In the Bleak Midwinter

Between the holidays, work, and family activities, there has been very little birding in recent weeks. One of the more enjoyable outings was a hike on Larch Mountain. The dogs loved the snow and it was great to get outside and hike around for four hours. Birds, as expected this time of year at this location, were very few. But we did hear a few kinglets, chickadees, and a flock of Red Crossbills.

The big new thing in 2019 is the Five Mile Radius, the brainchild of Jen Sanford of I Used to Hate Birds. This is where you concentrate your birding efforts to within five miles of your home and see how many species you can find within that circle. Not only does this reduce your gas consumption, but it forces you to explore many areas close to home that you normally wouldn’t. Who knows what avian goodies and birdy little patches you can discover?

Most of my 5MR efforts so far have been keeping track of birds I see at the dog park and at home, but I have already exceeded 50 species, and have yet to visit any wooded habitats or open fields. 

If the recent gale-force winds ever die down, I look forward to getting out and racking up some more local species.

Happy Winter

 

Taverner’s Cackling Goose vs. Ridgeway’s Cackling Goose

IMG_0085
On a recent trip to Commonwealth Lake Park in Beaverton, I had the opportunity to observe Taverner’s and Ridgeway’s Cackling Geese side-by-side. Taverner’s are larger, with pale breasts and slightly longer bills. Ridgeway’s have dark, iridescent breasts (on adults) and stubby little bills.

taverner
Here is a close look at a Taverner’s Cackling Goose, the subspecies most likely to be confused with Lesser Canada Goose. Lesser Canada Geese have thinner necks and slightly longer bills.

ridgeway's
The bill on a Ridgeway’s Cackling Goose is thick and stubby, and the neck often appears very short and thick. This subspecies is generally regarded as the most adorable.

IMG_0084
Another fun goose at Commonwealth that day was this Greater White-fronted Goose. A few of these have been hanging out at Commonwealth the past few winters.

cormorant
Not a goose, but a gorgeous bird when you get a close enough view, is this Double-crested Cormorant. You can expect to see a few of these whenever you visit this site.

The American Wigeon flock was pretty small this day, but I expect the wintering birds to increase in the coming weeks.

Updates

I have updated the Classes page to show all the classes I currently have scheduled. I would love to share what I know (that part doesn’t take long) and then go birding with you. Check it out.

I have also updated the Updates and Corrections page for Birding Oregon. There are several sites in Tillamook County that are currently not open to birding due to construction projects or the county’s tendency to fall into the Pacific Ocean.
The headquarters at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge remain closed following the armed occupation by inbred troglodytes in January and February of 2016.

Lest you think this entire post is bad news, please enjoy this photo of a lovely Barred Owl that was snoozing on our property on a recent evening. Cheers.

barred-2

Broughton Beach Horned Larks

hornedBroughton Beach, along the Columbia River, has been a favorite spot in Portland to check for shorebirds, gulls, and waterfowl, depending on the season. On my recent visit I enjoyed watching a family of Horned Larks working the beach. There are many subspecies of Horned Lark, and I don’t have a reference that provides a good description of the possible subspecies in this area. These birds had much more yellow on their faces than did the birds I saw recently on Mount Hood.

horned juvenileThis juvenile showed more muted colors and lacked the distinctive facial pattern of the adults.

horned juvI’m not sure if this bird is a juvenile or an adult female.

horned lark femaleadult female, I think

horned lark 3adult male, I think

horned lark 2adult male

brewer'sNot a Horned Lark, but Brewer’s Blackbirds are among my favorites. This is a female.

killdeer chickAnd we end with a ball of fluffy cuteness. I was surprised to find such a young Killdeer so late in the summer.

 

Settling In

purple finch maleI moved at the end of last year. It was not a great distance (less than 100 yards as the finch flies), but I was anxious to see how long it would take the birds to find my feeders. When people ask me that question, I generally tell them between six minutes and six months. The Anna’s Hummingbirds found their feeders almost immediately. The seed feeder sat unnoticed for about a week.

The first birds I saw were a mixed flock of Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Black-capped Chickadees, and Red-breasted Nuthatches. Not too shabby. A few House Finches came by a few days later. Things remained pretty quiet for a few weeks, but activity has recently taken an upturn. A pair of Purple Finches, including the ridiculously beautiful male pictured above, have been regular visitors. Lesser Goldfinches and Pine Siskins have joined the House Finches, and Dark-eyed Juncos and Spotted Towhees are busy on the ground under the feeder.

The biggest surprise at the feeder has been a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches, a species I never saw at the old location. These birds have eluded my efforts to obtain a photo. I am looking forward to seeing what else will appear.

purple femalefemale Purple Finch

pine siskinPine Siskin

Red-breasted SSNot a feeder bird, but a Red-breasted Sapsucker spent a few days on the property.

AmberGlen Business Park

Several office parks in the Hillsboro area have nice open spaces that attract birds. AmberGlen has a pond next to a large lawn which attracts good numbers of gulls in winter.

ring-billed and mewMost of the gulls on my recent visit were Ring-billed Gulls, but two Mew Gulls were in the mix. Here is a nice comparison of the two species.

ring-billed roustRing-billed Gull enjoying a roust

ring-billed gull swimmingand a swim

glaucous-winged 2This Glaucous-winged Gull was rocking the lipstick.

ring-necked 3Ring-necked Ducks

eurasian and american wigeonsHere is a male Eurasian Wigeon, with an American Wigeon in the background. I am guessing this is a young bird molting into his first adult plumage. It seems a little late in the season to me,  but I don’t know whether this Asian species has a different molt schedule from his North American counterpart.
eurasian wigeon

Tilley Jane Trail

trail 5I walked the Tilley Jane trail on the east side of Mt. Hood. This trail starts near the Cooper Spur Ski Area and goes about two and a half miles up to the Tilley Jane Campground.

trail 1Much of the trail goes through an area that burned a few years ago, so there are lots of standing dead trees and wildflowers.

flickerBurned areas are great for woodpeckers and other cavity nesters. This is a young Northern Flicker that was peeking out of her nest hole.

olive-sided flycatcherOlive-sided Flycatcher

juncoDark-eyed Junco. Yes, I can see them out my living room window, but they look better on the mountain.

deer 2We came upon this Black-tailed Deer nursing her new fawn. If the fawn had been hidden, I think the doe would have taken off. But since the baby was exposed, they both just froze as we passed by.

golden-mantled ground squirrel 1This Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel looks like she might be carrying a litter.
golden-mantled ground squirrel
m in lupinesCharismatic megafauna among the lupines

cassin's finchAt higher elevations, Cassin’s Finches became common, if not cooperative.

pacific fritillary 1Along with the wildflowers are butterflies. The flowers are interesting in person, but not so much in photos. A few butterflies, like this Pacific Fritillary, posed for good looks.

persius duskywing 1This is a Persius Duskywing, which I had never heard of before.

trail 4

 

Random Images

Home improvement projects are keeping me inside lately, so here are a few images from dog walks and the bird feeder.

IMG_5742Double-crested Cormorants on the Columbia River
IMG_5748IMG_5749California Gull

IMG_5740former sturgeon, Columbia River

IMG_5727Lesser Goldfinch

IMG_5736I only see Purple Finches once or twice a year at my feeder.

IMG_5678young Douglas’s Squirrel in the shadows, Tualatin Hills Nature Park

Sawhill Ponds, Boulder, CO

view 2I have been visiting family in Boulder, CO, for a few days. At the western edge of the Great Plains, the bird life isn’t that much different from the Willamette Valley in Oregon, with a few nice exceptions.

cormorant 1Double-crested Cormorant

cormorant backlitan artsy image of the same Double-crested Cormorant

common grackleI am always happy to see Common Grackles, since they seldom make it to Oregon.

rough-winged swallowNorthern Rough-winged Swallow

killdeerThis pond hosted several Killdeer (above), Spotted Sandpipers, American Avocets, and a Wilson’s Phalarope.

pelicansAmerican White Pelicans, with Canada Goose and Ring-billed Gulls

magpieBlack-billed Magpies are fairly common here, but they tend to be rather shy, never allowing a close approach.

eastern kingbirdI saw lots of Eastern Kingbirds at these ponds. I haven’t seen any Western Kingbirds around Boulder, which surprised me.

bullfrogAmerican Bullfrogs were the only amphibians I found. The only reptile was a Black-necked Garter Snake, a lifer for me.

cottontail Cottontails were very abundant at sunrise. I believe this is a Desert Cottontail, but please correct me if I am wrong.

coyote yawninga sleepy Coyote

coyote

prairie dogIn the “adorable rodents” department, I bring you Black-tailed Prairie Dogs.

prairie dog duo 2
prairie dog peeking

viewAnother view of the Front Range of the Rockies.

To Bird or to Twitch?

I finally had a few hours to get out birding, and had planned to visit some of the Washington County wetlands. But a Brambling visiting a feeder in Woodburn presented me with a dilemma. Should I spend my birding time standing around in someone’s back yard hoping to see a particular bird, or should I explore large areas of habitat and find birds on my own?

The Brambling, an uncommon visitor from Asia, was only a 30 minute drive from home, well within my “chase radius.” (I will drive up to an hour and a half to chase a rarity, although it had better be a darned good bird if it is over an hour away.) The species would be a lifer for me, a nice tick on my Oregon list, and this would perhaps be my only chance to see this species. Then again, if the bird didn’t show up, I would have spent my limited birding time not looking at birds. With some reluctance, I decided to go for the twitch.

When I arrived at the stake-out site, a small group of birders informed me that I had just missed the Brambling. How typical is that? So I began my wait, hoping that the bird would maintain her schedule of repeated visits to her favorite feeder. I had come this far, so I might as well stick it out.


As luck would have it, this yard was very birdy. A small flock of Evening Grosbeaks was a rare treat. Several species of finches and sparrows worked the feeders, interrupted occasionally by a hungry Cooper’s Hawk. After about an hour of waiting, three things happened; my cell phone rang, the owner of the home came out to offer me a cup of coffee, and the Brambling appeared.


So with one hand holding my phone (it was an important call), I used the other hand to hold my binocular to get a brief look at the bird, then snap a few photos, all while thanking my host for the coffee (he didn’t realize that I was on the phone, and didn’t know that I don’t drink coffee). Then the Brambling flew away.

So now what? I had gotten a brief glimpse of the Brambling, although not a very satisfying view of a lifer, and had no idea if any of my photos would be usable or not. The bird had established a pattern of visiting the yard about once an hour for less than a minute. Do I hang out for another hour (did I mention it was really cold?), or do I cut my losses and go do some real birding? I was leaning toward the latter when an acquaintance of mine arrived to look for the bird. The prospect of visiting with him, along with the general birdiness of the this yard, convinced me to stay and try for another look at the Brambling.


This Downy Woodpecker worked on the suet feeder.


Notice that the Dark-eyed Junco on the left has some dark gray on the sides and a darker back than the typical Oregon race birds.

Here is the same bird from the back. The brownish cast on the bird’s back is not right for a pure Slate-colored Junco, so I think this bird is an intergrade Slate-colored/Oregon.


After about an hour, the Brambling returned for less than twenty seconds. I spent the entire time watching her with my binocular, making up for the fleeting view of the previous visit.

So I had gotten my lifer, adding my twitch to the checklist, but I had also gotten some actual birding in, as well. I had seen about 20 species in that little yard, and had a nice visit with some other birders. While I really enjoy getting out and finding large numbers of species, there is often birding to be had in confined situations such as this. I will still struggle with the choice of birding or twitching, but hopefully I will allow myself to find the joy in either.