Shorebirds at Tualatin River NWR

Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge has been good for southbound shorebirds this summer. Early in the season, the Long-billed Dowitchers were still sporting their breeding plumage.

At this point, most of the dowitchers have molted into winter plumage.

Normally seen later in the fall, a few Pectoral Sandpipers have made an appearance at the refuge.

Up to three young Wilson’s Phalaropes were at the refuge this summer.

Least Sandpiper

Greater Yellowlegs are one of the more common, and more vocal, of the migrant shorebirds.

Lesser Yellowlegs are harder to find, but have been reliable at the refuge this summer.

Occasionally, the Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs will pose together for a nice comparison.

This Wilson’s Snipe made an unusual appearance out in the open.

Shorebird migration lasts through October, but the water at the refuge typically dries up before then. We’ll see how recent restoration efforts affect water levels this year.

Happy summer

Penstemon Prairie

Grasshopper Sparrows are rare everywhere in Oregon, so Portland area birders got quite excited when several of these birds were found at a small prairie restoration site just south of Fernhill Wetlands. Penstemon Prairie is a not an established park, but it is open to the public, and the agency responsible for the site mowed a path around the perimeter to make walking and birding this site easy.

The morning of my visit, it didn’t take long to find a couple Grasshopper Sparrows. They always positioned themselves to be backlit, and I didn’t want to trample the habitat to get a better position, so I wasn’t able to get any decent photos.

A blurry, backlit Grasshopper Sparrow, singing the songs of their people

Lazuli Buntings were more cooperative in the lighting department.

Lazuli Bunting in morning light. Check out the wear on her tail feathers, probably from nesting.

A distant male Lazuli Bunting

Common Yellowthroats are common in this habitat, but they seldom pose out in the open.

Savannah Sparrow, whose song can be quite similar to that of Grasshopper Sparrow

Another Savannah Sparrow. This early morning light is known as Golden Hour. A lot of photographers seek out this lighting, as it is softer than what you find later in the day, but I don’t like the yellow cast it puts on everything.

Happy Summer

East Side Birds

I don’t get east of the Cascade Crest nearly as often as I would like. It is nice to get a change in habitats and birds, especially in mid-summer, when bird activity on the west side slows down.

This Burrowing Owl was hanging out on a fence post just north of Fort Rock. In this photo they were keeping an eye on a Prairie Falcon that was soaring overhead.

I spent a little time at the water feature at Cabin Lake Campground, where large flocks of Red Crossbills came down to drink. This is an adult female.

This juvenile female has some yellow blotches coming in.

This young male has some red coming in. I didn’t see any mature males that day.

Cassin’s Finch is another species commonly found at the water feature at Cabin Lake.

Cassin’s Finch, showing the distinct red cap and the striped back

I recently made the trip to Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood. One seldom sees a great variety of birds here, but the alpine tundra above the lodge always has some goodies, like this Horned Lark.

Mountain Bluebird against a blue sky

The Clark’s Nutcrackers near Timberline are surprisingly shy. This one posed briefly for a portrait.

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

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

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.