We finally had a bout of winter weather in the Portland area. The west side of town got more ice than actual snow, so travel conditions were not ideal. Since we had an appointment in Hillsboro anyway, I made a quick stop at Amberglen Park. This Ring-necked Duck was putting on a nice show.
This Bufflehead spent much more time below the surface of the water than above it, but I managed a quick photo. Note the streaks of sleet.
This habitat doesn’t seem right for Hooded Mergansers, but I often see them here.
The Portland area doesn’t seem to have a good winter gull roost these days. Amberglen attracts a few, mostly Ring-billed Gulls.
I think gulls are really attractive in the snow. Note the slight pinkish tones on this bird.
Here are some Ring-billed Gulls swimming with an “Olympic” Gull (Western X Glaucous-winged hybird).
This is a “Cook Inlet” Gull (Herring X Glaucous-winged hybrid). The bill pattern is classic winter Herring Gull. The eye is dark and the primaries are not quite true black. It gives the impression of a Thayer’s Iceland Gull with a giant bill.
On the home front, snow often brings Varied Thrushes to the yard. We had four at one time cleaning up seeds under the feeder.
I am always grateful for the splash of color provided by this Townsend’s Warbler.
The snow is gone now, and birds are starting move. Spring will be here any minute.
Here are some random birds from recent weeks. This Great Blue Heron was wading deep at Commonwealth Lake. The white face and yellow eye really popped, giving her a creepy look.
A Black-capped Chickadee was excavating a cavity in a dead tree at Commonwealth Lake. It is a little early for nesting, but birds will be pairing up soon.
This is a lousy photo, but it documents the Yellow-billed Loon that hung out at Hagg Lake for a few days in early January. Lifers are few and very far between for me, so it is great when one shows up relatively close to home.
This Black Turnstone was taking shelter from the high tides on the little lawn at the Seaside Cove.
Western Gull at the Seaside Cove
The marbled pattern on the bill and the bit of dark smudging on the tail suggests this is a third cycle Western Gull.
Varied Thrush at Summer Lake Park in Tigard
Black-crowned Night-Herons have been regular at Koll Center Wetlands for several years now. They used to be a little more accommodating, but lately they have remained in dense cover most of the time.
This Bushtit was hanging out in the back yard for quite a while. I hope the extreme puffiness of this bird was due to it being cold and was not an indication of illness.
This is that long awkward time of year between winter and spring. The big winter flocks have broken up, but the spring migrants haven’t returned yet. As I have said before, there is always something to see, but we have to find simple pleasures until the full decadence of spring migration commences in a month or so.
On a recent sunny day, this Varied Thrush perched outside the living room window. I don’t often see this species in sunlight. They are usually muted by the gloom of a rainy day or the shadows of the forest.
Pine Siskin at the nyjer feeder
For some reason, songbirds just look weird when viewed from the front.
The male American Goldfinches are starting to get their summer color.
Golden-crowned Sparrow, Vanport Wetlands
This fairly large tree has been felled by Beavers at Smith and Bybee Wetlands. None of the branches appear to have been eaten, so I don’t know why the Beavers felled it, perhaps because it was there.
Northwestern Garter Snake, Tualatin Hills Nature Park. I am making the identification based on the small head, although I am not completely comfortable differentiating Northwestern Garter from Common Garter.
One consolation to the dreary wet weather of winter is the occasional appearance of a Varied Thrush. These are birds of the shadows, nesting in mature forests of the Coast Range and Cascades. In winter, they move to lower elevations, where they rummage through the leaf litter looking for insects.
Along with a flash of pumpkin orange from their bellies, Varied Thrushes reveal themselves through their odd song. Like other thrushes, Varied Thrushes produce sounds consisting of two pitches at once. This polyphony is made possible by the syrinx, the birds sound organ, located at the branch of the trachea. Since each branch has its own membrane, multiple pitches are produced at the same time. The result is a single buzzy tone, often described as ethereal (or just eerie).
I saw my first Varied Thrush in a back yard in Ohio. While it is always fun to see a vagrant, I much prefer seeing Varied Thrushes in Oregon, either in the deep forests in summer, or in the winter gloom of my Portland yard. Perhaps it is in their native gloom that these colorful thrushes shine brightest.
The grounds around Pittock Mansion in northwest Portland are a favorite spot for spring migrants. Most people visit this park to tour the ostentatious limestone house, but birders prefer the brushy hillsides and the woods around the parking lot.
Since we are still locked into a cold, damp weather pattern, most of the spring migrants have not yet arrived, but good numbers of winter residents were flocking and ready to move out.
Several species of thrush were common today. Here is a blurry Hermit Thrush.
an equally blurry male Varied Thrush
female Varied Thrush
Varied Thrush and American Robin feeding together
This March has been one of the coolest and wettest on record in the Portland area. Aside from keeping me indoors far more than I would like, the weather has created a bit of a stall in spring’s progress.
The winter residents, like this skulking Varied Thrush, have started to thin out. There are still a lot of waterfowl around, but gull numbers are greatly reduced.
A long walk on the beach north of Gearhart produced a few Sanderlings, but the northbound shorebirds haven’t arrived yet.
Activity at the bird feeder has slowed down as the winter flocks are breaking up and the local birds start pairing up. Here is one of the resident Black-capped Chickadees.
A Norway Rat has been taking advantage of the seeds the birds drop.
Despite the dreary weather, there are signs of the coming breeding season. This Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s race) is showing off his fresh breeding plumage.
When we experience long bouts of bad weather, and spending the month of March in Arizona sounds very appealing, we still need to get out into the field. Spring may be slow in coming, but there are still birds out there. Slow birding gives you the chance to study the common local species more carefully, and you never know what might turn up.
Here are some photos from a recent scouting trip to Mt. Hood for my upcoming Portland Audubon class.
Timothy Lake, a good spot to look for migrant loons and grebes
Varied Thrush on the shore of Timothy Lake
Clear Lake is very low this time of year, but still attracts waterfowl.
Greater White-fronted Goose on the shore of Clear Lake
Nala, the Birding Dog, after adding Greater White-fronted Goose to her life list. She apologizes for chasing the goose into the lake, but she just couldn’t help it.
A burned section of forest near Cooper Spur on the northeastern part of the mountain. Burned forest is a magnet for woodpeckers.
A really bad photo of an American Three-toed Woodpecker in the burn
The giant gravel pile that is Mount Hood, above Timberline Lodge
I don’t have good habitat for Varied Thrushes, but I get to see them occasionally in winter. This female was poking around under the feeder recently, until the resident male American Robin chased her off.