Random Rodents

I have run across some photogenic rodents this year. While they don’t qualify as “charismatic mega-fauna,” some of them are quite stunning.

This is either a Yellow-pine Chipmunk or a Least Chipmunk. Apparently, you can only differentiate the two by measuring their skulls. I am leaning toward Yellow-pine on this one, as some sources say that Yellow-Pine Chipmunk tends to be more colorful than Least, and this individual was found in a grove of Yellow (Ponderosa) Pines.

As you can see, this individual has a lot more gray, with just a touch of rufous on the sides. The habitat was open sage steppe, so maybe Least Chipmunk?

It is slightly out of focus, but I love this image of a Belding’s Ground Squirrel peeking over a rock.

Here is a better view of a Belding’s Ground Squirrel.

Belding’s Ground Squirrel portrait

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel in the morning sun

Yellow-bellied Marmot, high up on Mount Hood

Back on the west side of the state, this Douglas’s Squirrel make a brief appearance in the back yard.

Here is a California Ground Squirrel up in an Oregon White Oak. So, two of the three words in his name are incorrect in this case.

Yes, I know that rabbits are not rodents, but I can’t resist a cute bunny, in this case, a Mountain Cottontail.

Back to birds next time, unless something more interesting comes up.

Happy Summer

Fort Rock

I had the chance to visit Fort Rock State Park recently. This is a U-shaped rock formation (formerly a volcanic island in the middle of a huge lake) surrounded by sage steppe. This site is a lovely sample of high rimrock and sagebrush habitats, attractive to a nice selection of birds and other wildlife.

Loggerhead Shrikes were some of the more frequently encountered birds within the crater.

Baby Loggerhead Shrike. Note the yellow gape and the fine barring everywhere

Sagebrush Sparrow is reliable here, as is Brewer’s Sparrow, although the Brewer’s did not let me get close enough for a photo.

Green-tailed Towhees were surprisingly shy, only allowing distant views.

This California Quail was hanging out in the parking lot.

Here are four of the TWENTY-SEVEN baby California Quail I saw along a narrow trail. Baby quail can fly, and were flushing all around me.

I was really hoping to find some herps on this trip, but my luck with reptiles has been terrible this year. I did manage to find four Northern Scorpions, which is pretty neat, but I would have much preferred a few snakes and lizards.

Happy summer

Gilchrist Crossing

Located about 45 miles south of Bend, OR, Gilchrist Crossing (the eBird hotspot name) is best known as one of the few sites to reliably find Northern Waterthrush in Oregon. It is a brushy site along the Little Deschutes River at the edge of the forest.

On my recent visit, one of the more common species was Yellow Warbler. Many of the birds at this site, including the Northern Waterthrush, were deep in heavy cover, so being able to recognize songs is essential.

Looking west on the gravel road, with thick brush and water on both sides. To the east is a nice stand of forest.

This is “the bridge,” the farthest you can safely walk to the west. On the other side of the river is a large sawmill operation.

Song Sparrow singing from the top of a small pine

Yellow Pine Chipmunks are common along this stretch of road.

Getting there: Do not trust the directions that your navigation system may give you. Phone service is fine, so you can see where you are on your phone and follow the road that way.

From US 97 in Gilchrist, turn east onto Mountain View Drive (at the liquor store). Turn right onto Hillcrest Street and follow it to its end at a gravel road. Turn left onto the gravel road (Gilchrist Haul Road on some maps, but there are no signs) and follow it north for about 1.4 miles, where it curves left to go under the highway. Follow the road through the forest for less than half a mile. When the gravel turns from gray to red, park you car and walk in the rest of the way.

Mosquitos can be pretty brutal at this site, so be prepared. The gravel road was in very good shape, as of July 2022, and fine for a passenger car. While Northern Waterthrush is the star of this site, don’t neglect the dry forest habitat nearby.

Fernhill Wetlands

While spring migration has wound down, there is still a lot of bird activity at Fernhill Wetlands. This Anna’s Hummingbird was stretching his wings.

These dapper male Ruddy Ducks were staying in the middle of the main lake, so no good photo for me.

Cinnamon Teal taking a morning nap

Purple Martins are nesting here again.

Black-headed Grosbeak

This Tundra Swan is missing part of her left wing, so is unable to migrate. She has been reported at this site since last year, so she is apparently doing alright despite her injury.

Cedar Waxwing

Lesser Goldfinch in a chain link fence. A lot of people don’t like photos of wildlife on man-made structures. But given the extent that humans have altered the world (Fernhill Wetlands is a man-made wetland.), a lot of species have no choice but to live among human infrastructure. While we can argue about the aesthetics, this is actually “natural” for a lot of animals.

Happy Spring

Columbia Basin

Our team for the Portland Audubon Birdathon visited several sites in the Columbia Basin. It is always a treat to visit the eastern half of Oregon. This Bullock’s Oriole was at Cottonwood Canyon State Park.

Lazuli Buntings were common at Cottonwood Canyon. Males were conspicuous, but the females kept in the deeper cover.

Cliff Swallow nest on the cliff along the Deschutes River in Cottonwood Canyon

Fledgling Canyon Wren

Eastern Kingbird at Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge

Umatilla NWR has a lot of agricultural fields. This one was hosting about a dozen Long-billed Curlews.

The spot with the greatest diversity was the wastewater plant at Boardman. Redheads, hard to find on the west side, were common there.

Black-necked Stilt

The most unexpected bird of the day was this Ruddy Turnstone at the Boardman wastewater ponds. Ruddy Turnstones are uncommon migrants along the coast, but much less likely this far inland.

It was a long day, but full of great birds and great company, and we raised money for a wonderful organization.

Happy Spring

Yellow(ish) Warbler

This Yellow Warbler caught me off guard recently. He shows patches of gray, green, and off-white, but no actual yellow. Occasionally, it is good to be reminded about individual variation. Some birds are just outside the norm.

Structurally, we can tell this is a Yellow Warbler by the plain face with the beady eye and the hefty bill. There is a just a hint of streaking on the breast, indicating that this is a male.

Northern races of Yellow Warbler tend to be duller than our local nesters, and this individual seems to be molting into his first adult plumage, so he provides two important lessons.

First: Look at every bird. The more birds you actually observe, the more you learn about individual variation.

Second: When you see a bird that is “different,” don’t automatically assume you have something rare. Every bird is unique, and the vast majority do not look exactly like the picture in you field guide.

Happy Spring

Migration Update

Our cold wet April has blossomed into a cold wet May. I shouldn’t complain, since we need whatever moisture we can get, but a few balmy spring days would be nice.

Shorebirds on the northern Oregon coast peaked last week. This Black Oystercatcher was one of four hanging out at the Seaside Cove.

Black Turnstones are common in winter at Seaside Cove, but the few that remain are sporting crisp breeding plumage.

A single Ruddy Turnstone has been at The Cove for a while now.

Songbirds have been moving, too, despite the weather. This Common Yellowthroat was singing at Cooper Mountain Nature Park.

The locally nesting White-crowned Sparrows are on territory and ready for nesting.

Ruby-crowned Kinglets don’t nest around here, but they have been singing like crazy. I cannot seem to get a decent photo of a kinglet, but at least the parts of this bird we can see are clear.

In the “totally creepy and yet fascinating” department: here is a second cycle Western Gull showing the structure of their tongue. I didn’t realize their tongues were that big, let alone such an interesting shape. The more you look, the more you see.

Happy Spring

This is April?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI think we had more snow in April than we did in December. It has been cold and wet most of the month, and while I am very grateful for the rain and the added mountain snowpack, the weather has seemed to delay the onset of spring. Migrants have been few, and resident species a just starting to get revved up for the season. This Pacific Wren was trying out his song at Tualatin River NWR.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Townsend’s Chipmunks are out and about. I think the two lumps in this one’s ear are ticks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Hermit Thrushes, which are considered a winter species here in the Willamette Valley, are still around.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This Virginia Rail put on a nice show at Commonwealth Lake Park.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If we can’t have spring migrants yet, we might as well enjoy the local residents. Spotted Towhees never fail to impress.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On a recent semi-birdless outing, I noticed a nice flight of these, Western White-ribboned Carpet Moth. These are tiny, with a wingspan of about an inch and a stunning pattern. It is always great to learn a new species.

So, colorful migrant birds and will show up any minute. Right? 

Happy Spring

Early Spring

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Spring is kicking into gear. Lots of birds have starting pairing up in anticipation of nesting. These Tree Swallows were checking out a tree cavity.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Yellow-rumped Warblers are becoming more common and some have acquired full breeding plumage.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
There are still a lot of “winter” sparrows in the Willamette Valley. Here is a typical view of a Lincoln’s Sparrow. This bird had no interest in posing out in the open.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Green-winged Teal do not nest in western Oregon, but they have started to pair up and are looking very dapper.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
This Double-crested Cormorant has caught a Rainbow Trout. When the county parks department stocked this lake with trout, I doubt that cormorants were the intended recipients, but I always like to see native wildlife benefiting whenever they can.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
I have found just a few Long-toed Salamanders so far this year. Amphibians should become more active in the next week or so.

Happy Spring

Fernhill Wetlands

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Spring migration hasn’t really kicked in, yet, but the birds that are here are getting more active. Here are some recent images from Fernhill Wetlands. This Brewer’s Blackbird was looking good in the sunshine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Black Phoebes are now expected at Fernhill Wetlands. It doesn’t seem like that long ago that I found Washington County’s first Black Phoebe there.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This was my first Rufous Hummingbird of the year. He refused to perch in decent light.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A large flock of Taverner’s Cackling Geese were hanging out on Fernhill Lake. The Ridgeway’s Cackling Geese were either off feeding somewhere or have moved on.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Brush Rabbit, always adorable

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

California Ground Squirrel, soaking up the sun

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Spotted Towhee

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Downy Woodpecker

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Bright sunlight makes it hard for me to get a decent of photo of an American Coot, but this bird’s yoga pose was too good not to share.

Happy Spring!