I went to Fort Stevens to look for shorebirds this week. The main push of spring migrants hadn’t arrived yet, but numbers were definitely on the increase. I was pleased that I timed the tide correctly at Parking Lot D. This little bay fills quickly when the tide comes in, so it was nice to have extensive mudflats on this visit.
Semipalmated Plovers enjoying the mud
This spot often hosts good numbers of Caspian Terns. Several birds were seen courting.
Of the six Black-bellied Plovers I saw that day, only one was in full breeding plumage. The others, including this bird, were still in molt.
The beach hosted good numbers of Whimbrels.
The most common shorebird on the beach that day was Sanderling. Most were still in winter plumage.
Shorebird migration should peak within the next week.
I went to Cooper Mountain Nature Park in Beaverton primarily to look for herps, but the birds were a lot more cooperative. White-crowned Sparrows were singing everywhere.
Chipping Sparrows nest at higher elevations, but a few can be found in the Willamette Valley during migration.
Most of the Western Trilliums are past their peak, but this one was still in good condition.
This Northwestern Fence Lizard was catching some rays. This lizard and one baby Northwestern Garter Snake were the only reptiles of the trip.
This pond was swarming with tadpoles and salamander larvae. I think the salamanders (the light green critters on right half of the photo) are Northwestern Salamanders. I don’t know who the tadpoles are.
A quick tour of Fernhill Wetlands showed bird activity picking up, with the appearance of newly arrived migrants and nest building by the local breeders. This Tree Swallow was staking out a cavity.
There are still some Cackling Geese around, although they should be heading north any day now. Here is a nice side-by-side view of a Ridgeway’s Cackling Goose and a Taverner’s Cackling Goose.
The male Brewer’s Blackbird was showing his colors in the bright sunlight. I caught him in the middle of a blink, so his eye looks weird.
California Quail have become slightly more common at Fernhill in recent years.
The Common Carp are spawning in Fernhill Lake.
I was pleased to find this Muskrat. The non-native Nutria have become so common at this site I worry they might crowd out the native Muskrats and Beavers.
California Ground Squirrels have been taking advantage of the large rocks used in the landscaping at this site.
This Brush Rabbit was looking very regal in his thicket.
I went out to Smith and Bybee Wetlands in north Portland. This site can be a little challenging to bird, as the noise from Marine Drive makes it difficult to hear bird song and other natural sounds. But as you make your way farther from the road, birding tends pick up.
One of the first critters of the trip was this Eastern Cottontail. This species has been introduced into several urban areas in the Pacific NW. The rusty nape and blazing white tail help distinguish this species from the native Brush Rabbit.
Long-toed Salamanders have been the only species of salamander I have been able to find lately. This individual is the largest I have seen.
The weather was quite cool, so there were no snakes out. I found this baby Northwestern Garter under a little piece of asphalt. He was too cold to flee, so he just coiled up tightly.
Water levels were very high, so there wasn’t much shorebird habitat. This lone Greater Yellowlegs put on a nice show.
Shorebird migration is just starting to pick up, just in time for my shorebird webinar on April 13.
Despite morning temperatures near freezing, signs of spring are appearing at Fernhill Wetlands. This Black Phoebe was posing with some colorful buds.
The winter sparrows, like this Fox Sparrow, are still around.
Waterfowl numbers are dropping as northern breeders start to head out. This pair of Northern Pintails was grooming along the main lake.
This young Red-tailed Hawk was very comfortable around people, perching right above some nearby birders.
The number of Nutria at Fernhill continues to grow. I don’t know if they are causing any problems or not.
We are in that late-winter slow birding time, but spring migrants should start showing up any day.
Happy final days of winter
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
Another freakishly sunny autumn day took me to Killin Wetlands.
This park was developed fairly recently, with a nice parking lot and some informational signage.
The trails don’t get very close to the water, so a scope would be useful.
Here are just a few of the thousand or so Cackling Geese that were using the site that morning. You can also see a few Dusky Canada Geese and Northern Pintails in the photo.
I don’t think I have ever seen so many Nutria in one spot. Here are just a few, sunning themselves on a little island.
I thought the weedy patches along the trail would host more sparrows, but a few Song and Golden-crowned were all I could find.
There is a nice stand of pines on this site. I think it would be a good spot to look for owls in winter.
Just a little to the west of the Metro Park is the original Killin Wetlands site at the corner of Cedar Canyon and Killin Roads. There are no trails here, but you can get close to the water.
Three River Otters were a treat to see.