Click here for piece by BBC on how our species finally came to realize we weren’t the only species manipulating the natural world.

It has taken us centuries to overcome all that Biblical cant about our species having “dominion over” the other living organisms.  Now we are gradually coming to realize how plants interact with one another and their environment.  To paraphrase Ben Franklin, we share a glorious living planet, if we can keep it.

Posted by: atowhee | December 12, 2019

INNKEEPERS OUT

Big storms, rough waves and the fat innkeepers are exposed on the beach…in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Here is comment from one reader who’s seen an innkeeper inside an aquarium: Memories. When I was in graduate school in Monterey, the Oceanography guys had one on display in an engineered, custom-built aquarium. The burrow was a half-section so one could watch the worm in action. I used to pass by a couple of times per week for 2 years. Definitely a conversation starter…

Posted by: atowhee | December 12, 2019

YAMHILL WET

Our garden warbler, the bully boy of the suet feeder…if you be smaller than he:aud wa1 (2)

Finally, rains after rains.  We are more than ten inches behind average for this time of year in total precip.  Very unlikely we will come close to an average rainfall for second year in a row.  But this rainy spell has brought the fungi to fruit, i.e. mushrooms:IMG_9072 (2)And the 100% humidity often means morning fog:FOGAround home the usual birds doing usual things:

Otter slide at Wennerberg Park, Carlton:otter slide_LI (2)820 NW 19th Street, McMinnville, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Dec 9, 2019
12 species

Eurasian Collared-Dove  X
California Scrub-Jay  X
Chestnut-backed Chickadee  X
Red-breasted Nuthatch  1
Bewick’s Wren  1
European Starling  X
House Sparrow  X
House Finch  X
Dark-eyed Junco  X
Golden-crowned Sparrow  X
Song Sparrow  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler  1

820 NW 19th Street, McMinnville, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Dec 12, 2019
14 species

Eurasian Collared-Dove  6
Northern Flicker  1
California Scrub-Jay  1
Chestnut-backed Chickadee  3
Bushtit  20
Red-breasted Nuthatch  1
European Starling  12
American Robin  1
House Sparrow  6
House Finch  3
Dark-eyed Junco  30
Golden-crowned Sparrow  2
Song Sparrow  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler  1

Posted by: atowhee | December 10, 2019

A HAPPY STORY…NO SUBSTITUTE FOR YOUTH, EVEN RHINO YOUTH

Click here for the joy of being young.

I am generally unable to stomach zoos and their captivity regime but this is a species, like the Hawaiian Crow, that may not survive in te wild.

Posted by: atowhee | December 8, 2019

WATCHING MELANERPES

From my birding friend Karl Schneck near Ashland in Jackson County.  Here’s his response to my blog about the leucistic Acorn Woodpecker.

Karl sent me these photos of his local Lewis’s, a Melanerpes closely related, DNA-wise, to the Acorn:

Interesting that the ACWO is storing the mast without the outer shell since I believe they are the only woodpeckers that drill holes and store the entire acorn. I’ve been watching the LEWO at my house store only the mast in cracks and crevices of the oaks and the utility pole. Attached are some photos of the LEWO and some of his winter supply of acorn mast. I help out the LEWO by putting acorns on top of the fence posts near his favorite perch on the utility pole. I’ve noticed he likes to open the acorns either on top of the posts or on one of the crossbars at the top of the utility pole where he can find a good surface to hammer away at the acorns.

Here is his sequence of Lewis’s Woodpecker photos from his place in Jackson County.  The Lewises do winter there but do not breed in the county as far as we know.  They do breed along the Klamath River north of Yreka across the border in California.  They are gregarious but don’t breed in a single nest like their near cousins, the Acorn Woodpecker, also a Melanerpes.

The Lewis is our one woodpecker in North America…with…can you guess?  No white feathers…and our only bird with truye pink.  Wowzee.

Posted by: atowhee | December 8, 2019

CLASSIC GREAT GRAY OWL PHOTO

This photo was taken by Mel Clements, one of Jackson County’s Great Owl aficionados.  He and Lee French spotted this bird last week in the Cascades at about 4500 feet elevation, in fresh snow:Great Gray hunting

From Lee French: “Mel and I got lucky recently with a up close viewing of a Great Gray Owl hunting. We saw it right by the road on a tall stump. It flew off into the woods, returned to the same perch and did a snow plunge about 30 feet away from us…Too bad it didn’t catch anything; would have made a great sequence.”

From Mel Clements: “The snow ‘plunge’ was at least 5 inches [deep]. Too bad I could not get closer to measure it, but I was actually stuck in that snow bank and I was over joyed to be able to finally turn around and work my way back to the roadway.”

We know that Great Gray Owls can catch unseen prey they hear beneath the snow.  If there is a crust the owl will use its very cushioned head (layers of soft feathers) to crack through the crust, then whip the talons up to the indentation for the grab.  The head battering ram is a tactic to prevent injury to the all-important bare legs and talons.  A broken foot would likely lead to starvation and death.  The head is like a small hammer coated with layers of padding.

Posted by: atowhee | December 7, 2019

BIRDING POLK COUNTY NORTH OF HIGHWAY 22

DEC. 7, 2019.    Philippe Pessereau and I birded the Hwy 99 corridor in northern Polk County today.  Our first notable bird of the day was the Rough-legged Hawk.  As usual he was in the lone, bare deciduous tree on the rise just south of Bethel Road and along the east edge of the highway.  The photo is execrable because it was raining and the light was twilight dim.rlh-polk (2)

We headed west from 99 along Smithfield Road.  Almost immediately there were sparrows, robins, birds out in the rain.  At the first woods a Steller’s Jay flew over the road.  At one point Smithfield squeezed  between two overgrown hedges as we entered the first patch of the wildlife refuge. bs sign There we saw a Fox Sparrow—a first of the year for me, a lifer for Philippe.  There were Song Sparrows, juncos, more robins—a veritable flutter of bird life.  A Mourning Dove sped past. Rain persisted. We saw not a single raincoat, no umbrellas either.  Foxy here, wet but willing:fosp--smith (2)

North on Livermore Road we walked onto the refuge land, unmarked.  In one impounded marsh, with little water as yet, we saw both Say’s and Black Phoebe.  This was east of the road.  GW Teal, Mallards, sparrows and juncos galore, Spotted Towhee, flicker and Bewick’s Wren—busy place.

About 1.5 miles north of Smithfield we checked out some ponds on private land—not open to the public.  Three river otters cavorting—another lifer for Philippe as was the Say’s Phoebe. They were far away, quick and mostly under water:

In that area we saw Gadwalls, flying Snow Geese (about ten), kestrel and wet-tailed (red-tail) hawks, harrier, also two blue herons.  A meadowlark sang despite the drizzly day.
Here is one of the several wet-tailed hawks we saw and the last, silent pair of meadowlarks:

Back on Smithfield we found a field full of Killdeer with robins across the road in the vineyards and trees along the road.  A farm pond is next to the road where the Van Duzer Vineyard lane goes uphill.  There were pour first Ring-necked Ducks of the day.  Further south Smithfield climbs to the top of a crest and we looked into the valley eastward where at least thirty Tundra Swans swam in the lake on refuge land.  Ducks there includes shoveler, pintail, wigeon, g-w teal, Bufflehead.

Finally on Coville Road we stopped at the pond on the north side; many dabblers, Cackling and Canada Geese, our close-up of a nutria.  Poor substitute for the speedy, playful otters.  Along the Road we found two damp meadowlarks, Bald Eagle, peregrine, more swans in the lake to the north, long skeins of Cacklers across the sky.

Back at Hwy 99 we headed north and stopped to check the pond at Left Coast Cellar (road not open until noon).  Hooded Merganser flock included breeding plumage males, many Bufflehead, another flock of ring-necks, Mallards (of course), wigeon.  While we were mudding around the scope along the lane an adult Bald Eagle flew over.  Good day had by birders and waterfowl alike.  Wet and cold, Philippe and I were smiling, amply rewarded.

Our one worthwhile stop in Yamhill was the quarry pond on Fox Ridge Lane: one Hooded Merganser, flock of Common, Buffleheads, a male Green-winged Teal in among the divers.

GALLERY

Above: swans, one of many kestrels we saw.

Ducks at Left Coast Cellars pond: female Hooded Mergansers lower right and part of the Bufflehead flock in upper left-hand corner:lc ducks (2)The eagle passing over as we stood by this pond:be-passing_LI

Along Coville Road:

Salamanders, dead and alive.  The deceased had been flattened by a car. Rough-skinned newt, don’t touch as it has neuro-toxins it can exude through its skin to protect it from most predators more sensitive than a car.

In case you thought I was kidding about the rain:

We saw over forty species of bird, one amphibian, two mammals and lots of raindrops.
Fox Ridge Rd., Yamhill, Oregon, US
Dec 7, 2019
Checklist Comments:     in the quarry in the rain
4 species

Green-winged Teal  1
Bufflehead  1
Hooded Merganser  1
Common Merganser  6

Hwy 99, Polk County, Polk, Oregon, US
Dec 7, 2019
3 species

Red-tailed Hawk  1
Rough-legged Hawk  1     south of Bethel Road intersection; this bird seen here repeatedly
American Kestrel  3

Smithfield Road, Polk, Oregon, US
Dec 7, 2019
14 species

Ring-necked Duck  12
Killdeer  100
Red-tailed Hawk  X
Northern Flicker  X
American Kestrel  X
Steller’s Jay  1
Black-capped Chickadee  X
Red-breasted Nuthatch  X
American Robin  X
Fox Sparrow  X
Dark-eyed Junco  X
Golden-crowned Sparrow  X
Song Sparrow  X
Spotted Towhee  X

Livermore Road, Polk, Oregon, US
Dec 7, 2019
Checklist Comments:     some refuge land, mostly private land
21 species

Snow Goose  10
Gadwall  X
Mallard  X
Northern Pintail  X
Green-winged Teal  X
Eurasian Collared-Dove  X
Mourning Dove  X
Great Blue Heron  2
Northern Harrier  1
Red-tailed Hawk  X
Northern Flicker  X
American Kestrel  X
Black Phoebe  1
Say’s Phoebe  1
Bewick’s Wren  1
European Starling  X
Dark-eyed Junco  X
White-crowned Sparrow  X
Golden-crowned Sparrow  X
Song Sparrow  X
Western Meadowlark  1     singing in the rain

Baskett Slough NWR, Polk, Oregon, US
Dec 7, 2019
18 species

Cackling Goose  2000
Canada Goose  X
Tundra Swan  40
Northern Shoveler  X
Gadwall  X
American Wigeon  X
Mallard  X
Northern Pintail  X
Green-winged Teal  X
Bufflehead  X
American Coot  X
Bald Eagle  1
Red-tailed Hawk  X
American Kestrel  10
Peregrine Falcon  1
American Crow  X
Western Meadowlark  2
Red-winged Blackbird  X

Stevenson Road seasonal slough, Polk, Oregon, US
Dec 7, 2019
6 species

Canada Goose  X
Tundra Swan  16
Mallard  X
Great Blue Heron  2
Red-tailed Hawk  X
American Kestrel  X

Posted by: atowhee | December 6, 2019

EYE-POPPING WOODPECKER: LEUCISTIC ACORN WOODPECKER

These images were captured by Kirk Gooding at Grizzly Peak Winery December 4, 2019.  That is in the Cascades foothills north of Ashland at about 2500 feet.  Kirk and his wife Shannon Rio (president of the KLamath Bird Observatory Board of Directors) enjoyed watching this bird at work:

Strange get-up, ordinary behavior.  Male according to the large reddish skull-cap.
Thanks for sharing, Kirk.

A couple years back there was a blond Acorn found in Jackson County by Emmalisa Whalley.

I have encountered a number of leucistic critters in my time.  There was a doe in Shasta Valley years ago.  Last year this doe here in McMinnville, click for image.

A white-backed red-tail nesting with a normal-looking partner near Chico.  BTW I’ll be back at the Chico Goose Festival next month, leading trips and giving talks.

Bald Eagle on Samish Flats, Washington State.

In the bird world I have seen many unexpectedly white or overly white birds: Surfbird, California Towhee, robin and Song Sparrow in San Francisco. Brewer’s Blackbird in Medford.  Fox Sparrow. Chickadees in several places.  Click here for robin with too much white to be ordinary…in Wisconsin.

White headed Cackling Goose at  Fernhill in Washington County, click here.

Canada Goose at Howard Prairie Lake, Jackson County.Canada Goose at Howard Prairie Lake, Jackson County.

A pale-faced Varied Thrush in Eureka.

Here’s a general news story about leucistic plumage.

Posted by: atowhee | December 4, 2019

CALLING OWLS, VAGABOUND THRUSH AND OTHER WINTER WANDERERS

A friend wrote saying she heard three owls calling outside her house.  She wondered if it were two adults and a youngster.  I told her I suspect it was two males courting a single female with a higher pitched voice.  It is courtship season for these birds that will nest this winter.  We will soon see Red-tailed Hawks in pairs as well, another winter nesting species.

Speaking of pairs: two Bewick’s Wrens were in our garden today.  That augurs well for a spring-time nesting pair.bw clear (2)

There are at least three Varied Thrush right now in Wennerberg Park. VATH-WENN (2) I think they’ve arrived in recent days as I hadn’t seen them there earlier this autumn.  This species is highly unpredictable from one winter to the next, and each winter cannot be predicted from one week to the next.  Their numbers can vary greatly from one Christmas Count to the next for any territory in the west. Other irruptive species in our region include waxwings, crossbills, siskins, Snowy Owls, Snow Buntings and redpolls.

The robins want nothing to do with our feeders but are regular bird bath visitors.  For a wash they will fluff their wings at light speed, becoming an animated  blur.  To drink they lean over and drink with dainty beak fulls.  After each sip, tilting back the head to drain the throat.

This morning I refiled the cavities in our suet log.  The starling were literally all over it s soon as I got back to the house, a distance of twenty feet.  As they attacked the Audubon’s Warbler flew to the ground below to gather the bits the starlings squandered.

Lone American Goldfinch in our garden on Dec. 2.  Not seen since.amgo singl (2)

SUET DRAWS A CROWD

The Audubon’s Warbler jealously watches the suet feeders though he can do nothing to drive off the starlings. Other sueters include House Sparrows, Bushtits and Chestnut-backed Chickadees.

HOUSE FINCHES AND TOWHEE

CLIMATE CRISIS

The hotter planet is making our birds smaller. Click here.

Speaking of heat, climate change is accelerating. Click here for report.

Worse than that, new research shows lakes have an unforeseen way of producing more methane, a serious greenhouse gas.

Posted by: atowhee | December 2, 2019

BIRDING IN A JUNCYARD

The dogs took me to Joe Dancer Park for a walk this morning.  It was cold but clear.  Around 930AM the sun was above the horizon line and the side of the trees and shrubs that face east were absorbing solar heat.  There were most of the birds, feeding ravenously after the dark and cold. In the trees along the river were most of the gleaners, including Golden-crowned Kinglets.  Later in our garden at home a Ruby-crown passed through (never seen one at a feeder of any kind).  Both kinglets in the same day is always a winter warmer. The most abundant bird at Joe Dancer was a flock of at least a hundred juncos in the weeds and shrubs of the wetlands. Scattered Song Sparrows and one trio of Lesser Goldfinches composed the spice of variety.   Various bird sounds came from a calling White-breasted Nuthatch…an irritated towhee hidden in the brush and never seen…tik-tiking Song Sparrows… a calling flicker…and the imitation of a Star Trek communicator call from some of the juncos.  Most birds remained silent, preserving calories.

The weeds and trees provider adequate provender for the seed-eaters. Here is one of the Lesser Goldfinches in an alder.  The tree still has its 2019 seed cones and already has the dangling tassels that promise the buds and seeds of 2020.  Dining on old and new in the same cafe:lego alder (2)

One of the Song Sparrows:sosp-jdp (2)

Insect trap at Joe Dancer.  And the reason is…?insect trap (2)

At the north end of Marsh Lane the local kestrel pair were hunting together.  Click here for my earlier blog on paired kestrels  in November.kest-line (2)

LEFTY THE JUNCO

At home we have many juncos as well, though dozens less than Joe Dancer…but we have a smaller space.  One I know as “Lefty” because he has a bold white feather along the left edge of his tail (looking at him from the front) that has no covering feather even when he is on the ground.  He is a junco who regularly visits our garden to eat sunflower seeds.  I have never seen him on a hanging platform.  He stays on the cement or ground.
Here you can compare Lefty with an ordinary junco in the foreground.  And feel free to compare Lefty to big furball in the right hand corner as well:

HERON FIELD

Whenever we drive north on Westside toward Carlton we see a Great Blue Heron.  It just surely be the same bird.  It will be hunting in the field southeast of the intersection of Westside and Meadow Lake Lane, due west of Carlton.  He must have found a goodly supply of voles.

FLICKER GALLERY

Female on feeder in our garden.  Treed bird along the river at Joe Dancer:

Joe Dancer Park, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Dec 2, 2019
13 species

Northern Flicker  X
American Kestrel  2
California Scrub-Jay  1
Black-capped Chickadee  1
Golden-crowned Kinglet  X
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
Bewick’s Wren  1
European Starling  25
American Robin  6
Lesser Goldfinch  3
Dark-eyed Junco  100
Song Sparrow  5
Spotted Towhee  1

820 NW 19th Street, McMinnville, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Dec 2, 2019
13 species

Eurasian Collared-Dove  X
California Scrub-Jay  1
Black-capped Chickadee  1
Chestnut-backed Chickadee  3
Bushtit  20
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  1
Bewick’s Wren  1
European Starling  X
House Sparrow  X
House Finch  X
Dark-eyed Junco  X
Golden-crowned Sparrow  X
Yellow-rumped Warbler  1

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