For my first March trip I opted for Sauvie Island.
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.
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.
Even still, I carried on. I’m glad I did.
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!
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!
Conveniently located next to the rookery was a Bald Eagle nest.
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.
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.
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.
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,
I was just out there last week. Glad you made it to this birdy spot. I’m excited to find another Portland area bird blogger! I’ll be back!
Heck yeah! It’s such a fun subculture of Portland I wasn’t aware of before. Your blog pictures are beautiful! Thanks for the comment!
Interesting, I mess up accipiter ID on a regular basis but your bird sure strikes me as Sharpie.
Doesn’t it?! I was shocked the Whatbird commenters didn’t agree, though they did waffle. I think it was the shorter outer most tail feathers (only visible in the first picture) that convinced them. But I’m still not so sure. Of course, I’ve never seen another one. Yet.
FYI, I got a couple of other opinions on the accipiter (out of my own curiosity) and they agree that despite the tail, it’s likely a Sharp-shinned.
I may be biased…but I like what you’re saying! I’ll update the post to reflect the additional input. Thanks! It doesn’t help that I’ve only come across juvenile accipiters so far…all the more challenging to ID.
Check out Cornell’s chart of what to look for, It might help or it might make you tear out more hair.
Nice blog and pictures. Rounded tails or square tails on accipiters are hard points to use due to molt and wear. And the difference can be slight. Looks to me as if this little guy has tail feathers growing in now and others rather worn. But it is an accipiter since the wing tips just barely reach the tail. A Merlin would have wing tips come down onto tail, other falcons and hawks around here have wing tips that almost or do reach tail tip. So without even looking at any other part of the bird you can get it to Coop or Sharpie by where the tips of wings reach. Sharpies have cuter faces with eye in middle of head and a rounder head, they also have less white mottling on back. If bird is relaxed and not hunched (hard to see this on your bird): Sharpies are falcon like, broad shoulders thin hips, so a wedge of cheese with wings. Coops are longer and more tubular, so a paper towel roll with a bulge in the middle, with wings stuck on it. Of course the legs are skinny on Sharpies. So I agree it is a Sharpie. Plus they really do not overlap in size, Coops are about the same length as a crow, Sharpie same length as a jay. Different bulk of course. In flight they have different wing beats and the long tube body and wider tail of a Coop is, or can be, apparent 🙂
Supremely informative comment, Bob! Good to know to pay attention to wing tip length, I haven’t honed in on that yet. Next trip, I will bring along these notes. I’m glad to receive another vote for sharpie! Thanks for your input!
[…] this Ring-necked Pheasant. He has a beautiful sunset-colored chest. A much better view than my first encounter on Sauvie Island. This bird was cackling loudly and making a […]
[…] admit it, ever since the Ring-necked pheasant at Sauvie Island, when I see these kinds of birds by the road, my first reaction is to call them chickens (blame […]