I went out to Smith and Bybee Wetlands and Vanport Wetlands to check for migrants. The Smith and Bybee area was pretty slow. Water levels were high so some of the trails were inaccessible. Vanport had some really interesting birds, including several Redheads and Yellow-headed Blackbirds, both hard to find in the Portland area.
The small colony of Cliff Swallows at Smith and Bybee was active with nest building.
This House Sparrow had moved into an old Cliff Swallow nest.
American Bullfrogs were enjoying the spring weather.
Brush Rabbit scratching an itch
At Vanport, most birds were pretty far away, like this Yellow-headed Blackbird. His song was easily heard, even from across the lake.
This Ruddy Duck was doing his motorboat impression to impress the ladies.
This Cooper’s Hawk was atop a tall tree overlooking the racetrack. The loud engines did not seem to bother him. I can’t say the same for me.
A few birds, like this Cedar Waxwing, were down in the small trees along the near shore of the lake.
Bullock’s Orioles are often obscured by foliage in the treetops. This individual was low enough for a brief glimpse among the blossoms.
I walked through Smith and Bybee Wetlands after an unsuccessful gull chase in northwest Portland. Here are a few highlights.
A pair of River Otters were in the slough. It is always a treat to see this species.
There were actually a few birds around. I ran into several mixed flocks of small birds that defy point-and-shoot photography.
The same bird, showing just a peek of his namesake ruby crown.
The slough had a few waterfowl, all keeping a safe distance from the otters. Here is an American Wigeon.
Raptors were well represented by Bald Eagles, Red-tailed Hawk, and Red-shouldered Hawk, none of which wished to be photographed. Despite the rainy conditions, it was a productive trip.
Smith Lake, the larger body of water at Smith and Bybee Wetlands in NW Portland, currently has a lot of mudflat habitat, attracting good numbers of shorebirds and gulls.
Greater Yellowlegs at sunrise
Long-billed Dowitchers and Pectoral Sandpipers
While the shorebirds and gulls kept their distance on the mudflats, thus no good photos, American Pipits were working the shoreline at close range.
The morning at Smith and Bybee Wetlands in northwest Portland started out foggy. At the Smith Lake canoe launch, 12 Greater White-fronted Geese were among the many waterfowl. It is getting late for White-fronts in the Willamette Valley.
There were a lot of Cedar Waxwings flycatching and feeding on various fruiting trees. This is a young bird, given the overall scruffy appearance and the lack of red tips on the tertials.
This Pileated Woodpecker was very vocal and perched out in the open on a distant utility pole.
This Red-shouldered Hawk was among the many Red-tailed Hawks and Northern Harriers present on the property.
The current low water levels allow you to hike quite a ways out into the wetlands. Marsh Wrens are common in the shrubs and reed canary grass.
Song Sparrows are also common in the tall grasses. The best bird of the day was a Swamp Sparrow, but he eluded the camera.
Pacific Chorus Frogs were singing everywhere, but this is the only individual I could see.
Smith and Bybee Wetlands Natural Area (aka Smith and Bybee Lakes) in northeast Portland is a great spot in late summer as the water levels drop. Large flocks of American White Pelicans, California Gulls, Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, and various shorebirds gather to feed in the shallow water and on the mudflats. On this visit, most birds were pretty far away, but could be scanned with a scope. Western and Least Sandpipers were the only shorebirds I could pull out of the distant flocks, but other species have been reported recently.
This juvenile Green Heron was hanging out at the canoe launch on Smith Lake.
In the same area, this Peregrine Falcon was surveying the mudflats for tasty shorebirds.
On Bybee Lake, large numbers of Blue Herons and Great Egrets were gathered. At the edge of the group was this Snowy Egret, an uncommon visitor to the Portland area. Here is a nice comparison with the larger Great Egret.
The lumps on the shoreline are dead and dying waterfowl, mostly Northern Shovelers. Warm temperatures and low water levels sometimes lead to outbreaks of avian botulism. Outbreaks usually subside with cooler temperatures and rain, which we are now getting in Portland.
Smith and Bybee Wetlands in NW Portland, (Birding Oregon p. 65) is a great spot for waterfowl, waders, and shorebirds in the late summer and autumn. Paved trails lead to observation platforms overlooking both lakes, and primitive paths are available to the more adventurous.
Great Egret, here with a couple of Great Blue Herons and numerous waterfowl on Bybee Lake, are common this time of year. Other waders that have occurred here include Snowy Egret and Little Blue Heron.
These Bonaparte’s Gulls were feeding with a flock of Northern Shovelers, picking up little food items stirred up by the ducks.
Many trees in this area have fencing around them to protect them from Beavers. Flood conditions last winter enabled the Beavers to float above the level of the fencing and nibble away.
Three American White Pelicans swim with Double-crested Cormorants on Smith Lake. Ten years ago, pelicans were considered rare in Portland, but large flocks are now expected every summer and fall.
more American White Pelicans on Smith Lake
I forced myself to go birding Saturday morning. It was one of those rainy November days when you want to hole up until May, so I forced myself out. (Can’t get tired of the rain this early in the season.) So I went to Smith and Bybee Wetlands in NW Portland. The rough weather kept most of the songbirds under heavy cover, but the ducks were out and about.
While distant and poorly lit in the rainy weather, these ducks are clearly Northern Shovelers. The first clue is the fact that they are all swimming along with their faces in the water, typical shoveler feeding behavior. On the first and last ducks in line, you see a dark head, white breast, rusty sides, and white bottom, classic Northern Shoveler.
These birds were clear across the lake, but several are clearly identifyable. The line of four ducks in the upper right of the photo are Northern Shovelers, for the same reasons as in the photo above. The duck on the far left, and probably the bird next to him, is a Gadwall. The bird is slightly smaller than the shovelers, lacks any blatant pattern, seems to be dark on the backside, and has a blocky head shape.
The ability to ID ducks, or any other birds, at great distances is not so much a matter of skill, as it is familiarity. The more familiar you become with a species, the greater the distance you can recognize that species.
This Nutria was enjoying the day, munching away on something. Nutria are native to South America, but have been introduced in many areas by the fur trade. (and why would you want to dress yourself to look like a large aquatic rodent?) When raising Nutria failed to be profitable, many were released into the Pacific Northwest, where they flourish at the expense of some native mammals and wetland plants.
Spring continued to elude us today, with heavy snow showers this morning and temperatures that never made it above the low 40s. At Smith and Bybee Wetlands, Tree and Violet-green Swallows were hunting right at the surface of the water. This picture shows a squall of pea-sized hail moving over Bybee Lake. I don’t know how the birds found anything to eat in such weather.
The woods held good numbers of Yellow-rumped Warblers; all those I saw well were of the Myrtle race. A few Lincoln’s Sparrows, Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets, Bewick’s and Marsh Wrens, Bushtits, Black-capped Chickadees, and a Brown Creeper rounded out the songbird sightings. The sun did peek out between squalls, and this drew a few Western Painted Turtles out to bask briefly, despite the cold temps.