Monday, April 27, 2009

Back to the Beach

We spent last weekend at Pacific City to scout the area for our upcoming Birdathon trip and survey beached birds along our routes.

We saw more bald eagles than during any previous beach weekend. Most were immatures, like the one above that was eating a fish in a tree near the beach house.

While surveying Bob Straub State Park, we found two birds that had reached our coast from the Pacific Islands.

A sooty shearwater, a surface feeding and diving bird that nests on islands near New Zealand,

and a massive, black-footed albatross, which breeds from Hawaii to Japan.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Neighborhood Nests

A day after my hummingbird banding adventure, I found another Anna's hummingbird nest near our apartment.

It is in an oak that is a few meters west of the oak that held last year's nest.

Two large nestlings are packed into the tiny nest, almost ready to fledge. I snapped a few pictures from a safe distance until their mother buzzed me away.

Closer to our apartment, I found a pair of bushtits hard a work on a nest in another oak. Most of their nests are built in conifers such as Doug firs and redcedars and this is the first I have seen in an ornamental oak.

The birds are busy these days. I also found a white-crowned sparrow bringing material to these shrubs. I have never seen an actual white-crowned nest because they hide them well. To avoid disturbing the parents, I will not look for the nest, but revisit to watch for parents carrying food during the nestling period.

The nesting crows are flying around as a pair, so they must not be incubating yet. Any day the female will disappear as she tends to her eggs.

Hummingbird Heaven

Hummingbirds were a central theme of my recent Tucson trip. Southestern Arizona is serious hummingbird country, where 18 species have been seen, more than in any other state except Texas.

I attended a day of hummingbird talks and workshops on Thursday, viewed numerous Anna's and black-chinned hummingbirds on Friday, and presented data from our New Mexico black-chinned hummingbird studies, including the climate change slide above, on Saturday.

On Sunday morning, I woke at 4:20 and drove from my friends' house in north Tucson to parking lot of Sabino Canyon in the Santa Catalina Mountains.

The desert morning was beautiful. The birdsong and sunlight on the cacti were well worth the sleep deprivation.

Another visiting hummingbird biologist and I joined volunteer bander Elissa Fazio, her intern, and two volunteer assistants for a morning of trapping.

The banding area was a perfect blend of riparian and desert scrub habitats, attracting numerous birds such as the Bell's vireos that were singing all around us.

We set up traps around two large feeders in a grove of large Gooding's willows along the Creek.

The traps consited of a circular curtain that could be raised and lowered over the trap. When a bird landed to feed, the curtain was dropped and we reached in to remove the birds, place them in a bag, and deliver them to Elissa for identification and banding.

The birds were identified, sexed, and banded. Before releasing the birds Elissa and her intern gave them a drink from the feeder. We snapped numerous photos as the little birds gained their bearings before buzzing away.

We captured a female Anna's hummingbird, a species currently found both in Portland and Tucson following a rapid range expansion.

Black-chinned hummingbirds nest in riparian woodlands throughout the western US. We captured several females and one male, above. Since this is one of my "study species" I was happy to see them up close once again.

My favorite species of the day was the broad-billed hummingbird. The Santa Cruz watershed, which surrounds Tucson, is the northern limit of their breeding range. Broad-bills nest in riparian woodlands and adjacent desert scrub.

Males and females have pink bills with black tips. You can see from this photo where they get their name.

We all oohed and awed at the brilliant males broad-bills. Even Elissa, who has banded hundreds of these little guys could not get over their good looks.

After a busy couple hours of banding, the birds slowed their activity as the morning began to warm. My flight departed at noon, so I left the operation early to drive to the airport. I could not ask for a better way to end my trip.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Back from the Desert

Yesterday I returned from a five day trip to Tucson, Arizona where I attended the Cooper Ornithological Society meetings. I reconnected with many friends and colleagues, found some great birds, and gained a bit of speaking practice.

I flew into Tucson Wednesday afternoon, grabbed my rental car, and drove up to Molino Basin in the Santa Catalina Mountains.

I drove through saguaro cactus stands and found a nice riparian woodland full of migrating warblers and broad-billed hummingbirds.

While in Tucson, I stayed with my friends TJ and Karie. Their house is surrounded by some nice desert scrubland full of chollas, barrel cacti, and saguaros.

The next morning I woke early to attend the Western Hummingbird Project's symposium and workshop.

I learned a lot about hummingbird biology at the talks and we broke into groups to discuss research and management needs for this much-understudied family of birds.

On Friday, I woke even earlier and birded the Sweetwater Treatment Plant Wetlands.

With a great mix of wetland, riparian, and desert scrub habitat, I racked up dozens of bird species, including the resident Harris's hawk above.

The Santa Cruz River passes near the wetlands. Most of the stream bed is dry, but effluent from the plant is discharged in one location, creating some streamflow and riparian vegetation. The mesquite, willow, and cottonwood trees lining the effluent flow were full of migratory birds as well.

On Saturday I gave talks at two symposia, one focusing on climate change and another on wildfire. I have been working on these presentations for months and now that they are finished, I will take a day or two off from bird biology, then start on my next projects.

Yesterday I helped with some hummingbird monitoring at Sabino Canyon before flying back to Portland. More on that later.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Crow Nest

For the first time since we moved here, American crows are building a nest in our apartment complex.

The nest is being constructed in the Doug fir farthest to the right.

As you can see in the background, it has been quite stormy here this week. Luckily, it has not slowed down the birds.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Dawson Creek Nests

The nesting season is underway at Dawson Creek Park, which surrounds the Hillsboro Library. After dropping off an overdue book, Andie and I took a walk around a few ponds. I checked on the Canada goose island and noticed a small white pile of down. Looking through binoculars, I noticed one large egg.

The adults were swimming nearby, keeping the egg in sight.

I found my first American robin nest of the year near another pond. A female was bringing material to a birch tree in a grove where several nests were constructed last year. Now that the residents are hard at work, the migrants should be moving in and nesting any week now.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Pacific City Bliss

This weekend, we celebrated Sarah's 3oth birthday at the beach and it turned out to be the best time we have had at the coast since our wedding. Sarah's family and many of our friends joined us to mark the occasion.

After several days of cold and rain, the sun emerged on Saturday in time for a bird hike I led for the Pacific City Birding and Blues Festival. I had a small turnout for my group, but we saw 27 species of birds and found many interesting items on the beach including a beached longnose lancet fish.

These slender beasts swim in deep seas and occasionally show up on beaches.

After the hike, my friend Jere and I dug for clams in the mud flats of Nestucca Bay.

We returned to the beach house in time for the Birthday Dinner. We ate a lot of pasta, and the non-vegetarians enjoyed the clams.

We drank some wine and a lot of singing and dancing followed, making for a memorable night for all of us, including the yarn crab. I could not ask for a better weekend to share with great folks.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Dueling Hummingbirds and Winning Blazers

I spent Tuesday morning and afternoon at the Turner's house where I checked on our spring veggie garden.

The starts have not received much sun lately, but mild temperatures and plenty of rain are all they need to stay alive.

I tried to get some work done at the kitchen table, but I was distracted by the newly-arrived rufous hummingbirds. A female rufous remained perched on a branch near the feeder and chased away any Anna's hummingbirds that dared to come for a drink.

She occasionally came for a drink herself, but spent most of her time chasing others.

Last weekend, we put up a feeder at the beach, and a Rufous Battle Royale ensued. At least four males and females chased each other in every direction. Many of these aggressive little birds will move north to nest, then migrate south through the Rockies and southwestern mountains where they will harass the broad-tailed and black-chinned hummingbirds nesting there.

After we finished work, Sarah and I took the light rail to the Rose Garden in Portland and I watched my first Trailblazers game, a belated birthday present. The Blazers played their division rivals, the Utah Jazz.

Utah score the first basket of the game and did not lead again. The blazers scored a season-high 39 points in the first quarter and easily won 125-104. Two more wins and they are in the playoffs!