Oregon trip part 4: birding in the humidity

After my long coast birding trip, I decided to scrap my plans to go into the Cascades and look for birds like White-headed Woodpecker, Sooty, Grouse, and Calliope Hummingbird. Instead, I’d stick around Portland again for the next two days. The weather got a little warmer on Monday and I was wishing I had some shorts.

I found the Vanport wetlands next to a racing track. To visit this spot you need to drive to the race track, turn into an RV sale lot on a large expanse of grass and then park next to a fence with only a small sign about the wetlands letting you know you were at a spot to view nature. The RVs are optional. American Coots were all over the wetlands and each adult seemed to be watching over at least a few juveniles. The youngsters ranged in age from tiny fuzz balls with red down feathers to full size birds in drab gray plumage. Coots are doing well in Portland. Pied-billed Grebes also swam around with young.

Bright male Ruddy Ducks swam through the reeds on the far shore and I spotted a few Redheads as well. The latter species is rare in the area in the summer. A single Yellow-headed Blackbird squeaked from the reeds.

Smith and Bybee Lakes wildlife area was even muggier and most of the trails were flooded due to spring rains in the Columbia and Willamette river basins. Bugs were everywhere, but the area held the Wood Ducks and Yellow Warblers promised by my Portland area bird finding guide. Marsh Wrens gurgled from some of the flooded bushes–don’t they know this is a swamp, not a marsh? At the end of one of the flooded trails, I startled some Great Egrets from their peaceful fish stalking.

A local artist must be into microscopic creatures and fossils. I found more concrete sculptures like the foraminifera we found in downtown Portland.

I then drove to Sauvie Island northwest of the city, located in the middle of the Columbia River. The island seemed to be half forest and half farms, many of the latter offering mid-summer crops like strawberries. I regret not taking more pictures here as it was a gorgeous location. The overcast sky and humid air didn’t help. While driving along one of the farm roads, I was surprised to see a California Quail darting up a dirt pile in a farmyard, thought this was one of the species I hoped for on the island.

Oaks on Oak Island

Farther along the road, I came to Oak Island nature trail on a peninsula between two rather large lakes. The late-day birding was very slow, but I added some nesting Bullock’s Orioles and a large, noisy flock of Bushtits to my trip list.

I get the feeling that this nature trail isn’t the most visited place in the Portland area. There was only one other car in the parking lot and the trail itself (actually a pair of tire tracks through the grass and trees) was overgrown with knee-high grass. I was wearing long pants, but also sandals and I kept imagining ticks and other biting critters crawling up my legs. Thankfully none did. All the interpretive signs along the trail were also grown over by plants and high grass. You can imagine my trepidation when I rounded a turn in the trail and saw a man holding weird poses on a bench in the middle of nowhere. Maybe it was a good spot for meditative yoga?

I cautiously said hello and he replied that he’s just paddled in across the lake in the above photo. “This place is just so beuatiful,” he added. His intensity and earnestness kind of weirded me out. I agreed thinking, yeah, beautiful and isolated. He didn’t seem to be a threat, thankfully, but he certainly was odd. I decided to turn back but he first asked me what I was seeing. “Birds,” I said and pointed out some Cedar Waxwings and Black-headed Grosbeaks feasting on ripe cherries.

“That’s amazaing,” he said and then continued: “Is my red shirt going to scare the birds away?”

Me: “Um…probably not unless you’re waving it around. They seem content to be eating.”

“And what about us talking? Will that scare them away?

Me: “We’re not yelling or talking loudly, so…no.”

“Oh, ok. That’s one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. Thank you for showing that to me.”

Me: “Yeah, no problem. Have a good afternoon on the rest of your kayak trip.”

I kept looking behind me as I left just in case. Something was weird about that guy.

That was it for Monday. Tuesday’s weather started to deteriorate and it threatened to rain all morning. The only spot I got to was the Sandy River delta along the Columbia east of the city. This area is a pretty good migrant trap and a reliable spot for summering species more typical of eastern forests such as Eastern Kingbird and Red-eyed Vireo.

The extensive official trail network is confusing enough without all the unofficial tracks through the woods. After a few false starts, I was on my way towards a blind along the river. The fields on the east side held many Willow Flycatchers, Common Yellowthroats, and Lazuli Buntings. The buntings were so close to the trail, I was able to get some decent photos considering the cloudy sky and the camera.

Bonus Cedar Waxwing photo!

Ospreys were nesting on high tension power line towers over a marshy area. The trail skirted the edge of the wetlands and I startled a Virginia Rail that scurried by me only a few feet away.

Soon afterwards, a large, dark flycatcher flew in to perch on some kind of pole in the ground. There was one of the summering Eastern Kingbirds. It flew around me for a while, showing off the distinctive white tail band before disappearing again.

Like Smith lake on Monday, the delta was flooded and I couldn’t make it all the way out to the river. I had to pick my way around standing water and avoided most of the mud. It was starting to sprinkle on and off at this point, but I really didn’t know where I was due to all the unmarked trails. I knew which direction I had to go–the steep walls of the Columbia Gorge are a good landmark! On the way back to the car I heard unhurried but insistent song of a Red-eyed Vireo.

Even though the rain was now coming down harder, I tried to drive up Larch Mountain for some last-minute birding and a chance for some more Cascade mountain birds. The clearcuts I could access were overgrown with thick shrubs and the rain made walking unpleasant. The mountaintop was still closed for the season; the area had apparently gotten a lot of late snow at high elevations. A back road down the mountain that my guidebook promised would take me back to the interstate was closed about halfway down. Near the turnaround, I found this scenic stream.

And that was it for birding in Oregon!

Our host’s cat, Darwin:

Basin and Range topography in Nevada, with salt playas–the white areas which are remnants of larger, ancient lakes. The playas still temporarily fill up with water during heavy rains.

The helpful Las Vegas airport fire brigade, meeting our plane after we were forced to land just minutes into the flight. Something in the air conditioning broke and sent smoke into the cabin. Fun!

Some aerial shots around Albuquerque. The first shows the Jemez Mountains where a massive fire had just started a few days before we came home. The tall clouds may be partly smoke.

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1 Response to Oregon trip part 4: birding in the humidity

  1. Melissa says:

    It’s a shame that nature area isn’t more frequented. An alternative hypothesis is that with all the rain they can’t keep up with the grass. Just a thought.
    We’ll have to go back again, when I’m not at a conference.

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