The end of the year brings cold wet weather and busy schedules, so I look forward to the start of the new year to get back out in the field. The weather is still bad most of the time, but schedules allow a better chance to get out if there is a dry patch.
This Golden-crowned Sparrow was foraging around the shrubs at the Hillsboro library.
Here’s a young White-crowned Sparrow for comparison.
We still have about a month to enjoy a good diversity of gull species before they start to disperse. This first-cycle Ring-billed Gull was swimming with two adults.
This Olympic Gull (Glaucous-winged X Western hybrid) was hanging out with the Ring-billed Gulls.
At least in western Oregon, January provides some really good winter birding. Get out and enjoy it before the February doldrums kick in.
Every spring, birders suggest that the migration is running a little late. I think a lot of that feeling just comes from a desire to see spring migrants again. But this year, a lot of species are arriving noticeably late. It was May 11 before I detected my first flycatcher of any species. Shorebird migration on the coast didn’t really pick up until the second week in May.
So a visit to Cooper Mountain Nature Park during the first week in May provided mostly resident and locally nesting species, like this White-crowned Sparrow.
Spotted Towhee, really working that red eye in the sunlight
This young Red-tailed Hawk was checking out the meadow.
A young Northwestern Garter Snake crossing the trail
The local Dark-eyed Juncos have seemed quite tame lately. I wonder if they are just really busy gathering food for their nestlings.
Another White-crowned Sparrow. Despite their limited color palette, I have always thought this species was especially attractive.
I went to Cooper Mountain Nature Park in Beaverton primarily to look for herps, but the birds were a lot more cooperative. White-crowned Sparrows were singing everywhere.
Chipping Sparrows nest at higher elevations, but a few can be found in the Willamette Valley during migration.
Most of the Western Trilliums are past their peak, but this one was still in good condition.
This Northwestern Fence Lizard was catching some rays. This lizard and one baby Northwestern Garter Snake were the only reptiles of the trip.
This pond was swarming with tadpoles and salamander larvae. I think the salamanders (the light green critters on right half of the photo) are Northwestern Salamanders. I don’t know who the tadpoles are.
Force Lake, a small lake at the edge of a golf course in north Portland, is not a terribly attractive site, but it can be quite birdy at times. On this visit, a large flock of Golden-crowned Sparrows was feeding in a little patch of lawn.
When startled, the birds would take cover in a patch of blackberries, but would soon come out again to resume feeding.
I only found two birds in the flock that weren’t Golden-crowned Sparrow. One was this White-crowned Sparrow.
The other was this White-throated Sparrow. This species has become increasingly common in Oregon over the past couple of decades, but I am still stoked to find one. This bird was especially cooperative.
The lake hosted a decent variety of waterfowl, but I was intrigued by the Canvasbacks.
This male would dive down to root around in the muck at the bottom of the lake, then come up and do this little dance on the surface. He didn’t seem bothered by the mud facial.
During the current pandemic, it is not always easy to visit favorite birding sites. I have found that if I go very early, I can get some good birding in at Fernhill Wetlands without encountering too many folks. (Of course, this is my goal even without a pandemic.) This Marsh Wren put on a nice show.
Greater Yellowlegs is the only species of migrant shorebird I have seen so far this spring. We are still about two weeks away from the peak.
Green Heron, completely failing at camouflage. The auto-focus on my camera insists on focusing on the vegetation behind birds, rather than on the bird. (Yes, I am blaming the equipment.)
White-throated Sparrows have been regular at Fernhill lately.
This Northern Flicker was hanging out on the gravel dike in the wetland, perfect woodpecker habitat.
This Pacific Chorus Frog was hanging out under a log on a cold morning.
Long-toed Salamander is a lifer amphibian for me this year. As is typical when I see a new species of whatever, I now see them all the time.
More Long-toed Salamanders
This Muskrat would like to remind you to eat your greens.
Late winter is when I typically concentrate on sparrows. There isn’t much else going on this time of year, and the vegetation is worn down enough that visibility is pretty good. Rentenaar Road on Sauvie Island continues to be the best spot in the area for a variety of little brown birds. Some would say that the birding is too easy when you just throw down some seed and watch the birds swarm in, but I love the opportunity to see 10 sparrow species side-by-side at close range. Here is a Fox Sparrow.
White-throated Sparrows were a rare treat around here 15 years ago, but they are an expected species now.
White-crowned Sparrow, always dapper
There is usually a small flock of Savannah Sparrows along Rentenaar Road in winter. They tend to keep to themselves and don’t come in to feed at the chumming spots.
The most noteworthy little brown bird in the area this winter has been the Siberian Accentor in Woodland, WA. I don’t keep a Washington list, but I did cross the river to see this bird. They are quite rare anywhere in North America, so this was probably my only chance to add this bird to my life list. It would have been much better for me if the bird had flown ten miles to the southwest and hung out in Oregon, but Asian vagrants don’t seem to care about my state list.
This was my first snake of the season, found at Wapato Greenway State Park on Sauvie Island. I am not sure if this is a Common Garter or a Northwestern Garter. The body pattern most closely matches the local race of Common Garter, but they typically have red heads. Our local Northwestern Garters do not show red spots on the sides, but do have small dark heads. I did not apply one test that has often worked for me; If you pick them up and they bite you, they are Common Garters. If they don’t try to bite, they are Northwestern. I don’t know if other herpers have noticed this trend, but I have found it to be true of individual snakes of known identity.
February birding is famously slow around much of Oregon, but, as I like to remind myself, there is always something to see.
This male Redhead has been spending the winter at Commonwealth Lake Park in Beaverton. It is not often that I get a really close view of these lovely ducks.
This preening Black Turnstone showed off his flashy backside at the Seaside Cove.
I have made four trips to Fort Stevens State Park since early December to try to see some of the many White-winged Crossbills that have been spending the winter there. They have eluded me every time. I think I have seen more Elk than I have birds at Fort Stevens this winter.
The bumper crop of cones on the Sitka Spruces is what has attracted the crossbills. There is a lot of food available and the finches keep moving all the time, so our paths have not crossed. It is kind of like pelagic birding. You are moving around the open ocean in a little boat, looking for birds that are also moving.
I went out to Rentenaar Road on Sauvie Island to chum for sparrows. Conditions were dark and damp, but the head of this White-crowned Sparrow shone from the depths of the brush.
The Red-winged Blackbirds are getting fired up for spring. This guy was flashing his epaulets but still showed some rusty pattern on his back from his youth.
preening Green-winged Teal, Westmoreland Park
preening Gadwall, Crystal Springs
male Wood Duck, Crystal Springs
The lighting was not great, but it was nice to see this Lincoln’s Sparrow just sitting out in the open for so long. This is a species that I often see, but am seldom able to show to others because the birds tend to hide in thick cover most of the time. I have two Little Brown Birds classes in March. I hope I can find such a cooperative individual on those days.
I went to Sauvie Island to scout areas for my Little Brown Birds class next week. The huge flocks of waterfowl that spend the winter there have dwindled, but there are still a lot of birds around. This White-crowned Sparrow was enjoying a dust bath on the first dry sunny day we have had in a long time.
Golden-crowned Sparrows are still the most common species in the sparrow patches.
Song Sparrows are not as numerous, but are very vocal right now.
Raptors are still thick out at Sauvie. This Cooper’s Hawk did not make it any easier to find sparrows.
One of many Bald Eagles seen that day.
Red-tailed Hawk, scoping out the surrounding fields for rodents
A distant Greater Yellowlegs. It is a little early for shorebirds, but their migration should be picking up in the next few weeks.
There were Raccoon tracks all along Rentenaar Road.
Sandhill Cranes, Tundra Swans, and Cackling Geese are still present in good numbers, but spring migration should bring big changes soon.