The 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.
I found a few California Gulls on my scouting trip, but they were a no-show on class day.
This Lesser Scaup was bathing at Dawson Creek. The bill color on these birds is striking.
On 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.
This Peregrine Falcon was keeping an eye on the ducks.
I laid down some millet in various spots to chum for sparrows (class in March, hint, hint).
Golden-crowned Sparrow, one of the more common winter residents.
White-throated Sparrows were a big deal when I first moved to Oregon, but they are now considered rare but regular in the winter.
Spotted 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.
Here are a few photos from recent ramblings.
After delivering some books to Tualatin River NWR, I took a quick walk on the path that leads through some newly planted oaks and along the river. This male American Kestrel had just captured a shrew.
These Western Canada Geese (and the Common Merganser on the log in the foreground) were napping at the Sandy River Delta.
The Beavers are really enjoying the young trees at Sandy River Delta.
This old American Robin nest was tucked into a crevice of a tree.
Pileated Woodpeckers are fairly easy to find at Sandy River Delta. This one was perfectly hidden behind a branch.
Peregrine Falcon, Sandy River Delta
This Hermit Thrush was chasing another outside my bedroom window early in the morning.
Yaquina Bay, at the town of Newport, is one of the more productive sites on the Oregon coast. On this visit, high winds reduced the number of birds that were out and about, but there was still a lot to see.
Common Loon with the catch of the day
Horned Grebe (above) and Western Grebe
The flats behind the Hatfield Marine Science Center. There were lots of Mew Gulls, some Brant, and Northern Pintails. Note the Peregrine Falcon at the base of the fallen tree.
Large numbers of California Sea Lions loaf on the jetties and docks on the bay.
Broughton Beach is the stretch of shoreline along the Columbia River, just north of the Portland airport. It has been a popular spot to access the river to scan for waterfowl in winter, and the shore attracts some neat birds, like Horned Larks, American Pipits, and the occasional Short-eared Owl. There used to be free parking there, but that was eliminated when the adjacent public boat launch was expanded to include a nice new car parking lot (with a fee station).
There weren’t many birds on the water during my recent visit. Here is a distant Horned Grebe.
A mixed flock of gulls was loafing on a sand spit. There are at least four species in this photo, lots of California, a Mew, a Herring, and a few Ring-billed.
The gull flock was resting after being harassed by this guy. This Peregrine Falcon spent several minutes flying through the flock, taking half-hearted swipes at various gulls. Perhaps he was testing for any individuals that were injured or particularly slow.
Smith and Bybee Wetlands Natural Area (aka Smith and Bybee Lakes) in northeast Portland is a great spot in late summer as the water levels drop. Large flocks of American White Pelicans, California Gulls, Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, and various shorebirds gather to feed in the shallow water and on the mudflats. On this visit, most birds were pretty far away, but could be scanned with a scope. Western and Least Sandpipers were the only shorebirds I could pull out of the distant flocks, but other species have been reported recently.
This juvenile Green Heron was hanging out at the canoe launch on Smith Lake.
In the same area, this Peregrine Falcon was surveying the mudflats for tasty shorebirds.
On Bybee Lake, large numbers of Blue Herons and Great Egrets were gathered. At the edge of the group was this Snowy Egret, an uncommon visitor to the Portland area. Here is a nice comparison with the larger Great Egret.
The lumps on the shoreline are dead and dying waterfowl, mostly Northern Shovelers. Warm temperatures and low water levels sometimes lead to outbreaks of avian botulism. Outbreaks usually subside with cooler temperatures and rain, which we are now getting in Portland.
I led trips for the Birding and Blues Festival in Pacific City, OR, last weekend. The weather was cool with scattered showers, so photo ops were not abundant.
The Three Capes Tour on Friday was actually very good for mammals, with charismatic mega-fauna such as Gray Whale, Steller’s Sea Lion and Roosevelt Elk. Only slightly less charismatic was this California Ground Squirrel.
This Peregrine Falcon posed nicely on the cliff at Cape Meares. The rich colors of the rocks and plants, compared the overexposed image of the falcon show that I have obviously still not mastered my new camera.
There is a large flock of Eurasian Collared Doves in Pacific City. Ten years ago, this species would have been a huge deal, but they are very well established now. Despite their abundance, this flock was very shy.
The avian stars of Pacific City are these Aleutian Cackling Geese. This particular population breeds on the Semidi Islands and winters at Pacific City, spending the nights on Haystack Rock offshore and days in this cow pasture at the north end of town.
I’ve recently made two trips to Grays Harbor in Washington, once to scout and the other to lead my shorebird class. This estuary is a major staging area for migrating shorebirds in spring.
Marbled Godwit, Dunlin, and Short-billed Dowitcher feeding at Damon Point, near the mouth of the harbor
Don’t neglect to look at all the little brown ducks! This is a King Eider, a rare visitor from Alaska. It is distinguished from Common Eider by the slender bill and the scalloped markings on the sides.
Bowerman Basin is an inlet on the north shore of the harbor. It is the last area to fill during high tides, so shorebirds often congregate here. This is a view from the boardwalk.
Peregrine Falcons are attracted by the large numbers of shorebirds in the harbor.
This is a view of the boardwalk on a Thursday morning.
This is the boardwalk on a Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately, birders outnumbered birds by about five to one on this afternoon.
Greater White-fronted Geese
Marsh Wrens are common along the marshy edges of Bowerman Basin.
The willow thickets and woods along the boardwalk attract migrants like this Golden-crowned Sparrow.
I am revving up for my Little Brown Birds class next month, so I spent some time with the sparrow flocks on Sauvie Island (Birding Oregon p.57). A walk down Rentenaar Road revealed five species, three of which sat still long enough to be photographed.
White-crowned Sparrows stand out with their bold head pattern.
Immature White-crowned Sparrows have the same pattern as the adults, but in brown and buff instead of black and white.
Two Golden-crowned Sparrows, immature on the left, adult on the right
This Song Sparrow was feeding right at my feet, but insisted on staying in my shadow, thus messing up the lighting in the photo.
This Peregrine Falcon wasn’t much of a threat to the sparrows, but he did make the shorebirds and waterfowl nervous.
It is sometimes the case, when I plan to look for a certain type of bird, that my target species are nowhere to be found. On those days we have to let go of our expectations and open ourselves to whatever treasures the birding fates have for us. I helped with a field trip today that was supposed to visit a hawk watch site. The ridge was completely socked in by low clouds, so we had to scrap our plans and instead birded open range and farm land.
Likewise, I recently visited Fernhill Wetlands (Birding Oregon p. 61) to look for shorebirds. Despite the decent amount of mudflat habitat available, shorebirds were almost non-existent. While I was disappointed in the lack of waders, there is always something interesting to watch.
Always common, but always worth a look, Great Blue Herons will often surprise you with the interesting creatures they are attempting to swallow. On this day I watched one bird swallow a large catfish.
Great Egrets congregate this time of year to fish in the receding waters.
This Peregrine Falcon was keeping watch over the wetlands. This might explain the lack of shorebirds.
We are still in the “ugly brown duck season,” when many birds are still in eclipse plumage. Despite the lack of characteristic colors, most birds can be identified by shape or by tell-tale field marks. This picture shows two Northern Pintails on either side of a Green-winged Teal. The pintails are identified by their pointy backsides and their blue sloping bills. The tiny teal is displaying the green speculum on the wing that give the species its name.