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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Birding Cooper Mountain, Ridgefield NWR

With the nice weather yesterday, the weekend chores got postponed til Sunday and my parents, Keith, and I all went birding instead. In the morning we went to Cooper Mountain Nature Park, a beautiful preserve in the outskirts of the city that thankfully was protected from development. It was opened to the public only within the last year or so, and this was my first visit to hike the trails that overlook the Tualatin River valley.

It never ceases to amaze me the abundance of wildlife you can find in parks like this that are otherwise surrounded by metropolitan areas. Near the beginning of the hike I couldn't walk more than 10 yard before something stopped me - a wildflower, a bird song, a fungus, a butterfly. It seemed like life was thriving in all its diversity around every bend of the trail! There's so much to share that I'll save the wildflowers for my next post, and focus on the animals today.

As soon as I stepped out of the car I heard my first year bird of the day, the savannah sparrow (125). A lesser goldfinch flew right through the parking lot, and tree swallows swooping over the hillside. Along the trail I heard another familiar call, and even saw a couple of the drab orange-crowned warblers (126) which are now back in force. Lots of birds were singing, including white-crowned sparrows and ruby-crowned kinglets. We also found two pairs of western bluebirds (127). One pair was hanging out near a tree cavity that looked like a likely nest site for them, and nearby were also a couple of foraging white-breasted nuthatches and a solitary yellow-rumped warbler. Here's a photo of one of the western bluebird pairs:

It was a great spot to see raptors soaring overhead, and while there we spotted a turkey vulture, red-tailed hawk, Cooper's hawk, northern harrier, and two American kestrels.

In the last week or two the first butterflies have been emerging, and at Cooper Mountain there were Sara orangetips (Anthocharis sara) all over the place. Their bright orange wingtips were evident in flight, which helped us identify them at home, but unfortunately none of them would settle down to have their photo taken. You can see what one looks like here.

After a stop for a bite of lunch at a local pub, where we shared a few morsels of our meal with a curious spotted towhee, it was north up to Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. The auto-tour route at this refuge is one of my all-time favorite places to bird, and at the entrance kiosk there is always a white board where visitors can share their latest sightings. Of course you never locate all the fantastic birds you read about there, but it certainly whets your appetite for the birding trip to come!

The great raptor sightings continued, as we saw an osprey (128) and bald eagle soaring over Rest Lake, bringing the raptor count for the day up to seven species. Pretty much all the expected duck species were still present, though most of them in much smaller numbers as many of headed north and others are pairing off for the season. Most numerous were the American coot and northern shovelers, a pair of which are pictured below:

Now for a somewhat controversial sighting - we saw a single common teal among the green-winged teals! You may recall I've pursued a couple other sightings of this Eurasian version of the duck this year, but had come up dry. Today we knew where to look for this bird based on a sighting reported on the white board, and as we searched among the green-wings for one with a horizontal instead of a vertical white shoulder stripe we spotted one that seemingly had no stripe at all. It took flight, and shortly resettled back to the same spot, at which point its white horizontal stripe (key field mark for the common teal) was clearly visible.

The reason this sighting is controversial is because I was debating whether or not to include it on the year list as its own species. The green-winged teal and Eurasian green-winged teal used to be considered separate species, but now most of our North American field guides list them as different races of the same bird. My dad yesterday was adament that I cannot count it as another tick for the year list! However, I remember Dave saying they are considered separate species in Europe, so I decided to research it further, and the conclusive evidence for me comes from the world bird list put out by the IOC. On this waterfowl page, the green-winged teal (Anas carolinensis) and Eurasian teal (Anas crecca) are listed as distinct species. So, I'm counting the common teal (129)!

Getting back to the wildlife sightings, it wasn't just birds. The western painted turtles (Chrysemys picta bellii) have come out of hibernation and were sunning themselves on the logs in the creek:

The highly invasive nutria (Myocastor coypus) were also abundant. At one point through the scope we located what looked like a nutria den, with 8+ animals romping along the shoreline and wresting with each other. Here's one that swam through the water-filled ditch right outside the car window:

Towards the end of the auto tour loop we spotted a large flock of 20+ white birds circling over the lake. From the way they were carthweeling they looked like gulls, but they were pure white. Through the binoculars it was evident they were actually all great egrets! I have never seen so many flying together, or flying in such a manner, so it was quite a sight. Unfortunately no photos of that spectacle as it was too far away, but here is a great blue heron who seemed to have something to say:

On the last stretch of the loop the red-tailed hawk pictured below soared over the car, just before we stopped to look for the reported great horned owl nest that I have been unable to locate on my last couple of visits to the refuge. Today we finally made out which lump in the trees was the active nest, and a look through the scope confirmed that there was an adult owl on the nest! That boosted the raptor species total up to 8.

Finally, it was somewhat of a disappointment not to see any yellow-headed blackbirds at Ridgefield, one of the few locations we regularly see them. I know I won't see them on San Juan Island so I wanted to find one before heading north again next week! Luckily on the way home was Vanport wetlands, where my dad had seen a couple just a few days before. We didn't get a great view, but one did show itself (130). Keith, a relatively new birder, was using the scope to check out a flock of mew gulls resting on a sand bar when he said, "Is that a greater yellowlegs?" I was doubtful, but he had just looked it up in the field guide while at Ridgefield since one had been reported there. Guess what, he was right! Nice find, a greater yellowlegs (131) to conclude the year bird list for the day at seven species.

Close to Vanport wetlands is Force Lake, an odd lake right next to a golf course that always seems to have an abundance of ducks, including several species not often seen elsewhere. While it didn't turn up the hoped-for redhead, there were a dozen or more canvasback there. In the end, we listed 60 species on the day, and a good photo to end this post is this male canvasback in the late afternoon light:


Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

131 each - how I needed that missing smew!!!
All to play for now...



Monika said...

It's game on now! :)

Rhett Wilkins said...

Monika, thank you for posting on obol today. I chased your Yellow-headed Blackbirds at Vanport and came up with some great looks.

Good Birding!

Rhett Wilkins

Warren Baker said...

Come on Monika ! we will never hear the last of it if dave gets more species!

Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

Thanks Warren - the lack of support for your countryman is duly noted.
Its gonna be a close run thing seeing as how our expected and wished for totals for the year are the same...