Snow fell on New Year's Eve, and as the sky dimmed for the last time in 2012 we gathered our usual friends and family for our last day of the year festivities. Game playing was interrupted shortly before midnight when someone spotted movement on the deck outside. It was a raccoon - the first one my parents have ever seen in their yard. Closer inspection showed it to be a raccoon with a story to tell - he had a gash on his nose and was missing his tail. We could only imagine what might have happened to him.
Just like last year, when I awoke on New Year's Day I added the same first species to my year list without opening my eyes as I heard a Steller's jay (1) in my parents' yard. I went downstairs and ate a bowl of cereal in front of the sliding glass door overlooking the beautiful, snow-dusted landscape, every bough and branch looking like it had been dipped in ice. I added seven more species to the list, most of them the same ones that made up my first ten species from last year: black-capped chickadee (2), mourning dove (3 - was 30 last year), chestnut-backed chickadee (4), red-breasted nuthatch (5), dark-eyed junco (6), spotted towhee (7), and song sparrow (8).
We took off towards Saint Helens, passing ten species with the American crow (10) and adding a few others on our way to the Honeyman Road loop that goes through Scappoose Bottoms. Along the way we had to stop to take a few pictures not only of birds but of the snowy landscape, too:
The reservoir on Honeyman Road had at least 50 tundra swans (16) on it, a species it was nice to add so early and one that wasn't present when we had visited shortly before. Just down the road from the swan overlook was my first red-tailed hawk (17) of the year. My camera settings weren't quite right when it took flight, but I like the result in this photograph anyway:
The rough-legged hawk wasn't in his usual corner, so we thought that might be a big miss. There were other raptors around, however, including a bald eagle (20), several American kestrels (21), and a northern harrier (23). Kestrels are often quite skittish, but this one didn't move when we slowed the car down below it. It wasn't until I looked at the photo that I realized he was clutching a mouse, with blood on his beak and feathers and dripping down the pole. Such is the life of a bird of prey:
We found the rough-legged hawk (24) further down the road form his usual hang out - yay! The rest of Honeyman Road turned up our first bunch of waterfowl and three gull species, with some highlights being half a dozen Wilson's snipe (28) and a small flock of sandhill cranes (29).
The weather was crisp but it was time to get out and walk part of the Crown-Zellerbach trail. The Ross' goose from a few days before was no where to be seen, but in its place were six snow geese (35) with a huge flock of cackling geese. More of the regular wetland species were added here, most notably a Virginia rail (42) that responded to a played vocalization, one or two marsh wrens (43), and a lone cinnamon teal (46). There weren't as many sparrows and small birds in the blackberry bushes, perhaps due to all the people out walking their dogs and enjoying the sunny first day of the year. One dog walker even stopped and asked to take a picture of us crazy birders for the county webpage. Several others stopped to share their own bird sightings with us, even if it was just "a flock of 50 starlings". It's always nice to get others to think about the birds they've seen!
We drove along Dike Road next where the highlight was a male Eurasian wigeon (51), a species that eluded both me and my dad last year. From there it was a short drive to Sauvie Island, where the first stop was to enjoy a pair of peregrine falcons (54) perched in perfect lighting:
Last year, I didn't add peregrine falcon until #218 in October. These two were on adjacent poles, and then one flew to join the other, setting up this great photo op of a pair of falcons, each facing different directions:
It was hard not to stop and take another picture of the same photogenic cows, especially because of the flock of Brewer's blackbirds (55) in their field.
The next pasture over were some very strange looking llamas. They're carrying quite the load of wool, which looks so unkempt as to be growing its own layer of moss of algae:
From there it was on to the Reeder Road observation blind. The duck composition had changed quite a lot from a few days before, perhaps in part because of all the hunting that was going on nearby. We actually saw one guy across the marsh shoot and then wade out to net a duck or goose, the poor thing still struggling as he made his way back to shore. It was interesting to have lots of bird watchers with scopes and binos on one side of the lake and hunters with guns poking through blinds right across the way on the other side. Most of the birds were American coot, and gone from what we could tell were the ruddy ducks, but we did re-find the redhead (58) and canvasback (59), as well as a single female bufflehead (60) and some lesser scaup (61).
With getting a later start than planned and taking our time everywhere we went, we realized we weren't going to cover nearly as much ground as we had originally planned for January 1. Still, without traveling nearly as far as we did last year, we equaled last year's first day of the year total by about 2:30 in the afternoon. Next up was Rentenaar Road, where we had seen the Harris' sparrow on the 29th. It looked like lots of other birders had the same idea, as the road was busy from end to end. As we pondered what it was about this particular dirt road edged with blackberries that so attracted sparrows, we saw dozens of golden-crowned and white-crowned sparrows (63). All in all, we only turned up four of the seven sparrow species from a few days before. We managed to turn up two Lincoln's sparrows (64), but no Harris' sparrow for us that day.
By this time the annoying cold that has greeted me this new year was beginning to take its toll on me, so we started to head home. On our way off the island we picked up double-crested cormorants (65) as expected, but didn't see any of the hoped-for mergansers along the Multnomah Channel.
As we reviewed the first day of birding, we agreed the peregrine falcons were the highlight, but were surprised that fox sparrow hadn't made it onto the list - last year it was #10 for me. On our way home we went by a patch of bushes where we had seen a pair of fox sparrows a few days ago. They hadn't been there in the morning, but amazingly to me, there they were in the afternoon (66). Just like the rough-legged hawk and so many other birds, they astound me with their site fidelity. Since we were so close we returned to the rough-legged hawk area, a spot known to some birders as Owl Corner. While the rough-legged hawk had returned to his usual perching tree, there were no short-eared owls or any other kind of owls to be seen patrolling the fields.
That proved to be it for day one, but with an improvement of five species over last year, I was pleased enough. I perhaps paid for being out and about so much with a cold coming on, as I proved to be totally down for the count today and further birding plans had to be postponed. The only species I added on day two were evening grosbeaks (67) and varied thrushes (68) that came to my parents' feeders, seen comfortably from under a blanket on the couch. I hope to still get in a trip to Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge before I leave, and hopefully seek out a couple of the rarer birds reported in Portland recently on the way there.