Shorebirds!

That is genuine enthusiasm. Not excited? Here’s an adorable Semipalmated Plover to ease some of the discomfort.

Fall migration is happening and I am facing it head on. Because I went to Smith and Bybee Lakes and totally failed at identifying birds. I forgot how hard it is.

There’s hundreds of shorebirds there, and I had trouble identifying one of them. So I do that thing that I do when I can’t figure something out on my own. I seek out help. That same week I logged on to Portland Audubon’s classes, and to my luck I saw “Learn to Identify Fall Shorebirds” with John Rakestraw. And it wasn’t full.

John is the same instructor who teaches the Gull ID class and Warblers and Flycatchers, as well as many others. He even wrote a book, Birding Oregon. I was in good hands.

In the classroom we learned of the 20 or so shorebirds that visit the Oregon coast and Willamette Valley. We looked at large slides of birds and called out the field marks. It’s all about the field marks; the shape of the bird, size of the head vs. the bill, the color of the legs, and the bird’s behavior. It’s knowing what to look at for each bird. This is the key.

Long-billed Dowitchers prefer freshwater ponds, whereas Short-billed Dowitchers like tidal marshes and estuaries, so location and habitat can also provide clues. It’s all part of a puzzle and that’s what makes it fun.

Our field trip fun started one foggy morning at Seaside looking at birds on the rocks.

Or really birds that look like rocks. We found a pile of Black Turnstones. We hoped to pick out a Ruddy Turnstone, but none showed up this time. We dipped out on shorebirds at a couple more spots until we lucked out on some birds that look like mud.

That’s two Western Sandpipers on the left and one Semipalmated Plover on the right. Westerns have black legs and long droopy bills. Semi Plovers have one breast band.

We also saw Caspian Terns soaring above the water, and I didn’t notice until looking at photos later, this one has a yellow leg band.

We made it to Fort Stevens State Park but there was still low shorebird activity.

Until we looked in the distance.

We walked farther down the beach to get a closer look.

But trucks are allowed to drive on the shore here and they’d scattered the flock.

Eventually we got looks at more Western Sandpipers, and even had a Semipalmated Sandpiper in the mix for comparison.

All Westerns – long, droopy bill, black legs.

Western Sandpiper (L), Semipalmated Sandpiper (R)

Westerns and Semipalmated look almost identical except Semipalmated Sandpipers have a short blunt bill. It was tough to get good looks before the flocks moved along. Shorebirds not cooperating? Let’s look at gulls!

California Gull – dark eye, red and black in the bill, yellow-greenish legs

And some of my favorite gulls were visiting, Heermann’s Gulls. Two E’s two N’s, orange bills, unmistakable.

John admitted shorebird numbers seemed unusually low. We missed out on Sanderlings, Black-bellied Plovers, and a few others. We checked back at Seaside, but found nothing new. Except jousting crabs.

The one above lived to tell the tale but I can’t say the same for this one.

We made another stop at Seafarer’s Park near the Hammond’s Marina where we found a Common Murre swimming out of place this far up the river.

The best action of the day came next.

Apparently Heermann’s Gulls are pirates! They wait for a Brown Pelican to dive, before pouncing and trying to pry the meal out of the pelican’s gullet.

Neat stuff. I felt bad for the pelican, but they’re not exactly known as saints either.

The shorebirds were so few at the coast we made an extra stop at Fernhill Wetlands on the way back. But the day was hot and the heat waves made it difficult to see the birds in the distance. I’ll spare you the blurry photos of the Spotted Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, and Least Sandpipers. Here’s a pair of Greater Yellowlegs instead.

That bill looks like it’s twice the length of the head and those are some nice yellow legs. Bird identified. It might seem obvious, but if there’s one take-home message of the day it’s that there are limitations. Sometimes the birds are too far, or they move too quickly; distance, weather, terrain, trucks, there’s so many obstacles, but it’s important to focus on what can be seen and not get discouraged.

And when that doesn’t work, stay at home and make flash cards!

Nothing to it.

Moving along, we got good looks of a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk.

And a Green Heron oddly perched out in the open.

Not enough shorebirds in my shorebirds post? How about brown ducks instead.

Just kidding. I’ll save the Cinnamon Teal for later and keep my eyes peeled for more peeps to identify in the mean time.

Learning new things every day.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Bird Murals of Portland

One thing I really appreciate about Portland is the love of art. It’s hard to turn a street corner without bumping into a sculpture, installation, yarn bomb, or mural. It sparks conversation and brightens up this notoriously rainy town.

On my walk to work. (NE Regents/Ridgewood, Artist: Sharyn Smith)

I’m especially delighted to see so many birds in the designs. It shows just how integrated they are in our culture and lives.

On way to happy hour at NEPO42 (NE 42nd/Emerson, Artist: L.P. and/or J.R.)

Even at the schools. On my bus route home I was surprised to see a Belted Kingfisher among the critter paintings outside Access Academy at NE 57th/Thompson.

And this gem is located on the rec field at Buckman Elementary School in SE Portland.

My elementary school was not nearly that rad.

The artists are George Hambov aka Apeseven, based in Sydney Australia and “Klutch,” a Portland based artist. Some of my favorite bird murals in Portland are collaboration pieces by these two accomplished artists. A couple more:

Carpark of Anatomy Tattoo in Sullivan’s Gulch neighborhood

At a printshop in N Portland, St Johns Neighborhood

I want this painted on all of my doors.

It’s stunning and hard to pick a favorite. A portion of another goodie by Apeseven and Jeremy Nichols aka PlasticBirdie:

If I’m going to live in a concrete jungle of a city surrounded by buildings, I want those buildings covered in street art.

Here’s a Bald Eagle piece by Native American artist Yatika Fields.

SE 3rd/Morrison

This mural at SE Stark/28th on Bonfire Lounge first caught my eye because of the dove.

The image has a much deeper meaning. Releasing the ivory dove, a symbol of love, peace, and messengers, is Michael Brown, the unarmed African American teen who was shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri, that sparked riots and protest against violence and systemic racism toward black people.

Painted by Portland local, Ashley Montague, the mural also sparked controversy from some in the Portland community with concerns of a portrayal of violence. The original work (that included SWAT police pointing guns at Brown) has been censored, as seen in my photo, and the entire mural will eventually be completely covered according to the building owner. 

Ashley Montague is also responsible for painting an incredibly stunning mural on the side of Lowbrow Lounge in downtown Portland.

It’s hard to capture in a photo how awesome it is. A close-up of the owl.

With that backdrop of warm, rich fall colors? Wonderful.

This also reminds me of the connection between birds and bars in this town. White Owl Social Club, The Raven, Swift Lounge, Perch Tavern, White Eagle Saloon, Migration Brewing. But birds and bars is an entirely different post.

Swift Lounge mural by Ashley Montague

There are many more. I bump into new ones almost every day. Like this adorable “Fight For Your Dreams” piece painted by Maryanna Hoggott aka Leetlewolf.

A look at the brave bird in daylight.

And here’s another great one I discovered at The Lumberyard painted by Mr. Never Satisfied and PlasticBirdie.

I can also appreciate the native bird murals. Like this one on PDX Automotive painted by Kenny Spurlock (who sadly died August of 2014). The mural even includes a Wilson’s Warbler, a nice detail.

And this wouldn’t be a bird mural post without the Portland Memorial Mausoleum Mural at Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge. It is one of the largest hand-painted murals in the nation designed by Dan Cohen of ArtFX Murals and Shane Bennett (who died in a snowmobile accident Mar 2009). His contributions will forever be cherished by the community.

The details of the mural stand out when hiking the Oaks Bottom Loop Trail. In one shady nook I spotted a Great Horned Owl.

And who could miss the 70-ft Great Blue Heron.

On a clear day Mt St. Helens peeks out just past the mural as seen from the upper Bluff Trail. This painting transformed the once dull building into a much more appealing landscape.

One final piece I’d like to mention is a downtown mural, “Out of the Shade.”

Painted by local artists Rather Severe (Jon Stommel & Travis Czekalski) and Blaine Fontana, this thoughtful work is part of a Find Your Words project by Kaiser Permanente to fight depression stigma.

If you’re feeling down look around and maybe some work of art will lift you up. All these murals make me happy and smile as I pass them by providing much needed uplift in these trying times. They brighten my days.

Portland is very lucky. Many thanks to the Portland Street Art Alliance, Forest For The Trees, and especially the many talented artists. Your work does not go by unnoticed.

N Albina/Blandena, Artist: Ashley Montague

For the love of art.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

All of my mural photos can be found in my Flickr album.

[It is of the utmost importance to give credit where credit is due. Notice something I missed? don’t hesitate to contact. Thanks.]

January Birds

January was a good month for birds.

Happy New Year

Inspired by a fellow local birder friend, Jen, I’m trying out birding a 5 mile radius from home and using eBird’s “patch” options to track species. Basically, pick a few places to regularly bird and add them to a patch. It’s a good way to explore nearby parks, maybe save some time driving, and it’s a fun challenge to find new species in regular patches. I started off strong on January 1st with 55 species including a visiting Burrowing Owl at Broughton Beach!

Then the snow came.

8-14″ in some places. My 5 mile radius turned into about 5 feet outside my front door. Luckily I had some decent snowy yard birds. Including a Varied Thrush!

The birds seemed appreciative of the extra suet and seeds I put out. The bird bath turned into an elevated feeder dish.

Dark-eyed Junco and Black-capped Chickadee

California Scrub-Jay

Golden-crowned Sparrow

Most of the common yard birds made an appearance.

Bushtits

House Finch

Downy Woodpecker

I think my most favorite to watch were the Dark-eyed Juncos. They seemed right at home in the snow.

I even had a Slate-colored Dark-eyed Junco, a less common winter-visiting variety. Note the lack of contrasting hood.

They don’t call them snowbirds for nothing. One bird that is most certainly not a snowbird is the Anna’s Hummingbird. It took effort to keep the feeder thawed and free from ice and snow but it was totally worth it to help the hummers through this extraordinarily harsh winter.

Before the big snowstorm I took time off from work to make it out to see the (normally east coast) Black-throated Blue Warbler that wintered in SW Portland.

Black-throated Blue Warbler (right)

Found just outside my 5mi radius. I have a new mission to figure out how to attract rarities to the yard.

One rare bird that did find it’s way to a local patch was a Bohemian Waxwing at Mt Tabor. I geared up in a snow-tire equipped Subaru to make it up there and search.

Icy stairs of doom

I arrived on the scene to find a birder who had just seen a bohemian fly overhead. Something I love-hate to hear. At least the bird was here, but I’d just missed an easy sighting. I made my way down the icy trail to check out hawthorne trees.

Where there are berries, there are birds. I found about 300-400 American Robins, a handful of Cedar Waxwings, and one blurry Bohemian Waxwing!

It happened so fast. The bird flew in, I tried to get my bearings, change my camera settings and it was gone. I searched and searched while my hands froze, then I finally found it again high up in the tree.

Pretty exciting. As I circled around to get a better view, a Sharp-shinned Hawk darted in and spooked all the birds away.

Kind of annoying for scaring the rarity, but also kind of awesome to see the hawk so close. I enjoyed the looks I got and called it a day.

On another snowy day I made it out to Smith and Bybee wetlands to tromp through snow and find a reported shrike. The park was “closed” which made it perfectly quiet and lovely.

The snow was deep, not “Larch Mtn deep“, but novel enough to still make it fun.

And since the ground was frozen it made it easier to access the normally marshy-flooded parts of the park. And that’s where I found it.

Northern Shrike! It tormented the poor juncos and sparrows that tried to drink water along the pond’s edge where the snow melted. Birds gotta do what a birds gotta do. I left the hunter in peace, happy I’d taken the chance to find it.

Back in my 5 mile radius at Whitaker Ponds I lucked out last weekend when I found Canvasback, Ruddy Duck, Common Goldeneye, and this sleepy Barred Owl.

Right where it’s supposed to be.

Each time I went around the 1/2 mi walking loop I found another species, so I kept going and on the third loop I heard an unusual song worth investigating. I was right because not long after, out popped a Hutton’s Vireo!

Gah. So cute. And not a Ruby-crowned Kinglet because of the song, but also the bill color (grey vs black) and the feet color (grey vs yellow). This is the first I’ve seen in Oregon (I saw one very briefly once in Washington). And precisely what makes the local patch thing so rewarding.

Now back at home I’ve geared up for spring. I’ve added a second seed feeder, new window hummingbird feeder, and a birdhouse that will hopefully make a chickadee couple very happy. We shall see.

Crowd-pleaser

Pledge of allegiance to the sugar-water

Home tweet home

And I picked up a “hum button” from the Backyard Birdship to try hand-feeding the hummers. It worked on the first try!

It’ll all be perfect once the ice melts. February has a lot to live up to!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey