Fernhill Wetlands

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.

Northern Harrier

The Green-winged Teal are starting to get some nice color.

Cinnamon Teal

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.

Happy Autumn

“Autumn” Shorebirds

Late summer is a challenging time to bird. The local nesters have finished raising their families and have grown quiet and harder to see. Most southbound migrants have not arrived yet. The weather is hot and many parks are crowded. The biggest return on your birding investment this time of year is shorebirds. Southbound migrants are showing up in good numbers and species diversity is increasing. Here are few shorebirds from the past week.

Baird’s Sandpiper, Gearhart. Most individuals of this species migrate through the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains, but Oregon always gets a few juveniles that head a little too far west.

Semipalmated Plover, Fort Stevens SP. While these adorable little plovers can be found anywhere in migration, a great many are found working the coastal beaches.

Black Turnstone, Seaside. A quick stop at the Seaside Cove will usually turn up a lot of Black Turnstones.

Surfbird, Seaside. Surfbirds are also regular at the Cove, still sporting a little of their breeding plumage.

Ruddy Turnstone, Seaside. Scanning the flocks of Black Turnstones will often produce one or two Ruddy Turnstones.

Killdeer, Fernhill Wetlands. Not a migrant, but Killdeer still counts on a shorebird list.

Pectoral Sandpiper, Fernhill Wetlands. I have seen several Pectoral Sandpipers lately. It seems a little early for them, as they are often found well into October.

Shorebird numbers should continue to build for the next couple of weeks, and by then we should start seeing some other migrants as well.

Happy Migration

Into the Woods

We left Portland for ten days to escape the fireworks which terrify our dogs. We stayed on a farm in the Coast Range in Benton County. The birds where we stayed were typical Coast Range birds which stayed high in the dark trees, so no great photos there.

I think this pile of feathers is the result of someone munching on a Sooty Grouse.

Bodhi and I flushed four Black-tailed Deer on the far side of a clear-cut.

This very old scat consisted of just fur and bone. From the size, I am assuming it is from a Mountain Lion.

The pond at the farm where we were staying was full of Rough-skinned Newts. I assume they were congregating to lay eggs.

To bee, or not to bee? This newt actually did take a swipe at the honeybee, but I don’t think she was able to get it down.
We didn’t get in the car very often on this trip, but when we did we usually saw Wild Turkeys along the road. Here is a crappy cell-phone-through-the-dirty-windshield shot.

I have never had a reaction to Poison Oak, but I take great care to avoid direct contact.

One morning a drove down to Fern Ridge Wildlife Area in Lane County. There wasn’t as much shorebird habitat as I had hoped for, but the Black-necked Stilts were well represented. Here is a juvenile Black-necked Stilt passing in front of a Killdeer. The juveniles are recognized by their scaly backs and dull legs.

Like most birds, they bring their leg over their wing when they need to scratch their head.

Here’s a lovely adult Black-necked Stilt, with solid black upperparts and bright pink legs.

Black-necked Stilts are fairly common breeders east of the Cascades, but harder to find on the west side. Fern Ridge, at the southern end of the Willamette Valley, is a consistent breeding site for this species. Southbound shorebird migration is starting to rev up.

Happy Summer

Fernhill Wetlands

Summer is settling in at Fernhill Wetlands. The birds that are here now are probably nesting. Always a treat this far west is this handsome Blue-winged Teal. I hope he has a mate sitting on eggs somewhere.

Just as lovely, and more expected here, is this Cinnamon Teal. A friend refers to them as “spicy.”

All the migrant shorebirds are gone, so we can stop to enjoy the resident Killdeer.

I have been spending more time around the back side of Dabblers Marsh at Fernhill. The wooded habitat attracts more songbirds, like this Cedar Waxwing.

Purple Martins have reclaimed their nest boxes by the lake.

This Great Egret was hanging out close to the main trail. They are often farther out in the marsh.

I have seen California Ground Squirrels here in the past, but this is the first I have seen since the major renovations. I am glad to see this species is still using the site.

This Long-toed Salamander was my only herp of the day. If you look at the back feet, you can see the extra long fourth toe that gives this species its name.

Happy Spring/Summer

Still Waiting for Spring – Jackson Bottom

Jackson Bottom is another site that I can visit during the pandemic, assuming I get there early. The big push of spring migration has not hit, but you can tell it’s so close. Tree Swallows have been back for quite a while now. They are usually perched on the many bird houses at this site, so it was nice to catch a couple actually using a tree.
The Savannah Sparrows are setting up territory. This would have been a nice shot if I could have caught a reflection in the bird’s eye.

There we go.

This Osprey spent a lot of time preening while I was there. He still looks pretty disheveled.

Anna’s Hummingbird, just high enough that I can’t get a good flash from his gorget

Common Yellowthroat

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I’m still waiting for shorebirds to show up. Greater Yellowlegs have been the only arrivals so far.

Some Killdeer have started nesting already.

Brush Rabbit

Long-toed Salamander

Several Common Garters (Red-spotted) were sunning themselves on this rock pile.

This garter had propped her body up against a log to better catch the morning sun.

I don’t remember seeing Camas at Jackson Bottom before, but they were in full bloom on this trip.

Happy spring

Late Summer Wetlands

I made a quick trip to Fernhill Wetlands and Jackson Bottom to look for shorebirds. My first bird of the morning was this Killdeer standing on the sidewalk. I guess that counts.

There is a frustrating lack of mudflats in area wetlands this year. Areas are either dry with lots of vegetation or are full of water. I did manage to find this Wilson’s Snipe (front) feeding with a juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher.

Young Spotted Sandpiper on a log

Lots of American White Pelicans are in the Willamette Valley right now.

The wetland rehabilitation at Fernhill Wetlands has resulted in much less exposed mud, but the thick emergent vegetation is hog heaven to rails, like this Virginia Rail.

In the “invasive but adorable” category are this Nutria with her baby.

Brush Rabbits rule the “native AND adorable” category.
So cute

These two Black-tailed Deer were at Jackson Bottom. I found it interesting that the little spike buck in front still had his antlers completely encased in velvet while the fork buck in back has already shed his velvet to reveal polished antler.

There is still about a month of shorebird migration left. I hope we get some good mudflats to bring them in. Happy Summer.

Dreary February

February weather can be the most challenging, with cold temperatures and frequent rain. We desperately need the moisture so I am not complaining, but it is harder to get motivated to get out into the cold and damp. I continue to concentrate on my 5-mile radius, with my total currently sitting at 70 species for the year. I expect that to jump up a bit this week.

This lovely American Wigeon has been hanging out at Commonwealth Lake Park. Birds with this much white on the head are known as Storm Wigeon.

This Killdeer, along with two others, was doing a pretty good job hiding in a little clump of leaves.

Wilson’s Snipes continue to be common at Commonwealth. That long bill helps him blend in with the sticks.

Red-winged Blackbird in fresh spring plumage. I imagine those rusty fringes will wear off to reveal a more uniform black outfit soon.

Happy winter

Fernhill Wetlands

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.

Happy Autumn.

Summer Shorebirds

There isn’t much going on bird-wise in mid-summer besides shorebirds. It is nice to have an opportunity to really focus on a single group of birds. Here are a few images from recent weeks.

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This Long-billed Dowitcher, to the right of the Killdeer, really caught my eye since she was still in nearly pristine breeding plumage.
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The bright cinnamon color goes all the way down through the undertail coverts. This bird was at Jackson Bottom Wetlands.

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more Long-billed Dowitchers at Jackson Bottom. These birds are already fading into their duller winter plumage.

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Spotted Sandpiper, still in breeding plumage, perched on a spotted log

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From the cuteness department comes this fuzzy baby Killdeer. Seeing a young Killdeer with his single breast band this late in the summer might suggest a Semipalmated Plover. But the fluffy plumage and the long legs (not to mentions the tiny wings) let us know we are looking at a fledgling.

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Take the time to look at shorebird specimens whenever you have the chance. The first thing you will notice is just how small these birds are. Since we usually look at shorebirds through powerful optics, we tend to think they are actually larger than they are. (A Least Sandpiper is a little smaller than a House Sparrow.) Here we have a nice comparison of a Greater and a Lesser Yellowlegs. Note the differences in the proportions of the bills.

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A trip to the coast provided good numbers of Semipalmated Plovers, seen here with a Western Sandpiper.

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Several hundred Marbled Godwits spent a couple of weeks at the beach in Fort Stevens State Park.

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Dragonflies provide a nice burst of color in the summer. I believe this a Blue Dasher, but please correct me if I am wrong.

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Eight-spotted Skimmer

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This Black-tailed Deer was behind the visitor center at Jackson Bottom.

Shorebird migration will be the big thing for another few weeks, but it will be gull season before you know it.

Autumn at Fernhill

cackling-geeseFernhill 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.

great-egretThis Great Egret was catching the sunshine on the top of a tree.

pintailNorthern Pintail. I don’t often see them hanging out on dry ground.

killdeer-green-wingedKilldeer and Green-winged Teal

greater-white-frontsGreater 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.

horned-grebeFernhill Lake is about half of its original size, but it is still big enough to attract divers, like this Horned Grebe.

western-grebeWestern Grebe

kestrel-5male 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.