Posted by: atowhee | January 17, 2019


Auddy, our lone warbler, is a regular.  He flutters, he hovers, he drives off rivals, he bounces along the patio.  He is our most energetic visitor, until the Bushtits arrive, attack the suet then vanish.  It would require a kinglet to out-hustle Auddy.

The Bewick’s Wren is very much at  home here.  We look forward to the coming nesting season, long after Auddy’s gone home to his conifer forest.
Recently my birding friend, Roshana, stopped at our front door.  You’ve got a hawk out here, she reported.  Sure enough–a Coop.  Explains why the feeders suddenly went silent with no bird in near2coop nearThe jays have their own peanut call.  When one spots the nuts on the veranda, the call goes out, the jays converge.  This discerning shopper looks over what’s on offer…he rejects the nearest one because it is a one-nut hull…then hops to it after deciding on a particular two-nut shell.  This is not the jay who has his or her own two-nuts-per beak technique.

Where have I been all my life?  How did I never before notice the iridescent red collar on the back of the flicker’s neck?????  I consider Sibley’s large format birding guide the best of our current American field guides…HE DOES NOT SHOW THE GLOWING NECK BAND.  Read on, McDuff…Sibley does mention in the fine print, “red crescent” can be found on the nape of the “yellow-shafted” flickers, most common in the eastern part of the continent but intergrades (hybrids sorta) can be found almost anywhere, like my Oregon back yard. All I can say is “I see your drawing and raise you one blurry digital image with a point and shoot, taken through a window.” Sometimes modern tech is really wonderful.  In spite of how twitter powers our present American descent.

Shawneen Finnegan sent me this note: “Your flicker is an intergrade. It shows the red-nape crescent of a yellow-shafted but a grayish face and orange feather shafts of red-shafted.”

Also, a lesson here for me and other birders who “know” our common birds.  Yeah, that’s a robin or junco or Brewer’s Blackbird…so when was the last time you or I really looked closely? I have been glancing at flickers for over two decades, then looking at some other, less obvious bird.  I can only re-quote the late, great Rich Stallcup, “When was the last time you saw THAT robin.”  Message: look at every bird…carefully.

Whitey seems to be content to stay here all winter…he approves of the sunflower seeds we feed, sans shell, already broken up:wts forage


Mary Oliver is dead.  Long live her thoughts and words.  No poet I have ever read gets as close to the heart of another living creature’s heart, or if a tree…so near to its heartwood.  Go out today and honor a blue heron, roll an acorn around in your palm, learn the tune of ice cracking on the river, feel frigid snow wafting against your cheek.  Thank fate and nature that Mary Oliver lived among us.  A few favorites:

“For Forty Years”

for forty years
the sheets of white paper have
passed under my hands and I have tried
    to improve their peaceful

emptiness putting down
little curls little shafts
of letters words
    little flames leaping

not one page
was less to me than fascinating
discursive full of cadence
    its pale nerves hiding

in the curves of the Qs
behind the soldierly Hs
in the webbed feet of the Ws
    forty years…

Mary OliverWest Wind, (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997).


One of our most prized books is a signed copy of “Owls and Other Fantasies.”  It was signed by Mary Oliver after we attended one of her readings decades ago in San Francisco.  Her autograph on the title page is open and generously curved.  The initial “M” could be the humps of a miniature camel.  The “little curls little shafts of letters” are legible and natural, like Oliver’s thoughts and poetry.

“Black Oaks”

Okay, not one can write a symphony, or a dictionary,

or even a letter to an old friend, full of remembrance
and comfort.

Not one can manage a single sound though the blue jays
carp and whistle all day in the branches, without
the push of the wind.

But to tell the truth after a while I’m pale with longing
for their thick bodies ruckled with lichen

and you can’t keep me from the woods, from the tonnage

of their shoulders, and their shining green hair…

“Winter and the Nuthatch”

Once or twice and maybe again, who knows,
the timid nuthatch will come to me
if I stand still, with something good to eat in my hand.
The first time he did it
he landed smack on his belly, as though
the legs wouldn’t cooperate. The next time
he was bolder. Then he became absolutely
wild about those walnuts.

But there was a morning I came late and, guess what,
the nuthatch was flying into a stranger’s hand.
To speak plainly, I felt betrayed.
I wanted to say: Mister,
that nuthatch and I have a relationship…


“The Dipper”

 Once I saw

in a quick-falling, white-veined stream,

among the leafed islands of the wet rocks,

a small bird, and knew it

 from the pages of a book; it was

the dipper, and dipping he was,

as well as, sometimes, on a rock-peak, starting up

the clear, strong pipe of his voice; at this,

 there being no words to transcribe, I had to

bend forward, as it were,

into his frame of mind, catching

everything I could in the tone,

 cadence, sweetness, and briskness

of his affirmative report…

Nobody has written more truthfully or elegantly about a Dipper.  Oliver stands next to John Muir in my pantheon of literary dipper admirers.  Few in number, great in stature. Together they would have stood riverside of rhours, watching the to and fro, awaiting the gurgling, aqueous melody.

Click here for obituary.
Click for an homage.

Posted by: atowhee | January 15, 2019


This morning at Yamhill Sewer Ponds the marsh was frozen solid.  The air temp was below forty degrees.  A Merlin flew straight and fast across the open fields into the top of the tallest conifer along the creek.  And a Say’s Phoebe, likely THE Say’s Phoebe was hunting from atop the measuring stick along the border between the two eastern ponds of the sewer plant.  That is exactly where I first spotted a, or THE, Say’s Phoebe earlier this month.saph in cold

How can the fellow find any insects in this weather?  Surely the relative warmth of the sewer ponds give him as good a chance as anywhere.
Not needing or heeding any warmth the Merlin only need one small bird or rodent to  make a bad move to provide his next meal.  Merlin eat small items and thus must kill daily.  The very opposite of a large boa constrictor.  The minute his straight, fast flight  ended in a perch in the most obvious look-out spot I knew I had seen a Merlin.  The photo confirms:merl at yspThis  is only my third Merlin sighting at Yamhill Sewer Ponds.  There were plenty of White-crowned Sparrows there today to draw his interest.  Also big flocks of blackbirds and starlings.  treetopThe usual ducky crowd circling the ponds:shov cirkl


Two American Goldfinches turned up at our feeders today, first time this year.  Not many days back I watched a Bewick’s Wren feeding in our Colorado spruce.  It was sunny and mild.  He stopped on one branch and sang a couple bars of his song.  Just like that a second wren popped up.  Could be we have a an intended pair.  Last year a pair raised three young in a nest next to our house…

This time of year the frequency and number of ravens in the valley increases.  I believe the food supply (esp. road kill) is richer down here than up in their foothill fastness where they breed an raise young.  ONe afternoon last week I drove along Westside Road between McMinnville and Carlton, just before sunset.  Usual birds: starlings, couple of kestrels wire-sitting, one Steller’s Jay in a wooded draw, some robins in a grass field, couple of ravens.  The next morning I drove the road again.  This time near the food processing plant there were many ravens in the road.  There was a fresh coyote carcass.  Overnight or earlier in the morning the coyote had been killed and the ravens had managed to communicate to their crowd.  I counted over thirty ravens. It was less than three hours since sunrise but they had already found the body and broadcast the delectation to the local population… How did they do that?  Vocally, raven telegraphy from one bird or pair or small group to another? With silent Turkey Vultures we know they watch one another for visual indications of a find. It is likely ravens use both sight and sound to signal one another. They are driven to share a carcass as we know from Bernd Heinrich’s research and writings. Immature ravens give mated pairs priority at a food source.
When we drove back past the scene in another 45 minutes many of the ravens were feeding in the field, having hauled bits off the dangerous highway to safer picnic site.

In the garden.  The Bushtit gang arrives…always room for one more.  At one point my image shows at least fifteen Bushtit tails hanging off the single suet feeder, with each tail there is an attached little beak going at the suet cake.  The last guy is too big to be a Bushtit, right?


NO NAME PONDnnp-dux up


Yamhill Sewage Ponds (restricted access), Yamhill, Oregon, US
Jan 15, 2019.  17 species

Northern Shoveler  150
Mallard  3
Green-winged Teal  2
Lesser Scaup  10
Bufflehead  60
Eurasian Collared-Dove  8
Northern Flicker (Red-shafted)  1
Merlin  1
Say’s Phoebe  1
California Scrub-Jay  1
Common Raven  1
American Robin  30
European Starling  X
White-crowned Sparrow  40     wintering in a brush pile
Golden-crowned Sparrow  1
Red-winged Blackbird  75
Brewer’s Blackbird  X

Posted by: atowhee | January 14, 2019


The loss of ice in the Antarctic is speeding up.

Many corporations have long opposed or ignored efforts to curtail greenhouse gas emissions and many fossil fuel companies love the Trumpian plan to up American pollution rates…but nature will prevail…and many corporations will suffer mightily.  Coastal facilities will be inundated, drought or fires or floods will damage property, liabilities will pile up.  In California it is not clear that Pacific, Gas & Electric can ever pay for its share of the responsibility for several recent forest fires.  Power lines are not underground where they are safe from wind and falling trees and sabotage (the Paradise fire may yet prove to have been result of somebody shooting PG&E power station and lines).

PG & E may be one of the first major climate change bankruptcies, but that can be seen as loyal and patriotic…just think of our President, a multiple bankrupt.  And so PG & E is taking a page from the Trumpian playbook and has promised to file bankruptcy, thus avoiding any damage payments to the many towns, counties, homeowners and businesses ashed by recent fires linked to broken electric lines.  All our power companies should be publicly-owned and run for safe and efficient service, not profit.  How many more years will we leave dangerous power lines running through forests, under trees, across bodies of water, along highways begging to be rammed by a runaway truck?

Posted by: atowhee | January 13, 2019


My wife and I checked out Baskett Slough this afternoon.  First, good news: water.  On the way south along Hwy 99 we noted a shallow pool in a flooded field.  It was alive with Dunlin and loafing Glaucous-winged Gulls.  It was just east of 99 and south of Stevenson Road.  This is in Polk County.


There is only one word for Baskett Slough this time of year–GOOSE.  5K?  10?  20K?

There were plenty of dabbling ducks present, as well.  Most numerous were the pintails.  What is most elegant about this drake?  His white racing stripe up that finely narrowed neck?   The pale blue swoosh on the side of his beak?  That cavalier spike on his tail?  The fine green of the head feathers?  The delicate piping along the edge of the wing feathers?  The overall effect would make the finest Italian dress designer weep with admiration.

The biggest of waterfowl there was the biggest of waterfowl.  You don’t need thousands of Trumpeter Swans to make an impression.  Be hard to get thousands anywhere anyway.  There are probably less than seventy thousand on the whole continent according to the Trumpeter Swan Society.  Hunted nearly to extinction they are coming back as some humans continue to protect them and their habitat.

This quartet was visible from the Hwy 22 overlook:ts quartet


We saw only one male harrier there, three females, a common enough ratio.  Here is the male lifting off from a field:

Later we passed a red-tail next to the road, he refused to yield.  Then one of the three eagles soared out over the marsh:


Speaking of predators:

This guy was visible from the Hiwy 22 overlook, until he vanished into the reeds.

This is a classic view of Willamette Valley winter.   Fields of green grass.  An azure sky under the slanted sunlight of January.  Seasonal marsh.  A living black sward across the green hillside: thousands of geese.  Utilitarian farm buildings. In the far distance, the Cascades, here bejewelled by the snowed peak of Mt. Jefferson…and against it all flies a young Bald Eagle…headed toward the camera.vulcn eagleBaskett Slough NWR, Polk, Oregon, US
Jan 13, 2019. 19 species

Cackling Goose  5000
Canada Goose  X
Trumpeter Swan  4     visible from Hwy 22 overlook
Northern Shoveler  500
Mallard  X
Northern Pintail  2500
Green-winged Teal  500
Bufflehead  1
Mourning Dove  3
Dunlin  50
Great Blue Heron  3
Northern Harrier  4
Bald Eagle  2
Red-tailed Hawk  2
American Crow  X
American Robin  X
European Starling  X
Western Meadowlark  X
Red-winged Blackbird  X

Posted by: atowhee | January 12, 2019


A biologist and photographer are going to publish a book on the Great Gray Owls of Yellowstone later this year.  Click here for photos from the man whose work will be in this book.

This book was funded by Kickstarter donations.  Click here to see the kickstarter presentation.

Still hoping to confirm these guys are nesting in souktheastern Clackamas County.

Posted by: atowhee | January 8, 2019


Get out your envy.  I have two good friends, both birders, he a fine photographer and they are down in west central Mexico…relaxing and birding.  They are watching idiots spout lies on TV newscasts…they are worrying over what the stock market will twitch about tomorrow…they are doing what comes naturally:  look at that bird.  Here are pictures so you envy will be, at least, enlightened by what you and I are missing

Some of these photos came from coastal San Pancho, north of Puerto Vallarta.  All were taken by Kirk Gooding.
IDs: Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. Bat Falcon. Orange-fronted Parakeet.  Tropical Kingbird.  Not sure about the guy with his back to us and very gross beak.  One of the local gnatcatchers. Willet.  Crimson-crested Woodpecker.  Tropical Kingbird again.  Stilt and Elegant Tern. Frigatebird, magnificent indeed!  And deadly. Golden-cheeked Woodpecker.  Clay-colored Robin.

Posted by: atowhee | January 6, 2019


The count was on January 4th and the weather was on our side.

That wonderful oak above is at Miller Woods.
The ratio of male: female kestrels was 2:1.  Here is one of the six males we saw:cbc-kesAs a former milk goat farmer, I can’t resist them…even when they won’t look at me. The little mites in the tree tops were our only flock of siskins on the day.  The Golden-crowned Sparrows was feeding on freeze-dried blackberries.

Posted by: atowhee | January 5, 2019


I’ll get to the worms in a bit…first, some crowing (there’ll be plenty of crow-ing, later).  In two days I’ve added two species to my Yamhill County life list.  I’m still down at seventh on the eBird rankings for the county…long way to go to even approach the totals of those few who are well over 200 species, and I’ve seen almost all the easy ones.  Yesterday on the CBC was my first Ruffed Grouse here.  Today there was a Say’s Phoebe hunting along the Yamhill Sewer Ponds. Add one more…saph at ysp


It is worm season for those who dine on such delicacies. Earthworms are at or near the surface because of the recent rains. Takers? Robins, of course, and blackbirds.  Starlings.  But I have seen Red-tailed Hawk dining al fresco on golf course wigglers.  Now in one family this is cause for animosity, yea, even jealously and threats of violence.  Crows vs. ravens  It played out along Westside Road this morning.  A pair of ravens walked unmolested across one grass field, dining at each step.  Just a little down the road robins flew in and out of another grass field.  Then was an aerial combat scene.  Ten or more–a true murder–crows after a single raven, driving him from their chosen worm patch.  At last the crows tired and some flew off, most landed to catch their breath.  That left raven with a single crom combatant nearby in flight.  The raven then dispatched the smaller bird with a deft attack from above.  That crow fled for safer air.
The still pissed-off raven circled back and landed amidst the ground crows and attacked them, wings out, beak agape, sending them hustling across the grass.  I took it as a perfect example of natural capitalism, the brutal competition, with no set rules, to control a limited resource.  Even earthworms can be precious if the market so deems.

At Yamhill Sewer Ponds there was an invertebrate delicacy of another order.  There the waste from town feeds zillions of tiny daphnia.  They in turn, today, feed dozens of ducks, primarily shovelers shoveling them in.  The giant daphnia are one-fifth of an inch long.  Most are much smaller yet.  Takes a mouthful to make a worthwhile gullet filler.  Think duck caviar.  The ducks certainly think that way.

At the sewer ponds the over-amped earthworming crows were loudly proclaiming their fury.  Then I heard ravens.  I expected another skirmish.  Instead I found the cousins this time were allies.  They were disapproving of a third-year Bald Eagle, eagerly eyeing all those ducks in the nearby pond.  In nature every day is open for duck hunting.  Not far off a more secretive Cooper’s Hawk perched high in a barren tree, trying very much to look like a lingering cluster of dead leaves.  Or perhaps the crows preferred to gang up on a larger, slower opponent who would never be able to strike back in stealth as a Coop so effectively can do.

Fed up with me and the corvids, the young eagle departed:egl up at yspYamhill Sewage Ponds (restricted access), Yamhill, Oregon, US
Jan 5, 2019.  18 species

Cackling Goose  2
Canada Goose  30
Northern Shoveler  200
Lesser Scaup  25
Bufflehead  40
Cooper’s Hawk  1
Bald Eagle  1     third year bird
Red-tailed Hawk  1
American Kestrel  1
Say’s Phoebe  1
California Scrub-Jay  2
American Crow  15
Common Raven  2
American Robin  2
European Starling  X
Dark-eyed Junco  14
White-crowned Sparrow  10
Red-winged Blackbird  30

Westside Road, Yamhill County, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Jan 5, 2019 10:55 8 species

Red-tailed Hawk  1
American Kestrel  1
Steller’s Jay  1;  Scrub-jay  2
American Crow  12
Common Raven  3
American Robin  20
European Starling  X

Posted by: atowhee | January 4, 2019


I birded this area in Yamhill County today with Alexander Meyer from Albany.  We had 54 species without house sparrow or rock dove, 52 native species!  Heavy fog in the mountains but near perfect weather.  We met several residents who were proud of their local birds, including one man who has nesting Wood Ducks in his nest box atop his small pond’s embankment.  But the Wood Ducks have to deal with threats and attacks from local Cooper’s Hawks.

The star of the day–and a lifer for Alex–was the single Ruffed Grouse, standing back in the underbrush in terrible light, under heavy fog, about one half mile from the upper end of High Heaven Road.  Elevation there is about 1200 feet above sea level, habitat mostly regenerating plantations of Doug fir.ruffy1

Mammal count: 16 deer, 1 run-over coyote.

McMinnville CBC-NW quadrant, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Jan 4, 2019 7:35 AM – 3:35 PM
Comments:     Included Miller Woods, Grenfell Park and No Name Pond
54 species

Cackling Goose  360
Canada Goose  106
Northern Shoveler  7
American Wigeon  27
Mallard  20
Northern Pintail  3
Green-winged Teal (American)  24
Ring-necked Duck  50
Bufflehead  1
Hooded Merganser  5
California Quail  7–ironically on Pheasant Hill Road
Ruffed Grouse  1
Pied-billed Grebe  3
Eurasian Collared-Dove  11
Mourning Dove  14
Anna’s Hummingbird  8     mostly around feeders
American Coot  3
Great Blue Heron  2
Red-tailed Hawk  6
Great Horned Owl  1     Hidden Hills Lane–heard hooting in early afternoon
Red-breasted Sapsucker  1
Acorn Woodpecker  5
Downy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  14
American Kestrel  9
Merlin  1–Donnelly Road
Steller’s Jay  9
California Scrub-Jay  20
American Crow  10
Common Raven  3
Black-capped Chickadee  23
Chestnut-backed Chickadee  18
Red-breasted Nuthatch  7
Brown Creeper  1
Pacific Wren  1
Bewick’s Wren  1
Golden-crowned Kinglet  19
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  6
Western Bluebird  5
Varied Thrush  4
American Robin  207
European Starling  184
House Finch  7
Pine Siskin  50
American Goldfinch  2
Fox Sparrow  1
Dark-eyed Junco  118
White-crowned Sparrow  1
Golden-crowned Sparrow  51
Song Sparrow  13
Spotted Towhee  9
Red-winged Blackbird  11
Brewer’s Blackbird  91
Yellow-rumped Warbler  3

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