My annual gull class visited the Coast from Cannon Beach to Gearhart. Stormy weather caused us to postpone the trip by a week. The weather was lovely the day of our trip, but nice weather, combined with the week’s delay, kept our gull total to a modest seven species.
California Gulls are among the most common species on the coast right now.
California Gull in flight, showing the extensive black in the primaries
Herring Gull coming in for a landing
Short-billed Gulls frequent the Necanicum River Estuary in Gearhart. This bird was stamping their feet in the shallow water to stir up food items.
A stop at the Seaside Cove produced a large flock of Surfbirds.
Just a few Black Turnstones were mixed in with the Surfbirds.
The most unusual bird of the trip was this Long-tailed Duck at the Cannon Beach Settling Ponds. This is a young female, whose dark coloring blended in surprisingly well with the water’s surface.
We didn’t have much time to look for songbirds, but White-crowned Sparrows are always obliging.
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.
Here are some random birds from recent weeks. This Great Blue Heron was wading deep at Commonwealth Lake. The white face and yellow eye really popped, giving her a creepy look.
A Black-capped Chickadee was excavating a cavity in a dead tree at Commonwealth Lake. It is a little early for nesting, but birds will be pairing up soon.
This is a lousy photo, but it documents the Yellow-billed Loon that hung out at Hagg Lake for a few days in early January. Lifers are few and very far between for me, so it is great when one shows up relatively close to home.
This Black Turnstone was taking shelter from the high tides on the little lawn at the Seaside Cove.
Western Gull at the Seaside Cove
The marbled pattern on the bill and the bit of dark smudging on the tail suggests this is a third cycle Western Gull.
Varied Thrush at Summer Lake Park in Tigard
Black-crowned Night-Herons have been regular at Koll Center Wetlands for several years now. They used to be a little more accommodating, but lately they have remained in dense cover most of the time.
This Bushtit was hanging out in the back yard for quite a while. I hope the extreme puffiness of this bird was due to it being cold and was not an indication of illness.
Late summer is a challenging time to bird. The local nesters have finished raising their families and have grown quiet and harder to see. Most southbound migrants have not arrived yet. The weather is hot and many parks are crowded. The biggest return on your birding investment this time of year is shorebirds. Southbound migrants are showing up in good numbers and species diversity is increasing. Here are few shorebirds from the past week.
Baird’s Sandpiper, Gearhart. Most individuals of this species migrate through the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains, but Oregon always gets a few juveniles that head a little too far west.
Semipalmated Plover, Fort Stevens SP. While these adorable little plovers can be found anywhere in migration, a great many are found working the coastal beaches.
Black Turnstone, Seaside. A quick stop at the Seaside Cove will usually turn up a lot of Black Turnstones.
Surfbird, Seaside. Surfbirds are also regular at the Cove, still sporting a little of their breeding plumage.
Ruddy Turnstone, Seaside. Scanning the flocks of Black Turnstones will often produce one or two Ruddy Turnstones.
Killdeer, Fernhill Wetlands. Not a migrant, but Killdeer still counts on a shorebird list.
Pectoral Sandpiper, Fernhill Wetlands. I have seen several Pectoral Sandpipers lately. It seems a little early for them, as they are often found well into October.
Shorebird numbers should continue to build for the next couple of weeks, and by then we should start seeing some other migrants as well.
I made a trip out to the coast to scout for my shorebird class. Much of the trip consisted of running from site to site to check on conditions, but I did spend a little time at a few sites where the birds presented some nice close views.
Parking Lot C at Fort Stevens had a lot of young Brown-headed Cowbirds flying around. It always amazes me how cowbirds can be raised by other species but still somehow figure out how to be cowbirds.
This young cowbird had a nice yellowish cast to the underparts.
This Purple Shore Crab was out in the open near the tidal ponds at Parking Lot C.
This Ruddy Turnstone was hanging out with the Black Turnstones at Seaside Cove. Ruddys are harder to find during autumn migration than they are in the spring.
Ruddy and Black Turnstones
Black Turnstones are common at the Cove from autumn through spring.
A few Surfbirds are often mixed in with the turnstone flock.
Late summer and early fall sees a buildup of California Gulls along the coast, often in very worn and tattered plumage. So I was surprised to see this individual still rocking some very intense colors in the eye-ring and gape.
Heermann’s Gulls are always a favorite.
I didn’t find any juvenile Heermann’s on this trip. They experienced nearly complete nesting failures in recent years. Hopefully they had a little more success this year and we will see some young birds as the season wears on.
The Cove, in Seaside, is unique on the northern Oregon coast for the cobbles and boulders that make up its beach. These gray stones regularly attract three species that are more difficult to find elsewhere; Heermann’s Gull, Surfbird, and Black Turnstone. The color of the stone, light gray when dry, dark gray when wet, match these birds so well that individuals can be hard to see if they are sitting still. Add some cloud cover and you have a nearly monochromatic scene of birds, stone, sea, and sky.
This Surfbird was calling loudly, perhaps uncomfortable being surrounded by Black Turnstones.
More Surfbirds and Black Turnstones
Heermann’s Gulls would be harder to see if they didn’t have that blood-red bill.
Heermann’s Gull with two Surfbirds
In breeding season, Heermann’s Gulls have white heads, but most birds acquire gray plumage on the head before they arrive in Oregon after breeding much farther south.
While I think adult Heermann’s are among the most beautiful gulls in North America, the first cycle birds are equally stunning in their smooth chocolate brown plumage. This is the first time in three years that I have seen a young Heermann’s Gull. The two years previous saw a near-total nesting failure for this species. Warmer ocean temperatures reduce the amount of food available to feed nesting seabirds.
young Heermann’s Gull stretching
adult Heermann’s enjoying a good roust
Sticking out like a sore thumb with his white head and breast is this Western Gull. Note the massive bill on this bird. Gull diversity will be increasing on the coast in the next few weeks, much to the delight of gull fans like me.
February birding is famously slow around much of Oregon, but, as I like to remind myself, there is always something to see.
This male Redhead has been spending the winter at Commonwealth Lake Park in Beaverton. It is not often that I get a really close view of these lovely ducks.
This preening Black Turnstone showed off his flashy backside at the Seaside Cove.
I have made four trips to Fort Stevens State Park since early December to try to see some of the many White-winged Crossbills that have been spending the winter there. They have eluded me every time. I think I have seen more Elk than I have birds at Fort Stevens this winter.
The bumper crop of cones on the Sitka Spruces is what has attracted the crossbills. There is a lot of food available and the finches keep moving all the time, so our paths have not crossed. It is kind of like pelagic birding. You are moving around the open ocean in a little boat, looking for birds that are also moving.
I went out to Rentenaar Road on Sauvie Island to chum for sparrows. Conditions were dark and damp, but the head of this White-crowned Sparrow shone from the depths of the brush.
The Red-winged Blackbirds are getting fired up for spring. This guy was flashing his epaulets but still showed some rusty pattern on his back from his youth.
preening Green-winged Teal, Westmoreland Park
preening Gadwall, Crystal Springs
male Wood Duck, Crystal Springs
The lighting was not great, but it was nice to see this Lincoln’s Sparrow just sitting out in the open for so long. This is a species that I often see, but am seldom able to show to others because the birds tend to hide in thick cover most of the time. I have two Little Brown Birds classes in March. I hope I can find such a cooperative individual on those days.
A recent trip to the coast on a sunny and windy day resulted in these images of shorebirds using rocky habitats. Two of these species are usually found on rocks, but the other two are not. I wonder if the blowing sand had driven these birds to the relatively sheltered rocky areas.
Least Sandpipers are hard to spot among the rocks. This bird was part of a small flock near the jetty at Fort Stevens.
This Dunlin was hanging out on a line of rocks near the same jetty. I have seen Dunlin here before.
Surfbirds at the Seaside Cove. Their color closely matches the dry basalt boulders.
Black Turnstones are common winter residents at the Seaside Cove.
I made two trips to the coast this week, once to scout for my Portland Audubon shorebird class, and again for the class itself. It is amazing how much difference a couple of days can make in the make-up of bird life in a given area. On Thursday, I found a total of 11 shorebirds of two species. During the class we found hundreds of individuals of 10 species. I am so glad it was not the other way around. This is the view from the Necanicum River Estuary, looking south. The tiny bump in the middle is Haystack Rock, about 12 miles away.
Whimbrel, Necanicum Estuary Caspian Terns are common and very vocal all along the coast.
Elk, Necanicum Estuary
This Semipalmated Plover was the only shorebird at the tidal ponds at Fort Stevens.
Raccoon, on the mudflats near Parking Lot D, Fort Stevens (with a Caspian Tern and a California Gull)
This is one of two Ruddy Turnstones we found with a flock of Black Turnstones at the Seaside Cove.
White-crowned Sparrow, Necanicum Estuary
California Ground Squirrel, Hammond Boat Basin
Here is a good example of why this time of year may not be the best for learning gull ID. The plumage on this gull is bleached out and very worn. Judging from the size, shape, and pink legs on this bird (next to a normal non-breeding California Gull) I’m guessing this is a Glaucous-winged Gull, perhaps in his second cycle. I hope he grows some new feathers soon, or it will be a very cold autumn and winter.
I spent a cold but sunny day on the coast, from Seaside to the Columbia River. One of the best surprises of the day was this Black Phoebe at Millponds Park in Seaside. This species continues to expand its range northward, both along the coast and in the Willamette Valley.
While the ponds at this park are attractive to freshwater waterfowl like Ring-necked Ducks and Hooded Mergansers, the brushy areas hold good numbers of sparrows. Here is a Song Sparrow in the harsh sunlight.
Fox Sparrows are common in the brushy areas. Unfortunately, my camera prefers to focus on the brush, rather than on the birds.
This lone Dunlin was the only shorebird I found at Fort Stevens. He was very tolerant of my presence. The same bird, blending in well with the sand The Seaside Cove hosted huge rafts of birds; all three scoters, Greater Scaup, Western Grebe, and a single Long-tailed Duck. Most birds were beyond the breakers (aka beyond camera range), but this Red-necked Grebe came in close enough for a blurry photo.