Posted by: atowhee | November 12, 2019


Today Oregon Public Broadcasting radio re-ran an interview with Oregon-based writer, Barry Lopez.  It begins with his recollection of what he thought when he first visited Cape Foulweather*.

Here’s an interview done by NPR back in March.

A Lopez anthology called Horizon came out early this year.  Here is review of this book from the Guardian newspaper.

In The  Nation there is a harsher review, admiring but sharply critical of what we Boomers enjoyed and simultaneously trashed as we treated the natural world as entertainment.

Here is an excerpt: “I have long admired Lopez’s work and related to his particular strand of environmentalism, which views plants and animals and ecosystems as certainly sacred, maybe bordering on divine. Lopez is around the same age as my parents, and reading this book I felt our generational divide acutely, in a way I never had before. Lopez is certainly conscious of the losses that are being passed on…  But no amount of reflection squares our experiences. For those of us who grew up learning about climate change as a looming threat, and for those who are young now and have inherited a fully formed crisis, reading about this whole lifetime spent wandering the pristine-by-comparison Earth is like visiting the palace at Versailles—there’s beauty to appreciate and history to absorb, but the opulence almost passes understanding.”

Lopez does say in the OPB radio interview that what we people have thrown away and destroyed is often not recoverable or reparable.  Further, he says we could see that in the hominid line our imagination may have been a faulty evolutionary development.  We may see the end of the hominid line. “Some things should not be touched.”

Lopez has been diagnosed with terminal cancer.  For almost five decades he has lived in the forest along the MacKenzie River, uphill from Eugene, Oregon.

*Captain James Cook first touched land in North America at Oregon’s Cape Foulweather in 1778.  It was on his third and fatal voyage to the Pacific for the British Navy. Click here for more on that voyage.

Posted by: atowhee | November 12, 2019


A tree squirrel is a marvelous creature.  I’ve been known to rail against their “theft” of  bird food, their devouring of suet, their rapacious consumption of “my” apple crop.  Yet they are always an entertaining set of acrobats.  Right now we have five that regularly come into our garden and eat until their little bellies form small, gray, inflated balloons. The species here in McMinnville I believe to be western gray squirrel (scirus grieseus).

I WAS WRONG ABOUT SQUIRREL SP.  SEE THIS NOTE FROM READER:”I see too much brownish or tan on the face of your squirrel. Western Gray are nearly all gray without tan, brown or ochreous color. I think you have a nasty Eastern Gray SquIrrel! Our poor Western Grays are in big trouble in the northern end of the Willamette Valley.  I took mammalogy because I couldn’t see the difference in squirrels.  yours in all things native,
Shawn Schmelzer”

These squirrels seem to be among those mammals that are inherently and then, with age, exemplary empirical masters of physics.  There are other such creatures: bats, flying squirrels, the arboreal monkeys, sea mammals, otters.  The grave import of gravity,  harmonic motion, calculations of speed and weight and friction and distance for each leap through the air–these all require some sort of internal slide rule, a “calculator” to those born since 1960.  The squirrels I watch daily, often just half-noticing their doings, their darings, their daring-does,  leaps across gaps between foot-holds, races along the top of two-inch wide fence, hanging by two legs while two  more scoop up the goodies.  Allare matter of course, daily.

I recently stopped my navel-gazing and cell phone addiction long enough to enjoy one squirrel’s penchant for a pendulum hammock, a hanging feeder platform that swings in a frantic back and forth each time the critter jumps onto it and begins to feed.  The free-riding, free-loading squirrel not once loses his balance, his nonchalance, his rhythm of seed consumption.

Here you see the set-up.  Launch site is the top of the nearby trellis where squirrel now sits.  He (or she) will leap down onto the platform and get into the swing of the thing:IMG_6778 (2).JPGHere, riding the pendulum, eating on the swing.  The last image captures the instant of right-hand apogee of the platform’s arc. Click on any image to see full-screen version.

Even acrobats must rest:

Posted by: atowhee | November 9, 2019


I was out in our garden this morning.  A large flock of Cackling Geese overhead, noise included.  They may sound like they’re cackling when hundreds of them gather on nesting grounds on some Aleutian Island.  Here on wintering grounds an overflight like that is raucous with shrieks of alarm.cack overr (3)

This morning’s flock likely came from some peaceful pasture where the geese  had been muttering softly as they packed more blades of grass into their gullets. Then a typical blundering Bald Eagle tried to make a stealth attack.  Suddenly hundreds of geese rose, frantic to gain speed and altitude.  They call out their upset as they fly past, bound for another grassy field, without eagle, thank you very much.

The times they are a-changin’.   We have had up to twenty juncos at a time this past week, and a half dozen starlings.  The Audubon’s Warbler has been coming to the suet several times a day.

One good morsel leads to another, one of our neighbors in the compost bowl:sqrl compst (2)

Posted by: atowhee | November 5, 2019


Today lay beneath a junco sky.  Grays of various shades pertained, changing one subtle hue to the next as the unseen sun swept past, behind the cloud curtain.  Unseen by the eyes of each of us—person or bird or squirrel.  Juncos themselves must be the logo of November for our garden.  They even out-number the eager squirrels. Both have tell-tale tails—the juncos with its two white bars that flicker in flight; the squirrels sit upright with a well-furred tale making the sign of the treble cleft along its back.JUNCO LOGO (2)

Juncos were on the ground beneath the electric lights I turned on.  It was before sunrise, before 7AM.  At 656AM I’d spread sunflower seed chips on the cement and into to hanging platform feeders.  Let the games begin.  The temperature was 36 degrees, the fog low and damp, the sun laggard and absent.
658AM The first Chestnut-backed Chickadees of the day.  They never come alone, a trio inhabits my garden and nearby bushes.

705AM I realize the suet log is bereft.  As I am taking it down one of the Chestnut-backed Chickadees lands on the platform feeder less than two feet from my face.  There is no sound from his small wings (a wingspan of less than 8 inches), no vocal squeak.  There is only the faintest scratchy sound as his tiny feet grasp the wooden edge of the feeder.  He looks at me, I at him.  Recognition and disgust on his part and depart. Again, a silent exit.  I take the log inside to refill.  The chickadee is back when I look out the window.

710AM Squirrels begin to cluster and bluster, chase one another, cock bushy tails, generally bully the small birds. It’s mostly junco: one the ground true to their sparrow nature, on feeders when squirrels absent, on the suet log, in the hydrangea vine, in the nearby trees.  Flutter and flurry is the order of their disorder.  Sometimes a dozen, spread across my visual expanse.  Nervous, alert and not comfortable being close together, like finches or Bushtits often are.

The chickadees are back and this time I catch sight of our lone Black-capped in the coming and going.  Even tiny sunflower chips must be carried off singly and further chipped at by these delicate birds.  Their delicate ways in no ways prevent them from being hardy. Almost as cold-tolerant as the juncos.

728AM  Our pair of male House Finches arrive, plunk down onto a platform, and proceed to gorge.  The only motions are stoop, grab, munch with mandibles.  Repeat as needed for satiety.

8AM  Still chilly.  Fog even heavier now at ground level.  40 degrees.  Still.

802   The first Golden-crowned Sparrow arrives stealthily.  Has he been sleeping cozily?  Feeding elsewhere?  A quick drink at a bird bath, then to the seeds on the ground, ignoring his busy little cousins, the juncos.

805   There are a dozen juncos about.  Squirrels, sometimes five at once.  They do not share, and so some aggression and chasing occurs periodically.  They never scold one another but will scold me if I stay on their veranda too long, and they want to get at the sunflower seeds.  The chickadees make quick sorties to the suet block and suet log, then instantly off they go with their booty.

852  Now 45 degrees, still foggy.  The local House Sparrow gang attack the suet.  Sometimes they also go down to the ground among the American sparrow species though they eschew any taxonomic connection to the New World natives.

930  I think I catch sight of a Yellow-rumped Warbler, the tell-tale tail flashing as the bird vanished back into the hydrangea thicket.  I watch for several minutes, no confirming sighting.

940  Spotted Towhee male appears out of the fence-climbing thicket and feeds on the ground, juncos be damned, they’re only here part of the year anyway, who needs ‘em?

945  Towhee retreats as suddenly all the juncos and the Golden-crowned Sparrow make like feathered popcorn, popping in seemingly constant turmoil.

950  I see the first collared-dove of the morning.  They roost in our evergreen magnolia with its heavy, protective, leathery leaves.  Good for sleeping in, and those species too clever to believe in daylight saving v. standard time, etc.  House Sparrows continue.

1040  I spot a robin in a neighbor’s shrub.  They never have anything to do with our feeders but often enjoy a good bath in one of our two bird baths, usually the taller one further from the windows.  The robins clean out the local berry vending plants and gobble up earthworms when it is wet enough to force them to the surface.  Right now we are about ten days without rain.  Worms deep beneath.

1055 I toss out a handful of peanuts, in shells.  Good for the cachers.  Scrub-jay lands within twenty seconds of my closing the door when I return inside.  He takes two in his beak and leaves.  If the squirrels are not quick to respond this jay will have carried off all the peanuts in less than five minutes.  I have had peanuts sprout in spring before…but never here.  Maybe he plants them in a neighbor’s garden.


1220PM  As I eat lunch I watch a swirl of juncos, a gray whirlpool, drops down from the shrubs to the ground.  Where had they gone and how/why they decide to return in a crowd?

1230  Bewick’s Wren on the suet log.  He feeds, looks around, gives me a stare through the window. More days than not I miss his visits, if he even comes daily.


1240 Golden-crowned Sparrow on the ground.  I believe this is a different individual  from the morning bird, with a less boldly colorful crown.

130  Outside to do some duties I look up and see collared-dives in treetops of three tallest trees on the horizon.

240pm  Juncos abounding, still, again, as always, as everywhere. I always tell my birding classes there are 600 million juncos in North America.  I am glad they out-number shoppers, sports fans, Amazon employees, even this week’s political lies.

330PM  A quick glance out the window…aha, the Yellow-rump, an Audubon’s Warbler, is on the suet log.  Flies off, poses on a low branch while I get a good binoc view, then decides he does not want his picture taken and vanishes.
I checked my records on eBird.  Last year I did not see a Yellow-rump in our garden until the first week of December.

5PM  I begin the evening dog walk.  It is past dusk, the sky on its way to being black.  Before we get out the garden gate I hear Canada Geese honking.  They are above the fog level, moving by smell or radar?  I know they often graze a nearby golf course and likely they are headed there, or leaving.  This time of year wandering geese flocks are a fixture in our Willamette Valley heavens.  Sometimes you can even see them.

Not a single starling or woodpecker nor any sighting of the Red-breasted Nuthatch but otherwise a typical day save the first fall appearance of a Yellow-rump.

820 NW 19th Street, McMinnville, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Nov 5, 2019
13 species

Canada Goose  X
Eurasian Collared-Dove  3
California Scrub-Jay  1
Black-capped Chickadee  1
Chestnut-backed Chickadee  3
Bewick’s Wren  1
American Robin  1
House Sparrow  3
House Finch  2
Dark-eyed Junco  12
Golden-crowned Sparrow  1
Spotted Towhee  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler  1     Audubon’s

Posted by: atowhee | November 5, 2019


Another call for action.  Thousands of scientists urge action.  Can this move entrenched extraction industries and their financially connected political allies?
Somem bitter irony that this petition comes out as the U.S. deliberately begins official withdrawal from Paris climate accords which are, in themselves, hardly enough to head off the pending climate disasters and extinctions.

Locally one of the severe effects of a warming Pacific–death of kelp forests, eaten by sea urchins.  Click here for recent Oregon Public Broadcasting segment on the problem.  No kelp, fewer fish, fewer fish means fewer seabirds (what’s a puffin to eat?), fewer fish means fewer sea mammals…

Here’s an interesting look at reviving wetlands people have previously destroyed.

Posted by: atowhee | November 4, 2019


The flicker and bathing Golden-crowned Sparrow were in our garden.  The hunting heron was in field along Baker Creek Road.
Below: Downy at the suet, note how she uses her tail as a brace.  Pine Siskin sharing feeder with House Finch–there’s been no siskin sighting since late October here in our garden.

Two morfe garden birds: Red-breasted Nuthatch, Chestnut-backed Chickadee:

Posted by: atowhee | November 4, 2019


For all the problems it exacerbates, the Internet has been very good for something positive.  It makes it much easier to sharer citizen science data, for example bird counts.  The Christmas Bird Count is now 119 years old, started by Frank Chapman back in 1900 with just a few birders. Now it’s global.  Thousands of counters, millions of birds.  Nearly sixty million last year, in fact.

There are now myriad other counts–raptor runs, Backyard Bird Count, Feederwatch, et al.  With the scope of eBird now just your daily dog walk, a stroll through a city park, some glances out your window at birds near your house or apartment–all can become part of a free and globally shared effort to track our planet’s birds.  We all know the trends are often negative but we have no hope of doing anything to enhance bird survival if we don’t even know where they are.

Today’s New York Times has a thoughtful article on why we should all help with bird counts when we can.  Click here.

Posted by: atowhee | November 2, 2019


Click here for call to action from head of national Audubon Society.

Climate change, glass windows, plastic pollution, cats, toxic chemicals, habitat loss–all of these kill birds and reduce reproductive rates across North America.  Each of these factors is the result of what we do.  We could reverse the race to extinction for hundreds of American species.

Posted by: atowhee | November 2, 2019


This was the final birding field trip for our fall birding class sponsored by McMinnville Park & Rec.  Wew headed south to Baskett Slough, finding our best birds of the day along Hwy 99 and its side roads.  Baskett Slough NWR is still low on water and bereft of its usual extensive wintering waterfowl population,

Wed had Rough-legged Hawks in both Yamhill and Polk Counties.  In Yamhill along SW Perrydale Road about a mile west of Hwy 99.  A second white-fronted raptor stood in a field so far away even  the scope was little help,  but likely a second Roughie.  In Polk County we flushed a Roughie from the lone tree east of 99 about a quarter  mile south of the Bethel Road intersection.  This is an area where I have noted Rough-legged Hawks in past winters.

The Black Phoebe was on the bridge and along the creekside at the Ash Swale Bridge on Patty Lane.  The road is blocked at the bridge now if you enter from Hwy 99.   The vicinity of the bridge was alive with bird action including a blue heron up a tree.  We presume he swallow something large as he couldn’t close his beak…yet.

At Baskett a marauding adult Bald Eagle twice sent skeins of cackling Cacklers into the air to escape.  Both times large flocks flew from the north to cross over our heads along Covill Road.  The snipe we saw were in first grassy field west of 99 and south of Covill Road.  Most of the brush at the parking lot with a toilet  building has been burned and so we saw quail in the burned over area, hunting food.  Then the covey flew south to a surviving thicket.

Perrydale Road SW, Yamhill Cty, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Nov 2, 2019
4 species

Killdeer  100
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Rough-legged Hawk  1     possibly a second one too far away to confirm
American Kestrel  2

Patty Ln., Yamhill, Oregon, US
Nov 2, 2019
12 species

Great Blue Heron  1     immature perched in a tree
Northern Flicker  1
American Kestrel  1
Black Phoebe  1     on Ash Swale Bridge
California Scrub-Jay  4
Black-capped Chickadee  1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  1
Red-breasted Nuthatch  1
American Robin  X
Dark-eyed Junco  X
Golden-crowned Sparrow  X
Spotted Towhee  1

Baskett Slough NWR, Polk, Oregon, US
Nov 2, 2019
22 species

Cackling Goose  2000
Canada Goose  6
Gadwall  2
Mallard  X
California Quail  15
Mourning Dove  8
Killdeer  X
Wilson’s Snipe  12
Greater Yellowlegs  1
Great Blue Heron  1
Northern Harrier  1
Bald Eagle  1
Red-tailed Hawk  3
Northern Flicker  1
American Kestrel  5
California Scrub-Jay  2
American Crow  4
Common Raven  1
American Pipit  X
House Finch  2
Western Meadowlark  X
Red-winged Blackbird  X

Posted by: atowhee | November 1, 2019


There are still remnants of summer lingering in the fairfly mild weather of the Willamette Valley.  This morning on a dog walk I saw a leaping grasshopper, a flying moth plus a few bees buzzing through the weeds.  Still blooming in our garden are a clematis, some lavenders and a pot full of penstemon, a hummingbird favorite.  And this past week a local Anna’s came around for a drink:anhu-pens (2)_LIThe penstemon family includes many hardy perennials, that die back under severe cold but regrow each spring and bloom until late each fall.  Did penstemon evolve their tubular flowers to accommodate hummers?  Or did hummer beaks evolve to fit  inside such deep flowers?
At Neskowin this week this Red-throated Loon was fishing in Hawk Creek just outside the local cafe.rtl (2)

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