Monday, March 30, 2009

Stormy Weekend

We spent last weekend at the beach and enjoyed some wild weather, much like the rest of the northern U.S.

Pacific City was socked in on Saturday. Sarah and I are used to rain, but we felt a bit claustrophobic because visibility was so limited. We could barely make out Haystack Rock in the distance, but the ocean was invisible from the house most of the day.

A few sunbreaks made our beach survey much more tolerable on Sunday. Towards the end, however, it began to hail.

If you look closely, you can see the hail streaking in front of the dog's back. She was eager to get back to the beach house and relax on the couch.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Spring Break Camp on the Island

Yesterday I led an Audubon Spring Break Camp. With the help of a volunteer, I drove 12 second and third-graders to Sauvie Island to look for some birds.

The morning was quite rainy, but it started to clear when we reached the island.

We started by birding the Multnomah Channel.

A belted kingfisher and a group of common mergansers captured their attention.

We drove to Wapato Greenway, Oak Island, and several stops on the east side of the island. At a couple of covered areas, we made maps of the island and recorded the birds we saw at each site.

Though I was busy keeping the kids in sight and interested in the birds, I enjoyed one of the best days of birding I have had at the Island. Sandhill cranes were everywhere, ospreys and turkey vultures had returned from their winter country, and bald eagles were sitting on sedan-sized nests. The highlight for some of the boys was a "duck fight" between squabbling buffleheads. The boys embelished the story to include flying blood and death from an epic battle that lasted much longer than I recall, but I guess we create our own reality at that age.

Our final stop was the Columbia beach.

As I kept an eye on the kids playing in the sand, I spotted the best bird of the day.

It was a juvenile red-throated loon cruising up the River. The children whose attention had not yet waned were able to get good looks at it in the scope. This small loon usually winters along the coast, but a few stray up the Columbia to Hood River and beyond. It was a great sighting to cap a very productive day of birding for all ages.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Food Season Begins

On Saturday, the 2009 Portland Farmer's Market season began on the Portland State campus.

I feel like we are spoiled in western Oregon because the period in which it is difficult to buy fresh, local produce is ridiculously short. I can't cross-country ski or snowshoe every day like folks in my hometown of Butte, Montana can, however, so I guess it's a trade-off.

We found some great carrot diversity,

earthy piles of mushrooms,

and starts ready for planting.

We bought some early season greens and mushrooms, long-keeping root vegetables, and produce stored since last season.

We brought the starts to our raised bed at Sarah's grandparent's house. We quickly weeded, tilled and composted one end of the bed, then planted.

We now hope that the weather goes easy on the snap pea, golden beet, and lettuce starts.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Hummingbird Update

The Anna's hummingbird nest across the street remains active.

Yesterday, I saw two medium-sized nestling bills.

The nestlings are 13 to 18 days old and will be in the nest for another five to ten days.
The nestling period of hummingbirds is much longer than other small, open-nesting birds. Females care for young without help from males, so nestling growth rate is probably limited by the amount of food a tiny single parent can deliver.

The little nestlings here have already been hardened by cold and wet weather, so they should have no trouble making it out of the nest.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Almost Spring

During the last week I have been hoping to spot some bushtits building their nests because this is usually the time of year they begin.

I have been unlucky so far, but I took a quick walk around Dawson Creek today to see if my luck would change.

At first, I did not see or hear any bushtits at their usual spots, but there were plenty of ducks to view. This time of year, I see mallards sitting on the grass instead of floating in the water. A flock of American wigeons chewed on the grass, as usual.

The local beavers have been busy working on the large willows.

A glaucos-winged gull has been frequenting this perch.

As I was about to leave, I heard the spishing calls of a bushtit pair in a grove of trees across the street from where they previously nested.

After a few minutes of watching, I saw them bring material to some droopy branches a few feet above the water. A pair of lesser goldfinches and a pair of black-capped chickadees joined the bushtits for some small-bird companionship. Maybe they will nest nearby.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Newport Birds and Beers

This weekend, we drove to the central coast for a volunteer seabird monitor get-together at the Rogue Brewery in Newport. We spent Friday night in the wonderful little town of Yachats, south of Newport. Our plan was to spend Saturday tidepooling and birding before an early dinner at the Rogue.
The seas were stormy and the tides were high, but we found some nice pools on top of the rocks.

A group of black oystercatchers did some tidepooling of their own on a nearby boulder.

As we drove north , the rain picked up and it felt like real winter weather on the coast. By the time we reached Newport, we could not leave the car without being drenched.

We took a quick walk along the Bayfront and spotted a few common loons in newly molted breeding plumage.

Driving along the south jetty, we admired the Yaquina Bay Bridge and looked for more birds.

We found a group of gulls and watched them from the car. The group included herring gulls, western gulls, glaucous-winged gulls, and a Thayer's gull. As I scanned the gulls, I noticed an especially pale bird towards the back of the group.

Judging by the white primaries and pink-and-black bill, it was a juvenile glaucous gull, a life bird for both of us! For the last three years, I have been scanning groups of gulls looking for this species, so I was pretty psyched to finally see one.

We spotted some more birds in the bay, but the pounding rain and wind made it feel like we were birding in a car wash.

After some great food and drink, we took another walk along the bay and spotted a male harlequin duck, a great note on which to end the birding day. We drove north to Pacific City and enjoyed spending most of Sunday indoors.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tuesday at the Park

Today I took Andie on another walk at Dawson Creek Park

The bicolored bird on the island is a juvenile double-crested cormorant.

The bushtits are due to start nest building any day now. I checked out one of their usual haunts, but did not hear or see any of the tiny birds. Maybe the cold weather is slowing their motivation.

Despite the gloomy weather, the cherry trees were beginning to bloom.

Andie and I found a goose kill site in a field.

The bones and feathers were chewed, which makes me think a coyote was the culprit. Nicer weather is expected for the rest of the week, so I will be back to look for nests!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Snow in the Wetlands

Today I went to Killin Wetlands west of Banks, OR to scout a research project I am planning with Metro.

Shortly after arriving, huge snowflakes began falling. It looked like winter was far from over.

After a while, however, the sun came out and I found a small group of violet green swallows.

Looks like spring is coming after all.

Last weekend, I converted our dinner table into a studio as I finished an acrylic painting. Sarah bought me a pair of canvasses for Christmas and requested I fill them. For the painting above, I tried to capture the various shades of green, brown, and gray that compose the winter landscape of Washington County.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Friday Sun

After a cloudy week, Friday started out nice and bright.

A pair of kestrels took in the sun on the peak of a roof.

I took a walk at Dawson Creek Park to soak up some sun before the snow arrives tomorrow.

A pair of Canada geese swam near an island where they will probably be nesting soon.

A huge flock of cackling geese was lounging in another pond.

A cooper's hawk high in a snag watched over the park.