Dog Days

I am not sure why the hottest days of mid-summer are referred to as “dog days.” My dogs want nothing to do with the heat, and the hot weather puts a damper on bird activity as well. Wetlands tend to be a little more active than woodlands this time of year, so here are some recent images from area wetlands.

This Purple Martin is from the colony at Fernhill Wetlands. The recently installed nesting boxes there have been a great success.

Tree Swallows are everywhere. It is nice to find one perched on a stick instead of on a nest box.

Ospreys on the nest at Jackson Bottom

This House Finch was feeding on green Elderberries at Smith and Bybee Wetlands.

Spotted Towhee at Smith and Bybee

Bewick’s Wrens seem to be very fond of dust baths this time of year.

It is baby crow season. These youngsters were exploring the shallow waters of a slough at Smith and Bybee.

It is harder to find herps in the hot weather. This Northwestern Garter was stuck in a vault for a water shut-off valve. I lifted him out and sent him on his way.

This is a very small, very thin Long-toed Salamander (note the insect parts nearby for scale).

Smith and Bybee Wetlands is thick with Green Herons right now. There were at least a dozen in this little slough.

Shorebird migration is starting to pick up. Unfortunately, there is very little mudflat habitat in the Portland area right now. This Greater Yellowlegs was one of several sharing the slough with the Green Herons.

Three Lesser Yellowlegs were also present at Smith and Bybee.

On the home front, we were treated to three baby Western Screech-Owls playing in the back yard. Two of them perched on the rope holding the sunshade and tried to untie the knots. It was almost too dark to see, so this is the best image I was able to get (6400 ISO). Pretty adorable.

Happy Summer

Soggy Songbirds

This has been the longest February ever. I know the calendar indicates that it is actually late May, and we have had several lovely dry days, but the cold wet weather continues to dominate. Despite the nasty conditions, spring migration has progressed nicely. Here are a couple of shots from Cooper Mountain Nature Park (sunny day) and Mount Tabor (dreary rainy day).

IMG_9494This American Crow was finding either food or water in the top of the stop sign post on Mt. Tabor.

IMG_9500Black-headed Grosbeaks returned to the Portland area in large numbers last week. This damp individual was singing in low brush on Mt. Tabor.
IMG_9487Another Black-headed Grosbeak singing in the sun at Cooper Mountain, but from the top of a tall tree

IMG_9513An Olive-sided Flycatcher, singing in the rain. This species often hangs out at tree-top level, but this guy came down for some nice eye-level viewing.

IMG_9504House Finches were munching on dandelions on Mt. Tabor.

swainson'sHere is a typical view of a Swainson’s Thrush, seen on Cooper Mountain during our Warbler and Flycatcher Class. This bird did not vocalize and stayed partially hidden in the brush the whole time, but we decided on the ID based on her warm buffy color, lack of dark spots on the breast, and lack of tail dipping behavior. Darker breast spotting and tail dipping would suggest Hermit Thrush.

The weather forecast calls for warm sunny weather for the next week. We will see how accurate the forecast is, and how long it takes me to complain about how hot and sunny it is.

February Doldrums

img_9341I think February is the most challenging month to live in the Portland area, as it is typically wet and dreary. This past month had three times the normal rainfall, so the brief sun breaks were especially appreciated. A quick trip to Broughton Beach provided looks at a large flotilla of Great Scaup (with some Lessers mixed in).

img_9336This Great Blue Heron was staring at the ground at the airport, waiting for a vole or some other rodent to appear. The dark mud at the end of his bill suggest previous attempts at napping some land-based prey.

img_9326American Crow, calling from the top of the dike

img_9337A few Horned Grebes were on the Columbia River. They are just starting to show some color on their necks.

img_9319The first real harbinger of spring was this Say’s Phoebe. Several of these birds have been reported in the Portland area in recent weeks. It has been too cold for many insects to be out, so I imagine it has been tough for these flycatchers to find enough to eat. Hopefully March will be a little more pleasant for all of us.

Ridgefield NWR

I don’t get up to Ridgefield NWR in Washington very often, even though it is a short drive from Portland. But lots of folks had recently seen adorable fuzzy little Virginia Rail babies, so I wanted to try my luck.

IMG_7595By the time I got there, the adorable fuzzy little babies had become rather unattractive adolescents, but it was still fun to see this usually shy species out in the open.
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IMG_7618Another adolescent foraging near the rails was this little Nutria. The refuge staff tries to control the population of this introduced species, but they remain plentiful.
nutria

northern harrierNorthern Harrier

IMG_7583Black-tailed Deer, perfectly hidden among the teasel

IMG_7591There is not a lot of water on the refuge right now, so the Great Egrets were gathered on one of the remaining ponds.

IMG_7581We are entering Ugly Duck Season, when adult ducks molt into identical ratty plumages, making them much harder to identify. I am going with Cinnamon Teal on this mama and babies (all-black bill, overall warm brown coloring).

IMG_7622On the way home we stopped at Kelly Point Park along the Columbia River in NW Portland. California Gulls were gathered on the pilings.

IMG_7623This young American Crow (note the pinkish gape) was begging for food.

IMG_7627Nala, the large aquatic mammal.

North Coast

signIt had been ages since I visited the coast, so I packed up the dog to check out some spots between Cannon Beach and the Columbia River. I have seen an increasing number of these signs in the area, an attempt to attract nesting Snowy Plovers back to the area. I hope it works.

sanderlings 1On the beach at Gearhart, I saw more Sanderlings than I have seen in many years. I don’t know whether the population has rebounded a bit, or if I just timed my visit with a good wave of early migrants. We’ll hope it is the former.

dunlinThere was a small flock of Dunlin at Gearhart, and a much larger flock at Fort Stevens. None had started molting into spring plumage yet.

american crowAmerican Crow on the beach. There were a few Common Ravens around, too, but they usually don’t allow a close approach.

mixed gull flockI found two mixed flocks of gulls. The gull numbers around Portland this winter have been very disappointing, so it was nice to see a good variety of species on the beach. Since I had Nala with me, I couldn’t get close enough to identify everyone. This little group is mostly California, with a couple of Mews and possible Thayer’s.

black-legged kittiwake adultThe best gulls of the day were Black-legged Kittiwakes. This species is usually found out to sea, so it is nice whenever they come to shore. Here is an adult in the middle of the frame.

black-legged kittiwake first cycleA first-cycle Black-legged Kittiwake near the center, with a dark auricular patch and a black bar across the back of the neck.

Western GullThis Western Gull seemed very dark compared to the other gull seen that day. I think she might be of the southern subspecies.

harlequin femaleA quick check of Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach usually reveals some Harlequin Ducks.
harlequin male 2

nalaNala at Haystack Rock

North Coast

haystack rockI spent a warm sunny morning around Cannon Beach and Seaside. The first stop was Silver Point, just south of Cannon Beach, for a sea watch. There were plenty of birds out there, way out there. It is what I call birding at the edge of imagination. You have an idea of what you are seeing, but realistically, there is a lot of guessing involved. I did see the wing flash of Sooty Shearwaters and several flocks of White-winged and Surf Scoters, but most of what I saw were unidentifiable specks. Nala was waiting somewhat patiently in the car, so we soon went to Tolovana Wayside and walked to Haystack Rock.

harlequinsThe tide was coming in, so I couldn’t get too close to the rocks. Still, you could see several Harlequin Ducks. Here is a male and female, with a Black Oystercatcher on the right. I didn’t see the Oystercatcher when I was in the field, only when I developed the photo.

oystercatcheranother Black Oystercatcher

crow eatingA log, which has obviously been in the water for a long time, had washed up on shore, and the American Crows were busy picking at the barnacles.
crow

nala in streamNala, taking a break

turnstones sleepingThe next stop was the Cove, at Seaside. As is often the case, there was a nice congregation of Black Turnstones on the rocks.
IMG_3241

surfbirdsThere were also good numbers of Surfbirds.
surfbirds vertical

Heermann'sHeermann’s Gulls should be heading south very soon.

caspiansOur last stop was the Necanicum Estuary. This spot is very hit-or-miss, with either lots of birds or none. Today was closer to the latter. But along with the few California Gulls were several Caspian Terns still feeding young. Most Caspian Terns have already moved south, so it seems late to have begging fledglings still around.

Sauvie Island 30 May 2013

osprey 2This pair of Ospreys is nesting on a piling along Sauvie Island Road. The elevation of the road provides an eye-level view of the nest. Note the piece of blue plastic.

osprey 3The female is sitting on eggs, so she remained pretty still the whole time I was there, aside from from making a few adjustments. Meanwhile, the male was bringing additional sticks and continued to build the nest around her.

crow 1While I was watching the Ospreys, this young American Crow flew in carrying a Cedar Waxwing, landed on a log, and proceeded to eat. I don’t know if the crow actually caught the waxwing or happened to find a dead one, but the crow didn’t hesitate to chow down and had the waxwing consumed in about one minute.  crowI am aging this bird as a youngster by the pale color on the bill and the scaly pattern on the back.

barn swallow 1On a less gruesome note, a pair of Barn Swallows was building a nest in the observation platform on Reeder Road.

barn swallow 4

barn swallow 5

IMG_1991This is a view from the end of Rentenaar Road, lots of flowers and Great Egrets.

 

Ft. Stevens State Park, 9-28-’10

I took a client birding along the northern coast this week. Ft. Stevens State Park (Birding Oregon p.119) is a mandatory stop when spending a day in this area.


An observation deck overlooks the south jetty of the Columbia River. This is usually a great place to find birds on the water, but the surf was very rough on this day. Notice the waves washing over the jetty.


This California Sea Lion had hauled out onto the beach to take a break from the big surf.


This flock of Sanderlings was feeding on the calmer side of the spit.


Notice how the second bird from the right is bending his upper mandible. Shorebird bills are flexible, allowing the birds to grab onto prey beneath the surface of the sand.


Running along at the very edge of the waves is typical behavior for Sanderlings.


An American Crow on the beach. Some sources list Northwestern Crows as occurring at Fort Stevens, but there is no physical evidence to show that Northwestern Crows have ever inhabited Oregon. The race of American Crow found along the West Coast is considerably smaller than the races found inland. This might lead to confusion among visitors who are used to seeing larger crows.

Crystal Springs in the Spring

I visited Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden (Birding Oregon p. 69) on May 28. This site is best known as a good spot for wintering waterfowl. This late in the spring, most of the ducks and geese have moved on, leaving just a few resident species. But even with the lower diversity, it is still nice to be able to get such close looks at birds that are normally much more “wild” in other locations.

wood duck female
Wood Ducks are always a treat.

wood duck male
This male Wood Duck was in a tree, providing a view of the white throat.

crow
American Crows in the bright sun showed some interesting feather patterns.

cackling2
Two Cackling Geese (Branta hutchinsii minima) were still present. This is a very late date for this species to still be in Portland. This species nests on the Arctic tundra, so most have left by mid-April. Perhaps these two thought that a summer on the duck pond would be nicer than flying all that way.

cackling 1
Here is another view of the Cackling Goose. Notice how far the wing tips extend beyond the tail. Long wings are typical for species that migrate long distances.

Sitting in Seattle

Marsha was working a table at the Seattle Greenfest last weekend, so I braved the traffic and found my way to Discovery Park. I walked out to the lighthouse and just sat on the shore of Puget Sound for a while. As a birder, I need to spend a lot more time sitting. Most of us are constantly moving, looking for the next good bird. But if you just sit in one place, good birds will often come to you. Out on the water were a big flock of Western Grebes, Horned Grebes, Ruddy Ducks, Harlequin Ducks, and a pair of Rhinoceros Auklets. These birds were out of camera range, but several species came in for closer scrutiny.


A flock of Black Brant were working the shoreline.


This Mountain Bluebird seemed a little out of place on the beach.


This crow found and ate a small crab. A little over a century ago, a crow on the coast of Puget Sound would have been assumed to be a Northwestern Crow. But when the forests were cleared, American Crows were able to colonize this area. So now, the crows around Seattle are presumed to be American or hybrids.


Mew Gull. Note the thin bill and large white mirrors on P1 and P2.


Red-necked Grebe