The long hiking trail at Tualatin River NWR is open, and this refuge always offers some good birding in the spring and early summer. A pair of Blue-winged Teal was in the southwest pond.
As is typical for this species, this Hutton’s Vireo stayed back in heavy cover.
It is really hard to shoot a Brewer’s Blackbird against the sky without ending up with just a silhouette, but I keep trying.
Long-billed Dowitcher was the most common shorebird on this visit. It is nice to see them in full breeding plumage.
The best bird of the trip was this Pectoral Sandpiper. Pectorals are regular autumn migrants in this area, but are very rare in spring.
Every spring, birders suggest that the migration is running a little late. I think a lot of that feeling just comes from a desire to see spring migrants again. But this year, a lot of species are arriving noticeably late. It was May 11 before I detected my first flycatcher of any species. Shorebird migration on the coast didn’t really pick up until the second week in May.
So a visit to Cooper Mountain Nature Park during the first week in May provided mostly resident and locally nesting species, like this White-crowned Sparrow.
Spotted Towhee, really working that red eye in the sunlight
This young Red-tailed Hawk was checking out the meadow.
A young Northwestern Garter Snake crossing the trail
The local Dark-eyed Juncos have seemed quite tame lately. I wonder if they are just really busy gathering food for their nestlings.
Another White-crowned Sparrow. Despite their limited color palette, I have always thought this species was especially attractive.
I went to Fort Stevens to look for shorebirds this week. The main push of spring migrants hadn’t arrived yet, but numbers were definitely on the increase. I was pleased that I timed the tide correctly at Parking Lot D. This little bay fills quickly when the tide comes in, so it was nice to have extensive mudflats on this visit.
Semipalmated Plovers enjoying the mud
This spot often hosts good numbers of Caspian Terns. Several birds were seen courting.
Of the six Black-bellied Plovers I saw that day, only one was in full breeding plumage. The others, including this bird, were still in molt.
The beach hosted good numbers of Whimbrels.
The most common shorebird on the beach that day was Sanderling. Most were still in winter plumage.
Shorebird migration should peak within the next week.
I went to Cooper Mountain Nature Park in Beaverton primarily to look for herps, but the birds were a lot more cooperative. White-crowned Sparrows were singing everywhere.
Chipping Sparrows nest at higher elevations, but a few can be found in the Willamette Valley during migration.
Most of the Western Trilliums are past their peak, but this one was still in good condition.
This Northwestern Fence Lizard was catching some rays. This lizard and one baby Northwestern Garter Snake were the only reptiles of the trip.
This pond was swarming with tadpoles and salamander larvae. I think the salamanders (the light green critters on right half of the photo) are Northwestern Salamanders. I don’t know who the tadpoles are.
A quick tour of Fernhill Wetlands showed bird activity picking up, with the appearance of newly arrived migrants and nest building by the local breeders. This Tree Swallow was staking out a cavity.
There are still some Cackling Geese around, although they should be heading north any day now. Here is a nice side-by-side view of a Ridgeway’s Cackling Goose and a Taverner’s Cackling Goose.
The male Brewer’s Blackbird was showing his colors in the bright sunlight. I caught him in the middle of a blink, so his eye looks weird.
California Quail have become slightly more common at Fernhill in recent years.
The Common Carp are spawning in Fernhill Lake.
I was pleased to find this Muskrat. The non-native Nutria have become so common at this site I worry they might crowd out the native Muskrats and Beavers.
California Ground Squirrels have been taking advantage of the large rocks used in the landscaping at this site.
This Brush Rabbit was looking very regal in his thicket.
I went out to Smith and Bybee Wetlands in north Portland. This site can be a little challenging to bird, as the noise from Marine Drive makes it difficult to hear bird song and other natural sounds. But as you make your way farther from the road, birding tends pick up.
One of the first critters of the trip was this Eastern Cottontail. This species has been introduced into several urban areas in the Pacific NW. The rusty nape and blazing white tail help distinguish this species from the native Brush Rabbit.
Long-toed Salamanders have been the only species of salamander I have been able to find lately. This individual is the largest I have seen.
The weather was quite cool, so there were no snakes out. I found this baby Northwestern Garter under a little piece of asphalt. He was too cold to flee, so he just coiled up tightly.
Water levels were very high, so there wasn’t much shorebird habitat. This lone Greater Yellowlegs put on a nice show.
Shorebird migration is just starting to pick up, just in time for my shorebird webinar on April 13.
Despite morning temperatures near freezing, signs of spring are appearing at Fernhill Wetlands. This Black Phoebe was posing with some colorful buds.
The winter sparrows, like this Fox Sparrow, are still around.
Waterfowl numbers are dropping as northern breeders start to head out. This pair of Northern Pintails was grooming along the main lake.
This young Red-tailed Hawk was very comfortable around people, perching right above some nearby birders.
The number of Nutria at Fernhill continues to grow. I don’t know if they are causing any problems or not.
We are in that late-winter slow birding time, but spring migrants should start showing up any day.
Happy final days of winter
We finally had a bout of winter weather in the Portland area. The west side of town got more ice than actual snow, so travel conditions were not ideal. Since we had an appointment in Hillsboro anyway, I made a quick stop at Amberglen Park. This Ring-necked Duck was putting on a nice show.
This Bufflehead spent much more time below the surface of the water than above it, but I managed a quick photo. Note the streaks of sleet.
This habitat doesn’t seem right for Hooded Mergansers, but I often see them here.
The Portland area doesn’t seem to have a good winter gull roost these days. Amberglen attracts a few, mostly Ring-billed Gulls.
I think gulls are really attractive in the snow. Note the slight pinkish tones on this bird.
Here are some Ring-billed Gulls swimming with an “Olympic” Gull (Western X Glaucous-winged hybird).
This is a “Cook Inlet” Gull (Herring X Glaucous-winged hybrid). The bill pattern is classic winter Herring Gull. The eye is dark and the primaries are not quite true black. It gives the impression of a Thayer’s Iceland Gull with a giant bill.
On the home front, snow often brings Varied Thrushes to the yard. We had four at one time cleaning up seeds under the feeder.
I am always grateful for the splash of color provided by this Townsend’s Warbler.
The snow is gone now, and birds are starting move. Spring will be here any minute.
I made a quick trip to Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge, just south of Salem. Like the other refuges in the Willamette Valley, most of Ankeny is closed in winter to protect wintering waterfowl. But there are spots on the refuge open to birders year-round. Here is a male Ruddy Duck just starting to get a little color in his bill for spring.
Song Sparrow at the edge of Pintail Marsh
This Lincoln’s Sparrow popped up for just a second, but long enough for me to take his portrait.
Here is a very distant Eurasian Green-winged Teal, or Common Teal, or Eurasian Teal, depending on who you talk to. In Europe, this is considered a separate species, but in the U.S., it is considered a subspecies of Green-winged Teal. I have been hoping for many years that North American authorities would recognize this form as a species (so I could add another tick to my list), but it doesn’t look like that is going to happen.
This pair of Great Horned Owls was hanging out along the trail to the Rail Trail boardwalk, once again proving that my camera would much rather focus on branches than on birds.
The main reason for my visit was a communal roost of Long-eared Owls discovered a few days before. This species is usually very hard to find in western Oregon, and had been a state nemesis bird for me.
There has been a lot of concern expressed about birders disturbing this group of birds. In Kansas and Ohio, where I have seen Long-eared Owls before, visiting winter roosts is the only way for birders to see this species. I believe it can be done without stressing the birds if birders speak softly (or not at all), maintain a respectful distance, and keep their visits brief. That is pretty easy to do at this site. Birders are confined to a boardwalk (assuming they are not assholes), and it is easy to make a quiet approach. If everyone exhibits just a modicum of self-control and common courtesy, this could be a sustainable birding experience for weeks to come. Fingers crossed.
I spent a foggy morning at Jackson Bottom Wetland Reserve. This Great Egret was blending in with the foggy background at Pintail Pond.
Belted Kingfishers are almost always distant subjects for my photos. They are quite skittish.
The Coyote Hill Trail is a nice loop around a weedy field that can be good for upland species, like this American Kestrel.
Northern Pintail was the most abundant species of waterfowl on this day.
The north end of the reserve hosted a flock of 20 Tundra Swans, always a nice find.
There weren’t any great rarities on this trip. But there were a lot of good birds and a nice four-mile hike without any rain – a great trip for December.