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

Seattle Part I: Reliable Redpolls

A couple of weeks ago, Jen invited me on a birding day trip to Seattle with her and her pups. How could I resist those faces?!

Jake and Ralph

To sweeten the deal, there were life-birds up for grabs. A flock of Common Redpolls was reportedly (reliably) camped out in the birch trees near Green Lake.  Redpolls typically winter in the northeastern portion of United States, so this rarity would be a treat.

Along the way, we checked in on an unusually large group of Redheads at Weyerhauser Pond, just north of Tacoma. My first new bird of the day!

Mostly Redhead

Redhead

We got closer looks of a couple of “brunettes” too.

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

Lesser Scaup

Lesser Scaup

The morning temperatures started out chilly, but the forecast promised blue skies, warmth, and sunshine to come. Seattle graciously delivered.

Statues

The Olympics

Why can’t every day be like this?

A quick stop at Green Lake turned up empty for redpolls, so we drove farther north to Edmonds, Washington, with the intent on returning to the lake later in the day.

Edmonds has stellar views of the Olympic Mountains. And some pretty good looks of birds from the shore and from the pier too. Like another life bird for me, the Red-necked Grebe.

Red-necked Grebe

Red-necked Grebe

Some day I’d like to see grebes in their breeding plumage so they can really wow me. Speaking of wows, while walking along the pier we got the best looks ever of this Belted Kingfisher.

Belted Kingfisher

We inched closer.

Belted Kingfisher

I was in shock. I’m pretty sure my jaw was hanging open. Kingfishers usually spook easily, but this one paid us no mind. We watched as she darted in the water, grabbed a fish, and flew to a perch, where she then proceeded to furiously whack the fish repeatedly on a pole.

Belted fish-basher

Belted “Fish-basher”

Here’s a video of nature’s awesome brutality.

The clang of the fish on the pole was oddly disturbing…and funny at the same time. One of the most hilarious birding encounters I’ve had, and I’m happy it was a shared experience.

Jen and the mutts

From the pier, we saw Surf Scoters scooting along in the waters below. What a great look at that bizarre bill.

Surf Scoter

Surf Scoter

There were other tame birds in the pier waters, like this Horned Grebe.

Horned Grebe

And at one point, we watched a Common Goldeneye fight a crustacean that was no match for this diving diva, and she devoured it no problem.

Common Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye

What a great spot! Offshore, we caught sight of a bird in the same family as Puffins (Alcidae), the Pigeon Guillemot.

Pigeon Guillemot

Also present were Pelagic Cormorants, Red-breasted Merganser, Great Blue Heron, Western Gulls, and the cuddliest harbor seal.

Jen spotted a group of Brant flying by that I barely saw, but luckily got better looks of later at a viewpoint along Sunset Ave. This dignified goose earned the title of third life bird of the day for me.

Brant

Brant

Quality time was spent at Edmonds, but target birds remained on the list. On route back to Green Lake, we made a quick detour to Discovery Park, to find a Hutton’s Vireo, another lifer for me! No pictures of the vireo (that looks like a Ruby-crowned Kinglet), but I did get a recording of its distinctive song, “zu-wee, zu-wee, zu-wee“, before it dive-bombed us and hid back in the shrubbery. Pretty cool.

By this time we were losing daylight and quickly made our way back to Green Lake for another try at redpolls.

Reliable coots

Reliable coots

Share the path for wigeon

Share the path for wigeon crossing

We found plenty of ducks, geese, people, dogs, and even people who had *seen* the redpolls, “they were right there on those birch, yesterday!” Unfortunately though, after two visits and trekking the entire 2.8 miles around the lake, we lost the bet and “dipped” on the redpolls. Redpolls 1; Us 0.

Birding is humbling, challenging, and rewarding all wrapped up in one fun-feathered package. Despite the redpolls, I had a blast and would do it all over again.

“What is life if not a gamble? – F. E. Higgins

Tweets and chirps,
Audrey