Hailey Walls

1st Oaks Bottom Bird Song Walk!

April 4th marked the start of my second year leading morning bird song walks for Portland Audubon. I was recruited into role last year when the leader for Cooper Mountain wasn’t able to continue. I was really nervous about leading the walks at first. Despite having experience in education and speaking to large groups of people quite regularly, I had never done anything quite like it before. But, I scouted the park a few times, pulled myself out of bed super early on a Tuesday morning, and drove to Cooper’s Mountain. I was so glad I got over my nerves and did it.

This year, I had to change the location of the walk – for my own sanity mostly. Cooper’s Mountain is a really spectacular place, but it’s over 20 miles away from where I live. Driving nearly an hour to get there for a 7am walk, then rushing off to work right after was pretty grueling. And now that I’ve added even more work and grad school to my schedule that just seemed too brutal. So, I put in my request to switch over the the much closer Oaks Bottom wildlife refuge and got the thumbs up from Audubon to make that move. I already miss Cooper’s Mountain and the great dedicated group that was showing up every week, but this first week at Oaks Bottom did not disappoint.

Oaks Bottom is a special place for me because it was really one of the first places I ever went birding. My animal behavior class in college took a field trip to Oaks Bottom during the very first weeks that I started paying attention to birds. That trip still sticks out in my memory. I think we saw over 30 species, all of which felt brand new to me. And, we found a bushtit nest that I still can see in my mind as clear as I did 5 years ago. As much as I love Oaks Bottom, I didn’t know quite what to expect from the new location. I didn’t know if what turnout would be like, or if we could make a decent 2 hour route with half the park closed from flooding and landslides. I had my fingers crossed for 20 or 25 species and 10 people. I worried that I’d be too rusty on songs to lead a good walk.

As I pulled up to the park I was both excited and horrified by the number of birders I saw gathered. The turnout was amazing with 26 people for the day – double the amount that showed up for the first Cooper’s Mountain walk last year. And the turnout was terrifying because that meant 26(!) people were going to be listening to my very rusty bird identifications and counting on me to create a decent route through the flooded refuge. Thankfully I’m a naturally lucky person and the 26 people were all wonderful, enthusiastic participants. I even had friends, coworkers, and a prior Cooper’s Mountain regular show up!

Within the first few minutes of the walk I could tell that it was a really spectacular day for bird activity. The pair of White-breasted Nuthatches that had been around when I scouted a few days earlier were still there and quite active, singing away. We had a tree that was just crazy with birds before we even got away from the parking lot. While Bushtits and Black-capped Chickadees were putting on a show there my friend Laura and I heard a Yellow-rumped Warbler far off. We got lucky again and that bird flew right in to the tree the group was watching. Laura was able to point it out and the group got some good views. Some birders from the east coast that had joined us for the day also go a spectacularly colorful view of their first Anna’s Hummingbird.

One of the less fun but totally crucial aspects of leading walks or field trips is tearing the group away from a really fun spot in order to investigate what waits around the corner. And honestly despite the large size, this group was super ready and willing to get moving again. So, I marched away from the one excellent birding tree and went on down the path. After just a little bit of walking we stopped to listen for Brown Creepers and instead ended up watching an Osprey working diligently on building its nest for a while. When that action settled down, I lead the group down into the park (despite some trail related challenges). Right as we got to the “bottom” part of Oaks Bottom I heard my first of season Black-throated Gray warbler singing in a tree. It took me a little time (and some help from Christine) to find that ID in my brain, but I actually did ID it! Perhaps that means this is the year of adequate warbler ID for me!

As we made our way down the path to the flooded out trail dead end we had a good number of other birds appear – super vocal Ruby-crowned Kinglets, a few dove flyovers, and a fair amount of sparrow action. Joel, who had been a consistent attendee at Cooper’s Mountain spends a lot of time at Oaks Bottom and offered to guide us away from the closed trail to an Anna’s Hummingbird nest he had found, so we dropped down to the Springwater, following Joel’s lead. As we walked past Oaks Park we had the most hilarious Bald Eagle encounter. The eagle was perched in a tree that someone pointed out was directly behind a ride with a huge sign reading “The Screamin Eagle” – apparently it loves that spot.

We managed to get our whole huge group to walk single file along the fence on the Springwater trail and somehow no one got hit by a bike. We made our way down the path to the hummingbird nest but got caught up at a tree that was like a circus made up of goldfinches and tree swallows (which is a rather noisy couple of species). It felt like a crazy amount of activity for early spring. We also found a Black-capped Chickadee nest with a busy pair of chickadees. The hummingbird was sitting on her nest as promised just a little down the road. There’s not a whole lot that is cuter than a teeny momma hummingbird sitting on a tiny little nest, and the group seemed pretty delighted (Joel must be a wizard to find that and the chickadees). After the hummingbird we hustled back, but passed a pair of Downy Woodpeckers also checking out a potential nest site. Hopefully we’ll get lucky and the female will choose that nest so we can watch them in the coming weeks.

My timing wasn’t too precise for this walk, so the group rushed back a ways, but picked up a great look at a Red-breasted Sapsucker banging on a telephone tower, and a satisfying flyover from the Screamin’ Eagle as we left. That brought our official total for the walk at 9am to 40 species. Compared to what I was seeing in early April last year on these walks, that seems like a sign for a very, very bird-y spring.The eBird check list we did as a group at this point is available right here. If you were part of the group and would like for me to share the list with you, shoot me an email at hailey@haileywalls.com and I’ll get you on the eBird list.

Just to add a little extra good (or bad, depending on perspective) omen to the list, a few of us got to hear a Red-breasted Nuthatch on the way out and discover a Cooper’s Hawk building a nest in Sellwood Park. The crows were not thrilled, but I certainly was. That made 5 different species nests for the day that we can revisit through the spring (and 42 total species!)

You can probably tell by the fact that I rambled on for nearly 1500 words here, but wow. What an awesome start to the spring. If you are one of the Oaks Bottom bird song walk people, can you shoot me an email? I’d love to keep everyone in the loop with the lists and photos this year. If you’re not already, I hope I see you at one of our future walks!

Happy spring and good birding everyone 🙂