Force Lake

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.

Happy autumn

Fernhill Wetlands

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.

White-crowned Sparrow

Fox Sparrow

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.

Still waiting for spring migration to kick in.

Happy Spring

Little Brown Birds

IMG_2406Late 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.

IMG_2411White-throated Sparrows were a rare treat around here 15 years ago, but they are an expected species now.

IMG_2419White-crowned Sparrow, always dapper

IMG_2428There 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.

IMG_2395The 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.

IMG_2429This 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.

Happy Late Winter/False Spring

False Spring in the Wetlands

redwing small
It is still very much winter in western Oregon, but February always brings stirrings of spring. Many birds, like this Red-winged Blackbird, are warming up their songs in preparation for setting up nesting territories.

anna's left
Male Anna’s Hummingbirds always seem to be on territory.

robin small
This American Robin was nestled in the middle of a pine. I don’t associate robins with conifers, so I was struck by how nicely the bird was framed within the needles.

IMG_2356
This Northwestern Salamander was my first herp of the year. He was hanging out under a board. The temperature was cold enough that he didn’t move at all when I found him. I could have gotten a better photo if I had repositioned him, but I decided to leave him in situ.

IMG_2352
This was one of four White-throated Sparrows moving around in a tight group at Fernhill Wetlands.

nutria teeth
I have often noted how Nutria (Coypu) walk that fine line between adorable and hideous. Perhaps that line has finally been crossed.

Happy Winter

Post-Snowpocalypse Ramblings

small-ring-billedThe 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.

california-gullI found a few California Gulls on my scouting trip, but they were a no-show on class day.

lesser-scaupThis Lesser Scaup was bathing at Dawson Creek. The bill color on these birds is striking.

red-tailedOn 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.

peregrineThis Peregrine Falcon was keeping an eye on the ducks.

harrierNorthern Harrier

I laid down some millet in various spots to chum for sparrows (class in March, hint, hint).

golden-crownedGolden-crowned Sparrow, one of the more common winter residents.

white-throatedWhite-throated Sparrows were a big deal when I first moved to Oregon, but they are now considered rare but regular in the winter.

towheeSpotted 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.

 

Sauvie Island

I took my Little Brown Birds class to Sauvie Island. A walk along the length of Rentenaar Road is always good for sparrows.

white-throated sparrow front 3We found at least four White-throated Sparrows. This species was considered quite rare in Oregon ten years ago, but seem to be increasingly common in winter.
white-throated sparrow white stripe formThis individual is an example of the “white striped” form of White-throated Sparrow.

fox sparrowFox Sparrow

song sparrowSong Sparrow

golden-crowned sparrow leftGolden-crowned Sparrow

white-crowned sparrow rightWhite-crowned Sparrow

leucisitic golden-crowned sparrowOne of the more interesting birds of the day was this leucistic Golden-crowned Sparrow. He was a uniform buffy gray with a splash of yellow on the crown.
leucistic golden-crowned sparrow front
red-winged blackbird 1Red-winged Blackbird

snow geeseThere are still large flocks of Snow Geese on the island.

sandhill crane 1Sandhill Cranes are always a treat.
sandhill crane 2

Random February Birds

I have spent very little time outdoors this month, but here are a few nice birds from the past few weeks.

yellow-rumped backThis Yellow-rumped Warbler was displaying his namesake near Ankeny NWR.

shrikeNorthern Shrike, also at Ankeny.

lewis's 1This Lewis’s Woodpecker has spent the winter near Ankeny. It is unusual to find them west of the Cascade Crest. You have to love a green woodpecker with a red belly.

anna'sPortland’s recent “Snowpocalypse” was not appreciated by the local Anna’s Hummingbirds.

white-throatedThis White-throated Sparrow has spent much of the winter on our property, but I haven’t seen him since the big snow melted.

modoMourning Dove at the feeder

downyThis Downy Woodpecker has made several visits to the dead cedar  outside our living room window.

Little Brown Birds

harris's sparrowI took my Little Brown Birds class to Sauvie Island. The sparrow flock along Rentenaar Road is thinning out, but all the expected species are still there. For the third year in a row, the star of the day was a Harris’s Sparrow. There is a White-throated and a Golden-crowned Sparrow in the background.

harris's and golden-crownedHarris’s Sparrow with Golden-crowned Sparrows

fox sparrowFox Sparrow

sparrow mixA sparrow mix of White-crowned, Golden-crowned, and Song Sparrow, along with a Red-winged Blackbird

red-wingRed-winged Blackbird, surrounded by Golden-crowned Sparrows and a White-crowned in the background

white-throatedOne of four White-throated Sparrows that came to our seed slick

spotted towhee 2Spotted Towhee

 

Rentenaar Road, Sauvie Island

white-throated sparrowRentenaar Road, on Sauvie Island, is one of the better sparrow patches in the Portland area. I found ten species this morning, about typical for this time of year. This boldly patterned White-throated Sparrow was one of the prettier ones.

dark-eyed juncoDark-eyed Junco

golden-crowned sparrowGolden-crowned Sparrows are the most common sparrows along this stretch of road.

lincoln's sparrowLincoln’s Sparrow, one of my favorites and one of the hardest to photograph

song sparrowSong Sparrow

white-crowned sparrowWhite-crowned Sparrow

spotted towheeSpotted Towhee with two Golden-crowned Sparrows

harris's frontThe rarest bird of the day was this Harris’s Sparrow. This is the third winter in a row that a Harris’s (perhaps the same bird) has been wintering at this location.

harris's and golden-crownedHarris’s Sparrow with Golden-crowns

harris's and white-crownedHarris’s with White-crowned

harris's and white-throatedand finally, the Harris’s with a tan-morph White-throated Sparrow in the background. It’s nice that this visitor from the Great Plains gets along with everyone.

robinWhile certainly not a sparrow, this American Robin was just begging to be photographed, so here you go.

April Teasers

After the wettest March on record, April has  provided a few sunny days to help awaken us from our rain-induced torpor.


I made a quick trip out to Fernhill Wetlands to look for the Swamp Sparrow that has been reported there. Between the sunbreaks, I still had to dodge a few passing squalls.


I missed the Swamp Sparrow, but this Song Sparrow was very cooperative.


Here is the same Song Sparrow in a little more natural setting, if you consider invasive Reed Canary Grass to be natural.


Much of the loop around Fernhill Wetlands has been blocked off, supposedly to reduce disturbance to the new Bald Eagle nest.

A pair of eagles has been hanging out in this little grove of cottonwoods for years, so I would imagine they are used to birders and joggers going by, but better safe than sorry.


The Yellow-rumped Warblers have molted into their flashy breeding plumage. This one is an example of the “myrtle” race.


On Saturday I took some clients out to Sauvie Island for a morning of birding. This view of Mt. St. Helens is from the west end of Rentenaar Road.


Sandhill Cranes, seen here with a flock of Cackling Geese, were common in the morning.  But as the day progressed, many birds circled up on thermals and then headed north. By noon, most of the cranes were gone.


Most of the sparrows seen just a week earlier had moved on. Two White-throated Sparrows were a treat. Singing Orange-crowned Warblers and five species of swallows were other good signs that migration is stepping up. I’m looking forward to the next sunny day.