“You’re a trooper” “You got some heart” “You’ll let nothing stop you” “Way to go!” “Are you okay?” These are the things people will say to you if you hike up Powell Butte Nature Park on crutches. I know this because I tried to find one of 11 Mountain Bluebirds spotted the day before, but unfortunately, all I found were well-meaning platitudes.
At least it was good exercise? I suppose. I feel I’d gotten cocky after convincing Tomas to drive by the fire station near Broughton Beach to look for a Rough-legged Hawk that’d been seen there. Found it!
Birding is so easy! Of course it is.
Most of my time this past weekend I spent hanging out with the yard birds, especially after I saw a Black-capped Chickadee show interest in a nesting box I put up last year. After many hours of watching though, it’s still unconfirmed if they’re using it.
Are you nesting here? Check yes or no.
Another highlight while sitting outside enjoying the spring sunshine was witnessing a wake of Turkey Vultures fly overhead.
This is the first time I’ve recorded them from the yard and I counted 20!
They just kept coming. This is the kind of stuff that makes yard-birding interesting.
While vultures migrated overhead, other birds were singing up a storm. I heard Varied Thrush, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and Golden-crowned Kinglets jingling in the Doug-fir trees surrounding the yard.
I heard a handsome Fox Sparrow.
And a charming and perky-tailed Bewick’s Wren.
At the feeders House Finch and Lesser Goldfinch add some color.
While the Red-breasted Nuthatch adds personality.
At the office I’ve spent more time watching the Anna’s Hummingbird nest than working.
She’s made regular feedings, but I haven’t seen any little hummers yet.
I’ve also yet to see a Rufous Hummingbird this year, but there’s still time.
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
Most of the common yard birds made an appearance.
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.
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!
Not long after birding Vancouver Lake, Tomas and I packed up the car for a return trip to southeastern Washington. I felt like there was more to be seen along the Snake River than the weekend before. I was right.
On the drive there (and back) we saw Bighorn Sheep! A first for both of us. My best photo taken from the car going 60 mph along I-84 on the Oregon side.
The weather was cold, rainy, and windy, so unfortunately camping was out. Instead, we stayed at Clover Island Inn, which is situated on an island on the Columbia River. I thought it might get me closer to birds on the river, but I’m not sure I would recommend staying there, it’s kind of dumpy. And rather creepy.
Hotel twilight zone captured by Tomas.
The only birds I saw from the hotel were Horned Grebes, American Coots, Canada Geese, Song Sparrow, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and gulls. The hotel’s most redeeming quality is that it’s within walking distance to Ice Harbor Brewery.
We saw Red-tailed Hawks, Bald Eagles, and Killdeer.
And I met the angriest owl ever.
I’m pretty sure this one’s responsible for several deaths. Including that of at least one Barn Owl. So pretty, so sad. R.I.P. Mr Owl.
We also met an owl that I’m sure wouldn’t hurt a fly. Maybe a small mouse, but not a fly.
My first Northern Saw-whet Owl!!! So cute!
Once the owl high wore off, I came to and noticed a few other birds. Including a new finch!
These are tough. They are either Purple or Cassin’s Finch (I am open to suggestions). Even Whatbird couldn’t agree. Female/juvenile Purple Finch have a distinctive face pattern, strong/blurry streaking on sides and chest, and a shorter bill. Cassin’s streaks are crisper, their beaks are longer with straighter sides, and they have a thin white eye ring. Male CAFI are raspberry red on top, PUFI can be rosy below the crown.
The more I see them the more I know what to look for. One unmistakable species we came across was a flock of California Quail.
Too bad I couldn’t get better pictures, they’re so pretty! There were at least 20 of them scurrying in the underbrush calling, clucking, and “pit-pit“-ing alarm calls. These birds have some fantastic sounds.
At McNary NWR, we stopped for a reported Black-crowned Night-Heron and American White Pelican. No luck on the night-heron, but while Tomas sat in the warm, comfy car he spotted the pelican sitting below a Great Blue Heron rookery! Great find!
Meanwhile, I fought the wind and shrubs and came up with a Marsh Wren. Not bad either.
What an awesome trip. On the drive home we even made time for a quick hike at Coyote Wall, the land of sunshine, waterfalls, and rainbows.