Bunting. Note the swallow photo bomb.

The highlight of this trip was the PAIR of Ash-throated Flycatchers that were hanging out near the Troutdale wastewater facility. Ash-throated Flycatchers are quite rare west of the Cascades, so it is pretty special to have a pair hanging out in Multnomah County.
A flash of rust on the tail, typical of this genus

There were a lot of dogs running around this area, but it was not nearly as crowded as the Sandy River Delta just across the river. A surprising number of vagrants have been found in this area is recent years, so it definitely warrants more visits.

Happy Spring.

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Fernhill Wetlands

Summer is settling in at Fernhill Wetlands. The birds that are here now are probably nesting. Always a treat this far west is this handsome Blue-winged Teal. I hope he has a mate sitting on eggs somewhere.

Just as lovely, and more expected here, is this Cinnamon Teal. A friend refers to them as “spicy.”

All the migrant shorebirds are gone, so we can stop to enjoy the resident Killdeer.

I have been spending more time around the back side of Dabblers Marsh at Fernhill. The wooded habitat attracts more songbirds, like this Cedar Waxwing.

Purple Martins have reclaimed their nest boxes by the lake.

This Great Egret was hanging out close to the main trail. They are often farther out in the marsh.

I have seen California Ground Squirrels here in the past, but this is the first I have seen since the major renovations. I am glad to see this species is still using the site.

This Long-toed Salamander was my only herp of the day. If you look at the back feet, you can see the extra long fourth toe that gives this species its name.

Happy Spring/Summer

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Tualatin River NWR

The pandemic birding continues. While the visitor center and parking lot are closed, you can still walk the trails at Tualatin River NWR.

Social distancing, birder style

The big news at the refuge this spring has been this pair of American Avocets, a rare species on Oregon’s west side.

It’s always a treat to see these guys, especially this year when the shorebird migration has been rather lackluster.

This Bonaparte’s Gull was hanging out with the Avocets for a while.

This distant pair of Long-billed Dowitchers was the only other evidence of shorebird migration on the refuge this morning.

This Purple Finch was keeping with the “birds at a distance theme” that prevailed this trip.

Lazuli Bunting, not quite as distant

Probably the most unusual bird of the trip was this intergrade Northern Flicker. He shows the normal red mustache of the Red-shafted form and the red nape of the Yellow-shafted form.

Happy Spring

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Pittock in the Pandemic

IMG_3039I visited Pittock Mansion in northwest Portland the other morning. The gate to the park is locked, but you can park in the neighborhood and walk up the hill. It is nice to be able to bird the entrance road without having to worry about cars.

The main attraction of this site in spring is the flocks of migrant songbirds that come through and touch down on this forested hilltop. The birds were actually here this morning, but most of them stayed very high up in the treetops. So no great warbler photos for me.

IMG_2994This Wilson’s Warbler was down in his normal level of undergrowth. Of course, it is a law of nature that every warbler must keep at least one branch between themselves and my camera lens.

golden-crownedTwo Golden-crowned Sparrows obliged by posing on the open ground. I do enjoy seeing them in their breeding plumage.

towhee 2This Spotted Towhee posed right at eye level, showing her red iris with a nice eye catch. Who needs a flashy warbler, anyway?

Happy Spring, and stay safe

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Still Waiting for Spring – Jackson Bottom

Jackson Bottom is another site that I can visit during the pandemic, assuming I get there early. The big push of spring migration has not hit, but you can tell it’s so close. Tree Swallows have been back for quite a while now. They are usually perched on the many bird houses at this site, so it was nice to catch a couple actually using a tree.
The Savannah Sparrows are setting up territory. This would have been a nice shot if I could have caught a reflection in the bird’s eye.

There we go.

This Osprey spent a lot of time preening while I was there. He still looks pretty disheveled.

Anna’s Hummingbird, just high enough that I can’t get a good flash from his gorget

Common Yellowthroat

witchity-witchity-witchity

I’m still waiting for shorebirds to show up. Greater Yellowlegs have been the only arrivals so far.

Some Killdeer have started nesting already.

Brush Rabbit

Long-toed Salamander

Several Common Garters (Red-spotted) were sunning themselves on this rock pile.

This garter had propped her body up against a log to better catch the morning sun.

I don’t remember seeing Camas at Jackson Bottom before, but they were in full bloom on this trip.

Happy spring

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Fernhill Wetlands

During the current pandemic, it is not always easy to visit favorite birding sites. I have found that if I go very early, I can get some good birding in at Fernhill Wetlands without encountering too many folks. (Of course, this is my goal even without a pandemic.) This Marsh Wren put on a nice show.

Greater Yellowlegs is the only species of migrant shorebird I have seen so far this spring. We are still about two weeks away from the peak.

Green Heron, completely failing at camouflage. The auto-focus on my camera insists on focusing on the vegetation behind birds, rather than on the bird. (Yes, I am blaming the equipment.)

White-throated Sparrows have been regular at Fernhill lately.

White-crowned Sparrow

Fox Sparrow

This Northern Flicker was hanging out on the gravel dike in the wetland, perfect woodpecker habitat.

This Pacific Chorus Frog was hanging out under a log on a cold morning.

Long-toed Salamander is a lifer amphibian for me this year. As is typical when I see a new species of whatever, I now see them all the time.

More Long-toed Salamanders

This Muskrat would like to remind you to eat your greens.

Still waiting for spring migration to kick in.

Happy Spring

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