The Trump Administration has proposed lifting a ban on shooting grizzly cubs and various ways of slaughtering wolves in Alaska.  Great white hunters rejoice.

All the current shooting mania abroad in our land makes me think we need a constitutional amendment: legislatures, Congress, governors and White House may NOT have any stricter gun controls or safety measures than are found in the poorest public school district in Mississippi or any other red state with minimal taxes.  It is time for the right-wing rich politicians to have to live like the poorest of our citizens, right?

In fact, I’d rate a grizzly both rarer and more beautiful than any pro-gun politician I can think of.  If we allowed shooting of as many pro-gun pols as we do grizzlies…bet conservation would get very popular even within the Republican Congress, though I note they did nothing after one of their own was shot on a softball field…maybe all they need is Trump’s blessing and lots of prayers…

Posted by: atowhee | May 22, 2018

MAY 22, 2018

Again today there’s a single Pine Siskin at our garden feeders in suburban McMinnville, OR.  We are less than 500 feet above sea level here and the nearest true conifer forest is small and more than a quarter mile flight away (Rotary Park).  Yet our little mystery bird lingers.  Was he sick when the other migrated off to their summer breeding grounds?  Is he truly alone here (unusual for the gregarious siskin that doesn’t even demand a large breeding territory, being more communitarian like blue herons or Cliff Swallows)?  Did the hormonal “migrate” message somehow get blocked, and won’t recur until this autumn?  This species is notoriously nomadic and unpredictable from season to season, but is not believed to be given to suddenly moving into the lowlands for summer…but this bird is likely one that wintered here.

There are numerous googled reports of lone siskins in summer or fall.  This may just be an unusual loner. Reading through the summary of known data about this species in Birds of North America online I learn that siskins now are known to occasionally breed in specimen conifers in parks and suburban areas if the food supply is sufficient.  It may be that one pair lingered to breed nearby after all the others left.  There are large conifers in our garden and several more within 100 yards, so…pisi traypisi tray2pisi tray3After I posted this blog, I heard from Paul Sullivan who lives across town in a similar neighborhood, tough closer to the Yamhill River: “I still have more than one siskin here on Rummel St., along with both goldfinches, both grosbeaks, a pair of Purple Finches, and House Finches with fledglings begging.  Now that I’ve cut back the seed, the Evening Grosbeaks are fewer and the towhee and song sparrow feel safe venturing out.”


Unlike the busyness of business in winter, our feeders now are mere way-stations in the daily lives of our avian neighbors. The female Bushtit stops by for a suet snack.  The collared-doves and the scrub-jay decide I am too dangerous-looking and they skeedaddle.  A squirrel speeds along the fence-top throughway, heads down a convenient smoke-tree trunk, then spots me, stops him.  He freezes. head-down for over a minute…then convinced I am the alpha predator he fears, leaps and turns in one swift act, back onto the fence and away, far away and fast eyePale eye identifies this as female Bushtit.  Water drops off lower beak of this thirsty jay, screaming and scolding dries one out, it seems:jay-bathjay-bath3Same jay surveys his realmo from on high:jay-heitrjay-suetsqrl frozeThe Turkey Vultures pass slowly overhead.  These sunny days must be perfect for flight without wing-beats.  A lilt of a wing here, a lift of a few feathers there, opening or narrowing the tail.  It is like watching a skilled sailor maneuver before an unfelt breeze.  How can he “see” what the air is doing, or is about to do?

I see a swift and collared-dove overhead, both heading in the same direction…a rowboat and a silent jet-ski.  Swifts have been checking out our chimney where they’ve nested in past summers.

At Joe Dancer Park this morning, I heard at least three Swainson’s Thrushes calling from the blackberry tangles.  You know, Swainson himself never came to North America…but he did help a hustler named Audubon peddle his audacious, huge books of bird drawings in England and France…and thus named himself ornithological fame here in the U.S.

GET IN THE BLOOMIN’ ACTsalsfySalsify is one of those immigrants that fits right in, makes the world a brighter place, leaves big seed heads for finchy delight in late summer.  Would you deport this “weed?”

Posted by: atowhee | May 21, 2018


Click here for a “Sixty Minutes” profile of a great wildlife photographer.

Posted by: atowhee | May 20, 2018


Update: Mr. Ashford just sent me this note and photo: “If I were a photographer, I would remove the cable. But, I like the look – note the blood on its cere, mouth and chin. Lets us see how it makes its living (by killing!). Raptor Alley, south of Crane.”P1070837

Here is brief email from Dick Ashford, who’s birding Malheur right now:
“The owl was on Sodhouse [Road] directly across from the large Voltage Spring sign, and the Eastern Kingbird was on the Patrol Road, south of Benson Pond.  And, I saw a Bobolink on the Patrol Road, just north of the P Ranch.”
Here are two of Dick’s pics: Burrowing Owl and Eastern Kingbird.
image1image2Sounds like all the nesting species have returned…except the last ones, those fascinating Common Nighthawks.  I will be leading a Klamath Bird Observatory trip to Malheur at the start of June.  We usually tine that trip to catch the arrival of the nighthawks who can then be found sleeping on fence rails, horizontal tree limbs, even porch railings at the Field Station.

BTW, Oregon State University Press will be publishing a collection of essays about Malheur and the variety of life there.  It will come out next year.  I had the pleasure of contributing a piece on those marvelous nighthawks with their hunger mouths and miniscule toes.  Best of all the book will include words and art from the late, great author, Ursula LeGuin. She spent a lot of time in the Malheur region and loved it deeply.

Alan Contreras is editor of the pending Malheur book and you can click here for an interview with Alan.  He talks more about his previous publishing work.

Posted by: atowhee | May 20, 2018


May 19will-rvr

Yesterday afternoon the dog and I birded for an hour at the Parrett Access point on the Willamette River Greenway. It is on Wilsonville Road, across the river from Champoeg State Park.  It’s a bit closer to Wilsonville than to Newberg. Also just over Ladd Hill from Sherwood which was our ultimate destination.  Parrett is just inside Yamhill County.

I was a little shocked and more surprised when I input sightings into eBird and discovered that there were no previous records for that site.  It is now listed as a hotspot.  I doubt there are rarities often though there is access to the river itself in a couple of perilous descents from the riverside trail. In that brief visit we saw a pair of Osprey, a pair of Red-tails, Brown Creeper, Northern Rough-winged Swallow and thousands of tufts from the seed-spewing cottonwood trees. My favorite was a loud- mouthed family of Steller’s Jays who followed us along the trail for a ways, telling us to go back where we came from.  Sound familiar? There were three jays and I finally got a good look at one—fuzzy, with a crest just forming and almost no tail yet.  It was a recently fledged youngster.

The forest is a rich mix of natives—bigleaf maple, cottonwood, ash, willow Doug-fir and cedar—with exotics like hazelnut, walnut and spruce.  In addition to the line of riparian forest there is a three-acre meadow, once a farm field. Here the grasses and wildflowers are festooned with spittlebug bubbles. One picnic table, two trails and a dry toilet building complete the facilities. The undergrowth is dense: blackberry and thimbleberry, bracken six feet high, blooming red osier dogwood, manroot vines entangled with brush and tree trunks.

Later we drove up Ladd Hill Road to Sherwood.  At the top of Ladd Hill a pair of Western Bluebirds flew across the road.  There does not appear to be much for-profit agriculture in the area.  Mostly hobby farms or horse stables. That always brings to mind the bumper sticker “Driver carries no cash, I own a horse.”  We saw a single winery.  The bluebirds are there because the use of pesticides would be less than you find in the valley fields where profit and poisons are tightly wedded.

At the end of the afternoon we looked around Sherwood. EBird had no locations marked for the entire town, not even Olson Park which looks like promising forest habitat.  Only the Tualatin River NWR at the north end of town along Hwy 99. I put in a few sightings: there was a California ground squirrel and a Vaux’s Swift within a block of the city library.  My guess: few birders in Sherwood’s forests.osp-limbosp-limb3rht pairdrht paird3ss hidnstj-parrett

HERE COMES THE FUZZfuzz fallingIMG_8444IMG_8445IMG_8452IMG_8453

Parrett Mountain Access, Yamhill, Oregon, US
May 19, 2018 1:30 PM – 2:20 PM. 15 species

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)  1
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)  2
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)  1
Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna)  1
Steller’s Jay (Coastal) (Cyanocitta stelleri [stelleri Group])  3
California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica)  1
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)  X
Common Raven (Corvus corax)  1
Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis)  1
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)  5
Brown Creeper (Certhia americana)  1
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  X
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  X
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)  5
Black-headed Grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus)  X

“We end, I think, at what might be called the standard paradox of the twentieth century: our tools are better than we are. And grow better faster than we do. They suffice to crack the atom, to command the tides.  But they do not suffice for the oldest task in human history: to live on a piece of land without spoiling it.”                                       –Aldo Leopold

“Like winds and sunset, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them.  Now we face the question of whether a still higher ‘standard of living’ is worth its costs in things natural wild, and free.”                                 –Leopold

“Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit—in a world that is limited.  Ruin is the destruction toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons.”      –Garret Hardin

I am still disgusted with so much commercial human activity.  For two days I watched airplanes spraying poison over the rice paddies of central California.  Here in the Willamette Valley we see masked workers with heavy spray cannisters on their backs, walking the fields.  It is no wonder I rarely see a butterfly or dragonfly and bees are a source of marvel.

Birds are feeding young now, plants are reaching for the sky.  Growth is all around us, like the earth has bought into market capitalism. But in nature all this is seasonal.  The earth and its non-humans know there are limits.

Cow parsnip and poison hemlock plants now reach over six feet.  Blackberry canes now arch over twelve feet high. Manroot pushes its macho way into paths and trails and its tendrils even climb tree trunks. Hawthorn and chokecherry are in bloom.  The hawthorn bears white blooms along entire drooping limbs.  The conical cluster of chokecherry’s white petals decorate the end of most thin, new twigs.  Thimbleberries and blackberries are blooming as well.  That’s promising a good late summer for our berry-eating birds.  BTW, I saw my first Cedar Waxwings of the year in Oregon on our Linfield campus walk on Wednesday.

CCH BLOOMSCOWPADEEP GRASSHAWTIMG_8261IMG_8266Images above: chokecherry; cow parsnip; deep grass; hawthorn; camas lilies putting on seed pods; manroots now ten foot up a tree.

We heard swifts in our chimney this week.  They would not have babies yet, perhaps just a real estate appraisal or maybe working on a nest. Many resident species do have babies. Our Bewick;s Wrens fledge dover week ago.  There are young starlings all around now.  At Yamhill Sewer Ponds I saw three Canada Goose families.  Two had six gawky teenagers each.  The third pair had only three—tiny fuzzballs newly out of the egg.

At No Name Pond the coots will have chicks soon.  They will come out of the egg ready to swim and bearing that orange fuzz on their heads.  The male coot does much of the night-time incubation, his mate takes the day shift.  Both parents help feed and guard the young after they hatch, unlike all those male Mallards and Wood Ducks I saw loafing at Yamhill Sewer Ponds.  These male ducks have nothing to do with eggs or young.  That’s one reason why Canada Geese are such successful parents, both birds are in attendance all through the mating and family-rearing process and both are very aggressively protective.  Given a vote I’m sure parental Canada Geese would ban guns from all their ponds and precincts.GOOS FAMGoose family above, goose flight below.GOOSELINESSUREBURDSYamhill Sewer Ponds. Above: two Brewer’s Blackbirds and Spotted Sandpiper, shorebirds all.  Tree Swallow:TS SOUKNDS4DUKSDicks from left: Woodie male, two Gadwalls, Mallard fermale.  Below: distant grosbeak.BHG AFARMale coot at No Name Pond:COOT MALE

Posted by: atowhee | May 16, 2018


Ash-throated Flycatchers:ATF IN TREEatf on wireYoung night-heron:BCNH YNG IN CAnalCowbirds, acting un-cowed:BHC ON FNCbo-grylodOriole above, at Gray Lodge.  Male Cinnamon Teal, below.hansumibis aglowBPH-ROADBlack Phoebe doing road work.  Below, Black Terns hawking insects above Thermolito Forebay southeast of SWALLOWS GALOREcs frenzycs nestrowcs-bridg2Canada Geese flying in line:goose line-ChicoSnow Geese at Colusa NWR, with coots behind.sno in mayGlossy swallow commonly known ats “Tree Swallow.”ts-brightKingbird:WEKI-WIREyhb in airYellow-heaxed Blackbird at Delevan NWR.yhb2yhb3Snowy Egret at Colusa NWR:sno ghrtTRTLE-FLATTwegr1Western Grebe at Thermolitowegr2Meadowlark:WEME BACKWhimbrel:WHIM2Curlew, in same marsh as whimbrel, along Hwy 162, west of Hwy 99.LBCk--deerLong-billed Dowitchers at Delevan plus sleeping beauty.lbdLEAD AMMOLZRDMocker:moc1TRTLE-FLATTWild Turkey come down to the marsh for a drink:WT IN MARSHGBH WITH PLUMESHARR-LOMale harrier, Colusa NWR.HARR-LO2House Finch, Thermalito:hofi on wire

Posted by: atowhee | May 16, 2018


bhg bellyBlack-headed Grosbeak looks down on me, Ankeny NWR.bhg belly2cgs alertcgs feedsCinnamon Teal.C-TWO-BgbhuntsLS2-ANKAbove, Lesser Scaup at Ankney.  Below: Pied-billed Grebe.pbg ln pondqwail-roadQuail at Ankeny, above.  Below: Weed Rest Area.rbg at restrbg signrbgs at restwood-twoCHICO CANYONBPBlack Phoebe turns its back on me.  California buckeye, below, in California!buckeyeCEAN AVEElderberry above.  Dry forest of digger pine and oaks, below:FORSTGRASS1GRASS2GRASS3GRASS4GRASS5GRASS6grass7grass8IMG_7187IMG_7188IMG_7198IMG_7199WEKI ON FENCKingbird above.  Below: vernal pool with Cliff Swallow in attendance.VENL POOL2SPOTTD2Spotted Sandpiper replete with his breeding season spots.SPOTTDQSee the titmouse?OT HIDDNbluu



Posted by: atowhee | May 15, 2018



I recently drove from Yamhill County to Chico, CA and back.  Most of that driving was along our beloved I-5.  It is a round trip of over 900 miles.   Not only did I play the music loud enough to drown out the car air conditioner’s noise, l but I did an informal census of Osprey nest sites along the way.  I only found one platform not in use.

Here’s what I found, and you can find them, too, even if you don’t own my Freeway Birding book.

There were two active nests in Marion County.  One is on the east bank of the Willamette River where the Wheatland Ferry crosses, just north of Willamette Mission State Park.  The second one is a half mile east of there where the ferry access road terminates at Wheatland Road NE.   Here a heron passes over the nest at the ferry landing:OSP--WHTLND

The next nest I noted is south of the I-5 bridge over the McKenzie River.  This is at the north edge of Eugene’s urban sprawl, around MP 197.  It is east of the freeway and is a large pile of sticks that has been built over several nesting seasons.  It is also on a pole that is twice as tall as any other noted platform along this route.

Further south there is a nest north of Milepost 171, west of I-5.  This is south of Cottage Grove but still in Lane County and the Willamette drainage system.

In southern Douglas County the freeway closely parallels the South Umpqua River on and off for some miles.  West of I-5 there is a lumber mill just north of Milepost 113, and the Ospreys nest on a pole near the mill entrance and alongside the river.  Then less than two miles further south there is another Osprey nest east of I-5.  It is south of the freeway river bridge just beyond Milepost 112.

Then in Canyonville you can exit for the best Rest Area along I-5 in Oregon, and then drive north on Stanton Park Road.  About a half-mile north of the park itself there is a nest east of the road near the river, still the South Umpqua.  The freeway is elevated above the flood plain here and I have not succeeded in seeing this nest while on I-5 itself.  Coning from the north you can use Exit 101 and then take Stanton Park Road south on the east side of the freeway.  Here is the Stanton Park Road nest:OSP STANTON RD

I have not found any freeway accessible Osprey nests in the Rogue Valley.

In northern California there are two freeway-side nests in Shasta County.  Northbound traffic has a vista pull-out around Milepost 696.  It affords the camera-ready views of Mt. Shasta.  The Osprey nest here is on an electric line pylon due north of the pull-out and high above the Sacramento River at the bottom of the gorge.  It is not visible from the southbound lanes which are far up the hill and separate from the northbound lanes.

At Milepost 690 there is an exit for the Shasta Resort.  On the east side of the freeway there is an Osprey nest up the steep mountainside.  It is most easily viewed as you take the exit off-ramp northbound.

All the nests I noted used man-made platforms.  If you exit I-5 hear Hornbrook, CA, and drive east up the Klamath River gorge toward Irongate Lake you will note a number of platforms and many will be in use in spring…by Canada Geese.  At least one spring Jackson County birders noted a long-time Osprey nest platform near Emigrant Lake southeast of Ashland had been commandeered by a p[air of Great Horned Owls.

Travel note: Collier Rest Area on I-5 in Siskiyou County, CA, is closed…but you can still bird the area from across the Klamath River.  It will not re-open until late August but the Lewis’s Woodpeckers are there, nesting as they do every year.


Mt. Shasta is the most stunning creature on earth.  You can have your Fuji, your Vesuvius, your Volcan Cotopaxi, your Pike’s Peak or Mont Blanc or any Himalayan mighty mountain or even Kilimanjaro.  For sheer moody beauty, for outstanding in its surroundings, for killer attractiveness (climb me if you dare), I will take Shasta.  Generations and various cultures have imbued this volcano with grander, more mystical powers.  I say its rock-hard reality is plenty to contemplate.  It may look serene and shy behind a cloud shroud, or glow brightly as its peak peeks through swirling gray puffs.  Yet deep inside its living molten heart bubbles the next mountain manifesto.  In her own good time Shasta will explode with her own inimitable truths that nobody alive at that moment can contradict.  While her seven glaciers now keep things cool to the eye, to the foot, they, too, will melt away leaving Shasta’s great strength and intentions.  Her music will be the original rock and roll of the earth’s own core. Behold and be humble, ye passers-by.  You pass at Shasta’s pleasure, or simply her indifference.


Posted by: atowhee | May 13, 2018


SUNDAY, May 13

Today Dylan, my eldest son, and I birded several spots south of Chico.  Our first hotspot was the Thermolito Forebay in the Oroville Wildlife Management Area, just east of Hwy 99 between Chico and Gridley.  The highlight there was a small flock of Black Terns feeding over the water.  There we also found a pair of Killdeer nesting near a parking area, and we found an egg after going right when the adult birds tried to decoy us into following then toward the left.  But it was not the speckled Killdeer, egg what was it? Perhaps a Red-winged or Brewer’s Blackbird, as it was right color and some of their eggs have little black speckling like the one we found, and left there on the ground.B-BIRD EGGhansumSure the Cinnamon Teal male has some nice sun glow, but then look at the iridescent White-faced Ibis:ibis aglowBut who could possible outshine a Tree Swallow in full sun…maybe a hummingbird?ts-bright

Along Hwy 162 we found a raven’s nest on a power pole.ravnestravnest2

Next it was south to Gray Lodge Wildlife Area where we found a desert bird that loves water—a Phainopepla feeding from atop a small dead tree in the middle of a nearly dried-up marsh pond.  This area is near the northern edge of their breeding range which reaches another forty miles north to Red Bluff. PHAIN-APHAIN-BPHAIN-C

There were three very busy flycatcher species: Western Kingbird, Ash-throated Flycatcher and Black Phoebe.  One phoebe we watched feeding a fledgling along the edge of a pond (which was getting water pumped into it).  The turtles there must have been grateful.  All around it marshes were drying up.

From there we drove past the Upper Butte Basin Wildlife Area and found several shorebirds: a half dozen Long-billed Curlews and a single Whimbrel.  Also, here we found our first White-faced Ibis of the day and a Common Gallinule.

Onward to the auto tour route of the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, much of it dry or drying.  There we got our first harrier of the day, a male.  And our only Swainson’s Hawk, far up in the sky, harassed even there by blackbirds.  There were both pheasant and Wild Turkey there and our only night-heron of the day.  Thence to Delevan NWR to find—and we did—our Yellow-headed Blackbird.yhb3

We had three Long-billed Dowitchers at Colusa, then five more at Delevan. The most abundant bird of the day must have been Cliff Swallows, nesting in colonies under almost every bridge we crossed or drove past. Just a handful of the many Cliff Swallows swarming around a single bridge, and their condo nests below the roadbed:cs frenzycs nestrowNot a single avocet or stilt all day.  No kite, no shrike, no eagles.  One deer, one jackrabbit and countless Turkey Vultures.  Death must be doing well.

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