Jackson Bottom

Spring migration hasn’t really revved up yet, but a recent warm sunny day drew me out to Jackson Bottom Wetlands. I was as interested in herping as I was birding, and some cooperative herps easily filled the void created by relatively low bird numbers.

This Pacific Chorus Frog (also known as Pacific Tree Frog) was a neat find. I hear this species most of the year, but I seldom get a good look at one.

I normally leave herps that I find in situ, but I couldn’t resist picking up this little Northwestern Garter. The problem with combining birding and herping is that after an encounter like this, your hand smells like garter snake musk. So every time you raise your binocular to your face you get a nose full of snake skank.

Here is a much larger Northwestern Garter.

This Red-spotted Garter (a subspecies of Common Garter) was exploring a Red-flowering Currant. I don’t know what he was looking for, but he explored the whole bush before climbing back down.
Here is another Red-spotted Garter drinking at a water feature. This individual was at least three feet long.

I did actually see a few birds on this trip, although they were not nearly as photogenic.
There are still flocks of Golden-crowned Sparrows around. I would expect them to head north pretty soon.

Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal making friends

Happy Spring

 

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Spring Waterfowl

I know it is technically not spring yet, but the waterfowl are all either on the move or looking to pair up, so close enough.

A flock of 12 Greater White-fronted Geese stopped by Force Lake in north Portland. This species migrates through the Willamette Valley in great numbers, but are usually just flyovers.

A Greater White-fronted Goose showing off her speckled belly

This Greater Scaup was also at Force Lake. Greater Scaup are more often found on larger bodies of water, like the nearby Columbia River.

The Canvasbacks on Force Lake were apparently mucking around on the bottom of the lake and came up with very muddy faces.

This Gadwall at Commonwealth Lake was showing off for a nearby female.

Green-winged Teal have started to move out of the area. This lone male was at Commonwealth Lake.

Double-crested Cormorants are just starting to get some brighter colors on their facial skin and eyes.

Migration should start to really pick up in the next couple of weeks. Happy Vernal Equinox.

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Little Brown Birds

IMG_2406Late winter is when I typically concentrate on sparrows. There isn’t much else going on this time of year, and the vegetation is worn down enough that visibility is pretty good. Rentenaar Road on Sauvie Island continues to be the best spot in the area for a variety of little brown birds. Some would say that the birding is too easy when you just throw down some seed and watch the birds swarm in, but I love the opportunity to see 10 sparrow species side-by-side at close range. Here is a Fox Sparrow.

IMG_2411White-throated Sparrows were a rare treat around here 15 years ago, but they are an expected species now.

IMG_2419White-crowned Sparrow, always dapper

IMG_2428There is usually a small flock of Savannah Sparrows along Rentenaar Road in winter. They tend to keep to themselves and don’t come in to feed at the chumming spots.

IMG_2395The most noteworthy little brown bird in the area this winter has been the Siberian Accentor in Woodland, WA. I don’t keep a Washington list, but I did cross the river to see this bird. They are quite rare anywhere in North America, so this was probably my only chance to add this bird to my life list. It would have been much better for me if the bird had flown ten miles to the southwest and hung out in Oregon, but Asian vagrants don’t seem to care about my state list.

IMG_2429This was my first snake of the season, found at Wapato Greenway State Park on Sauvie Island. I am not sure if this is a Common Garter or a Northwestern Garter. The body pattern most closely matches the local race of Common Garter, but they typically have red heads. Our local Northwestern Garters do not show red spots on the sides, but do have small dark heads. I did not apply one test that has often worked for me; If you pick them up and they bite you, they are Common Garters. If they don’t try to bite, they are Northwestern. I don’t know if other herpers have noticed this trend, but I have found it to be true of individual snakes of known identity.

Happy Late Winter/False Spring

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False Spring in the Wetlands

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It is still very much winter in western Oregon, but February always brings stirrings of spring. Many birds, like this Red-winged Blackbird, are warming up their songs in preparation for setting up nesting territories.

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Male Anna’s Hummingbirds always seem to be on territory.

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This American Robin was nestled in the middle of a pine. I don’t associate robins with conifers, so I was struck by how nicely the bird was framed within the needles.

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This Northwestern Salamander was my first herp of the year. He was hanging out under a board. The temperature was cold enough that he didn’t move at all when I found him. I could have gotten a better photo if I had repositioned him, but I decided to leave him in situ.

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This was one of four White-throated Sparrows moving around in a tight group at Fernhill Wetlands.

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I have often noted how Nutria (Coypu) walk that fine line between adorable and hideous. Perhaps that line has finally been crossed.

Happy Winter

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Mew Gulls

mew rightI made a quick trip to Amberglen Office Park in Hillsboro to check the lawn for gulls. Along with a small flock of Ring-billed Gulls were four Mew Gulls. Mews are one of my favorite gulls. They are easy to pick out of a mixed flock, they seldom if ever hybridize, and they possess a cuteness not found in most Larids.

Mew Gulls are found in Oregon from October to March. They are most common in estuaries along the coast, but you can find them in decent numbers in the Willamette Valley.

IMG_2306As gulls go, Mews are pretty petite with their short slender bills and round pigeon-like heads. Eye color variable, but tends toward the dark side. Like Ring-bills, Mews show very long wing projection beyond the tail.

dark mew leftThis individual is heavily marked on the head and breast compared to the bird above.

IMG_2320Amberglen is a good spot for waterfowl and attracts a few songbirds. Several sparrow species, including this Song Sparrow, were foraging around the main pond.

nutriaHere is my obligatory photo of a Nutria. Cuteness transcends their invasive species status.

Happy Winter

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Autumn Images

Between the recent bouts of rain, we have seen a few sunny days. The birds seem to really take advantage of the nice weather to bulk up for winter. Cedar Waxwings, like this juvenile, have been working fruiting trees and shrubs. Most of these images were taken at Koll Wetlands in Beaverton.

adult Cedar Waxwing

The red nape on this Downy Woodpecker blended in with the red berries.

This noisy Belted Kingfisher blended in amazingly well with the foliage.

This one was not so well camouflaged.

Yellow-rumped Warblers are starting to arrive in the valley.

Most migrant shorebirds are long gone, but three Greater Yellowlegs were lingering at Koll. There is no exposed mud, so the birds were wading deep or actually swimming.

Young Red-tailed Hawk, keeping an eye on me

The male ducks have mostly finished their molt into their colorful plumage, a nice change from the dreary summer look of “Ugly Duck Season.” These Wood Ducks were at Commonwealth Lake.

I followed this Bewick’s Wren around for a while, waiting for him to emerge from the shade and land in a bit of sunshine. When I shoot in RAW, my camera cannot shoot multiple frames, so I only got one chance when the bird popped up into the light.

A much more cooperative model, this Barred Owl hung out by my bird feeder for about half and hour one day. He watched the little birds flitting around, but I think he was hoping for one of the squirrels or rats that often clean up under the feeder. Unfortunately, the rodents did not make an appearance, so the owl eventually moved on.

Happy Autumn

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Mt. Hood National Forest

I had the opportunity to guide a lovely couple from Florida on a trip to Mt. Hood National Forest. The weather was not great, with dreary conditions at lower elevations and driving rain at Timberline Lodge. But we did manage to find some great birds.

Our first stop was Wildwood Recreation Site for riparian and lower elevation species. The first bird of the day was a Bald Eagle flying over the river; a nice start. Our main target was American Dipper, and the footbridge over the Salmon River is a pretty reliable spot.

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One of two American Dippers we spotted in the early morning gloom

We next tried to bird around Timberline Lodge for high-elevation species, but the rain and wind made birding impossible. So we headed down to Little Crater Lake.

IMG_2077Birding in the forests this time of year can be deadly slow, but we did encounter two groups of Canada Jays. Even when you don’t have food, these birds will come in close to check you out.

IMG_2079On the way back from Little Crater Lake, we came across a group of six Sooty Grouse. This was a lifer for my client, and the largest “flock” that I have seen.

deer duoAfter a second trip up to Timberline proved equally unbirdable, we decided to head back toward Portland to look for sparrows and other grassland species at Powell Butte Nature Park. We found a few sparrows, but the highlight of this spot was the group of three Black-tailed Deer feeding on fallen apples.

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IMG_2091One reason songbirds may have been so hard to come by at this site was the pair a American Kestrels (female shown here) that were actively hunting. A Sharp-shinned Hawk was also lurking about, so the sparrows may have been keeping a low profile.

Some nice birds and excellent company made for a good day, despite the dreary conditions.

Happy Autumn

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Late Summer Wetlands

I made a quick trip to Fernhill Wetlands and Jackson Bottom to look for shorebirds. My first bird of the morning was this Killdeer standing on the sidewalk. I guess that counts.

There is a frustrating lack of mudflats in area wetlands this year. Areas are either dry with lots of vegetation or are full of water. I did manage to find this Wilson’s Snipe (front) feeding with a juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher.

Young Spotted Sandpiper on a log

Lots of American White Pelicans are in the Willamette Valley right now.

The wetland rehabilitation at Fernhill Wetlands has resulted in much less exposed mud, but the thick emergent vegetation is hog heaven to rails, like this Virginia Rail.

In the “invasive but adorable” category are this Nutria with her baby.

Brush Rabbits rule the “native AND adorable” category.
So cute

These two Black-tailed Deer were at Jackson Bottom. I found it interesting that the little spike buck in front still had his antlers completely encased in velvet while the fork buck in back has already shed his velvet to reveal polished antler.

There is still about a month of shorebird migration left. I hope we get some good mudflats to bring them in. Happy Summer.

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Portraits from the coast

I made a trip out to the coast to scout for my shorebird class. Much of the trip consisted of running from site to site to check on conditions, but I did spend a little time at a few sites where the birds presented some nice close views.

Parking Lot C at Fort Stevens had a lot of young Brown-headed Cowbirds flying around. It always amazes me how cowbirds can be raised by other species but still somehow figure out how to be cowbirds.

This young cowbird had a nice yellowish cast to the underparts.

This Purple Shore Crab was out in the open near the tidal ponds at Parking Lot C.

This Ruddy Turnstone was hanging out with the Black Turnstones at Seaside Cove. Ruddys are harder to find during autumn migration than they are in the spring.

Ruddy and Black Turnstones

Black Turnstones are common at the Cove from autumn through spring.

A few Surfbirds are often mixed in with the turnstone flock.

Late summer and early fall sees a buildup of California Gulls along the coast, often in very worn and tattered plumage. So I was surprised to see this individual still rocking some very intense colors in the eye-ring and gape.

Heermann’s Gulls are always a favorite.

I didn’t find any juvenile Heermann’s on this trip. They experienced nearly complete nesting failures in recent years. Hopefully they had a little more success this year and we will see some young birds as the season wears on.

 

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Rocky Mountain National Park

We took a quick trip to Colorado for a family reunion. There wasn’t much time for hardcore birding, but we made a quick pass through Rocky Mountain National Park.

Moose are always a treat to see, provided you are a respectful distance away.

Elk are seemingly everywhere in the park. This young bull was rather shy, which I was grateful for since I needed to walk down the path where he was lounging.

This large bull didn’t even bother looking at people. He was quite comfortable where he was.

The main target of my visit to the park was White-tailed Ptarmigan. This species is notorious for walking right up to non-birders, but often proves a challenge for those actually trying to see it. I have searched for this species in Rocky Mountain NP on several previous occasions, as well as at Glacier NP and Mt. Rainier NP. I finally connected with this bird by hiking to a site where they had been reported consistently in recent days and then scanning the tundra for about half an hour. She was quite far away, and I couldn’t get closer without leaving the trail and damaging the fragile tundra, so I made do with a distant view of this female and her four babies. This is the first lifer I have seen since January of 2018, so I was thankful for any view at all.

After finding the ptarmigan, I stopped at a large snow field to look for Brown-capped Rosy-Finches. Two lifers in one morning was a little too much to hope for, but I did find this Horned Lark, which is always a treat.
By late morning, the traffic and crowds were becoming unbearable, an unfortunate result of this park’s popularity. So I didn’t have a chance to study the small furry critters that often present themselves at close range here.

The lodge where we stayed hosted lots of Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels. This is the same species found in Oregon, but they seemed less colorful in Colorado.

Yellow-bellied Marmots were quite vocal, and too shy to allow a close approach.

While they didn’t provide any photo opportunities, it was great to see and hear Cordilleran Flycatchers. Broad-tailed Hummingbirds were everywhere. It is always nice to experience different bird communities when traveling, even if birding is not your main goal.  Now that I’m home, it’s time to start studying southbound shorebirds.

Happy summer.

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