Our sunny warm spring has turned cool and wet. This is a good thing, as we continue to be far below average in rainfall amounts, but the weather has put a bit of a damper on birding and photography. This Tree Swallow put on a nice show at Koll Center Wetlands. I believe this is a young male, hatched last summer and just now molting into full adult plumage.
Most Golden-crowned Sparrows have returned north by now, but the few that remain are in full breeding plumage.
This past winter was not a big year for Pine Siskins, but one or two have recently been showing up at my feeder.
Mourning Dove at Tualatin Hills Nature Park
This singing Orange-crowned Warbler was actually displaying his orange crown at Pittock Mansion.
Male Anna’s Hummingbird, singing in the rain at Pittock Mansion
This next week will see spring migration winding down and the local nesting season kick into high gear. The slower pace will provide an opportunity to really study the local nesters, provided the rain stops.
Once again, here are a few photos from the past few weeks’ ramblings.
While one can admire the adorableness of this Black-capped Chickadee, the real bird of interest is his drinking buddy in the background, a Pine Siskin. Siskins were pretty much non-existent last year as their population took a big downturn (as it does every few years). This fall has brought good numbers of Pine Siskins to the Willamette Valley already, so it looks to be a good year for them.
This Short-eared Owl flushed from Broughton Beach and flew out over the Columbia River before heading downstream. Short-eareds winter at this site with some regularity. I felt bad about flushing the bird. If she had just sat still, I probably would have walked right by and not seen her. I would think that birds who roost in such a high-traffic area would learn to adjust to passers-by.
My gull class went to the coast last weekend. We found nine species of gull, one less than last year but still great diversity. One of the first was this first cycle Ring-billed Gull.
Bonaparte’s Gulls get the award for cutest gull on the Oregon coast.
Even though they lose their black hoods in winter, you can still see the white eye crescents when they turn just so.
The Seaside Cove hosted several Surfbirds along with a flock of Black Turnstones. Both of these species are reliable at this site in fall and winter, but it still feels like a treat to find them every time I’m there.
The forecast for the next week calls for cool and rainy weather, so we shall see what changes that brings to the birding.
I moved at the end of last year. It was not a great distance (less than 100 yards as the finch flies), but I was anxious to see how long it would take the birds to find my feeders. When people ask me that question, I generally tell them between six minutes and six months. The Anna’s Hummingbirds found their feeders almost immediately. The seed feeder sat unnoticed for about a week.
The first birds I saw were a mixed flock of Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Black-capped Chickadees, and Red-breasted Nuthatches. Not too shabby. A few House Finches came by a few days later. Things remained pretty quiet for a few weeks, but activity has recently taken an upturn. A pair of Purple Finches, including the ridiculously beautiful male pictured above, have been regular visitors. Lesser Goldfinches and Pine Siskins have joined the House Finches, and Dark-eyed Juncos and Spotted Towhees are busy on the ground under the feeder.
The biggest surprise at the feeder has been a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches, a species I never saw at the old location. These birds have eluded my efforts to obtain a photo. I am looking forward to seeing what else will appear.
female Purple Finch
Not a feeder bird, but a Red-breasted Sapsucker spent a few days on the property.
On this first day of summer, I was surprised to see a Pine Siskin on the feeders. Siskins are normally seen here in the Willamette Valley from November through April, before heading to higher elevations to nest.
The bird seemed a little fluffy, but otherwise didn’t show any indication that he was ill.
This is that long awkward time of year between winter and spring. The big winter flocks have broken up, but the spring migrants haven’t returned yet. As I have said before, there is always something to see, but we have to find simple pleasures until the full decadence of spring migration commences in a month or so.
On a recent sunny day, this Varied Thrush perched outside the living room window. I don’t often see this species in sunlight. They are usually muted by the gloom of a rainy day or the shadows of the forest.
Pine Siskin at the nyjer feeder
For some reason, songbirds just look weird when viewed from the front.
The male American Goldfinches are starting to get their summer color.
Golden-crowned Sparrow, Vanport Wetlands
This fairly large tree has been felled by Beavers at Smith and Bybee Wetlands. None of the branches appear to have been eaten, so I don’t know why the Beavers felled it, perhaps because it was there.
Northwestern Garter Snake, Tualatin Hills Nature Park. I am making the identification based on the small head, although I am not completely comfortable differentiating Northwestern Garter from Common Garter.
For the past few weeks I have been enjoying a large flock of Pine Siskins at my feeder. But as often occurs during years of high siskin numbers, I started noticing a few sick birds. So I stopped feeding for a few days. With the feeder empty, the large flocks of birds dispersed, reducing the risk of disease spreading from bird to bird.
Packing birds into unnaturally high densities at a bird feeder can create risks for the birds we are trying to help. While many of us enjoy feeding birds and other wildlife, it is important to do so mindfully. We have to be aware that feeding birds is something we do for our own entertainment, not something that the birds actually need. My feeder is outside my window for the sole purpose of drawing birds in close so that I can enjoy watching them from the comfort of my home. If the feeder wasn’t there, the birds would do just fine. It is my responsibility to be aware of how my bird feeding impacts the birds.
It was reported recently that Scotts Miracle-Gro was selling bird food treated with pesticides known to be harmful to birds (see story here). A few years ago, it was revealed that sunflower farmers in the Dakotas have taken such measures as destroying cattail marshes and poisoning and/or shooting birds to reduce the impact of blackbirds feeding in their fields. These stories illustrate how the seemingly innocuous hobby of feeding birds can have broader implications. We need to know where the food comes from and what is in it.
My feeder is filled again and, with the large flock of siskins gone, other species are becoming more visible.
Lesser Goldfinches, our smallest finch, are coming more frequently now that things have quieted down.
Two Purple Finches have appeared this week.
A few Pine Siskins stayed behind when the main flock left. A Purple Finch towers in the background.
Last summer I posted about Lesser Goldfinches eating the chard in my garden. This week I saw one of the many visiting Pine Siskins doing the same thing.
This makes the third species out of the four in the genus Spinus that have eaten chard in my garden. Maybe a Lawrence’s Goldfinch will show up one day and make it a clean sweep.
Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is one of the most popular birding destinations in Oregon, not just for the abundant expected species, but also for the eastern vagrants that turn up there every year. Our Birdathon team from the Audubon Society of Portland visited the area June 7-9.
The trees and shrubs around the refuge headquarters are very attractive to birds.
Western Tanagers were abundant in the trees and in the sagebrush.
The lawn at headquarters hosts a large colony of Merriam’s Ground Squirrels.
The view from Buena Vista, with Steens Mountain in the background
In warmer weather, this part of the state is great for herps, like this Western Fence Lizard.
Northern Flicker, nesting in the town of Frenchglen, near the southern end of the refuge
The grounds around Pittock Mansion in northwest Portland are a favorite spot for spring migrants. Most people visit this park to tour the ostentatious limestone house, but birders prefer the brushy hillsides and the woods around the parking lot.
Since we are still locked into a cold, damp weather pattern, most of the spring migrants have not yet arrived, but good numbers of winter residents were flocking and ready to move out.
Several species of thrush were common today. Here is a blurry Hermit Thrush.
an equally blurry male Varied Thrush
female Varied Thrush
Varied Thrush and American Robin feeding together
This has been a good winter for Pine Siskins at the feeders. Unfortunately, when you have large flocks of siskins, it is not uncommon to find sick individuals. These birds are susceptible to both respiratory and eye diseases, both of which can be transmitted to other birds through close contact. It is important to keep your feeders clean and remove debris from underneath on a regular basis. If you see more than a few sick birds, take the feeders down for a couple of weeks so the birds will disperse.
In this photo, the sick individual stands out by being much more “fluffy” than the other birds. Sick birds will also be lethargic, sometimes going to sleep at the feeder.