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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Commonwealth Lake

Now that the snow has melted, the weather has turned to freezing temps and a howling east wind. Bleah. Despite the lousy conditions, I bundled up and took a walk around Commonwealth Lake. The park was hosting a large flock of Cackling Geese and a similar sized flock of American Wigeon. Other species were present in much smaller numbers.

img_9283This Great Egret was getting a lot of attention from the dog walkers and joggers in the park, with people stopping to take cell phone photos. I try not to be a birding snob, realizing that the big flashy species are what get people’s attention. Great Egrets are gorgeous birds, and always worth a look. But most of these folks were oblivious to the smaller creatures flitting around this bird’s feet…

greenlike this guy. This Green Heron was fluffed up against the cold and was staying in the thick brush along the water’s edge.

img_9288Duck Butts! A pair of Gadwall were doing the dabbling thing.

pied-billedAfter a successful nesting season at this site, Pied-billed Grebes are still present in good numbers.

ring-billedThis Ring-billed Gull was struggling to remain perched on a post in the high winds. Note the red orbital ring and gape, suggesting that breeding season may not be all that far off. If we can just get through February…

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Post-Snowpocalypse Ramblings

small-ring-billedThe Portland area got a dump of about 10″ of snow recently. It was lovely on the first day, but for the next week it was a pain, with roads being impassable from the ice and snow. When I was finally able to get out, I went to Amberglen office park in Hillsboro to scout for my Hillsboro Parks and Rec gull class. This Ring-billed Gull was posing on the ice.

california-gullI found a few California Gulls on my scouting trip, but they were a no-show on class day.

lesser-scaupThis Lesser Scaup was bathing at Dawson Creek. The bill color on these birds is striking.

red-tailedOn Thursday I went to Sauvie Island, partly just to go birding and partly to scout for my upcoming waterfowl class. There was so much water from the melting snow that the ducks were scattered everywhere. Raptors put on a good show. Here is a young Red-tailed Hawk.

peregrineThis Peregrine Falcon was keeping an eye on the ducks.

harrierNorthern Harrier

I laid down some millet in various spots to chum for sparrows (class in March, hint, hint).

golden-crownedGolden-crowned Sparrow, one of the more common winter residents.

white-throatedWhite-throated Sparrows were a big deal when I first moved to Oregon, but they are now considered rare but regular in the winter.

towheeSpotted Towhees are so common they tend to be overlooked. But it is nice to stop and appreciate just how gaudy and beautiful they are.

Lots to see in the Portland area this time of year. Cheers.

 

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Random Images

Life and inclement weather have conspired against me of late, so my outings have been far too few. But here are some photos from recent weeks.

horned-lark-2A trip to Broughton Beach provided nice looks at a small flock of Horned Larks. I want to read up on the many subspecies of Horned Larks to see which ones are found in Oregon. Whether I would be able to distinguish them in the field remains to be seen.
horned-lark-3eurasianThis female Eurasian Wigeon has been hanging out at Commonwealth Lake.

grebes-2Pied-billed Grebes, Commonwealth Lake
grebeshummerThe Portland area received about ten inches of snow last night. While this unusually large snowfall made for a lovely winter wonderland, it is quite challenging for the resident Anna’s Hummingbirds.

nuthatchI finally got around to making some vegan suet (equal parts coconut oil and peanut butter with a little corn meal mixed in). It took the birds a while to find it, but it has become quite popular. Here is a Red-breasted Nuthatch.

img_9205the nuthatch sharing with a few Bushtits

img_9194and a big old wad of Bushtits. Other species seen eating the suet include Bewick’s Wren, Downy Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Black-capped Chickadee. I hope some warblers find it soon. We shall see.

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Siletz Bay

common-scoter-1This Common Scoter was recently found in Siletz Bay, just south of Lincoln City. This is only the second record of this species in North America, so he was definitely worth chasing.

common-scoter-2The Common Scoter seems pretty comfortable in Siletz Bay, feeding and resting near the pull-out just south of the Schooner Creek bridge, so he was an easy tick. I just showed up and there he was. It can seem a little anticlimactic when a staked-out bird is too easy to find. But the advantage of such a situation is that you have the time to explore the surrounding area. On this day I birded from the D River in Lincoln City to Boiler Bay. This whole area is covered on pages 155 – 157 of Birding Oregon. There are a lot of birds packed into just over two pages. Or perhaps my writing is just very concise.

bonapartesThis Bonaparte’s Gull was hanging out at the D River.

brewers-1male Brewer’s Blackbird, D River

brewers-2female Brewer’s Blackbird, D River. I find female Brewer’s to be much more photogenic than males. Perhaps my camera just doesn’t do well with extreme blacks and whites.

surf-scotersSurf Scoters in the surf

harbor-sealsThe sand spit at the mouth of Siletz Bay is a favorite haul out spot for Harbor Seals.

harbor-sealhappy Harbor Seal

red-throated-loonRed-throated Loon

brantA little farther up the bay, I found two Brant. I don’t get to see then often enough.

red-phalarope-1Recent storms have brought a lot of Red Phalaropes to the coast and points inland. These birds were hanging out at the Salishan golf course.
red-phalarope-2It’s nice that a golf course is actually being good for something.

thayers-1I saw some nice birds at Boiler Bay, but most were too far out for photos. This Thayer’s Gull was perched on this little knob of rock for several hours.

black-oystercatcher-3One can often get close looks at Black Oystercatchers at Boiler Bay. This bird was particularly vocal.
black-oystercatcher-2Black Oystercatcher, sleeping with one eye open

The Siletz Bay area is typically not a big birding destination, with the exception of Boiler Bay. But this stretch of the coast can be very birdy, so it was nice that the Common Scoter has inspired so many birders to explore the area. Cheers.

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Gull big day

ring-billed and mewMy recent gull class field trip found ten species of gulls (Western, Glaucous-winged, Glaucous, Herring, Thayer’s, California, Ring-billed, Mew, Bonaparte’s, and Heermann’s). This was a new record for the class, and it got me wondering. How many species of gulls could one conceivably find in one day in Oregon?

The best time for such a quest would be early November. By then, the wintering species would be here, and there are usually a few lingering Heermann’s Gulls that haven’t gone south yet. Bonaparte’s Gulls are migrating south at this time, as well. If you waited until December, the migrants would have already moved on. By late January, many of the wintering birds have already left.

The best location for a gull quest would be the coast. Eight species regularly occur in the Willamette Valley as well, (Western (rare), Glaucous-winged, Herring, Thayer’s, California, Ring-billed, Mew, and Bonaparte’s), but anything else would be extremely rare. Ring-billed can be challenging to find on the coast, but you can usually find one among the Mew Gulls in the estuaries. So with some searching, you could count on these eight species, plus Heermann’s makes nine.

If your quest occurred the day after an autumn storm, you would have a chance at two pelagic species, Black-legged Kittiwake and Sabine’s Gull. That would bring your total to eleven.

To exceed eleven species, you would need to find a rarity. Glaucous Gull is probably the most likely. Other less likely candidates include Lesser Black-backed, Slaty-backed, or a wayward Franklin’s.

So if you could find a rarity (or go see a previously reported bird) and timed your quest to coincide with some west winds, you could conceivably see twelve gull species in a day. Has anyone done this? This sounds like a noble quest to me.

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