Posted by: atowhee | May 15, 2022

BLACK TERNS–ONE MORE REASON TO VISIT MALHEUR

At the scenic Burns Sewer Ponds last week, we were the only visible mammals, but birds galore—ducks, gulls, Caspian Terns, cormorants, Eared Grebes, Snow Geese, Spotted Sandpipers…and feeding Black Terns.
Their buoyant flight, their needle-pointed wings, their silvery shine at the right or wrong angle, their swerves and curves and verve, ups, downs and arounds, their intense silence, their skimming the pond surface turning a circle at speed, bounce in every ounce, their passing us within a few yards.  Never has a stance along a sewer pond berm been more mesmerizing.
The setting:

The actors in action:

It is almost the same body length as an American Robin.  That’s just under 10 inches.  Yet the tern’s wingspan is 7 inches greater (two feet), more than 40% advantage. The tern is also lighter than a robin as much of the tern length is its talented tail.  A rail that enables its aerial acrobatics and seeming weightlessness in air.  Black Tern: 24 inch wingspan well over 200% of 9.75 inch body length.  The high ratio of wingspan to body length intrigued me.  I found only common, “ordinary” American species with an even greater ratio—it is my beloved Common Nighthawk, also found at Malheur (read Edge of Awe to learn more).  Nighthawk: 24 inch wingspan, 9.5 inch body length.  Higher ratio by a fraction.  The swifts, naturally, have even higher wing to body ratios, but they live in the air, sometimes not landing for months at a stretch, eating, sleeping, molting in flight.

The Black Tern and American Kestrel have much the same length proportions, but the kestrel is a muscular bird, weighing nearly double the tern though not quite as long.  Kestrel’s must sometimes eat prey that resists.  These terns swallow many flying insects—gone in one gulp.  They also take small aquatic prey. The Black Tern breeds in inland North America, in loose colonies.  They range from Colorado to northern Canada.  In warm months juvenile birds may stay along the Pacific Coast.  In Eurasia Black Terns are found inland at the same lattitudes.  Both populations winter in sub-tropical climates.

My next Field Station sponsored birding trip: June 2-7. There are some seats on the van still open. Best trip for Bobolink and Eastern Kingbird (not here in early May) and Common Nighthawk. Call 541-493-2629 for details.
September trip is 7-12, includes trip to summit of Steens Mountain and a visit to the snow-tortured aspens with horizontal trunks.

Posted by: atowhee | May 15, 2022

IS A ROSE A ROSE A ROSE-BREASTED?

UPDATE: Three votes in so far…two for Black-headed, one for Black-headed hybrid.

Susan Harrison was on the recent Malheur Field Station birdig trip with me. We encountered this freezing, starving bird near P Ranch, snow falling. The bird let us within a few feet as it was focused on food for survival. Is this a Rose-breasted Grosbeak or some hybrid thereof? Here are four images Susan got:

My next Field Station sponsored birding trip: June 2-7. There are some seats on the van still open. Best trip for Bobolink and Eastern Kingbird (not here in early May) and Common Nighthawk. Call 541-493-2629 for details.
September trip is 7-12, includes trip to summit of Steens Mountain and a visit to the snow-tortured aspens with horizontal trunks.

Posted by: atowhee | May 14, 2022

FROM OUR COLORADO CORRESPONDENT

Here is on-site report from a Golden, Colorado resident. Dr. James Charles Wilson is a long-time friend. We were college room-mates durong our summer term as fresh frosh, 1963. He went on to become an atmospheric scientist, on the team that researched the ozone hole, then pioneered much of the basic research on grfeenhouse gases. Thus his views on climate and weather are not trivial:
“Tourists headed for Colorado may find this interesting:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/interactive/2022/colorado-river-crisis/

“In the middle there is a link to an article from 2018 on the Grand Valley:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/national/climate-environment/climate-change-colorado-utah-hot-spot/

“And a link to the LA Times report on the paper I have been reading:

https://www.latimes.com/environment/story/2022-02-14/western-megadrought-driest-in-1200-years.  “There are many popular discussions of that paper.  Bristlecone Pine can live for centuries and tree rings provide one source of the data used to study drought history in this region.  An ecologist who studied fires and cored a bristlecone somewhere on Lookout told me that the ecosystem on our local mountain has long been mediated by fire.  But things are changing and we must adapt. The Southwest’s megadrought certainly changed things on the east side of the divide as well.

“We are negotiating with our insurance company over the valuation of our house and are gathering the things we need for the you-must-go-now box.  Last year they asked us to trim some trees around the house.   Golden’s revised Community Wildfire Protection Plan tells us how to revise our landscaping to create defensible space.  The CWPP allows that nothing they are recommending will matter in fires like the Marshall fire that occurred 16 miles up the road from here.  Friends who used to live in Louisville consider themselves to be climate refugees after losing their house in that fire (1 of 1000 houses).  He was an editor of the USGCRP Fourth National Climate Assessment, so his use of “climate” matters.   We experienced very high winds on Dec 30, 2021. The National Wind Technology Center is between here and Marshall and we often experience the strong winds that they are there to study.  We have been in discussions with various agencies and fire fighters for the last several years about our actual risks and mitigation.  We get Red Flag Warnings on our phones and a recent NWS warning described winds that would push unfightable fires in the event of ignition.  There were only two deaths in Marshall but thousands of people moved very fast to get out of the way.

‘So this 22 year drought shows no signs of breaking.  Its impacts are certainly enhanced by anthropogenic warming.  When it ends, there is no reason to believe that we will return to the conditions that we enjoyed in our first years here (pre-2000).  A degree C of warming allows air to hold 7% more water vapor.  So if you have water upwind your hydrological cycle will be more vigorous.  If you have dry upwind your air will be good at evaporating and drying.  The wet get wetter and the dry get drier.  The woods here are as dry as the lumber at Home Depot.  Apparently it matters what the winds and Pacific currents do.  But El Nino and La Nina are not all that predictable.  A 2017 PhD advisee went to work on predicting effects of atmospheric rivers.  Not all that easy it seems.  So, where to live?  As time passes my ability to run decreases.  One of several reasons to stay attached.”

Wilson included these two images with his email:

Bullock’s; Gadwall pair; Snowy Egret wearing its golden slippers.

Deep pools of water are not abundant in Harney County. Many ponds are puddles, some simply dry steppe. Above is what we found at two artificial pools of deep water. The Black Terns were swiftly swallowing (the two birds they mimic in style) insects along the berms of the Burns sewer ponds. These terns are elegantly outfitted, sharp-winged and boyant fliers, quick to rise, to dive, to swerve or even reverse course. Hungry, they ignored the slow-moving onshore mammals and would speed past us less than ten feet away at times. Their speed made them very hard to photograph. Chris succeeded>
The Osprey was at the Burns fishing ponds west of town on Hwy 78. The Caspian Tern was, too. He loudly objected attacked the Osprey who ignored him, caugght a fish and departed. he did not re-tern while we were there. Those pondas also had Black Terns.
Sewer ponds had diving ducks, Eared Grebes, cormorants, gulls and eight Snow Geese hanging out.

Birds below, top to end: Sagebrush Sparrow; Rock Wren on his rock; Great Horned Owls at nest along Hwy 205; Burrowing Owl with scowl; Norther Rough-winged Swallow over sewer ponds.

Next month you could see images like this. My next Field Station sponsored birding trip: June 2-7. There are some seats on the van still open. Best trip for Bobolink and Eastern Kingbird (not here in early May) and Common Nighthawk. Call 541-493-2629 for details.
September trip is 7-12, includes trip to summit of Steens Mountain and a visit to the snow-tortured aspens with horizontal trunks.

Posted by: atowhee | May 14, 2022

SALEM SPRING

Click here for “The Day of the Chickladee Photoshoot” as it appeared in The Salem Reporter.

Ar Fairview Wetlands today only summer birds to be seen. Canada Geese with goslings, total of 14. * Mallards and some ducklings, about 8-9. Three swallow species: Barn, Cliff, V-G. Wilson’s Warbler. Red-wings louder and more aggressive than the other birds. Vaux’s Swifts…in the air where they live.

In bloom: hawthorn, blue lupine.

Bob Lee’s great shot from south Salem:

They’re back–I saw tanagers in two locations near our house in south Salem today.

*It is likely that resident western Canada Geese are not native, or were here before 1800, wiped out when guns arrived in the 19th Century and then recolonized the Willamette Valley. Writing in 1940 Gabrielson and Jewett said thes birds nested ONLY east of the Cacades!
A 2000 state/federal/international report on the control of the bird’s expanding population said: “PP western Canada geese have been very successful in expanding their breeding range and are commonly found throughout most suitable habitats. Whether through transplant programs or natural pioneering, PP western Canada geese have expanded their historic distribution significantly over the past two decades. This range expansion has been facilitated by the popularity of PP western Canada geese with wildlife managers and the public. Numerous management programs, such as artificial nesting structures, have been implemented to increase production of western Canada geese. A number of state and federal wildlife management areas currently have active programs to promote western Canada goose populations. Private gricultural practices and residential/park developments have also significantly increased and improved habitats used by Canada geese.”

That’s from the “PACIFIC FLYWAY MANAGEMENT PLAN FOR THE PACIFIC POPULATION OF WESTERN CANADA GEESE.” That report with the loooong title was prepared by biologists from western states, US and Canadian governments.

Geese love lawns, soccer fields, and other manmade conveniences.

Posted by: atowhee | May 13, 2022

MALHEUR DROUGHT–KEEPING SCORE

Teresa Wickes, PhD, is Portland Audubon Society’s Eastern Oregon Field Coordinator, and an expert field ornithologist. I spoke with her about what can be determined about the drought’s effect on nesting birds. As I blogged earlier, Mudd and Harney Lakes and Wright’s Pond are among former bodies of water that are now arid steppe. There is no way with only our near-sighted view to see if this is changed climate or simply part of a 22-year long drought in the American West.

Right now Burns has received 3.07 inches of precip this year. Average would be 4.63 inches. Source: National Weather Service. There is some happier news: Harney Basin snowpack is at 114% of median (with some help from some recent snows that plagued our birding, but we couldn’t complain–it was falling water!). Click here to check snowpack data.

As long as there is sufficient water and waterborne food many “waterfowl” can thrive or survive. Grebes, coots, ibis, gulls & terns, phalarope and other shorebirds, ducks, geese will nest on upland or floating vegetation. They do not necessarily need islands. Herons and egrets are tree nesters. Harriers and Short-eared Owls may hunt wetlands but nest on dry ground. Yet there are some large birds affected as far as we can tell.
Trumpeter Swans last nested successfully at Malheur in 2015-17. White Pelicans did not raise young last year and may not this year. They hang out on the reduced Malheur Lake and feed, not reproducing. Their last good year was 2020. Sandhill Cranes nested and hatched young last year–but there’s no evidence that any of those young cranes matured to migrate out. These three large species are long-lived, comparatively. Swans and cranes can live twenty years, pelicans over sixteen. One or two lost years may not be long-term detrimental to a breeding population. If the drought effects continue or worsen…?

Effects on mammals–pronghorn, deer, coyote, ground squirrels, various rabbits, voles, otter, weasels, fox…no human is keeping track apparently.

There is a co-operative agreement among various local groups to try to rehabilitate Malheur Lake, especially restore islands and such that were natural before the man-made carp catastophe. The fish was introduced into the Silvies River in the 1920s–click here.

One key goal of the rehab plan: “Begin altering the structure of the lakebed to recreate islands and peninsulas to act as natural wind/wave barriers to model the natural topography of the lake, which no longer exists.” Click here for summary of overall rehabilitaton plans.

Not just widlife is suffering. Local paper reports: “Last year [2021], most hay producers in the area said they got about half as much production as usual, and Svejcar [local expert] notes that the trend isn’t looking good for this year’s production cycle.”
Click for look at the drought in much of the West with emphasis on Harney County.

Click here for story of swans at Malheur–written last year.

Groundwater used for profit not wildlife–click here for 3 year old report. It seems that groundwater use in Harney has nearly tripled since 1991. To see the report, click here. Check page 46 of the PDF. The pumping of ground water now exceeds natural recharge, wells going deeper. Want to wade through another report on water pumping, click here.

Top two pics: Chickahominy. Third pic: pond at headquarters.

Eight year old pic of Trumpeters’ family at Benson Pond.

My next Field Station sponsored birding trip: June 2-7. There are some seats on the van still open. Best trip for Bobolink and Eastern Kingbird (not here in early May) and Common Nighthawk. Call 541-493-2629 for details.
September trip is 7-12, includes trip to summit of Steens Mountain and a visit to the snow-tortured aspens with horizontal trunks.

Posted by: atowhee | May 13, 2022

MALHEUR MAY 8–COLD AND HUNGRY

Both birds and birders were hit with freezing wind, high in the 30s, sleet, hail, graupel, snow, rain. Click here for my blog posted that day.

How nasty? When was the last time you had a female quail (that you didn’t feed in your garden) feeding less than ten feet from your car? In driving snow, naturally.

Momma quail at P Ranch.

We discovered a Great Horned Owl nest in the cliff west of Hwy 205, near MP 42. Colored dots next to each adult, sharing niche cavern with nestlings, out of the wind.

Perhaps nothing discloses hunger more clearly than a flock of tyrant flycatchers sharing, not just with one another but with lowly blackbirds and a Yellow Warbler. In the first image there are SEVEN Western Flycacthers within close proximity–you won’t see that in any sunny field in July. The temp was about 40, the wind nasty, the break in the snow brief.

Just before this moment a flocks of several Lewis’s Woodpeckers had been a nearby tree, also hoping to find sustenance. They’re a bird of passage in Malheur Basin, headed to some surrounding forests.

At Malheur NWR headquarters, before flurries:

We saw Malheurian Canada Geese on cliffs, rock pinnacles, boulders. This pair preferred a stand-alone chimney, the lone remnant of a long-gone old ranch house at P Ranch. The female BH Grosbeak was trying to find food in the brush next to Central Patrol Road.

Ordinary goose perch:

Pond at headquarters, now a shallow puddle. Ducks wade and waddle but no swimming:

Early afternoon snow at P Ranch:

My next Field Station sponsored birding trip: June 2-7. There are some seats on the van still open. Best trip for Bobolink and Eastern Kingbird (not here in early May) and Common Nighthawk. Call 541-493-2629 for details.
September trip is 7-12, includes trip to summit of Steens Mountain and a visit to the snow-tortured aspens with horizontal trunks.

Posted by: atowhee | May 12, 2022

TWO VIEWS OF MALHEUR

From buirder Chris Soper on our Malheur trip: “Harry, thanks for a fabulous week and look forward to the next adventure!!  Look who we found at MP 18…as we departed (bottom photo)—unbelievable experience!!”
No guessing–photo evidence says “Burrowing Owl!” Next pic: Prairie Falcon on post north of Frenchglen.

From Phil Burton: “I drove home via Rock Creek Rd from below Frenchglen (no bluebird again) towards Plush- a wonderful road in excellent condition. I saw this pronghorn, sagebrush sparrows, lots of horned larks and even some AMGOs in with them. Saw my PRFA (near the GHOW cave) but missed the mythical sage grouse (again). A wonderful trip–Phil Burton”

Posted by: atowhee | May 12, 2022

MALHEUR NOW–SUSAN HARRISON’S PHOTO GALLERY

*David Bailey sent this email about the first grosbeak seen below: “Rose-breasted Grosbeak or hybrid was photographed by Susan Harrison in the link here…”

Here is some commentary on this exquisite gallery:
Roadside, fence-post Prairie Falcon in snow, north of Frenchglen, Hwy 205.
Burrowing Owl at attention.
The first-year male Blue Grosbeak, in molt; Malher Field Station.
MacGillivray’s in molt, Page Springs. Also there, a Wilson’s Warbler admiring his own reflection in the water which held the only possible morsels for the starving migrant on a feeziong day.

Black Tern just a few feet away, they soared and swooped and scooped (on pond surface) as we stood in freezign wind on the berm at the Burns Sewer Ponds. Ignore the setting and it is brillian birding. Ducks, gulls, cormorants, Snow Geese.

Say’s Phoebe, shrike, Lazuli, Eared Grebes, ruddy, Lark Sparrow, Ferrug on nest at MP17 of Hwy 205, waswings, starving female BH Grosbeak [*maybe not, see top of blog] at P Ranch where there was also the Bald Eagle nest–one adult and one juvie, kestrel kouple kuddling at headquarters, Sagebrush Sparrow singing atop namesake plant, Great Horned Owl nest at Hwy 205 MP 42 in the cliff and both parents present, cranes, Chipping Sparrows, Yellow Warbler, American Bittern pretending to be upright grasses at Buena Vista, Wilson’s Phalarope and the female gets the bold plumage and he gets to incubate the eggs, Western Tanager with his cherry face.

Next month photos like these could be in your camera.
My next Field Station sponsored birding trip: June 2-7. There are some seats in the van still open. This is the best trip for Bobolink and Eastern Kingbird (not here in early May) and Common Nighthawk. Call 541-493-2629 for details.
September trip is 7-12, includes trip to summit of Steens Mountain and a visit to the snow-tortured aspens with horizontal trunks.

Posted by: atowhee | May 12, 2022

MALHEUR MAY GALLERY #1

Above: Bald Eagle over field near Hampton where irrigated fields attract rodents and their fan club. Horned Lark in the Brothers Rest Area–note when he turns his back he nearly vanishes from sight. Stilts and a large companion along Sodhouse Road. Cranes plus, Greenhouse Lane. BLackbird cacophony beneath feeder at headquarters.

Below: a typical marshy field in Diamond wioth the local populace put in force–ibis, one and all though we did see one distant Snpowy Egret finally…and heard many winnowing snipe. Juniper steppe. Chickahominy lake bed west of metropolitan Riley, Oregon–if you click here you will read: it’s named for the Virginia battlefield in the Civil War; has surface area of 530 acres when fill [now less than rwo acres of watery substance]; is at 4280 feet elevation; is meant to be used for recreational fishing, not supplying material for dust clouds.

Below: Great Egret in cattail pond west of Riley, north of US20; pronghorn, outstanding; field station native [Nuttall’s cottontail]; badger at his sett along Harney Lake Lane; Yellow-headed Blackbird, one of Malheur Basin’s most common species; Eared Grene trio at Buena Vista where there was even enough water for diving ducks including Redheads; sunrise at Malheur Field Station.

The next Field Station sponsored birding trip: June 2-7. There are some seats on the van still open. Best trip for Bobolink and Eastern Kingbird (not here in early May) and Common Nighthawk. Call 541-493-2629 for details.
September trip is 7-12, includes trip to summit of Steens Mountain and a visit to the snow-tortured aspens with horizontal trunks.

Older Posts »

Categories

%d bloggers like this: