Sandy River Delta

IMG_7181Nala and I spent several hours hiking (and swimming) at the Sandy River Delta. Local nesters, like this Common Yellowthroat, were busy gather food for nestlings.

IMG_7198Male Lazuli Buntings were very vocal, and seemed to be vying for the attention of the females (below).


IMG_7175Osprey flying along the Columbia River

IMG_7163This Western Canada Goose had an unusual head pattern, with white reaching across the forehead and around the nape.

IMG_7215Rufous Hummingbirds were defending their blackberry patches.

Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden, 13 November 2013

The weather has entered its dark and dreary pattern, typical for Portland in late autumn. This makes for dark grainy photos, but here are a few shots from Crystal Springs in southeast Portland.

steller's jaySteller’s Jay, looking all artsy among the architecture of the boardwalk

coot backThis American Coot appears to be concerned with modesty while preening.

coot front 2Here is the same individual feeding on land. I always appreciate the chance to see this species’ lobed feet.

canadaWestern Canada Goose

wigeonAmerican Wigeon, with Bufflehead in the background

wood duck frontWood Duck
wood duck female

wood duck maleI don’t know what this Wood Duck was carrying. They eat acorns, but this appears to be something different.

I am hoping for some sunshine for my next outing.

Jackson Bottom, 11 July 2013

savannahI walked around Jackson Bottom in Hillsboro this morning. As you would expect at this time of year, there were lots of young birds around.  This young Savannah Sparrow posed nicely. His parents have not taught him to skulk in the weeds yet.

blue-winged and cinnamon tealThe best bird of the day was this male Blue-winged Teal (right foreground), always hard to find in the Willamette Valley. He flew in with a small flock of Cinnamon Teal.
blue-winged teal

mallard familyFamilies of young Mallards were everywhere.

canada goose familyThese Canada Geese are mostly grown, but retain a bit of their cute fuzziness.

spotty left 1I was surprised by the lack of migrant shorebirds. The resident Spotted Sandpipers were well represented.

nutriaLots of Nutria were out this morning. Yes, introduced species often wreak havoc on native ecosystems, AND, Nutria look like adorable little bears.

Jackson Bottom 4/26/12

I took a client to Jackson Bottom Wetlands Reserve in Hillsboro (Birding Oregon p. 60).  Continuing restoration efforts at that site are creating some nice habitat, and the birds are responding.

Cinnamon Teal were actively courting.

There was lots of head bobbing and chasing of rival males.

taking a break

Jackson Bottom is swarming with swallows. Tree Swallows claim most of the many nest boxes.

Cliff Swallow

Restoration work has created shallow ponds and open mud, which is attractive to migrant shorebirds like these Western Sandpipers.

Three Dunlins in various states of molt. The front bird is least advanced, while the bird in back is in full breeding plumage.

Two Dunlins on the left, Western Sandpipers on the right.

Western Sandpiper, with Dunlin in the background

Least Sandpipers

This Solitary Sandpiper was a nice surprise. They are an uncommon spring migrant.

The resident Canada Geese have already hatched their broods.

Fernhill Wetlands 11/11/09

I took a brief walk around Fernhill Wetlands (Birding Oregon p. 61) while meeting with a reporter today. The weather was rather dreary, but, as always, there were some birds around.

eared grebe
Eared Grebe is an unusual visitor to the main lake. Note the thin bill and dusky cheeks. The more common Horned Grebe has a thicker bill, white cheeks, and a neat black cap.
eared grebe 2
Another view of the Eared Grebe. The back end of this species tends to float fairly high in the water.

cackling geese
Most of the wintering Cackling Geese were off grazing somewhere, but these two were hanging out on the lake. The bird on the right has pale feather edges, indicating a young bird.

canada geese
In contrast to the Cackling Geese, these resident Canada Geese are much larger with long snakey necks.

common mergansers
Common Mergansers were indeed common on the main lake this morning, but did not allow a close approach.

great egret
Great Egrets stand out on a dreary gray day.

Ankeny NWR

I took my Portland Audubon waterfowl class to Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge (Birding Oregon p. 86). The weather was glorious and the birds were abundant.

Many of the fields on the refuge hosted large flocks of geese, mostly the minima race of Cackling Goose.

This little mixed flock contains Western Canada, Dusky Canada, and Taverner’s Cackling Geese.

Eagle Marsh held several dozen Tundra Swans.

Taverner’s Cackling Goose vs. Lesser Canada Goose

As I continue my study of the white-cheeked goose complex, I often return to the problem of separating Taverner’s Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii taverneri) and Lesser Canada Goose (Branta canadensis parvipes). Some sources argue that we shouldn’t be attempting to separate these two in the field until more study is done. Other sources claim to have definitive field marks for each. Some sources contradict each other as to what those definitive field marks are. So here are few photos from my recent goose encounters along with my opinions/guesses about their subspecific identity. I welcome your opinions and comments. (The comment,”Get a life!” is obvious and does not need to be repeated here.)

#1. The length of a goose’s neck appears to vary with the bird’s position, so it is dangerous to judge neck length from a single photo. But the bird on the right appeared consistently longer-necked than the birds on the left. A long thin neck supports the ID of Lesser Canada while the shorter thicker necks suggest Taverner’s Cackling.

#2. The large geese in the background are Western Canada Geese (B.c. moffitti). The smaller bird in front shows a fairly long bill that slopes gently onto the forehead. This head shape is consistent with Lesser Canada Goose.

#3. The bill on this goose is on the short side, and the forehead angles steeply up from the base of the bill. These features, along with the thick neck, suggest Taverner’s Cackling Goose.

#4. The bird on the left looks good for Taverner’s Cackling Goose, with its short bill and very steep forehead. The goose to the right seems to show a gentler slope to the forehead. Is this just an illusion caused by the different neck position, individual variation, or a slightly short-billed Lesser Canada? It is at this point that my eye is drawn back to the gulls, a much easier bunch to sort out.

Sauvie Island

I spent a gorgeous day at Sauvie Island, northwest of Portland. There are still good numbers of waterfowl and Sandhill Cranes, but the sparrows have started to thin out.

Sandhill Cranes (and Mallards)

Dusky Canada Geese, Sandhill Cranes (and Mallards)

I believe the front bird is a Lesser Canada Goose. The bill is long and slopes gently into the forehead, unlike the stubby bills and rounded foreheads seen on Cackling and Taverner’s Cackling Geese.

I saw at least a dozen Garter Snakes around Wapato Access Greenway. This was one of two that sat still long enough for photos.

Cackling and Canada Geese

My current birding project is studying the various races of Cackling and Canada Geese (Branta hutchinsii and Branta canadensis). Canada Goose was split into these two species in 2004. There are multiple races of each, so it is a good idea to become familiar with all the different forms in case more splits occur. If nothing else, it adds a bit of a challenge when confronted with a large congregation of geese.

In the Pacific Northwest, there are four races of Canada Goose (Western, Vancouver, Dusky, and Lesser) and three races of Cackling Goose (Taverner’s, Aleutian, and Cackling). The greatest identification challenge seems to be differentiating between Lesser Canada Goose and Taverner’s Cackling Goose. The two overlap in size and color, and different sources give conflicting information about their characteristics. The best field mark on close birds seems to be the shape and relative length of the bills; short and steep on Taverner’s, longer and more sloping on Lesser Canada.

Here are a few websites that you may find helpful in learning the various races of white-cheeked geese. David Sibley’s notes that were written just after the species were split. Good information, but not complete, especially regarding the Lesser Canada/Taverner’s Cackling issue. Harry Krueger’s site. This is a work in progress, but it offers great information on several subspecies. This 83-page publication from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is a wealth of information and photographs. Be warned; this publication is intended for hunter education, so some of the photos are of “harvested” birds.

Cackling Cackling Goose (top) and possible Lesser Canada Goose