Happy New Year!

I managed to squeeze in a few more birds at the end of 2015. On Christmas Day I went to Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve. I hadn’t visited since June and what a difference record winter rains make.

Before

Before

After

After

The trails were completely flooded with water, but looking around the upland part of the park I still saw many birds: Fox Sparrows, Golden-crowned Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, and Spotted Towhees. On a tree nearby I also saw Red-shouldered Hawk!

Red-shouldered Hawk

Say, whaaa? Curious because I didn’t think Oregon was included in their typical range. Bib of dark streaks, rufous underparts, black and white bands on tails. I’ll take it!

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

It eventually ended up in the same tree as this unhappy Red-tailed Hawk.

Red-tailed Hawk

Looking up in fury

The stare-down proved too much for the Red-shouldered Hawk and it flew away (giving a glance of its rufous underwing coverts) while it called “kee-aah, kee-aah, kee-aah!” in disgust.

I returned to the bird feeders by the main building and got an up-close and personal visit from an Anna’s Hummingbird. This flashy fella and I became besties.

Anna's Hummingbird

Anna's Hummingbird

Okay, maybe not. Back to the trees I saw a Northern Shrike! Nice! Or, rather, not nice. This predatory songbird “feeds on small birds, mammals, and insects, sometimes impaling them on spines or barbed wire fences.” Yikes.

Northern Shrike

I had hoped to see White-throated Sparrows but insted came up with Golden-crowned Sparrows that sort of look like tan-striped White-Throated Sparrows. It needs yellow lores, stronger facial marks, and a mottled breast. Nice try.

Golden-crowned Sparrow

I left and went to Fernhill Wetlands since it is close by. I had not been before and I’ll have to try again once the water recedes.

Flooded

The road was closed as was the gate to the park. But I was able to admire Ruddy Ducks, Northern Pintail, Ring-necked Ducks, and Scaup in the nearby flooded farmlands. And, wait, what is that larger bird-blob in the middle?

Mixed waterbirds

Canvasback! A new species. What a great silhouette.

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I walked along nearby roads, still not finding White-throated Sparrows, but I did find a handsome Lincoln’s Sparrow. This and the Canvasback made the trip worth it.

Lincoln's Sparrow

The next morning I set off for Vancouver Lake in Washington. This turned out to be a disappointing spot not for lack of birds, but because the air was ripe with gunfire.

Hunters

Hunters. Even though I was in a “safe” hunting-off limits section of land, it was close enough to hear plenty of shooting. I have to say, I was unnerved listening to gunfire while birding. I’ve heard it before, but never this close, loud, or rapid. I stayed just long enough to see a few birds before I couldn’t take it anymore.

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

And another Red-shouldered Hawk!

Invasion of the Red-shouldered Hawks

Invasion of the Red-shouldered Hawks

I saw one new species at Vancouver Lake, Eared Grebes. (Common Merganser on the left for scale).

Eared Grebe

The last day of the long weekend I considered going to Sauvie Island to look for White-Throated Sparrows again, but I couldn’t take the idea of listening to more shooting. So I headed the complete opposite direction towards Franz Lake in the Columbia River Gorge. This was a good choice.

A herd of elk along the way!

Elk

And swans. Peaceful, graceful, lovely swans.

Trumpeter Swan

I read Tundra swans like to winter at the lake and I rounded out my year learning the difference between Trumpeter and Tundra Swans.

Trumpeter Swans have a larger bill with red on the lower mandible.

Trumpeter Swan

While Tundra Swans have a small yellow “teardrop” on the lore.

Tundra Swan

Subtle differences. Below is Tundra on the left, Trumpeter on the right.

Tundra and Trumpeter

The swans were a perfect way to close out 2015.

Time to do it all over again!!!

Tweets, chirps, and cheers to 2016!

Audrey

Shillapoo-Ridgefield Trip

What. A. Day. Many highs and lows.

Highs: President’s day! A day off to go birding! It’s 60 degrees and sunny in Portland!

I decided to check out Shillapoo Wildlife Area in Washington because it’s a 2370-acre wildlife area and because it has a funny sounding name. “Silly-poo.”

I took off early for the long drive and arrived at the parking area to discover…oops, I need a Discover Pass to park. Low.

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Washington State Parks allow some free days on holidays, but President’s Day isn’t one of them. I sat in my car and debated. I got out of my car walked a little bit, felt guilty and quickly exited to hunt down a pass. I want to support the parks system, plus I want to avoid getting fined.

Since my pass-purchase-detour took me farther north, and Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge a well-known birding hotpot, was only 20 minutes even more north, I decided to go there instead. Pass in hand, I arrived to find this park doesn’t require a Discover Pass, only $3 admission, but today- free for President’s Day. Go figure. It pays to do park-fee homework before heading out.

I have mixed feelings about my Ridgefield experience. I’d only visited once before about 8 years ago, and I was reminded this time that the park requires visitors to stay in their vehicles along the 4.2 mile gravel loop from October 1 to April 30. Which is understandable to protect the migrating birds.

Next time, I’ll probably wait to visit when the park is open to foot traffic as walking is part of the fun of birding for me and there are some great trails in the area. Plus, it can be awkward driving on the roads navigating and stopping, sticking your head and camera out the windows, feeling pressure to move forward so others can drive around you to see the same birds. It felt more like a Disney ride than a nature outing.

Despite this, I still saw some cool birds:

Upon leaving Ridgefield, the sun was high in the sky well past the golden hour for birding in my mind. At 1pm the bright sun creates a back-lit sky and it’s often only possible to see silhouettes of birds, challenging for ID purposes, impossible for quality photos. But still, I’d been cooped up in the car all morning and craved a walk. And the afternoon is a good time to see raptors soaring in the sky hunting prey. So I returned to Shillapoo, since I had gone through the trouble to acquire the pass after all.

This time I confidently exited my vehicle, knowing I was legally parked. Just as I suspected though, late in the day many birds were hunkered down conserving energy and the skies were pretty quiet. I did hear the call of a bald eagle though, and saw adult and juvenile pair up in the trees.

BAEA

An appropriate sighting on President’s Day.

As the lighting conditions worsened I decided to leave and was feeling kind of bummed, since I hadn’t been able to spend time at Shillapoo in optimal conditions. Silly, I know but I had made the lengthy drive there twice. But as I was leaving something caught my eye… that’s funny, that log looks like it has cat ears…I took a closer look in the binoculars, omg the cat ears moved – THAT’S AN OWL.

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I circled around to get a better look, and found what I think is the same Great Horned Owl perched higher in the branches. It’s possible this was a second owl because I didn’t see any movement of flight from the first, but the log perch was obscured by bushes from all other angles so it’s probably the same individual just relocated.

I watched until the owl flew higher and further obscured by branches.

Now I’d seen some really cool species that day even a few new ones, but that owl made my day. It definitely made it worth visiting Shillapoo twice, and I’ll definitely make many a return visit to this wildlife area.

Thanks for reading,

Audrey