Waterfowl numbers have been increasing in the Willamette Valley as the rains have begun. This male Northern Shoveler is still in his drab summer plumage.
This Emperor Goose is currently a local celebrity in the Beaverton area, hanging out with the local ducks and Cackling Geese.
This Gadwall was hanging out at Koll Center Wetlands. A brick building at the edge of the pond creates those brown reflections in the water, which complement the colors on this duck.
American Coot having a snack
Green-winged Teal at Fernhill Wetlands
Common Merganser at Fernhill
Numbers of ducks and geese should continue to increase into November.
The rainy season has been slow to arrive this year, so we have had strings of sunny autumn days. While the dry conditions are preventing many of the seasonal wetlands from filling, the clear skies do make for some pleasant birding. Here are a few shots from Fernhill Wetlands.
This Mourning Dove was blending in nicely with the gravel on one of the wastewater filtering beds.
The Killdeer’s pattern provides good camouflage on a rocky background, but doesn’t do as well in dead grass.
The Green-winged Teal are starting to get some nice color.
The Cackling Geese are back in good numbers. There is currently an outbreak of aspergillus, a fungal infection that causes respiratory distress and pneumonia, that has killed dozens of birds at this site.
Ridgeway’s Cackling Goose
American Coot in the sunshine
The only gulls on this visit were these three Bonaparte’s Gulls, swimming with a Northern Pintail and a Green-winged Teal.
Most of the migrant shorebirds are long gone, but there are still some Long-billed Dowitchers around. Note the pattern on the tail showing wider black bars and narrow white bars. This pattern would be reversed on a Short-billed Dowitcher.
Commonwealth Lake Park is your typical urban duck pond nestled in the Portland suburb of Beaverton. Such parks are certainly not the places to go if you seek a wilderness experience, but they can be excellent places to study waterfowl up close. They also serve as a quick and easy birding fix when “life” prevents you from getting out in the field as much as you should.
Species that are normally rather shy, like this Pied-billed Grebe, will often allow a close approach is parks such as this.
American Coots, common and often dismissed by birders, are quite lovely when you get close enough.
male Common Merganser, with what I think is a Yellow Bullhead
female Common Merganser
Greater White-fronted Geese are common migrants over the Portland area, but uncommon winter residents. Four have been spending the winter at Commonwealth.
Since the remodeling of Portland’s Westmoreland Park a couple of years ago, there really hasn’t been a good spot to easily study gulls in the Portland area. This adult Ring-billed Gull was a cooperative model.
This Ring-billed Gull is in his second plumage cycle.
So while I would much rather walk for several miles in a natural setting to find birds, I am grateful for little urban parks like Commonwealth.
I led my waterfowl class on a field trip to Sauvie Island and Dawson Creek. We had a few big misses (Gadwall and Wood Duck) but the diversity was pretty good.
At Wapato Access Greenway we found some Dusky Canada Geese along with the American Wigeons and Northern Pintails.
This Coyote was munching on a vole.
Tundra Swan was one of the most common species of the day.
This Lincoln’s Sparrow was very cooperative, posing out in the open for great scope views. But even then he blended in amazingly well with his surroundings.
You don’t get to see American Coots in flight very often, as they tend to walk or swim wherever they go. They have even been reported to migrate on foot.
Canvasback, looking very regal
Same bird, looking not quite so regal
American Wigeon pair, Dawson Creek
Bufflehead, preparing to dive
Ridgeway’s Cackling Goose
The weather has entered its dark and dreary pattern, typical for Portland in late autumn. This makes for dark grainy photos, but here are a few shots from Crystal Springs in southeast Portland.
Steller’s Jay, looking all artsy among the architecture of the boardwalk
This American Coot appears to be concerned with modesty while preening.
Here is the same individual feeding on land. I always appreciate the chance to see this species’ lobed feet.
Western Canada Goose
American Wigeon, with Bufflehead in the background
I don’t know what this Wood Duck was carrying. They eat acorns, but this appears to be something different.
I am hoping for some sunshine for my next outing.
Here are some random shots of some of the many waterfowl species that winter in the Willamette Valley
This Common Merganser was swimming with her face submerged, looking for fish. I have also seen loons hunt in this way.
the same bird preening
Here she finally shows her face. The clearly demarcated white chin helps to differentiate this species from the similar Red-breasted Merganser.
This female Eurasian Wigeon is recognized by her brown head. Notice the female American Wigeon on the right with her gray head.
Here is a distant shot of a mixed flock of waterfowl (click to enlarge). From left to right, you can see Ring-necked Duck, Canvasback, Cackling Goose, American Coot, and American Wigeon.
American Coots are quite common throughout much of the country, so we tend to overlook them. But they are strange little beasts, and worthy of study. They spend much of their time on the water, feeding on aquatic plants, propelling themselves with their lobed toes. Despite the fact that at least some populations undertake long migrations, you almost never see these birds in the air. When alarmed they often run along surface of the water, flapping their wings, but they seldom actually become airborn. One observation from 1931 described a large flock of coots migrating on foot.
These birds do fly, after a long running start, but migration apparently occurs at night in small groups. I think I will make it a goal to actually notice a coot in flight. Despite the many thousands of these birds I have seen over the years, I have no recollection of a flying coot. As I rapidly approach the status of “old coot” myself, I think this is a worthy goal.