I made a quick trip to Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge, just south of Salem. Like the other refuges in the Willamette Valley, most of Ankeny is closed in winter to protect wintering waterfowl. But there are spots on the refuge open to birders year-round. Here is a male Ruddy Duck just starting to get a little color in his bill for spring.
Song Sparrow at the edge of Pintail Marsh
This Lincoln’s Sparrow popped up for just a second, but long enough for me to take his portrait.
Here is a very distant Eurasian Green-winged Teal, or Common Teal, or Eurasian Teal, depending on who you talk to. In Europe, this is considered a separate species, but in the U.S., it is considered a subspecies of Green-winged Teal. I have been hoping for many years that North American authorities would recognize this form as a species (so I could add another tick to my list), but it doesn’t look like that is going to happen.
This pair of Great Horned Owls was hanging out along the trail to the Rail Trail boardwalk, once again proving that my camera would much rather focus on branches than on birds.
The main reason for my visit was a communal roost of Long-eared Owls discovered a few days before. This species is usually very hard to find in western Oregon, and had been a state nemesis bird for me.
There has been a lot of concern expressed about birders disturbing this group of birds. In Kansas and Ohio, where I have seen Long-eared Owls before, visiting winter roosts is the only way for birders to see this species. I believe it can be done without stressing the birds if birders speak softly (or not at all), maintain a respectful distance, and keep their visits brief. That is pretty easy to do at this site. Birders are confined to a boardwalk (assuming they are not assholes), and it is easy to make a quiet approach. If everyone exhibits just a modicum of self-control and common courtesy, this could be a sustainable birding experience for weeks to come. Fingers crossed.
I spent some time exploring the area just west of the Sandy River Delta in Troutdale, OR. A section of the 40-Mile Loop Trail starts just north of I-84 and runs north along the Sandy River, then west past Company Lake along the Columbia River. This baby Great Horned Owl was hanging out near the mouth of the Sandy.
The area is home to large FedEx and Amazon facilities, but there are still some weedy fields that attract open country birds like Savannah Sparrow and this Lazuli Bunting. Note the swallow photo bomb.
The highlight of this trip was the PAIR of Ash-throated Flycatchers that were hanging out near the Troutdale wastewater facility. Ash-throated Flycatchers are quite rare west of the Cascades, so it is pretty special to have a pair hanging out in Multnomah County.
A flash of rust on the tail, typical of this genus
There were a lot of dogs running around this area, but it was not nearly as crowded as the Sandy River Delta just across the river. A surprising number of vagrants have been found in this area is recent years, so it definitely warrants more visits.
I took advantage of the short breaks in the recent rainy weather to visit Vanport Wetlands in north Portland. The dark foggy conditions did not create great photo opportunities, but there are a lot of birds using this site.
The local Great Horned Owl is already sitting on her nest. This nest successfully fledged young last year.
In another sign of spring, this Great Egret is already sporting long nuptial plumes.
These Cackling Geese (and one Glaucous-winged Gull) were hanging out on the nearby Heron Lakes Golf Course. A Brandt has been seen on the golf course this week, but I didn’t find him on this visit.
A flock of ten Greater White-fronted Geese were sitting on Force Lake, just north of the Vanport Wetlands.
These geese are young birds, lacking the black and white speckling seen on the bellies of adults.
Nala is not nearly as interested in the birds of Vanport Wetlands as she is in the adjacent off-leash dog park, where she can pursue her prime interest, chasing the Orange Orb of Delight.
The oasis at Fields (Birding Oregon p. 19) is a tiny site, but one of the better known hotspots in Oregon. This little clump of willows around a spring is surrounded by miles of sage steppe, so it is very attractive to species normally found in woodland habitats.
A pair of Great Horned Owls can usually be seen here.
This adult was sitting on a fallen tree right over the water.
They were keeping track of this little guy.
A pair of American Kestrels were also nesting at the oasis. Here is the male with a rodent.
The big attraction for birders is the possibility of vagrants from the east. On this day a Northern Parula was the highlight. Other eastern warblers had been found the week before, and still others appeared later. One never knows what will show up on a given day.
While doing a point count at the Oak Island unit on Sauvie Island (Birding Oregon p. 56), I heard something large rustling in the brush and saw this beasty.
She blended in with her surroundings very well, but those big yellow eyes stand out.
I have seen Great Horned Owls hunting on foot before, but after watching this bird for a while I guessed that she was injured. I considered trying to take her in for medical attention, but the idea of capturing a large predator bare-handed is seldom a good one. She watched me watching her for several minutes before trotting nimbly down a little path through the brush.
Photographing a bird within brushy cover is challenging with my little auto-focus camera. The camera wants to focus on the closest objects, the leaves and sticks, leaving the bird blurry in the background. I had to find a tree trunk that was about the same distance away as the owl, focus on that, and then aim at the owl. This works well with a big stationary target like a Great Horned Owl, but is more challenging with warblers.