Hailey Walls

Oaks Bottom Bird Song Walks 5/2 and 5/9

Group photo at our “tiny bird sounds” spot by Kayla.

Tuesday May 2nd

This time around I have reports for two weeks of our morning bird song walk in Oaks Bottom (I gave myself a break last week because things have been impressively busy for me). Our first week of May was a bit chilly but mercifully dry for our two hours. We started out our morning in the parking lot as usual, and as we’ve learned to expect we had a lot of warbler activity in the large oak trees. It was a busy busy warbler morning, with just tons of Yellow-rumped Warblers. That continued for the whole walk – every 15 minutes or so it seemed we would run into another huge flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers. And for the rest of my day I noticed the same thing all over Portland. I saw huge flocks of them at work, in a parking lot, and in my yard.

I snagged this photo of an Audubon’s Yellow-rumped for anyone who isn’t familiar with the little cuties. 

We also had plenty of opportunity to practice identifying their song. The best description I’ve heard of their singing on the walks was “Just think of the most generic warbler song you can imagine.”

A generic sounding warbler song from a Yellow-rumped. 

We had a good number of other warblers as well – Yellow, Wilson’s, Towsend’s, Black-throated Gray, and Hermit warblers all made an appearance that week. Our Hermit Warbler was heard singing in the tall trees in Sellwood Park, right as we were listening to a Hermit Thrush as well! Two Hermit species in one spot. The Hermit Warbler was pretty faint and far off but we did hear it repeatedly. Since it wasn’t long after we had also heard a Townsend’s Warbler, Laura challenged me to explain why I thought the Hermit was indeed a Hermit and not another warbler, like a Townsend’s. I love it when someone forces me to justify my IDs because it’s such a hard thing to do verbally and it makes me really think through each part of the sound. For the Hermit that we were listening to the best I came up with was that it had a very strong “up-and-down” pattern through the song with a distinctly different and lower final note. The Townsend’s on the other hand has an up-and-down sound to it as well, but overall the pattern rises. It also tends to have a more two-parted final note. And, there is the hard to describe “voice quality” to the song. Townsend’s strikes me as more buzzy (though not as buzzy as some) and Hermit Warbler is quite clear sounding.

Here is a Hermit Warbler song that sounds quite a lot like the one we were listening to. Though there is definitely a lot of variation for this warbler, this is basically the “classic” Hermit Warbler song. It’s a bit of a “squeaky wheel” and then it has that strong final note. 10 bird song walk points to anyone who IDs 3 of the species in the background of this recording!

And here is the Townsend’s Warbler song that is about like we heard last week. It follows the “way-way-WAY-up-high!” pattern though the rising in this recording is less emphatic than it can be. 

We also had a good number of Wilson’s Warblers, which is the spring migrant I typically look forward to first. I think they are just the cutest little warbler and it’s fun to talk about them and their calls. Christine, who is my personal warbler expert, taught it me as “someone trying to start an old car” and this week during the walk someone described the black “hat” the warbler has as a “driver’s cap” which I just love.

Another photo grabbed from the Audubon site for anyone unfamiliar – you can see the black on the bird’s head that I had always called a beret but will now definitely be calling a driver’s cap!

And hear you can hear the Wilson’s trying to get the engine turned over. 

Other than an insane warbler party, the notable parts of last week were a return of our Common Raven, which flew by down the river, giving us an excellent view, and finally a break in our nest finding streak. Had to happen sometime!

The group of 21 that came on Tuesday, 5/2 had 45 species total (though I have to add that abundance for some of them was crazy). Our eBird checklist is here: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S36681298

Tuesday May 9th

The second week of May gave us some really great sunshine to work with and the bird activity was equally exciting. We had less activity in our warbler tree this morning and overall fewer warblers through the whole park this week. Though the warblers weren’t putting on a show, we still did have a White-breasted Nuthatch calling away for us. We took the chance to talk a bit about the habitat preferences of White-breasted Nuthatches vs. Red-breasted Nuthatches – Our White-breasted Nuthatch was in the oak again and it turns out they generally prefer deciduous trees, while Red-breasted Nuthatches like their coniferous trees. You know, in case you ever need to find a particular nuthatch.

We took our usual route past the Cooper’s Hawk nest and got to see the hawk again, so the nest is still active. I was asked if they reuse nests and didn’t know off the top of my head. After further investigation it turns out mostly they build a new nest each year, though on occasion they will reuse one. While we were watching the nest we had a surprise Purple Martin fly through the park. We could hear the song and later in the walk Kayla also spotted the bird (I heard it but didn’t see it myself).

Lars heard the Purple Martin first and described the sound as a lot like a Tree Swallow but larger and more “husky” which I think is a great way to remember it.

As we walked around we did get to see a ton of the swallow species as well – we had Tree, Barn, Northern Rough-winged, and Cliff swallows (no Violet-green this week weirdly). While we were listening for our creepers and chickadees in the trees, we also heard a call note that Lars identified as a Black-headed Grosbeak. Another week, another call note that I definitely would have been wrong about! We followed the sound for a while and didn’t spot the bird, but later on it flew near to us, called again, and gave us a brief snippet of song to confirm everything.

Here’s a clip of a Black-headed Grosbeak calling. I am still not sure I would be able to tell it apart from a Downy Woodpecker myself… 

Here’s a clip of a Downy that I used before to compare to a Hammond’s Flycatcher. Pretty similar! 

I hope these call notes are a case where just years of listening lets you tune in to the “voice” of a bird and that perhaps someday a mysterious “pik” in the distance will clearly sound like a grosbeak or a woodpecker to me!

For a final set of confusing sounds, I will leave you this week with one of our Oaks Bottom specialties – a ton of weird noises that Red-winged Blackbirds make. They have some pretty shocking variety to their calls and odd songs. This doesn’t even cover all the strange things we have heard from them. Next week I may try to record some of the Oaks Bottom birds specifically. But in the meantime, it’s good to know that they are capable of this range of vocalizations – it covers a lot of “mystery noises” that I’ve gotten stuck on!

We had 23 birders and 49 species on the walk this week. You can see our eBird list here: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S36681294

If you would like for me to add you to any of the checklists or add any bird sounds we worked on to the post, shoot me an email at hailey@haileywalls.com

Good birding everyone! See you next week.

Photo by Kayla, official staff photographer of all bird stuff