Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Twelve Great Months

As the end of 2009 approached, I took a look at photos from the year and realized we had some great outdoor travels in new and familiar places. Below is a picture from each month.

January Rock Creek floods, Hillsboro, OR.

February snowy beach at Manzanita, OR

Columbia River Bird Camp in March, Sauvie Island, OR

Sweetwater Wetlands in April, Tucson, AZ

Haystack Rock in May, Cannon Beach, OR

June fieldwork at Killin Wetlands, OR

Seattle waterfront in July

August morning in the Cliff-Gila Valley, NM

September islands and clouds in Discovery Passage, BC

October afternoon in Wallowa County, OR

Andie at Cape Kiawanda, OR in November

December deep freeze at Dawson Creek Park, OR

To all friends, family, and blog-readers: thanks for stopping by in 2009 and have a great 2010!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Foggy Holidays

Western Oregon won't have the white Christmas it did last year, but recent days have had a nice winter feel thanks to the freezing fog.

Late last night, ice crystals were falling from the air and catching the glow of street lights on their way to ground. When I woke this morning, everything was dusted with fog powder.

I have added a few ornaments to our tree this year, including a Harlequin Duck

and a female black-chinned hummingbird. Our tree is now complete, featuring many representatives of the Oregon coast and desert Southwest.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Foggy Bay Birding

Sarah and I spent a soggy Weekend Before Solstice at Pacific City. On Saturday, we conducted out monthly bird survey of Bob Straub State Park, then drove north to Netarts Bay.

We had hoped to find a Snowy Owl that has set up shop near the end of a spit.

Unfortunately, the bay was socked-in by fog. There was no owl to be seen, but we did find a Peregrine Falcon and many diving birds. Maybe next month.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Cold Snap Waterfowl

Thanks to El Nino, the Portland area is seeing its lowest temperatures in ten years. The cold, clear weather makes for great sunrises and sunsets.

Most of the local ponds are iced over, so small areas of open water were popular places for waterfowl at Dawson Creek Park.

This hole in the ice was surrounded by at least 40 Green-winged Teal, the most we have ever seen at the park. A few Wood Ducks and Mallards were mixed in as well. A pair of Pied-billed Grebes, a fixture of this pond, were floating in the center.

Closer to the library, a huge flock of white-cheeked geese (Cackling and Canada Geese) occupied the grass, ice, and water.

They kept busy by commuting from the field to the pond and back again.

The white bird in the center is a juvenile Snow Goose, a new Dawson Creek species for us.

In addition to the waterfowl, a nutria strutted atop the ice. There is plenty of beaver sign at the park, but we only see their introduced cousins during the day.
We expect to return to normal temperatures and rain next week, so I will enjoy the Rockies-like weather while I can.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


During the last few weeks, a few distractions have made it difficult to focus on work. The first is the Oregon Duck football team, which won the PAC 10 championship on Thursday night.

The Ducks beat their rivals Oregon State in one of the best football games I can recall. Like many other Duck or Beaver fans, I had been thinking about little more than this game since November 21, when it became clear that the winner would go on to the Rose Bowl. The Rose Bowl is almost a month away, so hopefully I can regain some focus until then.

The other distraction began when Sarah and I started the process of buying a house. Nothing is official yet, but we have set our sights on a small home in a great neighborhood.

The property has a lot of garden space and plenty of exotic vegetation in need of serious management. I can’t wait to get out there to pull some English ivy, cut blackberry, and plant native shrubs.

I have managed to get some work done during the last month, including a paper on Black-chinned Hummingbirds, which was published in a major bird journal. I have another stack of papers I am trying to finish, but it has not been easy. Luckily, my out-of-state employer is not expecting any products until February.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Dawson Creek Field Trip

My big birding weekend continued on Sunday as I led a field trip for the Audubon Society of Portland at Dawson Creek Corporate Park. At least eight participants met at the Hillsboro Library parking lot ready for a chilly but dry morning. During introductions, I announced that the bird I most hoped to find was a White-breasted Nuthatch because I regularly see or hear them among the large oaks, but I had never shown them to others on a field trip.

We walked along the ponds and found the usual crowd-pleasing species such as Acorn Woodpeckers, Wood Ducks, and Great Blue Herons. The day's best find was probably a Wilson's Snipe resting along the edge of a pond, spotted by a sharp-eyed participant.

As we neared the large oaks that mark the end of the loop, I heard the scream-like call of a White-breasted Nuthatch. After a little searching, we found a pair of nuthatches creeping up and down the trunks. This and other great sightings made for a successful field trip that probably will be my last at Dawson Creek, as Sarah and I plan to move to Portland at the end of the year. We have a few hurdles to clear before the move becomes a reality, but I may soon need to change this blog's title.

Here are the birds seen and heard during the field trip.

Pied-billed Grebe
Great Blue Heron
Canada Goose
Cackling Goose
American Wigeon
Green-winged Teal
Wood Duck
American Kestrel
Wilson's Snipe
Mourning Dove
Anna's Hummingbird
Northern Flicker
Acorn Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Western Scrub Jay
Black-capped Chickadee
Bewick's Wren
Winter Wren
American Robin
White-breasted Nuthatch
Spotted Towhee
Song Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Brewer's Blackbird
Red-winged Blackbird

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Birding Washington

On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Sarah and I met with two birding friends and crossed the Columbia to visit two wildlife refuges in Washington.

Our first stop was Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge, which was recently opened to the public.

We took the Gibbons Creek Trail to a slough where we quickly found the best bird of the day.

It was an American Bittern, hunting frogs or other animals in the canary grass. We had seen and heard plenty of bitterns before, but this was the first time we had an unobstructed view of bittern behavior. As the bittern moved slowly and silently through the water, we saw its tail protract past the primary tips of its folded wings, then quickly retract and disappear. We had never seen this strange tail behavior before, perhaps it helps maintain bittern balance.

The bittern's legs were yellowish-green and nicely matched the lower blades of canary grass. The brown streaks on its neck matched the dried upper portions of grass.

We ended the day at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. As usual, we saw plenty of Tundra Swans and Red-tailed Hawks, a pair of Rough-legged Hawks, and a few Bald Eagles. As we approached the end of the auto loop, one of the eagles plucked a bird (a duck or coot) right out of the main pond and carried off to a tree. The view of the predation event was a great way to end an excellent birding trip.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Killin Wetlands in Fall

Yesterday I visited my summer Willow Flycatcher study sites to record some GPS data and see the wetlands in their fall colors.

Recent rains have added plenty of water to the basin.

A stream was flowing through an area that is usually dry.

The invasive reed canary grass (foreground) does not grow well when flooded, so this extra water could help the native species compete.

This Geyer willow sapling still has a few yellow leaves attached.

Most of the other shrubs and trees have lost their leaves, revealing things I had not noticed during the summer such as the smooth, tan bark of these madrone trunks.

Beaked hazels still had green leaves and catkins. In a few months, the catkins will open up and add some bright yellow color to the wintry landscape. I will definitely return to the wetland to see what is going on then.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Beach Storms and Birds

Sarah and I spent a long weekend at the beach, which was getting hammered by storms each day. On Friday the skies were mostly sunny, but heavy surf battered Cape Kiawanda and covered the beach with a thick foam that wiggled in the wind.

With all the foam, surf, and fog, it was hard to see the boundaries between the sand, water, and sky.

On Sunday, we left for home reluctantly as always. Along the way, we stopped at the Nehalem Treatment Plant to look for some birds. Upon arriving, Sarah spotted a Black Phoebe, a rare coastal flycatcher.

A well-known Portland birder was visiting the area as well. He pointed us to a Northern Mockingbird perched on the sprinkler above. The coast is frequently visited by birds, such as this mockingbird, that venture out of there normal range. I rarely see these rarities myself, however, so it was nice to have a little help.

We also found pairs of White-tailed Kites, Northern Harriers, and Bald Eagles. Once again, the Nehalem Plant did not disapoint.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Painting Again

During the last few days, I worked on some painting projects.

On Halloween Day, I woke up and painted the University of Oregon logo on a small green pumpkin. I became a Duck fan through marriage, so I had spent much of the week looking forward to the Oregon-USC football game that night. Oregon won the game easily, so we will keep the pumpkin around as a good-luck charm.

Yesterday I finished my annual contribution to the Wild Arts Festival, a fundraiser for the Audubon Society of Portland. We have seen a lot of Black Oystercatchers during our beach trips this year, so I was inspired to put one on a 6 x 6 canvas.

This oystercatcher is contemplating a limpet, one of their favorite foods.
Soon it will be time to carve and paint holiday ornaments!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Rainy Days and Pumpkins

After a particularly dry summer and early fall, western Oregon is finally getting the rain it needs.

The ornamental trees in the neighborhood are reaching their peak of brightness, as are the well-manicured lawns.

The dark, cool weather inspired me to carve a pumpkin in celebration of the season. This is the first home-grown Jack O' Lantern I've carved. I gave him acorn horns and a leafy beard to help him fit into the neighborhood. We have a smaller pumpkin in the apartment that we will bake into a pie next week.