Waterfowl seem to dominate the birding scene in the Willamette Valley in winter. Year-round residents, like this Pied-billed Grebe, are joined by a host of winter migrants.
My camera hates white birds, but managed to capture this Common Merganser pretty well.
I usually gloss over Mallards, but they are a pretty duck.
Eurasian Wigeon have been hard to come by the past couple of winters, so it was nice to see this pretty boy at Dawson Creek.American Wigeon remain common on grassy lawns and ponds.
Green-winged Teal, also at Dawson Creek.
There are other birds around this time of year, like sparrows and raptors. But while it is nice to see that Merlin fly overhead and the flocks of Golden-crowned Sparrows deep in the brush piles, sometimes it is good to take the time to study and appreciate the waterfowl that sit out in the open in the daylight.
I hadn’t been to the dry side of Oregon for far too long, so I took a trip to Smith Rock State Park. The avian stars of this site are the White-throated Swifts that nest here. They did not disappoint, but those little winged rockets are far too fast for my photographic abilities.
Unlike the swifts, the abundant Violet-green Swallows will occasionally pose for a photo.
There was apparently a good crop of Black-billed Magpies this year, so lots of youngsters were hopping around near the parking lot.
Direct sunlight and iridescence make for a lovely flash of color on these black birds.
Desert Cottontail. Note all the ticks on the edge of his ear.
I hiked over the rock formation on the aptly named Misery Ridge Trail, then back along the Crooked River. Rock Wrens were plentiful, but whenever I try to photograph that species I end up with crystal clear images of rocks with blurry birds on them.
Mule Deer were common in the grassy areas along the river.
The river held lots of Mallards, like the family pictured here, and Canada Geese.
Looking up at the cliff face from the river
Say’s Phoebe, looking regal
The same Say’s Phoebe, about to hork up something
By noon, the park was getting pretty crowded and the heat was intense so I headed for home. Birding was quite good despite the heat and the lateness of the season. I think a trip here in early June would be even more productive.
I brief walk around Commonwealth Lake in Beaverton revealed lots of recently fledged Barn Swallows. They were perching on branches above the water, waiting for their parents to fly in with food.
note the bulging crop on the adult
This park has produced a bumper crop of Green Herons this year, great to see in such a busy suburban setting.
There were several new broods of Mallards on the lake. It seems late to see such small ducklings.
the ubiquitous American Bullfrog
The highlight of this visit was watching this Spotted Sandpiper hunting flies in the lawn. He would crouch low to approach his prey, then reach out and grab it, hitting the mark more often than not.
This little urban duck pond is surprisingly birdy, and warrants more frequent visits.
Nala and I spent the morning at the Sandy River Delta east of Portland. Bird activity is definitely picking up, although many of the summer residents haven’t arrived yet.
White-crowned Sparrows were singing
as were Savannah Sparrows.
Rufous Hummingbirds were zipping around everywhere. All the birds I could get a look at were males.
scratching an itch
Here is a typical view of a Common Yellowthroat.
The recently reopened channel hosted a lot of birds, including this pair of Wood Ducks and a sleepy Mallard.
Spotted Sandpiper, not yet spotted
Great Blue Heron in a tree
Common Merganser, proving once again that I have no idea how to control the white balance on my camera.
Of course, Nala will tell you the main reason to visit this site is to go swimming. Here she is in the Sandy River, while the mastiff on shore waits to try to steal her ball.
I went out for a few hours on New Year’s Day to scout locations for my upcoming gull class. The weather was freakishly sunny for a January day in the Portland area.
The only gull flock I found was at Amberglen office park in Hillsboro. Most were Ring-billed Gulls. Here is a first cycle Ring-billed with an adult. As you can see, I am totally incapable of getting a good photo of white birds in bright sunlight.
adult Ring-billed Gull
These two Mew Gulls were looking very petite among the larger species.
A couple of Hooded Mergansers were swimming near the fountain.
Finally, a bird that doesn’t have a lot of white. This Mallard was looking gorgeous in the bright sun.
I made a quick visit to Tualatin River NWR in the afternoon heat. One of the main trails is closed off until this young Bald Eagle decides to leave the nest. Despite the flock of European Starlings cheering him on, he didn’t show any sign of leaving.
I saw several pairs of Gadwall, but no ducklings yet. This male was putting on a show for his lady friend.
Mallards have been out with broods for weeks now.
Cinnamon Teal siesta
Pied-billed Grebe showing off his black throat
I often find Spotted Sandpipers perched on man-made structures.
Despite the time of day, American Bullfrogs were actively singing and defending territories. This introduced species is so common in the Willamette Valley. I would think they would be a favored prey item (Great Blue Heron, Mink, River Otter, etc.) but I seldom find any evidence of predation. Bullfrogs are unfortunately very good at preying on native frogs and turtles.
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.
I walked around Jackson Bottom in Hillsboro this morning. As you would expect at this time of year, there were lots of young birds around. This young Savannah Sparrow posed nicely. His parents have not taught him to skulk in the weeds yet.
The best bird of the day was this male Blue-winged Teal (right foreground), always hard to find in the Willamette Valley. He flew in with a small flock of Cinnamon Teal.
Families of young Mallards were everywhere.
These Canada Geese are mostly grown, but retain a bit of their cute fuzziness.
I was surprised by the lack of migrant shorebirds. The resident Spotted Sandpipers were well represented.
Lots of Nutria were out this morning. Yes, introduced species often wreak havoc on native ecosystems, AND, Nutria look like adorable little bears.
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 visited several sites in Washington County to check for migrant shorebirds, inspired by the recent appearance of a Spotted Redshank at Fern Ridge Reservoir (Birding Oregon p 89) . I didn’t find anything so rare, but a few birds are moving through and there is promising mudflat habitat available.
A lot of work is being done at Fernhill Wetlands (Birding Oregon p. 61), resulting in the closure of a small section of the trail around Fernhill Lake.
The big news at Fernhill is the low water level of Fernhill Lake, creating mudflats along the shore for the first time in many years. Several species of shorebirds were feeding there today.
Water levels in Mitigation Marsh are quite high, so there wasn’t much mud. These Long-billed Dowitchers were hanging out with a Mallard.
This Great Blue Heron caught a Bullhead (I can’t tell if it is a Yellow or Black Bullhead). He caught the fish near the middle of the lake, then flew to the shore to eat it.
There was some mudflat habitat at Jackson Bottom Wetland (Birding Oregon p. 60), but not a lot of shorebirds yet. The Hardhack is in bloom, adding a splash of color to the marsh.
One of these days I may have to break down and buy a field guide to dragonflies. Or maybe I will just learn to appreciate beautiful creatures without putting a name to them.
Tree Swallows are thick at Jackson Bottom. Notice the dusky wash across the upper breast. Young Tree Swallows can show extensive dark coloring here, leading some birders to confuse them with Bank Swallows.