Waterfowl numbers have been increasing in the Willamette Valley as the rains have begun. This male Northern Shoveler is still in his drab summer plumage.
This Emperor Goose is currently a local celebrity in the Beaverton area, hanging out with the local ducks and Cackling Geese.
This Gadwall was hanging out at Koll Center Wetlands. A brick building at the edge of the pond creates those brown reflections in the water, which complement the colors on this duck.
American Coot having a snack
Green-winged Teal at Fernhill Wetlands
Common Merganser at Fernhill
Numbers of ducks and geese should continue to increase into November.
Spring migration has come and gone, and many birders agree that it was a dud. Numbers and diversity seemed quite low in the Portland area this spring. So now we concentrate on the summer residents, like this Black-headed Grosbeak.
Most Golden-crowned Sparrows are gone by late May, so this bird found on June 2 was noteworthy.
At Tualatin River NWR, this Lazuli Bunting was singing in the same patch of Nootka Rose that has hosted them in previous years.
Tualatin River NWR is hosting at least two pairs of Blue-winged Teal this summer.
Purple Martins at Fernhill Wetlands
Bewick’s Wren are usually working heavy cover, so it was a treat to find this one dust bathing in the middle of a gravel road.
Hooded Merganser preening at Fernhill Wetlands
This Gadwall is already starting to molt into his dull summer alternate plumage. I often refer to late summer as Ugly Duck Season. It seems a little early for ducks to be losing their sharp breeding colors.
Now is the time to seek out local nesters. It will only be about four weeks before southbound shorebird migration starts up. I hope the autumn migration is a little more eventful than this spring was.
I know it is technically not spring yet, but the waterfowl are all either on the move or looking to pair up, so close enough.
A flock of 12 Greater White-fronted Geese stopped by Force Lake in north Portland. This species migrates through the Willamette Valley in great numbers, but are usually just flyovers.
A Greater White-fronted Goose showing off her speckled belly
This Greater Scaup was also at Force Lake. Greater Scaup are more often found on larger bodies of water, like the nearby Columbia River.
The Canvasbacks on Force Lake were apparently mucking around on the bottom of the lake and came up with very muddy faces.
This Gadwall at Commonwealth Lake was showing off for a nearby female.
Green-winged Teal have started to move out of the area. This lone male was at Commonwealth Lake.
Double-crested Cormorants are just starting to get some brighter colors on their facial skin and eyes.
Migration should start to really pick up in the next couple of weeks. Happy Vernal Equinox.
February birding is famously slow around much of Oregon, but, as I like to remind myself, there is always something to see.
This male Redhead has been spending the winter at Commonwealth Lake Park in Beaverton. It is not often that I get a really close view of these lovely ducks.
This preening Black Turnstone showed off his flashy backside at the Seaside Cove.
I have made four trips to Fort Stevens State Park since early December to try to see some of the many White-winged Crossbills that have been spending the winter there. They have eluded me every time. I think I have seen more Elk than I have birds at Fort Stevens this winter.
The bumper crop of cones on the Sitka Spruces is what has attracted the crossbills. There is a lot of food available and the finches keep moving all the time, so our paths have not crossed. It is kind of like pelagic birding. You are moving around the open ocean in a little boat, looking for birds that are also moving.
I went out to Rentenaar Road on Sauvie Island to chum for sparrows. Conditions were dark and damp, but the head of this White-crowned Sparrow shone from the depths of the brush.
The Red-winged Blackbirds are getting fired up for spring. This guy was flashing his epaulets but still showed some rusty pattern on his back from his youth.
preening Green-winged Teal, Westmoreland Park
preening Gadwall, Crystal Springs
male Wood Duck, Crystal Springs
The lighting was not great, but it was nice to see this Lincoln’s Sparrow just sitting out in the open for so long. This is a species that I often see, but am seldom able to show to others because the birds tend to hide in thick cover most of the time. I have two Little Brown Birds classes in March. I hope I can find such a cooperative individual on those days.
Now that the snow has melted, the weather has turned to freezing temps and a howling east wind. Bleah. Despite the lousy conditions, I bundled up and took a walk around Commonwealth Lake. The park was hosting a large flock of Cackling Geese and a similar sized flock of American Wigeon. Other species were present in much smaller numbers.
This Great Egret was getting a lot of attention from the dog walkers and joggers in the park, with people stopping to take cell phone photos. I try not to be a birding snob, realizing that the big flashy species are what get people’s attention. Great Egrets are gorgeous birds, and always worth a look. But most of these folks were oblivious to the smaller creatures flitting around this bird’s feet…
like this guy. This Green Heron was fluffed up against the cold and was staying in the thick brush along the water’s edge.
Duck Butts! A pair of Gadwall were doing the dabbling thing.
After a successful nesting season at this site, Pied-billed Grebes are still present in good numbers.
This Ring-billed Gull was struggling to remain perched on a post in the high winds. Note the red orbital ring and gape, suggesting that breeding season may not be all that far off. If we can just get through February…
Commonwealth Lake Park is your typical urban duck pond nestled in the Portland suburb of Beaverton. Such parks are certainly not the places to go if you seek a wilderness experience, but they can be excellent places to study waterfowl up close. They also serve as a quick and easy birding fix when “life” prevents you from getting out in the field as much as you should.
Species that are normally rather shy, like this Pied-billed Grebe, will often allow a close approach is parks such as this.
American Coots, common and often dismissed by birders, are quite lovely when you get close enough.
male Common Merganser, with what I think is a Yellow Bullhead
female Common Merganser
Greater White-fronted Geese are common migrants over the Portland area, but uncommon winter residents. Four have been spending the winter at Commonwealth.
Since the remodeling of Portland’s Westmoreland Park a couple of years ago, there really hasn’t been a good spot to easily study gulls in the Portland area. This adult Ring-billed Gull was a cooperative model.
This Ring-billed Gull is in his second plumage cycle.
So while I would much rather walk for several miles in a natural setting to find birds, I am grateful for little urban parks like Commonwealth.
I took Nala to the dog park next to Vanport Wetlands in hopes of seeing a bird or two between throws of the ball.
A male Eurasian Wigeon made a brief appearance.
A pair of Gadwalls swam in the nearby slough.
The large flock of gulls that had been hanging out in the area were not around that morning, but a large puddle hosted this Ring-billed Gull along with some Mew Gulls.
Mew Gulls bathing
I made a quick visit to Tualatin River NWR in the afternoon heat. One of the main trails is closed off until this young Bald Eagle decides to leave the nest. Despite the flock of European Starlings cheering him on, he didn’t show any sign of leaving.
I saw several pairs of Gadwall, but no ducklings yet. This male was putting on a show for his lady friend.
Mallards have been out with broods for weeks now.
Cinnamon Teal siesta
Pied-billed Grebe showing off his black throat
I often find Spotted Sandpipers perched on man-made structures.
Despite the time of day, American Bullfrogs were actively singing and defending territories. This introduced species is so common in the Willamette Valley. I would think they would be a favored prey item (Great Blue Heron, Mink, River Otter, etc.) but I seldom find any evidence of predation. Bullfrogs are unfortunately very good at preying on native frogs and turtles.
A quick visit to Westmoreland Park in southeast Portland revealed good numbers of waterfowl and gulls typical of this little urban duck pond in the winter.
Two duck butts in the middle of the pond stood out because of their large size. They turned out to be Tundra Swans, the first I have seen at this park.
Of course, every visit to Westmoreland requires a quick scan of the gull flock.
Gadwalls don’t sport a lot of color, but are lovely little ducks.
I forced myself to go birding Saturday morning. It was one of those rainy November days when you want to hole up until May, so I forced myself out. (Can’t get tired of the rain this early in the season.) So I went to Smith and Bybee Wetlands in NW Portland. The rough weather kept most of the songbirds under heavy cover, but the ducks were out and about.
While distant and poorly lit in the rainy weather, these ducks are clearly Northern Shovelers. The first clue is the fact that they are all swimming along with their faces in the water, typical shoveler feeding behavior. On the first and last ducks in line, you see a dark head, white breast, rusty sides, and white bottom, classic Northern Shoveler.
These birds were clear across the lake, but several are clearly identifyable. The line of four ducks in the upper right of the photo are Northern Shovelers, for the same reasons as in the photo above. The duck on the far left, and probably the bird next to him, is a Gadwall. The bird is slightly smaller than the shovelers, lacks any blatant pattern, seems to be dark on the backside, and has a blocky head shape.
The ability to ID ducks, or any other birds, at great distances is not so much a matter of skill, as it is familiarity. The more familiar you become with a species, the greater the distance you can recognize that species.
This Nutria was enjoying the day, munching away on something. Nutria are native to South America, but have been introduced in many areas by the fur trade. (and why would you want to dress yourself to look like a large aquatic rodent?) When raising Nutria failed to be profitable, many were released into the Pacific Northwest, where they flourish at the expense of some native mammals and wetland plants.