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Friday, April 26, 2013

Birding From Portland to San Juan Island

With a stretch of warm, summer-like weather I took advantage of some great days for birding. Before leaving Portland, I stopped by Vanport Wetlands where I added yellow-headed blackbird (143) to the year list. This was just a stop on our way to Smith and Bybee Lakes, a beautiful wetlands area nestled right near the Oregon-Washington border. It's a very green place in spring time, and the first part of the trail was just humming with yellow-rumped warblers - there were probably hundreds of them there!

There was lots of osprey (144) activity around - we saw three different pairs at or near the wetlands. There were numerous adult and immature bald eagles, too. Nothing outnumbered the turtles sunning themselves on logs, however. There were easily more than 100 visible from one overlook!

We saw a nice variety of waterfowl here, and some more uncommon sightings included a pair of bushtits and a calling pileated woodpecker.

The next day, Wednesday, it was time to start heading back north to the San Juan Islands, but we got an early enough start to make sure we had ample time to enjoy Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge on the way. We spent two hours there, and it was pretty amazing to see that the parking lot was full on a weekday morning!

The number of people present didn't seem to put a damper on the bird sightings as I saw or heard nearly 40 species while we were there. The cliff swallows were in abundance, and were busy building their nests on the visitors center and on the Twin Barns. Tree swallows were also busy coming and going from nesting cavities in the deciduous trees along the first part of the walk. Pretty much all the expected duck species were present in pretty good numbers, too: northern shoveler, northern pintail, mallards, American wigeon, green-winged teal, bufflehead, ring-necked ducks, gadwall, and Canada and cackling geese. A pair of pied-billed grebes chased each other around the marsh and more savannah sparrows were singing around every corner. On the first stretch of the trail I also saw my first brown-headed cowbird (145) of the year, and I also heard a sora (146) call once.

In addition to all the waterfowl, the marshy areas were noisy with singing marsh wrens and common yellowthroat. The yellowthroat are often secretive, but one pair of males seemed to be in the middle of a territorial dispute and were chasing each other back and forth in plain sight. It was still tough to get a photograph of them, as whenever they landed they were obscured by grasses. This is the best picture I got - you can see the second male behind and to the right of the one in the foreground.

Out on the boardwalk part of the trail the bird activity quieted down substantially, but the landscape and the colors were still impressive to take in:

It was low tide, and only a few green-winged teal and a pair of greater yellowlegs seemed to be foraging in the mudflats. In the distance some glaucous-winged and mew gulls could be seen too. 

Time went quickly and all too soon it was time to get back on the road to catch our ferry. We made it home in the evening, but it wasn't straight back to work for me - I took a few extra days off to make sure I could enjoy a few days of spring time here on the island, too. Thursday was another awesome day with temperatures nearing 70 degrees, and I spent several hours out in some of my favorite birding spots. Inspired by the sora I heard at Nisqually, I wanted to see if I could turn up the species on San Juan Island as well, and indeed I heard a couple of birds at both Swan Valley Marsh and False Bay Creek. Also at False Bay Creek, the swallows seemed to be selecting nesting boxes and four turkey vultures soared overhead. Just like at Nisqually, I heard some more marsh wrens, common yellowthroat, and savannah sparrows, but also saw a hunting northern harrier and heard a single Virginia rail.

Down at the south end of the island, common camas is starting to bloom in the prairies:

We haven't quite hit our wildflower peak here yet, but the careful observer can still find lots of species in bloom right now:

While walking the prairies in search of wildflowers, a pair of American goldfinches (147) flew overhead, my first of the season. Large flocks of surf scoters and red-breasted mergansers could still be seen off of South Beach, and another northern harrier cruised over the grasslands. Savannah sparrows, seeming especially abundant this year, were also everywhere. The biggest surprises of the week were still in store for me, however.

As I drove along the Redoubt Road, I saw a bird fly up from near the ground to perch on a tree. At first I assumed it was another savannah sparrow, as nearly every bird I lifted the binoculars to throughout my walk had turned out to be one of these streaky sparrows with yellow by the eye and a buzzy call. Something about this one struck me as different, however, and am I ever glad I stopped! It turned out to be a female mountain bluebird (148). This species is usually only seen east of the Cascades, but a few always migrate west of the Cascades while heading to more northern climates and sometimes stop over on the San Juan Islands. This is only the second time I've seen the species in the county and my first time seeing one on San Juan Island. The bird flew further along the road and I was able to get this photo of it before she took off and flew out of the sight to the north:

From here I scanned the American Camp prairies with my binoculars and saw a beautiful red fox still in its lush winter coat, surprisingly my first fox of the day. Usually this time of year the prairies are active with foxes - to my surprise I saw lots and lots of rabbits (the national park has attempted and is to eradicate these guys from the historic grasslands) but only this one fox! With further scanning I saw something perched in a stand of fir trees, and I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw it was a short-eared owl. I thought all these owls had taken off by now, as they're usually only seen here in winter and I hadn't heard of any sightings since the last week of March. But, there it was! I was thrilled when after watching it for a few minutes it took flight, giving me the opportunity to get what I think is probably my best shot of the week:

Next up, the weather has turned cloudy again, but I've still got a few days off and plenty of places to explore. I'll report back with what I find!


Vera said...

Fantastic photos of the camas, the bluebird and the owl!

Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

Some good birding there Monika - like your shorty pic. Loads round here this winter but they managed to avoid me, hope they aren't scarce next back end.
Looking forward to hearing about the rest of your time off