Fernhill Wetlands and Jackson Bottom

We are two weeks into a nasty heat wave in the Portland area. Sunrise is the only time of day when you can bird in any comfort and hope to find any birds active and singing. So I got up early and did a bird survey at Fernhill, then made a quick stop at Jackson Bottom on the way home.

am. goldfinchSome of the flowers have gone to seed, providing forage for both American (above) and Lesser (below) Goldfinches.

lesser goldfinch
great blueThe refurbished wetlands at Fernhill have lots of tree trunks installed vertically to provide perches for birds like this Great Blue Heron.

green heronGreen Heron

downyThis Downy Woodpecker was checking out some of the new plantings around the water garden at Fernhill.

killdeera young Killdeer, at that awkward teenager stage

spotted sandpiper leftSpotted Sandpipers are the other shorebird that nests at Fernhill and Jackson.

spotted sandpiper upChecking the sky for falcons

garterThis Common Garter Snake was very thick in the middle. I assume she is gravid. Garters give birth starting in late July. Broods are typically around a dozen, but broods of over 80 young have been reported.

tree swallowmale Tree Swallow, being all sparkly

Summer at Sandy River

willow flycatcherI made an early morning trip to the Sandy River Delta. This late in the summer, with the weather being so hot, most bird song is limited to the hour or so around dawn. This Willow Flycatcher was singing right at sunrise.

white-crowned fledgling White-crowned Sparrow

kingbirdThe resident pair of Eastern Kingbirds was hanging out on the power lines.

american goldfinchAmerican Goldfinches were common in the grassy areas.

kingfisherBelted Kingfisher on a side channel of the Sandy River.

lazuli bunting on railThe stars of this site are the Lazuli Buntings. This male was keeping a close watch on his lady.
lazuli bunting front lazuli bunting leftlazuli femaleThe female Lazuli Bunting was a little more shy.

Washington County Wetlands

fernhill lake
There are big changes underway at Fernhill Wetlands. The main lake has been drained, and the two impoundments to the south are completely gone. This is all to make way for large emergent wetlands that will replace the ponds. This should greatly increase the bird diversity at the site when work is completed.
There weren’t any shorebirds on these newly exposed flats, but I would imagine this area would be pretty appealing to a passing plover or Baird’s Sandpiper.

american goldfinchThis American Goldfinch was enjoying the water.

lesser goldfinch right lesser goldfinchLesser Goldfinch

eurasian collared doveEurasian Collared Dove

tree swallowsAt Jackson Bottom, swallows were everywhere, with young birds out of the nest and waiting around for parents to feed them. Tree and Barn were the two species I noticed.

tree swallow female tree swallow maleTree Swallows

baby barn swallow barn swallowsBaby Barn Swallows

cedar waxwingCedar Waxwing

savannah sparrowSavannah Sparrow

red-winged blackbirdRed-winged Blackbird

least sandpiperThere were lots of Least Sandpipers about. These are birds that either didn’t make it all the way to the Arctic, or had failed nesting attempts and headed back south. Shorebird migration will really pick up in about two weeks.

wilson's phalaropeThis male Wilson’s Phalarope was reported with three downy chicks earlier in the week, but I did not see any young when I was there. Hopefully the little ones were off hiding somewhere.

Sandy River Delta, 5 June 2013

I took Nala on a hiking/swimming tour of the Sandy River Delta. We were there at midday, so we missed the dawn chorus, but the common species were still active and vocal.

american goldfinchAmerican Goldfinch

lazuli buntingIn the open brushy habitats, you can’t turn around without seeing a Lazuli Bunting.

lazuli bunting maleLazuli Bunting

red-legged frog 4It was nice to find a couple of native Red-legged Frogs. This species often succumbs to introduced American Bullfrogs.
red-legged frog 3

Nala’s main interest in the trip was swimming. She swam in a vernal pool, the Sandy River, and the Columbia River.

mud puppyDuring the long hot walk back toward the car, she needed to cool off in this convenient mud hole.

nala drinking

Early Spring

This is that long awkward time of year between winter and spring. The big winter flocks have broken up, but the spring migrants haven’t returned yet. As I have said before, there is always something to see, but we have to find simple pleasures until the full decadence of spring migration commences in a month or so.

varied thrush frontOn a recent sunny day, this Varied Thrush perched outside the living room window. I don’t often see this species in sunlight. They are usually muted by the gloom of a rainy day or the shadows of the forest.
varied thrush profile

pine siskin sidePine Siskin at the nyjer feeder

pine siskin frontFor some reason, songbirds just look weird when viewed from the front.

lesser goldfinch backLesser Goldfinch

american goldfinchThe male American Goldfinches are starting to get their summer color.
american goldfinch clinging

golden-crowned 2Golden-crowned Sparrow, Vanport Wetlands

beaver chewThis fairly large tree has been felled by Beavers at Smith and Bybee Wetlands. None of the branches appear to have been eaten, so I don’t know why the Beavers felled it, perhaps because it was there.

northwestern garterNorthwestern Garter Snake, Tualatin Hills Nature Park. I am making the identification based on the small head, although I am not completely comfortable differentiating Northwestern Garter from Common Garter.

In the Bleak Midwinter

In honor of the winter solstice, in a month that brought Portland 7″ of rain, here are a few dark grainy images from recent weeks.

orange-crowned warblerOrange-crowned Warbler

anna's hummingbirdAnna’s Hummingbird

dark-eyed juncoDark-eyed Junco

american and lesser goldfinchHere is a nice comparison of American (foreground) and Lesser Goldfinches. Notice that the American Goldfinch has white undertail coverts, while the Lesser has yellow.

american goldfinchHere is a very dull American Goldfinch (probable first-year female) in front of a Lesser (probable first-year male).

chestnut-backed chickadeeChestnut-backed Chickadee, looking ever perky

Sandy River Delta 7/20/12

While late July is normally pretty slow birding in the Willamette Valley, the Sandy River Delta continues to be active. The regular nesting species that are local specialties at this site (Yellow-breasted Chat, Lazuli Bunting, Willow Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, etc.) are still easy to find. A very vocal Indigo Bunting has been a rare treat the past week or so, and an even rarer Yellow-billed Cuckoo has been reported. On my recent visit, I enjoyed brief views of the bunting, but the cuckoo has not been relocated.

This Yellow-breasted Chat was singing away in the blackberry thickets. He stayed out of sight most of the time, but popped up briefly for a distant photo.

American Goldfinches were common in both the grassy and brushy habitats.

An Eastern Kingbird was using this pipeline marker as a hunting perch in the middle of a large grassy area.

Western Tiger Swallowtail at the mud near the edge of Nala’s favorite swimming pond

Water levels are dropping, so Nala’s pond will soon be too shallow for swimming. But the the Sandy River has dropped enough to be accessible now, and the water in the river is a lot cleaner than the brown pond water.

Lesser Goldfinch

I recently came across a small flock of Lesser Goldfinches. This species has become much more common in the northern Willamette Valley in the past decade.

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.

This is a male, probably a young bird given the lack of an extensive black cap. Notice the white patch on the spread tail feather. Females do not have white patches on their tails.

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.

Compare this female American Goldfinch to the Lessers above and below.

Royal Ave/Fern Ridge Reservoir

Fern Ridge Reservoir is a large impoundment just west of Eugene, OR. Much of the property on the eastern and southern sides of the lake is included in the Fern Ridge Wildlife Area (Birding Oregon, p.89), and some of the best birding is found at the west end of Royal Avenue.

am goldfinch savannah2

The area just north of the parking lot is grassland, bordered on the east by oak savannah. Here an American Goldfinch and a Savannah Sparrow share a moment on the fence.

grasshopper sp2

A target species of many birders at this site is Grasshopper Sparrow. This species is quite rare in western Oregon, and the field north of the Royal Avenue parking lot is one of their few reliable nesting sites. This individual repeatedly returned to this perch to sing. I believe the nest was nearby so I didn’t get too close.

black tern1

Walking west from the parking lot takes you to the marshes at the eastern edge of the reservoir. Nesting species include waterfowl, herons, rails, and this Black Tern. As the summer progresses, water levels drop to create muddy habitat for migrant shorebirds. This is where Oregon’s first Wood Sandpiper appeared last year.


These little fish were common in a shallow puddle near a culvert. I think they are some species of topminnow, but I didn’t take any out of the puddle to look at their fin configuration. If you recognize these, please leave a comment.


This is a sad reality at some good birding sites. Several people have had the catalytic converters removed from their vehicles. Others have had break-ins. On the day I was here, the Corps of Engineers had sent a couple to serve as “Park Hosts.” They remained in the parking lot, with their cute little dog, and had educational materials available for visitors. I think I have an advantage in areas like this by driving an old car, which may be less attactive to evildoers.

New Arrivals at the Hummingbird Feeder


Rufous Hummingbirds have returned, causing much angst among the resident Anna’s Hummers. This guy caught my eye with his gorget of copper, gold, and green.

Notice how the colors change with the angle of the light.

Here’s a female rufous, with her few irridescent dots and buffy sides.

She flashes her tail colors when the male is being too pesky.

I’m not sure what this American Goldfinch was doing, but he was checking out the hummingbird feeder for over a minute.