Friday, October 30, 2009

Dusky Canada Geese follow-up

certificate of appreciationIt only has been two days since I saw and reported the red neck collar numbers of four Dusky Canada Geese I recorded at Jackson Bottom Wetlands in Hillsboro, Oregon. I received certificates of appreciation for reporting two of the geese. The certificate for 7JP is reproduced here.

Bird 7JP is a female, banded 5 August 2003 by Dr. Dirk Derksen and was at least one year old when banded. The banding location was 5 miles west of Alaganic, Alaska (see map).

The other goose, 84C is a male, banded 18 July 2005 and was at least one year old when banded. It was banded not too far from the other bird, 11 miles south of Cordova, Alaska, by Thomas Rothe.

Reporting neck collar numbers helps scientists figure out where these birds go and their survival rates. Notice that goose 7JP was banded 6 years ago and is at least 7 years old.

View Larger Map

Thursday, October 29, 2009


MallardMallard, Forest Grove, Oregon on 10 October 2009 by Greg Gillson.


All summer the ducks have been in their dull eclipse plumage. The drakes appear in a plumage very similar to the hens. But now that autumn is fully upon us, the male ducks have regained their stunning colors.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Neck-collared Geese

Wednesday is Lunch with the birds time for me again at Jackson Bottom Wetlands. Today, highlights included a Bald Eagle chasing a Cackling Goose, a quick fly-by Merlin, and a flock of Dusky Canada Geese.

Dusky Canada Geese are not as big as the Western Canada Geese that are resident at the local ponds and raise their goslings here locally in the Pacific Northwest. But the Duskies are still about 2/3 larger than the Cackling Geese that are here by the thousands now.

Dusky Canada Geese are a dark-breasted population that nest on the Copper River delta in Alaska. The 1964 Alaska earth quake raised their swampy river delta 6 feet. Now Arctic Foxes and other predators could reach any nesting area that remained. Thus, the US Fish and Wildlife service set up 3 refuges for these birds in the 1970's in the Willamette Valley: Ankeny NWR, Finley NWR, and Baskett Slough NWR. Numbers of these geese have rebounded, but they are still not legal to hunt.

Several of the Dusky Canada Geese had red plastic neck collars with white numbers and letters written on them. [Cackling Geese have yellow neck collars; Western Canada Geese have blue or white neck collars.] I was able to make out the numbers on four birds, though they were quite distant, hidden behind the willows, it was a bit hazy today, and the eagle was stirring things up. Have I made enough excuses for the bad digiscoped photo to accompany this post?

You need a good spotting scope, and practice reading the stylized lettering, but finding flocks of geese or swans with neck collars and then submitting them can be quite fun. I filled out the web form for reporting the 4 neck collars (6NV, 7 JP, 7VF, 84C) at the bird banding laboratory on the USGS page.

In a few days I expect to hear back from the researcher working on these birds. I'll receive a thank you acknowledgement and learn something about where these birds were banded and how old they are. I'll write another post when I find out.

Monday, October 26, 2009

In the backyard... Cedar Waxwing

Cedar WaxwingCedar Waxwing, Fernhill Wetlands, Forest Grove, Oregon on 1 August 2009 by Greg Gillson.


Many backyard birders are already familiar with the crested Cedar Waxwing. This handsome bird breeds throughout the Pacific Northwest in towns and woodland edges, but is rare or absent in dense higher forests and treeless expanses of the Great Basin. In winter they are irregular and rare, as most move south in their search for berries--their primary food.

Migrant Cedar Waxwings arrive in large numbers in May. They wait to nest until berries (cherries, blueberries, hawthorn) are ripe. They often nest twice in the year, raising broods first in June, then again in August. Local numbers are augmented by migrants from the north and many young-of-the-year in September and October.

These birds are found in flocks except during the nesting season. Flocks fly from tree to tree, eating fruit and giving constant high-pitched trilling calls. In August and September they can often be seen hawking larger insects out over rivers.

The primary field marks are the fawn-colored upperparts and crest, black mask, pale yellowish belly, and darker tail with yellow tip. At close range (see photo above) the name sake waxy red tips can be seen on the wings.

In winter, nomadic flocks of birds are most often noted in larger cities where they can find berries from introduced fruit-bearing trees. Important winter fruits come from holly bushes west of the Cascades and juniper berries east of the Cascades.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Brown Pelican in flight

Brown PelicanBrown Pelican, Newport, Oregon on 2 October 2009 by Greg Gillson.


Brown Pelican numbers are unprecedented this fall along the coastline of the Pacific NW. Every summer and fall these birds wander up from their breeding colonies in Baja California, accompanied by Heermann's Gulls. This year, however, has been special.

Nearly a thousand Brown Pelicans have been roosting at night near Newport, Oregon, either on Yaquina Head by the lighthouse, or in Yaquina Bay and on on its jetties.

To get this photo, I drove out to the south jetty of Yaquina Bay in late afternoon. The low-angled sunlight provided a rich warm glow and the desired shadows that bring out the shape of the bird. Brown Pelicans were coming in off the ocean, turning up into the bay, then returning along the jetties, right over and beside me, including this nice adult.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Lunch with the Birds

Lunch With The BirdsToday at noon I volunteered an hour of my time for the Jackson Bottom Wetlands' "Lunch with the Birds" program. This is the 12th year of the program, though my involvement only started a couple of weeks ago. Jackson Bottom Wetlands is immediately south of Hillsboro, Oregon as Main Street turns into Hwy 219.

The official announcement is as follows:

"Come join us as we begin our 12th year of Lunch With the Birds! Meet at the north viewing shelter just south of Hillsboro on Highway 219 next to the Clean Water Services water treatment plant. Our naturalist will help you identify birds and other wildlife that call Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve home. Bald Eagles, Great Blue Herons and many different kinds of waterfowl are just a few of the wonderful creatures that may be observed on the Preserve. This event is free and open to everyone. The site is wheelchair accessible. For more information call 503-681-6278."

Jackson BottomThe fall rains started this week, though the skies became mostly sunny as the noon hour progressed. The water added to the ponds and 600 or so Cackling Goose were present. I explained (to the only person to join me this day) that these were recently split from the Canada Goose as a separate species. It was easy to see the Canada Goose was twice the size of the Cackling Goose. A Great Egret was working the shoreline.

We spotted an adult Bald Eagle perched high in a Douglas-fir tree behind its nest in a cottonwood. The eagles just returned last week after being absent most of the autumn. Later its mate appeared, making a strafing run at the geese. A previously hidden Greater White-fronted Goose flew up from the back pond along with all the Cackling Geese.

A flash of white over the back marsh revealed an adult Bonaparte's Gull! This species is a rare annual spring and fall migrant in the county.

Lunch with the BirdsJackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve has a new web site where you can read more about its activities and birding opportunities.

Lunch with the Birds is presented every Wednesday from noon to 1 pm. Check the web site calendar to verify the program each week. This venue is suitable for local families, nearby workers taking a lunch break, small school groups, and beginning birders wishing to know more about the local birds.

At the south end of Jackson Bottom is the Education Center and hiking trails (no dogs allowed). These take you along the ash groves beside the Tualatin river and out along several ponds. The wetlands are open all year, though the entire area can flood following heavy rains.

Will you meet me there next week for Lunch with the Birds?

Monday, October 19, 2009

In the mountains... Mountain Chickadee

Mountain ChickadeeMountain Chickadee in a lodgepole pine, Lost Lake, Linn Co., Oregon on 23 May 2009 by Greg Gillson.


Several groups of Pacific NW birds show altitudinal habitat preferences. This is most clearly seen on the Cascade Mountains. The chickadees show this, with Black-capped Chickadees most common in lowlands and oak woods west of the Cascades. Higher up the Cascade slope, in the damp Douglas-fir and western hemlock habitat zone is the domain of the Chestnut-backed Chickadee. In the highest forests of lodgepole and over the Cascade crest to the drier east side ponderosa pine forests are found the Mountain Chickadees (sometimes in lower juniper).

Instantly recognized by the white eyebrow stripe, Mountain Chickadees are pale gray, white, and black. They lack the chestnut backs (and sides of all but the San Francisco area populations) of Chestnut-backed Chickadees. They lack the buffy sides of the Black-capped Chickadees west of the Cascades. [In the Rocky Mountains are some rather plain sided Black-capped Chickadees and some rather buffy-sided Mountain Chickadess.]

The common call is a husky chick-dzee-dzee-dzee. The song is similar to Black-capped Chickadee, a whistled descending fee-bee-bay.

These birds are very common in mountain forests. In fact, Farner in 1952 wrote that these birds are the most common resident species at Crater Lake National Park.

Mountain Chickadees nest in old woodpecker holes, nest boxes, or other opportunistic crannies.

Like all chickadees, these birds are attracted to backyard bird feeders in the towns in the pines on the eastern edge of the Cascades and other higher mountains. They also occur in the Klamath Mountains nearer the coast in NW California.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Yellow-rumped WarblerYellow-rumped Warbler, Newport, Oregon on 2 October 2009 by Greg Gillson.


Now that fall is here and winter on the way, most neo-tropical migrants are either rushing south, or have done so already.

That includes the warblers. By mid-October only a few Common Yellowthroats can be scoured out of the marsh grasses. They'll be gone within days. Townsend's Warblers move out of the northern mountain pines to winter in lowlands in the Pacific NW, primarily west of the Cascades.

Right now, though, the Yellow-rumped Warblers are making their way south. Some will go to Mexico. Some will winter here in the Pacific NW. They will spend the winter in a location where insects remain in unfrozen areas. They also change their insectivorous diet to eat more fruit and berries.

In breeding plumage these are striking birds with blue-gray bodies with white wingbars and either white ("Myrtle" form) or yellow ("Audubon's" form) throats. In all plumages and in both forms, the tell-tale field mark is the obvious yellow rump patch.

The bird above is in a very dull non-breeding plumage. It is probably a first fall female Myrtle form of Yellow-rumped Warbler. I photographed it in an alder grove a couple of weeks ago on a trip to the coast.

Monday, October 12, 2009

At the pond... Marsh Wren

Marsh WrenMarsh Wren, Jackson Bottom Wetlands, Hillsboro, Oregon on 5 April 2009 by Greg Gillson.


The tiny Marsh Wren creeps mouse-like through the reed canary grass (as above) at your local wetlands. They favor cattail marshes and emergent vegetation, but they don't require much territory--a small cattail puddle along a country road ditch may do. Where the habitat is extensive, their population can be fairly high.

Shy and secretive, they would be very difficult to detect in their soggy habitat if not for their loud spring and summer songs and harsh call notes. The male may crawl up to an exposed tip of grass or wild rose bush to sing their rattling reedy trill.

They also pugnaciously defend their territories from other Marsh Wrens and larger birds, including Red-winged Blackbirds and Yellow-headed Blackbirds--even destroying the eggs of the blackbirds nesting within the wren's territory.

The males may build several to more than a dozen oval "dummy" nests among the marsh vegetation. A single male may also have more than one mate at a time, each female having her own nest. The females guard their own nest against other females, while the males guard their territory (which may include one or more nests) from other males.

The population movements of this species across North America are complex. The same is true in the Pacific Northwest. West of the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountains, where extended days of sub-zero winter maximum temperatures are rare, these wrens seem to be residents. However, in many areas winter numbers are significantly less than breeding numbers. Coastal marshes tend to have more wintering birds than breeders. East of the Cascades, birds arrive on territory in April and birds remain into September, gradually dropping in numbers. They may winter at favored sites with open water.

So, the next time you are out at your local pond with weedy grasses and cattails poking up above the water, look for this interesting little bird.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Soggy Chickadee

Black-capped ChickadeeBlack-capped Chickadee, Fernhill Wetlands, Forest Grove, Oregon on 8 October 2009 by Greg Gillson.


A cool (38F) but pleasant fall morning at the local wetlands. Not very many birds, but more than present most of the summer. I got some photos of Great Egrets, a Wilson's Snipe side-by-side with a Long-billed Dowitcher, a Bewick's Wren, and this Black-capped Chickadee. Other birds that I wasn't able to photograph included several fly-over American Pipits, a single locally rare lingering White Pelican of a group of 13 present since July, and several Common Mergansers and Wood Ducks. There are many Golden-crowned Sparrows singing and calling and still a few Common Yellowthroats remaining.

This Black-capped Chickadee was wet from gleaning insects in the heavy dew of the ash trees. It was in a group of chickadees, likely a family. I've discussed Black-capped Chickadees previously.

Scheduled for October 19 is a discussion of Mountain Chickadee.

Next up, though, on Monday, October 12 is a discussion of Marsh Wren.

Monday, October 5, 2009

In the backyard... American Crow

American CrowAmerican Crow, Newport, Oregon on 19 April 2009 by Greg Gillson.


American Crows are familiar to most people in North America. Brash, inquisitive, social, and noisy, these intelligent birds are related to the magpies and jays. They are generalists when it comes to diet, eating seeds, nuts, insects, mice, road kill, human garbage, and sometimes other birds' eggs or nestlings.

Crows are found throughout the Pacific NW. They are resident west of the Cascades and Sierra Nevadas. They are common around open woodlands, residential areas, and agricultural areas. Likewise, east of the Cascades they are summer residents in agricultural areas. In the mountains and rimrock areas, the American Crow is usually displaced by the Common Raven.

The Common Raven is similar to American Crow. The raven is larger with a larger hooked bill, rough feathers on the throat, a wedge-shaped tail (square-ended in crow), and longer wings that are more pointed and flapped more up-and-down. Crows flap with a rowing motion, up and forward, down and back, the wing tips making an oval movement.

In the Pacific NW lives another crow, the Northwestern Crow. They are found along the ocean shore from extreme SE Alaska to Vancouver Island and extreme NW Washington State. They are so similar to American Crows that there is perhaps no foolproof way to tell them apart. Many experts feel that Northwestern Crows are not a separate species at all. There are similar smaller American Crows with deeper voices along the coast all the way south to northern California. To see a Northwestern Crow, visit Victoria on Vancouver Island. But don't be surprised in the future if this form is "lumped" by scientists into American Crow and its full species status revoked.