Rentenaar Road on Sauvie Island remains one of the better sites in the Portland area to find a nice diversity of winter sparrows, along with other songbirds and waterfowl. While this trip did not produce any rarities, there were plenty of birds and sunshine to make the trip worthwhile. White-crowned Sparrows, pictured above, are among the more common species.
Golden-crowned Sparrows are usually the most common sparrow in the winter flocks.
This Fox Sparrow kept close to the heavy cover.
Once considered a rarity in this area, White-throated Sparrows are now reliable winter residents.
Another Red-winged Blackbird, showing off her colors
This Red-shouldered Hawk was the most unusual find of the day.
Several birds were bathing in puddles in the road. Here a male Purple Finch cavorts with a female House Finch.
Waterfowl numbers were a little low on this trip. Ducks and geese face pretty heavy hunting pressure on Sauvie Island. Numbers should increase in the next month as hunting seasons expire and some birds start moving north. This flock of Tundra Swans kept their distance from the road.
As the weather was clear on this day, there were nice views of Mount St. Helens, here with a lenticular cloud.
The pandemic birding continues. While the visitor center and parking lot are closed, you can still walk the trails at Tualatin River NWR.
Social distancing, birder style
The big news at the refuge this spring has been this pair of American Avocets, a rare species on Oregon’s west side.
It’s always a treat to see these guys, especially this year when the shorebird migration has been rather lackluster.
This Bonaparte’s Gull was hanging out with the Avocets for a while.
This distant pair of Long-billed Dowitchers was the only other evidence of shorebird migration on the refuge this morning.
This Purple Finch was keeping with the “birds at a distance theme” that prevailed this trip.
Lazuli Bunting, not quite as distant
Probably the most unusual bird of the trip was this intergrade Northern Flicker. He shows the normal red mustache of the Red-shafted form and the red nape of the Yellow-shafted form.
I led the Three Capes Tour for the Birding and Blues Festival last weekend. Spring migration had not quite kicked into high gear, but there were some nice birds around. This is one of two Black-bellied Plovers we saw on the beach the day before the tour. They were losing their dull winter plumage and growing in some crisp black and white feathers.
Black-bellied Plover with a Mole Crab
Black-bellied Plover tracks
At Whalen Island, this Dark-eyed Junco and Purple Finch were sharing a treetop.
These Long-billed Dowitchers were some of the few shorebirds we saw on the tour. Most shorebirds were migrating well off-shore that day.
This patch of Red-hot Poker at the Whiskey Creek Fish Hatchery always seems to attract good birds. This year it was a pair of Downy Woodpeckers.
This Barn Swallow sat and posed for us for quite a while.
I moved at the end of last year. It was not a great distance (less than 100 yards as the finch flies), but I was anxious to see how long it would take the birds to find my feeders. When people ask me that question, I generally tell them between six minutes and six months. The Anna’s Hummingbirds found their feeders almost immediately. The seed feeder sat unnoticed for about a week.
The first birds I saw were a mixed flock of Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Black-capped Chickadees, and Red-breasted Nuthatches. Not too shabby. A few House Finches came by a few days later. Things remained pretty quiet for a few weeks, but activity has recently taken an upturn. A pair of Purple Finches, including the ridiculously beautiful male pictured above, have been regular visitors. Lesser Goldfinches and Pine Siskins have joined the House Finches, and Dark-eyed Juncos and Spotted Towhees are busy on the ground under the feeder.
The biggest surprise at the feeder has been a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches, a species I never saw at the old location. These birds have eluded my efforts to obtain a photo. I am looking forward to seeing what else will appear.
female Purple Finch
Not a feeder bird, but a Red-breasted Sapsucker spent a few days on the property.
Home improvement projects are keeping me inside lately, so here are a few images from dog walks and the bird feeder.
Double-crested Cormorants on the Columbia River
former sturgeon, Columbia River
I only see Purple Finches once or twice a year at my feeder.
young Douglas’s Squirrel in the shadows, Tualatin Hills Nature Park
The weather is cooling and rain is in the forecast, as our long dry summer is finally letting go.
Cackling Geese have arrived by the thousands in recent days. This Ridgeway’s Cackling Goose is sporting a black chin stripe and a white collar.
An American Pipit, blending in with the dry cracked lake bed at Fernhill Wetlands
Two California Gulls harassing a Bald Eagle. It is probably much safer being behind the eagle than in front.
Closer to home, this Purple Finch visited the feeder. If you look closely you can see her tongue positioning the sunflower seed.
Mimi, one of my neighbor cats, is enjoying the birdbath and keeping those pesky hummingbirds out of my garden. I have two words for you, Mimi; Urban Coyotes.
For the past few weeks I have been enjoying a large flock of Pine Siskins at my feeder. But as often occurs during years of high siskin numbers, I started noticing a few sick birds. So I stopped feeding for a few days. With the feeder empty, the large flocks of birds dispersed, reducing the risk of disease spreading from bird to bird.
Packing birds into unnaturally high densities at a bird feeder can create risks for the birds we are trying to help. While many of us enjoy feeding birds and other wildlife, it is important to do so mindfully. We have to be aware that feeding birds is something we do for our own entertainment, not something that the birds actually need. My feeder is outside my window for the sole purpose of drawing birds in close so that I can enjoy watching them from the comfort of my home. If the feeder wasn’t there, the birds would do just fine. It is my responsibility to be aware of how my bird feeding impacts the birds.
It was reported recently that Scotts Miracle-Gro was selling bird food treated with pesticides known to be harmful to birds (see story here). A few years ago, it was revealed that sunflower farmers in the Dakotas have taken such measures as destroying cattail marshes and poisoning and/or shooting birds to reduce the impact of blackbirds feeding in their fields. These stories illustrate how the seemingly innocuous hobby of feeding birds can have broader implications. We need to know where the food comes from and what is in it.
My feeder is filled again and, with the large flock of siskins gone, other species are becoming more visible.
Lesser Goldfinches, our smallest finch, are coming more frequently now that things have quieted down.
Two Purple Finches have appeared this week.
A few Pine Siskins stayed behind when the main flock left. A Purple Finch towers in the background.
This La Nina weather pattern shows no sign of abating, making outings miserably wet and not so productive, so I was delighted to see a Purple Finch in the yard this week. About once a year I see a Purple Finch at my feeder. They breed in mixed woodlands in the Portland area, but not in my neighborhood.
Many years ago, before House Finches had spread across the entire continent, separating House and Purple Finches was considered quite a challenge. But here, with the benefit of a few decades experience, they don’t look all that similar. There are clear differences in color, and the Purple Finch shows quite a bit more heft than the more slender House Finch. While the House Finch has patches of red, the Purple Finch is pinkish-purple all over.
Those dorsal view of the Purple Finch shows the pinkish color washed over the upperparts, including the wings.
Like all finches, they have no trouble popping open sunflower seeds.