Think of a dark grey, almost black, bird that has white feathers on its eyelids; a stocky bird with a beautiful song. And imagine this songbird being entirely aquatic; belonging to a family of only 5 species globally; one of which is found right here in America: Yes, this is the American Dipper.
Having the body-shape of a wren and the size and musical prowess of a thrush but the habits of neither, the Dipper is as unique as they come.
Did I mention the white eyelids? Not to be confused with the transparent nictating membrane (their 3rd set of eyelids used as goggles when in water), these are thought to be a display mechanism that works even when auditory signals are drowned out by the roar of the rapids.
American Dippers favor fast moving, shallow streams where they find aquatic insects, larvae, and other grubs for consumption.
Mt. Hood National Forest is an excellent area to see these unique birds in action. Two individuals were seen at Wildwood Recreation Site and one at Tamanawas Falls Trail.
American Dippers are found in a huge swathe of Western North America -- all the way from Alaska down to Central America.
Next, think of a pale grey and black corvid that can remember the location of 10's of thousands of the pine seeds it stashes away every summer. While it is well known that members of the Crow/Jay family are highly intelligent, nonetheless, this feat of memory is truly remarkable for any animal and easily surpasses our ability at recall.
There are only 3 species of nutcrackers in the world -- ours, named after 2nd Lt. William Clark (of the Lewis & Clark Expedition fame), is the mostly uniquely colored of the lot (the other two are spotted).
Clark's Nutcracker, like its name implies, is uniquely specialized in living off pine seeds, especially those of whitebark pines with which they share a unique and symbiotic relationship through seed dispersal.
A montane species of the West, this corvid can be found ranging from British Columbia to the Southwest US.
At Mt. Hood, they were commonly found -- always opportunistic, they were seen foraging for scraps around the parking lot; and one was even found calling from inside the giftshop building!
Another good birding site in the National Forest was Mt. Larch; here, Varied Thrushes were quite common and the woods resounded with their eerie singing. Nearby, a Hermit Warbler flitted about:
Found as a breeder in only 3 states: Washington, Oregon, and California, the Hermit Warbler is a bird of the coniferous canopy.
The Hermit Warbler has the body of a black-throated grey with the head of a black-throated green warbler: black throat, yellow face, black nape, white undersides with grey upperparts with 2 white wing-bars.
An attractive yet reclusive bird, Hermit Warblers are being displaced with the more aggressive Townsend's Warbler where their ranges overlap.
The other warbler seen in the Mt. Hood National Forest was Wilson's:
While its breeding range includes all of Canada, in the US, it is restricted exclusively to the West.
The most distinctive feature of this delightful warbler, of course, is the black cap. A loud songster, this warbler is declining in its range due to habitat loss. This individual was observed at Lost Creek Campground.
Other species seen in the area included Cassin's Finch:
A finch of the West, the male has a deep red, almost scarlet, crest with a pink blush on the face and breast.
Nearer Portland, Powell Butte Nature Park offered a chance to see a different mix of species including Violet-Green Swallow (above), as well as Western Scrub Jay:
Red-breasted Nuthatch (seen at Mt. Larch) showed particularly well:
... and Bewick's Wren (seen at Powell Butte):
Found commonly in the West, this wren is almost gone from the Eastern US. In addition to this long-tailed Wren, a Lazuli Bunting was seen in the distance.
The other wren observed was Pacific Wren, earlier considered conspecific with Winter Wren. Finally, some other species including hairy woodpecker, ravens, sparrows, and the trusty common yellowthroat.
And, the widespread Common Yellowthroat.
In the summer doldrums, nothing acts better as a cure than a trip to an unexplored region offering the potential of lifers and exquisite new birding vistas.
====== Epilogue: View of Mt. Hood =========