Monday, October 31, 2011

Palm Warbler

It turns out the Grasshopper Sparrow was not the only new life bird I saw this past Saturday at Fort Stevens' South Jetty.
When I arrived Saturday morning, the first bird I encountered was sitting atop a small pine next to the restrooms. I took a couple of quick shots, but then it flew off. I wasn't sure what it was as I didn't get much of a look, but assumed it would turn out to be something common when I viewed the images later at home.

When I did take a look last night, I realized this was something I hadn't seen before. Pipits came mind, but I soon rejected that after reviewing them in my guides. Then I thought Yellow-rumpled Warbler as it had similar white markings on the under side of it's tail. But there things that was wrong with that ID as the face was too intricate and the under-tail coverts where yellow, not white.

Paging through my Sybley's guide I came across a Palm Warbler. This looked very similar, even a hint of a rusty crown. Then I remembered that OBOL subscriber Mike Patterson reported seeing a Palm Warbler at South Jetty the day after my visit. Just to be sure, I posted the image above on Birdfellow's Mystery Bird group and Dave Irons was kind enough to verify the identification.
Add in a sighting of a Varied Thrush, Mew Gulls and a very close encounter with some trusting Least Sandpipers and it turned out to be quite an exciting visit.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Grasshopper Sparrow

My wife had an audition for a show yesterday, so I had most of the day to myself; great day to go birding at the coast!
I decided to go to Fort Stevens' South Jetty as there had been regular reports of Lapland Longspurs seen there this past week. I dipped on the Longspurs, but I did see my first Grasshopper Sparrow. Turns out it may be the first reported sighting of this species in Clatsop County.
The reports indicated that sightings were consistently in the grassy area north of the parking lot. I had never gone walking through that area as I wasn't sure if it was open to the public. Turns out there are several crisscrossing trails, so it must be alright.
The area is sprinkled with groves of small pines and as I rounded one, a small sparrow-like bird flushed from the beach grass and landed some distance away in one of the pines. The branch it lit on was exposed leaving it easily seen, so I set off towards it hoping to get a closer look. Luckily it stayed put and I was able to get close enough to take some reasonable shots before it took off.

Initially I thought I had seen a Longspur as I could tell that it was a species I had never seen. However, when I got the pictures onto my computer later that evening I realized it wasn't a Longspur after all, but what was it? No bird jumped off from the pages of my field guides that looked just like it. The closest match I found was a Le Conte's Sparrow. Had it been one, it would have been quite out of range. As it turned out, members of OBOL let me know that it is a Grasshopper Sparrow; a close relative. It makes sense now, however the back still seems to me to be more intricately colored than the pictures I've seen.
Hopefully it won't be the last one I ever see as it is a gorgeous sparrow.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Eastern Towhee

I made my yearly trip to Atlanta this week and was able to fit in a couple of birding sessions. Yesterday, I visited the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area - Cochran Shoals Unit like I did last year as it was quite birdie. Though this year was a little quieter, but I still saw many of the eastern birds I saw there last year, plus a few new ones. Noticeably missing were Carolina Wrens and I only saw one Tufted Titmouse, one of the birds I was looking forward to seeing again. Birds I did see were Red-bellied and Red-headed Woodpeckers, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Northern Cardinal, Carolina Chickadee, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher and Eastern Bluebird. New Georgia birds include Yellow-rumped Warbler, Common Grackle, Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted), American Goldfinch and a Red-tailed Hawk.
At this point, the only new life bird that I have identified is the Eastern Towhee shown above. I saw two and they were very shy, hiding in the bushes. I only got one shot of one in the open, but unfortunately it was somewhat distant and in the shade, however it is clearly an Eastern Towhee, looking a lot like our Spotted Towhee, but with only the lone white spot on at the base of its primaries.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Red-necked Grebe

I got some more close looks of the Red-necked Grebe at Fernhill Wetlands this past Saturday; and it was actually sunny at the time! Would be nice to get even closer, but I shouldn't complain.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cedar Waxwing

I was surprised to see a fair number of Cedar Waxwings at Fernhill Wetlands this past Saturday. I shouldn't have since my field guides show them as year round residents, but I don't recall seeing any last fall or winter. There was a small flock at Dabbler's Marsh when I first arrived and then later while walking Dabbler's Marsh Trail, I ran into a flock of probably 20 - 30 birds in a tree.
It was around 2:00 in the afternoon which may have been why they were less flighty than normal, then again, they had young with them and I've found that the adults tend to stick close by while their curious young check me out.

The adult above is going through a molt as you can see the unevenness of the red waxy tips of its secondaries and the unevenness of the yellow tips of its tail feathers.

As I mentioned, there quite a few first year birds in the flock. They were the most active, reminding me a bit of Golden-crowned Kinglets the way they would hang from branches and hover in the air as they picked berries. (Anyone know what kind of tree this is?)

This young bird is also going through a molt. It looks as though it may have no more than one or two tail feathers left.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Bird Humor

I saw this on Facebook. Thought it was cute.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Green Heron - Juvenile

I'm not sure why, but it seems whenever I see a juvenile Green Heron, they tend to have their necks fully extended. You wouldn't know that Green Herons have such long necks from typical adult sightings as adults seem to always have it retracted. Maybe its just because juvenile birds tend to be more curious and trusting than adults, so they just want to see whats going on around them.
I saw this juvenile at Fernhill Wetlands back on Sept 9. I had to creep down through the tall grass to get a clear view of it as it stood along the shore. I saw another similarly extended necked juvenile here a year ago this past August. Here's a couple of examples of adults with their necks retracted; here and here.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Long-billed Dowitcher

I had a surprise at Fernhill Wetlands the Saturday before last. Dabblers Marsh was filled with about 50 Long-billed Dowitchers. I very rarely see shorebirds other than Killdeers there. They were busy feeding and really didn't seem to care too much that I was watching them. In fact, they seemed to take their cues from the few Killdeers that were there. If a Killdeer let out some sharp calls, the Dowitchers would take off, flying in formation around the pond until deciding it was safe to resume feeding.
I slowly worked my way down one of the large tree trunks fallen into the water until I got pretty close to them, then waited while they slowly moved along the edges of the water towards me.
They were all in some state of molting to basic plumage, either from pre-basic juveniles or from alternate adults. I'm still not totally sure how you tell the difference, but I have some pretty good pictures here to do some studying. Interestingly enough, I've found that my National Geographic field guide actually does a more complete job of describing the different plumage states than my Sibley.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Red-necked Grebe

There has been a lone Red-necked Grebe occupying Fern Lake at Fernhill Wetlands since early September. It typically hangs out in the middle of the Lake, so it's tough to get a good look at it unless you have a powerful spotting scope.
I got lucky this past Friday as I found it very near the shore. Usual behavior for it, like most Grebes, is to dive underwater when approached by a human and swim away. It did this the at first, but the next time I saw it, it had found what I think were Cackling Goose down feathers floating on the water as there were 1000's of the geese on the water that day and it was busy collecting and swallowing them. This gave me the opportunity to get a few fair pictures of it. To bad the lighting wasn't better.
I thought it odd that it was eating feathers so I checked on Cornell's All About Birds site and found the following; "Like other grebes, the Red-necked Grebe ingests large quantities of its own feathers. Feathers remain in the bird's stomach. The function of feathers in the stomach is unknown. One hypothesis suggests that the feathers help protect the lower digestive tract from bones and other hard, indigestible material."
I suppose it could have been its own feathers, but I doubt they would have been floating on the water like that.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Ring-necked Pheasant

I've taken much better pictures, but this is by far the best Ring-necked Pheasant photo I've taken. I flushed a rooster and this hen as I was walking the service road between Cattail Marsh and Eagle Perch Pond today at Fernhill Wetlands.
Sure gave me a startle. Reminded me of my early teen hunting days.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Golden-crowned Kinglet

My first Kinglet sighting of the season turned out to be my first Kinglet sighting on Mount Hood and I saw both Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned together.
There were probably 20 - 30 Golden-crowned Kinglets feasting away in a few pines along with a couple of Ruby-crowned Kinglets. They were tolerant of my presence, probably too intent on feeding, but as usual, they were buggers to photograph. Not only were they in near constant motion, but whatever they were eating was found mostly on the underside of the inner branches as that is where they spent most of their time.
I just stood there, with my camera ready, waiting for one to pause for a moment in the clear. Many shots looked great through the view finder, but were either shot late, poorly exposed, were out of focus or poorly posed. I got several rump shots. :-)
I took around 115 shots and the pictures above were the best of the bunch. Not bad shots, but I was hoping for better considering how close I got and the high number of opportunities I had.
None-the-less, it was great sport!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Common Raven

The first bird I saw when I started exploring around Timberline Lodge this past Saturday was a Common Raven calling from the rooftop of the lodge. I was up hill (mountain?) from it as it flew over me and landed at the top of a dead tree not far from where I was standing. It was rather trusting, I suppose it is used to people being around, and hung out for a while posing for me.
It then flew across the path to where a lodge pickup was parked and where another Raven was scavenging on the ground.
Near the pickup was some trash from someone's fast food lunch. For some reason, the Raven found the plastic bag more interesting than the piece of bread next to it. Unfortunately it snapped a piece off with its large beak and then proceeded to swallow it down. Hopefully it will just pass through, but if the piece where big enough, I suppose it could get caught in its digestive tract.

Monday, October 10, 2011

American Dipper

I made a trip to Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood on Saturday. Things were somewhat slow as usual. I had hoped to see Cassin's Finches as I regularly see them there, but not this time. I did get good looks at some Ravens and saw a Fox Sparrow and a large flock of Golden-crowned Kinglets with a couple of Ruby-crown's sprinkled in for the first time up there.
Before heading home I decided to make a quick stop at the burn where there have been reports of a variety of woodpeckers. But, before I got there, I came upon Tamanawas Falls. I stopped there the summer of 2010 and saw my only American Dipper. Since I was low on gas and short on time, I decided to stop there instead of looking for woodpeckers. It turned out to be a good choice as I saw as many as six Dippers and got very close to one as you can see above.
The image above shows the stream where I saw them. It's amazing to watch these birds actually dive head first into the water, sometimes riding the current underwater looking for insects to eat.
Here's an image from across the stream of a Dipper with a successful catch.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Eurasian Collared-Dove

I spent the morning and early afternoon at Fernhill Wetlands today. Bird activity is picking up a little as the winter Cackling and White-fronted Geese are starting to move in as have the Golden-crowned Sparrows. I also got some great looks at a flock of about 30 Long-billed Dowitchers at Dabblers Marsh.
On my way home, only a couple of miles from the wetlands, along SW Blooming Fern Hill Road I saw a pale dove sitting on a power line. I was intrigued enough to turn around and get a closer look. This was another case where having a moon roof on the car helped out. Turned out to be an Eurasian Collared Dove. My first in Washington County!
I also got really lucky and happened to press the shutter button just as it took off. It's even in focus!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Semipalmated Plover

I visited Bayocean Spit back in mid-August this past summer and got some really close looks at a flock of shorebirds on the beach. It started with a couple of Semipalmated Plovers which were eventually joined by a mixed flock of Sanderlings and Western Sandpipers.
I had rented a 400mm f2.8 lens and a 1.7x teleconverter from Pro Photo in Portland, which made the shoot that much more pleasurable as I was able to get even closer and clearer pictures than I would have with my 70mm - 300mm kit lens.
I was basically either kneeling or sitting on the beach with the camera mounted on a fully retracted monopod so I could get it as low as possible. I had a huge number of photos to choose from and have kind of been avoiding going through them as I knew it was going to take a lot of time and work. But, I finally got started on them tonight and choose some of the best Semipalmated Plover images to post.
I'm especially fond of the bottom photo as it pictures one of the Plovers taking a very short nap (I assume since its eyes got sleepy looking). I haven't seen a shorebird squat down like that before.
One behavior that I noticed for the first time was one of the Plovers shaking its leg. At first I thought there might be something wrong with it, but then I noticed that it was switching between its legs. I posted a question about it on OBOL and found out that they (along with other Plovers) do this to improve their chance of finding prey in shallow water.