Winter Birding

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

Happy Winter

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

Chickadee Trifecta

I had three species of chickadees attending my feeder recently. The Black-capped Chickadees are year-round residents and visit every day.

Chestnut-backed Chickadees appear occasionally, most often in winter, although I have been seeing them more often in recent months.

The star attraction on this day was a Mountain Chickadee. While common along the crest of the Cascades and points east, they are a rare treat in the Willamette Valley. This bird is the seventh record for Washington County.

I believe the Pacific Northwest is the only place where you might find three species of chickadees in one flock. Range maps indicate that in southeastern Alaska, you might be able to find four species in the same area. That sounds like a worthy birding challenge.

Random Images

I haven’t been out much lately, a situation I hope to remedy this week. In the meantime, here are a few images from around home.

Many of the local songbirds are undergoing an extensive molt, leaving them looking very bedraggled. This Chestnut-backed Chickadee is a prime example.

We have had no measurable rain in the past month or so, so the birdbath has been a little more popular than usual.

It is unusual for me to see Chestnut-backs at my house during summer, as we don’t have the larger conifers that they prefer for nesting. This bird might just be a product of post-breeding dispersal, or might be ranging farther to find water.

I noticed an Anna’s Hummingbird checking out the cedar tree near the bird feeder. A closer look revealed this brown lump near the trunk.

  The hummingbird was joined by chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Western Scrub-Jays, and a Swainson’s Thrush, all harassing this Western Screech-Owl throughout the day.

Perhaps ten feet from the bird feeder is not the best place for an owl to try to get any rest.

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

A pair of Chestnut-backed Chickadees has been lingering in the yard this week.  They will soon leave for the summer, as this species prefers large conifers and higher elevation, unlike the more suburban Black-capped Chickadees.

While the Chestnut-backs readily take sunflower seeds from the feeder, these birds were especially fond of a vegan suet block, currently in development by Nepo Suet Company . It is made from coconut oil. While not available yet, it promises to be a great alternative for those of us who don’t buy animal products.

Pittock Mansion 4-21-11

The grounds around Pittock Mansion in northwest Portland are a favorite spot for spring migrants. Most people visit this park to tour the ostentatious limestone house, but birders prefer the brushy hillsides and the woods around the parking lot.

Since we are still locked into a cold, damp weather pattern, most of the spring migrants have not yet arrived, but good numbers of winter residents were flocking and ready to move out.

Fox Sparrow

Pine Siskin

Several species of thrush were common today. Here is a blurry Hermit Thrush.

an equally blurry male Varied Thrush

female Varied Thrush

American Robin

Varied Thrush and American Robin feeding together

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Mt. Hood National Forest

I spent a day exploring part of Mt. Hood National Forest along Forest Service Road 58 (Birding Oregon p. 75). A hot day in July is not the best time to find lots of birds, since singing has greatly diminished and there is so much great habitat for birds to hide in, but the scenery and solitude are well worth the trip.

Here is the view from the High Rock area, showing the peak of Mt. Hood and the forest in various stages of regrowth.

This area of the forest is a patchwork of clearcuts, young forest, and groves of mature trees. While not nearly so scenic, clearcuts are often very productive for certain species of birds and other wildlife.

Forest Service roads that are too rough for vehicles provide easy hiking routes.

The Bear Grass was in full bloom.

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Pileated Woodpecker feeding site

A pair of Gray Jays responded to a pygmy-owl imitation. Despite their reputation for stealing food from picnic tables, I usually find Gray Jays to be rather shy.

This is the meadow near Little Crater Lake.

A pond in the meadow, with Mt. Hood peaking over the trees.

Always check muddy areas for tracks, like these from Black-tailed Deer.

Little Crater Lake

Chestnut-backed Chickadee


The chickadees are starting to excavate their nest cavities. This Chestnut-backed Chickadee was working on a dead snag right along the trail at Nestucca Bay NWR. Even though the birds choose soft dead wood on which to work, it seems a herculean task for a bird with such a diminutive bill to excavate a cavity large enough for nesting.


She can fit about half her body into the cavity so far. It takes about seven days to complete a nest.


Here she spits out a mouthful of wood chips. Larger chips are carried away from the nest site before being dropped. A big pile of wood chips at the base of the nest tree would alert predators to the location of the nest.

Into the Woods

I did a little birding in Portland’s Forest Park yesterday. I live on an ash swale, so it is nice to get out into an actual coniferous forest, the type of habitat that the Pacific Northwest is known for. Among the many Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets were a pair of Varied Thrushes, several Winter Wrens, a Brown Creeper, and a flock of Chestnut-backed Chickadees. My camera is a simple point-and-shoot, hardly suitable for small, fast-moving targets. But I like the way this photo turned out. The bird’s face is in focus (close anyway) while the rest of the bird is a blur of activity. A very fitting portrait of this frenetic species.
Chestnut-backed Chickadee