Grasshopper Sparrows are rare everywhere in Oregon, so Portland area birders got quite excited when several of these birds were found at a small prairie restoration site just south of Fernhill Wetlands. Penstemon Prairie is a not an established park, but it is open to the public, and the agency responsible for the site mowed a path around the perimeter to make walking and birding this site easy.
The morning of my visit, it didn’t take long to find a couple Grasshopper Sparrows. They always positioned themselves to be backlit, and I didn’t want to trample the habitat to get a better position, so I wasn’t able to get any decent photos.
A blurry, backlit Grasshopper Sparrow, singing the songs of their people
Lazuli Buntings were more cooperative in the lighting department.
Lazuli Bunting in morning light. Check out the wear on her tail feathers, probably from nesting.
A distant male Lazuli Bunting
Common Yellowthroats are common in this habitat, but they seldom pose out in the open.
Savannah Sparrow, whose song can be quite similar to that of Grasshopper Sparrow
Another Savannah Sparrow. This early morning light is known as Golden Hour. A lot of photographers seek out this lighting, as it is softer than what you find later in the day, but I don’t like the yellow cast it puts on everything.
I have been complaining a lot lately about how slow the birding has been. We are in that lull when many of the winter birds have moved on and the spring migrants haven’t returned. But, say it with me, there is always something to see. So here are a few birds to help get us primed for the spring birding bonanza that will inevitably arrive.
This lone Greater White-fronted Goose was at the Tualatin River NWR. Not many of these geese touch down in the Portland area, but huge flocks pass overhead in spring and autumn.
The western U.S. does not get to enjoy the great diversity of warblers found in the east, but we do get Yellow-rumped Warblers all winter. This male Audubon’s race is coming into breeding plumage.
We also get Myrtle race Yellow-rumps in winter. I keep hoping that these two forms will be split into separate species, as they once were. This individual seems to have a little yellow on the throat, suggesting some mixed parentage somewhere in this bird’s family tree.
This young Bald Eagle was looking regal in a parking lot.
Savannah Sparrows have started returning to their nesting areas. This rather faded individual was at Jackson Bottom.
Jackson Bottom is another site that I can visit during the pandemic, assuming I get there early. The big push of spring migration has not hit, but you can tell it’s so close. Tree Swallows have been back for quite a while now. They are usually perched on the many bird houses at this site, so it was nice to catch a couple actually using a tree. The Savannah Sparrows are setting up territory. This would have been a nice shot if I could have caught a reflection in the bird’s eye.
There we go.
This Osprey spent a lot of time preening while I was there. He still looks pretty disheveled.
Anna’s Hummingbird, just high enough that I can’t get a good flash from his gorget
I’m still waiting for shorebirds to show up. Greater Yellowlegs have been the only arrivals so far.
Some Killdeer have started nesting already.
Several Common Garters (Red-spotted) were sunning themselves on this rock pile.
This garter had propped her body up against a log to better catch the morning sun.
I don’t remember seeing Camas at Jackson Bottom before, but they were in full bloom on this trip.
Late winter is when I typically concentrate on sparrows. There isn’t much else going on this time of year, and the vegetation is worn down enough that visibility is pretty good. Rentenaar Road on Sauvie Island continues to be the best spot in the area for a variety of little brown birds. Some would say that the birding is too easy when you just throw down some seed and watch the birds swarm in, but I love the opportunity to see 10 sparrow species side-by-side at close range. Here is a Fox Sparrow.
White-throated Sparrows were a rare treat around here 15 years ago, but they are an expected species now.
White-crowned Sparrow, always dapper
There is usually a small flock of Savannah Sparrows along Rentenaar Road in winter. They tend to keep to themselves and don’t come in to feed at the chumming spots.
The most noteworthy little brown bird in the area this winter has been the Siberian Accentor in Woodland, WA. I don’t keep a Washington list, but I did cross the river to see this bird. They are quite rare anywhere in North America, so this was probably my only chance to add this bird to my life list. It would have been much better for me if the bird had flown ten miles to the southwest and hung out in Oregon, but Asian vagrants don’t seem to care about my state list.
This was my first snake of the season, found at Wapato Greenway State Park on Sauvie Island. I am not sure if this is a Common Garter or a Northwestern Garter. The body pattern most closely matches the local race of Common Garter, but they typically have red heads. Our local Northwestern Garters do not show red spots on the sides, but do have small dark heads. I did not apply one test that has often worked for me; If you pick them up and they bite you, they are Common Garters. If they don’t try to bite, they are Northwestern. I don’t know if other herpers have noticed this trend, but I have found it to be true of individual snakes of known identity.
I visited Tualatin River NWR last week. The weather has been very hot and dry, so I started early in the morning. There was a surprisingly large diversity of species for mid-summer. I ended the trip with 55 species. I didn’t pay too much attention to waterfowl, so there may have been more. This Savannah Sparrow was backlit by rising sun.
Here is one reason I don’t pay too much attention to waterfowl this time of year. There are a lot of young birds and molting adults around in Ugly Duck Season. Some birders love the challenge of studying these birds, but since ducks are not migrating during their summer molt, the likelihood of finding anything other than the local breeders is slim to none. I’m calling this an immature Wood Duck, but I could be wrong.
Willow Flycatchers were still singing from prominent perches.
This Lazuli Bunting was singing from a little thicket.
There is not a lot of shorebird habitat at the refuge right now, but Greater Yellowlegs, Least Sandpipers, and Western Sandpipers were present in small numbers along with hundreds of Killdeer. As water levels drop, shorebird numbers should increase.
I made a quick visit to Jackson Bottom in Hillsboro. This is a very busy spot in the summer. The Savannah Sparrows are still in full song.
Pintail Pond has been drained to accommodate some restoration work on the site, so it has dried out about two months earlier than normal. This is normally one of the better shorebird sites in the Portland area during the summer, so we will have to find other spot this year. There is only about three weeks between the end of northbound shorebird migration and the beginning of southbound migration. Western and Least Sandpipers have arrived in good numbers, and were feeding in the little puddle that remains of Pintail Pond.
Western (l) and Least (r) Sandpipers
Spotted Sandpipers are common nesters in the area.
Spotted Sandpiper chick
Four Greater Yellowlegs made a brief appearance.
Tree Swallows are everywhere at Jackson Bottom, thanks in part to the many nesting boxes that have been installed here.
The first broods are grown up now, and it looks like second broods will be arriving shortly.
Our freakishly nice spring weather continued this week, so I took Nala to the Sandy River Delta to check for spring migrants. Actually, Nala could not care less about spring migrants, but found the cool waters of the Sandy River just right for ball fetching. Nesting species have not arrived in any numbers yet, but spring is definitely taking off.
Savannah Sparrows were the most obvious singers in the grassland habitats. catching his breath before the next number
A pair of Belted Kingfishers is nesting along the channel that runs between the Sandy and the Columbia. They kept to the far bank, so these distant grainy images will have to do. This is the female.
And here is the male.
This is a hole. Not terribly interesting on its own, but very cool when it has a Belted Kingfisher entering or leaving it.
Northern Rough-winged Swallows also frequent this area.
The next couple of weeks should bring the delta’s specialties; Lazuli Bunting, Yellow-breasted Chat, Willow Flycatcher, and perhaps Eastern Kingbird. Happy Spring.
Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge is still a fairly new addition to the Willamette Valley refuge complex, but it offers a nice variety of habitats very close to Portland. I don’t know if the resident Bald Eagles had a successful nesting this year, but this individual was hanging out by the nest during my recent visit.
Cinnamon Teal were conspicuous, but Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal were also present.
Killdeer and Spotted Sandpipers are both common nesters on the refuge.
The air above the wetlands is filled with various species of swallows. This Northern Rough-winged Swallow was the only one that sat for a distant photo.
This Willow Flycatcher was giving his distinctive “FITZ-bew” call.
Western Wood-Pewees were calling from the edges of the woods.
The grassy areas are home to Savannah Sparrows.
This White-crowned Sparrow was singing from the roof of the refuge office.
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.