Migration Update

Our cold wet April has blossomed into a cold wet May. I shouldn’t complain, since we need whatever moisture we can get, but a few balmy spring days would be nice.

Shorebirds on the northern Oregon coast peaked last week. This Black Oystercatcher was one of four hanging out at the Seaside Cove.

Black Turnstones are common in winter at Seaside Cove, but the few that remain are sporting crisp breeding plumage.

A single Ruddy Turnstone has been at The Cove for a while now.

Songbirds have been moving, too, despite the weather. This Common Yellowthroat was singing at Cooper Mountain Nature Park.

The locally nesting White-crowned Sparrows are on territory and ready for nesting.

Ruby-crowned Kinglets don’t nest around here, but they have been singing like crazy. I cannot seem to get a decent photo of a kinglet, but at least the parts of this bird we can see are clear.

In the “totally creepy and yet fascinating” department: here is a second cycle Western Gull showing the structure of their tongue. I didn’t realize their tongues were that big, let alone such an interesting shape. The more you look, the more you see.

Happy Spring

This is April?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI think we had more snow in April than we did in December. It has been cold and wet most of the month, and while I am very grateful for the rain and the added mountain snowpack, the weather has seemed to delay the onset of spring. Migrants have been few, and resident species a just starting to get revved up for the season. This Pacific Wren was trying out his song at Tualatin River NWR.

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The Townsend’s Chipmunks are out and about. I think the two lumps in this one’s ear are ticks.

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Hermit Thrushes, which are considered a winter species here in the Willamette Valley, are still around.

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This Virginia Rail put on a nice show at Commonwealth Lake Park.

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If we can’t have spring migrants yet, we might as well enjoy the local residents. Spotted Towhees never fail to impress.

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On a recent semi-birdless outing, I noticed a nice flight of these, Western White-ribboned Carpet Moth. These are tiny, with a wingspan of about an inch and a stunning pattern. It is always great to learn a new species.

So, colorful migrant birds and will show up any minute. Right? 

Happy Spring

Early Spring

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Spring is kicking into gear. Lots of birds have starting pairing up in anticipation of nesting. These Tree Swallows were checking out a tree cavity.

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Yellow-rumped Warblers are becoming more common and some have acquired full breeding plumage.

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There are still a lot of “winter” sparrows in the Willamette Valley. Here is a typical view of a Lincoln’s Sparrow. This bird had no interest in posing out in the open.

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Green-winged Teal do not nest in western Oregon, but they have started to pair up and are looking very dapper.

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This Double-crested Cormorant has caught a Rainbow Trout. When the county parks department stocked this lake with trout, I doubt that cormorants were the intended recipients, but I always like to see native wildlife benefiting whenever they can.

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I have found just a few Long-toed Salamanders so far this year. Amphibians should become more active in the next week or so.

Happy Spring

Fernhill Wetlands

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Spring migration hasn’t really kicked in, yet, but the birds that are here are getting more active. Here are some recent images from Fernhill Wetlands. This Brewer’s Blackbird was looking good in the sunshine.

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Black Phoebes are now expected at Fernhill Wetlands. It doesn’t seem like that long ago that I found Washington County’s first Black Phoebe there.

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This was my first Rufous Hummingbird of the year. He refused to perch in decent light.

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A large flock of Taverner’s Cackling Geese were hanging out on Fernhill Lake. The Ridgeway’s Cackling Geese were either off feeding somewhere or have moved on.

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Brush Rabbit, always adorable

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California Ground Squirrel, soaking up the sun

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Spotted Towhee

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Downy Woodpecker

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Bright sunlight makes it hard for me to get a decent of photo of an American Coot, but this bird’s yoga pose was too good not to share.

Happy Spring!

Jackson Bottom

Despite air temperatures in the 40s, the sunshine brought out some signs of spring on a recent visit to Jackson Bottom Wetlands Reserve in Hillsboro.

tree swallowTree Swallows are usually the first swallow species to arrive in spring. When the weather is still cold, they hunt for insects close to the water’s surface.

tree swallo perchedSome Tree Swallows were already laying claim to the many nest boxes at this site.

ca ground squirrel smallThis California Ground Squirrel was singing (screaming) from a log perch.

Northwestern Garters instaThe sunshine brought out a good number of snakes, despite the cold temperature. These are Northwestern Garters.

Common Garter instaThis is a typical Common (Red-spotted) Garter.

pale Common Garter left instaThis Common Garter is lacking the red pigment shown by most members of this subspecies.

Long-toed SalamanderThis Long-toed Salamander was hanging out under a big piece of bark.

Happy last days of winter.

Getting into Shape

Shape is one of the most important field marks you should consider when identifying a bird. While color and plumage condition will fluctuate, shape and proportion are much more consistent throughout the year and between individual birds of a given species.

That being said, the shape of a bird can change at any given moment due to the way they hold their feathers.

cooper's fluffy instaThis Cooper’s Hawk had just bathed and was helping their feathers dry by fluffing them out. From a distance, this bird appeared to show a broad breast with rusty barring and a broad, banded tail. The drooping wings made the tail seem shorter. These are all great marks for a Red-shouldered Hawk.

cooper's instaAfter a while, the bird smoothed their feathers down, revealing a slender build and a long rounded tail typical of a Cooper’s Hawk. So shape alone is enough to identify this bird, but we had to observe the bird long enough to see what their shape actually was. This is another reason to take the time to study every bird you come across. A quick glance or a single photo can be misleading. (How many times have plastic bags been identified as Snowy Owls?)

Happy Winter

Rentenaar Road

white-crownedRentenaar Road on Sauvie Island remains one of the better sites in the Portland area to find a nice diversity of winter sparrows, along with other songbirds and waterfowl. While this trip did not produce any rarities, there were plenty of birds and sunshine to make the trip worthwhile. White-crowned Sparrows, pictured above, are among the more common species.

golden-crownedGolden-crowned Sparrows are usually the most common sparrow in the winter flocks.

foxThis Fox Sparrow kept close to the heavy cover.

white-throatedOnce considered a rarity in this area, White-throated Sparrows are now reliable winter residents.

red-winged blackbirdsRed-winged Blackbirds
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Another Red-winged Blackbird, showing off her colors

red-shoulderedThis Red-shouldered Hawk was the most unusual find of the day.

finchesSeveral birds were bathing in puddles in the road. Here a male Purple Finch cavorts with a female House Finch.

swansWaterfowl numbers were a little low on this trip. Ducks and geese face pretty heavy hunting pressure on Sauvie Island. Numbers should increase in the next month as hunting seasons expire and some birds start moving north. This flock of Tundra Swans kept their distance from the road.

mt. st. helensAs the weather was clear on this day, there were nice views of Mount St. Helens, here with a lenticular cloud.

Happy Winter.

New year’s birds

The end of the year brings cold wet weather and busy schedules, so I look forward to the start of the new year to get back out in the field. The weather is still bad most of the time, but schedules allow a better chance to get out if there is a dry patch.

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This White-breasted Nuthatch put on a nice show in the back yard.

golden-crowned leftThis Golden-crowned Sparrow was foraging around the shrubs at the Hillsboro library.

white-crowned smallHere’s a young White-crowned Sparrow for comparison.

ring-billedWe still have about a month to enjoy a good diversity of gull species before they start to disperse. This first-cycle Ring-billed Gull was swimming with two adults.

gullsThis Olympic Gull (Glaucous-winged X Western hybrid) was hanging out with the Ring-billed Gulls.

At least in western Oregon, January provides some really good winter birding. Get out and enjoy it before the February doldrums kick in.

Happy Winter

Tualatin River NWR

Like other national wildlife refuges in the Willamette Valley, Tualatin National Wildlife Refuge has limited access in autumn and winter. But the trail that is open can provide some good birding.

The highlight of this trip was a fresh sapsucker well that was attracting both Anna’s Hummingbirds and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Sapsucker wells are an important source of nectar and insects for birds in the colder months.

Bewick’s Wrens spend much of their time buried in the depths of brush piles, but this individual popped up and posed for a few photos.

It is always worth the time to check out brushy hedgerows this time of year.

California Scrub-Jay
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Spotted Towhee

I don’t normally think of Dark-eyed Juncos as having a camouflage pattern, but this individual was doing a great job of blending in with his environment.

Happy Autumn

Gull Season

Late autumn and early winter is the time to find the biggest diversity of gulls in Oregon. I led a field trip to the coast at the end of October. Strong storms from the west had moved a lot of birds close to shore earlier in the week, but on the day we arrived, strong east winds had driven a lot of birds back out to sea. At least we didn’t get rained on.

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At the Seaside Cove, a few gulls posed for us in the sun. This gull is mostly Western, but the streaking on the head and neck suggest some Glaucous-winged ancestry.

This is a fairly robust Iceland Gull (Thayer’s subspecies).

A closer look at the Iceland. The yellow bill will fade as the season progresses.

There aren’t a lot of places in the Portland area to get close looks at gulls anymore. This group was hanging out on a bar in the Willamette River. The flock was a mix of California, Ring-billed, Herring, Iceland, Glaucous-winged, Western, and a mass of messy hybrids.

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While scanning the genetic soup of confusing hybrids, it was refreshing to land on a Ring-billed Gull.

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California Gull

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While this bird ticks most of the boxes for Herring Gull, the bill seemed a little too heavy to me. This, combined with the primaries which were slightly less than jet black, suggest this might be a Cook Inlet Gull (Herring X Glaucous-winged).

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This Glaucous-winged Gull was hanging out in a flock of Cackling Geese at Amberglen Park. I am guessing that the grazing geese were stirring up worms for the gull.

Happy Gulling!