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.

IMG_6173

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

Birding by Bike

As I sit listening to the thunder, rain, and hail outside, I’m thankful it was sunny-ish last weekend because I went birding by bike!

There are fewer joys greater than pedaling around Portland on a spring day.

Bike

It’s taken me an embarrassingly long time to hop on the saddle to go birding, but this day I was determined to find new species by bike and opted to try my luck looping around the airport.

Starting at Alderwood Trail, I locked up and walked along the calm, quiet trail. I noticed how few waterbirds there were since mid-winter. Merely one Ring-necked Duck and a couple of Mallards hanging in the slough. YAWN. Just kidding, they’re cool birds, but I was looking for something more this day.

A couple of other common birds cooperated for a picture.

Golden-crowned Sparrow

American Robin

American Robin

I’m making a strong effort to figure out how to work my new camera. Normally, there are three settings on my cameras: Frustrated, Angry, and Happy. I usually have it set to Frustrated, but lately, I’ve found a couple of Happy settings. I’m counting down the days until my camera class next month (17)!

Alder Trail felt like a bust, so I moved on towards the Marine Drive Bike Path, and found a Savannah Sparrow along the way!

Savannah Sparrow

I recently took the Little Brown Birds class with Portland Audubon and feeling only slightly more confident about identifying them I focused my attention on the field marks. I also learned to ask: Why are you not a Song Sparrow? Because, most often it is, so the Song Sparrow makes a good “reference species.” The bird pictured above has a short, forked tail, and yellow lores making it a Savannah Sparrow.

I continued biking along the Columbia River, until I spotted two active birds flying around and calling out in high pitched notes.

American Pipit

American Pipit

American Pipit

American Pipit

What the heck is it I wondered. These are little brown birds that weren’t in my little brown birds class…uh oh…I turned to the field marks: buffy chest with light streaking, long slender pointed bills, pale lores…it still didn’t connect until I flipped through the different species in Sibley and came across the Wagtails and Pipits. Ground-dwelling open country song birds that wag their tails up and down – this bird wagged its tail! The little brown bird’s identity was uncovered: American Pipit!

Following this excitement, I was further spoiled by two more newbies in the Columbia! A Horned Grebe and a Common Loon (my 100th!).

Horned Grebe

Horned Grebe

Common Loon

Common Loon

Looking up these birds on the Cornell website makes me want to take a trip to Alaska or Canada to see them in their breeding plumages in the summer. At the very least I want to some day hear the Common Loon’s haunting, wolf-like calls in person. It’s on my birding-bucket list.

Here are some other birds I saw along my bike ride.

 

Soft bird on a sharp fence - Mourning Dove

Soft bird on a sharp fence – Mourning Dove

A great ride and seeing beautiful birds makes for a satisfying and happy day.

Speaking of beautiful birds, please help Audubon stop the Cormorants from being killed along the Columbia River. More information and how to help HERE.

Thank you.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Beginning Birding I

I recently completed Audubon’s Beginning Birding class taught by the kind and patient Laura Whittemore. She is the author of Laura Goes Birding blog, and a longtime experienced teacher and birder. The course includes one classroom session and two guided field trips and is excellent for beginners looking to learn basic birding skills such as identifying subtle differences between seemingly identical little brown birds.

After these sessions, I’m still a beginner, but now I’m a beginner who knows to judge size and shape of the birds, decipher what it’s doing, recognize habitat, listen closely to songs, and pay attention to what type of bird it is – raptor? finch? sparrow? plover? I’ve learned to pay attention to field marks and other identification clues. These are skills that Laura makes look easy but for me will take practice and hopefully some day become second nature.

It was especially fun to meet other new birders to share the experience with. The classroom was held at Audubon’s satellite East-side Branch at Leach Botanical Garden and the field trips took us to Smith and Bybee Lakes and Tualatin National Wildlife Refuge. Overall we saw (and/or heard) 32 species at Smith and Bybee and 33 species at Tualatin NWR including 4 new-to-me spices: Ruddy Duck, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Tree Swallow, and Green-winged Teal.

Some highlights:

I felt the class was beneficial enough that I’ve signed up for another in the series: Waterfowl I.D. for Beginners. It starts next week and I look forward to it!

Tweets, chirps, and quacks,

Audrey

Find more pictures from the Smith and Bybee trip here, and Tualatin NWR here.