Despite air temperatures in the 40s, the sunshine brought out some signs of spring on a recent visit to Jackson Bottom Wetlands Reserve in Hillsboro.
Tree Swallows are usually the first swallow species to arrive in spring. When the weather is still cold, they hunt for insects close to the water’s surface.
Some Tree Swallows were already laying claim to the many nest boxes at this site.
This California Ground Squirrel was singing (screaming) from a log perch.
The sunshine brought out a good number of snakes, despite the cold temperature. These are Northwestern Garters.
This is a typical Common (Red-spotted) Garter.
This Common Garter is lacking the red pigment shown by most members of this subspecies.
This Long-toed Salamander was hanging out under a big piece of bark.
Happy last days of winter.
I went out to Smith and Bybee Wetlands in north Portland. This site can be a little challenging to bird, as the noise from Marine Drive makes it difficult to hear bird song and other natural sounds. But as you make your way farther from the road, birding tends pick up.
One of the first critters of the trip was this Eastern Cottontail. This species has been introduced into several urban areas in the Pacific NW. The rusty nape and blazing white tail help distinguish this species from the native Brush Rabbit.
Water levels were very high, so there wasn’t much shorebird habitat. This lone Greater Yellowlegs put on a nice show.
Shorebird migration is just starting to pick up, just in time for my shorebird webinar on April 13.
Spring migration has not really picked up yet. There are a few new avian arrivals, but birding remains pretty slow. But, as I often say, there is always something to look at, so here are some non-avian images. The Beaver chew above is at Tualatin River NWR.
I very rarely get to see Beaver, but Nutria (pictured above) are everywhere, giving me my daily allowance of large aquatic rodents.
It is always a treat to see Black-tailed Deer.
Partially because birding has been slow, and partially because I am preparing for a herping class in May, I have been looking for amphibians and reptiles a lot this spring. This is an Oregon Ensatina, a very small specimen that was about two inches long. Ensatinas are recognized by their proportionally large head and eyes. The Oregon subspecies typically has the yellow coloring at the base of the legs.
This is the smallest Rough-skinned Newt I have seen, about two inches long.
These Long-toed Salamanders were creating some neat shapes.
Northwestern Garter Snake
Two courting Northwestern Garter Snakes. Notice the variation in color pattern, typical of this species.
Western Mosquito Fish
I will have some bird photos next time, promise.
Birding has been rather slow lately, as many of the winter residents have moved on and the spring migrants haven’t arrived yet. The local nesters, like this Spotted Towhee are becoming more active and vocal.
A remnant of last autumn’s rut, this “buck rub,” where the local Black-tailed Deer used these small trees to polish their antlers, is in Cooper Mountain Nature Park.
Also at Cooper Mountain was this Western Skink basking in the sun. This was a lifer herp for me.
Here’s another Western Skink that emerged from a burrow in a rocky hillside.
Also enjoying the morning sunshine was this California Ground Squirrel at Fernhill Wetlands.
Long-toed Salamanders are the only species of salamander I have seen so far this year, but they are everywhere.
This Pacific Treefrog was hiding under a small board. It might be from the bright sunlight, but this frog’s golden eyes were intriguing.
Warmer weather is coming soon, so I am anxious to see what creatures arrive with it.
The nights are still cold, often below freezing, but the days are starting to warm. With the first hints of spring come the first amphibians and reptiles of the year. You can hear Pacific Treefrogs calling all year, but this is the first one I have seen. They were hanging out under a small log. The temperature was in the 30s, so they didn’t move at all while I was there. I snapped a quick photo and replaced the log over the frog.
Long-toed Salamanders are one of the first amphibians to breed in the spring, so they are everywhere right now. These three were under a single board. Lifting a small piece of plywood revealed about a dozen of these critters.
Another Long-toed Salamander
My first snake of the year was this Common Garter Snake soaking up some sun. The subspecies we have in this area is Red-spotted Garter. I was thrilled to find this individual, but quickly saw several dozen more on this sunny morning.
Happy almost spring.
I am not sure why the hottest days of mid-summer are referred to as “dog days.” My dogs want nothing to do with the heat, and the hot weather puts a damper on bird activity as well. Wetlands tend to be a little more active than woodlands this time of year, so here are some recent images from area wetlands.
Shorebird migration is starting to pick up. Unfortunately, there is very little mudflat habitat in the Portland area right now. This Greater Yellowlegs was one of several sharing the slough with the Green Herons.
On the home front, we were treated to three baby Western Screech-Owls playing in the back yard. Two of them perched on the rope holding the sunshade and tried to untie the knots. It was almost too dark to see, so this is the best image I was able to get (6400 ISO). Pretty adorable.
Summer is settling in at Fernhill Wetlands. The birds that are here now are probably nesting. Always a treat this far west is this handsome Blue-winged Teal. I hope he has a mate sitting on eggs somewhere.
Jackson Bottom is another site that I can visit during the pandemic, assuming I get there early. The big push of spring migration has not hit, but you can tell it’s so close. Tree Swallows have been back for quite a while now. They are usually perched on the many bird houses at this site, so it was nice to catch a couple actually using a tree.
The Savannah Sparrows are setting up territory. This would have been a nice shot if I could have caught a reflection in the bird’s eye.
During the current pandemic, it is not always easy to visit favorite birding sites. I have found that if I go very early, I can get some good birding in at Fernhill Wetlands without encountering too many folks. (Of course, this is my goal even without a pandemic.) This Marsh Wren put on a nice show.
Still waiting for spring migration to kick in.