September Shorebirds

Greater Yellowlegs

Shorebirds have been trickling through the Portland area all month. Finding proper habitat can be challenging. As wetlands dry up during the summer, we have to hope that deeper bodies of water recede enough to create mudflats for shorebirds to feed on. This Greater Yellowlegs was at Force Lake in north Portland.

g yellowlegs trioTypically seen wading, Greater Yellowlegs will occasionally swim in groups to catch small fish.
greater yellowlegs swimming

westernThis juvenile Western Sandpiper, showing the characteristic rusty suspenders, was taking advantage of low water levels at Smith and Bybee Wetlands.

pectoral sandpiperThe main lake at Fernhill Wetlands has receded enough to create some nice mudflats, here being enjoyed by a Pectoral Sandpiper.

long-billed dowitcherjuvenile Long-billed Dowitcher, showing the characteristic solid dark tertials

short-billed dowitcher smalljuvenile Short-billed Dowitcher, showing the characteristic tiger-striped tertials

spotted sandpiper smallSpotted Sandpipers nest in the Portland area. Juveniles, like this one, can be recognized by the barring on the wing coverts.

semipalmated plover smallSemipalmated Plovers are surely one of the cutest shorebirds. The scaly pattern on the wings tells us that this is a juvenile.

Happy Autumn

Tualatin River NWR

BW Teal smallThe long hiking trail at Tualatin River NWR is open, and this refuge always offers some good birding in the spring and early summer. A pair of Blue-winged Teal was in the southwest pond.

Hutton's VireoAs is typical for this species, this Hutton’s Vireo stayed back in heavy cover.

brewer's smallIt is really hard to shoot a Brewer’s Blackbird against the sky without ending up with just a silhouette, but  I keep trying.

LB dowitcherLong-billed Dowitcher was the most common shorebird on this visit. It is nice to see them in full breeding plumage.

pec and LBThe best bird of the trip was this Pectoral Sandpiper. Pectorals are regular autumn migrants in this area, but are very rare in spring.
Pectoral Sandpiper 1

Happy Spring

Fernhill Wetlands

A recent foggy morning found me at Fernhill Wetlands. Birding was a little slow overall, but there were a few neat finds. These were two of about 100 Long-billed Dowitchers out that morning.

Black Phoebe has become an expected species at Fernhill in just the past few years. My camera insists on focusing on vegetation instead of birds.

The best bird of the morning was this Harlan’s Hawk soaring over the wetlands.

There has been a huge crop of Nutria at Fernhill this year. There were babies everywhere. I realize this is an invasive species in North America, but baby Nutria are pretty adorable.
Happy Autumn

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

Racetrack Lake

Racetrack Lake, located on Sauvie Island, sort of in between the end of Rentenaar Road and the east shore of Sturgeon Lake, has been quite good for shorebirds recently. Good shorebird habitat has been very hard to find in the Willamette Valley this summer, with conditions either too dry or too wet, so this patch of mud has been quite attractive to southbound migrants. Unfortunately, birds were pretty distant so they didn’t present great photo opportunities.

Long-billed Dowitchers were one of the more common shorebirds on this visit.

There were a few Short-billed Dowitchers mixed in, although the distance made identification challenging. Note the whitish belly, the spotted sides of the breast, and the tiger-striped tertials.

Semipalmated Plovers rank near the top of the most adorable shorebird category.

American White Pelicans were considered pretty rare in the Portland area not that long ago. Now you can expect 100 or more around Sauvie Island in the late summer.

Great Egrets are also very common this time of year.

Water levels continue to drop at Racetrack Lake, so there should be some decent mud for a while longer. Happy Summer.

Tualatin River NWR

The pandemic birding continues. While the visitor center and parking lot are closed, you can still walk the trails at Tualatin River NWR.

Social distancing, birder style

The big news at the refuge this spring has been this pair of American Avocets, a rare species on Oregon’s west side.

It’s always a treat to see these guys, especially this year when the shorebird migration has been rather lackluster.

This Bonaparte’s Gull was hanging out with the Avocets for a while.

This distant pair of Long-billed Dowitchers was the only other evidence of shorebird migration on the refuge this morning.

This Purple Finch was keeping with the “birds at a distance theme” that prevailed this trip.

Lazuli Bunting, not quite as distant

Probably the most unusual bird of the trip was this intergrade Northern Flicker. He shows the normal red mustache of the Red-shafted form and the red nape of the Yellow-shafted form.

Happy Spring

Random Ramblings

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.

Crane fight

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.

Happy Autumn

Fernhill Wetlands

We have had a long stretch of sunny warm weather lately. On one hand, it is lovely to be warm and dry on an outing. On the other hand, water levels continue drop and the harsh lighting makes for lousy photos. Nevertheless, here are some images from a recent trip to Fernhill Wetlands.

The Cackling Geese have returned for the winter.

The Tundra Swan that has spent the entire summer at Fernhill is still around. Hopefully, some more swans will arrive soon to keep him company. It must feel odd to be the only one of your kind. It’s like being a vegan in Kansas (been there).
Here is a more traditional view of the Tundra Swan.

A small group of Northern Harriers flew over the wetlands while I was there.

Shorebird migration is quickly winding down, so it was nice to see this Pectoral Sandpiper.

Long-billed Dowitchers in one of the little ponds by the picnic shelter

A Nutria swimming through the duckweed

This is the first turtle I have seen at Fernhill. Unfortunately, I think he is a non-native Slider, a species common in the pet trade and frequently released into areas where they don’t belong.

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.

8 spot
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.

Pacific City

black-bellied 2I led the Three Capes Tour for the Birding and Blues Festival last weekend. Spring migration had not quite kicked into high gear, but there were some nice birds around. This is one of two Black-bellied Plovers we saw on the beach the day before the tour. They were losing their dull winter plumage and growing in some crisp black and white feathers.

IMG_8632Black-bellied Plover with a Mole Crab

IMG_8634Black-bellied Plover tracks

IMG_8641At Whalen Island, this Dark-eyed Junco and Purple Finch were sharing a treetop.

IMG_8643These Long-billed Dowitchers were some of the few shorebirds we saw on the tour. Most shorebirds were migrating well off-shore that day.

IMG_8645This patch of Red-hot Poker at the Whiskey Creek Fish Hatchery always seems to attract good birds. This year it was a pair of Downy Woodpeckers.

barn swallowThis Barn Swallow sat and posed for us for quite a while.