Shorebirds on the rocks

A recent trip to the coast on a sunny and windy day resulted in these images of shorebirds using rocky habitats. Two of these species are usually found on rocks, but the other two are not. I wonder if the blowing sand had driven these birds to the relatively sheltered rocky areas.

Least Sandpipers are hard to spot among the rocks. This bird was part of a small flock near the jetty at Fort Stevens.

This Dunlin was hanging out on a line of rocks near the same jetty. I have seen Dunlin here before.

Surfbirds at the Seaside Cove. Their color closely matches the dry basalt boulders.

Black Turnstones are common winter residents at the Seaside Cove.

an itchy Black Turnstone

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Twitching in the rain

One of the more popular avian celebrities in Portland this fall is a Virginia’s Warbler that has been visiting the suet feeders at a home for the past several weeks. This is a great bird for Oregon, and the bird has been very cooperative.

Like many area birders, I went to see this bird. It was early in morning and raining. I stood on the sidewalk in front of the house, and in a few minutes I was rewarded with nice looks at a Virginia’s Warbler. It was too dark for decent photos, so I left. This was a twitch; Going to see a bird reported by others, adding the species to your list (Oregon state list in my case) and moving on.

Twitching is not my favorite style of birding, but one I am increasingly reliant on. I would like to bring my Oregon bird list to 400 species. A couple of years ago I sat down with a state checklist and figured out what species I needed to bring my list up to that magical (and totally arbitrary) goal. To my surprise, I discovered that there were only about six regularly occurring species that I hadn’t seen. I could conceivably just go to where those species are regularly found and add them to my list, but that would not get me to my goal. Any other species I added would be a rarity, like, for example, a Virginia’s Warbler.

If I had unlimited time and funds, I could travel around Oregon and find a good number of rare birds on my own. But lacking both of those things, I must take advantage of any opportunity to see an Oregon rarity that shows up close to home. I still want to take my time enjoying a birding site and finding my own birds, but I am not above the occasional twitch.

Virginia’s Warbler, at dawn in the rain. I never claimed to be a photographer. I kept my camera in its bag until after I had gotten good looks at this bird. I have seen this species before, but it had been a long time.

This Yellow-rumped Warbler was a better poser.

After twitching the warbler, I went to Broughton Beach to enjoy the Mew Gulls.

Ring-billed Gull, Mew Gulls, and a Western/Glaucous-winged hybrid

After waiting out a downpour at Smith and Bybee Wetlands, I was treated to this brief rainbow. A nice end to damp morning.

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Koll Center Wetlands

A couple of Black-crowned Night-Herons has been hanging out at Koll Center Wetlands recently. This spot is strictly parking lot birding (pull up, get out of the car, and scan the pond), but it has attracted more than it’s share of interesting sightings – like Black-crowned Night-Herons.
Other recent celebrities at this site include a group of up to six River Otters. These are such neat animals. It is a treat to find them in such an urban setting.
Common Mergansers, like these two males, are some of the many species of waterfowl currently using the wetlands.
female Common Merganser

Pied-billed Grebe
Nothing too rare or exotic, but we are lucky to have this little urban wetland to spice up an otherwise dreary autumn day.

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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.

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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.

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Random Images

Once again, here are a few photos from the past few weeks’ ramblings.

While one can admire the adorableness of this Black-capped Chickadee, the real bird of interest is his drinking buddy in the background, a Pine Siskin. Siskins were pretty much non-existent last year as their population took a big downturn (as it does every few years). This fall has brought good numbers of Pine Siskins to the Willamette Valley already, so it looks to be a good year for them.

This Short-eared Owl flushed from Broughton Beach and flew out over the Columbia River before heading downstream. Short-eareds winter at this site with some regularity. I felt bad about flushing the bird. If she had just sat still, I probably would have walked right by and not seen her. I would think that birds who roost in such a high-traffic area would learn to adjust to passers-by.

My gull class went to the coast last weekend. We found nine species of gull, one less than last year but still great diversity. One of the first was this first cycle Ring-billed Gull.

Bonaparte’s Gulls get the award for cutest gull on the Oregon coast.
Even though they lose their black hoods in winter, you can still see the white eye crescents when they turn just so.

The Seaside Cove hosted several Surfbirds along with a flock of Black Turnstones. Both of these species are reliable at this site in fall and winter, but it still feels like a treat to find them every time I’m there.

The forecast for the next week calls for cool and rainy weather, so we shall see what changes that brings to the birding.

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Mount Hood

At least once a year I like to visit the moonscape that is Mount Hood above Timberline Lodge. The birding there is hit or miss, sometimes yielding great spectacles like a flock of 200 Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches, and sometimes offering little besides a distant Common Raven. This trip was somewhere in between.

Every trip to the mountain results in at least one photo of a Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel. Yes, we see them every time, but their cuteness knows no bounds.

Mountain Bluebirds are expected here in the warmer months.

Townsend’s Solitaires are a little harder to come by, but are usually around in small numbers.

The sun at this elevation is pretty intense, making even this Common Raven glisten.

Another bird on a stick; Red-tailed Hawk. I hope to see migrating raptors when I visit Timberline in autumn. There wasn’t much movement on this day, but I did see several Red-tails, a Prairie Falcon, and at least one Sharp-shinned Hawk.

California Tortoiseshells were present in good numbers. I don’t know what they were eating, as all the blossoms had long since dried up.

So ends another visit to Timberline. While the birding varies, it is always fun to explore this part of the mountain.

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Prothonotary Warbler

The Portland birding scene was abuzz recently with news of a Prothonotary Warbler that was visiting a bird bath at a home northwest of town. For about a week, this little eastern warbler would arrive just before sundown, take a couple of quick baths, then disappear until the next evening. This made for a pretty easy tic for my state list.

This is only the eighth record of Prothonotary Warber in Oregon. The odds of someone finding and recognizing this bird were amazingly small. She was not associating with other birds, and the yard she was visiting was out in the country and not particularly birdy. One has to wonder, for every rarity like this that birders see, how many others go undetected?

Several southern species have been found in British Columbia but not in Oregon, including Black Vulture, Gray Kingbird, Mexican Violetear, and Xantus’s Hummingbird. Did these birds fly through Oregon before reaching Canada, or did they take another route?

This is what draws us outside to look through all the familiar birds. Most of the time, we just find the usual chickadees and such.  But wayward birds pass through Oregon all the time. Most probably pass through unnoticed, but we just might find one the next time we go out.

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Summer shorebirds

Mid to late summer is the prime time to watch shorebirds in western Oregon, partly because it is the peak of southbound shorebird migration, and partly because the locally nesting songbirds have stopped singing and are very hard to see. Shorebirding in the Portland area has been a little more challenging this summer with major construction projects occurring at Fernhill Wetlands, Smith and Bybee Wetlands, and Jackson Bottom.

Broughton Beach, near the airport, has not hosted large numbers of birds this year, but has attracted some good species.

Baird’s Sandpipers come through Oregon every year, but never in huge numbers, so finding one is always a treat. They stand out with their buffy coloring and long wings.
Almost all of the Baird’s that pass through in summer are juveniles, so they show a strong scaly pattern.

While Sanderlings are quite common along the coast, it is rare to find them inland. Broughton seems to be a good spot to find them in Portland.
Here is a group shot of (L to R) a Sanderling, a Western Sandpiper, and a Baird’s Sandpiper, all juveniles. While it is fun to sort through thousands of shorebirds when the birding fates align, when birding is slow it does us good to take advantage of small numbers and really study the few birds at hand. Shorebird migration runs for another month, so I am hoping to have many more encounters before the rains return and the shorebirds depart.

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Fernhill Wetlands

With the ongoing renovations taking place at Fernhill Wetlands, each visit throughout the year is a new experience. Most of the breeding species have done their thing, and the resident waterfowl have molted into ugly duck season. Water levels are still a little too high to provide shorebird habitat, but that should change soon enough.

brush rabbit
Afternoon temperatures have been getting quite warm, so the brush rabbits come out early in the morning to enjoy the cool. The backlighting on this guy highlights the blood vessels in his ears.

purple martin
Purple Martins are a new addition to Fernhill this year. A new nesting box installed beside the main lake has attracted at least one pair. If you build it, they will come.

cinnamon teal
These Cinnamon Teal were plowing through a thick mat of algae. Note the very large bills on these ducks, which help identify them in their summer plumage.

merg
This hatch-year Hooded Merganser was hanging out in the middle of the lake. The unusual habitat choice and the unfamiliar juvenile plumage caused many birders, myself included, to initially call this a bird a Red-breasted Merganser. While a Red-breasted had been documented at this site in May, closer inspection of this bird reveals the solid head shape and the slightly smaller bill of a Hooded. Another reminder to actually look at every bird and don’t rely on others to identify them for you. 

turkey vulture
Turkey Vulture, experiencing some wing molt

red-winged
This Red-winged Blackbird was one of a large flock feeding in the cattails.

barn swallow chicks
Some of the local breeders are working on a second clutch. These young Barn Swallows are waiting for someone to come feed them. Soon the power lines will be crowded with young swallows preparing for their first migration. 

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Jackson Bottom

savannahI made a quick visit to Jackson Bottom in Hillsboro. This is a very busy spot in the summer. The Savannah Sparrows are still in full song.

puddlePintail Pond has been drained to accommodate some restoration work on the site, so it has dried out about two months earlier than normal. This is normally one of the better shorebird sites in the Portland area during the summer, so we will have to find other spot this year.  There is only about three weeks between the end of northbound shorebird migration and the beginning of southbound migration. Western and Least Sandpipers have arrived in good numbers, and were feeding in the little puddle that remains of Pintail Pond.

western least
Western (l) and Least (r) Sandpipers

spotted adult
Spotted Sandpipers are common nesters in the area.

spotted chick
Spotted Sandpiper chick

greater yellowlegs
Four Greater Yellowlegs made a brief appearance.

swallow box
Tree Swallows are everywhere at Jackson Bottom, thanks in part to the many nesting boxes that have been installed here.

swallows 3
The first broods are grown up now, and it looks like second broods will be arriving shortly.

swallow 2
pretty boy

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