Portraits from the coast

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.


Smith and Bybee Wetlands

cliff swallow 1Nesting season is in full swing at Smith and Bybee Wetlands in northwest Portland. There is a small colony of Cliff Swallows nesting under the highway overpass.

waxwing nestHere is the tail end of a Cedar Waxwing sitting on a nest. This seems like an awfully large nest for such a small bird.

waxwing raiding nestSeveral Cedar Waxwings were raiding nesting material from this Bushtit nest. I hope the Bushtits were done with it.

waxwing with fruitCedar Waxwing with fruit

song sparrow 2This Sparrow was carrying a mouthful of bugs, indicating that she had a nest of babies nearby.

marsh wren 1Marsh Wrens were actively singing in several locations.
marsh wren 3

cowbirdBrown-headed Cowbird

gb heronGreat Blue Heron on Smith Lake

turtlesThe warm sun brought the reptiles out in good numbers. Smith and Bybee is a stronghold for the threatened Western Painted Turtle.

garter 3Northwestern Garter Snakes were also enjoying the sun. Northwestern Garters are distinguished from Common Garters by their smaller head and gentler disposition.
garter 1

Sandy River Delta

Migration is winding down and the summer residents are back in force at the Sandy River Delta. Specialty species such as Eastern Kingbird and Yellow-breasted Chat put in appearances, but were not photogenic.

Lazuli Buntings can be found singing from virtually every blackberry thicket.

This male Brown-headed Cowbird was wooing a female. Cowbirds don’t really form pairs. The males display, sometimes in groups, to attract a female. After mating, the two go their separate ways. Since the female deposits her eggs in the nests of other species, there is no need for the male to stick around to help.

I never tire of seeing Bullock’s Orioles, especially when they pose in the open sunshine.

River levels are still very high, so some of the trails at the north end of the site are flooded. Nala, the all-weather, all-terrain, all-the-time puppy, does not mind at all.

Random Songbirds

Here are a few images from Fernhill Wetlands (Birding Oregon p. 61) on July 30, 2010. Songbirds push the limits of a point-and-shoot camera, but occasionally a bird will be close enough and stationary enough to allow a decent portrait.

Cedar Waxwings were flycatching from the brushy edges of the ponds.

This Song Sparrow was going through an extensive molt. He lacked most of his tail, and his body plumage is very disheveled.

Brown-headed Cowbird. The scaly pattern on the scapulars and wing coverts identifies this bird as a juvenile.

Brown-headed Cowbird

bh cowbird 2

Two Brown-headed Cowbird fledglings have been hanging out at the feeder lately. This species is a parasitic nester, laying eggs in the nests of other species. Historically, Brown-headed Cowbirds were common in the Great Plains, where flocks would follow wandering herds of American Bison. Since the bison herds didn’t stay in one place long enough for cowbirds to nest, it makes sense that these birds would “adopt” their offspring out to other birds. As forests in the east and west were cleared, creating edge habitat, Brown-headed Cowbirds greatly expanded their range, which now covers most of North America. This has led to the decline of many eastern songbirds, as young cowbirds displace the young of the host species.

song sparrow - bh cowbird
The two birds coming to my feeder were being fed by a Song Sparrow, one of the more common hosts of Brown-headed Cowbirds. Cowbirds have been known to lay eggs in the nests of over 200 different species, including Blue-winged Teal, Ferruginous Hawk, and Ruby-throated Hummingbird. These species do not successfully raise young cowbirds, but enough eggs end up with compatible hosts to create a strong cowbird population. (Female Brown-headed Cowbirds can lay up to 40 eggs in a year.)

bh cowbird on feeder
This youngster is feeding himself. After leaving their host families, young cowbirds find others of their kind and form flocks.