Gull Season

Late autumn and early winter is the time to find the biggest diversity of gulls in Oregon. I led a field trip to the coast at the end of October. Strong storms from the west had moved a lot of birds close to shore earlier in the week, but on the day we arrived, strong east winds had driven a lot of birds back out to sea. At least we didn’t get rained on.

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At the Seaside Cove, a few gulls posed for us in the sun. This gull is mostly Western, but the streaking on the head and neck suggest some Glaucous-winged ancestry.

This is a fairly robust Iceland Gull (Thayer’s subspecies).

A closer look at the Iceland. The yellow bill will fade as the season progresses.

There aren’t a lot of places in the Portland area to get close looks at gulls anymore. This group was hanging out on a bar in the Willamette River. The flock was a mix of California, Ring-billed, Herring, Iceland, Glaucous-winged, Western, and a mass of messy hybrids.

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While scanning the genetic soup of confusing hybrids, it was refreshing to land on a Ring-billed Gull.

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California Gull

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While this bird ticks most of the boxes for Herring Gull, the bill seemed a little too heavy to me. This, combined with the primaries which were slightly less than jet black, suggest this might be a Cook Inlet Gull (Herring X Glaucous-winged).

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This Glaucous-winged Gull was hanging out in a flock of Cackling Geese at Amberglen Park. I am guessing that the grazing geese were stirring up worms for the gull.

Happy Gulling!

Low Tide

trestle bay 2Trestle Bay, just off Parking Lot D at Fort Stevens State Park, can be one of the more productive shorebird spots on the north coast. Timing is critical, as the bay fills completely with the high tide.

trestle bay 1When the tide is out, the bay provides extensive mudflats. With this much exposed mud, the birds can be quite distant, so timing your visit when the tide is coming in can produce some nice viewing.

sea lion 1On this visit we observed what we thought was a California Sea Lion carcass way out on the flat.

sea lionLater we noticed the the sea lion had rolled over and extended a flipper. Apparently he was just hanging out on the mudflat catching some sun.

sea lion stretchI normally see these animals basking on rocks, but the mud was apparently working for this guy.

mergansersSouthbound shorebird migration tends to come in waves, and we were between waves on this visit. Our consolation birds were this flock of Common Mergansers with a California Gull.

Happy last days of summer.

Tillamook

I had to go to Tillamook Bay to get some photos for an upcoming webinar. This particular day had freakishly nice weather, very un-Tillamook-like. Ideally, during fall migration, a birder hopes for onshore winds to bring seabirds and shorebirds close to shore, and a light overcast to provide gentle light for viewing and cool temperatures. This day brought light east winds, a cloudless cobalt blue sky, and temperatures in the 80s. I guess we have to play the cards we are dealt.

This is the Three Graces Tidal Area. The sun hadn’t cleared the hill yet so it was too dark to photograph the Harlequin Duck that was swimming around the rocks. Harlequins are regular at this site.

At the Bay City Oyster Plant, this Double-crested Cormorant was taking advantage of the sun to dry his wings.

Black Phoebe on the pilings at the oyster plant

With the east winds, shorebirds were very rare on this trip. This mixed flock of Least and Western Sandpipers at the oyster plant was the only big flock of the day.

Western Gull, hanging out on the Purple Martin boxes

I did the Tillamook Death March around Bayocean Spit. The ocean side of the spit is typically not as birdy as the bay side, but there was not a single shorebird on this trip.

There had apparently been at least a couple of shorebirds here earlier in the day.

Always glad to see these signs, hope that the Snowy Plover population will continue to recover on the Oregon Coast.

The Common Ravens on the beach were pretty skittish. I wonder if they have been “encouraged” to avoid the plover nesting areas.

There were a lot of these jellyfish near the mouth of the bay. Yet another reason I don’t swim in the ocean.

Despite the summery weather, autumn migrants, like this Red-necked Grebe, are trickling in.

A Mew Gull with two California Gulls

Despite the eerily nice weather, there were a few birds around. We need to remind ourselves that there is always something to see.

Happy Autumn

Portraits from the coast

I made a trip out to the coast to scout for my shorebird class. Much of the trip consisted of running from site to site to check on conditions, but I did spend a little time at a few sites where the birds presented some nice close views.

Parking Lot C at Fort Stevens had a lot of young Brown-headed Cowbirds flying around. It always amazes me how cowbirds can be raised by other species but still somehow figure out how to be cowbirds.

This young cowbird had a nice yellowish cast to the underparts.

This Purple Shore Crab was out in the open near the tidal ponds at Parking Lot C.

This Ruddy Turnstone was hanging out with the Black Turnstones at Seaside Cove. Ruddys are harder to find during autumn migration than they are in the spring.

Ruddy and Black Turnstones

Black Turnstones are common at the Cove from autumn through spring.

A few Surfbirds are often mixed in with the turnstone flock.

Late summer and early fall sees a buildup of California Gulls along the coast, often in very worn and tattered plumage. So I was surprised to see this individual still rocking some very intense colors in the eye-ring and gape.

Heermann’s Gulls are always a favorite.

I didn’t find any juvenile Heermann’s on this trip. They experienced nearly complete nesting failures in recent years. Hopefully they had a little more success this year and we will see some young birds as the season wears on.

 

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.

Post-Snowpocalypse Ramblings

small-ring-billedThe Portland area got a dump of about 10″ of snow recently. It was lovely on the first day, but for the next week it was a pain, with roads being impassable from the ice and snow. When I was finally able to get out, I went to Amberglen office park in Hillsboro to scout for my Hillsboro Parks and Rec gull class. This Ring-billed Gull was posing on the ice.

california-gullI found a few California Gulls on my scouting trip, but they were a no-show on class day.

lesser-scaupThis Lesser Scaup was bathing at Dawson Creek. The bill color on these birds is striking.

red-tailedOn Thursday I went to Sauvie Island, partly just to go birding and partly to scout for my upcoming waterfowl class. There was so much water from the melting snow that the ducks were scattered everywhere. Raptors put on a good show. Here is a young Red-tailed Hawk.

peregrineThis Peregrine Falcon was keeping an eye on the ducks.

harrierNorthern Harrier

I laid down some millet in various spots to chum for sparrows (class in March, hint, hint).

golden-crownedGolden-crowned Sparrow, one of the more common winter residents.

white-throatedWhite-throated Sparrows were a big deal when I first moved to Oregon, but they are now considered rare but regular in the winter.

towheeSpotted Towhees are so common they tend to be overlooked. But it is nice to stop and appreciate just how gaudy and beautiful they are.

Lots to see in the Portland area this time of year. Cheers.

 

Fernhill Wetlands and Jackson Bottom

I made a quick trek around Washington County’s two prominent wetlands. There was nothing unusual to report, but there is plenty of bird activity at these sites this time of year.

green heronGreen Heron, lurking

gb heronGreat Blue Heron, not lurking

californiaJuvenile California Gulls are very common lately.

spotty 2I didn’t find many migrant shorebirds this trip, but the resident Spotted Sandpipers posed nicely.

killdeerKilldeer

pelicansFifteen years ago, White Pelicans in the Portland area were a pretty big deal, but now they are expected in the larger wetlands in summer.

kingfisherBelted Kingfishers like the perches that have been installed at Fernhill.

ospreyOsprey over the lake at Fernhill

treeClouds of swallows are hanging out at Jackson Bottom. This Tree Swallow spent a long time just sitting in the opening of her nest box.

chickadeeThey have installed a water feature near the visitor center at Jackson Bottom. This soggy Black-capped Chickadee was enjoying a dip.

lesser goldLesser Goldfinch on the fountain

As nesting season wraps up and water levels drop, I can soon start obsessing on migrant shorebirds.

Cannon Beach/Seaside

Nala and I spent a unseasonably warm morning around the towns of Cannon Beach and Seaside. Spring migration is just starting to kick in, but things are still pretty slow.

IMG_8591Since the tide was out, we were able to get pretty close to Haystack Rock and its compliment of Harlequin Ducks.
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IMG_8601This band of California Gulls were hanging out on the beach (yellow legs), accompanied by a couple of young Western/Glaucous Winged (pink legs).

IMG_8607Most of the wintering Mew Gulls have left, but this one was on the beach in Gearhart.

IMG_8605Small numbers of Caspian Terns have returned to the Necanicum Esturary. A few were holding fish, trying to impress the ladies. It should work. I can be won over pretty easily with a vegan doughnut from VooDoo.

IMG_8602This bird was vexing. He is obviously a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, but I was convinced he was a Hutton’s Vireo. He moved very methodically, actually standing still for several seconds at a time. Spastic kinglets never sit still for that long.
IMG_8603But he has the classic field marks of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet; a black bar at the base of the secondaries (lacking in Hutton’s), and black legs with yellow feet (all gray in Hutton’s). I don’t know why his behavior was so un-kinglet-like. Just another reminder to mind the details as well as the gestalt.

Broughton Beach, Portland

Broughton Beach is along the Columbia River, right next to the Portland airport. It can be a challenging place to bird, with dogs and children chasing the birds, police carrying body bags down the beach, etc. But if you catch it on a good day you can find some excellent birding. The great attraction this past week was a Pacific Golden Plover, which spent two days there, avoiding me with great success (thus that specie’s designation as one of my nemesis birds).  I tried for the plover twice with no luck, but found several other goodies along the way.

red phalarope 1The most unexpected species was this Red Phalarope. At first glance, I wrote this bird off as a Red-necked, since Reds are very unusual inland in August, and Red-neckeds are expected. Once I looked at the photographs, however, I saw my error and got a good reminder to LOOK AT THE BIRD! That heavy bill with the light-colored base is a dead giveaway for Red Phalarope.
red phalarope 2
Another coastal species along Broughton Beach was Sanderling.
sanderling 2
sanderlings 2
sanderling 7It is nice to see Sanderlings at inland locations, since you can often get closer to them there than you can at the coast.

semipalm 1Another nice find was this Semipalmated Sandpiper. You can see the partial webbing between the outer toes that gives this species its name. Ten years ago, a Semipalmated Sandpiper anywhere in Oregon was a pretty big deal, but now quite a few individuals are reported every year. Either the bird has become a more common migrant in this state, or people are just better at recognizing them.
semipalm 9
semipalm and westernSemipalmated Sandpiper (r) and Western Sandpiper (l)

western 3Western Sandpipers were present in small numbers. . .
western 2

least 2as were Least Sandpipers.
least 6
california gullCalifornia Gulls like to hang out on a little sand spit that extends into the river at low tide. A few Glaucous-winged Gulls have arrived, and will become more common as autumn approaches.

common loonThis Common Loon seemed a little out of place for August. In the winter months, this species is often seen at this site with large rafts of grebes and diving ducks. There are fewer kids and dogs then, too.

North Coast

sceneI made two trips to the coast this week, once to scout for my Portland Audubon shorebird class, and again for the class itself. It is amazing how much difference a couple of days can make in the make-up of bird life in a given area. On Thursday, I found a total of 11 shorebirds of two species. During the class we found hundreds of individuals of 10 species. I am so glad it was not the other way around. This is the view from the Necanicum River Estuary, looking south. The tiny bump in the middle is Haystack Rock, about 12 miles away.

whimbrel leftWhimbrel, Necanicum Estuary
whimbrel right
caspian ternCaspian Terns are common and very vocal all along the coast.

elkElk, Necanicum Estuary

semipalmated ploverThis Semipalmated Plover was the only shorebird at the tidal ponds at Fort Stevens.

raccoonRaccoon, on the mudflats near Parking Lot D, Fort Stevens (with a Caspian Tern and a California Gull)

ruddy turnstoneThis is one of two Ruddy Turnstones we found with a flock of Black Turnstones at the Seaside Cove.

white-crowned sparrowWhite-crowned Sparrow, Necanicum Estuary

california ground squirrelCalifornia Ground Squirrel, Hammond Boat Basin

faded gullHere is a good example of why this time of year may not be the best for learning gull ID. The plumage on this gull is bleached out and very worn. Judging from the size, shape, and pink legs on this bird (next to a normal non-breeding California Gull) I’m guessing this is a Glaucous-winged Gull, perhaps in his second cycle. I hope he grows some new feathers soon, or it will be a very cold autumn and winter.