I had a chance to visit Crooked River Wetlands near Prineville. Like Fernhill Wetlands, this site was constructed as part of a wastewater treatment system. But Crooked River Wetlands was designed from the beginning to accommodate both birds and birders. The parking lot has a covered picnic area (the only shade on the property) and a restroom. Paved and gravel paths provide easy viewing of the wetlands.
There are 15 bodies of water in the complex, which is right next to the Crooked River. Water levels vary with the seasons, so there is a variety of water depths which attract different species.
Shorebird migration is getting underway. Here are some Western Sandpipers.
One of the deeper ponds held this pair of Ruddy Ducks.
Eared Grebe with baby
Between the river, the ponds, and the adjacent wastewater plant, this site attracts swarms of swallows. Tree Swallows use the many nest boxes.
This is one of the easiest places I know to see Bank Swallows.
Brewer’s Blackbird was one of five blackbird species I saw on this visit.
Tricolored Blackbirds can be hard to find in Oregon, but this site is pretty reliable.
Yellow-headed Blackbirds are common here. The males tended to hide in the reeds, but this female and youngster posed nicely.
This is one of two Say’s Phoebes that were working the fence line at the edge of the property.
Crooked River Wetlands is one of the best birding sites in central Oregon, providing access to a great variety of wetland species in a very dry part of the state. It provides a nice pocket of avian diversity at a time of year when birding can be pretty slow.
I made a quick trip to Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge, just south of Salem. Like the other refuges in the Willamette Valley, most of Ankeny is closed in winter to protect wintering waterfowl. But there are spots on the refuge open to birders year-round. Here is a male Ruddy Duck just starting to get a little color in his bill for spring.
Song Sparrow at the edge of Pintail Marsh
This Lincoln’s Sparrow popped up for just a second, but long enough for me to take his portrait.
Here is a very distant Eurasian Green-winged Teal, or Common Teal, or Eurasian Teal, depending on who you talk to. In Europe, this is considered a separate species, but in the U.S., it is considered a subspecies of Green-winged Teal. I have been hoping for many years that North American authorities would recognize this form as a species (so I could add another tick to my list), but it doesn’t look like that is going to happen.
This pair of Great Horned Owls was hanging out along the trail to the Rail Trail boardwalk, once again proving that my camera would much rather focus on branches than on birds.
The main reason for my visit was a communal roost of Long-eared Owls discovered a few days before. This species is usually very hard to find in western Oregon, and had been a state nemesis bird for me.
There has been a lot of concern expressed about birders disturbing this group of birds. In Kansas and Ohio, where I have seen Long-eared Owls before, visiting winter roosts is the only way for birders to see this species. I believe it can be done without stressing the birds if birders speak softly (or not at all), maintain a respectful distance, and keep their visits brief. That is pretty easy to do at this site. Birders are confined to a boardwalk (assuming they are not assholes), and it is easy to make a quiet approach. If everyone exhibits just a modicum of self-control and common courtesy, this could be a sustainable birding experience for weeks to come. Fingers crossed.
I went out to Smith and Bybee Wetlands and Vanport Wetlands to check for migrants. The Smith and Bybee area was pretty slow. Water levels were high so some of the trails were inaccessible. Vanport had some really interesting birds, including several Redheads and Yellow-headed Blackbirds, both hard to find in the Portland area.
The small colony of Cliff Swallows at Smith and Bybee was active with nest building.
This House Sparrow had moved into an old Cliff Swallow nest.
American Bullfrogs were enjoying the spring weather.
Brush Rabbit scratching an itch
At Vanport, most birds were pretty far away, like this Yellow-headed Blackbird. His song was easily heard, even from across the lake.
This Ruddy Duck was doing his motorboat impression to impress the ladies.
This Cooper’s Hawk was atop a tall tree overlooking the racetrack. The loud engines did not seem to bother him. I can’t say the same for me.
A few birds, like this Cedar Waxwing, were down in the small trees along the near shore of the lake.
Bullock’s Orioles are often obscured by foliage in the treetops. This individual was low enough for a brief glimpse among the blossoms.
Wetlands in the Willamette Valley are very birdy in winter, so those areas tend to get most of the birding efforts this time of year. Of course, given the amount of rain we have had the past few weeks, it is hard to find any place that isn’t a wetland.
My recent waterfowl class was supposed to bird Jackson Bottom, but since that site was flooded we went to Dawson Creek behind the Hillsboro library. We found three Eurasian Wigeons, including this male.
Most of the Cackling Geese we saw were flying over, but this Taverner’s Cackling Goose posed nicely for us.
Smith and Bybee Wetlands hosted a large flock of Eurasian Collared Doves. Here are four feeding along the railroad track with two Mourning Doves in the foreground.
This Red-shouldered Hawk is a regular at Smith and Bybee, but seldom sits out in the open.
This male Ruddy Duck was on Force Lake. It seems odd to me that Ruddies don’t molt into breeding plumage until late spring.
A flock of Golden-crowned Sparrows were hanging out in the blackberries by Force Lake. I’ll have to start scouting sparrow patches soon for my Little Brown Birds class in March. Hopefully the rain will taper off by then.
The end of March and beginning of April have been cool and wet. Spring is progressing, but seemingly very slowly. Here are a few images from the past week.
Pacific Wrens are singing everywhere. This bird was at Powell Butte Nature Park in SE Portland.
Savannah Sparrows are staking out their territories in the grassland at the top of Powell Butte.
This Ruddy Duck at Vanport Wetlands is sporting his spring colors.
This Pileated Woodpecker is excavating a cavity at Tualatin Hills Nature Park. Thanks to Michele for sharing the location of this nest.
This tiny Common Garter was also at Tualatin Hills.
As was this Townsend’s Chipmunk.
Nala is far more interested in fetching sticks from the river than looking at birds. This “stick” in the Columbia is probably her biggest to date.
Vanport Wetlands, in north Portland, is an unassuming little site next to an off-leash dog park. A chain-link fence surrounds the property, so most views of birds are distant. Despite the small size and limited access, Vanport almost always hosts some interesting birds.
The Ruddy Ducks are sporting their breeding plumage.
Vanport is the only reliable site in Portland that I am aware of that hosts Yellow-headed Blackbirds.
Nala, the Swamp Thing. The water currently extends beyond the fence, providing a place for dogs to play without disturbing the birds swimming nearby.
Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge, located just a few miles southwest of Portland on Hwy 99W, is a wonderful refuge for wintering waterfowl, despite its location in such an urban area.
The dikes around the wetland areas are closed to public access in the winter to prevent disturbance to the birds. But the trail leading through the wooded habitat beyond the wetland is open year round.
Northern Pintails and a Ruddy Duck
several Double-crested Cormorants perched on a log
a congregation of Northern Pintails, Mallards, and Ring-necked Ducks
The star of the refuge in recent weeks has been a lone Emperor Goose. He is the pale gray blob with the white neck tucked under his wings, right in the center of the photo. No, really.
This Dark-eyed Junco was a little more photogenic than the goose was.
Given the amount of brown on the crown and hind neck of this Dark-eyed Junco, I’m guessing she is a first-year female.
Golden-crowned Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco