Vancouver Lake

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a new sparrow. Certainly not for lack of trying. Since before the first of this year, I’ve looked for little brown birds with that extra bit of flair at several locations including Jackson Bottom, Fernhill Wetlands, Ridgefield NWR, Sauvie Island, and Vancouver Lake. But still no luck.

So when I saw White-throated Sparrows were a target species for one of Audubon’s free outings a couple of weeks ago I was pumped. We met early at Vancouver Lake on a day forecast for steady rain showers.

Audubon outing

The lake waters started slow, a couple of Double-crested Cormorants flew by, and Cackling Geese flew overhead, and then things picked up with thousands of Snow Geese, multiple Sandhill Cranes, and a pair of Tundra Swans passing by above.

Audubon outing

Walking along the trails increased our species sightings with Western Meadowlark, Fox Sparrows, White-breasted Nuthatch, Pacific Wren, Red-winged Blackbird, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, and American Kestrel. To name a few.

Audubon outing

Walking back on the park roads that’s when the sparrow magic happened.

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

Not just a pile of leaves, there’s a White-Throated Sparrow in there!  There were a few hopping around and kicking leaves within the groups of Golden-Crowned Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos. Success! Sometimes it helps to have more eyes and a seasoned guide to find the bird.

Oddly, on this trip I took more pictures of people than birds even though we saw more than 50 species! It was not the greatest light conditions, but with no rain AND a new sparrow? I call that a good day.

Audrey

Sauvie Island

For my first March trip I opted for Sauvie Island.

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I was most excited to see raptors, sparrows, waterbirds, and for the opportunity to practice geese identification.

I gained life experience points when shortly after arriving I realized that I’d left my camera memory stick at home and didn’t have a spare. In this moment I learned how important photographing birds is to me, not just seeing them. By chance, there was a retail store open on a Sunday at 7am just 12 minutes away from my location and I zipped there and back relieved I didn’t have to make the long drive home and miss out.

The island is huge. 26,000 acres with about 24 miles of road to explore. I curse the transportation planner who designed the roads so narrow with little to no shoulder. Granted they were probably designed several decades ago but it’s scary navigation for cyclists and drivers in some sections especially near the steep embankments. It’s rather treacherous for birding out the car window too. I like to stop a bunch if I see birds standing out against the scenery. I could use a sign that reads: “this vehicle makes sudden and frequent stops for birds.” It’s a good thing I go out so early before more traffic is present.

My first sudden stop was for this surprising bird.

Ring-necked Pheasant

A Ring-Necked Pheasant! I wish I’d gotten a clearer picture, but he was hurriedly on his way to do bird business in the dense shrubs along the roadway.

Instantly, my disappointment of the late start melted. My strategy was to travel to the farthest point and work my way back on the island. I first drove to Rentenaar Rd a wildlife viewing area requiring a parking permit. I was unnerved to hear gunshots nearby. Sauvie Island is open to hunting this time of year, so some trails are closed, but this road is open for viewing.

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Even still, I carried on. I’m glad I did.

Savannah Sparrow

This little bird was out and back in the shrubs in an instant. At first sight I thought it was a Lincoln’s Sparrow, but the yellow-ish eyebrow, short tail, pink legs (and conformation on Whatbird) equals Savannah Sparrow. Lincoln Sparrow have grey, rather than yellow “eyebrows.” Each time I find a new sparrow, I’m reminded how much I have to learn.

Then, on my way to my next stop, Coon Point, I saw a field of swans!

Snow Geese

Nope! Not swans! Snow Geese! They fooled me. Neat to get a look at them since they are only in Oregon during migration. They’re a noisy bunch!

Next up was the Great Blue Heron rookery!

Rookery

Conveniently located next to the rookery was a Bald Eagle nest.

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I counted at least 6 juvenile Bald Eagles in a tree next to the rookery. Easy pickins for the eagles. According to a Seattle Times article, this is a common problem. Suzanne Krom founder of Herons Forever says eagles consider heron nesting grounds “all-you-can-eat, fast-food delis.” Yeesh.

One raptor I expected to see on the Island was a Merlin. And then I saw this bird.

Peregrine Falcon

I left the island under the impression this was a Merlin, little did I know. Once I got home, researched the field guides, and asked Whatbird, I giddily realized this is a PEREGRINE FALCON. Holy bird poop, how exciting. I only wish I’d figured it out in the field and could have admired it more. Maybe next sighting.

Another falcon I had difficulty identifying was this one.

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper's Hawk

I thought surely I’d found a Sharp-shinned Hawk; small head, “lack of neck.” The feedback on Whatbird was that this is a Cooper’s Hawk based on fine belly streaking, strikingly large bill, and shorter outer tail feathers. The Sharp-shinned has eluded me yet again. Update: Or has it! Upon further debate on this bird, despite the tail feathers it is “likely a Sharp-shinned Hawk“! I concur; see comments below.

At Coon Point I did see geese.

Geese

So many tiny dots. Without a scope or a closer view, I decided to just call them geese.

Though it was getting late in the day, I pushed on to my final destination point, Wapato Greenway State Park, a lovely, flat 3 mile trail on the island. Here are the results.

One trip to Sauvie’s Island resulted in four new species for me! Ring-necked Pheasant, Savannah Sparrow, Snow Geese, and Peregrine Falcon! Another exciting day as a beginning birder. Sauvie Island is rich with stunning birds, I can’t wait to make a return trip.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey