Tabor Times Two

Mt Tabor Park is the gift that keeps on giving. All that stuff about balance and taking it easy? The cake is a lie. One afternoon this week reports of a Blue-headed Vireo and Common Poorwill proved too irresistible. The day was sunny and full of possibility. But first I had to leave my yard, and I was delayed by a flurry of bird activity.

Three years (and 5 days) ago I had my first Blurry-rocket-smudge Wilson’s Warbler in the yard, and this April I had another!

Only moderately better focus but with more leaves.

Then I heard singing.

Ignore that label, and ignore the robin that chimes in at the 7 second mark. Because I heard what I thought was a Hutton’s Vireo, after seeing this bird.

Based on those dark feet, the eye-ring and bill, but as it turns out, this is an outlier Ruby-crowned Kinglet that lacks the yellow feet. But what it does have is the dark bar under the white wing bar that a Hutton’s Vireo never has.

The clincher

Then I found this terrible but diagnostic photo in the mix.

That prominent eye-ring, combined with the singing, this is a Cassin’s Vireo! A yard first almost mis-identified as another yard first. There’s still so much to learn.

But did you see the eagle?

Yes, yes I did. Then it was off to Tabor!

I looked for the vireo in the designated spot, then wandered around to undesignated spots, wondering where “the Cove” is? Not a vireo to be found anywhere. I realized it’s a little mad following a tiny migrating bird in a big park, but I thought there might be other fun distractions in the vicinity. Indeed there was.

I heard jays, robins, juncos, sparrows, siskins, flickers, all alarming over a ridge and I hurried over. I thought it had to be an owl (or a Gyrfalcon). I looked but didn’t find anything. Then I looked closer.

No freakin way!! A Northern Saw-whet Owl!! Not the owl I was expecting, but such a great surprise. The hummingbirds dive-bombed it, robins called loudly, as it tried to look invisible. I had a spectacular view of its backside from the flat part of the trail.

Such a great consolation prize, I was rejuvenated to stay and listen for a potential poorwill. It was still early, so I drove around to the other side of the park. When, again, I heard something intriguing uptrail. Where have I heard that shrieking sound before?

Oh yes, Great Horned Owl-ets!

At least there was all that if I missed the poorwill, but there was still time. At around 8:00pm I waited as the skies darkened and fewer and fewer people exercised past me. The reports had the bird at around 8:30 so I turned on my phone recorder then. Just in case. It was somewhat creepy but also peaceful waiting in the dark. And then at 8:42pm I heard it!

A soft, single, but unmistakeable, “poor-will”. I waited another 15 minutes but didn’t hear another peep. I left hoping I’d gotten something usable and couldn’t wait so on the way home in the car I blasted the recording and thought I heard something, that was finally confirmed once I got home.

The bird was first heard by Tom McNamara while he was walking his dog at the park. There are only two other records of a Common Poorwill at Tabor, one by the Hinkles in September 2010 and another by Chris Warren May 1, 2008. It was pretty exciting to help document this sighting.

What an unbelievable evening! I should probably take it easy now.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Whitaker Ponds Nature Park

One of my favorite parks is Whitaker Ponds Nature Park. Ever since my first time there I knew it was a special place. It’s a small (but productive) park at 24 acres with a 1/2-mile flat loop trail. Completely surrounded by urban land, it is a mini-oasis for birds.

And for myself. Here I saw my first Common Merganser, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, Great Egret, and Anna’s Hummingbird. And later in the summer my first Western Tanager and Warbling Vireo. And I’ve once seen a family of river otters in the pond.

Needless to say, I’m sentimental about the place.

In the past year, it’s gone through some changes. Where there once was a gorgeous willow tree and field now is a parking lot. I’m kicking myself for not taking more “before” photos, but I hadn’t known about the project until after it was gone. Danger Garden took one of the best photos of that willow tree I could find on the internet. Here’s a couple I took of the progress.

Of course there’s pros and cons, there’s better parking, which will make people feel more comfortable visiting, and hopefully then more people will care about the park. There’s still a problem of transients living and littering in certain forested areas, but in general it’s getting better.

Better?

I’ve recently started following the Columbia Slough Watershed Council on Instagram, they’ve organized and implemented a ton of restoration work on the park. They also provide updates on water levels and beaver activities. (thanks for keeping the beavers, birds, and me happy!)

I’ve seen 87 species at Whitaker Ponds (it even gave me 40 species in my 5-mile radius). Most recent additions were a Hermit Thrush that surprised me before bulleting away as quick as it could.

A Glaucous-winged Gull flyover (no photos), and a female Barrow’s Goldeneye (more yellow on that bill).

Compared to the female Common Goldeneye below (more black bill with yellow tip) and male (right), also hanging in the slough.

While observing the goldeneyes I heard an enticing “zu-wee, zu-wee, zu-wee” and I turned around to the best looks ever of a Hutton’s Vireo.

Thicker bill than Ruby-crowned Kinglet and gray feet (vs. yellow on RCKI).

There were two singing back and forth. Along with endless Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Townsend’s Warblers.

Also on this trip I saw the reliable Black Phoebe.

And I got a quick glimpse of a Spotted Sandpiper.

Just before I spooked a Cooper’s Hawk.

This park is full of surprises. Even sneaky Great Horned Owls.

I wish I could visit every day. It’s less than a 10-minute drive from my house and now that the construction’s completed really I have no excuse. I’ll make a point to visit more often and make it a goal to find more species. I was going to say 100 (since I’m at 87), but that might be a stretch since the top eBirder at the park (Nick Mrvelj) has 97. But we’ll see!

Cheers to local patches!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

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