Warblers and Flycatchers

Oh happy May migration!

In honor of the new birds in town, I took Audubon’s Warblers and Flycatchers class, taught by John Rakestraw, accomplished birder and blogger, instructor, and author of Birding Oregon. I learned that Oregon has 41 species of wood-warblers and 23 species of tyrant flycatchers, and Portland regularly has 11 of each visit during migration.

What makes a warbler a wood-warbler? Wood-warblers, or New World Warblers, are any species in the songbird family, Parulidae. They are usually cute, often colorful, and can cause “warbler’s neck,” a pain in the neck from trying to see them high in the tree-tops. I’m refining my birding stance by keeping my shoulders down. John Rakestraw’s post on warbler’s neck describes the proper way to gaze above at these beauties without injury.

Why are flycatchers “tyrants”? Tyrant is a family name that “reflects the aggressive nature of some species, which drive away much larger birds that venture too near their nests.” Business birds mean business.

We met on a Saturday morning for a field trip to Mt Tabor. We saw a variety of warblers, including: Townsend’s Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler, and even a Nashville Warbler.

A few pictures.

Black-throated Gray Warbler

Black-throated Gray Warbler

Black-throated Gray Warbler

My new favorite, the female Black-throated Gray Warbler which lacks the black throat, so, technically she is a white-throated Black-throated Gray Warbler

Nashville Warbler

Nashville Warbler (gray hood, yellow throat, full white eye-ring)

We witnessed a couple of flycatchers perched high atop the Douglas-fir, but were unable to positively identify them. There are subtle differences between flycatchers and the best way to distinguish them is by their song. But these birds didn’t make it that easy.

Birding at Mt Tabor

Birding at Tabor

Here’s a sub-par picture of a flycatcher from a more recent trip to Mt. Tabor that was ID’ed as an Olive-sided Flycatcher, based on the bulky build and dark “vest.”

Olive-sided Flycatcher

Olive-sided Flycatcher

A couple of non-warbler-flycatchers we saw at Mt Tabor:

Band-tailed Pigeon

Band-tailed Pigeon

Hermit Thrush (cutie!)

Hermit Thrush (cutie!)

A funny thing happened when I returned home from the birding trip. I heard the sound of a warbler I hadn’t seen during the day! The song consisted of a series of fast chatter-like notes, that drop downward in pitch toward the end. It was the song of a Wilson’s Warbler, I was sure of it! I stalked the shrubs in our yard for a good hour, intermittently hearing the song, but only catching a glimpse of movement.

I almost gave up, until I went to show my boyfriend the Raccoon I found curled up sleeping in the tall Douglas-fir along the property.

Sleeping ball of trouble

Sleeping ball of trouble

Immediately after, there it was! Blurry-rocket-smudge-bird!

Bird? Plane? Raccoon minion?

Bird? Plane? Raccoon minion?

I stalked the trees another good half hour, then followed (okay ran) after it towards the back yard. Got it! Yellow warbler with a “bad toupée” – Wilson’s Warbler!

Wilson's Warbler

Wilson’s Warbler

Oh happy day.

Tweets and chirps,


Christmas Bird Count 2015

Last weekend I participated in the 115th annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count. What a treat! Originally I was hesitant because of my beginner skill level, but was assured all skill levels are welcome and I’m happy I participated.

I was shocked when I learned the history of the census. The holiday tradition started in response to what was called a “side hunt” where people went out and shot as many mammals and birds as they could find, and the “winner” was who killed the most. Heartbreaking (and infuriating…).

Bird populations declined, and the concept of conservation emerged. We can thank early Audubon ornithologist Frank Chapman for proposing a “Christmas Bird Census” to count rather than kill birds beginning on Christmas day 1900. More about this fascinating bit of history here. And here.

On January 3, 2015 our group of 12 volunteers spotted 71 different species in Area 1; the entire Columbian riparian area totaled 108 species.


Image credits: http://audubonportland.org/local-birding/cbc

Portland’s 89th Christmas count is still being tallied (I’ll update), but per my insider information from Wink Gross, CBC compiler:

“The 89th Portland CBC was held today in chilly weather under overcast skies (i.e., “fog that you walk under”).    Over 230 field observers found 118 species, significantly below our 5-year running average of 124 and change.  The best bird was a PELAGIC CORMORANT, which is a new species for the Count and earned Adrian Hinkle the coveted “Eagle Eye Award”.  (Adrian also shared the award with his brother Christopher in 2009 for a Black-billed Magpie.)  Congratulations, Adrian!

Other good birds were, LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER, RED-NECKED GREBE, COMMON TEAL (aka “Eurasian Green-winged Teal”), GLAUCOUS GULL, and BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD.  There were no howling misses, but many of the species that “could go either way” went the wrong way.”

Wink mentions Adrian and Christopher Hinkle, who I met on the bird count. They are twins who are celebrities in the birder community. Their eye-sight, speed, attention to detail is incredible. According to an Oregonian article the boys have had an interest in birding since they were 5. They’re ~18 now and have evolved into birding savants.

Birding with experts blew my mind, and it was also exhilarating (to have the answers to the puzzles right next to you!). I saw way more birds than I would have on my own and I learned so much. To share the joy of birding with others who feel the same passion was refreshing and I look forward to joining more group birding experiences.

I didn’t take as many pictures as I normally would (busy counting birds!):

Sadly, I didn’t take a picture of the TWO GREAT HORNED OWLS we saw! A major highlight of my day. As a consolation, I have this video of a great blue heron ice-skating on a frozen pond:

Total new-to-me species I personally witnessed during the CBC:

Cackling Goose
Eurasian Wigeon
American Wigeon
Northern Shoveler
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Egret
Bald Eagle
American Kestrel
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Belted Kingfisher
Downy Woodpecker
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Bewick’s Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Fox Sparrow
Lincoln Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Anna’s Hummingbird
Red-winged Blackbird


So thankful to be a part of this awesome event. Here is an Audubon Magazine article with highlights: 7 Surprises from the Christmas Bird Count