Saturday, December 31, 2016

Begin means end.

Yesterday was my last birding outing of the year at Broughton Beach with my friend Jacob.  We missed our target bird but it was so damn pleasant regardless.  Peaceful even.  The river was calm and the clouds were doing the right things.

This year I have learned that many of my favorite birding experiences are those closest to home, on days when things feel peaceful and mellow.   Unhurried outings with time to poke and inspect every little thing.  Wanders, you might call them. 

 A yellow-rump takes time to ponder the new year

This year has been about meeting new people, something I had never actively attempted before.  There are some badass folks in our Portland birding community and I am so grateful I've had chance to bird with (and drink beers with) so many of them this year. 

Goldeneyes in the loveliness

A year ago things were so different for me;  I was quite unhappy and completely unaware of that fact.  Thankfully a January trip to Mexico with four awesome nerds woke me up and I was able to get my shit together when I returned home.  I took the year off from dating.  I went on adventures with strangers.  I reconnected with old friends and made so many new ones.  There is much work to do still, but I feel good. 

Till next year, I will leave you with another little slice of peacefulness and hope...

"It's a new year, with it comes new hope and new fears.  Met a young man who was in tears, he asked me, 'What induces us to stay here?'  I said, 'I don't know much and I'm not lying, but I think you just have to keep on trying.'"


Thursday, December 22, 2016

The 5MR

Guys, this whole Five Mile Radius thing is really catching on.  It started with the Big Day challenge scheduled for January 7th, and now my friends Sarah and Max are planning a 2017 5MR Big Year!  With eBird it's easy to keep track of the radius by creating a "Patch" list, and including all hotspots and locations you use that are in the radius.  You should really try this out.

Last week Portland had yet another snow storm predicted for Wednesday afternoon and after birding all morning I made it to my grocery store as snowflakes began to fall.  I pulled in to the parking lot and noticed the usual pigeons on the ground were joined by a decent number of gulls.  I took a quick cell phone shot to document this weird parking lot combo of Glaucous-winged, Herring, and Thayer's Gulls:

Thayer's Gulls are no better than pigeons. 

 When I came out of the store the birds were still there and the snow was still falling.  I realized I had my real camera with me and I should probably crush these guys. 

 Herring Gull

Perfect Thayer's

Fred Meyer shoppers drove cautiously around me as I knelt in the middle of a pigeon swarm.

These grocery store gulls are made even more wonderful by the fact that they are in my 5MR and are more than willing to beg for crumbs.  Yessss.

The following afternoon I drove over to Blue Lake Park to check out the snowy scene there.  The gate was locked (Portland shuts down in 3" of snow) but I parked nearby and walked in.  It was rather pretty and the birding was decent.

Not a bird.

On the west end trails I came upon a scratching party that included several Fox Sparrows, a Hermit Thrush, a Varied Thrush, a Spotted Towhee, and a couple Song Sparrows.

So foxy

 Some cute tracks on one of the paths:

I learned from Colby that these are likely raccoon tracks because of how they are paired together.  I am used to seeing raccoon tracks in sand, and these toes look much more rounded but that's likely due to melting.  A camera trap set up needs to happen soon.

Back at home the birds were going nuts as the temperature did not rise above freezing for several days.  Sparrows finally decided to start eating the elderberries that had been sitting untouched for months. 

On a foggy dog walk at Mount Tabor yesterday (also in my 5MR) I was pleased to find a flock of five Varied Thrushes hanging out on a trail, the most I've seen together this winter.

The reservoirs were totally fogged over and it was interesting to watch birds appear and disappear as we walked by. 

Foggy Bufflehead

 Towards the end of our walk the sun began to break through the fog and it looked pretty awesome.

Apparently I was not the only one who thought it looked awesome.  As I was coming down the steps from the top a woman shouted up "Stop right there!"  I was a little confused but she continued "I have to take your picture and send it to you, it looks so cool!"  And so she did, and she sent me the photo with the promise she would not do anything creepy with my digits. 

So that's a thing people do now, which I am okay with. 

Yesterday afternoon I hit up some more of my 5MR spots like Mason Wetlands, Johnson Lake, and Mays Lake.  I had one possible Eurasian Wigeon at Mason so I will have to return with my scope soon.  Mostly the usual suspects otherwise.

Cooper's Hawk

A post about my Five Mile Radius would be incomplete without my latest addition to my 5MR life list, a Burrowing Owl that showed up at Broughton Beach this weekend:

This bird should really consider a move upriver to a spot without so much human and dog traffic. 

That's all I have for my 5MR right now, go start your own.  Cheers to the holidays almost being over!

Good times.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Snow Birds and Snowbirds.

It does not snow much here in Portland so when it does both the humans and the birds go absolutely bananas.  Our recent storm was scheduled to arrive mid-day Thursday, which was perfect since it was on my weekend.  The east winds were howling all Wednesday night and Thursday, freezing up the bird baths quickly.  The mutts helped me keep them under control.

We will eat bird bath ice for you.

The birds appreciated our efforts, especially once the snow arrived.

 Happy goldfinches

 Happy White-crowned Sparrow

Happy Lesser and American Goldfinches and junco

The birds were blowing through seed, though the seed was also blowing through.  That wind!   I did my best to keep everything stocked for them.

House Finch

I was hoping for some interesting birds to show up out of desperation, but nothing too crazy made an appearance.  A Spotted Towhee was a decent uncommon bird for the yard.


 In weather like this much work goes into keeping hummingbirds happy.  Unlike most places in the country that have freezing weather in the winter, Portland has year-round hummingbirds.  This means they rely heavily on us when the temperature drops.  I do my best to keep their nectar unfrozen and accessible.

This is my driveway Anna's Hummingbird who guards my driveway feeder, along with my neighbor's new little feeder about ten feet away.

He is handsome.  I have a second male that guards the backyard feeder who is also handsome.


I might have to break down and get a third feeder because these two dudes won't let any females near the nectar.  

When the weather is rough like this I allow something that I do not usually allow:

Ugh.  This one is particularly cute.

On Thursday evening the snow changed over to freezing rain.  This meant that Friday morning the whole city was coated in ice, which was pretty to look at but terrible for most other uses.  Jake in particular had a rough time walking outside and kept falling down.  I tried breaking up some paths for him to walk but I think the sharp edges of the broken ice made him even more miserable. 

Sure was pretty though!  I was crunching around the front yard taking macros when a woman waiting at the bus stop one house down walked over.  She asked if I was a photographer for a career and I said no.  She said, "you're out in this for fun???"

A few birds on ice from yesterday:

Golden-crowned Sparrow

 Sparrows on ice

 Lesser Goldfinch

 Red-winged Blackbird

 My favorite bird sighting from my weekend had to be one that I did not photograph.  I was sitting on my couch and heard a chip note I recognized but could not place.  When I looked over at the window a little grey head was peering back at me, with a yellow crown and a yellow throat.  And then it was gone.  A Yellow-rumped Warbler!   This is not a rare bird here but I've only had one a few times in the yard and certainly never perched on my windowsill looking at me.

Okay, now that we have all the snow birds and ice birds out of the way I want to talk about Snowbirds.  When I was growing up my mom referred to Dark-eyed Juncos as Snowbirds and I didn't know till I started birding that they were the same thing.  Back in our CT yard as soon as snow arrived so did the slate-colored juncos.  Here in my Portland yard my junco population tripled at the very least with the arrival of snow.

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon)

Most of the juncos we see in Portland are of the Oregon race.  How fitting.  But sometimes we get other, more interesting birds to ponder.  A few days ago I visited by a bird with a unique white patch on its cheek that was clearly not an Oregon junco.

There is no pink anywhere on this bird, though it seems to have enough of a contrasting hood that I'm not sure it can be considered slate-colored.  Could this be a Cassiar junco?  Maybe so.  I had assumed this bird would show up with the rest of the juncos during the storm but I never saw it again. (*Cassiar junco is generally considered to be a mix of the Oregon and slate-colored races).

The above bird has a less obvious hood.  

Same bird, definitely looks slate-colored to me

Another bird that showed up in the ice:

Now this bird seemed to be as slate-colored as it gets.  Yay.  If you want to read more about the various races of junco in the northwest, check out this article on eBird.

Anyway, this weather has been fun and all...

...but I'm ready for it to melt, please.  Good times!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

This week in birds.

Tuesday morning I knew the dogs really needed a good walk but I also knew that Dave Irons had found a Black-legged Kittiwake in a random field in Marion County the day before.  I checked the map and was psyched to see that Champoeg State Park was not far from the gull and so off we went.

There were only three gulls in the field so it was not hard to pick out the kittiwake.

State bird!  And more importantly, year bird!  Apparently if I had waited a bit longer I could have seen the bird way closer, even sitting in the road.  Oh well, I had important things to do, like walk the dogs around in the mud at Champoeg and watch the Acorn Woodpeckers at the disc golf course.

Acorn Woodpeckers always seem to go hand in hand with Western Bluebirds.

Check it out, this bird has a leg band!  My wish of finding more banded birds is coming true!  Too bad I can only read parts of it.  I'll try to piece it together.

Along one of the muddy trails I came across a rough-skinned newt so of course I dropped the dog leashes to lay down in the mud with it.

The dude (or dudette) kept trying to run away for some reason.  Look at this leg lift:

Champoeg is pretty cool, if you haven't been.  Not many people in the fall/winter and plenty of birds.

Wednesday morning I met up with local birder/photographer Jacob Durrent for some rainy birding at Blue Lake Park.  I am telling you now, that park is going to turn up something rare someday!  Till then, the regular birds are pretty great.

On a previous visit I had thought one of the sapsuckers looked to have hybrid potential, but this was definitely not that bird.  This bird is damn near picture perfect for the ruber subspecies.

A large flock of mostly Cackling Geese was making noise in the main field and Jake pointed out a Snow Goose in the mix.

That's always a good bird to find away from Sauvie Island.  Hopefully it sticks around till January 7th*.

I tried to turn the lone gull around into a Thayer's, but thankfully John Rakestraw set me straight.

Just another Olympic 

Towards the end of our loop around the park a Hermit Thrush appeared in front of us.

Such a likeable bird.  We finished the morning with 36 species here, my best checklist yet for the park.

Yesterday morning I birded the other side of Marine Drive, Chinook Landing.

Blue Lake and Chinook Landing are becoming my favorite birding spots this fall.  They're not heavily birded and in general there aren't that many folks around.

Common Merganser

 The marshy area by the archery range is a great place for sparrows and seems to be reliable for Lincoln's:

This is good information to know.

Some crows dive-bombing a hawk in a tree drew me back across the parking lot to the river where I immediately noticed a couple of grebes.  The water levels were high and as I tried to get a better view of what looked like a Clark's Grebe, I got one foot completely soaked.  I sloshed back around a different way and was able to confirm:

Western and Clark's Grebes

That's a good bird!  Another bird I would appreciate sticking around till January 7th*.

Back on the south side of the parking lot I found a Red-breasted Sapsucker of questionable purity.

If I reported this bird east of the Cascades with this photo I have no doubt that the reviewer would be screaming hybrid.  Maybe I'm even screaming hybrid too.  There is a dark line creeping from the shoulder, and lots of black on the back of the head.

Check out the breast on this photo:

That's a lot of black spots.  I should be screaming hybrid.  But wait, what about hatch year birds?  They start off dark all over the place.  How do I know this isn't a young bird still acquiring all its color?  The Sapsucker Dilemma is alive and well.

Back on the river a Glaucous-winged Gull flew in with an apple core.  This offers far less brain pain than sapsucker hybrids.

 I had 39 species on this trip, full checklist here.  Good times!!

*January 7th is a big day.  A Big Day in fact.  I will be competing against Seagull Steve and Texas Nate in a Big Day competition within our own 5-mile-radii.  Stay tuned!