I have been complaining a lot lately about how slow the birding has been. We are in that lull when many of the winter birds have moved on and the spring migrants haven’t returned. But, say it with me, there is always something to see. So here are a few birds to help get us primed for the spring birding bonanza that will inevitably arrive.
This lone Greater White-fronted Goose was at the Tualatin River NWR. Not many of these geese touch down in the Portland area, but huge flocks pass overhead in spring and autumn.
The western U.S. does not get to enjoy the great diversity of warblers found in the east, but we do get Yellow-rumped Warblers all winter. This male Audubon’s race is coming into breeding plumage.
We also get Myrtle race Yellow-rumps in winter. I keep hoping that these two forms will be split into separate species, as they once were. This individual seems to have a little yellow on the throat, suggesting some mixed parentage somewhere in this bird’s family tree.
This young Bald Eagle was looking regal in a parking lot.
Savannah Sparrows have started returning to their nesting areas. This rather faded individual was at Jackson Bottom.
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.
On a recent trip to Commonwealth Lake Park in Beaverton, I had the opportunity to observe Taverner’s and Ridgeway’s Cackling Geese side-by-side. Taverner’s are larger, with pale breasts and slightly longer bills. Ridgeway’s have dark, iridescent breasts (on adults) and stubby little bills.
Here is a close look at a Taverner’s Cackling Goose, the subspecies most likely to be confused with Lesser Canada Goose. Lesser Canada Geese have thinner necks and slightly longer bills.
The bill on a Ridgeway’s Cackling Goose is thick and stubby, and the neck often appears very short and thick. This subspecies is generally regarded as the most adorable.
Another fun goose at Commonwealth that day was this Greater White-fronted Goose. A few of these have been hanging out at Commonwealth the past few winters.
Not a goose, but a gorgeous bird when you get a close enough view, is this Double-crested Cormorant. You can expect to see a few of these whenever you visit this site.
The American Wigeon flock was pretty small this day, but I expect the wintering birds to increase in the coming weeks.
Fernhill Wetlands is the place to be in autumn. Even after the extensive wetland renovations that have taken place, resulting in less open water, the Cackling Geese still congregate here by the thousands.
This Great Egret was catching the sunshine on the top of a tree.
Northern Pintail. I don’t often see them hanging out on dry ground.
Killdeer and Green-winged Teal
Greater White-fronted Geese migrate over the Willamette Valley in large numbers, but not many touch down, so it is always nice to see some on the ground.
Fernhill Lake is about half of its original size, but it is still big enough to attract divers, like this Horned Grebe.
male American Kestrel
Waterfowl diversity continues to increase, and winter sparrow flocks should pick us soon. I’m looking forward to watching the show, assuming the Bundys don’t move in.
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.
While I recognize the serious nature of the current drought, it is hard to be unhappy about sunshine in January. So after many weeks of not birding, I finally got out and spent a day on the coast. On the path around the Cannon Beach wastewater ponds, I came across a flock of Greater White-fronted Geese.
This Eurasian Wigeon was hanging out with the Mallards at the wastewater treatment plant.
In the surf around Haystack Rock, there were lots of Surf Scoters and Black Scoters, but they kept out of camera range. This is a Harlequin Duck. No, really.
The mouth of Ecola Creek, at the north end of Cannon Beach, is a favorite hangout of the local gulls. I found Western, Glaucous-winged, California, Mew, Herring, and Thayer’s. Unfortunately, photographing white birds in bright sunshine against a dark background is beyond my rudimentary skills. Most of my shots consisted of glowing white blobs surrounded by lovely blue water. This shot of a third-cycle Thayer’s Gull bathing in the creek is at least recognizable.
This Red-shouldered Hawk was at Mill Ponds Park in nearby Seaside.
The same bird in the middle of a roust
I couldn’t get a flight shot of the Red-shouldered in focus, but this at least shows this species’ beautiful pattern.
The morning at Smith and Bybee Wetlands in northwest Portland started out foggy. At the Smith Lake canoe launch, 12 Greater White-fronted Geese were among the many waterfowl. It is getting late for White-fronts in the Willamette Valley.
There were a lot of Cedar Waxwings flycatching and feeding on various fruiting trees. This is a young bird, given the overall scruffy appearance and the lack of red tips on the tertials.
This Pileated Woodpecker was very vocal and perched out in the open on a distant utility pole.
This Red-shouldered Hawk was among the many Red-tailed Hawks and Northern Harriers present on the property.
The current low water levels allow you to hike quite a ways out into the wetlands. Marsh Wrens are common in the shrubs and reed canary grass.
Song Sparrows are also common in the tall grasses. The best bird of the day was a Swamp Sparrow, but he eluded the camera.
Pacific Chorus Frogs were singing everywhere, but this is the only individual I could see.
Things are hopping at Fernhill Wetlands, with rising water levels, an influx of several thousand geese and other waterfowl, and a few other goodies.
Cackling Geese have been arriving for weeks now, and the skies and fields around Fernhill are covered with these little guys.
A small flock of Greater White-fronted Geese were hanging out with the Mallards in Dabblers Marsh.
This interesting beast is a hybrid, a product of one of the local Canada Geese and a domestic Greylag Goose.
Here are some of the many Northern Shovelers feeding in their typical manner, swimming along with their faces in the water, as if their enormous bills are too heavy to hold up.
Two American White Pelicans have been hanging out at Fernhill for a couple of months now.
Shorebird numbers and diversity have dwindled. Here are a few Long-billed Dowitchers.
The resident Bald Eagles were sitting around looking majestic. I watched one carrying a stick to add to their nest.
Several Northern Shrikes have been reported around the Portland area in recent days. This one is snacking on a large insect.
I saw three Common Garter Snakes on this trip, including one very young newborn about the width of a linguine. The colorful individual in this photo was about 20 inches long. Note the large laceration on his neck, presumably from a predator. Despite the severity of the wound, the snake was not bleeding and he crawled away after this photo was taken, so I am hopeful he will recover.
I scouted Fernhill Wetlands for the Willamette Valley portion of my shorebird class. After a cool summer, we have finally gotten some triple-digit temperatures, making birding a little challenging. But there is a lot of mud and the shorebirds are moving in, joining the typical and not-so-typical summer residents.
Greater Yellowlegs are common right now, taking advantage of the shallow water in most of the area’s wetlands.
I don’t think he caught anything on that dive.
Spotted Sandpipers are often found along the rocky shoreline of Fernhill Lake.
This is a young Spotted Sandpiper, distinguished by the barring on the wing coverts (and the lack of spots).
Cackling Geese, which winter here in the tens of thousands, are a rare sight in summer. The exposed white rumps on these birds are an indication that the birds are molting their primaries, so they have obviously spent the summer here.
These three Greater White-fronted Geese are also several months too early.
Great Blue Heron and Great Egret
August is the time for baby Bullheads. Several schools were visible in the murky water.
Eight-spotted Skimmer, one of the few dragonflies that I can identify
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.