I have been complaining a lot lately about how slow the birding has been. We are in that lull when many of the winter birds have moved on and the spring migrants haven’t returned. But, say it with me, there is always something to see. So here are a few birds to help get us primed for the spring birding bonanza that will inevitably arrive.
This lone Greater White-fronted Goose was at the Tualatin River NWR. Not many of these geese touch down in the Portland area, but huge flocks pass overhead in spring and autumn.
The western U.S. does not get to enjoy the great diversity of warblers found in the east, but we do get Yellow-rumped Warblers all winter. This male Audubon’s race is coming into breeding plumage.
We also get Myrtle race Yellow-rumps in winter. I keep hoping that these two forms will be split into separate species, as they once were. This individual seems to have a little yellow on the throat, suggesting some mixed parentage somewhere in this bird’s family tree.
This young Bald Eagle was looking regal in a parking lot.
Savannah Sparrows have started returning to their nesting areas. This rather faded individual was at Jackson Bottom.
Between the recent bouts of rain, we have seen a few sunny days. The birds seem to really take advantage of the nice weather to bulk up for winter. Cedar Waxwings, like this juvenile, have been working fruiting trees and shrubs. Most of these images were taken at Koll Wetlands in Beaverton.
I followed this Bewick’s Wren around for a while, waiting for him to emerge from the shade and land in a bit of sunshine. When I shoot in RAW, my camera cannot shoot multiple frames, so I only got one chance when the bird popped up into the light.
A much more cooperative model, this Barred Owl hung out by my bird feeder for about half and hour one day. He watched the little birds flitting around, but I think he was hoping for one of the squirrels or rats that often clean up under the feeder. Unfortunately, the rodents did not make an appearance, so the owl eventually moved on.
The weather has gone from winter rain to spring rain, still rather gloomy but definitely more pleasant overall. Spring migration is slowly picking up with new species gradually accumulating in my 5-Mile Radius.
Most of the new sites that I have explored in my 5MR have been very underwhelming, but I was recently introduced to Cedar Mill Wetlands in Beaverton. This little site has produced 45 species in two short visits, as well as this encounter with a Coyote.
Koll Center Wetlands in Beaverton is not the most pleasant place to bird. You are basically peering into the wetlands from various parking lots. But there are a few species here that are hard to find elsewhere. This Black-crowned Night-Heron was barely visible through the brush.
I have only birded outside my 5MR twice so far this year, both times while teaching Little Brown Bird Classes. This Rufous Hummingbird was at Jackson Bottom Wetlands in Hillsboro. I have yet to find this species in my 5MR, but it is one of many that I expect to see in the coming weeks.
This Pacific Wren was singing at Pittock Mansion. These birds are usually concealed in the thickest cover. But when a male is in full song, they will often find a tall perch in the open and put on a show.
Along with the influx of migration, another sign of spring is Birdathon, the annual fundraiser for the Audubon Society of Portland. This is a highly effective conservation organization in the Pacific Northwest. ASP also offers classes for children and adults, and runs the only wildlife rehabilitation facility in the Portland area. I am part of the team from the Backyard Bird Shops, the Retailed Hawks. We will be birding the southern Willamette Valley before crossing the Cascades to the high desert. Please consider making a donation here.
One of the more popular avian celebrities in Portland this fall is a Virginia’s Warbler that has been visiting the suet feeders at a home for the past several weeks. This is a great bird for Oregon, and the bird has been very cooperative.
Like many area birders, I went to see this bird. It was early in morning and raining. I stood on the sidewalk in front of the house, and in a few minutes I was rewarded with nice looks at a Virginia’s Warbler. It was too dark for decent photos, so I left. This was a twitch; Going to see a bird reported by others, adding the species to your list (Oregon state list in my case) and moving on.
Twitching is not my favorite style of birding, but one I am increasingly reliant on. I would like to bring my Oregon bird list to 400 species. A couple of years ago I sat down with a state checklist and figured out what species I needed to bring my list up to that magical (and totally arbitrary) goal. To my surprise, I discovered that there were only about six regularly occurring species that I hadn’t seen. I could conceivably just go to where those species are regularly found and add them to my list, but that would not get me to my goal. Any other species I added would be a rarity, like, for example, a Virginia’s Warbler.
If I had unlimited time and funds, I could travel around Oregon and find a good number of rare birds on my own. But lacking both of those things, I must take advantage of any opportunity to see an Oregon rarity that shows up close to home. I still want to take my time enjoying a birding site and finding my own birds, but I am not above the occasional twitch.
Virginia’s Warbler, at dawn in the rain. I never claimed to be a photographer. I kept my camera in its bag until after I had gotten good looks at this bird. I have seen this species before, but it had been a long time.
While we continue to get above-average rainfall in the Portland area, there have been a few dry days of late, so I ran out for a quick tour of Fernhill Wetlands. Most of the wintering geese are gone, and there are signs that spring is slowly making progress.
A flock of Dunlins was using this log to get out of the mud for a while. They were all still in winter plumage. Dunlins are one of the first species to arrive in spring.
Spring shorebird migration peaks in late April/early May. There is still room in my shorebird class with Portland Audubon April 27/29.
I hadn’t been to Powell Butte Nature Park in east Portland since they finished renovations. They had been working on one of the water system reservoirs and have added more parking, a visitor center, and new trail markers and maps. The targets of this visit were several Mountain Bluebirds that had been hanging out for a while.
The open meadows are attractive to Northern Harriers (not photogenic) and American Kestrels (slightly more cooperative). The raptors can make it harder to study the grassland songbirds, but this site is still very productive. There was one singing Savannah Sparrow while I was there. In a few weeks, that bird will be joined by more Savannahs and Lazuli Buntings.
Spring migration is picking up, with good numbers of warblers just starting to arrive, just in time for my Warblers and Flycatchers class next week. Here is a Yellow-rumped Warbler in a field of little flowers which I think are spring beauties. How appropriate is that?
Not a warbler, but still a neat find is this Belted Kingfisher burrow along the Columbia River. The burrow is pretty low, and in a area that gets a lot of human and dog traffic, so it will be interesting to see if the birds can successfully nest here.
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.