Saturday, August 16, 2014

Of Hawks and Hummers

We’re only an hour south of Portland, so we try to take the occasional trip up, maybe once or twice a month (mostly for the restaurants). It actually took us until late July before we headed up to do any birding, though. With so many parks and so little time, we needed some expert advice, and Sarah of Must-see Birds was ready with some great suggestions.

So our first destination was Mt. Tabor, an extinct volcano within Portland city limits, and a prime spot for songbirds. The birding was lively from the get-go, and right away we starting finding things we haven’t seen in Salem since May (Yellow-rumped Warblers, Lesser Goldfinches, Vaux’s Swifts).

Tolkienesque: "Through the fiery throat of this volcano exploded glowing
cinders which cooling formed the ground on which you stand"

Western St. John's Wort

Bull Thistle

Not far along the trail was was a pair of juvenile Cooper’s Hawks sitting side-by-side, looking completely forlorn and helpless. There was no sign of any adult ready to take them by the wing and teach them to fend for themselves. So unimposing were they that even the hummers showed no more restraint than if they’d been only so much topiary. First an Anna’s, and then a Rufous Hummingbird, buzzed back and forth, photobombing the hawks left and right.

Juvenile Cooper's Hawks, with pestering Rufous Hummingbird

Juvenile Cooper's Hawks, with pestering Anna's Hummingbird

"What just happened?"

Later, as we rounded the reservoirs, a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk stood guard over its prey in the grass. Some folks looked on, reveling in the awesome alongside us. Others passed within feet of it, sparing only a disdainful glance, as if it were a noisome pest. The hawk soon moved up to an electrical box, where it, too, attracted a hummer.

Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk

Where there were hawks, there were hummers

Hummingbirds weren't the only ones peeved by the hawks. Here, an American Robin makes a pass

After it flew, we continued a little further until we encountered the hawk again, but in a tree this time, and with a sibling. It still had its prey grasped tightly in one talon, which it would snack on from time to time. Finally the tree seemed to offer a rare respite from attention-hungry hummingbirds. One of the hawks let out a screech, which didn’t sound quite like a Red-tail. In the distance, an adult called back, as if to say, “No, no… like this.”

Red-tailed Hawk

Just as we approached the car, there was a burst of activity above us. I was trying to direct Maureen’s attention to some Chestnut-backed Chickadees, but she did me one better. We’d heard a Cassin’s Vireo earlier in the summer, but never got an eye on it. Here was our first-ever look at one. A lifer is not a bad parting gift from Mt. Tabor.

Cassin's Vireo

Afterward, we gave Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge a try. The wetlands here seemed lively enough, but we just didn’t have the time to explore the area as thoroughly as it deserved; we soon had to switch gears from birdwatching to Shrew-watching (as in, a Shakespeare in the Park performance of The Taming of the Shrew). But our brief stay did give us the chance to see a lovely bird mural that graces the Portland Memorial Mausoleum, overlooking the refuge.


  1. The colors in these photos are muy gorgeouso.

    Also, you all may have found the cleanest, sharpest, handsomest juvenile Red-tails on this side of the Rockies!

    1. Muchas gracias, Lorenzo! The hawks were rather dapper indeed, and gave the hummingbirds plenty of cause to be jealous, I'm sure.

  2. Man, those ARE great shots of beautiful birds. In my experience, rufous do not appreciate subtlety of any sort. Extreme alphas. =) Teeny tiny titans.

    I assume you have already interacted with Jen Sanford ( who is also a Portland-resident-birder person. My favorite thing about Portland is that HUGE, AMAZING park (Forest Park). Makes me DROOL. Went for a run there, once, and wanted to be able to run there forever. Thanks for sharing! =)

    1. Thank you, kindly! Laurence had also suggested our getting in touch with Jen, but I'm afraid we haven't just yet. And Forest Park isn't something that had been on my radar, but it sounds incredible! I'm sure it's a future blog post just waiting to happen.