Sunday, October 31, 2010

Eastern Gray Squirrel

I mentioned in a recent post that there were a lot of squirrels in Atlanta. Evidently they are a bit of a pest as when I Googled "squirrels in Atlanta", it returned a lot of removal services. One mentioned that both the Eastern Gray Squirrel and the Flying Squirrel were problems and that their natural predators had been reduced in numbers.

Greater White-fronted Goose

On my home from birding on Saturday, I saw some geese coming in for a landing in a plowed field just outside of Wilsonville on SW 110th. I expected them to be Canada Geese or Cacklers, but they turned out to be Greater White-fronted Geese. I'm new to these geese, so I pulled over and snapped a few pictures.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Pileated Woodpecker

I have seen a Pileated Woodpecker once before in my lifetime. The Pileated, for me, is one of those glamor birds; big, beautiful and elusive. So, when I had my first sighting, it was a trill. Still, it wasn't fully satisfying as I saw the bird at the Portland Audubon Society's suet feeder from inside the visitor center. A legitimate sighting, but kinda like fishing at a fish farm.
Sighting number two.
As I mentioned on Thursday, I had intended on spending the morning at Fernbank Forest in Atlanta, but was turned away when I got there since access was closed to the public until after 2:00 PM. So I hiked about four or five blocks away and spent some time at Olmsted Park.
Olmsted was quite an active park. After about an hour or so, I heard a loud bird flying into the park. I looked up and saw a large black bird through the branches as it flew above the tree tops. It swooped down and landed on the side of a the trunk of a large tree not far from me. It was obvious that it was a Pileated Woodpecker.
The lighting was difficult as the sun was behind the bird and the bright sky streaming through the leaves served as the background. As I took pictures the best I could, I noticed a couple of interesting behaviors. First, it bobbed back and forth, swinging its large head from side to side. I'm not sure what this behavior accomplished. Second, it stuck its head down upward facing knot holes in two different trees. I assume it was either looking for food or drinking water. Heavy thunder storms had passed through the day before dropping a lot of rain, so the holes could have had water in them.
Another thing I noticed after looking at the photos on my computer was the large hole in the side of the tree not much higher than where the Pileated had landed. I wonder if it was the bird's nest?
All-in-all, quite an exciting sighting.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Downy Woodpecker

A Downy Woodpecker landed in a tree right in front of me as I walked along the edge of Olmsted Park in Atlanta, Georgia.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Carolina Wren

Another business trip. At first I didn't think I would be able to fit in a birding outing, but then an additional meeting came up causing me to stay an extra day, leaving Thursday open. I took the opportunity to visit two parks near the Georgia Tech Hotel where I was staying; Fernbank Forest and Recreation Center and Olmsted Park.
Olmsted Park was a unintended stop. The local Audubon Society highly recommended Fernbank Forest and Recreation Center, but it turned out that it didn't open to the public until 2:00 PM on weekdays because it is used in conjunction with the local elementary school.
As it turned out, I wasn't quite sure where the Taxi should drop me off to enter Fernbank Forest so I decided to be dropped off at the Fernbank Museum. Turns out it was about a 1.5 mile walk from there. Along the way I happened to notice Olmsted Park. I'm glad I did as it turned out to be more active than Fernbank Forest.
One bird that was quite plentiful at both sites was the Carolina Wren seen above. The two images are from Fernbank Forest. Their behavior was similar to Wrens I see in the Portland metro area; spending a lot of time low to the ground in bushes and quite active.
This one posed in the open for me for a bit and a shaft of light through the trees hit it nicely. Only thing I should have done differently is to lower the exposure just a bit as the birds face blew out just a bit.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sandhill Crane

I can remember hearing the unmistakable sound of Sandhill Cranes flying overhead during migration as a youth. It was that sound that I heard last Sunday at RNWR as I drove the auto tour. I could tell that the sound was coming from near the end of the tour and it took some discipline to not greatly exceed the slow speed limit to get a chance to see them.
Luckily, they were still there when I reached that area, but unfortunately they were off in the distance so I wasn't able to get any descent pictures of them standing on the ground feeding. I was, however, able to get this one reasonable shot of a few flying past me. Hopefully I'll be able to see more of these majestic birds this Fall.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

American Bittern

As I drove the auto tour at Ridgefield, there was a car stopped along the road in front of me. I didn't see anything around that they might be looking at so I crept around them, partly to be courteous and partly to to see if I could tell what they were looking at. After getting about a car length past them, I saw what was so interesting. An American Bittern was in the roadside canal slowly moving in among the grassy bank.
I got a couple of shots of it through my open side window, but I was a little too low and the bird was slightly obstructed by grass along the road. I tried to stick my head out the moon roof, but I couldn't get high enough to point my camera down at the Bittern. (Things we will to do for this hobby :-))
So, I didn't get the greatest shots, but I did see my first American Bittern and got a feel for how shy and cautious it moves. As I watched, it slowly crept under some grass and eventually was peeking out between some blades of grass, securely camouflaged.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Great Blue Heron

Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge is the only place that I regularly see Great Blue Herons hunting for food on land instead of in water. The Heron above was quite close to the road on the Auto Tour and had a bead on something. It suddenly thrust its bill into the ground and pulled out a rodent. It swallowed it down quickly as opposed to some fish that I've seen in which it spears the fish a few times before eating it.

Lincoln's Sparrow

I've been reading on OBOL that people have been seeing Lincoln's Sparrows so I was hoping I would run into one soon. Saturday I decided to visit Ridgefield National State Park for the second time. The first time I visited RNWR the Carty Unit was close for roadwork, so I visited this area first. Well, it wasn't too long on the trails that I had my first encounter with a Lincoln's Sparrow.
I ended up seeing four new life bird's at RNWR; Lincoln's Sparrow, Varied Thrush, Sandhill Crane (I actually have seen this migrating as a kid) and an American Bittern. The last two were seen on the Auto Tour at the S Unit.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


It wasn't a real active day during lunch on Thursday at TRNWR, but I did get these nice close shots of a Bushtit in a tree just before the river lookout platform. In addition to this Bushtit, there were also a handful of Golden-crowned Kinglets in the next tree.
This is one of those times when I have to make a difficult decision. Do I take the close shot opportunity I have of a bird for which I already have good images or do I pass it up for a possible closeup shot of a bird for which I do not have good images. Typically I take the shot I have and in this case I am pleased with my decision.
I love the added colors of Autumn in the background. They contrast nicely with the gray color of the Bushtit.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Cackling Geese

As I said in an earlier post, there had to be at least a thousand Cackling Geese on the main pond at Fernhill Wetlands when I arrived there last Sunday. They weren't easily spooked either. Several people walked by, some even with dogs, and the geese didn't flinch. The top picture shows just a small portion of all of them.
I've been hoping to get a positive ID on this subspecies of Canada Goose for some time. I read that they are quite common here, but for some reason I always seem to see the standard larger version. These are obviously Cackling Geese as their necks are shorter and the head and bill proportionally smaller.
They stayed in this area for quite a long time and then, after I had long left to seek other opportunities, they started to take off. I just happened to be in their flight pattern so I got to observe wave after wave of them fly overhead.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Snow Goose

Among the hundreds of Cackling Geese at Fernhill Wetlands on Sunday were a couple of Snow Geese. They fit right in with the crowd though they were a little riled at this point.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Long-billed Dowitcher

Another one of the Long-billed Dowitchers I saw at Fernhill Wetlands this past Sunday. They are in their winter, non-breeding plumage.

Ring-billed Gull

I'm going to take a bit of a chance. I find Gulls to be confusing. Not only are there many that appear very similar, they also go through various darker plumage stages as they grow through their first couple of years.
I believe the bird in the image above is a Ring-billed Gull. The bill is a match as is the pale gray back and wings. The light peppering on the head and neck is also consistent with a non-breeding adult. The only concern I have is the medium colored eye and the lack of white spots on its wing tips. Typically the eye is paler yellow. This could be just a variation or it could be that the bird has not reached full maturity.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Clark's Grebe?

I've seen both Clark's and Western Grebes here at Fernhill Wetlands for a month or two, but they have always been out in the middle of the main pond. I could only get pictures good enough for identification, but otherwise they were pretty poor.
On Sunday I had a little better luck. This Grebe was fairly near the pond's south bank. Unfortunately, I was a little east of it so the sunlight was hitting it from the back and side. I tried to get to the west side of it, but as I moved, it would dive under water only to surface even farther west. We went through this sequence about four or five times before it started moving towards the center of the pond. Note the fish in its beak in the bottom image.
Now the hard part. Is this a Western or Clark's Grebe. At first I decided it was a Western as the eye is surrounded in black; a Clark's Grebe's eye is usually surrounded in white. But we are well past the breeding season and the Clark's winter plumage will darken around the eye. It is the pronounced white streak on its lores that finally made me decide this is a Clark's Grebe. I'm not totally convinced, but that's my best guess.

Double-crested Cormorant

This Double-crested Cormorant was flushed from the grassy edge of Fernhill lake as I approached its interior corner. It startled me a bit, but I am getting used to that and was able to gather my wits and get a few shots of it as it skimmed the water as it took flight. There were several Double-crested Cormorants at Fernhill on Sunday.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Long-billed Dowitcher

Yesterday was a beautiful day here in the Portland metro area. There was sunshine and mild temperatures. I was also a great day for birding at Ferhill Wetlands. The water fowl are returning in large numbers. There had to be one to two thousand Cackling Geese on the main pond when I arrived.
There were also a large number of Long-billed Dowitchers on the mudflats of the west side of Cattail Marsh. The Dowitchers in the image above were amoung several in the southwest corner. I was able to get quite close and spent about 10 - 15 minutes shooting picture after picture. In all, I shot almost 800 pictures in about two and a half hours. That'll keep me busy for the rest of the week. :-)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Northern Shoveler

I visited Fernhill Wetlands back on Oct 3rd. There were Northern Shovelers in large numbers. I got fairly close in to these two. They appear to be two females though the lower one has a rather light brown eye, almost the color of a male Cinnamon Teal. I did some searching for female and juvenile Northern Shovelers but couldn't find any with eyes the color of this duck.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Greater Yellowlegs

Some more images of the Greater Yellowlegs I saw at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge back in early September. Note the minnow in its bill. I am surprised at how many fish they caught in such a small pond.

Townsend's Warbler

Not the best quality picture, but I finally saw some Townsend's Warblers and was able to get some pictures. There were both males and females (or possibly juveniles) amongst Black-capped Chickadees, Ruby- and Golden-crowned Kinglets and White- and Red-breasted Nuthatches. It's interesting how things can be so slow for the most part and then you run into a flurry of activity.
The Townsend's were about two-thirds up in the tall trees along the creek at the railings just before the observation deck. They were quite active and stayed for quite awhile before I moved on to the deck. On my way back, all the birds that had been there just a few minutes before had moved on and the area was quite.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Northern Harrier

Another image from my visit to Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in early September. This juvenile Northern Harrier was present through much of the visit swooping around the open grassland areas.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Western Scrub Jay

Every once in a while I get a picture of a bird with its nictitating membrane over its eye. Such is the case with this Western Scrub Jay and this time I actually got two pictures of it.
This Jay was perched in a tree just before the bridge leading out of Unit S at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge back in early September.

Monday, October 11, 2010


I haven't been able to identify this Lizard. I saw it along an outer path along the edge of the oasis. It was rather small with a long tail.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Great-tailed Grackle

It was pointed out to me by Joel Geier that these were more likely shorter tailed Great-tailed Grackles rather than Common Grackles as Las Vegas is a bit out of range for a Common Grackle. He was kind enough to forward the issue to Martin Meyers of the Nevada Bird Records Committee. Martin verified that these are indeed Great-tailed Grackles. As he explained "The males in the photos show typical Great-tailed coloration, without the clean delineation between head color and body color (at hindneck and mid-breast) shown by all races of Common Grackle. Also, as you (Joel) pointed out, the bills on these birds are larger and more curved than typical of Common Grackle."
Thanks to Joel and Martin for setting me straight and teaching me something!

Original Post:
In the grass surrounding the parking lot of the hotel I stayed at in Las Vegas, there were many Grackles foraging for food. The interesting thing about them
is that many, like the bird in the middle image, were missing most of their tails.
The top image above, shows a male with what I assume is fairly standard plumage. It was this bird, with its full tail, that led me to the conclusion that these were Common Grackles and not Great-tailed. The tail just doesn't seem long enough to be a Great-tailed.
After looking at the pictures I had taken and doing some research on the web, I'm fairly sure these birds are molting. As you can see in the second image from the top, this Grackle shows signs of molting on both the back of its head and on its wing. See Greg Gillson's site for a discussion on molting Grackles.
There were also many juvenile Common Grackles as can be seen in the bottom two images. Note that its bill appears to be crossed at the tip. I noticed this on several of the birds, though I haven't found any documentation about this on the web.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


At one point not far from the Verdin nest, I heard a repeating whistle like sound. It seemed nearby, but behind some small trees slightly off trail. I tried to find what was making the sound but it was just out of sight.
Then I found a less established trail that led behind the grove of small trees to another behind it. It was there that I got my fist glimpse of this Phainopepla, another bird like the Verdin that I had only a vague recollection of seeing in field guides.
I managed to get close enough to get this one descent photo, but I wish I'd have gotten one as it flew off as it had bright white patches on its wings that are not visible while at rest. A very striking bird.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Say's Phoebe

Whenever I see a bird with Flycatcher characteristics my first reaction is a bit of a groan. Not in seeing the bird, but in the difficulty I'm guessing I'm going to have in trying to identify it. Not that I don't enjoy the challenge, it's just that there is so little difference between some of them that many I have photographed have gone unidentified.
It came as a pleasant surprise then when I got a good look at at the images on my computer. The rusty underbelly was not typical of the Flycatchers I have seen and gave me hope that I would be successful in its identification.
After paging through Sibley's field guide, the illustrations of a Say's Phoebe seemed to fit this bird. I was at a bit of a disadvantage because of the angle and height in which I observed it, but that rusty belly and gray head made it a pretty obvious call.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


One of the first birds that I came across at Corn Creek was a Verdin. I was only vaguely familiar with this bird having seen some pictures on the web.
It was quickly evident that this Verdin was working on its nest. It would fly out among some nearby trees returning shortly with a bill full of dried grass that it would take into its nest. The nest consisted of a large ball of woven grass in among the tight branches of the tree as you can see in the bottom image. Based on what I read, since it is Autumn, I believe the Verdin was fortifying its nest for the approaching Winter.
Even though I was fairly close to the bird it was very hard to get a good picture. It was constantly on the move and the sun was at a poor angle. None-the-less, I got enough good pictures that I got a pretty good look at this bird.