When the tides are right, the area around Parking Lot D at Fort Stevens State Park can be very productive.
On my recent visit, I found about 400 Caspian Terns in the bay. Many of the birds were presenting fish to their lady loves, and a few were rewarded accordingly (nudge, nudge, wink, wink). A Bald Eagle would occasionally take a pass at the flock, sending the terns off in a big swirling mass, but the birds would quickly settle down again.
One of my favorite birds of the day was this breeding plumaged Bonaparte’s Gull. I watched the bird fly in and settle on the mud flat. I snapped a couple of frames from a great distance, planning on getting better views. But, as is often the case, the bird took off before I could get any closer.
Over the past few years, this site has been become a productive spot for shorebirds. The spring shorebirds migration is well past its peak, but there were still a few birds around. This little flock was actively feeding along the shore, so I sat on my knees in the sand and waited for the birds to come to me. Shorebirds are very wary of people standing upright, but if you sit down, or better yet, lie down, the birds will come quite close.
This blurry Dunlin was the only member of her species in the flock.
Semipalmated Plover and Least Sandpiper
Semipalmated Plovers made up the bulk of this flock.
While the spring shorebird movement is about done, the southbound migration begins in about six weeks, so we don’t have too long to wait for another shorebird fix.
I had hoped to get to the coast this week, but a big weather system was blowing in so I visited Fernhill Wetlands and Jackson Bottom. Both sites had a few shorebirds sporting their breeding plumage.
Long-billed Dowitchers at Jackson Bottom. The sticks in the foreground are willow stakes planted by Clean Water Services. As these willows grow, they form a canopy over the mud flats, making the habitat useless to migrating shorebirds. Birders have been complaining about the practice at this site for years, to no avail.
My Shorebirds of the Willamette Valley class had their first field trip on Saturday. We found nine species of shorebirds, a nice collection of the expected species. We missed the Semipalmated Sandpiper that had been reported earlier in the week. All the migrants we saw were adults. The juveniles should be arriving soon, hopefully in time for our next field trip. Since I was leading the trip, I didn’t have much opportunity to seek out photos, but here are a few back-lit images.
Least Sandpiper was the most common species of the day.
We found one Lesser Yellowlegs at Jackson Bottom and one at Fernhill Wetlands. The one at Jackson very cooperatively posed next to some Greater Yellowlegs for direct comparison.
This Semipalmated Plover, to the right of the Western Sandpiper, was the only one of the day. He nestled down into the mud, perhaps to cool off.
A blurry Bald Eagle at Fernhill Wetlands didn’t pose much of a threat to the shorebirds, but did make the waterfowl nervous.
Western Sandpiper at Fernhill Wetlands
Lots of Spotted Sandpipers remain at both Jackson Bottoms and Fernhill.
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 a client to Jackson Bottom Wetlands Reserve in Hillsboro (Birding Oregon p. 60). Continuing restoration efforts at that site are creating some nice habitat, and the birds are responding.
Cinnamon Teal were actively courting.
There was lots of head bobbing and chasing of rival males.
taking a break
Jackson Bottom is swarming with swallows. Tree Swallows claim most of the many nest boxes.
Restoration work has created shallow ponds and open mud, which is attractive to migrant shorebirds like these Western Sandpipers.
Three Dunlins in various states of molt. The front bird is least advanced, while the bird in back is in full breeding plumage.
Two Dunlins on the left, Western Sandpipers on the right.
Western Sandpiper, with Dunlin in the background
This Solitary Sandpiper was a nice surprise. They are an uncommon spring migrant.
The resident Canada Geese have already hatched their broods.
I spent the day birding sites around Seaside, OR (Birding Oregon p. 121).
The tide was the lowest I have seen at The Cove, revealing its sandy bottom.
The low tide allowed lots of beach-combers to wander along the rocky edges, so the only shorebirds present was a small flock of Black Turnstones.
This is a Western Gull in very worn plumage. Note the black-tipped primary just starting to grow in. The lumpy neck on this bird was caused by the large sea star he had just swallowed.
Heerman’s Gulls are normally one of the most beautiful gull species, but this individual was also extremely worn.
These birds were in better shape.
California Gulls are starting to gather along the Oregon coast. This juvenile was keeping company with an adult Western Gull.
At the north end of town is the Necanicum Estuary, also at very low tide. The exposed mud and aquatic vegetation attracted nice numbers of shorebirds.
The rarest bird of the day was this Semipalmated Sandpiper.
Notice on these shorebird tracks that the toes are partially webbed, or semipalmated. So these tracks were made by either a Western Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plover, or Semipalmated Sandpiper.
These tracks don’t show any sign of webbing, so they were probably made by a Least Sandpiper.
The estuary is a favorite hang-out for Caspian Terns, here joined by California Gulls.
Having just opened to the public within the past few years, Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge is a great birding spot just a few miles west of Portland on Hwy 99W. Habitats include marshes, riparian forest, and a small patch of upland forest. Like other Willamette Valley refuges, much of the area is closed to public access from October through April to provide refuge for waterfowl.
The visitor’s center has nice displays and a store selling books and art.
The refuge can attract nice numbers of shorebirds, especially in late summer when water levels are low. Several Least Sandpipers allowed close study on a recent visit.
Red-winged Blackbirds are common in the marshes.
During spring migration, many migrant warblers and vireos are found feeding in Big-Leaf Maples. The flowers attract insects, which in turn attract the birds.
To learn more about Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge, visit their web site.
While certainly not one of the more scenic sites in Oregon, Fernhill Wetlands (Birding Oregon p. 61) always attracts some noteworthy birds.
Least Sandpiper (left) and Western Sandpiper (right) are two of the more common shorebirds that use the mudflats at Fernhill. Both birds are juveniles (brightly colored fresh plumage, scapulars are small and rounded). The Least has a small, finely-pointed bill, yellowish legs, breast streaks, and feeds while squatting low to the mud. The Western has a longer drooping bill, dark legs (hidden in the mud), is grayer overall, and looks “front heavy,” like he might tip forward.
Two American White Pelicans have been at Fernhill lately. This species doesn’t nest in the Willamette Valley, but small flocks are often present in late summer/early autumn.
A Great Blue Heron with a species of bullhead. Catfish have sharp spines on their dorsal and pectoral fins, so the heron has to position the fish carefully before swallowing.
I took my shorebird class to Grays Harbor in Washington, one of the prominent staging areas for migrant shorebirds on the West Coast. The cold wet spring continues, so diversity was a little low, but there were lots of birds to see.
At Damon Point State Park, near the mouth of the bay, we found good numbers of Marbled Godwits and Short-billed Dowitchers.
At Bowerman Basin, part of Grays Harbor NWR, a long boardwalk extends along the edge of the mudflats. As the basin fills with the rising tide, the birds are pushed closer to shore for excellent views.
Here we can see a Black-bellied Plover, a couple of Semipalmated Plovers, two Caspian Terns, lots of Dunlin, and some Western Sandpipers.
Here is a closer look at the lovely Semipalmated Plovers mixed in with Western Sandpipers.
I didn’t notice the bird at the time, but when I downloaded this shot of Western Sandpipers I immediately noticed the Least Sandpiper among them. Least Sandpipers feed in a crouched position with their feet far forward. On closer inspection, you can see the tiny bill and the pale legs. (lower right corner, if you are still looking)
Here’s a closer look at the Least Sandpiper between two Westerns.