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.

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

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

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

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

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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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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Brush Rabbit, always adorable

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California Ground Squirrel, soaking up the sun

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Spotted Towhee

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Downy Woodpecker

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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!

Jackson Bottom

Despite air temperatures in the 40s, the sunshine brought out some signs of spring on a recent visit to Jackson Bottom Wetlands Reserve in Hillsboro.

tree swallowTree Swallows are usually the first swallow species to arrive in spring. When the weather is still cold, they hunt for insects close to the water’s surface.

tree swallo perchedSome Tree Swallows were already laying claim to the many nest boxes at this site.

ca ground squirrel smallThis California Ground Squirrel was singing (screaming) from a log perch.

Northwestern Garters instaThe sunshine brought out a good number of snakes, despite the cold temperature. These are Northwestern Garters.

Common Garter instaThis is a typical Common (Red-spotted) Garter.

pale Common Garter left instaThis Common Garter is lacking the red pigment shown by most members of this subspecies.

Long-toed SalamanderThis Long-toed Salamander was hanging out under a big piece of bark.

Happy last days of winter.

Getting into Shape

Shape is one of the most important field marks you should consider when identifying a bird. While color and plumage condition will fluctuate, shape and proportion are much more consistent throughout the year and between individual birds of a given species.

That being said, the shape of a bird can change at any given moment due to the way they hold their feathers.

cooper's fluffy instaThis Cooper’s Hawk had just bathed and was helping their feathers dry by fluffing them out. From a distance, this bird appeared to show a broad breast with rusty barring and a broad, banded tail. The drooping wings made the tail seem shorter. These are all great marks for a Red-shouldered Hawk.

cooper's instaAfter a while, the bird smoothed their feathers down, revealing a slender build and a long rounded tail typical of a Cooper’s Hawk. So shape alone is enough to identify this bird, but we had to observe the bird long enough to see what their shape actually was. This is another reason to take the time to study every bird you come across. A quick glance or a single photo can be misleading. (How many times have plastic bags been identified as Snowy Owls?)

Happy Winter

Rentenaar Road

white-crownedRentenaar Road on Sauvie Island remains one of the better sites in the Portland area to find a nice diversity of winter sparrows, along with other songbirds and waterfowl. While this trip did not produce any rarities, there were plenty of birds and sunshine to make the trip worthwhile. White-crowned Sparrows, pictured above, are among the more common species.

golden-crownedGolden-crowned Sparrows are usually the most common sparrow in the winter flocks.

foxThis Fox Sparrow kept close to the heavy cover.

white-throatedOnce considered a rarity in this area, White-throated Sparrows are now reliable winter residents.

red-winged blackbirdsRed-winged Blackbirds
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Another Red-winged Blackbird, showing off her colors

red-shoulderedThis Red-shouldered Hawk was the most unusual find of the day.

finchesSeveral birds were bathing in puddles in the road. Here a male Purple Finch cavorts with a female House Finch.

swansWaterfowl numbers were a little low on this trip. Ducks and geese face pretty heavy hunting pressure on Sauvie Island. Numbers should increase in the next month as hunting seasons expire and some birds start moving north. This flock of Tundra Swans kept their distance from the road.

mt. st. helensAs the weather was clear on this day, there were nice views of Mount St. Helens, here with a lenticular cloud.

Happy Winter.