Posted by: atowhee | August 22, 2019


This poor male American Goldfinch is undergoing a serious wardrobe downgrade.  Going from sunny yellow with black accents to moldering, molting, graying belly–poor guy.  Not a female goldfinch in the land wil leven be seen in the feeder with him.  Ah, but next spring…    Note the female looks decently dressed and ready for winter and rain and migration.

Posted by: atowhee | August 20, 2019


New biography of man who was leading American conservationist more than a century ago.
George Bird Grinnell was a magazine editor and conservationist. He also wrote books describing Native American culture in the western U.S. In 1892 he wrote, “The story of our government’sintgercourse with this race is an unbroken narrative of injustice, fraud and robbery.”

Sounds like the beginning of an argument for reparations.

In 1857 the moderately wealthy Grinnells moved to “Audubon Park,” the former estate of artist-naturalist John James Audubon on still-rural upper Manhattan. There the young George met and was taught by Audubon’s widow, Lucy Bakewell.  That encouraged his affinity for nature.

He had a Ph.D. in biology from Yale University and was vocal and active on behalf of land and animal conservation at a time that was generally opposed in the U.S. He helped start the first national Audubon Society in the 1880s, but it collapsed. When it later was reborn Grinnell served on the national board of directors.  He also helped promote the idea of preserving wild lands in national parks. He worked on wildlife books with Theodore Roosevelt.   Grinnell was also part of the Harriman Expedition to Alaska in 1899.  Also part of that expedition were  most of the leading experts and writers in natural history: John Muir, Louis Fuertes, William Dall, William Brewer, Charles Keeler, C. Hart Merriam, Edward Curtis, John Burroughs.  It is unlikely another previous or subsequent expedition ever collected as many informed and inquisitive minds in one place.  It led to a series of publications, fourteen volumes in all (1901–1910): The Harriman Alaska Series. New York: Doubleday, Page & Company.

The Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park is named for him.

There is still time to sign up for a week of birding in Harney County, sponsored by the Malheur Field Station.  I will be the guide.  Click here for details.

Posted by: atowhee | August 19, 2019


From my friend, and the owls’ great admirer, Mel Clements of Jackson County.  This one taken in the southern Cascades.  Mel reports this hunting owl fairly well ignored him which is typical of this bird often more aloof than most predators we encounter:

081919 007_edited-1

Posted by: atowhee | August 19, 2019



Next month I will be leading a bird trip sponsored by the Malheur Field Station where we will be staying for six night.  This trip includes a day trip to the top of Steens Mountain, nearly 10,000 feet above sea level.  Click here for full details.

Posted by: atowhee | August 18, 2019


There are still a coupe openings for the September, 2019, birding trip based at Malheur Field Station.  Call the number below for details or to sing up.

Here are the three trips I will be leading for the Malheur Field Station next year:


May 23(Sat)-May 28(Th)
This trip will give us a chance to see the results of on-going spring migration.  Many nesting species will have just returned.  Males will be singing and there will be territorial displays.  There may be the young of early nesting species like Ferruginous Hawk, Bald Eagle, Great Horned Owl, Sora.  There is always a chance of vagrants such as Catbird, eastern warblers, Orchard Oriole.  Some species that nest in the region will be passing through and may include Lewis’s Woodpecker, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Olive-sided Flycatcher.

June 13(Sat)-June 18(Th)
This trip will give us a chance to see most of the nesting species of Harney County.  Common Nighthawks and American White Pelicans will be in the air.  Both Eastern and Western Kingbirds will be on territory.  Bobolinks should be seen along with water-related birds such as Trumpeter Swan, Black Tern and Wilson’s Phalarope.

Some birds we expect to see on both spring trips include Mountain Bluebird, Sagebrush Sparrow, Brewer’s Sparrow, Horned Lark, Franklin’s Gull, Short-eared and Burrowing Owl, Swainson’s and Ferruginous Hawk, Golden Eagle, numerous harriers, Marsh, Canyon and Rock Wrens, Loggerhead Shrike, Sage Thrasher, Yellow-headed Blackbird, White-faced Ibis in large numbers, Long-billed Curlew, Willet I breeding plumage, Eared Grebe in breeding plumage.  Nesting ducks could include Blue-winged Teal and Canvasback.

Sept. 12(Sat)-Sept. 18(Fri)
This trip will allow us to spend a full day in the Steens where we will go to the peak at just under 10,000 feet elevation.  In the late summer we may get access to areas closed during breeding season.  There may be migrating raptors passing through the valley and mountains.  While many insectivorous birds will be gone there will also be songbirds on migration including huge numbers of White-crowned Sparrows and their cousins from several species.

Mammals possible on all trips include: Belding’s ground squirrel, pronghorn, wild horses, mink, river otter, long-tailed weasel, badger, coyote, mule deer, yellow-bellied marmot, kit fox, Nuttall’s cottontail, black-tailed jackrabbit, bats, California ground squirrel.

To get more information or sign up for these trips, call the Malheur Field Station at (541) 493-2629.

Posted by: atowhee | August 18, 2019


Why are we trapped in this misleading “four seasons” malarkey?  We are in the latter half of August, a season unto itself.  This is not the summer of July 4th, and certainly nothing like the late summer of mid-September.  Let’s call this season the “August Presence”.

At this latitude at this time change is easily seen and felt and smelled.  It’s been weeks since any serious rain over much of our area.  The cracks in the earth are as much as two inches wide as the top soil loses all moisture…unless it is irrigated.  It will be weeks more before we can expect any serious rain.  Forest understories and ground cover are parched.  Most ponds not spring-fed are dry or have dwindled to plant choked pools.  This week I got a picture of a young bullfrog looking at me from one such pond.  Bits of pond weed clung to his face and the uninterrupted weedy layer surrounded him.  He floated in a pool of green.

Many broadleaf trees are already dropping leaves.  Yellow now marks the outline of ash, cottonwood and alder.  Yellow leaves now line footpaths and drift along the few flowing streams of this season.  The red-osier dogwood sports red leaves now to set off its creamy white fruit.  A native hawthorn today displayed clumps of shiny black haws.  I noted earlier this week that sunshine sets off the fine scent of fermenting blackberries.

Then there are our native white oaks.  In spring late to leaf, in fall late to leave off.  The photosynthesis will continue among the oaks until the last possible day(s).  More starch and sugar and protein will be gathered from roots, downloaded from leaves until the tree finally admits autumn and goes into its cold weather mode.  Even then it will still move supplies around inside with no visible activity on the twigs and branches until late spring.  Buds will then be the first sign. Think of each tree as a living grocery warehouse; even when lights are off and windows closed, work continues as does life.  Many trees grow roots even in the coldest weather.

This year’s trees and grasses and bushes and perennials are all in reproduction season.  August Presence means seeds and fruits and cones.  Now you can stand beneath an ash and see a small, single-winged papery seed twist in tight circles as it floats to the ground or into a stream to go further on.  Then another twirls down, and another. Even the greedy goldfinches can’t eat them all.  Animals are playing their part, or course.  Jays will hide and inadvertently plant acorns.  Squirrels are hunting and gathering our garden’s apples. Thrushes and other berry eaters will devour mistletoe berries, then poop out the seed on another tree’s limb where the seed’s gluey coating will let it stick.  The thistles and composites with their floating seeds now are favored by finch and sparrow family members.  If you stand near any open area not farmed or sprayed with poison you will see these airborne seeds with their fine filaments drift on any breeze or even unfelt air current, often rising high into the air. They move about like cold-air balloons. A miniscule fraction of the floaters will give rise to new plants next year. You are thus witness to an ancient revolution wrought by flowering plants less than 300 million years ago.  It is a revolution that has enabled mammal and bird to spread and prosper.

Nearly all birds are done breeding though I saw two nests of near-fledging Barn Swallows just last week.  This year’s Canada Goslings now fly with their parents.  The swallows and their young are gathering and feeding in flocks prior to their southward flight.  Even young robins still sporting spotted chests are cavorting through the woods feeding themselves.  Adult shorebirds are passing us on migration. The young may still be in Alaska but they will shortly follow.  Nuthatches, squirrels and many rodents, jays—they are caching food against the cold to come. A junco has appeared in our garden, soon there will be dozens as they leave their mountain forests for this valley floor where the snow rarely impedes their ground foraging. Some insects and arachnids are laying the eggs that will be next year’s population.  Flowers with August Presence are supplying bees with the nectar needed to fill the quota needed to last the winter.

There’ll be little bird song until spring.  Now calls are for communication.  Today a Black-capped Chickadee scolded us for eating at our outdoor table near HIS feeders.  The swallows feeding over pond or field may twitter warnings at one another.  I think of those sounds as necessary traffic signals—how do they manage to never collide?  Robins may whinny in disapproval if the dog and I pass nearby.  I do hear the soft calls of goldfinches sometimes as they fly overhead. Today I heard a single water-drop note from an unseen Swainson’s Thrush.  One note.  I may not hear that species again until next April.

There is some buzzing from bees and other large insects in flight.  At night the crickets are in tune. We do not suffer the horrific whining from the katydid’s legs that I cannot erase from my memories of a Midwest childhood in a house without air conditioning so windows were always open. We also do not get anything like the strident violin monotony of the Mediterranean cicadas which dominate hot days in the region this time of year.

The days are still much longer than the nights so hot sun drives most creatures into shade or slumber.  Mornings and evenings see greater activity and motion.  With so much sunlight, what’s the hurry?  It seems even the flocks of incessantly busy Bushtits are moving more deliberately, lingering a second or two longer at a feeder, even perching for whole moments on a branch before moving on.  Yes, it must be present, that August Presence.


Here…two free ranging chickens at Yamhill Sewer Ponds.  I have found chicken feather piles here in the past.  I hope their person brings them in at night…fox, coyote, Great Horned Owl…danger lurks.  Three molting American Goldfinches in our garden.  Young junco in our garden.  Wood-pewee at sewer ponds.  Violet-green Swallows over the pasture there.

I will be leading bird trips for Malheur Field Station…next month, and next year.  Click here for further info.

Here are two classes I am teaching this fall, here in McMinnville; sign up through McM Parks:MCM CLASSES (2)

Yamhill Sewage Ponds (restricted access), Yamhill, Oregon, US

Aug 18, 2019
18 species

Wood Duck  1
Mallard  9
Eurasian Collared-Dove  X
Mourning Dove  1
Killdeer  1
Least Sandpiper  4
American Kestrel  1
Western Wood-Pewee  1
California Scrub-Jay  1
Black-capped Chickadee  1
Northern Rough-winged Swallow  1
Violet-green Swallow  200
Barn Swallow  40
Cliff Swallow  1
Swainson’s Thrush  1
American Robin  3
House Sparrow  X
American Goldfinch  4

Posted by: atowhee | August 17, 2019


My friend Paul Bannick has just published a book with some extraordinary owl pictures.  Click here for a sample on the Audubon Society website.  Paul lives here in here in the Pacific Northwest,.

Posted by: atowhee | August 17, 2019


BIG BUG (2)I took this picture just after I netted this guy in our pool this morning  He had landed there overnight.  About 2.5 inches long.  From inaturalist site I suspect he is a PONDERous borer beetle, meaning he and his larva feed on roots of conifers like the many Doug-firs around our neighborhood.  He was impressive and not long after I rescued him he flew off to bore another day.

At Jor Dancer this morning the weed field was alive with seed harvesters: finches and sparrows.

In the dead top of the tallest riverside ash was the (same) wood-pewee, and this morning he was joined by a preening flicker:

There were two male Anna’s hummers fussing with one another.  Here’s one at rest momentarily.  The squirrel, of course, was having breakfast at our bird feeders:

I am teaching two nature classes this fall here in McMinnville:MCM CLASSES (2)Joe Dancer Park, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Aug 17, 2019
13 species

Anna’s Hummingbird  2
Turkey Vulture  1
Northern Flicker  2
Western Wood-Pewee  1
California Scrub-Jay  1
American Crow  1
Violet-green Swallow  X
Barn Swallow  12
European Starling  2
American Robin  X
House Finch  X
American Goldfinch  40
White-crowned Sparrow  10

Posted by: atowhee | August 16, 2019


The dog and I went out to Grand Island this afternoon to take advantage of the mild weather.  We found many birds doing the same thing, out and about.  Most were gleaning in the ash and cottonwoods along the river.  Mostly we saw the summer residents, plus one migrating BT Gray Warbler who would not have bred near that area.
Many of the other species I don’t expect to see again this summer: grosbeak, tanager, flycatchers.  The vultures and Barn Swallows will be around for another month at least.

Most of the birds were silent.  The nuthatches honked at me, or the world at large.  Lone towhee snarled when the dog walked by.  The flicker gave out with his hic-cup call.  And the Wood Duck whistled as it flew out of a marshy pond.  Mostly it was silent foraging.

Above Barn and Cliff Swallows on line together.  Downy.  The two Osprey youngsters were hanging out at a nest.  One of two young Spotted Towhees, still in immature plumage.  White-breasted Nuthatch.
The trees and bushes are still heavily leafed so finding earth-tone birds (Song Sparrow, towhee, Swainson’s Thrush) that freeze in position can be a challenge.  So I pass this challenge on to you.  In the left hand image (click to enlarge) there is a Swainson’s…then in the right hand copy I point it out with a bold marker.  So start with the left-hand picture…

The blackberries are plentiful and ripening.  The dog and I partake eagerly this time of year.  We stopped by one line of berry canes, being warmed by the sun.  I could smell the distinct aroma of fermenting blackberry juice.  Be ready for drunken waxwings and robins weaving down the trail.
Below: the cottonwoods are shedding their leaves.  Young bullfrog in weed-choked slough next to the river.  Heron along Webfoot Lane.

SE Grand Island Loop, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Aug 16, 2019
28 species

Wood Duck  1
Eurasian Collared-Dove  1
Turkey Vulture  8
Osprey  2
Northern Harrier  1
Red-breasted Sapsucker  1
Downy Woodpecker  2
Northern Flicker  2
Western Wood-Pewee  1
Willow Flycatcher  1
Pacific-slope Flycatcher  1
Steller’s Jay  1
American Crow  1
Black-capped Chickadee  3
Barn Swallow  40
Cliff Swallow   x
Bushtit  2
White-breasted Nuthatch  2
Brown Creeper  1
Bewick’s Wren  1
Swainson’s Thrush  3
American Robin  22
American Goldfinch  4
Song Sparrow  11
Spotted Towhee  4
Black-throated Gray Warbler  1
Western Tanager  2
Black-headed Grosbeak  2

Posted by: atowhee | August 16, 2019


Ocean City, NJ, tries to survive its Laughing Gulls.  As the gulls find many gullible tourists carrying around food, free for the taking.

I’ve seen Western Gulls take a full bag of snack chips, dump them on the beach and then devour most of them, though a pair of ravens swooped in and shared the bounty.  Meanwhile, the family was thirty yards away playing the surf.  Aghast when they got back to their stuff and found they’d been robbed…

Ravens, on the other hand, will even open backpacks left on the beach unattended…and in San Francisco they are flying raccoons, going through any plastic bags or open trash cans outside restaurants at dawn …. before pick up time.  Ravens know what people are good for and they wisely help themselves.

At San Francisco’s Cliff House the Western Gulls regularly steal ice cream off a cone or grab a hot dog from a tourist’s hand.

Hey, who was here first…?

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