On Saturday, May 18, I participated in Audubon Society of Portland's 2013 Birdathon
with two fellow bird enthusiasts and photographers. Our team, the Wandering Wildlife Photographers, consisted of Carolyn Devine, Donna Severson, and me, raised a total of $850 for the Audubon Society of Portland
The three of us met at my house at 5:30 am on Saturday, May 18. The weather forecast called for cloudy skies and rain, and we experienced quite a bit of that, which proved challenging with respect to photography. I could not have asked for two more dedicated, rugged individuals to be on my team, though. I gave them the option to try it another date when the weather was more cooperative, and both responded, "It's Oregon! Rain won't hurt us!" So we started the day full of enthusiasm, covered our cameras and lenses in protective coats, and enjoyed wonderful sights, as well as enjoyable discussions about identifying and locating birds, predicting bird behavior, bird photography, and wildlife in general. We were even rewarded with occasional bouts of sunshine!
Our first stop was the River S Unit of Ridgefield NWR, where we heard and saw many species. Highlights included watching Red-winged Blackbirds displaying and copulating; Tree Swallows building a nest, copulating, and the female testing the male by dropping feathers, which he quickly caught; Song Sparrow fledglings being fed by their parents; Marsh Wrens feeding recently fledged young; a fledged Great Horned Owl flying poorly, getting stuck in twigs, and then freeing himself as mom watched and then brought in food; and nearly full-sized Bald Eaglets on the nest, with mom and dad coming in to check on them. The three of us had so much fun simply watching various bird behavior that we often forgot to take photos, or didn't want to move out of concern that we might disrupt the behavior we were watching.
An adult male Tree Swallow at its nest cavity.
A fledged Marsh Wren, still showing some baby feathers on the head, and its siblings were flitting about in the grasses, chasing mom and dad, asking for food.
A recently fledged Great Horned Owl attempting to untangle itself from some twigs.
That same owlet in a less precarious position.
An adult Bald Eagle visits its two nestlings in this massive nest.
Although our focus was birds, we could not pass up the opportunity to photograph this beautiful Pacific Tree Frog. In addition to enjoying the sheer beauty of this creature, this allowed us to really appreciate the relationship between aperture and depth-of-field. We photographed this frog with a 100mm macro lens at various apertures, from f/2.8, where the middle of the eye was the only thing in focus, all the way down to f/25. For those who are interested in learning more about depth-of-field, I highly recommend Martin Waugh's depth-of-field simulator
Pacific Tree Frog taking shelter in a tree cavity.
From Ridgefield, we headed down to Frenchman's Bar Park along the Columbia River, just a bit north of Vancouver. I had staked out nests of various species, including Rufous Hummingbird and Pileated Woodpecker nests. We watched the hummingbird nest for about 20 minutes or so, but saw no signs of life, and decided to press on. We also briefly watched the Pileated Woodpecker nest, but again, saw no signs of life. I suspect the heavy rain and cool weather had something to do with the lack of activity. Despite not seeing these two species, we did see an Osprey flying overhead with a fish, as well as its mate on the nest.
Rufous Hummingbird nest on our visit during Birdathon.
In the weeks that followed, I revisited this site numerous times, and am happy to say that the Rufous Hummingbird and Pileated Woodpecker young from both nests fledged. Below are videos I recorded at these sites two weeks after our Birdathon trip.
Rufous Hummingbird nestlings practicing their flying skills on this same nest; video taken two weeks after our Birdathon visit.
Pileated Woodpecker nestlings being fed by mom; video taken two weeks after our Birdathon visit. TURN UP THE VOLUME to hear these dinosaurs!
Our next stop was Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge in southeast Portland. Soon after we stepped out of the car, the clouds unleashed heavy rain upon us. Even though we knew that good photographic opportunities would be hard to come by, we pressed on. Almost immediately after crossing under the Springwater Corridor and entering the field at the south end of the refuge, we spotted a Western Kingbird. Western Kingbirds are relatively common on the east side of the Cascades, but are hard to come by west of the Cascades, especially in the Portland area. Since this was the first Western Kingbird I could recall seeing in Multnomah County, I turned into a bit of a "kid in the candy store", and spent several minutes photographing it.
Western Kingbird perched in the rain in the field at the southern end of Oaks Bottom.
From there, we proceeded to hike the bluff trail, along the east side of the refuge. We were treated to many wonderful, albeit wet, sights, including a roosting Western Screech-Owl; Brown Creeper fledglings huddling together for warmth on a tree in the cold rain, and then being fed multiple times by their parents; White-breasted Nuthatches and Bushtits bringing food to their nestlings; Wood Ducks and Mallards with ducklings; Canada Geese with goslings; and several hummingbird nests, but none with birds, though -- the young in my "go-to" nest fledged the day before between 4 and 7 pm!
Brown Creeper fledglings huddling together for warmth during a cold rain storm.
The Brown Creeper fledglings were being well cared for by their parents. Due to the cloud and rain induced darkness, it was exceedingly difficult to get a sharp photo with all three birds in focus - a minor issue compared to what these birds must have been experiencing.
A female Wood Duck showing off her elegance in the rain.
Although male Mallards are relatively common, we all felt the colors in this scene just popped, especially given how dark the day was.
A White-breasted Nuthatch exiting its nest cavity immediately after feeding its nestlings.
We ended our time at Oaks Bottom appreciating a male Anna's Hummingbird, proudly displaying and defending its territory from the highest perch in the immediate area. Thanks to Donna Severson's keen eye for beauty, the photograph below was born.
We ended our day with this male Anna's Hummingbird perched up high.
We returned to our starting point at 8:30 pm, fifteen hours after we started. I am thankful to the Audubon Society of Portland for organizing this great event, and to Carolyn and Donna for being so much fun in the field. Normally, I would not have ventured out into the dark, cloudy, rainy day to take photographs, but this day in the field was nothing short of amazing.
Thanks also to those of you who sponsored our team, whether it was through Carolyn, Donna, or me. Together, we raised $850 -- this money helps the Audubon Society of Portland teach 12,000 children and hundreds of adults annually about the wonders of birds and nature through Audubon classes and camps. The money also helps the Audubon Society of Portland advocate for the preservation and restoration of our precious green spaces, from the urban landscape to our forests and oceans.