Our team for the Audubon Society of Portland’s Birdathon birded several sites in the northern parts of Portland. The weather was cool and rainy, not conducive to photography or bird activity, but we ended our efforts with 76 species for the day. This Western Wood-Pewee at Whitaker Ponds was one of the few photogenic individuals.
Bushtit, also at Whitaker Ponds
This Black-tailed Deer, with his new antlers just starting to sprout, was at Smith and Bybee Wetlands.
There are only two native species of turtle in Oregon, both of which are considered at risk do to habitat loss and pollution. Smith and Bybee Wetlands is a local stronghold for Western Painted Turtles.
Here is a Western Painted Turtle on the left, with a Red-eared Slider on the right. Red-eared Sliders are native to the southeastern U.S., but have been introduced into many areas, usually by people disposing of unwanted pets. Introduced species compete with native species for food and nesting habitat.
February is usually cloudy and damp in the Portland area, making it hard for me to get too motivated to venture out. But there is always something to see, like this lovely Lincoln’s Sparrow.
This Cedar Waxwing was flycatching over the water at Koll Wetlands.
This Spotted Towhee spent quite a bit of time perched out in the open in a blackberry bramble.
Winter is a great time to study waterfowl in the Willamette Valley. This little gang of Lesser Scaup was at Force Lake in north Portland.
I was initially excited to find this young male Northern Shoveler standing out in the open, but then I realized the poor guy was ill. He was gasping for breath and his eyes were partially closed. I’m guessing he has respiratory infection caused by Aspergillis, a common type of fungus, which has been affecting a lot of waterfowl this winter.
Back home at the feeders, my vegan suet has been very popular this winter. I mix equal parts of coconut oil, peanut butter, and flour, then pour the mixture into molds to solidify. This recipe only works in the winter, as it will melt if temperatures get above 60 degrees F. Here is a Chestnut-backed Chickadee working on the last bit of a cake.
A Bushtit, one of many that come through the yard every day
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.
Spring is coming on strong, despite the cold latter half of March. The season is most obvious in the open habitats around wetlands. Local nesters are starting to pair up and collect nesting material.The winter sparrow flocks are starting to thin out, but the birds that remain are active and vocal. This Fox Sparrow (with a Golden-crowned Sparrow in the background) was at Fernhill Wetlands.
The local Song Sparrows are paired up and are defending territories.
Bushtits are still in their winter flocks, but should be pairing off soon.
This male Hooded Merganser caught a large crayfish at Westmoreland Park, but did not share it with the female that was nearby.
Anna’s Hummingbird, feeding on currant
This is one of five subadult Bald Eagles that flew over Westmoreland Park in a tight group. I don’t recall seeing a flock of Bald Eagles moving together like that before.
Western Canada Goose, the locally nesting subspecies. I am trying to collect portraits of the various Canada and Cackling Goose subspecies for side-by-side comparison.
These Red-eared Sliders were basking at Commonwealth Lake. There are only two native species of freshwater turtle in Oregon, and this is not one of them. This species is often released from the pet trade.
In the next few weeks, warblers and flycatchers should start arriving in good numbers, then the rush of spring shorebird migration.
While spring migration has not really ramped up yet, locally nesting birds at Fernhill Wetlands and Jackson Bottoms are starting to pair up, and the winter flocks are breaking up.
A few Least Sandpipers have arrived at Fernhill.
These Killdeer were vying for position. I think this species would be more highly regarded if their voices weren’t so grating. Their plumage and red eye ring are rather stunning, but they just don’t shut up.
I found a pair of Bushtits weaving a nest. The normally gray birds were stained bright yellow with pollen.
Cinnamon Teal, looking all dapper
This Golden-crowned Sparrow had odd white patches on the cheeks, and a few white feathers on the nape.
Tree Swallows are everywhere, pairing up and claiming nest boxes.
Song Sparrow, not unusual, but unusually cooperative
Red-winged Blackbird. Females and immature males have much more interesting plumage than that of the adult males.
House Finch, just because
Wintering waterfowl are returning to Fernhill Wetlands (Birding Oregon p. 61). Cackling Geese started arriving this week, and will soon be joined by a few thousand more.
a former waterfowl
Most shorebirds have moved on by now. This Lesser Yellowlegs was feeding by himself.
The Lesser Yellowlegs was eventually joined by a small flock of Long-billed Dowitchers.
One of the paths at Fernhill has recently been extended around the back side of Dabblers Marsh. This brushy area hosted a large flock of Bushtits (a female above), along with Mourning Doves, Northern Flickers, Black-capped Chickadees, and my first-of-season Golden-crowned Sparrow.
The Sandy River Delta (Birding Oregon p. 63) lies at the western end of the Columbia River Gorge. Habitats include large areas of grassland and riparian forest.
Within the grassy areas are little islands of Himalayan Blackberry. This is an alien invasive which can overwhelm native plant communities, but Common Yellowthroats (above), Willow Flycatchers, and Lazuli Buntings (below) will take advantage of the cover and perches offered by the thorny vegetation.
The groves of cottonwoods are home to many of the common woodland species found in the Willamette Valley. Bushtits (above), Black-headed Grosbeaks, Bullock’s Orioles, Swainson’s Thrushes, Red-eyed Vireo, and Yellow-breasted Chat can all be found here.
The Sandy River Delta is also known as the 1000 Acre Dog Park. Dogs are allowed off-leash except in the parking lot and on one trail. Despite the many trash cans available, some people do not pick up after their dogs, so watch your step. Here is a photo of Nala, The Birding Dog, showing off her retriever moves.
A flock of Bushtits were working their way through the garden the other morning. A foggy morning viewed through a dirty window doesn’t bode well for photography, but here are a few images that survived the slow shutter speed.
The pale iris identifies this individual as a female.
I hope to never meet someone who doesn’t like Bushtits. These little balls of fluff with long tails are always a treat to see.
Despite their tiny size, they are very vocal and come very close to people as they glean small insects from the foliage. It is difficult for such a small creature to maintain its body heat, so Bushtits huddle together for warmth, build enclosed insulated nests, and eat about 80% of their own weight in food every day. In addition to insects, they will eat suet or peanut butter at feeders, and will occasionally take little bits of sunflower seed that have softened in the rain.