A quick tour of Fernhill Wetlands showed bird activity picking up, with the appearance of newly arrived migrants and nest building by the local breeders. This Tree Swallow was staking out a cavity.
There are still some Cackling Geese around, although they should be heading north any day now. Here is a nice side-by-side view of a Ridgeway’s Cackling Goose and a Taverner’s Cackling Goose.
The male Brewer’s Blackbird was showing his colors in the bright sunlight. I caught him in the middle of a blink, so his eye looks weird.
California Quail have become slightly more common at Fernhill in recent years.
The Common Carp are spawning in Fernhill Lake.
I was pleased to find this Muskrat. The non-native Nutria have become so common at this site I worry they might crowd out the native Muskrats and Beavers.
California Ground Squirrels have been taking advantage of the large rocks used in the landscaping at this site.
This Brush Rabbit was looking very regal in his thicket.
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.
On a recent trip to Commonwealth Lake Park in Beaverton, I had the opportunity to observe Taverner’s and Ridgeway’s Cackling Geese side-by-side. Taverner’s are larger, with pale breasts and slightly longer bills. Ridgeway’s have dark, iridescent breasts (on adults) and stubby little bills.
Here is a close look at a Taverner’s Cackling Goose, the subspecies most likely to be confused with Lesser Canada Goose. Lesser Canada Geese have thinner necks and slightly longer bills.
The bill on a Ridgeway’s Cackling Goose is thick and stubby, and the neck often appears very short and thick. This subspecies is generally regarded as the most adorable.
Another fun goose at Commonwealth that day was this Greater White-fronted Goose. A few of these have been hanging out at Commonwealth the past few winters.
Not a goose, but a gorgeous bird when you get a close enough view, is this Double-crested Cormorant. You can expect to see a few of these whenever you visit this site.
The American Wigeon flock was pretty small this day, but I expect the wintering birds to increase in the coming weeks.
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
I led my waterfowl class on a field trip to Sauvie Island and Dawson Creek. We had a few big misses (Gadwall and Wood Duck) but the diversity was pretty good.
At Wapato Access Greenway we found some Dusky Canada Geese along with the American Wigeons and Northern Pintails.
This Coyote was munching on a vole.
Tundra Swan was one of the most common species of the day.
This Lincoln’s Sparrow was very cooperative, posing out in the open for great scope views. But even then he blended in amazingly well with his surroundings.
You don’t get to see American Coots in flight very often, as they tend to walk or swim wherever they go. They have even been reported to migrate on foot.
Canvasback, looking very regal
Same bird, looking not quite so regal
American Wigeon pair, Dawson Creek
Bufflehead, preparing to dive
Ridgeway’s Cackling Goose
Westmoreland Park, in southeast Portland, is always worth a quick visit in winter.
This Canvasback has a mud on her face from rooting around in the bottom of the pond.
At least two female Eurasian Wigeons have been spending the winter at Westmoreland. No males have been reported yet this year.
This park is one of best gull sites in Portland, although by this time the gull flock is starting to thin out. This is a sleepy Herring Gull.
Westmoreland is also a good spot for studying the various subspecies of the white-cheeked goose complex. This is a Taverner’s Cackling Goose, identified by her medium bill (covered in down for some reason), blocky head, and pale breast.
Ridgeway’s Cacking Goose (stubby bill, round head, dark breast)
Western Canada Geese have long snakey necks, long bills, and pale breasts. While common in Cackling Geese, it is unusual to see such a distinct white neck ring on a Western Canada.
Western Canada Goose bathing
I birded Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge in preparation for my waterfowl class. Waterfowl numbers have dropped considerably in the past week, suggesting that some birds have already started their northward migration.
Pintail Marsh hosted this small flock of Tundra Swans and Dusky Canada Geese. Protecting winter habitat for the rare Duskies was the main reason for establishing the Willamette Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex.
Most of the wintering geese were grazing in fields surrounding the marshes. The flock consists mostly of Taverner’s Cackling and Ridgeway’s Cackling Geese.
These very alert Northern Pintails seemed to be keeping watch over the nearby Green-winged Teals and American Wigeons.
Ankeny has two boardwalks that provide access to flooded woodland habitat. This is the Rail Trail.
This Brown Creeper was probing patches of moss on the tree trunk.
If you look closely you can see he is holding a tiny organism in his bill.
Westmoreland Park (Birding Oregon p. 69) is one of Portland’s premier loafing spots for gulls and waterfowl in autumn and winter. The city is planning to restore the natural flow of the creek in what is now an urban duck pond, so it will be interesting to see how these changes will affect bird use over time.
The main pond, with a few hundred Cackling Geese
This female Surf Scoter has been hanging out for about a week. She is apparently finding enough mollusks to eat in this muddy pond. A few of these sea ducks are found on the Columbia River and on larger bodies of water in winter, but they are unexpected on such a small pond.
She spent a lot of time feeding under water.
Westmoreland is one of the easier places to find a cooperative Thayer’s Gull.
Ridgeway’s Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii minima) is the most common of the “white-cheeked” geese in the Willamette Valley in winter.
The Cackling Geese graze in the lawns at Westmoreland, but are more cautious than some of the other waterfowl.
Taverner’s Cackling Goose (B. h. taverneri) in the foreground, with a Ridgeway’s Cackling Goose in the background
Taverner’s Cackling, with another Ridgeway’s Cackling in the background
This Rock Pigeon was enjoying a bath at the pond’s edge.