Date: 3/3/18 6:18 pm From: David Irons <LLSDIRONS...> Subject: [obol] Sauvie Island birding today: A visit to Howell House "marsh" (more of a wetland these days)
Shawneen, Jay Withgott, Susan Masta and I spent most of the day birding Sauvie Island. Highlights included a Whooper Swan (captive), two Yellow-headed Blackbirds, 8+ White-throated Sparrows, lots of waterfowl and eagles and my first visit to the Howell House marsh in about 35 years.
For those who didn't already know, there is a captive Whooper Swan in a pen in front of the ODFW offices on Sauvie Island Road about a one-third of mile north of the intersection of Sauvie Island Rd. and Reeder Rd. I don't know the source of this bird, but it has been here for several years. If anyone knows the back story of this bird, I would love to hear it. We took some nice close-up photos of the head and bill and then enjoyed the bird calling from point blank range. They are LOUD! A fun start to the day.
We then went to Howell Territorial Park and walked out to the northeast from Howell House to what was once a densely vegetated sedge marsh with very little open water (back in the 1970's and early 80's). It was nothing like I remember it. The sedge is all but gone these days. In its place we found a more expansive pond and wetland with a nice variety of diving and dabbling ducks. In the open area between the historic Howell House and the wetland there is some oak-savannah restoration going on. This is no longer a place where I would expect to find nesting Yellow-headed Blackbirds or American Bitterns and the rail habitat that was once plentiful is now quite minimal. That said, it is a really nice wetland that could certainly produce interesting ducks and maybe some shorebirds when the water is lower. I am anxious to check it again during the breeding season and through the summer months.
From there, we drove Gillihan Road and then Reeder Road all along the east side of the island. We stopped for nearly every sparrow and blackbird flock we encountered and also scoped lots of waterfowl and cranes out in the fields and flooded swales. Along Gillihan Road near the little utility building (by the rows of arborvitae) Jay spotted two female-type Yellow-headed Blackbirds in a large flock of Red-winged Blackbirds. The low-lying area east of the road in this area was full of hundreds of cranes, Snow Geese, and both Cackling and Dusky Canada geese. We had two interesting whitish-headed hybrids and a pure "Blue" Snow Goose fly over in a flock of Cacklers here. We found a flock of 50+ Brown-headed Cowbirds along with lots of Brewer's Blackbirds in the muddy feedlot with black cattle (on the west side of Gillihan) about a half mile south of where Gillihan tees into Reeder Rd.
Shortly after turning northeast on Reeder Road, we stopped at the dilapidated house where the road goes up over the levee. This has always been a good spot for White-throated Sparrows. We had four today, adding to a couple we had already seen along Gillihan Road. A couple years back, we had roughly 15 White-throated Sparrows at this site.
We continued on to the ODFW viewing platform farther north on Reeder Road. There we had another 2600 Snow Geese, including one blue-morph. There were also three Redheads and about 20 Canvasbacks, along with about 340 swans (all Tundras) and other expected ducks and geese in the large rectangular pond. We spent most of the rest of our time along Rentenaar Rd., where we found two more White-throated Sparrows and lots more ducks. Jay dutifully counted the Canvasbacks in the large double pond north or Rentenaar and tallied at least 108.
A brief check of the river farther north on Reeder didn't produce much. We saw a few Horned Grebes, a handful of Mew Gulls, one Common Goldeneye and a few scaup. If you bird this area, we can highly recommend having a parking pass. There was a state trooper (in one of the navy blue game warden trucks) having a field day writing tickets today.
Finally, I have no idea how many Bald Eagles we saw today, but it was at least several dozen. We saw multiple high-soaring groups of 3-4 birds and a scan of the horizon yielded multiple birds everywhere we stopped. Along Rentenaar Road alone, we probably saw about a dozen eagles.