Posted by: atowhee | January 23, 2022


In the gravel on Bruce Road, Finely NWR, I saw this bit of amphibian turned to leather:

Earlier this month I posted a picture of a moving rough-skinned newt at Smithfield Oaks in Polk County. Though I have been hearing chiorus frogs off and on, this was my first newt of new year. The photo set off an interesting barrage of newt nerdly comments on OBOL:

There is a story, supposedly true, that sometime in the 1950’s three hunters in OR were missing for some days. They were found dead around their campfire. A coffee pot was nearby and in it was a dead rough-skinned newt. It was assumed the newt got into the pot, coffee was boiled, they drank it and died. I read about this many years ago. I have googled this and can’t find a definitive answer.    

Gerard Lillie
Portland, OR

I’ve heard this story before but unfortunately, every time I hear or read about it the details seem to be different. Sometimes it’s 3 hunters, sometimes it’s 4 trappers or some other number of campers. Sometimes the newt crawled in a coffee pot or a pot of stew accidentally and in some versions all the participants dared each other to eat the newts. And locations seem to be from various places around the state or in Washington in one version. I’ve never been able to track down anyone with firsthand knowledge or any documentation of this. I think it’s like many ghost stories – fun to tell around the campfire but no real truth to it. If anyone has real documentation about this I’d be happy to learn of it, but until then I’m leaving it in the fictional category and sticking with the single documented case I can find in the literature. 

Dan Gleason

Owner, Wild Birds Unlimited of Eugene

Ornithology Instructor, retired, University of Oregon


As l say, “urban legend”. Anyone hear the Disappearing Hitchhiker story? It was told to me as my girlfriend and l hitchhiked from Portland to Columbia South Jetty in April 1980. The raconteur’s aunt and uncle had a rider who told them that Mt St Helens was going to erupt on a specific date. Then without them having stopped, slowed , etc he was gone. Some time later l saw a book at the OSU bookstore entitled “The Vanishing Hitchhiker ” by Jan Harold Brunvand. A fairly serious book l believe, scholarly more than potboiler. 

Fortunately, this is kind of funny.

My wife and I are from industrial north eastern New Jersey.Contact with most forms of nature is not exactly rare, but certainly not of the extent and quality to be found in most of the rest of the U.S.

We first came here, briefly, in the ’80s, then more extensively in the ’90s, then, permanently, in 2002.

As we wandered around this new wonderland, encounters with nature, specifically wildlife, was far from our home state norm. We love the rain, the mountains, the coast and, of course, we encountered newts.

I’m a photographer and have been for about 35 years, so I tend to keep my subjects at a distance or at least on the other side of the hardware. My wife has no such inhibitions and had long since established an up-close relationship with frogs – altogether friendly and careful, but, really. . . close.

It would be no surprise to fairy tale readers and writers that she may even have married me after a kind of frog encounter that gives me a bit of the creeps. Enter the newt.

Newts are too cute. Possibly more cute than frogs, if that’s possible, and she first found them on a trip to the Cascades with me on a rainy, foggy, Oregon day when they were migrating up-hill in one of the smaller parks along a river. If you’ve seen this, you know they can be everywhere and wifey was delighted to find competition for frogs in her lovingcare (pretty much the same as I get).

You’re probably a little clenched-up by now, as I am in the writing. Yes, she has kissed Rough Skinned Newts. Maybe not after today’s warning.

Here’s hoping.

in Monmouth


I once watched, here on our farm, a Great Blue Heron swallow a newt over
a long period of time… took a lot of throwing its head back to get it
down. The heron finally succeeded and flew off. I have always wondered
if herons are immune or if that heron died or… could it have
neutralized the toxin before it ever got it all the way down?

Linda Fink, near Grand Ronde Agency, with a pond full of newts.

As far as I know, only two species of garter snakes are immune to the toxin. Since the rough-skinned newt is only found in the Pacific Northwest, the only resistant garter snakes are those living here as well. Elsewhere, there is no need for resistance to develop. There is some evidence that there is a cost to being resistant. It appears that resistant garter snakes crawl more slowly than non-resistant snakes of the same species putting them at a slight disadvantage of escaping predators. More study needs to be done on this, however. 

This newt is considered the most toxic vertebrates on the planet, producing more toxin than puffer fish or South American poison dart frogs (both have the same toxin). Each newt has enough toxin in its skin to kill 15-20 humans. And it’s not immune to its own poison. If the toxin is injected into a newt it will kill it. But the molecule is large and cannot be absorbed through the skin so handling a newt is not a problem. The toxin must be ingested. 

I don’t believe a heron could neutralize the toxin. The garter snakes actually don’t do anything to the chemical structure of the toxin to neutralize it either. The toxin affects nerve cells associated with the muscles. In nerve cells there is what is known as a sodium channel; a protein structure in the membrane that facilitates the passage of sodium ions into the nerve cell. This balance of sodium ions is essential for the nerve to function properly. Basically, the toxin, which is a large molecule, binds to the protein at the top of this channel in a way that blocks sodium from entering the channel and going into the cell. Think of plugging the end of a tube with a cork. The garter snakes produce a slightly different configuration of the protein forming the sodium channel. The toxin still binds to it but in a way that doesn’t block the opening of the channel and still allows sodium ions to bypass it and enter the cell as normal, effectively rendering the toxin unchanged but ineffective. A very cool evolutionary trick. 

Dan Gleason

Owner, Wild Birds Unlimited of Eugene

Ornithology Instructor, retired, University of Oregon

Very interesting on the Garter snakes. We have two species here; sometimes in similar abundance, other times favoring one or the other. The common garter snake, widespread across the country is very colorful. The other species, I forgot the name, is striped sometimes with stripes very strong other times very weak almost absent. And then there were other species in the west as well. Is it known whether all species can tolerate the toxin? Both our species are almost entirely terrestrial, but where I was growing up in California there was a very aquatic one that often caught fish.
–Robert O’Brien

Regarding garter snake resistance to tetrodontin poisoning, another
cool factoid is that snakes in areas where newts are more common
have greater resistance than snake of the same species in areas
where newts are not a primary prey.  Evolution, baby.

As to the heron, I wonder if, maybe, the critter being eaten was
a Northwestern Salamander rather than an actual Rough-skinned
Newt.  Northwestern salamanders produce a glue-like protein as a
defense.  They also produce toxins, but do not have significant amounts
of tetrodonin toxins.

Mike Patterson
Astoria, OR


A number of years ago I photographed a great egret trying to eat newts at the south end of Eckman Lake near my house.  The egret would pick up the newt and hold and maneuver it for awhile and then would drop it and shake its head vigorously appearing to try and rid its bill of scent or toxin.  It did this 4-5 times before giving up and moving away.

Roy Lowe

Waldport, OR

I remember the Crater Lake Study.  If I remember the study I eluded
to yesterday (I have the paper in a filing cabinet somewhere), garter
snakes had greater resistance to toxicity (and they emphasized that it
was resistance, not immunity) in areas where a principle prey item
was newts, than in places where they didn’t eat newts.

And the reverse was also true.  Newts had greater levels of tetrodontins
in populations where snake predation was high.  Snakes were driving newt
toxicity and newts were driving snake resistance.

So, not all newt populations are equally toxic.

The Crater Lake newt population is a very special, endemic population,
Taricha granulosa mazamae.  They have less orange on the belly.  The
dark plus orange color is warning coloration in many species of animals.
There may be a connection between loss of this coloration and reduced
toxicity.  I suspect that there ain’t much garter snake predation up
there, either.
Mike Patterson
Astoria, OR

Robert O’Brien            


Interesting about the Barred Owl.

I’m pleased to see that the lowly Rough-skinned Newt is holding its own against the mega-cute Sea Otter on OBOL.

FYI  I’m leading tours to view the newt in my back yard.  Priced reasonably.

As to the Barred Owl vs. Newt battle, it probably not a happy situation if Barred Owls are or are becoming Newt immune or Newt adverse.

Spotted Owl and Newt habitat coincide I would guess. It seems likely that Spotted Owls are Newt adverse? Would be ‘cool’ I guess if the Newt could assist the Barred Owl control measures.  Sadly, given the numbers of Barred Owls ‘taken down’ in the control measure it seems the Newts are not doing their fair share.

As to our local Barred Owl, around for a couple of years now, neither my wife nor I have heard the Steller’s Jays announcing its location in several weeks now.  A disappointment.  Now the Newts come out to breed this time of year, trundling slowly towards the nearest waterhole.  Perhaps a Newt took it down in a murder/suicide?  Bob OBrien  Carver OR

PS  Here is the final paragraph of the Barred Owl / Newt paper.

Another possibility is that western populations
of Barred Owls may be evolving some resistance
to TTX where they are exposed to Taricha prey.
Our studies show that Barred Owls do sometimes
depredate salamanders, including toxic Taricha
newts. In live-collected Barred Owls, only 1
stomach of 230 (~0.4%) contained newts, but
salamanders collectively comprised 8.3% of total
prey numbers (59 of 230 stomachs analyzed, or
25.7%), suggesting a relatively high probability of
exposure over the life of an owl. Because the
Eureka owl was found dead, and possibly
poisoned by the newt, estimating the frequency
of newt depredation is difficult. Although we
suspect that Barred Owls may be opportunistically
feeding on newts where they are less toxic, their
exposure, even to lower levels of TTX, may
subject sodium channels to natural selection for
eventual resistance.


My picture from Smithfield Oaks, Jan. 20:

Posted by: atowhee | January 23, 2022


In the market for some fine nature art?

What’s this about a January forest fire at Big Sur? I remember when this was the heart of the California rainy season, reserved for flooding and mudslides. Click here report on mid-winter fire evacuations.
There was a period of heavy rain in northern California late last year, and it has produced enough run-offs to lure coho to streams where they haven’t been seen in this century. Click here.

Meanwhile too much water. Will the Maldives disappear? Click here.

Much further north, it’s reindeer vs. forest, click here.

Finally, some humor and wildlife close-ups, click here.

Posted by: atowhee | January 22, 2022


Apples are members of the greater rose family. They may have originated in Central Asia (Khazakstan). Over three thousand years ago they had already been deliberately spread across Eurasia. Europeans brought them to America. From Adam’s apple to hard cider, from the Garden of Eden to Johnny Appleseed the apple is embedded in culinary and cultural history in many lands. Here in Oregon apples are beloved by man and bird alike.

I’ve always thought of myself as an apple appreciator. I eat them regularly–love the honey bees variety.
But even a golden delicious can be delish. I am a piker, a rank pale imitator. Fellow birder, Blake Nolan, took the time to stand quietly next to the Finley NWR apple tree and captured this video of two sparrow species going after the apple of their eyes, click here. This shows tyiou what authentic apple adoration should look and taste like.

Posted by: atowhee | January 22, 2022


Soft green tassels now adorn the outer twigs of the hazelnuts
Along the creek smaller green tassels hang off the end of alder branches
Crow sound as they report what they see, often with critical review appended
Near the creek a Great Blue Heron lifts up from the tiny stream
Then that slender, plumed outline can be seen high in a bare walnut

Buds have begun to open, bright green, on the currants
At the top of the hill, a trio of outlines on bare branches
Small round head
Broad, slumping shoulders
Tapered lower body ending in sharp-pointed tail
Not far from those Mourning Doves a different outline

An arched back tapering down to a blunt trail,
A sharp beak projected from a head on a
Muscular neck—vertical against an upper tiny trunk
forty feet above ground—the flicker’s comfort zone against the sky
Even the day seems to have a portent of “next”
Of more daylight, more and more green
Louder chorus frogs chorusing
The natural symmetry of nature as she comes around again

How do they roost? Here’s the summary from “Birds of the World”:
Usually in flocks but will roost singly. Select trees with large lateral branches regardless of species.  M. g. silvestris generally roost wherever night overtakes them, usually in conifers in the south, hardwoods in the north.

So a few evenings back the dog and I were in the park after sunset and the local turkey flock were up into the walnuts. That’s where their day ended.

Posted by: atowhee | January 22, 2022


It’s been years since I’ve been inside a church for a service, not to look at a Caravaggio. Click here for a preview of my first sermonal conversation.

So I am (virtually) part of the service tomorrow (Sunday) at Little River United Church of Christ, Annandaler, VA. The topic is birds and climate change. I was invited by Rev. Arthur Cribbs, a former news colleague, whose life journey led him to the ministry.

Zoom Worship, 10AM Eastern Time, 7AM Pacific. I plan to be part of the Zoom and answer questions after the sermon.
Click here to join worship and coffee hour:<<>>
Meeting ID: 549 531 190 Passcode: 699434
Join by phone:+1 301 715 8592

Posted by: atowhee | January 21, 2022


A Portland birder and I wandered through parts of FInley NWR today which began cold and foggy. My friend got plenty of good images into his camera: Tundra Swans, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Golden-crowned Sparrows feasting on winterized apples. The Rough-legged Hawk was along Bruce Road at the southwest corner of the refuge. McFadden and Cabell Marshes were both crowded with waterfowl, the diving ducks mainly at Cabell. We saw three Black Phoebe–each at its chosen body of water.

A common introduced tree (apple) with its winter wounded fruit, an abundant wintering sparrow (golden-crowned), some ordinary wibnter light=an extraordinary delight as we watched a fruit festival at the one tree by Prairie Overlook. Click on any image for screen.

In typical sparrow fashion many of the same golden-crowns also foraged in the grass:

At any given moment there was usually a flock of geese aloft, usually sent up by a threatening eagle. At McFadden Marsh the larger swans paddled around while the Snow Geese huddled up asleep.


The Dunlin(e) at Cabell Marsh:

Each tiny bump on a log is a Dunlin.

William L. Finley NWR, Benton, Oregon, US
Jan 21, 2022
38 species

Snow Goose  80     at Mc Fadden Marsh
Cackling Goose  5000
Canada Goose  X
Tundra Swan  500
Northern Shoveler  X
Mallard  X
Northern Pintail  X
Green-winged Teal  X
Ring-necked Duck  X
Common Merganser–seen in photo of swans I took at McFadden Marsh
Bufflehead  X
Ruddy Duck  X
American Coot  X
Dunlin  150–on logs at Cabell Marsh, sleeping at 2pm
Double-crested Cormorant  1
Great Blue Heron  1
Great Egret  8
Northern Harrier  4–including two adult males
Bald Eagle  3
Red-tailed Hawk  3
Rough-legged Hawk  1
Red-breasted Sapsucker  1
Northern Flicker  1
American Kestrel  6
Black Phoebe  3
Steller’s Jay  3
California Scrub-Jay  1
American Crow  X
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  2
European Starling  X
American Robin  1
Dark-eyed Junco  15
Golden-crowned Sparrow  60-at the Prairie Overlook apple tree festival
Song Sparrow  8
Lincoln’s Sparrow  1
Spotted Towhee  10
Red-winged Blackbird  30
Yellow-rumped Warbler  8

Posted by: atowhee | January 20, 2022


First, Dick Aten’s pristine images of three wintering ocean birds at Newport:


“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” –Folk wisdom in the Age of Plastic
“Looking at art is like, ‘Here are the answers. What were the questions?’ I think of it like espionage…why did that happen, and that?–until eventually you come to a point of irreducible mystery.” –Peter Schjeldahl, art critic supreme

Posted by: atowhee | January 20, 2022


This morning a representative of the Polk Soil & Water Conservation District showed us around a property covers over 150 acres of mature oak woodland, grasslands, a small creek, some juvenile Doug-firs and land occupied by elk. There is hope we can begin offering occasioanl bird walks on this land northeast of Baskett Slough NWR. Most of the oak forest is on slopes and ridge tops. It was especially good to see the pair (definitely together as they coursed up the tree trunks and limbs) of Brown Creepers together on the large oaks. BTW–there did not seem tobe a single acorn left among the fallen oak leaves.

Smithfield Oaks–Polk SWCD, Polk, Oregon, US
Jan 20, 2022
Checklist Comments:     Includes entrance road off Smithfield–mature oaks, grasslands, pond, creek, young doug-firs
15 species

Cackling Goose  X
American Wigeon  1
Mallard  2
Ring-necked Duck  X
Killdeer  25
Bald Eagle  1
Northern Flicker  3
Steller’s Jay  3
Common Raven  1
Black-capped Chickadee  4
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  1
Brown Creeper  2
Bewick’s Wren  1
Dark-eyed Junco  20
Spotted Towhee  6

Posted by: atowhee | January 18, 2022


Salem Audubon will be getting a grant from Oregon Fish & Wildlife Commission to put up the first motus receiver between Eugene and Washington State. It will be used to track the movement of birds with tiny transmitters on their plumage. The Willamette Valley is rich with resident and migratory species and this receiver will overlook Pintail and Eagle Marshes, among several hotspots.

Go to to learn more about this state-of-science technology that will be so important as we try to trace the effects of climate change, habitat and conservation efforts on the birds. Our motus station and its resulting data will be part of a global effort already well developed in many regions.

Klamath Bird Observatiory (KBO) has two motus stations operating in Jackson County. Right now they are gathering data on Lewis’s Woodpeckers and Vesper Sparrows. To learn how this aids research and understanding of our feathery neighbors, watch the February birders’ night program for Salem Audubon–Feb. 8. The speaker will be a research biologist from KBO who is in charge of those motus projects, Dr. Sarah Rockwell. In early February you can find details on how to Zoom, or attend in person, on the Salem Audubon website in the Feb. newsletter.

Posted by: atowhee | January 17, 2022


New photos from correspondent Mike Lund back in North Carolina:

Here are pictures from six months ago:

Click here for blog with pic of this bird taken last winter!

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