Penstemon Prairie

Grasshopper Sparrows are rare everywhere in Oregon, so Portland area birders got quite excited when several of these birds were found at a small prairie restoration site just south of Fernhill Wetlands. Penstemon Prairie is a not an established park, but it is open to the public, and the agency responsible for the site mowed a path around the perimeter to make walking and birding this site easy.

The morning of my visit, it didn’t take long to find a couple Grasshopper Sparrows. They always positioned themselves to be backlit, and I didn’t want to trample the habitat to get a better position, so I wasn’t able to get any decent photos.

A blurry, backlit Grasshopper Sparrow, singing the songs of their people

Lazuli Buntings were more cooperative in the lighting department.

Lazuli Bunting in morning light. Check out the wear on her tail feathers, probably from nesting.

A distant male Lazuli Bunting

Common Yellowthroats are common in this habitat, but they seldom pose out in the open.

Savannah Sparrow, whose song can be quite similar to that of Grasshopper Sparrow

Another Savannah Sparrow. This early morning light is known as Golden Hour. A lot of photographers seek out this lighting, as it is softer than what you find later in the day, but I don’t like the yellow cast it puts on everything.

Happy Summer

Migration Update

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.

Happy Spring

Still Waiting for Spring – Jackson Bottom

Jackson Bottom is another site that I can visit during the pandemic, assuming I get there early. The big push of spring migration has not hit, but you can tell it’s so close. Tree Swallows have been back for quite a while now. They are usually perched on the many bird houses at this site, so it was nice to catch a couple actually using a tree.
The Savannah Sparrows are setting up territory. This would have been a nice shot if I could have caught a reflection in the bird’s eye.

There we go.

This Osprey spent a lot of time preening while I was there. He still looks pretty disheveled.

Anna’s Hummingbird, just high enough that I can’t get a good flash from his gorget

Common Yellowthroat

witchity-witchity-witchity

I’m still waiting for shorebirds to show up. Greater Yellowlegs have been the only arrivals so far.

Some Killdeer have started nesting already.

Brush Rabbit

Long-toed Salamander

Several Common Garters (Red-spotted) were sunning themselves on this rock pile.

This garter had propped her body up against a log to better catch the morning sun.

I don’t remember seeing Camas at Jackson Bottom before, but they were in full bloom on this trip.

Happy spring

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_7208

IMG_7204

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.

Sandy River Delta

Nala and I spent the morning at the Sandy River Delta east of Portland. Bird activity is definitely picking up, although many of the summer residents haven’t arrived yet.

white-crownedWhite-crowned Sparrows were singing

savannah sparrow 2as were Savannah Sparrows.

rufous 3Rufous Hummingbirds were zipping around everywhere. All the birds I could get a look at were males.
rufous 2
rufous scratchingscratching an itch

yellowthroatHere is a typical view of a Common Yellowthroat.

wood ducksThe recently reopened channel hosted a lot of birds, including this pair of Wood Ducks and a sleepy Mallard.

spotted sandpiperSpotted Sandpiper, not yet spotted

great blueGreat Blue Heron in a tree

common merganserCommon Merganser, proving once again that I have no idea how to control the white balance on my camera.

nalaOf course, Nala will tell you the main reason to visit this site is to go swimming. Here she is in the Sandy River, while the mastiff on shore waits to try to steal her ball.

Sandy River Delta

chat singingI took Nala to the Sandy River Delta this week. One of the target birds for this area is Yellow-breasted Chat, a species hard to find elsewhere in the Portland area.
chat turnedThis was the only individual I found that day, but new migrants are arriving daily. Willow Flycatchers and Eastern Kingbirds, two other specialties of this site, were largely absent during my visit, but were reported a few days later.

IMG_4762Lazuli Buntings are back in force and singing on territory.

common yellowthroatCommon Yellowthroat

IMG_4757Savannah Sparrow, in harsh sunlight. One of these days I will learn how to photograph in such conditions.

pileatedWe often associate Pileated Woodpeckers with dense forest, but this species is often found on isolated cottonwood trees along the Columbia River.

Tualatin River NWR

eagle nestWhile the bird diversity has thinned out considerably in the past couple of weeks, I had some nice views of the summer residents at Tualatin River NWR. The resident Bald Eagles still have one youngster in the nest. He is expected to fledge any day now.

eagle nest 2

bald eagleOne of the parents was hanging out near the refuge headquarters, looking all regal.

common yellowthroat 1This Common Yellowthroat was frequently seen carrying food, indicating he had a nest nearby.
common yellowthroat 2 common yellowthroat front

mourning dove3Mourning Dove, feeding on the gravel road.
mourning dove eyes closedI think the blue eye shadow makes her look a little trashy.
mourning dove front

savannah sparrowsSavannah Sparrows are common in the open habitats here.
savannah sparrow

western scrub-jayWestern Scrub-Jay

northern flickermale Northern Flicker

brush rabbit 1Brush Rabbit. The tattered ear suggests that he has had a close escape or two.

townsend's chipmunkThis Townsend’s Chipmunk was eating grass seeds.

rough-skinned newt 2I saw two Rough-skinned Newts crossing the road. One of the most poisonous animals known to science, this species exudes equal amounts of toxins and cuteness.

Petit Manan NWR, Maine

One of my favorite spots on the central Maine coast is Petit Manan National Wildlife Refuge. Two trails lead you through meadows, spruce forest, a cedar bog, and rocky coast.

This Common Yellowthroat was playing hide-and-seek. In Oregon, I typically find this species in wetland habitats, but in Maine they are common in groves of small spruce.

The tide was out during my visit, so I did a little tidepooling. The crab was less than two inches wide. He was feeding on some sort of aquatic worm.

The best birds of the trip were two American Oystercatchers. This species is quite rare this far north.
Despite the distance, this bird’s bold pattern makes for an easy ID.

The exposed rocks were covered with barnacles and snails.

An American Redstart about to take off. This species does not like to sit still for me.

Of course, if there are lots of leaves between us, he will sit perfectly still. Jerk.

Sandy River Delta


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.

Judy Burton Nature Preserve

On a recent visit to my home town in northern Indiana, I was struck by how much land is taken up by corn and soybeans. Mile after mile along the highways, it seems that these two crops are all you see, broken up by the occasional small woodlot or wind break. But there are a few little areas of replanted prairie and woodland edge. One such site is the Judy Burton Nature Preserve. Despite the high heat and humidity, my mid-morning visit provided a nice assortment of birds that I don’t get to see on the left coast.


Gray Catbirds were common and noisy, but didn’t want to sit out in the open long for photos.


Field Sparrow. Note the plain face and the pink bill. Their loud bouncing song identifies them even if you don’t get a good look.

Common Yellowthroats and House Wrens are both found in Oregon, too, but it is always a pleasure to see them.