Many of the things that made a July day at Steigerwald National Wildlife Refuge one of my most successful outings of the year were the seasonal sightings. Although I’d really only planned on spending the morning, there was so much happening I spent a full day birding the refuge; it left me with so much to share, I’ve decided to break the visit up into multiple posts. If you missed it, be sure to check out my first post about the Reliable Raptors found at Steigerwald.
Always worth stopping to watch, a family of Mallards swam among the lily pads. The little ducklings were so light that at times they simply walked across the pads instead of going around.
Another young duck out on the water was a seemingly-lone young Wood Duck; this bird came racing along the water and disappeared from view, with no apparent siblings or parents making an appearance. It was easily the oddest thing I saw all day!
Also in the water were several Great Blue Herons. Bullfrog tadpoles make a good meal, and one who was intently focused on the hunt stayed from some fantastic photo opportunities for me. These tall birds can be surprisingly skittish for their size, and I am always glad to find a bird willing to tolerate my presence as I stood on the wooden bridge to watch.
Other birds at times decide a human in the neighborhood is worth investigating, and a male Common Yellowthroat, a type of warbler, popped up a few times to give me the once-over before returning to hide among the tall grasses. The call of yellowthroats is common in fields throughout the region, although they often remain out of sight; in spring and summer, the distinctly-masked males pop up more frequently as they guard their territory.
Coming out where the refuge trails meet the multi-use Captain William Clark Park Trail, running along the Columbia River, a huge flight of gulls was impossible to ignore. Gulls can be incredibly challenging to identify, or at least, can be challenging based on my personal knowledge and experience. The regional species have similar characteristics that can be hard to spot when a bird is on the move. Some gulls take up to four years to gain their adult plumage, meaning there are varying degrees of maturing to be determined based on coloration and markings. Added to that, sometimes you will find hybrids just to add to the confusion. This flock appears to have been Western Gulls, and having a still photograph to study makes determining this far easier than it was in the field.
Standing out among the gulls was a lone Caspian Tern, who turned inland to fly over the refuge. The bright orange of the bill is what caught my attention initially. This was the first time I had seen a tern at the refuge.
A couple out for a walk took notice of my camera and binoculars and asked me if I’d seen the pheasant. I always appreciate it when people take a moment to ask about or share sightings! In fact, I had not seen the Ring-Necked Pheasant, and the kind gentleman took a moment to point out where he’d seen it. Sure enough, a flash of red from a male pheasant’s facial features popped up among the sea of green. These introduced game birds crop up periodically. This was the first time one has popped up for me, adding a new bird to my life and year lists!
Scanning the fields at the edge of the refuge turned out a few other birds, on the hunt for insects to presumably take back to waiting, hungry mouths. A few Savannah Sparrows were evident, one stopping atop an old metal fence post to survey the area before heading for home.
A Willow Flycatcher perched on some of the sturdier plant stalks, watching for insects before darting out after them and returning again to its previous place. It did this several times before retreating.
Sitting on an old, dead branch was a Western Wood Pewee, another type of flycatcher. The flycatchers share behavioral traits of sitting out on a perch where it can watch for prey to fly by, catching it on the wing.
A brightly colored Bullocks Oriole appeared, a flash of orange against a screen of green. He seemed to have a nearly-grown juvenile hiding in the blackberries, but the youngster remained carefully out of sight.
During the spring and summer, white nesting stations are placed at the edge of the refuge for Purple Martins to nest in; these large swallows rely heavily on man-made nesting locations, although traditionally they may nest in natural sites such as old woodpecker holes. The males are dark overall, with iridescent purple on their head and back; the females are more dull in color, with patches of gray on the face, neck, and breast. Parents were busily moving in and out of their nests, rarely sitting still for long.
Cutting back into the interior of the refuge along a trail that is only open during the summer, several smaller Tree Swallows were also in the area. The adults are a beautiful iridescent blue on the head and back with bright white bellies. Far less colorful were the gray juveniles, perched out at the ends of thin, bare branches where they tested wings not quite ready for flight.
Ignoring the little swallows was a much larger bird: a male Pileated Woodpecker worked his way meticulously over the surface of a long-dead tree, seeking insects in the aging wood and under the flaking bark. Holding tight to the tree with four toes and bracing his tail against the trunk, he move from low on the tree upwards, stopping periodically to peer around before returning to his careful search.
A final post recapping my July trip to Steigerwald will be posted soon, focused solely on a single species which dominated my day. To find a little more information about Steigerwald National Wildlife Refuge and other places for bird watching, including addresses and websites, check out my Birding Locations page.
Be sure to visit my Flickr site for many more images from my trip to Steigerwald National Wildlife Refuge this day, as well as some of my other photographs.
Comments are always welcome!