I went to Sauvie Island to scout areas for my Little Brown Birds class next week. The huge flocks of waterfowl that spend the winter there have dwindled, but there are still a lot of birds around. This White-crowned Sparrow was enjoying a dust bath on the first dry sunny day we have had in a long time.
Golden-crowned Sparrows are still the most common species in the sparrow patches.
Song Sparrows are not as numerous, but are very vocal right now.
Raptors are still thick out at Sauvie. This Cooper’s Hawk did not make it any easier to find sparrows.
One of many Bald Eagles seen that day.
Red-tailed Hawk, scoping out the surrounding fields for rodents
A distant Greater Yellowlegs. It is a little early for shorebirds, but their migration should be picking up in the next few weeks.
There were Raccoon tracks all along Rentenaar Road.
Sandhill Cranes, Tundra Swans, and Cackling Geese are still present in good numbers, but spring migration should bring big changes soon.
Wetlands in the Willamette Valley are very birdy in winter, so those areas tend to get most of the birding efforts this time of year. Of course, given the amount of rain we have had the past few weeks, it is hard to find any place that isn’t a wetland.
My recent waterfowl class was supposed to bird Jackson Bottom, but since that site was flooded we went to Dawson Creek behind the Hillsboro library. We found three Eurasian Wigeons, including this male.
Most of the Cackling Geese we saw were flying over, but this Taverner’s Cackling Goose posed nicely for us.
Smith and Bybee Wetlands hosted a large flock of Eurasian Collared Doves. Here are four feeding along the railroad track with two Mourning Doves in the foreground.
This Red-shouldered Hawk is a regular at Smith and Bybee, but seldom sits out in the open.
This male Ruddy Duck was on Force Lake. It seems odd to me that Ruddies don’t molt into breeding plumage until late spring.
A flock of Golden-crowned Sparrows were hanging out in the blackberries by Force Lake. I’ll have to start scouting sparrow patches soon for my Little Brown Birds class in March. Hopefully the rain will taper off by then.
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
I took my Little Brown Birds class to Sauvie Island. The sparrow flock along Rentenaar Road is thinning out, but all the expected species are still there. For the third year in a row, the star of the day was a Harris’s Sparrow. There is a White-throated and a Golden-crowned Sparrow in the background.
Harris’s Sparrow with Golden-crowned Sparrows
A sparrow mix of White-crowned, Golden-crowned, and Song Sparrow, along with a Red-winged Blackbird
Red-winged Blackbird, surrounded by Golden-crowned Sparrows and a White-crowned in the background
One of four White-throated Sparrows that came to our seed slick
This is that long awkward time of year between winter and spring. The big winter flocks have broken up, but the spring migrants haven’t returned yet. As I have said before, there is always something to see, but we have to find simple pleasures until the full decadence of spring migration commences in a month or so.
On a recent sunny day, this Varied Thrush perched outside the living room window. I don’t often see this species in sunlight. They are usually muted by the gloom of a rainy day or the shadows of the forest.
Pine Siskin at the nyjer feeder
For some reason, songbirds just look weird when viewed from the front.
The male American Goldfinches are starting to get their summer color.
Golden-crowned Sparrow, Vanport Wetlands
This fairly large tree has been felled by Beavers at Smith and Bybee Wetlands. None of the branches appear to have been eaten, so I don’t know why the Beavers felled it, perhaps because it was there.
Northwestern Garter Snake, Tualatin Hills Nature Park. I am making the identification based on the small head, although I am not completely comfortable differentiating Northwestern Garter from Common Garter.
Rentenaar Road, on Sauvie Island, is one of the better sparrow patches in the Portland area. I found ten species this morning, about typical for this time of year. This boldly patterned White-throated Sparrow was one of the prettier ones.
Golden-crowned Sparrows are the most common sparrows along this stretch of road.
Lincoln’s Sparrow, one of my favorites and one of the hardest to photograph
Spotted Towhee with two Golden-crowned Sparrows
The rarest bird of the day was this Harris’s Sparrow. This is the third winter in a row that a Harris’s (perhaps the same bird) has been wintering at this location.
Harris’s Sparrow with Golden-crowns
Harris’s with White-crowned
and finally, the Harris’s with a tan-morph White-throated Sparrow in the background. It’s nice that this visitor from the Great Plains gets along with everyone.
While certainly not a sparrow, this American Robin was just begging to be photographed, so here you go.
Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge, located just a few miles southwest of Portland on Hwy 99W, is a wonderful refuge for wintering waterfowl, despite its location in such an urban area.
The dikes around the wetland areas are closed to public access in the winter to prevent disturbance to the birds. But the trail leading through the wooded habitat beyond the wetland is open year round.
Northern Pintails and a Ruddy Duck
several Double-crested Cormorants perched on a log
a congregation of Northern Pintails, Mallards, and Ring-necked Ducks
The star of the refuge in recent weeks has been a lone Emperor Goose. He is the pale gray blob with the white neck tucked under his wings, right in the center of the photo. No, really.
This Dark-eyed Junco was a little more photogenic than the goose was.
Given the amount of brown on the crown and hind neck of this Dark-eyed Junco, I’m guessing she is a first-year female.
Golden-crowned Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco
I spent the morning in Scappoose, OR, this morning looking for a Brambling that was seen about a week ago. I didn’t have any luck with the Brambling, but it was great fun watching the variety of sparrows that were feeding in the area. Winter brings great flocks of sparrows to the Portland area. I saw the eight species pictured below, all within a few minutes, while sitting at the edge of the trail.
Lincoln’s Sparrows are among the most beautiful sparrows in North America, but are also rather shy, so they tend to stay out of range of point-and-shoot photography.
Lincoln’s Sparrow, with a Song Sparrow in the background
Fox Sparrows tend to lurk in the thicker cover.
He finally emerged for some millet.
White-crowned Sparrow, first winter
White-throated Sparrow, with a Golden-crowned in the background
Autumn brings an influx of sparrows to the Willamette Valley. Like many groups of birds, the sparrows aren’t that hard to identify, they are just hard to get a good look at.
White-crowned Sparrow, hiding behind a twig
Golden-crowned Sparrow, also hiding behind a twig
Fox Sparrow, being unusually cooperative
I’ve recently made two trips to Grays Harbor in Washington, once to scout and the other to lead my shorebird class. This estuary is a major staging area for migrating shorebirds in spring.
Marbled Godwit, Dunlin, and Short-billed Dowitcher feeding at Damon Point, near the mouth of the harbor
Don’t neglect to look at all the little brown ducks! This is a King Eider, a rare visitor from Alaska. It is distinguished from Common Eider by the slender bill and the scalloped markings on the sides.
Bowerman Basin is an inlet on the north shore of the harbor. It is the last area to fill during high tides, so shorebirds often congregate here. This is a view from the boardwalk.
Peregrine Falcons are attracted by the large numbers of shorebirds in the harbor.
This is a view of the boardwalk on a Thursday morning.
This is the boardwalk on a Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately, birders outnumbered birds by about five to one on this afternoon.
Greater White-fronted Geese
Marsh Wrens are common along the marshy edges of Bowerman Basin.
The willow thickets and woods along the boardwalk attract migrants like this Golden-crowned Sparrow.