If you haven’t been to Fernhill Wetlands since the major renovations were completed, you should definitely check it out. There is still a fairly large lake to attract divers, but now there is also a large emergent wetland to explore.
Brewer’s Blackbirds were holding court in the parking lot.
The Red-winged Blackbirds are setting up their territories.
Tree Swallows, giving each other that “come hither” look.
Even though the local nesters are getting down to business, there are still plenty of wintering Cackling Geese around. These are Ridgeway’s Cackling Geese.
There is certainly no shortage of American Bullfrogs at Fernhill, which may explain why I didn’t find any native frogs.
The shallow waters are teaming with these minnows. I can’t tell what species they are.
I surprised this little Northwestern Garter Snake while she was sunning herself. I saw a Common Garter later in the visit.
Northwestern Garter Snake
Not much going on bird-wise for me this past week. The shorebird cornucopia from the previous week has dried up, as have many of the region’s mudflats. But, as I frequently remind myself, there is always something to see.
This is a flock of Red-winged Blackbirds at Fernhill Wetlands during the Birds and Brew Festival on August 22. East winds had brought in smoke from the many wildfires burning in eastern Oregon and Washington. The sky and white and you couldn’t see any of the hills that surround this site.
Fernhill produced a nice crop of young Green Herons this year.
On a clearer day, Nala and I found this Osprey at Kelly Point Park along the Columbia River.
Great Blue Heron, also at Kelly Point.
Banded Killifish in the Columbia River. They are about an inch and a half long.
Obsessive Marine Mammal, Columbia River
While spring migration has not really ramped up yet, locally nesting birds at Fernhill Wetlands and Jackson Bottoms are starting to pair up, and the winter flocks are breaking up.
A few Least Sandpipers have arrived at Fernhill.
These Killdeer were vying for position. I think this species would be more highly regarded if their voices weren’t so grating. Their plumage and red eye ring are rather stunning, but they just don’t shut up.
I found a pair of Bushtits weaving a nest. The normally gray birds were stained bright yellow with pollen.
Cinnamon Teal, looking all dapper
This Golden-crowned Sparrow had odd white patches on the cheeks, and a few white feathers on the nape.
Tree Swallows are everywhere, pairing up and claiming nest boxes.
Song Sparrow, not unusual, but unusually cooperative
Red-winged Blackbird. Females and immature males have much more interesting plumage than that of the adult males.
House Finch, just because
There are big changes underway at Fernhill Wetlands. The main lake has been drained, and the two impoundments to the south are completely gone. This is all to make way for large emergent wetlands that will replace the ponds. This should greatly increase the bird diversity at the site when work is completed.
There weren’t any shorebirds on these newly exposed flats, but I would imagine this area would be pretty appealing to a passing plover or Baird’s Sandpiper.
This American Goldfinch was enjoying the water.
Eurasian Collared Dove
At Jackson Bottom, swallows were everywhere, with young birds out of the nest and waiting around for parents to feed them. Tree and Barn were the two species I noticed.
Baby Barn Swallows
There were lots of Least Sandpipers about. These are birds that either didn’t make it all the way to the Arctic, or had failed nesting attempts and headed back south. Shorebird migration will really pick up in about two weeks.
This male Wilson’s Phalarope was reported with three downy chicks earlier in the week, but I did not see any young when I was there. Hopefully the little ones were off hiding somewhere.
I took a quick tour of Fernhill Wetlands this week. Great changes are planned for this site. The main lake will be made smaller, and the other two impoundments will be replaced with emergent wetlands. I am looking forward seeing how things progress. Here are some birds and other critters from the trip.
Many Yellow-rumped Warblers were passing through, mostly the Myrtle race, with only one Audubon’s.
Flocks of Taverner’s Cackling Geese were feeding in the fields north of the main lake.
baby Garter Snake. I’m not sure if this is a Common or Northwestern Garter.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Muskrat climbing a tree before. This one was gnawing off a branch to get to the leaves.
Tree Swallows are swarming around Fernhill Wetlands, no doubt encouraged by the many nesting boxes that have been installed at the site.
Northern Shovelers were the most common duck species on the lake.
Several schools of Common Carp were active at the surface. I don’t know if they were feeding on aquatic insects or involved in spawning.
Marsh Wrens are starting to sing.
A few Red-winged Blackbirds were displaying. There aren’t very many Red-wings at Fernhill since most of the cattails died off several years ago.
I took my Little Brown Birds class to Sauvie Island. A walk along the length of Rentenaar Road is always good for sparrows.
We found at least four White-throated Sparrows. This species was considered quite rare in Oregon ten years ago, but seem to be increasingly common in winter.
This individual is an example of the “white striped” form of White-throated Sparrow.
One of the more interesting birds of the day was this leucistic Golden-crowned Sparrow. He was a uniform buffy gray with a splash of yellow on the crown.
There are still large flocks of Snow Geese on the island.
Sandhill Cranes are always a treat.
I took my Little Brown Birds class to Sauvie Island. The sparrow flock along Rentenaar Road is thinning out, but all the expected species are still there. For the third year in a row, the star of the day was a Harris’s Sparrow. There is a White-throated and a Golden-crowned Sparrow in the background.
Harris’s Sparrow with Golden-crowned Sparrows
A sparrow mix of White-crowned, Golden-crowned, and Song Sparrow, along with a Red-winged Blackbird
Red-winged Blackbird, surrounded by Golden-crowned Sparrows and a White-crowned in the background
One of four White-throated Sparrows that came to our seed slick
We are in that late winter season when birding seems to slow. I don’t know whether there are actually fewer birds around this time of year or we have just already seen the local winter residents so they don’t hold our attention. In any case, the best birding is usually found in and around wetlands. Here are some recent shots from area wetlands from the past couple of weeks.
Great Blue Herons are always around, and have started hanging out in their nesting colonies.
This Dusky Canada Goose was enjoying the sunshine at Ankeny NWR.
Coyote, Vanport Wetlands
Another Coyote, at Ankeny NWR
This Nutia at Fernhill Wetlands seemed unconcerned with the group of birders walking by.
Here is a Red-winged Blackbird sharing a nyjer feeder with a Lesser Goldfinch at Jackson Bottom. I don’t recall seeing blackbirds eating nyjer before.
Spotted Towhee, Jackson Bottom
Vanport Wetlands, in north Portland, is an unassuming little site next to an off-leash dog park. A chain-link fence surrounds the property, so most views of birds are distant. Despite the small size and limited access, Vanport almost always hosts some interesting birds.
The Ruddy Ducks are sporting their breeding plumage.
Vanport is the only reliable site in Portland that I am aware of that hosts Yellow-headed Blackbirds.
Nala, the Swamp Thing. The water currently extends beyond the fence, providing a place for dogs to play without disturbing the birds swimming nearby.
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.