I had a chance to visit Crooked River Wetlands near Prineville. Like Fernhill Wetlands, this site was constructed as part of a wastewater treatment system. But Crooked River Wetlands was designed from the beginning to accommodate both birds and birders. The parking lot has a covered picnic area (the only shade on the property) and a restroom. Paved and gravel paths provide easy viewing of the wetlands.
There are 15 bodies of water in the complex, which is right next to the Crooked River. Water levels vary with the seasons, so there is a variety of water depths which attract different species.
Shorebird migration is getting underway. Here are some Western Sandpipers.
One of the deeper ponds held this pair of Ruddy Ducks.
Eared Grebe with baby
Between the river, the ponds, and the adjacent wastewater plant, this site attracts swarms of swallows. Tree Swallows use the many nest boxes.
This is one of the easiest places I know to see Bank Swallows.
Brewer’s Blackbird was one of five blackbird species I saw on this visit.
Tricolored Blackbirds can be hard to find in Oregon, but this site is pretty reliable.
Yellow-headed Blackbirds are common here. The males tended to hide in the reeds, but this female and youngster posed nicely.
This is one of two Say’s Phoebes that were working the fence line at the edge of the property.
Crooked River Wetlands is one of the best birding sites in central Oregon, providing access to a great variety of wetland species in a very dry part of the state. It provides a nice pocket of avian diversity at a time of year when birding can be pretty slow.
The rainy season has been slow to arrive this year, so we have had strings of sunny autumn days. While the dry conditions are preventing many of the seasonal wetlands from filling, the clear skies do make for some pleasant birding. Here are a few shots from Fernhill Wetlands.
This Mourning Dove was blending in nicely with the gravel on one of the wastewater filtering beds.
The Killdeer’s pattern provides good camouflage on a rocky background, but doesn’t do as well in dead grass.
The Green-winged Teal are starting to get some nice color.
The Cackling Geese are back in good numbers. There is currently an outbreak of aspergillus, a fungal infection that causes respiratory distress and pneumonia, that has killed dozens of birds at this site.
Ridgeway’s Cackling Goose
American Coot in the sunshine
The only gulls on this visit were these three Bonaparte’s Gulls, swimming with a Northern Pintail and a Green-winged Teal.
Most of the migrant shorebirds are long gone, but there are still some Long-billed Dowitchers around. Note the pattern on the tail showing wider black bars and narrow white bars. This pattern would be reversed on a Short-billed Dowitcher.
We have had a long stretch of sunny warm weather lately. On one hand, it is lovely to be warm and dry on an outing. On the other hand, water levels continue drop and the harsh lighting makes for lousy photos. Nevertheless, here are some images from a recent trip to Fernhill Wetlands.
The Cackling Geese have returned for the winter.
The Tundra Swan that has spent the entire summer at Fernhill is still around. Hopefully, some more swans will arrive soon to keep him company. It must feel odd to be the only one of your kind. It’s like being a vegan in Kansas (been there).
Here is a more traditional view of the Tundra Swan.
A small group of Northern Harriers flew over the wetlands while I was there.
Shorebird migration is quickly winding down, so it was nice to see this Pectoral Sandpiper.
Long-billed Dowitchers in one of the little ponds by the picnic shelter
A Nutria swimming through the duckweed
This is the first turtle I have seen at Fernhill. Unfortunately, I think he is a non-native Slider, a species common in the pet trade and frequently released into areas where they don’t belong.
On rare occasions, I cross the Columbia River to visit Washington. When the weather is less than stellar, the auto tour at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge offers a nice way to get close to wildlife without getting too wet.
A lot of Tundra Swans are wintering at Ridgefield this year. There are Trumpeter Swans, too, but I did not get any close looks at them.
Tundra Swan bathing
Northern Harriers are common throughout the refuge. This one was having a good stretch.
A family of Nutria put on a nice show. Invasive, but adorable.
Columbian White-tailed Deer, a threatened subspecies, have been introduced to the refuge in recent years. This fawn was born last spring, so at least some of the deer are making themselves at home. Unfortunately, I believe many of the Coyotes that used to be so visible on the refuge have been “removed” to make conditions safer for the rare deer.
This lone Snow Goose was hanging out with the numerous Canada and Cackling Geese.
Sandhill Cranes were feeding in the grassy fields.
The last time I visited Ridgefield was during my mom’s final visit to Portland. Her mobility was not great, so the auto tour provided a great way for us to get out to do some birding together. During that visit, the highlight was a cooperative American Bittern. I didn’t find any Bitterns on this trip, but this Great Egret did his best to fill the void.
While we continue to get above-average rainfall in the Portland area, there have been a few dry days of late, so I ran out for a quick tour of Fernhill Wetlands. Most of the wintering geese are gone, and there are signs that spring is slowly making progress.
Yellow-rumped Warblers, both Audubon’s and Myrtle (shown) races, are coming through in large numbers.
Red-winged Blackbirds are in full song and are staking out territories.
Song Sparrows start singing in January, but are increasingly vocal now.
Several pairs of Cinnamon Teal were courting.
A flock of Dunlins was using this log to get out of the mud for a while. They were all still in winter plumage. Dunlins are one of the first species to arrive in spring.
Spring shorebird migration peaks in late April/early May. There is still room in my shorebird class with Portland Audubon April 27/29.
This Sora was being typically elusive.
The red currants were is full bloom, attracting both Anna’s and Rufous Hummingbirds.
The Portland area got a dump of about 10″ of snow recently. It was lovely on the first day, but for the next week it was a pain, with roads being impassable from the ice and snow. When I was finally able to get out, I went to Amberglen office park in Hillsboro to scout for my Hillsboro Parks and Rec gull class. This Ring-billed Gull was posing on the ice.
I found a few California Gulls on my scouting trip, but they were a no-show on class day.
This Lesser Scaup was bathing at Dawson Creek. The bill color on these birds is striking.
On Thursday I went to Sauvie Island, partly just to go birding and partly to scout for my upcoming waterfowl class. There was so much water from the melting snow that the ducks were scattered everywhere. Raptors put on a good show. Here is a young Red-tailed Hawk.
This Peregrine Falcon was keeping an eye on the ducks.
I laid down some millet in various spots to chum for sparrows (class in March, hint, hint).
Golden-crowned Sparrow, one of the more common winter residents.
White-throated Sparrows were a big deal when I first moved to Oregon, but they are now considered rare but regular in the winter.
Spotted Towhees are so common they tend to be overlooked. But it is nice to stop and appreciate just how gaudy and beautiful they are.
Lots to see in the Portland area this time of year. Cheers.
I scouted Jackson Bottom Wetlands Reserve in Hillsboro for my shorebird class this week. Much of the area is dry, but Pintail Pond still has enough water to create mudflats and easy fishing for the Great Egrets.
One Ring-billed Gull was hanging out with several California Gulls.
This Northern Harrier repeatedly strafed the mudflats, sending all the shorebirds into a panic. Jerk.
Most of the shorebirds were beyond decent photo range, but this Spotted Sandpiper came fairly close.
The Common Garter Snakes at this site have great coloring. We saw several chasing fish in the shallow water.
This young Downy Woodpecker was checking out a swallow house. He didn’t go in, but explored all around the outside.
I don’t get up to Ridgefield NWR in Washington very often, even though it is a short drive from Portland. But lots of folks had recently seen adorable fuzzy little Virginia Rail babies, so I wanted to try my luck.
By the time I got there, the adorable fuzzy little babies had become rather unattractive adolescents, but it was still fun to see this usually shy species out in the open.
Another adolescent foraging near the rails was this little Nutria. The refuge staff tries to control the population of this introduced species, but they remain plentiful.
Black-tailed Deer, perfectly hidden among the teasel
There is not a lot of water on the refuge right now, so the Great Egrets were gathered on one of the remaining ponds.
We are entering Ugly Duck Season, when adult ducks molt into identical ratty plumages, making them much harder to identify. I am going with Cinnamon Teal on this mama and babies (all-black bill, overall warm brown coloring).
On the way home we stopped at Kelly Point Park along the Columbia River in NW Portland. California Gulls were gathered on the pilings.
This young American Crow (note the pinkish gape) was begging for food.
Nala, the large aquatic mammal.
This is the prairie at the northeast corner of Finley National Wildlife Refuge (Birding Oregon p. 84). The bird diversity in prairies is often pretty low, and you get rather damp walking through shoulder-high grass on a dewy morning, but I always enjoy exploring grassland habitats.
Savannah Sparrow was the most numerous species by far. This distant grainy photo is typical of my efforts to capture this species. They either flush right at your feet, or perch on an exposed twig so they can see you coming a mile away. Western Meadowlarks and Western Kingbirds were also present, but equally un-photogenic.
This male Northern Harrier hovered over me for a while. I was apparently too close to his nest. I kept moving.
This bull Roosevelt Elk was completely hidden by the grass until he stood up. It seems odd to me that this large beast, who could trample me into the prairie sod without so much as breaking a sweat, would be intimidated by this little vegan biped. But I guess some of the bipeds this guy encounters are packing rifles or bows, so it is probably a good thing to be wary.
Here are a few more of the herd. See the two babies? The female in the middle has her tongue out, but I don’t think that was directed toward me.