Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Some Gadwall images taken at Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden back on February 11th.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Black-capped Chickadee

When I first started birding almost two years ago, I spent most of my time near my home in Wilsonville. I didn't know about the all the hot spots in the area and the variety of birds that could be found. I discovered Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge very early. It was only about a 15 minute drive from me and I saw a lot of birds there.
As I progressed, I began finding areas with more photography opportunities and more exotic birds. I grew a bit bored with TRNWR. Well, I had a little time on Sunday afternoon, so I decided to walk the trail to the observation deck. Along the way, as I passed through the Oak Savannah, I was surrounded by a flock of Western Bluebirds. Unfortunately, about that same time, several groups of people came walking through the area and the Bluebirds decided to move on.
A lone Chickadee stayed put however, and gave me one of my better opportunities to photograph this species in the wild (no feeder). It got me thinking a bit how the type of birds that I shoot has changed as my normal stooping grounds have evolved. I shoot less passeriformes now than I used to. Sunday afternoon was a nice change.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Green-winged Teal - Eurasian Subspecies

This Eurasian form of Green-winged Teal (also referred to as a Common Teal) was seen on Coffee Lake just outside of Wilsonville, OR. The two are very similar in appearance with the most obvious difference being the Eurasian's lack of a vertical white stripe in the shoulder area and the addition of a thin white horizontal line on its side which is missing on the American variety. The Eurasian also has a more pronounced and continuous creamy line that circles the front of its cheek, just behind the bill and around the eye.
While fairly rare in North America it is not unusual to hear reports of their sighting here in the winter.
While still considered the same species, the AOU is still debating whether to separate them.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Common Goldeneye

I got my best views to date of Common Goldeneyes on Lake Michigan at the same location that I saw the American Black Ducks.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

American Black Duck

I've seen pictures of Black Ducks in field guides and wondered how you could possibly be sure they weren't just female mallards. Well, it turns out that in real life, it isn't as hard as it might seem.
During the field trip I took with the Chicago Ornithological Society in January, we ventured out along a rocky periphery of some property belonging to a power company along Lake Michigan. It reminded me a bit of the jetties at the coast here in Oregon, but these giant boulders were squared up more making the trek less treacherous even though there was an inch or so of snow on them. None-the-less, one from the group slipped into a crack between a couple of the rocks, loosing her boot and hurting her foot enough that see decided to sit this one out. Luckily our leader was able to reach down into the crack and retrieve her boot.
Our destination was a patch of open water, the ice melted by a flow of water from the plant. As we approached, one from the group mentioned to me that we would probably see some Black Ducks, realizing that I had probably not seen any, being from the West. I asked if it would be hard to pick them out from the female mallards. He said, "If you not sure, they aren't Black Ducks". He was right, they are definitely darker than female Mallards and it is easy to pick them out. In the image above, the Black Duck is on the right just above the male Mallard. Here a Black Duck leads a couple of female Mallards. While the body is obviously darker, the color of the feathers are also more uniformly colored. Another obvious difference is the bill. The male Black Duck has a clear, yellow bill with a black tip, just like a male Mallard, not the orange bill with black spotting of a female Mallard. Supposedly a female has a greenish gray bill with spotting, but all that I saw seemed to have yellow bills.

One of things I thought interesting was the fact that the birders in Chicago make it a common practice to throw bread out on the water to bring in the ducks and gulls. I'm not talking a few slices, I'm talking loaves. It seems this would be against birding ethics and I've heard that bread isn't good nutrition for birds, but it seems bird ethics are a bit like pirate laws, they're more like guidelines. :-)

Finally, this last image shows an American Black Duck cross with a Mallard. Notice the green on side of the head of the second bird from the left.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

American Wigeon - "White Cheeked"

While taking some shots of various ducks at Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden, I noticed an American Wigeon with a rather white face. It was among a feeding frenzy caused by a visitor tossing feed into the water. It really stood out from the rest of the ducks.
I did a web search on "white cheeked" American Wigeons and found that it is a rare morph. One site stated that it occurs in about 1 out of every 500 birds. Not that rare considering the number one can see around here doing the winter. Based on some of the pictures I saw, some cases are not as extreme as this bird's coloration, so I suppose it may not always be as apparent.
A typical male American Wigeon taken earlier in the day at Westmoreland Park, cheeks heavily covered in small dark specks.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

House Finch

After the Lark Sparrows flew off just outside Paramount Ranch, I noticed some more birds in the brush further up the hill. Many were bright red and I was hoping for another new life bird. It turned out to be a flock of House Finches with males ranging from orange, like the one above, to bright red. I didn't get very close to them, but I like how this one straddled two branches and caught the late afternoon light.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

California Towhee

I couldn't find a visitor center or even a parking lot at Malibu Creek State Park, but there plenty of turnouts along the road. I saw a couple of hawks swoop down below the road into a valley, so I stopped at one of the turnouts but couldn't find them once I got out of the car.
I did notice the remnants of of trail on the other side of the road though and decided to see what I might find. Right away I found this California Towhee picking through the gravel for seeds. Unfortunately it was in the shade, so my pictures a little grainy, but they're better than the ones I got of California Towhees in San Francisco last spring.

Horned Grebe

It was a beautiful February day today. Sunshine and temperatures in the mid 50's. I got late start as I am still recovering for my trip to CA, but I couldn't let another beautiful day get away from me. Besides, the last time I got out birding in Oregon was on January 7th.
I set out for Fernhill Wetlands as it is a reliable avian hotspot for photography. While I've had better luck there, I did run across a cooperative Horned Grebe. It was working the west shore of Fernhill Lake and I got to play cat and mouse with it as I often do with Grebes, guessing where they are going to reemerge after diving for food. If you pick a spot, lay low and still each time, they typically aren't threatened by your presence.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Lark Sparrow

I've been on the road again for work; this time just north of Los Angeles at King Gillette Ranch Park. They are opening a new visitor center and the company I work for is installing a new lighting management system there. Since I am the only one that knows how to program the system at this time, I got elected to go on site and commission it.
It was a beautiful area, nestled in the Santa Monica Mountains. When I arrived on the first morning there were parrots squawking in a tree. I wanted so badly to go exploring and take pictures, but I was committed to the job from sunrise to sunset.
On Friday, after completing all I could, I left the site at about 3:00. I immediately went to the adjacent Malibu Creek State Park in hopes of seeing some interesting birds. I eventually made it to Paramount Ranch were I noticed some small birds along the road. There was off road parking there so I stopped and made my way across the road to were I had seen them.
It turns out the was a flock of possibly 50 Lark Sparrows. I only saw a few at a time, but as they started to flush it was obvious that there were many out of sight in the grass.
A very striking bird.