A pair of Lesser Goldfinches (female above) has been visiting the garden lately to feed on rainbow chard. Goldfinches eat a lot of foliage, in addition to seeds and buds. This vegetarian diet makes goldfinches poor hosts to cowbirds, whose young require plenty of insect protein to grow and thrive.
A pair of Chestnut-backed Chickadees has been lingering in the yard this week. They will soon leave for the summer, as this species prefers large conifers and higher elevation, unlike the more suburban Black-capped Chickadees.
While the Chestnut-backs readily take sunflower seeds from the feeder, these birds were especially fond of a vegan suet block, currently in development by Nepo Suet Company . It is made from coconut oil. While not available yet, it promises to be a great alternative for those of us who don’t buy animal products.
This La Nina weather pattern shows no sign of abating, making outings miserably wet and not so productive, so I was delighted to see a Purple Finch in the yard this week. About once a year I see a Purple Finch at my feeder. They breed in mixed woodlands in the Portland area, but not in my neighborhood.
Many years ago, before House Finches had spread across the entire continent, separating House and Purple Finches was considered quite a challenge. But here, with the benefit of a few decades experience, they don’t look all that similar. There are clear differences in color, and the Purple Finch shows quite a bit more heft than the more slender House Finch. While the House Finch has patches of red, the Purple Finch is pinkish-purple all over.
I was headed to the coast early last Friday when I heard on the radio that the area was under a tsunami warning. While a true hard-core birder might have continued on, I decided to turn around and ended up walking parts of Sauvie Island instead. This Lincoln’s Sparrow was preening in a blackberry thicket along Rentenaar Road (Birding Oregon p.57). The dark spot and line on the bird’s breast are a result of the feathers being fluffed out.
This stretch of dirt road is one of the spots we will visit for my upcoming Little Brown Birds class for The Audubon Society of Portland. The Saturday field trip is full, but a few spaces remain on the Friday trip. For information, go to http://audubonportland.org/trips-classes-camps/adult/classes/lbbs2011.
As gulls go, Mew Gulls are very petite. They are instantly recognized by their round head, dark eye with a brick-red orbital ring, long wings, yellow legs, and thin bill with just a hint of a “ring” in winter.
Mew Gulls have a very large white mirror on the outermost primary (P10) and a fairly large one on P9. On flying birds, the amount of white in the wingtips helps to differentiate Mew Gulls from Ring-billed Gulls from quite a distance.
Mew Gulls are common in winter along the Oregon Coast (usually at river mouths and in meadows) and in the Willamette Valley. Due to their small size, they normally form single-species flocks or associate with Ring-billed and California Gulls, avoiding concentrations of larger gull species.
This species really stands out in the winter with their bright yellow underparts and cold greenish backs. Note the white wing bar and the little white patch at the base of the primaries. The more common American Goldfinch has a warmer golden brown cast in winter, and has buffy, not white, wing bars.
Pale females, like the top bird, are harder to distinguish from female American Goldfinches, as they lack the bright yellow underparts. Note the cold greenish back (not golden brown) and the white (not buffy) wing bars.
The Cove at Seaside (Birding Oregon p. 121) is a reliable winter site for Black Turnstones and Surfbirds. When the tide is high, these birds will come fairly close to the parking area, so you can sit on a log and enjoy good views.
While exploring areas around Mt. Hood, my Portland Audubon class encountered a flock of Gray Jays at the Little Crater Lake Campground (Birding Oregon p. 75). When I find this species in the woods, they seem rather shy to me. But when the birds have been enjoying the easy pickings at a campground, one can quickly see how they got the nickname, Camp Robber. Jays were landing on fingers, binoculars, and hats in hopes of getting a handout. Their efforts were rewarded with nuts and crackers, a small price to pay for such an enjoyable close encounter with a beautiful bird.
The rocky shore of The Cove in Seaside (Birding Oregon p. 121) is a favorite loafing spot for Heerman’s Gulls. The gray stones match the velvety gray of the gulls, and make the flash of brilliant red from the gulls’ bills even more stunning. Heerman’s Gulls are certainly among the most beautiful birds in North America.
In late summer, American White Pelicans become increasingly common in the Willamette Valley. These are post-breeding or non-breeding birds that have left their nesting areas in eastern Oregon and other sites throughout the interior West.
This small flock at Fernhill Wetlands (Birding Oregon p. 61) has surrounded a school of fish and herded it toward the shoreline. Unlike the Brown Pelicans at the coast, American White Pelicans do not dive. These larger birds swim along and dip their bills in the water to capture fish.