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.
An Orchard Oriole has been showing off for birders in southeast Portland for a few weeks now. This is the 15th record of this species in Oregon.
The chances of just running across an Orchard Oriole in Oregon are very slim, so when one sets up camp at an accessible site close to home, I am obligated to go see her.
My current birding goal is to see 400 species in Oregon. There are very few regularly occurring species that I haven’t seen, so if I am going to make my goal I must rely on seeing vagrants, such as this bird. My chase radius is short, and I don’t get to travel much, so local rarities are my only hope.
I spent some time exploring the area just west of the Sandy River Delta in Troutdale, OR. A section of the 40-Mile Loop Trail starts just north of I-84 and runs north along the Sandy River, then west past Company Lake along the Columbia River. This baby Great Horned Owl was hanging out near the mouth of the Sandy.
The area is home to large FedEx and Amazon facilities, but there are still some weedy fields that attract open country birds like Savannah Sparrow and this Lazuli Bunting. Note the swallow photo bomb.
The highlight of this trip was the PAIR of Ash-throated Flycatchers that were hanging out near the Troutdale wastewater facility. Ash-throated Flycatchers are quite rare west of the Cascades, so it is pretty special to have a pair hanging out in Multnomah County. A flash of rust on the tail, typical of this genus
There were a lot of dogs running around this area, but it was not nearly as crowded as the Sandy River Delta just across the river. A surprising number of vagrants have been found in this area is recent years, so it definitely warrants more visits.
Late winter is when I typically concentrate on sparrows. There isn’t much else going on this time of year, and the vegetation is worn down enough that visibility is pretty good. Rentenaar Road on Sauvie Island continues to be the best spot in the area for a variety of little brown birds. Some would say that the birding is too easy when you just throw down some seed and watch the birds swarm in, but I love the opportunity to see 10 sparrow species side-by-side at close range. Here is a Fox Sparrow.
White-throated Sparrows were a rare treat around here 15 years ago, but they are an expected species now.
White-crowned Sparrow, always dapper
There is usually a small flock of Savannah Sparrows along Rentenaar Road in winter. They tend to keep to themselves and don’t come in to feed at the chumming spots.
The most noteworthy little brown bird in the area this winter has been the Siberian Accentor in Woodland, WA. I don’t keep a Washington list, but I did cross the river to see this bird. They are quite rare anywhere in North America, so this was probably my only chance to add this bird to my life list. It would have been much better for me if the bird had flown ten miles to the southwest and hung out in Oregon, but Asian vagrants don’t seem to care about my state list.
This was my first snake of the season, found at Wapato Greenway State Park on Sauvie Island. I am not sure if this is a Common Garter or a Northwestern Garter. The body pattern most closely matches the local race of Common Garter, but they typically have red heads. Our local Northwestern Garters do not show red spots on the sides, but do have small dark heads. I did not apply one test that has often worked for me; If you pick them up and they bite you, they are Common Garters. If they don’t try to bite, they are Northwestern. I don’t know if other herpers have noticed this trend, but I have found it to be true of individual snakes of known identity.
A Hudsonian Godwit has been hanging out at Fort Stevens for over a week now. This species, seen here with a Black-bellied Plover, normally migrates through the central part of the continent so an appearance on the west coast is a rare treat.
Here is a glimpse of the bird’s white rump, one feature that helps separate it from the expected Marbled Godwits. Other differences include the gray-brown coloration, dark underwings, bold wing stripe, and obvious pale supercilium.
Note how much yellow is present on one of these Black-bellied Plovers. This is apparently quite common on young Black-bellieds, but this is the first year I have seen it. These birds can be mistaken for American or Pacific Golden-Plovers at first glance, but the bulkier shape, thick bills, and different calls all point to Black-bellied Plover.
Other birds sharing the beach with the godwit and plovers included Sanderlings,
and Western Sandpipers. Notice the tiny bill on this individual, suggesting that the bird is a male.
Nesting season continues to progress. While some songbirds have already fledged a batch of babies, other species are just getting under way. This Pied-billed Grebe was sitting on a nest at Commonwealth Lake.
Blue-winged Teal can be hard to find in the Willamette Valley at any time, so it was nice to see a pair at Fernhill Wetlands.
female Blue-winged Teal
Eurasian Collared-Doves continue to expand their range and numbers in Oregon. It wasn’t all that long ago that these birds were first found in the state, or maybe I am just old. This bird was singing at Fernhill.
Song Sparrow at Fernhill, living up to his name
A few Purple Martins have returned to the nest boxes at Fernhill. They are still a treat to see here.
While most of the Tundra Swans that winter in Oregon left for the breeding grounds long ago, this individual continues to hang out at Fernhill. A few observers have reported this bird as a Trumpeter Swan, but the straight feathering across the forehead (as opposed to the widow’s peak on a Trumpeter) is consistent with Tundra.
This Eurasian Teal was hanging out a Jackson Bottom Wetlands. In the United States, Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca crecca) is considered a subspecies of Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca carolinensis), but in Europe, they are considered separate species.
Males are pretty easy to differentiate. Eurasian Teal has white horizontal bars along the back and pale edges on the facial markings, while Green-winged Teal has vertical bars near the shoulder and lacks the pale borders on the face. Females are much more similar to each other. Eurasians average paler on the face with more white in the wing, but the two are not readily distinguished in the field.
Personally, I like to consider them separate species, but my motivation is based on my desire to list two species, rather than any scientific evidence.
The Oregon birding scene has been abuzz the past week and a half about a Steller’s Eider that has been hanging out at the Seaside Cove. Steller’s Eiders normally spend the winter around the Aleutian Islands. Their population has declined in recent decades and the species is listed as threatened in the United States. So it is a pretty big deal that this individual made it all the way south to Oregon and has been so cooperative for so many birders. Yes, she is a little brown duck, but she is a very special little brown duck, only the fourth of her kind to be recorded in Oregon.
I have mixed feelings about chasing individual birds, but I couldn’t pass up what will probably be my only opportunity to see this species. It didn’t hurt that she showed up at the closest coastal point to my house. Live long and prosper, little brown duck. Thanks for stopping by.