Record-setting heat and cloudless days are not the best conditions for birding or photography, but here we are. It is sometimes hard to motivate oneself to get outside when the weather is so harsh, but there is always something to see. So here are some images from a warm walk around Fernhill Wetlands.
Black-headed Grosbeaks are one of our more attractive summer residents.
Lots of babies have already fledged. Here a Red-winged Blackbird is being harassed by a hungry youngster.
It has been such a delight to have an active Purple Martin colony at Fernhill the past few years.
Purple Martin on an unclouded day
Ospreys were soaring high over Fernhill Lake. I didn’t see any dive for fish while I was there.
The ducks have started their summer molt, but the Pied-billed Grebes are still looking dapper.
A lovely Mourning Dove on an ugly fence
The most unusual bird of the day was this Western Grebe. They are frequent winter visitors here, but they do not nest anywhere nearby.
Southbound shorebird migration has already begun, so expect them to show up soon.
I visited Fernhill Wetlands in Forest Grove on a rare sunny December day. The sun is so low at this time of year that if there is no cloud cover the sun is either at your back or directly in your eyes. The latter makes birding very challenging, but the former can produce some lovely light, as seen on this Mourning Dove.
At least one Black Phoebe has been hanging out near the ponds behind the picnic shelter this fall. Black Phoebes were unheard of in Washington County a few year ago.
Any shorebird seen at this time of year is a treat. This lone Greater Yellowlegs was one of four shorebird species found on this trip. (Long-billed Dowitchers and Wilson’s Snipe were flybys.)
This Killdeer was probing with her foot to try to stir up food in one of the new gravel filtration tanks.
The main lake at Fernhill is hosting a nice variety of waterfowl, but most were distant or in the harsh sunlight. A Swamp Sparrow was a nice find, but stayed in the cattails to avoid being photographed.
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.
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 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.
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.
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, experiencing some wing molt
This Red-winged Blackbird was one of a large flock feeding in the cattails.
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.
While we continue to get above-average rainfall in the Portland area, there have been a few dry days of late, so I ran out for a quick tour of Fernhill Wetlands. Most of the wintering geese are gone, and there are signs that spring is slowly making progress.
Yellow-rumped Warblers, both Audubon’s and Myrtle (shown) races, are coming through in large numbers.
Red-winged Blackbirds are in full song and are staking out territories.
Song Sparrows start singing in January, but are increasingly vocal now.
Several pairs of Cinnamon Teal were courting.
A flock of Dunlins was using this log to get out of the mud for a while. They were all still in winter plumage. Dunlins are one of the first species to arrive in spring.
Spring shorebird migration peaks in late April/early May. There is still room in my shorebird class with Portland Audubon April 27/29.
This Sora was being typically elusive.
The red currants were is full bloom, attracting both Anna’s and Rufous Hummingbirds.
Fernhill Wetlands is the place to be in autumn. Even after the extensive wetland renovations that have taken place, resulting in less open water, the Cackling Geese still congregate here by the thousands.
This Great Egret was catching the sunshine on the top of a tree.
Northern Pintail. I don’t often see them hanging out on dry ground.
Killdeer and Green-winged Teal
Greater White-fronted Geese migrate over the Willamette Valley in large numbers, but not many touch down, so it is always nice to see some on the ground.
Fernhill Lake is about half of its original size, but it is still big enough to attract divers, like this Horned Grebe.
male American Kestrel
Waterfowl diversity continues to increase, and winter sparrow flocks should pick us soon. I’m looking forward to watching the show, assuming the Bundys don’t move in.
If you haven’t been to Fernhill Wetlands since the major renovations were completed, you should definitely check it out. There is still a fairly large lake to attract divers, but now there is also a large emergent wetland to explore.
Brewer’s Blackbirds were holding court in the parking lot.
The Red-winged Blackbirds are setting up their territories.
Tree Swallows, giving each other that “come hither” look.
Even though the local nesters are getting down to business, there are still plenty of wintering Cackling Geese around. These are Ridgeway’s Cackling Geese.
There is certainly no shortage of American Bullfrogs at Fernhill, which may explain why I didn’t find any native frogs.
The shallow waters are teaming with these minnows. I can’t tell what species they are.
I surprised this little Northwestern Garter Snake while she was sunning herself. I saw a Common Garter later in the visit.
Northwestern Garter Snake
There are big changes underway at Fernhill Wetlands. The main lake has been drained, and the two impoundments to the south are completely gone. This is all to make way for large emergent wetlands that will replace the ponds. This should greatly increase the bird diversity at the site when work is completed.
There weren’t any shorebirds on these newly exposed flats, but I would imagine this area would be pretty appealing to a passing plover or Baird’s Sandpiper.
This American Goldfinch was enjoying the water.
Eurasian Collared Dove
At Jackson Bottom, swallows were everywhere, with young birds out of the nest and waiting around for parents to feed them. Tree and Barn were the two species I noticed.
Baby Barn Swallows
There were lots of Least Sandpipers about. These are birds that either didn’t make it all the way to the Arctic, or had failed nesting attempts and headed back south. Shorebird migration will really pick up in about two weeks.
This male Wilson’s Phalarope was reported with three downy chicks earlier in the week, but I did not see any young when I was there. Hopefully the little ones were off hiding somewhere.
I took a quick tour of Fernhill Wetlands this week. Great changes are planned for this site. The main lake will be made smaller, and the other two impoundments will be replaced with emergent wetlands. I am looking forward seeing how things progress. Here are some birds and other critters from the trip.
Many Yellow-rumped Warblers were passing through, mostly the Myrtle race, with only one Audubon’s.
Flocks of Taverner’s Cackling Geese were feeding in the fields north of the main lake.
baby Garter Snake. I’m not sure if this is a Common or Northwestern Garter.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Muskrat climbing a tree before. This one was gnawing off a branch to get to the leaves.
Tree Swallows are swarming around Fernhill Wetlands, no doubt encouraged by the many nesting boxes that have been installed at the site.
Northern Shovelers were the most common duck species on the lake.
Several schools of Common Carp were active at the surface. I don’t know if they were feeding on aquatic insects or involved in spawning.
Marsh Wrens are starting to sing.
A few Red-winged Blackbirds were displaying. There aren’t very many Red-wings at Fernhill since most of the cattails died off several years ago.
I led a tour of Fernhill Wetlands for the Birds and Brew Festival. Since there were about 50 people in the group, including many who didn’t have optics, we concentrated on the “charismatic mega-fauna,” like these American White Pelicans.
A Great Egret and a Great Blue Heron were looking all artsy with their reflections.
This distant American Kestrel was showing off his colors.
After the group dispersed, I took another lap around the lake so I could check out the smaller birds. Along with five species of sparrow, there were lots of Yellow-rumped Warblers moving around.
Fernhill Wetlands, south of Forest Grove, is a great place to see the onset of autumn. Water levels on the main lake are still very low, but the recent rains will soon change that.
Migrant shorebirds, like these Western Sandpipers, are enjoying the mudflats. Shorebird numbers are starting to thin out.
This Pectoral Sandpiper was checking out the new vegetation on the lake bed.
The first Cackling Geese have arrived. They will soon be joined by a few thousand more.
This Common Merganser was resting on an exposed mud bar. I don’t get to see mergansers out of the water very often.
American White Pelicans, once considered rare in the Willamette Valley, are now an expected species in late summer.
Eurasian Collared-Doves are another species that are increasingly common in the area.
The annual Fernhill Wetlands Birds and Brew Festival will be held on October 12. I will be leading the 8:00 tour for that. Here is a link for more info.