Dreary February

February weather can be the most challenging, with cold temperatures and frequent rain. We desperately need the moisture so I am not complaining, but it is harder to get motivated to get out into the cold and damp. I continue to concentrate on my 5-mile radius, with my total currently sitting at 70 species for the year. I expect that to jump up a bit this week.

This lovely American Wigeon has been hanging out at Commonwealth Lake Park. Birds with this much white on the head are known as Storm Wigeon.

This Killdeer, along with two others, was doing a pretty good job hiding in a little clump of leaves.

Wilson’s Snipes continue to be common at Commonwealth. That long bill helps him blend in with the sticks.

Red-winged Blackbird in fresh spring plumage. I imagine those rusty fringes will wear off to reveal a more uniform black outfit soon.

Happy winter

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5MR: The First Month

For the month of January, virtually all of my birding has been conducted within my 5 Mile Radius. This included dedicated birding trips and keeping track of birds while at the dog park and on family hikes.  (This Red-breasted Sapsucker was at Greenway Park.) Some birds came quite easily, like the Barred Owls that sang in my yard and at the dog park, while others were hard to find, like Rock Pigeon which I didn’t see until January 30.

The purpose of the 5 Mile Radius challenge, in addition to reducing your gas consumption, is to explore under-birded sites close to home. I visited several sites I had never birded before, and explored some familiar sites in greater detail.

The hope is that you will find previously unknown great birding spots, but this was not my experience. Of the new places I visited so far, all of which are eBird “Hotspots,” none of them are sites I am particularly motivated to visit again.

My circle has a few great birding sites that include wetlands, mixed forest, and hilltop migrant traps. If I concentrate my birding on five sites, I will have the opportunity to see the vast majority of species likely to occur within my circle. Yes, great birds can show up anywhere. If you are lucky enough to be able to go birding every day, then it makes a lot of sense to visit as many different sites as possible. But if your birding time is limited because you have a life (oops, did I say that out loud?), I think it makes more sense to spend your time in the best habitats. I also enjoy my birding more when the habitat is more pleasant. I have peeked into people’s back yards to see rare birds (Brambling, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Ovenbird, Costa’s Hummingbird), but I would much rather hike around a nice park.

Here are a few photos from the past month.

Brown Creeper, Greenway Park

Nutria at Koll Wetlands

Wilson’s Snipes at Commonwealth Lake

I dipped on the American Dipper that has been hanging out in my circle this winter, but I did see lots of dipper poop, so that should count, right?

Onward to February.

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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

 

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Fernhill Wetlands

I visited Fernhill Wetlands in Forest Grove on a rare sunny December day. The sun is so low at this time of year that if there is no cloud cover the sun is either at your back or directly in your eyes. The latter makes birding very challenging, but the former can produce some lovely light, as seen on this Mourning Dove.

At least one Black Phoebe has been hanging out near the ponds behind the picnic shelter this fall. Black Phoebes were unheard of in Washington County a few year ago.

Any shorebird seen at this time of year is a treat. This lone Greater Yellowlegs was one of four shorebird species found on this trip. (Long-billed Dowitchers and Wilson’s Snipe were flybys.)

This Killdeer was probing with her foot to try to stir up food in one of the new gravel filtration tanks.

The main lake at Fernhill is hosting a nice variety of waterfowl, but most were distant or in the harsh sunlight. A  Swamp Sparrow was a nice find, but stayed in the cattails to avoid being photographed.

Happy Autumn.

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Commonwealth Lake

When time is limited or weather is sketchy, I appreciate having Commonwealth Lake close to home for a quick birding fix.

Early in the morning, River Otters will often visit the lake to fill up on fish. There were three otters present on this visit, but they stayed out in the middle of the lake most of the time.

This Belted Kingfisher called from the tangled branches that overhang the water.

Male Common Mergansers lent a splash of color with their red bills.

This female Hooded Merganser kept to the far shore.

Some of the dogwoods still had a few berries, and this Hermit Thrush was taking advantage of this seasonal food.
It was a treat to see this species sitting out in the open, rather than skulking in the undergrowth.

So nothing too exciting this trip, but it is enough to ward off insanity/crankiness until the next outing.

Happy Autumn

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Random Ramblings

Most of my recent outings have been while leading trips or in dreary conditions, both of which limit any photo opportunities. So here are some dribs and drabs from recent weeks.

This Black-tailed Deer and her fawn were at Cooper Mountain Nature Park in Beaverton. There was a second fawn present out of frame.

This Long-billed Dowitcher was blending in well with the rocks at Parking Lot C at Fort Stevens State Park. I often find shorebirds, usually Least Sandpipers or Dunlin, in this little patch of rocks.

I saw this Pied-billed Grebe on a cloudy morning at Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden.

Crystal Springs is thick with Wood Ducks.

Eastern Gray Squirrel at Crystal Springs

Sandhill Cranes have arrived in good numbers at Sauvie Island.

Crane fight

A young Bald Eagle flying by on Sauvie

This White-crowned Sparrow posed nicely in filtered sunlight along Rentenaar Road on Sauvie Island. This is a first winter bird, but he was singing from this perch for a while.

Most shorebird migration is long past, but this mixed flock of Dunlin and Long-billed Dowitchers were hanging out at the small ponds near the parking lot at Fernhill Wetlands.

Long-billed Dowitcher at Fernhill. This intense sunlight is certainly not the norm for mid-November, but the rains will return soon enough.

Happy Autumn

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Fernhill Wetlands

We have had a long stretch of sunny warm weather lately. On one hand, it is lovely to be warm and dry on an outing. On the other hand, water levels continue drop and the harsh lighting makes for lousy photos. Nevertheless, here are some images from a recent trip to Fernhill Wetlands.

The Cackling Geese have returned for the winter.

The Tundra Swan that has spent the entire summer at Fernhill is still around. Hopefully, some more swans will arrive soon to keep him company. It must feel odd to be the only one of your kind. It’s like being a vegan in Kansas (been there).
Here is a more traditional view of the Tundra Swan.

A small group of Northern Harriers flew over the wetlands while I was there.

Shorebird migration is quickly winding down, so it was nice to see this Pectoral Sandpiper.

Long-billed Dowitchers in one of the little ponds by the picnic shelter

A Nutria swimming through the duckweed

This is the first turtle I have seen at Fernhill. Unfortunately, I think he is a non-native Slider, a species common in the pet trade and frequently released into areas where they don’t belong.

Happy Autumn

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Nifty Shades of Gray

The Cove, in Seaside, is unique on the northern Oregon coast for the cobbles and boulders that make up its beach. These gray stones regularly attract three species that are more difficult to find elsewhere; Heermann’s Gull, Surfbird, and Black Turnstone. The color of the stone, light gray when dry, dark gray when wet, match these birds so well that individuals can be hard to see if they are sitting still. Add some cloud cover and you have a nearly monochromatic scene of birds, stone, sea, and sky.

This Surfbird was calling loudly, perhaps uncomfortable being surrounded by Black Turnstones.

More Surfbirds and Black Turnstones

Heermann’s Gulls would be harder to see if they didn’t have that blood-red bill.

Heermann’s Gull with two Surfbirds

In breeding season, Heermann’s Gulls have white heads, but most birds acquire gray plumage on the head before they arrive in Oregon after breeding much farther south.

While I think adult Heermann’s are among the most beautiful gulls in North America, the first cycle birds are equally stunning in their smooth chocolate brown plumage. This is the first time in three years that I have seen a young Heermann’s Gull. The two years previous saw a near-total nesting failure for this species. Warmer ocean temperatures reduce the amount of food available to feed nesting seabirds.

young Heermann’s Gull stretching

adult Heermann’s enjoying a good roust

Sticking out like a sore thumb with his white head and breast is this Western Gull. Note the massive bill on this bird. Gull diversity will be increasing on the coast in the next few weeks, much to the delight of gull fans like me.

Happy autumn!

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Hudsonian Godwit

hugo and bbpl
A Hudsonian Godwit has been hanging out at Fort Stevens for over a week now. This species, seen here with a Black-bellied Plover, normally migrates through the central part of the continent so an appearance on the west coast is a rare treat.

rump
Here is a glimpse of the bird’s white rump, one feature that helps separate it from the expected Marbled Godwits. Other differences include the gray-brown coloration, dark underwings, bold wing stripe, and obvious pale supercilium.

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Note how much yellow is present on one of these Black-bellied Plovers. This is apparently quite common on young Black-bellieds, but this is the first year I have seen it. These birds can be mistaken for American or Pacific Golden-Plovers at first glance, but the bulkier shape, thick bills, and different calls all point to Black-bellied Plover.

sanderling
Other birds sharing the beach with the godwit and plovers included Sanderlings,

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a Dunlin,

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and Western Sandpipers. Notice the tiny bill on this individual, suggesting that the bird is a male.

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Sanderling, Western Sandpiper, and Dunlin

Happy Shorebirding!

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Deep Water Pelagic

I went on the deep water trip organized by Oregon Pelagic Tours. The goal of this trip was to get 50 miles offshore to explore some deeper water (6000 feet). There are a few species of birds our there that are not often seen closer in, so I had hopes of picking up a new bird or two. We struck out on the deep water specialties, but we saw so many great birds on this trip that it was hard to be disappointed.

Northern Fulmars were one of the more common species seen on the trip. They come right up to the boat to beg for food.
Most of the Northern Fulmars seen off the Oregon Coast are darker birds like this one.

Black-footed Albatrosses are also extremely common once you get about 30 miles offshore.

Black-footed Albatross with a very pale Northern Fulmar

Black-footed Albatross with a California Gull

Pink-footed Shearwaters are another common species on many trips. They fly by the boat but tend to not rest on the water too close.

Among the 700 or so Black-footed Albatrosses we saw on this trip were three Laysan Albatrosses.
Laysan Albatross with its smokey eye, and a Northern Fulmar in the background

The calm waters allowed us to see many Northern Fur Seals, recognizable by their habit of sticking their large pectoral fins out of the water.

Twelve hours on the water made for a long day. I spent the entire trip along the front rail looking for birds, because if I let my guard down at any time, that is when the mega-rarity will show up. Even if you don’t get a new bird, the common species, along with other marine wildlife, always make a day on the water worth the effort.

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