I have been complaining a lot lately about how slow the birding has been. We are in that lull when many of the winter birds have moved on and the spring migrants haven’t returned. But, say it with me, there is always something to see. So here are a few birds to help get us primed for the spring birding bonanza that will inevitably arrive.
This lone Greater White-fronted Goose was at the Tualatin River NWR. Not many of these geese touch down in the Portland area, but huge flocks pass overhead in spring and autumn.
The western U.S. does not get to enjoy the great diversity of warblers found in the east, but we do get Yellow-rumped Warblers all winter. This male Audubon’s race is coming into breeding plumage.
We also get Myrtle race Yellow-rumps in winter. I keep hoping that these two forms will be split into separate species, as they once were. This individual seems to have a little yellow on the throat, suggesting some mixed parentage somewhere in this bird’s family tree.
This young Bald Eagle was looking regal in a parking lot.
Savannah Sparrows have started returning to their nesting areas. This rather faded individual was at Jackson Bottom.
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.
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.
Our team for the Audubon Society of Portland’s Birdathon made a 360-mile loop through the Willamette Valley, across the Cascades, and east to the high desert. We tallied 110 species for the day. Here are a few.
Acorn Woodpeckers are reliable near Ankeny NWR. This one was hanging out in a nest hole.
Also at Ankeny, this Yellow-breasted Chat posed and sang for us.
This Pygmy Nuthatch was nesting at Black Butte Ranch, just east of Sisters.
Calliope Crossing, north of Sisters, came through with several examples of its namesake hummingbird. The feeder, placed by one of my teammates on a scouting trip, made watching these little guys easier.
Mountain Chickadees were nesting in a hollow stump just inches from the ground.
Calliope Crossing is also famous for hosting a great variety of woodpeckers. This is a hybrid Red-naped X Red-breasted Sapsucker.
At Smith Rock, we watched this Golden Eagle nest with one downy chick.
Bald Eagles were also nesting at Smith Rock.
Ogden Wayside hosted a colony of ground Squirrels. I believe these are Merriam’s Ground Squirrels, although I have trouble distinguishing Merriam’s from Belding’s Ground Squirrel. I need to do some rodent research.
It was a fun, albeit exhausting, day. There is still time to contribute to Portland Audubon’s fundraiser. Click here for more information.
Spring is coming on strong, despite the cold latter half of March. The season is most obvious in the open habitats around wetlands. Local nesters are starting to pair up and collect nesting material.The winter sparrow flocks are starting to thin out, but the birds that remain are active and vocal. This Fox Sparrow (with a Golden-crowned Sparrow in the background) was at Fernhill Wetlands.
The local Song Sparrows are paired up and are defending territories.
Bushtits are still in their winter flocks, but should be pairing off soon.
This male Hooded Merganser caught a large crayfish at Westmoreland Park, but did not share it with the female that was nearby.
Anna’s Hummingbird, feeding on currant
This is one of five subadult Bald Eagles that flew over Westmoreland Park in a tight group. I don’t recall seeing a flock of Bald Eagles moving together like that before.
Western Canada Goose, the locally nesting subspecies. I am trying to collect portraits of the various Canada and Cackling Goose subspecies for side-by-side comparison.
These Red-eared Sliders were basking at Commonwealth Lake. There are only two native species of freshwater turtle in Oregon, and this is not one of them. This species is often released from the pet trade.
In the next few weeks, warblers and flycatchers should start arriving in good numbers, then the rush of spring shorebird migration.
I went to Sauvie Island to scout areas for my Little Brown Birds class next week. The huge flocks of waterfowl that spend the winter there have dwindled, but there are still a lot of birds around. This White-crowned Sparrow was enjoying a dust bath on the first dry sunny day we have had in a long time.
Golden-crowned Sparrows are still the most common species in the sparrow patches.
Song Sparrows are not as numerous, but are very vocal right now.
Raptors are still thick out at Sauvie. This Cooper’s Hawk did not make it any easier to find sparrows.
One of many Bald Eagles seen that day.
Red-tailed Hawk, scoping out the surrounding fields for rodents
A distant Greater Yellowlegs. It is a little early for shorebirds, but their migration should be picking up in the next few weeks.
There were Raccoon tracks all along Rentenaar Road.
Sandhill Cranes, Tundra Swans, and Cackling Geese are still present in good numbers, but spring migration should bring big changes soon.
Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge is still a fairly new addition to the Willamette Valley refuge complex, but it offers a nice variety of habitats very close to Portland. I don’t know if the resident Bald Eagles had a successful nesting this year, but this individual was hanging out by the nest during my recent visit.
Cinnamon Teal were conspicuous, but Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal were also present.
Killdeer and Spotted Sandpipers are both common nesters on the refuge.
The air above the wetlands is filled with various species of swallows. This Northern Rough-winged Swallow was the only one that sat for a distant photo.
This Willow Flycatcher was giving his distinctive “FITZ-bew” call.
Western Wood-Pewees were calling from the edges of the woods.
The grassy areas are home to Savannah Sparrows.
This White-crowned Sparrow was singing from the roof of the refuge office.
I made a quick visit to Tualatin River NWR in the afternoon heat. One of the main trails is closed off until this young Bald Eagle decides to leave the nest. Despite the flock of European Starlings cheering him on, he didn’t show any sign of leaving.
I saw several pairs of Gadwall, but no ducklings yet. This male was putting on a show for his lady friend.
Mallards have been out with broods for weeks now.
Cinnamon Teal siesta
Pied-billed Grebe showing off his black throat
I often find Spotted Sandpipers perched on man-made structures.
Despite the time of day, American Bullfrogs were actively singing and defending territories. This introduced species is so common in the Willamette Valley. I would think they would be a favored prey item (Great Blue Heron, Mink, River Otter, etc.) but I seldom find any evidence of predation. Bullfrogs are unfortunately very good at preying on native frogs and turtles.
My Shorebirds of the Willamette Valley class had their first field trip on Saturday. We found nine species of shorebirds, a nice collection of the expected species. We missed the Semipalmated Sandpiper that had been reported earlier in the week. All the migrants we saw were adults. The juveniles should be arriving soon, hopefully in time for our next field trip. Since I was leading the trip, I didn’t have much opportunity to seek out photos, but here are a few back-lit images.
Least Sandpiper was the most common species of the day.
We found one Lesser Yellowlegs at Jackson Bottom and one at Fernhill Wetlands. The one at Jackson very cooperatively posed next to some Greater Yellowlegs for direct comparison.
This Semipalmated Plover, to the right of the Western Sandpiper, was the only one of the day. He nestled down into the mud, perhaps to cool off.
A blurry Bald Eagle at Fernhill Wetlands didn’t pose much of a threat to the shorebirds, but did make the waterfowl nervous.
Western Sandpiper at Fernhill Wetlands
Lots of Spotted Sandpipers remain at both Jackson Bottoms and Fernhill.
Things are hopping at Fernhill Wetlands, with rising water levels, an influx of several thousand geese and other waterfowl, and a few other goodies.
Cackling Geese have been arriving for weeks now, and the skies and fields around Fernhill are covered with these little guys.
A small flock of Greater White-fronted Geese were hanging out with the Mallards in Dabblers Marsh.
This interesting beast is a hybrid, a product of one of the local Canada Geese and a domestic Greylag Goose.
Here are some of the many Northern Shovelers feeding in their typical manner, swimming along with their faces in the water, as if their enormous bills are too heavy to hold up.
Two American White Pelicans have been hanging out at Fernhill for a couple of months now.
Shorebird numbers and diversity have dwindled. Here are a few Long-billed Dowitchers.
The resident Bald Eagles were sitting around looking majestic. I watched one carrying a stick to add to their nest.
Several Northern Shrikes have been reported around the Portland area in recent days. This one is snacking on a large insect.
I saw three Common Garter Snakes on this trip, including one very young newborn about the width of a linguine. The colorful individual in this photo was about 20 inches long. Note the large laceration on his neck, presumably from a predator. Despite the severity of the wound, the snake was not bleeding and he crawled away after this photo was taken, so I am hopeful he will recover.