Oregon and Washington: Winter 2021-2022

Fall 2021: 1 Dec–28 Feb

Eric Heisey

Adrian Hinkle

Christopher Hinkle

Recommended citation: Heisey, E., Hinkle, A., Hinkle, C. 2022. Winter 2021–2022: Oregon-Washington. <https://wp.me/p8iY2g-eM9> North American Birds.

There were few Covid-19-related cancellations, with good turnout on most CBCs. A single early December pelagic trip out of Newport ran as scheduled. December was wet, cold, and windy, with unusually low-elevation westside snow and ice during CBC season. Snowy conditions close to sea level led to the cancellation of the Yaquina Bay CBC in late December. Some other coastal CBCs suffered from heavy rain and wind. Heavy westside rain and mountain snowfall persisted into January. The second half of January into February became dry and warm, with minimal snowfall. A brief cold spell in late February failed to bring substantial precipitation. Healthy numbers of Common Redpolls and White-winged Crossbills captured the attention of birders across the region. Unlike during the impressive 2017-2018 invasion, redpolls were scarce on the westside south of the Puget Sound, and White-winged Crossbills were in the mountains rather than on the coast. There were few remarkable rarities, although Washington’s second Whooper Swan graced the farmlands around Monroe, Oregon’s fourth Nazca Booby turned up on a dock in Newport, and neotropical migrants lingered in respectable numbers with two MacGillivray’s Warblers and several Wilson’s Warblers and Western Tanagers. A highlight of the season was an apparent hybrid Chestnut-backed x Mountain Chickadee in Okanogan Co, Washington, possibly representing the first documented record anywhere of this hybrid combination.

Sub-Regional Compilers

Tim Rodenkirk (Coos and Curry Cos, Oregon).

Abbreviations: Christmas Bird Count (CBC), East of the Cascade Mountains (eastside), National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), Habitat Management Area (HMA), State Park (SP), West of the Cascade Mountains (westside).

Waterfowl through Boobies

Two Emperor Geese were spotted off March Point, Skagit Co 5 Dec–13 Jan (Gary Bletsch), though one individual was illegally shot by a hunter on the date of the initial observation. The observer contacted WDFW and the hunter was fined and the goose confiscated. Washington’s second Whooper Swan was photographed with Trumpeter Swans at Monroe Prison Pond, Snohomish Co 8 Feb+ (Diane Murray). The bird’s behavior and timing of the occurrence points strongly toward a natural vagrancy.

Three or more Tufted Ducks were reported, with an adult male in Hood River 11 Jan (ph., John Bishop), a brownish short-tufted individual—thought to be a male—on the Columbia River in Portland 15 Jan–21 Feb (ph., Andrew Aldrich), perhaps the same young male at Blurock Landing, Clark Co 15 Jan, and another male at the Walla Walla River Delta, Walla Walla Co 12–26 Feb (ph., Mike and MerryLynn Denny). A Ring-necked Duck x Greater Scaup hybrid was photographed at Juanita Bay Park, King Co 28–30 Jan (Ryan Merrill), perhaps for the first time in the state. A female Harlequin Duck at Riverside SP, Spokane Co 22 Dec–11 Feb (Norm Engeland) was one of only a handful of winter records for eastern Washington. A Black Scoter in Vantage, Kittitas Co 12 Dec (Scott Downes) was likely a late migrant, as most eastside reports come in late fall.

An attempted wintering Costa’s Hummingbird lingered in Medford until 4 Jan; the species can show up in any calendar month but typically occurs only a couple times annually. An Anna’s x Costa’s Hummingbird—overlooked but possibly as common in the region as pure Costa’s—was nicely documented in Portland on 15 Dec.

A Bar-tailed Godwit lingered until 17 Dec in Westport, Grays Harbor Co, where a few are seen almost every fall. A Ruff found on Hunsaker Road near Duckflat Road Wetlands, Marion Co 24 Feb (ph., Colby Neuman) was only Oregon’s 5th wintering individual ever. Washington typically runs one pelagic each winter, with this winter’s trip netting a rare winter Tufted Puffin in Pacific Co 13 Feb (Westport Seabirds). Even rarer was an individual observed from shore at Pt. Brown Jetty, Grays Harbor also on 13 Feb (Scott Downes). Tufted Puffins winter incredibly far offshore, presumably often over 100 miles from land, and are thus hardly ever detected in Washington waters during this season.

Heermann’s Gulls are rare most years after the first week of December, with the latest report this year on 4 Dec from Yaquina Head, Lincoln Co. In Washington, a late Heermann’s Gull lingered until 15 Jan around Discovery Park, King Co, complementing a good number of records into mid-December in the Puget Trough. Lesser Black-backed Gulls were widely reported. A 3rd-cycle at Coffin Butte Landfill, Benton Co, OR 20–26 Feb (ph., W. Douglas Robinson) was a county-first, while single adults were in Clatsop, Klamath, Hood River, Sherman, and Gilliam Cos in Oregon, and in Asotin, Benton, Clallam, and Walla Walla Cos, Washington. Oregon’s 11th Slaty-backed Gull, an adult, graced Long Prairie Road, Tillamook Co 16–20 Jan (ph., Conor Scotland). Eastern Washington’s first Slaty-backed Gull continued for its sixth winter around Kennewick, Benton Co 3 Dec+, but was also seen once at Lower Monumental Dam, Walla Walla Co 15 Jan (Mike and MerryLynn Denny). A Multnomah Co high count of seven Red-throated Loons was at Kelley Point State Park 30 Jan and 5 Feb (Kyle Landstra et al.). Despite a good inland fall showing and high numbers in Portland, where scarce but annual, there were few others inland. A Wasco County-first appeared at Mayer State Park 15–19 Jan (ph., Aaron Beerman). An immature Yellow-billed Loon wintered at Garabaldi, Tillamook Co 24 Jan–13 Feb (ph., Cliff Cordy). About one per winter has been typical in recent years. They are more regular in Washington, though an immature at Discovery Park, King Co 17 Jan+ (Rowan Young-McMurchie) was noteworthy for the southern Puget Sound.

The lone pelagic trip off Oregon this winter netted a chocolatey-colored immature Short-tailed Albatross off Newport 5 Dec (Oregon Pelagic Tours). This has become a regular occurrence for winter day trips out of Newport or Westport this past decade, though Washington’s lone winter pelagic failed to turn up this prized giant this year. Northern Fulmar flooded into the Puget Sound—where any tubenose is always rare—following a big wind event 2–3 Dec, with sightings in Clallam, Island, Jefferson, King, Kitsap, Pierce, Snohomish, Thurston and Whatcom, with a high count of 154 from Discovery Park, King Co (Raphael Fennimore, John Pushcock). Meanwhile, the typically productive Dec–Jan window for Short-tailed Shearwaters was underwhelming after a spectacular late summer and fall. Small numbers were also noted in the Puget Trough following the same wind event which blew many Northern Fulmar astray. A single Manx Shearwater was the highlight of Washington’s winter pelagic, seen offshore Grays Harbor Co 13 Feb (Westport Seabirds). Manx Shearwaters are only reported a few times a year in the region, despite suspected breeding. An adult female Brown Booby lingered in Coos Bay until 11 Dec, a late departure date and an impressive stay of 110 days. Another late Brown Booby seen off Dune Peninsula, Pierce Co 2 Dec (Charlie Wright) may be Washington’s first December sighting; it seems likely that it is the same adult which was seen periodically in the Puget Sound throughout the fall. Oregon’s 4th Nazca Booby was found on a dock in Yaquina Bay 24 Dec, and later released in Los Angeles after recovering at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Rare in winter in the Puget Sound, an American White Pelican found in November lingered at Everett Sewage Lagoons, Snohomish Co until 23 Dec.

Hawks through Finches

An intermediate dark adult Swainson’s Hawk lingered on Long Prairie Road, Tillamook Co through at least 11 Feb; winter records have increased but are still less than annual. Snowy Owls made a modest showing in western Washington, with individuals in Jefferson, Skagit and Whatcom Cos. An individual in Richland, Benton Co 1 Dec–9 Jan was farther south than where they occur more regularly on the eastside. A Burrowing Owl that appeared in early November lingered to 1 Dec along the waterfront in southeast Portland. Burrowing Owls are almost annual in winter on the Oregon Coast, but a one-day-wonder at Leadbetter Point, Pacific Co 27 Jan (Russ Lewis) represented a first record for relatively poorly-covered Pacific Co. Williamson’s Sapsuckers are far less than annual on the westside lowlands, so it was surprising that a female at Mt. Tabor, Multnomah Co 15–20 Jan (ph., John Powell) was that location’s third record (all winter). The typical handful of Gyrfalcons wintered in Oregon, including one on Old River and Irish Bend Roads, Benton Co 5 Feb+. A county-first Eastern Phoebe appeared at Hat Rock State Park, Umatilla Co 1 Dec (Mark Ludwick), while another county first and Washington’s 17th was found at Deer Lagoon, Island Co 3–12 Dec (Dick Holcomb). This is the fourth December record for the state while there is only one record in the fall season. The bulk of sightings are from spring. Say’s Phoebes wintered at five Coos and six Curry Co locations, part of an ongoing uptick this past decade. A late Tropical Kingbird was at Puget Island, Wahkiakum Co 3 Dec (Frank Brown), a first for this poorly-covered westside county. Two Least Flycatchers wintered on the Oregon coast, with one at Wahl Ranch, Curry Co through 13 Dec (ph.,Terry Wahl) and Coos Co’s first near Coquille 1 Jan (Ramiro Aragon, Eric Clough, Lars Norgren). Both of Oregon’s previous winter records were from coastal Tillamook Co.

Blue Jays had an average winter in Washington, with eight in total. One of the more interesting birds of the winter was an apparent Chestnut-backed x Mountain Chickadee photographed coming to a feeder in Winthrop, Okanogan Co 16 Dec–18 Feb (Victor and Libby Glick). This may very well be the first record of this hybrid; the authors only found one record of hybridization within Chestnut-backed Chickadee, a historical report of a Black-capped x Chestnut-backed Chickadee from western Oregon (fide Rich Hoyer). A continuing caerulea Blue-gray Gnatcatcher lingered at Wahl Ranch, Curry Co to at least 5 Dec. Rare on the coast and far less than annual there in winter, a Rock Wren resided on Cape Meares Village Beach, Tillamook Co 26 Jan+ (Kevin Scaldeferri). Canyon Wrens may be resident in remote areas of Oregon’s Douglas Co, but 10+ years can pass between reports; one north of Fern Falls 5–10 Feb (ph., Matthew Hunter) was Douglas Co’s first documented record. An American Dipper showed up at Ebey’s Landing, Island Co 26 Jan (Ruth Richards), an interesting county first of a species not generally thought of as a vagrant. Three Northern Mockingbirds were found in eastern Washington in Yakima, Benton and Walla Walla Cos. A Brown Thrasher wintered in Springfield, Lane Co 5–22 Dec (ph., Donna Albino et al.), bringing the state’s total to approximately 45.

Common Redpolls appeared in all corners of both states, but less extensively than during the 2017-2018 invasion. In Oregon, singles were in Coos Bay 21 Dec (Holly Rodenkirk), Polk Co, and coastal Lincoln Co in Dec, and there were at least five from five locations in Portland in January. Common Redpolls were reported in 13 of the 17 eastside counties. Concentrations are rare away from the northeast corner of the state, so flocks of 25 in Klamath Falls 19 Dec (ph., fide Kevin Spencer), 50 near Brothers, Deschutes Co 15–24 Jan (ph., Judy Meredith), and 40 in Christmas Valley, Lake Co 4 Feb (ph., Toby Bradshaw) were notable. Interestingly, Washington furnished no coastal records during this irruption, though the eastside and Puget Trough were inundated with flocks. Amongst the masses of Common Redpolls, two Hoary Redpolls were picked out in Washington, one at Clearwater Guard Station, Garfield Co 2 Dec (Will Brooks) and another at Green Lake, King Co 31 Dec–22 Jan (Steve Hampton), both representing county firsts. This “species” is on the taxonomic chopping block and may not exist for long, but for the moment these sightings are Washington’s 26th and 27th records. White-winged Crossbill numbers that began building in August persisted, with dozens in the Blue, Wallowa, and central Cascade Mountains throughout the period. While still observed in good numbers, the irruption appeared somewhat underwhelming in Washington, likely in part due to the relative inaccessibility of the high cascades in the winter. At least 110 feasting on spruce cones near Erma Bell Lakes, Lane Co 5 Dec (Caleb Centanni, Courtney Kelly Jett) was a high count for this year’s invasion. A county-first popped up south of Alsea, Benton Co 12 Feb (W. Douglas Robinson).

Sparrows through Grosbeaks

Oregon’s westside offered a subpar showing of just one Clay-colored and one American Tree Sparrow. Perhaps more notably, up to four American Tree Sparrows wintered together at Miller Island, Klamath Co 18 Dec–5 Feb (ph., Elijah Hayes); the species is only reported about once a decade from the county. A Chipping Sparrow visiting a feeder in Yakima, Yakima Co 10 Jan–1 Feb (Jim Christensen) was an exceptional winter sighting for the eastside this far north. In Oregon, Harris’s Sparrows showed in slightly above-average numbers with six on the westside and six on the eastside. Washington over-achieved, presenting a banner year for the species on the eastside. Southeastern Washington especially was a Harris’s hotbed this winter, with 18 individuals reported between Benton, Franklin, Walla Walla and Yakima Cos alone, 22 for Washington’s entire eastside. In stark contrast were a measly two westside records. Tricolored Blackbirds have been annual in recent winters in the Willamette Valley, especially in winter; they were very rare up until 5–10 years ago. Low single-digits were reported at Rivergate in North Portland, and from Polk, Lane, and Benton Cos, with the latter recording a county-high of nine at well-covered Philomath Sewage Ponds 1 Feb (W. Douglas Robinson). Up to 18 were recorded near Eicher Quarry, Linn Co (Bruce Dugger, Julio Gallardo, Dan Roby) where they are resident. A single Rusty Blackbird turned up at Knott Landfill, Deschutes Co 18 Dec (ph., Nancy Boever, Charles Gates), down from a historical average of 2–3 throughout the state in recent winters. Washington had an average winter for Rusty Blackbird, with three individuals on the westside from Grays Harbor, Skagit and Snohomish Cos. A Common Grackle which visited a feeder in Pasco, Franklin Co 2–7 Feb (Vic Hubbard) was a first for Franklin Co.

Single Northern Waterthrushes were at the North Spit Weyco Ponds, Coos Co 3 Dec–15 Jan (ph., Christopher Hinkle) and at Brownsmead, Clatsop Co 19 Dec–8 Feb (ph., Christopher Hinkle). The latter is the second individual that has wintered at the location, while the former was a Coos winter first. One at Wylie Slough, Skagit Co 2 Dec (David Poortinga) did not linger through the winter like it did annually since 2018. One Black-and-white Warbler report—a bird at Pistol River, Curry Co 28 Dec (ph., Trevor Hook)—marked a typical showing for this rare overwinterer. Also rare but occasionally expected in winter was a Tennessee Warbler in a yard in Vancouver, Clark Co 21 Jan–28 Feb (April and Erik Brown), representing Clark Co’s first. There are fewer than 10 winter records of MacGillivray’s Warbler in Oregon, so a female on Elrod Road, Multnomah Co was unsurprisingly a Portland CBC first (ph., Ezra Cohen, Brodie Cass Talbott). An individual was also seen across the Columbia River in the Vancouver Lake lowlands, Clark Co 26 Jan–18 Feb (Cindy McCormack). Winter occurrence of MacGillivray’s Warbler has seemed to increase dramatically in the past couple of years, with seven records in Washington alone since 2020 where they were previously extremely rare.

Unlike similar species that are expanding their wintering ranges northwards, Common Yellowthroats remain steady at about 10 reports each winter; this year’s eight in the western Oregon and five in western Washington was typical. However, a single female on the East Canal Trail, Harney Co during the 16 Dec P-Ranch CBC (Rick Vetter, Karen Jacobs, Sophia Kim) was unprecedented for the high desert in winter. A male Black-throated Blue Warbler coming to a suet feeder in Port Angeles, Clallam Co 19 Dec–2 Jan was Clallam Co’s first. Palm Warblers were present in slightly below average numbers coastally in both states, while a singleton wintered inland in Benton Co, OR. At least eight Wilson’s Warblers in western Oregon and five in western Washington may have set all-time records for a bird that hasn’t historically wintered every year. A female photographed at Cassimer Bar, Okanogan Co 2 Dec (Eric Heisey) was exceptional for this far north in the interior.

Six Western Tanagers were reported on Washington’s westside, while Oregon’s westwide turned up three tanagers in addition to one Black-headed Grosbeak. The tanager number is slightly higher than historically expected, but it is unclear whether this represents an increase in coverage or a change in status. A Dickcissel on the Sequim CBC outside of Jamestown, Clallam Co 20 Dec+ (Brad Waggoner, Dan Waggoner, Kevin Waggoner) was Washington’s 17th and third for winter.

Report processed by Eric DeFonso, 15 Feb 2023.

Photos–Oregon and Washington: Winter 2021-2022

Washington’s winter highlight in 2022 was its second Whooper Swan, which showed up among a flock of Trumpeter Swans near Monroe. This species often heralds questions of providence, though nothing about this individual raised any red flags. Photo © Thomas Ford-Hutchinson.

Now almost annual off Oregon, this immature Short-tailed Albatross was 28 miles west of Newport on 5 Dec 2021 during the annual early-winter Oregon Pelagic Tours day trip. Photo © Kyle Landstra.

Least Flycatchers have only been found wintering a few times in the state. This individual lingered from November until at least 13 Dec 2021 at Wahl Ranch, Curry Co. A second individual showed up in Coos Co in January 2022, bringing the state’s all-time winter tally to four. Photo © Christopher Hinkle.

One of the more intriguing birds of the winter was this apparent Chestnut-backed x Mountain Chickadee hybrid in Okanogan Co, Washington. This may be the first recorded pairing of these two species, and might even be the first documented report of hybridization within Chestnut-backed Chickadee, although there is a historical report of a Black-capped x Chestnut-backed Chickadee from western Oregon. Photo © Libby Glick.

Rusty Blackbirds have increased in Oregon and are now found annually between late October and early April. This one was photographed at Knott Landfill, Deschutes Co 18 Dec 2021. Photo © Charles Gates.

Common Redpolls staged a major invasion this winter, with the largest flocks occurring in eastern Washington and northeast Oregon. This flock was in Flora, Wallowa Co Oregon 10 Jan 2022. Photo © Scott O’Donnell.

From 2022, a Tennessee Warbler visited a Vancouver backyard for much of the winter window. This may have been the longest a Tennessee Warbler lasted in a winter in Washington. Photo © Phil Bartley.

Dickcissel has been most regular in Clallam Co, Washington over the past 6 years. This individual was found outside Jamestown on the Sequim CBC in early 2022. Photo © Maxine Reid.