Monday, January 31, 2011

Abert's Towhee

I had business meetings today at 10:30 and at noon and since my flight back to Portland didn't leave until 8:30 PM, I took advantage and spent about two and half hours at Clark County Wetlands Park in Henderson, Nevada. The folks at the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve had recommended it.
It turned out to be a great birding area and I ended up seeing four new life birds. The first new bird and first bird I saw was this Abert's Towhee. I didn't even know this bird existed, but It seems clear that this is the correct identification as even though the California and Canyon Towhees are possibilities, Sibley points out that these Towhees typically do not overlap ranges. The black face is also unique to the Abert's.


The last time I birded in Las Vegas, I saw my first Verdin. I got some good looks, but the only way to get a look at the bird was with the sun at its back, so the images didn't turn out as well as I would have liked.
I saw this Verdin at Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve on Friday and while I had trouble getting unobstructed views, the sun was at my back this time.
This was not the only Verdin I saw on that day and I also saw a nest that was very reminiscent of the Verdin nest I saw at Corn Creek. While I didn't see a Verdin actually go in the nest like I did at Corn Creek, there was one near by.

Sunday, January 30, 2011


This morning I tried some areas in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Beautiful country side, but I hardly saw any birds. The best sighting was a couple of flocks of Gambel's Quail.
After getting a bit frustrated I decided to make a return trip to Corn Creek in the Desert National Wildlife Range. I had good success at this oasis in the desert the last time I was in Las Vegas this past autumn.
Things were a lot slower as their website suggested for this time of the year, but I got many more looks at Phainopeplas. I only saw one male last time, but this time I lost track of how many males and females I saw. I heard their distinctive whistle call all around.
One thing that also increased my sightings was the new trail they added to the area. This new trail ventures just outside the oasis into the surrounding desert along the spring fed stream. The small grove of trees that follow the stream seemed to provide habitat that the Phainopepla desire.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher

Early on while walking the trails at the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve, I started seeing these small blue-gray birds. They hung out in the heavy brush, but came out in the open regularly and stayed reasonably still for small birds.
The preserve helped out with their identification, as many do, by providing a checklist of birds seen, both regularly and rarely. I had a hunch that they were Gnatcatchers, but I had never seen any and the preserve listed two varieties as resident; the Blue-gray and the Black-tailed. There is not a lot of difference between them, especially in the winter.
One field mark that appears to be a sure thing is the amount of white under its tail. It you look closely at the white spots under the tail of Gnatchatcher in the bottom image, you can see that this Gnatcatcher is a Black-tailed. The Blue-gray's are almost entirely white. While most of these were seen together in a limited area, I assume they were all Black-taileds.

Say's Phoebe

I've only seen a Say's Phoebe twice before and each time was a single sighting. Yesterday at Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve I saw several. They were fly-catching throughout the Preserve.
At one point, the Phoebe above sat long enough on a post for me to inch my way in and get some pretty close pictures.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Gambel's Quail

I'm in Las Vegas on business and had the morning free today, so I decided to visit Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve as it has great reviews on the internet. It's similar to Fernhill Wetlands except it's in the desert.
The place was loaded with ducks and grebes, most of which I'm used to seeing in the Portland area. Especially this time of year.
The more interesting birds were the passeriformes I saw. They include Verdins, Say's and Black Phoebes, Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, a Crissal Thrasher and a possible Cassin's Kingbird. I'll be posting them as I work through the images, but I want to start with the Gambel's Quail I saw.
They were the first birds I saw. They greeted me on the road leading to the parking lot in front of the visitor's center. I only got mediocre pictures of them at that point, including some of them in a tree. It seemed odd to see Quail in a tree. I'm not sure if that is typical for other Quail.
I ran across more of the Quail as I walked the many trails around the ponds of water. They are hard to get good shots of as they run along the ground and hide in any brush they can find. I did manage to get a good shot of the one above as my day was coming to an end. It was perched in a tree, which seemed to be about the only thing that would keep them still.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cooper's Hawk

I'm about 95% sure this is a juvenile Cooper's Hawk. I tried to convince myself it is a juvenile Northern Goshawk, but it's missing the pale eye brow of the Goshawk. The feature that makes me question a Cooper's Hawk is the tail. The stripes are somewhat uneven which is a feature of the Goshawk.
I'm open to comments.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Acorn Woodpecker

I spent some time yesterday looking for the Prairie Falcon again. Struck out again, but I did see an Acorn Woodpecker again. In fact, I saw three and this time I found the source. There are three Oak trees along Harrington Road just west of Dersham Road where Harrington curves to the north just a bit.
I was driving slow looking for the Falcon when a car approached from the rear. I notice that there is a small pull out right along the curve, so I pulled over to let the car by. That's when I noticed a couple of the Woodpeckers.
I took a few pictures and then moved on. They tended to be on the top of branches so it was hard to get a clear picture. This was another case where having a sun roof turned out to be advantageous.
As I approached the curve the next time, one of the woodpeckers flew off towards me while a couple more flew from the ground up into the tree. It appeared that they where scavenging for acorns on the ground.

Great Blue Heron

I finally got out birding yesterday afternoon. It's been over a week and I was getting antsy.
I wasn't quite sure where to go so I thought I'd try Harrington Road one more time. I struck out on the Prairie Falcon again, but I did see more Acorn Woodpeckers.
After that I spent some time at Fernhill Wetlands. On my last leg on the way back to the parking lot, I came across this Great Blue Heron sitting on the railing of one of the control valves. It was intent on staying put and allowed me to take a bunch of close pictures. I haven't gone through many of them yet, but this one jumped out at me so I decided to post it.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Northern Flicker - Hybrid

I hung bird feeders in my back yard over the Christmas break. I haven't had bird feeders since I was a kid. Activity has been spotty so far, but I had a flurry of birds today around noon after I got home from church and before I went out birding.
One of the birds I saw in my yard that actually wasn't at the feeder was the Northern Flicker in the image above. When I saw it, I thought it was a Yellow-shafted subspecies as the red crescent on its nape was very obvious. I quickly ran and got my camera and got a couple of mediocre pictures before if flew off. Once I got the pictures on my computer, I realized that it must be a hybrid as its wings and tail reveal obvious red shafts. There also appears to be a hint of a red mustache on its right side.
Yesterday I saw a Varied Thrush in my yard, and today a hybrid Northern Flicker. Maybe I should start doing my birding in my back yard. :-)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Wood Duck

Well I missed being able to go out birding on the beautiful day today because I was involved in another one of my hobbies. I design stage lights for Wilsonville High School drama productions about twice a year. Right now I am working on two shows and I had to put in time at the high school so that I can complete the lights for opening night. Kind of a bummer though as this was the first nice day in quite a while.
So instead of a some new pictures from today, I'm posting some images of a Wood Duck I took at Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden on the 9th. Male Wood Ducks have the most amazing colors on their plumage. I never get tired of watching them.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


I find male Buffleheads difficult to photograph. The extreme contrast between the bright white and dark black feathers can make exposure difficult. Even worse, the black areas on its head have iridescence greens and purple. Always a problem to get right in an image.
The interesting thing is that these features also make them a beautiful duck.
I took these images at Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden. I was able to get in close, but it was a dreary day which resulted in slow shutter speeds, so many of them turned out blurry. But they are also the best images of Buffleheads I have taken to date.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Lesser Scaup - Female

Female Lesser Scaup taken at Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden on January 9th.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Great Blue Heron - Juvenile

I've posted several images of Great Blue Herons over the past nine months, but I've never posted one of a juvenile. I haven't seen very many, but I realized this past autumn that a few were juveniles.
Both of the images above were taken at RNWR, but on different days. The top image of a juvenile was taken on November 26, while the bottom image of an adult was taken on December 8.
As you can see, the juvenile is missing the long, shaggy feathers on its back and lower neck. It also has a speckled neck instead of the silky gray-blue of the adult and overall its coloration is not as well defined. Although it is hard to tell from the angle in the image, Sibley points out that the crown of the juvenile is dark compared to the white crown of the adult.

Greater White-fronted Goose

I posted a picture of a domestic Graylag Goose last Wednesday. As I stated in that post, I found them a little confusing as it appears there are wild Graylags in the UK, but that most of what we see hear in the states are the domesticated, barnyard variety.
That brings me to Greater White-fronted Geese. I've seen several this fall and haven't given it much thought, but I realized while looking at a picture someone posted on OBOL just how similar they are to Graylags.
I've been meaning to post this image above for some time now. I took it at RNWR back on Dec 8. At the time I assumed it was a Greater White-fronted and I am sticking to that, but having gone through the exercise of trying to be sure the image posted on OBOL was of domestic Graylags, my confidence was somewhat reduced.
While I've read that Graylags can exhibit some black stripping on their bellies, this prominent feature on this goose reassures me that this is an adult Greater White-fronted Goose. This is the first adult that I have positively identified. All the other Greater White-fronted Geese that I have seen have been of first winter birds as their bellies were lacking the black striping.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Cackling Goose - Odd Colored Neck

I did a quick trip around the auto tour at RNWR today. Things were a little slow and it was a pretty dreary day.
I did run across this Cackling Goose with an unusually colored neck. I've seen both Canada and Cackling Geese with a white ring around the base of the black feathers on the neck. Sibley mentions that all subspecies of Canada Geese can have white neck collars. I suspect that is what this is, just gotten out of control.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

American Coot

Between the weather, my cold and being back at work, I haven't gotten out birding as much the last couple of weeks. So I've found myself looking back at some of the pictures I've taken in the past couple of months, but haven't had a chance to look through or hadn't gotten back to.
I took this image back on Dec 8 at RNWR. What I found interesting about this photo is the fact that the Coot is eating something. I assume it is some type of plant it dove for since Coot's are supposedly plant eaters. It looks a little like it is choking, but I think I would have noticed if it was having trouble when I took the picture.

California Quail

Like I said in an earlier post, I drove out to Harrington Road on Jan 2 for a second time to see if I could locate the Prairie Falcon. I struck out on the Falcon, but I did end up seeing two new birds; an Acorn Woodpecker and some California Quail.
I caught both a male and a female Quail in the image above. I noticed them among some farm buildings as I was turning around at the east end of Harrington Road. I had gotten a glimpse of what I believe were California Quail last Spring at Jackson Bottom, but they scurried off into some brush before I could get a good view or take a picture. And I've seen some several different times over the years driving to work in the morning, but I haven't been adding birds to my life list if I had seen them before I started up this hobby back in March. I may change that at some point, but for now that is how I want to manage it.
Anyway, the light was poor and they wouldn't sit still, but they did hang around long enough so that I could get enough pictures taken which always increases the chance of getting a good shot.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Graylag Goose

This Graylag Goose was swimming near the parking lot at Fernhill Wetlands on Jan 2. I'm a little confused by these geese. This appears to be an obvious domestic goose based on the size of its hind quarters, but my searches on the web were unsatisfactory.
Many of the sites I found were based in the U.K. and usually described the birds as ancestors of European domestic geese. The geese on these sites looked very similar, to the one in the image above, but their hind quarters appeared to be smaller. I didn't find a lot of information on U.S. sites.
My assumption is that there are both domestic and feral versions of these geese and that what we have here are escaped or released domestic varieties.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


When I started birding last March I saw a lot of ducks, but I didn't see any Gadwalls until into May. They are supposed to be year round residents here, so it may be that I just missed them since they are not as flashy as other ducks during mating season. I'll have to keep an eye out as Spring approaches to see if they disappear for a while.
The male Gadwalls above are in breeding plumage now. Their heads are browner than when I first saw them last Spring and this past Summer. These were preening so they are showing off some of the coloring of their upper wings. The reddish patch offset with the black and white on their wings are very attractive features.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Double-crested Cormorant

I made the statement a couple of months ago that Double-crested Cormorants were one of my favorite birds. That might have been a little strong. There are a lot of birds to choose favorites from. Even so, the Double-crested has some very interesting features, especially if you can get in close.
I was feeling better yesterday, so I bundled up and headed out to a Wintler Park on the Vancouver, WA side of the Columbia River. I had never been there before, but I had heard that Barrow's Goldeneyes had been seen there the day before. Since I have never seen a Barrow's, I thought I'd give it a try. I was successful on this bird chase and was able to get some reasonable pictures. I also saw a Common Loon, Western Grebe, Horned Grebe and loads of Lesser and Greater Scaups in various rafts on the river.
But as great as all that was, I have spent a lot of time chasing birds lately and while I have had some success, most of the pictures I get are of birds off in the distance. I like to get in close to the birds, so I decided that before the day was over, I'd make a trip over to Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden. Birding for water fowl there can sometimes be like shooting fish in a barrel, especially if visitors are feeding the ducks, but you can't beat how close you can get.
The duck population was pretty good when I got there and they were being fed. But the bird that caught my eye again were the Double-crested Cormorants. I saw one on a log protruding out into the pond in the same place I had seen my first last Spring as you can see in the top image.
The second one I saw was diving just off shore a little further up the trail. I played cat and mouse with it similar to the Eared Grebe I saw last week at Fernhill Wetlands. I got several photos of it with the best one seen above.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Ring-necked Duck

There has been a female Ring-necked Duck in the canal along the road at RNWR auto tour for a few weeks. It's near marker 2. I took these pictures back on Dec 18 using the rented 600mm lens.
With any luck, it will eventually attract a male to the canal. I'd love to get a close up picture of a male. The image on the bottom was taken from the bird blind at TRNWR way back on April 10th using the 400mm rental. Not a bad photo, but the bright water washed the image out. I need to remember to borrow my son's polarizing lens to see how much it improves these types of lighting situations.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Eared Grebe

After trying unsuccessfully to find the Prairie Falcon last Sunday, I made a quick stop at Fernhill Wetlands since it was nearby. I'm glad I did because the Eared Grebe I saw there in the past, but out in the middle of Fernhill Lake, was diving right along the West edge of the Lake near the parking lot. It would dive and I would try to guess where it would come up. I was able to get some pretty good shots of it, though some of the closest ones were a bit blown out from the bright sun.
Notice how its eye is red in the upper two images like normal, but kind of goldish in the bottom image where the sun is shining on it.

European Starling

Along with the hybrid Mallards, there are usually Brewer's Blackbirds and European Starlings in the parking lot at Fernhill Wetlands. Most of the time they congregate down near the water and I typically take some pictures of them on my way back to my car as I approach the parking lot from the west side of Fernhill Lake.
European Starlings take a bad wrap as undesirable and they are intrusive birds that can make a mess and scare off other birds. But I find that they can have some very interesting and beautiful foliage. While they are more black with iridescent purples and greens during breeding season, they are especially interesting, in my opinion, during the non-breeding season as they are covered with creamy speckles and brown highlights such as the birds in the images above.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


I've been busy catching up on work, working on our church's budget and now I have a cold. :-(
I took these pictures of a Nutria from the bird blind at TRNWR back on Dec 18 with the rented 600mm lens. Not only does this lens have much more reach than my 70 - 300mm zoom, it also produces sharper images. My dear wife is starting to understand why I want to spend a ridiculous amount of money to get a lens like this!
Nutria are actually an invasive mammal brought here to Oregon from South American back in the 1930's to replace the Beaver when its numbers where diminishing from over trapping. They destroy a large amount of native plants and can damage ecosystems as they only consume about 10% of the plant, eating only the stems and leaving the foliage to die.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Acorn Woodpecker

I had some time this morning between church and taking my daughter back to the U of O for winter term, so I thought I'd see if I could find the Prairie Falcon that has been reported on Harrington Road. No luck on the Falcon, but the trip wasn't for naught.
As I drove west on Harrington Road just a short ways past Dersham Road, a large black woodpecker landed on a power line pole right beside me. To my surprise it turned out to be a female Acorn Woodpecker. I was already traveling slowly so it was easy to come to a stop and take a few pictures of it. It only stayed for about 20 seconds and then flew off west-northwest. It seemed like an odd place to see this species, but it was only there for a moment and then moved on.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Ducks in Flight - Northern Pintail, American & Eurasian Wigeon

On Dec. 18th I was watching the ducks in the main pond off the overlook of the visitor center at TRNWR when a Bald Eagle swooped in and flushed many of the ducks. I took a few pictures of the ducks in flight and got this one of some Northern Pintails, American Wigeons and a Eurasian Wigeon. I thought it was an interesting mix in one picture.