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.
I hadn’t been to the dry side of Oregon for far too long, so I took a trip to Smith Rock State Park. The avian stars of this site are the White-throated Swifts that nest here. They did not disappoint, but those little winged rockets are far too fast for my photographic abilities.
Unlike the swifts, the abundant Violet-green Swallows will occasionally pose for a photo.
There was apparently a good crop of Black-billed Magpies this year, so lots of youngsters were hopping around near the parking lot.
Direct sunlight and iridescence make for a lovely flash of color on these black birds.
Desert Cottontail. Note all the ticks on the edge of his ear.
I hiked over the rock formation on the aptly named Misery Ridge Trail, then back along the Crooked River. Rock Wrens were plentiful, but whenever I try to photograph that species I end up with crystal clear images of rocks with blurry birds on them.
Mule Deer were common in the grassy areas along the river.
The river held lots of Mallards, like the family pictured here, and Canada Geese.
Looking up at the cliff face from the river
Say’s Phoebe, looking regal
The same Say’s Phoebe, about to hork up something
By noon, the park was getting pretty crowded and the heat was intense so I headed for home. Birding was quite good despite the heat and the lateness of the season. I think a trip here in early June would be even more productive.
I think February is the most challenging month to live in the Portland area, as it is typically wet and dreary. This past month had three times the normal rainfall, so the brief sun breaks were especially appreciated. A quick trip to Broughton Beach provided looks at a large flotilla of Great Scaup (with some Lessers mixed in).
This Great Blue Heron was staring at the ground at the airport, waiting for a vole or some other rodent to appear. The dark mud at the end of his bill suggest previous attempts at napping some land-based prey.
American Crow, calling from the top of the dike
A few Horned Grebes were on the Columbia River. They are just starting to show some color on their necks.
The first real harbinger of spring was this Say’s Phoebe. Several of these birds have been reported in the Portland area in recent weeks. It has been too cold for many insects to be out, so I imagine it has been tough for these flycatchers to find enough to eat. Hopefully March will be a little more pleasant for all of us.
I hadn’t been to Powell Butte Nature Park in east Portland since they finished renovations. They had been working on one of the water system reservoirs and have added more parking, a visitor center, and new trail markers and maps. The targets of this visit were several Mountain Bluebirds that had been hanging out for a while.
I found a male and two three females, all of whom kept their distance.
There was a big wave of Yellow-rumped Warblers in the park. All that I got a good look at were Audubon’s race, and most were male.
Another regional rarity that has been hanging out at Powell Butte is this Say’s Phoebe. This bird was active and vocal, but also kept his distance.
The open meadows are attractive to Northern Harriers (not photogenic) and American Kestrels (slightly more cooperative). The raptors can make it harder to study the grassland songbirds, but this site is still very productive. There was one singing Savannah Sparrow while I was there. In a few weeks, that bird will be joined by more Savannahs and Lazuli Buntings.
Marsha and I visited the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center, part of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in the Painted Hills (Birding Oregon p. 34). This site offers a great combination of beautiful scenery, a museum with excellent fossil specimens, and, of course, a few birds of the sage steppe and rimrock habitats.
This skull replica graces the courtyard in front of the museum. Just above, several Cliff Swallows were building their mud nests.
The sage around the center held several Western Meadowlarks and Western Kingbirds
A pair of Say’s Phoebes had a nest in a shed by the monument headquarters, just down the road from the museum.
These birds would perch on a set of Mule Deer antlers mounted above the door before entering the shed to attend the nest. The fact that this bird is carrying food indicates that the eggs have hatched.