Thursday, September 30, 2010

Lesser Yellowlegs

Greg Gillson has a great post on distinguishing between Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs. His primary method is to simply compare the length of the bird's bill to the length of its head. If the bill is longer than the head, it is a Greater Yellowlegs. If it is equal or less than the head, it is a Lesser Yellowlegs.
Go ahead, give it a try. Measure this birds bill and you will see that it is shorter than its head. Then do the same with my posting of the Greater Yellowlegs and you will see that its bill is longer than its head.
Its a good method as even though the Lesser is noticeably smaller than a Greater, if they aren't side-by-side that method fails.

Great Blue Heron

It wouldn't be right to end the month without a post of a Great Blue Heron. They are so prevalent around here.
I came upon this one crossing one of the bridges over the creek along at TRNWR. It was down below standing on a submerged log. Normally a Great Blue will fly away if encountered as close as I was to it. But this one had a bead on something in the water and decided it was more interested in it than it was fearful of me.
As I was taking pictures of it, I could see it pulling its head back and crouching, preparing to lunge its large beak into the water to catch some tasty morsel of food. I caught it in the act of the strike, but unfortunately the images of it eating the prey didn't turn out well and I couldn't tell what it had caught. None-the-less, it look quite pleased with itself after it gobble it down.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Having just gotten my best pictures yet of a White-breasted Nuthatch yesterday, I followed it up today with my best pictures by far of a Red-breasted Nuthatch. In fact, this one was so close, that at the end of the shooting session, it was so close to me that my camera would no longer focus on it. It was at that point that I did something I don't do too often; I just stood there and watched the bird with my unaided eye. It was a beautiful sight!

Golden-crowned Kinglet

I typically don't find very many birds around the platform overlooking the river at TRNWR, but I usually check anyway. Today was an exception. As soon as I approached the platform, I could see some small birds in the branches above. I soon identified several Black-capped Chickadees and at least one Red-breasted Nuthatch. These birds were in constant motion, many times moving on to a new location in the time it took for me to move my camera to my eye once I spotted one of them.
There was one bird that was different looking though. I thought maybe it was another Red-breasted Nuthatch, but I kept seeing flashes of yellow on its crest like a Golden-crowned Sparrow. But, the size and the black stripes on its head were similar to the Nuthatch.
It wasn't until later when I was looking through the pictures on my camera's viewing screen that I realized that this was a different bird. I had been hoping that it was a migrating Warbler, but when I got a good look at it I knew that I had had my first encounter with a Golden-crowned Kinglet.

Greater White-fronted Goose

My last day walking service roads at TRNWR turned out to be an interesting one. While there where not a lot of birds, I did see two new lifetime birds; a Golden-crowned Kinglet and a Greater White-fronted Goose. Plus I got up close and personal with a Red-breasted Nuthatch.
As I was walking across the central part of the refuge, what I thought was a large nondescript duck flew over head. I took a few shots of it as it flew over me thinking it will probably just turn out to be a Mallard. But when I viewed the images on my computer this evening, I got to thinking this might be something new. The white area below and above the tail was not something I have seen before. I have been reading on OBOL lately that people had been seeing White-fronted Geese, so I looked it up in my field guide and sure enough, that appears to be what this is. Based on Sibley's illustrations this is a Juvenile as its belly is missing the bars that an adult has.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Semipalmated Plover

Whenever I bird a new area, especially another part of the country or even another country, I am hopeful that I will see new species that I wouldn't be able to see here in Oregon. Such was the case when I visited Montreal and Bois-de-l'Île-Bizard Nature Park. However, whenever I see a bird I've already seen close to home, I have make sure that my enthusiasm for new sightings doesn't hamper an opportunity for good pictures.
Such was the case with this Semipalmated Plover. It was the first bird I saw as I approached the river shore. When I identified it, my first reaction was, "Ah, just a Semipalmated Plover". Just a Semipalmated Plover?! It hasn't been but about a month since my first sighting of this species and then I only got fair pictures of it. Here was one of these birds very close to me and fairly at ease with my presence.
If you look closely at the left foot of the bird in the top image, you will see where it get its name. Semipalmated refers to the fact that its toes are partially webbed.

White-breasted Nuthatch

The service roads at TRNWR will be closed to the public for the Winter on Friday, so I took one of my last opportunities to walk on some of those roads today.
The first decent picture opportunity I got was of a White-breasted Nuthatch in a large Oak on the path along the river. While I've seen many of these birds both as a youth and in the last six months, I've never gotten a good picture of one.
Even if you don't seen a Nuthatch, it's hard to miss them as they have a very distinctive call.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Gray Catbird

Another bird seen at Bois-de-l'Île-Bizard Nature Park that I would rarely, if ever see here in the Portland area. I was trying to get descent shots of some "Slate-colored" Dark-eyed Juncos when this Gray Catbird caught my eye. Its gray color sharply contrasted with the colorful autumn leaves of the tree it was perched in.
Again, the dark clouds of the day made for difficult shooting, but this image didn't turn out too bad, though a little soft in focus.
Its rufous under-tail coverts were not very evident, but if I increased the brightness way up, I did see evidence of the color.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

I had two chances to get pictures of Ruby-crowned Kinglets at Bois-de-l'Île-Bizard Nature Park. The first time I was unsuccessful. I got close looks, they actually seemed somewhat curious of me as they took turns flying into a path-side tree just next to me. But with them in near constant motion and with sluggish focusing because of the heavy overcast all the pictures were blurry or I shot too late.
The second time I had more success, but still had to fight bad lighting. Not only heavy overcast, but bright gray clouds in the background.
If you look closely at the lower image, you will notice a touch of red on its crown. Also, notice that the light is shining through its toes. An indication of just how small these birds are.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Common Moorhen - Juvenile

Among the two adult Common Moorhens I saw, there were also a couple of juveniles. The one in the image above is a bit obstructed by the reeds, but get a look at that foot! Huge toes.
Both juveniles and adults exhibited typical behavior from what I read. They swim like ducks and feed off plants growing just below the surface, sometimes walking on those same plants.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Common Moorhen

I'm in Montreal on business and had a bit of time at the end of the day to visit Bois-de-l'Île-Bizard Nature Park. It is a short distance from where I am staying and was highly recommended by locals on the internet.
I didn't have much time and the sky was dark, but I did see some birds. The image above is of a Common Moorhen. Though common, its range does not extend to my stomping grounds, so it was a good sighting.
Another exciting sighting for me was a Nashville Warbler. I saw a small flock of them in some bushes on my way back to my car. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get very good pictures. Just barely good enough to make a positive identification.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Red Crossbill

While walking along the Tillamook Bay side of Bayocean Spit, I came across a path that lead into a grove of pines. It was a short path and ended up at an opening with a couple if pit fires and a small pond.
As soon as I approached the opening I noticed some bird activity to my left in a bush by the pond. I couldn't get a good look at the birds and as I approached, they flew across the opening and a couple landed on the the top of two pines. I took some quick pictures, but they didn't stick around very long.
The image above was the best image I got and really the only one I felt comfortable with identifying them as Red Crossbills. The crossed bill is easily seen and while the coloration is a little vague, I believe this is a female.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Cedar Waxwing

Like I said in an earlier post, I saw a flock of Cedar Waxwings last Wednesday at TRNWR. I believe there was a mix of adults and juveniles as I saw this adult and one juvenile clearly, but the rest hung back in the trees out of plain sight.
This adult stayed out in front as if it were "keeping watch" on me. At one point it took time to eat some berries. I was busy taking pictures of it and didn't notice this interesting thing it did with the berry. It actually flipped the berry in the air and caught it again as you can see in the following two images.
The image information my camera embedded into the images reveals that this sequence of images were taken within 1 or 2 seconds. Yet another case of not knowing what I had until I got the pictures home on my computer.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

American Goldfinch

I have been reading that the migrating Warblers are beginning to pass through, however lately I have been going out of town birding either to the coast or Mount Hood. So, with the forecast of rain coming up for the weekend, I thought I'd take a walk through TRNWR over lunch last Wednesday to see if there were any there. No such luck, but I did see a flock of Cedar Waxwings, a Great Egret, some Savannah Sparrows and some American Goldfinches dining in a thistle patch.
The female American Goldfinch in the images above appears to either be molting or has had a rough Summer. :-)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Surf Scoter

While walking back from the tip of Bayocean Spit along Tillamook Bay last Saturday, I came along a flock of gulls out on a mudflat. I decided to go out and get some closeups, but it wasn't long before I realized that the flat is flooded at high tide as I sunk into the mud a couple of inches with each step.
Once I got close to the gulls and began shooting, I noticed some black birds swimming out in the bay. At first I thought they were some Cormorants, but as they get closer I realized that they were more duck-like in shape. Taking a closer look through my lens, they turned out to be Surf Scoter. My first sighting!
There were seven of them, five males and two females. The males have quite the flamboyant bill. They were feeding and for a while they seemed to take turns diving for food and then later, would all dive together. I lucked out again as they slowly made their way toward me allowing me to get some reasonable pictures. All-in-all, I saw five new species that day.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Peregrine Falcon

Just as the Sanderlings flew off at Bayocean Spit, I noticed a hawk flying out over the water. It was chasing another bird and they dipped in and out between waves as I watched. It was quite a ways out and as I watched, it eventually flew inland not far from me, but rather high in the sky. I had doubts that the pictures would turn out well enough to identify the hawk as they can be difficult to figure out, especially at such a long distance.

When I got home and downloaded the pictures from my camera to my computer, I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only could I identify the bird, but that it had actually caught the bird it was chasing. Based on the order that I took the pictures, the above image must have been taken just after it caught the bird as you can see it hanging underneath.

It wasn't until I looked at some of the later pictures as it was flying overhead that I was able to get a fairly clear view of it with distinguished features. Again, much to my surprise, this "hawk" turned out to be a Peregrine Falcon. It's coloration suggests it is a juvenile as it was more brown than an adult and its belly has longitudinal striping rather than lateral.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


Today I decided to explore the area around Tillamook. My first stop was to Bayocean Spit and I ended up spending most of the day there. Because the sun was just rising, I decided to walk the ocean beach side first since it would light the birds along the shore well. After walking the full length of the beach, I walked the gravel road back along Tillamook Bay.
While the birds were a little spotty, there were a few good opportunities. One of those was my first sighting of Sanderlings. I saw a flock of about 35 fly in along the shore and land at shore's edge not far ahead of me. As I moved in closer, I noticed they were actually moving towards me, so I just stood there and let them come to me. I like it when the birds cooperate like that. :-) At one point a larger wave came in and the whole flock ran in just ahead of it. Then, just as fast as they flew in, they all took off together.
When I got the images on my computer this evening, I wasn't sure if they were Sanderlings or Semipalmated Sandpipers. There's a lot of similarity between the two. Then I noticed in Sibley's field guide that Sanderlings have a pronounced white strip on the upper side of their wings. Luckily, I had taken some pictures of them as they flew away. When I opened the image posted above, it was obvious that these were Sanderlings as the white wing stripe was there just as Sibley illustrated.

Friday, September 10, 2010

California Gull

I'm pretty sure the two Gulls in the foreground are California Gulls. I base this conclusion on leg color (green yellow), beak coloration (yellow with red spot on lower mandible and remnants of black ring near tip) and dark eyes.
I saw several different varieties of similar gulls at South Jetty a couple of weekends ago. Unfortunately, some are very similar and to make matters worse, some (Herring, Glaucous-winged and Western) even hybridize. So I've been slowly sorting through the many pictures, trying to get familiar with them and come to conclusions on identity.
The Gulls in the background are Heermann's Gulls.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Wilson's Snipe

This is probably one of the worst images that I have posted, but I was excited to have seen these birds. You may have to look closely to see them. I saw them at the same pond as the Greater Yellowlegs that I posted on Monday, but were off in the distance and somewhat hidden in the grass. I wasn't sure what they were, but when I left the pond some birds where looking at some of the same birds through a spotting scope on the other side of the pond. They assured me that they were Wilson's Snipe. Once I downloaded the images to my computer and got a better look at them, they do match the characteristics of Wilson's Snipe in my field guides.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Cassin's Finch

The only place I have seen a Cassin's Finch is on Mount Hood near Timberline Lodge. Not only is it the only place I've seen them, but I've seen them all three times I've gone birding there. This male was foraging for seeds on the downhill side of the lodge parking lot. Once I saw it, I just stayed in place taking pictures as it kept moving in closer and closer to me.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Mule Deer

While I was making my way to the parking lot to leave Timberline last Sunday (seems like something cool happens as I'm leaving fairly often), I walked along the downhill side of the lodge's parking lot. There was some sort of large machine ahead of me along the path. I didn't give it much notice as it was fairly nondescript. Then I realized that right behind it was a large male Mule Deer. It was just standing there on the other side leaving only it's head and top of it's back visible to me. It had a nice sized set of antlers on it as you can see.
It soon noticed me and walked off between the trees, but I got a nice shot of it walking away. My wife really liked the photo and commented that it isn't the view one normally sees of a deer. :-)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Greater Yellowlegs

I've seen what I assumed were Greater Yellowlegs in the past, especially at Fernhill Wetlands, but they were always off in the distance so I was never sure if they were the Greater or Lesser variety.
On Saturday, at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, I finally got some close looks and got some good shots. This image clearly shows the slightly upturned bill distinguishing it from the Lesser. Although it is hard to tell in a picture, it was also fairly large. Another indication of a Greater Yellowlegs.
There were three of these in the first pond along the auto tour route at the "S" Unit. I watched them for quite a while as they moved around the small pond. At one point I watched as one caught a small fish. It seemed to "wash" the fish as it pulled it up into its beak, then let it drop to the tip, swishing it in the water. Maybe it was just making sure it was dead, but it did this repeatedly before swallowing it down. I'll have to do some research on this behavior.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

American Dipper

Today I spent the morning and early afternoon on Mount Hood. I stopped at Timberline Lodge first, hoping again to see a Rosy Finch. Unfortunately, I struck out again. The weather was not good; there was fog, mist, wind and cold (about 35 degrees). The birds were far and few. I did see a male Cassin's Finch, several Dark-eyed Juncos and I believe a Juvenile Chipping Sparrow. I also got a few shots of a Mule Deer Buck.
After a couple of hours of hiking around Timberline Lodge without much luck, I decided to try the East side of the mountain as the sun would peek through the clouds occasionally which got me thinking that the clouds were hung up on the West side and the East side was sunny. That guess turned out to be true.
Reviewing the Mt Hood Loop of the Oregon Cascades Birding Trail on my iPad, I decided to check out Tamanawas Falls Trail. The guide stated that American Dippers could be seen there and as I have never seen a Dipper, so I thought it was worth a shot.
There were several cars parked at the trail's head and the trail was is heavy use. As a result, the birds were scarce. Early along the trail (it's 2 miles each way to the falls), I noticed a short side trail to the stream's edge. I had Dippers in mind as I approached the bank of the stream. The water moved rapidly across the rocks and appeared to be an ideal Dipper area. Sure enough, I was there no longer than 30 seconds when a Dipper swooped in and began looking for food along the rocks.
The top image above is the best of a hand full of pictures I was able to get. The bottom image isn't that great, but it does show the Dipper's head and chest submerged in the water as it looked for food. The water was moving fast so it had to be quite strong to hold itself in place while holding its head upstream against the water.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

American Kestrel

Since I starting birding back in March, I've seen several American Kestrels. Unfortunately, I could never get close enough to get a descent shot. They were either too far off, or if I got a little closer, they were sitting up high against a bright overcast sky.
I attended a photography club meeting TRNWR last Thursday evening and Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge came up a few times, so I decided to check it out.
Well, when I arrived, the first bird I encountered was a female American Kestrel that landed on a low post in the parking lot as I started out in my pickup to drive the car route loop. I was going very slow at the time, so I stopped to size up the situation. I was viewing the bird through my windshield which was pretty dirty at the moment, so I decided to roll down my passenger window and then slowly turn the truck away from the Kestrel and position myself so I could take shots through the open side window.
Luckily, the Kestrel wasn't spooked and I was able to get a few shots. Still not quite as sharp as I would like, but by far the best I've gotten so far.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Western Sandpiper

There are a group of Sandpipers that are commonly referred to as "Peeps". They include such Sandpipers as the Western and Least. They are given this generic name because they are hard to tell apart, especially from a distance.
I am pretty confident that the Peep above is a juvenile Western Sandpiper. It is definitely not a Least as its legs are black, not yellow like a Least. In addition, it has rufous upper scapulars as shown in my field guides.
This was taken at Fernhill Wetlands a couple of weekends ago. The same day that I got pictures of the Red-necked Phalarope and the Semipalmated Plover. I was able to get in pretty close to it, which was nice for a change.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Heermann's Gull

Another group of images from the South Jetty. These were some of the first birds I saw.
The top image is from the observation deck. At first I thought the group of dark Gulls in the middle were juveniles. I had never seen Heermann's Gulls before. It wasn't until I climbed down the jetty rocks to the shore and got in closer that I realized that these were some other species. That bright red bill didn't seem like a juvenile characteristic. I don't typically carry a field guide with me as my goal is to get as many photo opportunities as I can. I leave identifying until later at home on my computer.

These Heermann's have mostly transitioned to their non-breeding winter plumage as they have a white head during mating season. I sure appreciate the job Sibley has done in providing drawings of many of the juvenile and seasonal plumage changes. It makes identifying so much easier.