Desert Wonderlands: 1st Time Birding in Phoenix & Tucson

Dusk in the Sonoran Desert

Dusk in the Sonoran Desert

We went for birding and baseball.  Neither of us had ever been to southern Arizona but Floyd had always wanted to see spring training in Phoenix.  But aside from two daytime games, it was really all about birding for me.  I knew the majority of birds would be “lifers” – first time seen or heard ever!  As soon as the plane landed we had about two hours until check-in at the hotel so our first stop was Papago Park in central Phoenix.  At midday, the temperature was already in the low 90’s and it became quickly apparent we couldn’t take a planned hike.  Instead we moved from one shaded tree to the next near the small lake – or stood under one of the many scattered ramadas in the shade – listening, watching.  I had studied the Arizona bird id books and the eBird lists for the park however I wasn’t familiar with their sounds so it was a simply a cacophony of wondrous calls, whistles, hoots and songs.  But honestly, it didn’t take long to figure out the sounds of a Verdin, a Great-tailed Grackle, a Greater Roadrunner, a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher and much more.  After about an hour I already had 10 new species!

A nesting Cactus Wren greeted us at the hotel.

A nesting Cactus Wren greeted us at the hotel.

Our first morning we went for an early before-breakfast hike to beat the heat.  This rather barren landscape with some cactus, shrubby trees and dry washes turned out to be magical for birding and was one of our favorite morning hikes on the trip.

Before-breakfast hike in this landscape.

Before-breakfast hike in this landscape.

The second morning we visited the beautiful Desert Botanical Gardens with different demonstration habitats.

Desert Botanical Garden

Desert Botanical Garden

Blooming cactus.

Blooming cactus.

On the third day we were off to Tucson!  Again, the heat was nearly intolerable so we went up Mt. Lemmon where the temperature was about 10 degrees cooler and birded up the road at several stops.  Many other life birds that were seen but not photographed included the Northern Bearded-Tyrannulet, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Canyon Towhee, Lucy’s Warbler, Cassin’s Kingbird, Yellow-eyed Junco, and a Scott’s Oriole…

View back towards Tucson from Mt. Lemmon.

View back towards Tucson from Mt. Lemmon.

We were so happy with the welcoming casita at the Hacienda del Desierto B&B where we stayed in the out-skirts of Tucson.  When we said we were cooking for ourselves, they gave us a half-dozen fresh-laid eggs for our breakfasts.  Surrounded by bird feeders, the casita was a place where you walk out the door or sit on the patio in the cool shade and watch new lifers show up right in front of you.  Plus the Elf Owls were calling at dusk every night just below us.  One evening we tried to find which cactus they were nesting in but were unsuccessful.

Sunset looking towards Tucson.

Sunset looking towards Tucson.

Some of the native wildlife strolling by our casita…

On our fourth day we were off to Madera Canyon where even more lifers – and a few familiar birds – were waiting to be seen…

Sitting on chairs and taking pictures of hummingbirds at the numerous feeders at Santa Rita Lodge was unbelievably fun and restful after our hike at Proctor Road.  We saw not only the Broad-billed  and Black-chinned Hummingbirds, but also Magnificent and Anna’s Hummingbirds.

On our way home this “Fuertes” Red-tailed Hawk was by the roadside.  His different look from our Pacific NW Red-tails was confusing at first – his belly band is hardly noticeable and his head is much lighter.

“Fuertes” Red-tailed Hawk south of Tucson.

On the fifth day we went to Agua Caliente Park in Tucson and then back up Mt. Lemmon for another hike. I had been hoping to get a decent picture of a male Vermilion Flycatcher and finally got a distant one.

Male Vermilion Flycatcher at Agua Caliente Park in Tucson.

Male Vermilion Flycatcher at Agua Caliente Park.

Other lifers picked up on the trip included the following raptors –  a Harris’s Hawk, a Common Black Hawk, a Gray Hawk, and a Zone-tailed Hawk.  Although hoping for a Black Vulture, all the vultures I had seen were Turkey Vultures so far.  Common Ravens were also living up to their name…

Common Raven by the roadside.

Common Raven by the roadside.

Finally on the last day back in Phoenix we went to a wetland area and suddenly I was looking at a kettle of over thirty Black Vultures.  My last lifer on this trip!

Part of a large circling kettle of Black Vultures.

Part of a large circling kettle of Black Vultures.

At the wetland, I was hoping to see some Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks but just missed them by two days.  Instead there were over twenty Black-neck Stilts and some other shorebirds migrating north among the ducks reminding us that we too were heading north back home tomorrow.

What an amazing birding trip.  By the way, the baseball wasn’t bad either – especially watching “King Felix” Hernandez pitch for the Mariners!

The arrival of spring, some early migrants and territorial fever.

Snow Geese take flight with a "Blue Goose" front and center on Sauvie Island!

Snow Geese take flight with a “Blue Goose” front and center on Sauvie Island!

Sunny days in late winter are a great time to watch overwintering waterfowl – like the stunning Snow Geese taking flight above – in our local refuges.  It’s also the best time of the year to listen for owls as they hoot, pair up and establish their nesting territory.  From my balcony on the river, I have heard Great Horned Owls, Northern Saw-whet Owls and Western Screech-Owls hooting in the vicinity of Ross Island and the Holgate Channel – especially in the calm hours between 3 – 4 am.  I’ve been lucky to catch a glimpse of a few owls in recent months.

Distant male Great Horned Owl found sleeping not far from another nesting female.

Distant male Great Horned Owl found sleeping not far from another nesting female.

A Northern Pygmy-owl was nonchalant about my taking his photograph in the drizzly rain and rarely looked my way.  I love the fake eyes on the back of his head.  His mate is calling from behind him.

This Barred Owl found right next to a major birding trail was trying unsuccessfully to hide in some branches.  And the public has been lucky to see a local-celebrity Burrowing Owl wintering on Yaquina Head.

Oregon had a couple visits from a rare Black-headed Gull and one of them could reliably be found across the street from the Dairy Queen in Astoria hanging out with the Mew Gulls.  In winter, this small gull has two dark bars over his head and a red bill and legs.  He was getting booted off his grassy perch when we stopped by in late January.

Brown’s Ferry Park in Tualatin had recent arrivals of both a Blue-winged Teal and some Cinnamon Teal who joined the already present Green-winged Teal for a rare “3-Teal Day” at the pond.  A gorgeous Mallard, a graceful Great Egret and a singing Red-winged Blackbird shared the pond.

Great Blue Herons are currently nesting across the river from our home.  I estimate about 12-14 occupied nests.  As they gather in January, they often hang out on the power pole on Ross Island near the rookery.

Great Blue Herons gather on the power pole on Ross Island in January near the rookery.

Great Blue Herons gather on the power pole on Ross Island in January near the rookery.

On Sauvie Island, Sandhill Cranes were prancing in a marsh on a cold, sunny winter’s day.

And a fierce-looking immature Bald Eagle stole the catch-of-the-day from two Red-tailed Hawks, scattering the cranes and other waterfowl.

Bald Eagle steals food from two Red-tailed Hawks.

Bald Eagle steals food from two Red-tailed Hawks.

Other late winter wetland and birds include –

The songbirds are singing in full force now and the dawn chorus we’re enjoying outside our bedroom includes House Finches, White-crowned Sparrows and an American Robin.

All birders look forward to the return of the Osprey from their wintering grounds further south.  I was lucky to see one arrive on March 16th, circling and calling over the pond at Oaks Bottom.  Unfortunately two immature Bald Eagles quickly went after him to protect their turf.  One heroic American Crow took down one of the Bald Eagles while the other kept hassling the Osprey and forced it to retreat.  This is not the homecoming welcome we want for an Osprey!   But they’ll take back their nests very soon.  Here at Rivermile 14’s Osprey nest, a Canada Goose has once again taken it over.  Last year the Osprey failed to re-take the nest from the goose with a few half-hearted dives.  We can only hope that this year he will put up a better fight to win his nest back.  We’ll see what happens…

So happy to see this Osprey at Oaks Bottom on March 16th!

So happy to see this Osprey at Oaks Bottom on March 16th!

Immature Bald Eagle taken down by this gutsy American Crow!

Immature Bald Eagle taken down by this gutsy American Crow!

2nd Bald Eagle chasing the Osprey away - for now...

2nd immature Bald Eagle chasing the Osprey away – for now…

Other new migrants that have arrived back in Portland include a Say’s Phoebe doing some fly-catching in NE Portland –

Say's Phoebe was very approachable in NE Portland.

Say’s Phoebe was busy fly-catching in NE Portland.

a few Rufous Hummingbirds – who buzzed me with their dive displays at the Sandy River Delta –

Rufous Hummingbird securing his summer territory with dive displays.

Rufous Hummingbird securing his summer territory with dive displays.

and these Tree Swallows that have happily found their summer home waiting for them in peace at the newly renovated Fernhill Wetlands in Forest Grove –

Tree Swallows find a welcome home at Fernhill Wetlands!

Tree Swallows find a welcome home at Fernhill Wetlands!

 

 

A lucky day, an exotic duck, and other wintering birds.

Anna's Hummingbird at Rivermile 14 in the South Waterfront.

Anna’s Hummingbird wintering at Rivermile 14 in the South Waterfront.

My lucky day started when I stepped out of the shower, checked the clock and decided it wasn’t too late for a day-trip to Astoria. I wanted to find two rare-for-Oregon birds, a Snow Bunting hanging out on the Riverwalk trail near a warehouse and a Tropical Kingbird, a new life-bird for me.  Floyd agreed to come as long as we didn’t do a side trip to the jetty and could be home by dinner.  No problem!  En route, an email from OBOL (Oregon Birders Online listserv) gave the location of an Indigo Bunting, another Oregon rarity, that was visiting a bird seed pile in a residential area of Seaside.  We decided that a quick stop there on our way home was worth it.  So three cool birds in one day!  The Snow Bunting was ridiculously easy to find as it practically stepped onto the trail as we approached the designated location.   We watched this rather tame bird as he seemed to find grubs and seeds to eat in this strange concrete location and then disappeared in the rocks along the water.

Next we went up and over the hill to where the Tropical Kingbird was seen near a pizza parlor.  We walked a few blocks up and down the streets with no luck.  Just as I was ready to give up, the beautiful yellow kingbird came flying into trees in the parking lot sounding out his trilly call.  Not photographable but a good sighting nevertheless!  Watch this video to see and hear this amazing bird.

As we were heading south over the Young’s Bay Bridge, I checked on the OBOL listserv again and started screaming, “There’s a Snowy Owl on a rooftop in the Burlingame neighborhood back in Portland – right now!”  This was only three miles from our home and was really not the place you would expect to find a Snowy Owl – in a highly urban setting – but it was two hours from our present location provided we made no stops and traffic cooperated.  I had to see this if at all possible!  Now the race was on. We decided to stop briefly for the Indigo Bunting – Yes! We saw it quickly and then a cat came and flushed all the birds from the seed pile – so another bird seen without a photo.  We made a one-minute stop for a cup of tea for the driver (Floyd) – I was too revved up to add caffeine to my system.  And then a five-minute stop to pick up some crab at the Bell Buoy fish market for dinner.  Looking at the clock, I wasn’t optimistic.  It was now a little after 3 pm and Google Maps on my iPhone said we would arrive at the Snowy Owl address at 4:45 pm.  Sunset was at 4:30 pm.  “Hey” I thought, “dusk is OK.  If the owl is still there I don’t need a photo, just an amazing sighting!”  But would the owl still be there five hours after its first reporting???  That was the million-dollar question.  Floyd puts the pedal to the metal and off we go.  We made pretty good time until Google Maps (I love this program!) tells me there is a traffic jam ahead beginning at the Sylvan Exit of Hwy. 26 and Hwy. 214 is also a mess. Now, I was raised in the Portland west hills so – no problem – we will take the back roads…  Turn right here, left here, right here – Floyd has no idea where we are – but I do.  I am bouncing up and down in the car seat now as the race concludes and we arrive in Burlingame at 4:45.  There are people milling about – a good sign!  We park the car and lo and behold the Snowy Owl is looking right at us – it’s the Snowy Owl smiley-face look!  It is getting dark so I needed to prop my arm against our car to still the camera for this shot –

Snowy Owl at dusk in SW Portland.

Snowy Owl at dusk in SW Portland.

The owl flies to the other side of the roof and I try for a couple more shots but now it is already too dark.  If we had arrived 10 minutes later, no photo could be taken.  I am elated and puzzled by a woman driving by who says out of her car window, “That bird has been here all day” with obvious annoyance in her voice.  But the kids with their parents are thoroughly into it and say, “Goodnight Snowy Owl” as they traipse off to dinner.  This superfecta rare-bird lucky day began when I checked the clock this morning at 10:11 on 12-13-14.  The daylight disappeared at 4:56 pm.

Finishing up my birding year, I visited a lot of north Portland watering holes and the Columbia River.  A new life-bird was found – although I didn’t realize it at the time.  A very all-white gull was hanging out at Vanport Wetlands.  It was puzzling me but I still sort of ignored it.  Shame on me, as I am really trying to learn my gulls.  It was a Glaucous Gull and I had to go back two days later and get a picture after another birder id’d the gull as rare.  Also a cool (and rare) Tufted Duck came very close to shore for a good photo op –

At Whitaker Ponds Nature Park, the short loop trail yields an abundance of birds.  This year a Red-shouldered Hawk has decided to winter there.  I watched him being harassed and shoved around repeatedly by the crows until finally he was able to settle into a peaceful resting place.

I made a few trips to Washington County refuges, lakes and fields – one to find the rare Clay-colored Sparrow – which I spotted but only briefly.  Instead I brought home a picture of the raspberry field where he, other sparrows and a pair of Red-necked Pheasants are wintering. And at Tualatin National Wildlife Refuge a Bald Eagle was being scolded for not bringing home the goose to his mate – we watched his five unsuccessful tries to nab an obviously injured goose who was quick to submerge in the water on each pass.  Go Goose!

We celebrated New Year’s Eve day with a trip to Canby Community Park to look at the most colorful, exotic duck that you will ever see.  The first time you see a male Mandarin Duck is a definite “WOW” moment.  This guy was lurking in the reeds, hard to see and photograph but definitely worth it!  Also my photographic nemesis, the Black Phoebe, finally posed for a pic nearby.  What a great birdy park!

So a New Year begins and for a birder that means starting a new list for 2015.  We plan to travel and a trip to Arizona is in our near future.  But until then, I will continue to enjoy my local habitats – here’s a few 2015 birds from Reed Lake, Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden, Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge and the Milwaukie boat launch where a rare Black-and-white Warbler has been wintering.  May 2015 bring you beauty in all forms – including birds!

 

A Busy Fall Chasing the Rare, the Common and the Just Plain Cool!

Ring-necked Pheasant on Sauvie Island.

Ring-necked Pheasant on Sauvie Island.

There was a great wave of rare bird sightings this year in September on Sauvie Island before many areas closed for seasonal hunting.  Some birds had to be scoped and were too far for pictures but one of my favorites sightings included this Red-necked Pheasant in the middle of a road near Big Eddy which stopped our car. It wasn’t going to move, so taking a picture was too simple. It is easily the most beautiful, arty display of color and design I have yet to see on a bird. Unfortunately it was likely introduced as a game bird, and hasn’t survived the season, and if it did, would not be self-sustaining.  But it’s still drop-dead gorgeous.  Other Sauvie sightings include the return of the Sandhill Cranes, Snow Geese including a dark morph “Blue Goose” and the following –

In Washington County, I visited Hagg Lake, the Dawson Creek ponds by the Hillsboro Library and rural Johnson Road in search of a Northern Pygmy Owl.  Instead of finding a Pygmy Owl, the Gray Jays had commandeered the entire road guarding their found carcass.  A Mountain Quail also made a too-brief appearance along Johnson Road.

With tips from another birder, we found this juvenile Barn Owl in a very vulnerable urban location in Hillsboro.  So adorable and so sleepy –

During one storm with very high winds from the southwest a lot of rare coastal waterfowl showed up off Hayden Island in the Columbia River.  Thanks to a tip from another birder, I saw all three Scoter species in one day – a trifecta – although the White-winged Scoter was too far for a picture in the choppy waves.

I made a special trip to Ridgefield NWR in Washington to see the White-faced Ibis hanging out in a pond next to the auto-route and of course, Northern Harriers and American Kestrels were everywhere.

We had to make special trips to the coast to see two really rare species.  First one Brown Booby was found at Newport.  A second Brown Booby was later confirmed in the same location and then a third showed up at Pacific City.  However the Tundra Bean Goose at Nestucca NWR was a mega-rare event and drew birders from out-of-state!  It is only rarely seen in the lower 48 states.  It usually winters in northern Asia and Europe.

Earlier in the fall I was able to get pictures of a Caspian Tern and a Common Tern at Broughton Beach in Portland.  The Caspian was not rare but the Common was and we were lucky to have him stick around for a while.  Another birder was lucky to get pictures of an Arctic Tern at this location while we were in Chicago.

Other cool birds at Broughton Beach from earlier in the fall up until very recently include an American Tree Sparrow found by an astute birder who alerted the local birders to its presence.

Recently I literally walked into a couple of Short-eared Owls that can winter along the Columbia River – one on the beach and another on a pier post.  Such beautiful owls and lucky sightings!

A couple rare gulls showed up this fall at Smith-Bybee Lakes – a Franklin’s Gull and a Sabine’s Gull.  I only saw the Sabine’s at dusk which was too dark for a picture.  Also a Snowy Egret and a Red-shouldered Hawk seem to appear every fall to enjoy along with the shorebirds –

A few more this-and-that sightings from local ponds included these beauties –

Finally, a couple of my fall favorites.  Earlier in the fall, Floyd and I walked into this what-I-thought-was-a-Barred Owl in the forests of west hills Portland.  But a closer look revealed an arrowhead pattern on his chest indicating some Spotted Owl parentage.  This hybrid owl is called a “Sparred Owl” and was a very lucky sighting – especially in an urban area!

Barred Owl x Spotted Owl hybrid - "Sparred Owl" - in west Portland hills.

Barred Owl x Spotted Owl hybrid – “Sparred Owl” – in west Portland hills.

And my newest life bird, my first Snowy Owl!  This was an easy sighting at Fern Ridge in Eugene seen by many birders.  Another Snowy Owl has since turned up in Oregon.  We don’t get a lot this far south and this female was thrilling to see – even if she was a quarter mile away.

Snowy Owl at Fern Ridge in Eugene.

Snowy Owl at Fern Ridge in Eugene.

Late Summer Travels: Mt. Hood to the Beaches

This summer we went up to Mt. Hood twice, once in early July and again in late September.  What a difference!  In July we were walking about half the time on large fields of soft snow in our waterproof shoes in 70 degree weather while occasionally dodging a few late season skiers. Then in September there was so little snow that we hiked up 1,000 feet within one mile to an elevation of 7,000 feet at the Silcox Hut. With the lack of oxygen and steep ascent, this was a huffer and puffer for sure!

OK.  We did see a few birds along the way too.  The usual common residents were joined in September by loads of American Pipits, Horned Larks and Golden-crowned Sparrows.

Then, in mid-July and again in September we traveled in the opposite direction and got our fix of summer breeding birds along the beaches.  At Cannon Beach the morning sun and low tide allowed us to get really close for some great pictures of some of the nesters near the base of the Haystack Rock.

Farther north, the first shorebirds of the season began arriving and some cool seabirds were found close to shore or loafing on the jetties.

One of our favorite adventures was trekking across Leadbetter Point at the tip of the Long Beach peninsula in Washington.  I was on the hunt for my first Snowy Plover which has plentiful roped-off, protected habitat at this location.  In the early 1990’s there were only 35-50 Snowy Plovers on the entire Oregon coast. They nest on the beach dunes and their eggs are easily disturbed by humans, motor vehicles, and dogs. Thanks to the coordinated efforts of many agencies and places like Leadbetter Point, the numbers this year appear to be over 300 in Oregon!  Yay!

Oh, did I mention the three bears we came in close contact with on Bearberry Trail?  You can be sure we sang and whistled our way along the rest of this remote 6.5 mile hike to announce our presence.  Bear scat was everywhere!

Our most recent trip to the beach was a birthday trip to the Tillamook Wetlands where we saw our first White-tailed Kites – but sadly they were too far away for pictures.  The wetlands were birdy and beautiful though.  Then the fog socked in Bayocean Spit preventing photography except for this Belted Kingfisher who was actively fishing in the bay and a lonely Pacific Loon at the Barview Jetty.  I can’t wait to return to the incredible habitats at Tillamook!

 

Waders, Shorebirds, Songbirds and Butterflies: August in Illinois

Little Blue Heron at Horseshoe Lake, IL.

Little Blue Heron at Horseshoe Lake, IL.

We were reluctant to visit Illinois in August due to the heat, but we wanted to attend a friend’s wedding in Springfield.  Happily it wasn’t as hot as normal.  With days in the 70’s or 80’s, the main complaints were rampant mosquitoes and black flies, and extreme high humidity.  Wanting to see some new species, we had to travel a little farther afield – use mosquito repellent liberally.  First on my list was a visit to Horseshoe Lake in  southwest Illinois near St. Louis, MO.  Here my target species – Little Blue Heron – breed, so finding one would be a sure bet.  We were not disappointed. Within 10 minutes we found this very small blue heron wading near the shoreline right next to the road.  Further exploration of the lake uncovered other waders – Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, a Snowy Egret and a Cattle Egret.  Other new first-time species (known as a “lifer”) found here included Northern Bobwhite, Carolina Chickadee, Blue Grosbeak and Eurasian Tree Sparrow.  Quite a visit!

Juvenile Little Blue Heron (center), with Great and Cattle Egrets

Juvenile Little Blue Heron (center), with Great and Cattle Egrets

Nearby at the Watershed Nature Center in Edwardsville, IL, we found a Black-crowned Night Heron fishing and yet another “lifer” – the Fish Crow!  Fish Crows – found only in the eastern part of the US – look nearly identical to the American Crow but sure sound different.  As soon as we arrived at the pond and opened the car door, we heard their cute little nasal call which made us laugh…

Black-crowned Night-Heron with fish.

Black-crowned Night-Heron with fish.

 

Back in Chicago, we began longer day-trips to find even more “lifers.”  Several trips to suburban sod farms brought us distant views of an Upland Sandpiper and a Buff-breasted Sandpiper.  One day we heard there was an easy view of a Least Bittern.  This tiny 11-inch heron was supposedly wading on top of some lily pads about an hour north of our Chicago home – so off we went.  We finally found the correct pond at the marsh and promptly put on mosquitoe repellent – again!  The Least Bittern was not in sight, but instead, Spotted Sandpipers were found on the lily pads.  But a couple older gentlemen were on the opposite shore of the pond looking through binoculars back in our direction.  We couldn’t see where they were looking so we walked over and joined them.  They had massive camera gear on rolling luggage carriers.  Yes! – they were here to photograph the Least Bittern and had found it.  They let us use their viewing spot for about 3 minutes – enough to take an excellent picture.

Least Bittern

The tiny Least Bittern sitting on a lily pad.

Rounding out the wading group of birds, we went south of Chicago to find a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron who was unfortunately too far to photograph well.  But a Snowy Egret was posing next to a Great Egret.

Snowy Egret and Great Egret

Snowy Egret and Great Egret

And then, the shorebirds!  Nearly everyday, I would check out nearby Montrose Beach on Lake Michigan which has a protected beach habitat that attracts migrating shorebirds.

Morning at Montrose Beach - flooded after a thunderstorm.

Morning at Montrose Beach – flooded after a thunderstorm.

The shorebird highlight was hearing about the arrival of the Red Knot late one afternoon.  Another “lifer” for me, I had read that the Red Knot travels 9,300 miles from its Arctic breeding grounds to Tierra del Fuego in southern South America and wanted to see the bird that makes this heroic journey and back again every year!  I dropped everything (it was nearly dinner time) and drove to the beach even without my binoculars and camera – and found it easily enough.  Another birder lent me his binoculars.  Luckily it decided to stay at Montrose for a week and everybody had an opportunity to photograph this juvenile who was quite relaxed with all the attention.

Back in the lush wildflower meadow at Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary, it was hot and buggy.  And wonderfully peaceful except for several days when the Blue Angels circled overhead rehearsing their upcoming air show when the sound was deafening and scattered the birds in all directions!

A few of the songbirds that make Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary their home in August –

And finally, the butterflies were magnificent and everywhere…

Best of Local Summer Birding – So Far

Rivermile 14 has been a hotbed of heavy equipment construction noise as the city does an amazing renewal of the South Waterfront parkway.  While the bird populations are still thriving down here – they love the new willow plantings – we really needed to find more peaceful places to escape to this summer. Luckily, there is so much richness in the variety of landscapes and bird habitats – most less than half an hour away.  From Larch Mountain which has an elevation of 4,000 feet down to the Willamette and Columbia Rivers, you can find old growth forests, clear-cuts, mountain streams with waterfalls, meadows, marshes, and lakes.

Upper Latourell Falls, Columbia River Gorge

Upper Latourell Falls, Columbia River Gorge

In late May we decided to walk to the top of Larch Mountain the week before the winter gate opened for the summer season.  Before we got there we stopped at a clear cut along Larch Mountain Road which was very birdy.   From the snow gate, the gentle steady 4 plus mile uphill walk takes some endurance.  But it gave us time to savor the birdsongs and calls of higher elevation species including Hermit Warblers, Varied Thrush, Gray Jays and Townsend’s Solitaires deep within the cover of forest – and also a Pika calling right next to the road.  About 3 miles up it started to drizzle and cloud over.  We were too tired to go further anyway so I told Floyd that we could turn around as soon as I heard a Sooty Grouse hooting.  After 3.5 miles we celebrated the hoots with an energy bar and some rest before beginning the long descent back to the car.  I wanted a picture of a Hermit Warbler – they are so beautiful – so we had to return the following week and were able to drive to the top where they were plentiful around the parking lot.

The Sandy River Delta at the Columbia River is an especially rich bird habitat with meadows, marshes and cottonwood forests.  The Yellow-breasted Chat returns to breed in the same bush/tree every year.  This year he was performing an incredible head-bobbing dance, presumably to attract some nearby lady.

I love watching the Lazuli Bunting change from the browner partial breeding plumage to the bright full breeding plumage.

The Sandy River Delta is the only local place where you can find both species of Kingbirds on the same day!  The Eastern Kingbirds return every year to one large power pole and one day their pole was invaded by a Mourning Dove and a Red-breasted Sapsucker tapping away on the metal and making enough racket to send both Kingbirds into the meadow below.

More beautiful birds in the delta –

Hiking the trail at Oak Island on Sauvie Island goes through forest, meadow, and lake habitats – Savannah Sparrows love the meadow grassland.

Mt. Tabor’s higher elevation in Portland attracts many migrants in Spring and we even found an Anna’s Hummingbird sitting on her nest –

Force Lake near Portland Expo Center has herons, ducks and frogs.  The nearby Smith-Bybee Lake wetlands still have high water where I recently found a pair of happy Belted Kingfishers sharing a shallower pond with two Great Egrets.

Osprey nests are scattered along Marine Drive on the Columbia River and the Sea Scout Base attracts breeding Cliff Swallows –

Farther up the Columbia in the gorge, we went searching for the American Dipper and Floyd (of course!) found one in the stream at beautiful Latourell Falls –

Portland is incredibly fortunate to have Forest Park.  With over 5,000 acres, it is one the country’s largest urban forests and rises from 50 feet in elevation to over 1,000.  With patches of old-growth forest, it hosts a diversity of woodland species including my favorite, the Wilson’s Warbler.   His song combined with those of the Swainson’s Thrush and Pacific Slope Flycatcher are constant companions while looking at the wildflowers.

Recently I wanted to see the Black Tern at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge.  We were able to get good views of it flying over Rest Lake from the bird blind but too far away for photos of this black beauty with silvery wings.  Wilson’s Snipes were winnowing and Soras and Virginia Rails were calling along with the songs of Marsh Wrens.  We drove right under a Great Horned Owl who was only 20 feet above a Tree Swallow nest which made me more than a little nervous for Mom who was coming to feed them!

We visited the Tualatin National Wildlife Refuge and saw the juvenile Bald Eagle being watched over by Mom with Dad perched a short distance away.  And this too-cute Red-Winged Blackbird with nobody watching over it – although Mom probably wasn’t far away – I hope…

Finally we return back closer to home at the Oaks Bottom wetland where Herons and Egrets share the pond with ducks, Osprey, Bald Eagles and other marsh birds.  We watch the raccoon sleeping on the bluff trail during the day and at dusk can hear the call of the Common Nighthawk while the deer come out to browse the railroad tracks.  Aaaaah, it’s summer!