Oregon: Spring 2021

Spring 2021: 1 Mar–31 May

Adrian Hinkle

Christopher Hinkle

Recommended citation:

Hinkle, A. W., and C. Hinkle. 2021. Spring 2021: Oregon. <https://wp.me/p8iY2g-b7U> North American Birds.

It was the driest spring on record in Portland and across much of the state. Many areas suffered severe and worsening drought despite near-average snowpack in several of the major mountain ranges. Drought was especially pronounced in the Klamath Basin where water shortages are intensifying. 

Unusually constant north winds along the coast for most of May contributed to record numbers of Red Knots. Most knots typically bypass Oregon en route to staging grounds in Grays Harbor, WA. Northerly winds may also have also caused the late songbird migration throughout the western part of the state, yet other factors may also have been at play. Many flycatchers, especially Dusky Flycatchers, never showed up in their expected numbers. Strong westerly and northerly winds on the eastside contributed to an unusually poor spring for eastern warblers and other vagrants. 

Not all was lost for vagrants though; highlights included the state’s tenth Phainopepla, fifth Garganey, third Lesser Nighthawk, and first Black Vulture. The Black Vulture was presumably the same individual seen earlier in the season in Del Norte Co, California. 

The COVID-19 pandemic continued to alter birding patterns, with plenty of traditional spring birding events and gatherings still called off. A single day pelagic trip was run out of Newport in early May. Repositioning cruises, known for producing Pterodromas and other deep water specialties, were still not running. The explosion of messaging chat groups in the past year, primarily on WhatsApp, has increased birder connectedness and drawn many newer birders onto the birding scene, at the expense of more formal online listservs such as “Oregon Birders Online” (OBOL) which are quickly becoming obsolete. 

A new Oregon Big Day record of 228 species was set by Adrian Hinkle, Rich Hoyer, Noah Strycker, and Jay Withgott on 10 May between Summer Lake, Lake Co and Yaquina Bay, Lincoln Co, besting the old record of 219 from 2 Jun 2007.

Sub-Regional Compilers Tim Rodenkirk (Coos and Curry Cos, Oregon).

Abbreviations Cascade Mountains (Cascades), Oregon Coast (Coast), East of the Cascade Mountains (eastside), sewage treatment ponds (STP), West of the Cascade Mountains (westside).

Waterfowl through Shorebirds

Oregon’s fifth Garganey, a male at Baskett Slough NWR, Polk Co 1416 May (Whit Bronaugh et al.) provided the Pacific Northwest with its first record since May 2005. California similarly went 14 years between 2003 and 2017 without a record, but has tallied seven in the past four years, suggesting our region was overdue for one. Half of Oregon’s previous Garganey records were short-staying transients in May. An overwintering male Tufted Duck at Svensen Island, Clatsop Co lingered until 6 Mar. Two female Surf Scoters spent a day on the former drinking water reservoir at Mt. Tabor Park, Multnomah Co 23 May (Em Scattaregia). Wintering inland Surf Scoters sometimes linger into Apr, but migrant spring Surf Scoters are very rare away from the coast, much rarer than in fall. 

Oregon’s third Lesser Nighthawk was discovered roosting on driftwood in the afternoon and flying around that evening at Goose Point on Tillamook Bay 6 Apr (ph. Annika Andersson). Oregon’s previous records come from Jun and Aug in SE Oregon, but the state was overdue for an early spring overshoot when Common Nighthawks are not yet returned. A Lesser Nighthawk found 29 Mar in Arcata, California lingered through 7 Apr, dispelling the unlikely hypothesis that the Tillamook bird was the same individual. Most Black Swifts migrate through Oregon during a narrow window in late May and early Jun; a peak of 291 at Lower Fourmile Creek, Coos Co 24 May (Tim Rodenkirk) was higher than most years but fell short of the state high count of 460 from the same day a year prior. 

A male Anna’s x Black-chinned Hummingbird photographed at Long Branch Road near Shady Cove, Jackson Co 6 Apr (ph. Howard Sands) was likely a returning individual that provided Oregon with its first record in May 2020. A male Rufous x Black-chinned Hummingbird that graced a feeder in Springfield, Lane Co 30 Apr (ph. John Sullivan) was also an Oregon first. Both hybrids occurred on the westside where Black-chinned Hummingbird is a vagrant. Anna’s x Rufous Hummingbird is less rare but still recorded in Oregon less than annually; one was at Finley NWR, Benton Co 3 Apr (ph. Isaac Denzer, Kai Frueh) near where one was photographed a year earlier. About 17 Calliope Hummingbirds were reported in the Willamette Valley, an expected total for spring migration on the fringe of their range.

A family of three Sandhill Cranes near Tillamook was last seen 4 Apr for a very rare coastal overwintering record. Sandhill Cranes begin their northward push through Oregon as early as mid-Feb. One at Siletz Bay 22 Apr (Logan Smiley) and a flyover at Ten Mile Creek, Lane Co 27 Apr (Sally Hill, Diane Pettey) were rare coastal migrants within the more expected timeframe. 

Single American Golden-Plovers were at Crooked River Wetlands, Crook Co 12 May (ph. Glenn Cantor, Judy Meredith) and Fort Stevens SP, Clatsop Co 13 May (Bill Shelmerdine). They are only found once every few years in spring, slightly more often from the westside but sometimes from the more poorly-covered eastside. A Bar-tailed Godwit foraging on the beach in Newport 18 May (ph. Jon Dachenhaus, Darrell Whitworth, Kim Nelson) was unexpected considering the northerly winds; most spring Bar-tailed Godwits in Oregon occur following strong fronts with westerly winds coming off the Pacific Ocean that blow migrant godwits off course. An adult female Ruff at Malheur NWR HQ 28 Apr (ph. Eric Heisey) was Harney Co’s second. Ruffs are less than annual in spring and have been recorded fewer than a dozen times on the eastside. Most Red Knots usually bypass Oregon en route to staging grounds at Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor, Washington; knot numbers on the Oregon coast usually peak in low double digits with a previous state high count of 143 at Tillamook Bay 10 May 1976. Unusually long stretches of strong north winds for most of May might have contributed to unprecedented counts on the Oregon coast this spring; high counts included 150 at Siletz Bay, Lincoln Co 15 May (Phil Pickering) and hundreds staging at Trestle Bay near the S. Jetty Columbia River, Clatsop Co the third week of May peaking with 600+ on 18 May (Diana Byrne). 

A Parakeet Auklet flew past the bow of a sight-seeing boat about a mile off Newport 20 Mar (Nolan Clements, Joshua Little). Parakeet Auklet was formerly thought to be very rare off Oregon, but in recent years has been found regularly in spring including hundreds offshore in spring 2013. 

Gulls through Hawks

Franklin’s Gulls are annual in very small numbers west of the Cascades, but never more than singles or small groups at a time. This May for the first time large flocks were seen on the westside, including flocks of 11, 13, 17, and 29 on the coast and flocks of 25, 32, and 140 in the Willamette Valley; 140 in two groups flying west over Walterville, Lane Co 24 May (Vicky Buck) was by far a high count record for the westside. In total, about 130 Franklin’s Gulls were reported from the coast from 16 different locations in May, and over 250 were reported from seven locations in the Willamette Valley during that time frame. Franklin’s Gulls are more regular in Deschutes Co in Central Oregon, but are usually barely annual there in spring and very rarely occur in flocks. Exceptional counts in Deschutes Co included flocks of 16, 34, and 65. Large numbers of wide-ranging Franklin’s Gulls may be explained by failed nesting colonies in the Klamath Basin. A Lesser Black-backed Gull found in late Feb lingered at Veterans Park, Klamath Co until 22 Mar. 

A potential Arctic Loon—which would represent Oregon’s third record, if accepted—flew past Depoe Bay, Lincoln Co with a trio of northbound Pacific Loons on 18 May (ph. Jerry Ting). The presence of an Arctic Loon would be understandable given that hundreds of thousands of loons migrate along the Oregon Coast in spring; however, for an observer to pick out a distant flyby and rattle off photos would make this one of the more impressive seawatch finds for the state. An immature Yellow-billed Loon at Sitka Sedge State Natural Area 23 May (ph. Allison Anholt) was more expected, but on the late end for a spring bird. Cattle Egrets exploded in the 1980s and 1990s but subsequently decreased and are now barely annual in SE Oregon in spring and summer and not quite annual on the coast in fall and winter. One with breeding plumes was near Diamond, Harney Co 915 May (Ellen Cantor).

White-faced Ibis were more widespread on the westside than usual for the second spring in a row, with fourteen reports including flocks of 28 and 29 in the Rogue Valley, 26 in the Coquille Valley, and flocks of 26 and 88 in the Willamette Valley. Most springs a few individuals and small flocks are found on the westside. Oregon’s first Black Vulture flew north over Gold Beach, Curry Co 17 May (ph. Whitney Michaelis, Mick Bressler). What was presumably the same bird—based on a missing primary on the left wing—was at the Klamath River Mouth in Northern California 14–17 Apr. The long-staying bird in Marin Co, California was still present in late Apr, ruling out the unlikely possibility that it was the same roaming individual. 

Broad-winged Hawks are barely annual in spring, mostly at eastside vagrant traps in May. This year single adults were seen in Fields, Harney Co 19 May (Leith McKenzie), at Page Springs Campground, Harney Co 24 May (ph. Sally Hill), and on nearby Malheur NWR 25 May (ph. Mark Baldwin). Swainson’s Hawks were considered very rare on the westside through the early 2010s, but spring migrants are now expected there in modest numbers, including at least 37 reported west of the Cascades this spring; the highest westside spring total ever. A wide range of plumages and ages were reported. It is not clear whether increased observer coverage or an actual change in status has occurred; both are probably contributing factors. 

Long-eared Owls are regular year-round on the westside but scarce and hard to find. A communal roost of up to seven Long-eared Owls at Ankeny NWR, Marion Co first found 5 Feb lingered into Mar, with the last bird detected 27 Mar. The last communal winter roost on the westside was at EE Wilson Wildlife Area, Benton Co in the 1980s into the early 1990s. A single bird heard this spring in Silverton, Marion Co 4 Apr (Grant Canterbury), one heard while owling in the Coast Range east of Neskowin, Tillamook Co 11 Mar (Ken Chamberlain), and one that roosted for a day in Ashland, Jackson Co 20 May (Cat Gould) represented more typical scenarios. 

Woodpeckers through Thrushes

An overwintering Yellow-bellied Sapsucker continued in Brownsmead, Clatsop Co through 13 Mar (ph. J. Michael Patterson); one showed up in Scappoose 79 Apr (ph. Kloe Cook), and one passed through Fishback Hill, Polk Co 17 Apr (Caleb Centanni, Courtney Kelly Jett). Two Red-naped Sapsuckers—one at Idaho Point, Lincoln Co 18 Apr (ph. Marty Bray) and one in Falls City, Polk Co 15–19 Apr (William Tice)—was an expected number. No Lewis’s Woodpeckers were reported on the westside north of Jackson Co; a few lingering wintering birds and a few migrants would be expected. 

An overwintering Gyrfalcon in Polk Co feasted on minima Cackling Geese at Baskett Slough NWR until 23 Mar. One photographed at Haystack Rock, Clatsop Co 9 Apr (ph. Jay Rasmussen) was at the tail end of their expected occurrence in Oregon, and may have been the same Gyrfalcon seen in nearby Lincoln Co. over the winter. 

The status of Least Flycatcher in Oregon is muddied by misidentified Dusky and Hammond’s Flycatchers, but Leasts are rare, local breeders in NE Oregon and annual spring migrants in very small numbers at vagrant traps in SE Oregon. Three were reported from desert traps and one from Wallowa Co this May; the first, a singing migrant in Fields, Harney Co 17 May (a. Eric Heisey) was a day behind the state’s all-time earliest arrival date. Gray Flycatcher is annual in small numbers west of the Cascades, but one at Bloomberg Park, Eugene, Lane Co 8–9 May (Alan Contreras, Daniel Farrar) was this spring’s only westside report. Dusky Flycatchers had a similarly poor westside showing: only three were reported from Mt. Tabor Park in Portland, where they are seen almost daily in spring in many years, and none were reported west of the Willamette River north of Lane Co. Oregon’s twenty-ninth Eastern Phoebe was four miles east of Diamond, Harney Co 24 May (ph. Gerry Meenaghan). Oregon did not record Eastern Phoebe until 1992 and only had eleven records through 2009, but the state has tallied fifteen in the past ten years. Two-thirds of all Oregon records are from May or Jun. 

The only Willamette Valley Loggerhead Shrike of the season was at Diamond Hill Wetlands, Linn Co 26 May (Joel Geier); a small handful would be more expected. The impressive winter Blue Jay showing in NE Oregon lasted into spring, with at least seven present into Mar or Apr. Two stayed as late as 8 May and one of them lingered until 10 May at a feeder in La Grande (Rebecca Hartman). Wintering Blue Jays clear out by Mar or Apr most years, but can linger into May especially during irruption years.

Oregon’s first Winter Wren found near Corvallis, Benton Co in late Feb lingered through 4 Apr. Mountain Bluebirds were reported from seven locations on the westside, an expected spring total. A Veery was photographed at Malheur NWR HQ 30 May (Trask Colby). There are several previous reports from desert traps in SE Oregon, but this may be the first documented record. Swainson’s Thrushes are first reported in mid-Apr every spring in Oregon, but most early reports identified by call are probably misidentified snippets of Song Sparrow songs, and most early sight records are probably misidentified Hermit Thrushes. One recorded giving a nocturnal flight call over Eugene 22 Apr (Rich Hoyer) was the earliest documented record for Oregon, although the first migrants probably arrive a few days earlier, as indicated by a reliable report of a landed bird giving its nocturnal flight call on the coast the morning of 17 Apr 2014. 

Waxwings through Blackbirds

Oregon’s tenth Phainopepla, a female, as at Denman WMA 23 May+ (ph. Tim Johnston). All of Oregon’s records come from MayJun, September, or DecemberJanuary. Lesser Goldfinches continue to expand on the North Coast, with six reports in Lincoln and Tillamook Cos for the period; in the past decade one or two per spring has been normal in those counties, where the species is still rare. Lesser Goldfinch has still never been found in Clatsop Co but is now regular in every other county in the state including in NE Oregon where they were rare as recently as ten years ago. A male Lawrence’s Goldfinch was in Ashland, Jackson Co 2325 Mar (ph. Dale Fisher) and a female was picked out from over 100 Lesser and American goldfinches northeast of Talent, Jackson Co 12 May (ph. Karl Schneck). Lawrence’s Goldfinch is slowly increasing in Oregon; first recorded in 1991, there were three records in the 1990s, five in the 2000s, and eight in the 2010s including Oregon’s first breeding record from Josephine Co in 2018. 

Black-throated Sparrows are less than annual on the westside and especially rare on the coast, but they show up in waves every few springs. This spring was one such year: one was at Royal Ave, Fern Ridge Reservoir 68 May (ph. Diane Pettey), one was at Hills Creek Dam in the Cascade foothills of Lane Co 12 May (ph. Alan Contreras, Joshua Galpern), one or two were at Bandon State Natural Area 14 May (ph. Sammie Peat), one was at Lower Fourmile Creek, Coos Co 23 May (ph. Tim Rodenkirk), one was at a farm two miles south of Molalla, Clackamas Co 20 May (ph. Joseph Blowers), and a singing bird was at Swigert Road, Troutdale, Multnomah Co 2526 May (ph. Ross Barnes-Rickett). An eastside report from Smith Rock State Park 14 May+ (Aaron Jenkins) was northwest of the usual range. Lark Sparrows are annual but rare on the westside north of Jackson Co; one at Nehalem Sewage Ponds, Tillamook Co 18 Apr (Jules Evens) and one at Willamette Park, Benton co 20 Apr (Andrew Pratt, Bruce Pratt, Eric Pratt) were somewhat predictable. A flyover recorded giving nocturnal flight calls predawn in Eugene 3 May (a. Rich Hoyer) was the first nocturnal migrant detected in Oregon, but Lark Sparrows could prove to be rare, regular nocturnal migrants on the westside as more birders start recording nocturnal flight calls. A couple wintering Harris’s Sparrow lingered into Mar as expected; an adult male in La Grande 29 Apr (Dave Trochell) was likely a migrant. Vesper Sparrows are very rare in winter anywhere in the state, but two wintered in NW Oregon over the winter and one of those, a bird at Rentenaar Road, Columbia Co, lingered until 25 Mar. At least two “Oregon” Vesper Sparrows returned to breeding grounds in the central Willamette Valley by 30 Mar (Bob Altman), two days behind last year’s 28 Mar record for the earliest ever arrival date. Eastside Vespers usually show up by mid-Mar. 

An overwintering Hooded Oriole in Manzanita, Tillamook Co continued until at least 2 Mar and an adult male visited a hummingbird feeder in Grants Pass 27 May (Marlowe Kissinger). Both birds fit Hooded Oriole’s well-established pattern of vagrancy in Oregon—of almost 60 records, nearly all have occurred at hummingbird feeders, either as overwintering birds on the coast NovMar or as presumed overshoots anywhere in the state AprJun. 

Of five Rusty Blackbirds in the state over the winter, only one lingered into Mar, a lone bird at Lake Creek Drive, Linn County seen until 5 Mar. Out of almost 40 total records Oregon only has about five spring Rusty Blackbird records, all wintering birds that lingered into Mar or early Apr. A Common Grackle visited a suet feeder at Sunriver Resort, Deschutes Co 312 Mar (ph. Milton Vine), representing Oregon’s first for the JanMar timeframe; more than half of Oregon’s 40+ records come from May, generally as one-day wonders. Unlike Great-tailed Grackles which have expanded considerably since the turn of the century, Common Grackles in Oregon, Washington, and California have held roughly steady over the past three decades despite increasing observer coverage. 

Warblers through Buntings

It was an unusually poor warbler vagrant season despite good coverage. An American Redstart at Roaring Springs, Harney Co 2325 May (Jim Carlson) and one on the Central Patrol Road, Harney Co 25 May (David Robichaud) were the only rare warblers reported in Harney this May; Harney Co typically get two to five American Redstarts and a half dozen other rare warblers by Jun 1st. Lake Co produced a Northern Waterthrush at Mud Creek Campground in the Warner Mountains 17 May (ph. Mark Bartolome Stevens) and single male Black-and-white Warblers at Summer Lake 8–10 May (ph. Adrian Hinkle) and at Silver Lake 29 May (ph. Carl Lundblad). A territorial Northern Waterthrush at Gilchrist Crossing, Klamath Co 10 May was slightly early (a. Adrian Hinkle, Rich Hoyer, Noah Strycker, Jay Withgott); the Gilchrist area is the only reliable waterthrush breeding spot in Oregon. 

The only rare warblers on the westside were a male Black-and-White Warbler, Skinners Butte in Eugene 22 Apr (ph. John Sullivan) and a Tennessee Warbler at Willamette Park, Benton Co 26 Apr (Duncan Evered). A slow winter for Palm Warblers bled into the spring; only one was reported on the coast in Mar. Not-quite-annual inland spring migrants were found at Tualatin River NWR 2 May (Paul Runge) and at Oak Island, Multnomah Co 7 May (ph. Audrey Addison). Two or three Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are reported most springs, but this year produced only one, an adult male in Hines 22–23 May (Janet Braymen, Louisa Evers Joan Suther, Rick Vetter), in keeping with the poor spring showing for songbird vagrants. 

Report processed by José R. Ramírez-Garofalo, 18 July 2021. 

Photos–Oregon: Spring 2021

Click image to view fullscreen with caption.