A quick tour of Fernhill Wetlands showed bird activity picking up, with the appearance of newly arrived migrants and nest building by the local breeders. This Tree Swallow was staking out a cavity.
There are still some Cackling Geese around, although they should be heading north any day now. Here is a nice side-by-side view of a Ridgeway’s Cackling Goose and a Taverner’s Cackling Goose.
The male Brewer’s Blackbird was showing his colors in the bright sunlight. I caught him in the middle of a blink, so his eye looks weird.
California Quail have become slightly more common at Fernhill in recent years.
The Common Carp are spawning in Fernhill Lake.
I was pleased to find this Muskrat. The non-native Nutria have become so common at this site I worry they might crowd out the native Muskrats and Beavers.
California Ground Squirrels have been taking advantage of the large rocks used in the landscaping at this site.
This Brush Rabbit was looking very regal in his thicket.
On a recent trip to Commonwealth Lake Park in Beaverton, I had the opportunity to observe Taverner’s and Ridgeway’s Cackling Geese side-by-side. Taverner’s are larger, with pale breasts and slightly longer bills. Ridgeway’s have dark, iridescent breasts (on adults) and stubby little bills.
Here is a close look at a Taverner’s Cackling Goose, the subspecies most likely to be confused with Lesser Canada Goose. Lesser Canada Geese have thinner necks and slightly longer bills.
The bill on a Ridgeway’s Cackling Goose is thick and stubby, and the neck often appears very short and thick. This subspecies is generally regarded as the most adorable.
Another fun goose at Commonwealth that day was this Greater White-fronted Goose. A few of these have been hanging out at Commonwealth the past few winters.
Not a goose, but a gorgeous bird when you get a close enough view, is this Double-crested Cormorant. You can expect to see a few of these whenever you visit this site.
The American Wigeon flock was pretty small this day, but I expect the wintering birds to increase in the coming weeks.
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.
I took a quick tour of Fernhill Wetlands this week. Great changes are planned for this site. The main lake will be made smaller, and the other two impoundments will be replaced with emergent wetlands. I am looking forward seeing how things progress. Here are some birds and other critters from the trip.
Many Yellow-rumped Warblers were passing through, mostly the Myrtle race, with only one Audubon’s.
Flocks of Taverner’s Cackling Geese were feeding in the fields north of the main lake.
baby Garter Snake. I’m not sure if this is a Common or Northwestern Garter.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Muskrat climbing a tree before. This one was gnawing off a branch to get to the leaves.
Tree Swallows are swarming around Fernhill Wetlands, no doubt encouraged by the many nesting boxes that have been installed at the site.
Northern Shovelers were the most common duck species on the lake.
Several schools of Common Carp were active at the surface. I don’t know if they were feeding on aquatic insects or involved in spawning.
Marsh Wrens are starting to sing.
A few Red-winged Blackbirds were displaying. There aren’t very many Red-wings at Fernhill since most of the cattails died off several years ago.
As spring approaches, the numbers and diversity at Portland’s Westmoreland Park are starting to wain. The winter gull flock is down to Glaucous-winged X Western hybrids and two Herring Gulls. While there is no shortage of white-cheeked geese, there were very few other species of waterfowl on this visit.
The highlight of this trip was a pair of Hooded Mergansers squabbling over a large crayfish. The female finally won possession and, with a great deal of effort, swallowed the crustacean.
There must be some powerful muscles in that little neck.
Two Eurasian Wigeons, both females, remain with the local American Wigeon flock. Here is one of the Eurasians next to a male American.
Here is a close-up of the Eurasian Wigeon. Note the warm brown color and the lack of a black outline around the base of the bill.
Taverner’s Cackling Goose, with a partial white neck ring. It will be just a few weeks before these birds head back north, and we will have to console ourselves with warblers and flycatchers.
I led a tour on Sauvie Island this week. This is a great time of year for birding Sauvie, as the hunting season is over and there are still large flocks of waterfowl and wintering sparrows.
Here are some Snow Geese within a flock of Dusky Canada Geese. If you look closely you will find one Taverner’s Cackling Goose and a couple of Mallards.
One Greater White-fronted Goose was hanging out with the Taverner’s Cackling Geese. Greater White-fronts are hard to come by in winter, so we were fortunate to find this individual.
Green-winged Teal, the smallest duck in North America, and one of the prettiest
A very distant view of a Rough-legged Hawk
Westmoreland Park, in southeast Portland, is always worth a quick visit in winter.
This Canvasback has a mud on her face from rooting around in the bottom of the pond.
At least two female Eurasian Wigeons have been spending the winter at Westmoreland. No males have been reported yet this year.
This park is one of best gull sites in Portland, although by this time the gull flock is starting to thin out. This is a sleepy Herring Gull.
Westmoreland is also a good spot for studying the various subspecies of the white-cheeked goose complex. This is a Taverner’s Cackling Goose, identified by her medium bill (covered in down for some reason), blocky head, and pale breast.
Ridgeway’s Cacking Goose (stubby bill, round head, dark breast)
Western Canada Geese have long snakey necks, long bills, and pale breasts. While common in Cackling Geese, it is unusual to see such a distinct white neck ring on a Western Canada.
Western Canada Goose bathing
I birded Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge in preparation for my waterfowl class. Waterfowl numbers have dropped considerably in the past week, suggesting that some birds have already started their northward migration.
Pintail Marsh hosted this small flock of Tundra Swans and Dusky Canada Geese. Protecting winter habitat for the rare Duskies was the main reason for establishing the Willamette Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex.
Most of the wintering geese were grazing in fields surrounding the marshes. The flock consists mostly of Taverner’s Cackling and Ridgeway’s Cackling Geese.
These very alert Northern Pintails seemed to be keeping watch over the nearby Green-winged Teals and American Wigeons.
Ankeny has two boardwalks that provide access to flooded woodland habitat. This is the Rail Trail.
This Brown Creeper was probing patches of moss on the tree trunk.
If you look closely you can see he is holding a tiny organism in his bill.
Westmoreland Park (Birding Oregon p. 69) is one of Portland’s premier loafing spots for gulls and waterfowl in autumn and winter. The city is planning to restore the natural flow of the creek in what is now an urban duck pond, so it will be interesting to see how these changes will affect bird use over time.
The main pond, with a few hundred Cackling Geese
This female Surf Scoter has been hanging out for about a week. She is apparently finding enough mollusks to eat in this muddy pond. A few of these sea ducks are found on the Columbia River and on larger bodies of water in winter, but they are unexpected on such a small pond.
She spent a lot of time feeding under water.
Westmoreland is one of the easier places to find a cooperative Thayer’s Gull.
Ridgeway’s Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii minima) is the most common of the “white-cheeked” geese in the Willamette Valley in winter.
The Cackling Geese graze in the lawns at Westmoreland, but are more cautious than some of the other waterfowl.
Taverner’s Cackling Goose (B. h. taverneri) in the foreground, with a Ridgeway’s Cackling Goose in the background
Taverner’s Cackling, with another Ridgeway’s Cackling in the background
This Rock Pigeon was enjoying a bath at the pond’s edge.
It is time for another installment in the constant effort to separate Lesser Canada Goose (Branta canadensis parvipes) from Taverner’s Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii taverneri). The two species overlap in size and coloring, but structural differences are often apparent to those of us nerdy enough to study lawns covered in geese.
Here are two Western Canada Geese (B. c. moffitti) and a Lesser Canada Goose. They are nearly identical in color and shape, but the Lesser is about 2/3 the size of the Western. This is your best clue to identifying Lessers.
Without the size comparison, you might be hard pressed to distinguish this Lesser Canada from a Western. The neck is long and thin. The bill and forehead form a smooth, gentle slope.
Compare these Taverner’s to the Lesser. On a Taverner’s Cackling Goose, the neck appears thicker and often shorter. The forehead forms a noticeable bump where it meets the bill. (This causes the bill to appear stubby, but there actually isn’t much difference in the bill shape between the two species.) The breast on Taverner’s is often lighter in color than that of Lesser Canada, but both species show a lot of individual variation.