Posted by: atowhee | September 17, 2020


There was another new species in our garden today. Through the smoke and the windows I watched a Fox Sparrow feeding on the ground among the roses. Another migrant down from the mountains or further north. Like the Song Sparrow, he might stick around. Lots of good food here. The House Finch telegraph has certainly spread the message, today I counted nine at one time. Last week there was only a singleton, yesterday just three.

All these photos were necessarily taken through a window.
At first you barely get a glimpse, then he finally comes forth.


What did they find on the roof? Seeds carried down from the fire zone?


He was just six feet from my window.



954 Ratcliff Drive SE, Marion, Oregon, US
Sep 17, 2020
17 species

Mallard  5
Anna’s Hummingbird  1
Northern Flicker  1
Steller’s Jay  1
California Scrub-Jay  2
American Crow  X
Black-capped Chickadee  2
Bushtit  20
Bewick’s Wren  1
European Starling  7
House Finch  9
American Goldfinch  12
Fox Sparrow  1
White-crowned Sparrow  1
Song Sparrow  1
Spotted Towhee  1
Orange-crowned Warbler  1

Posted by: atowhee | September 17, 2020


Here’s a wonderful picture from Yellowstone area, taken by Albert Ryckman who has fortunately escaped to an area where the smoke is not as bad as it is here in Willamette:

Posted by: atowhee | September 16, 2020


We had our second flycatcher species in as many days…willow yesterday, today two wood-pewees. It is not likely we will ever see any other tyrant flycatchers here unless we get an occasional Pac-slope on the move. The pewees are new for our garden list as was the Orange-crowned Warbler flitting through the trees at about the same time. Both warbler and flycatcher are passing through. I saw the warbler on several occasions over about six hours, always in the same dense foliage. Eventually we should see other warblers–esp. yellow-rump and Townsend’s, maybe black-throated gray.

Meanwhile the air quality number has been worsening all morning and this afternoon. We are once again beyond 500. My Salem Audubon bird walk today was cancelled and now I am hoping for one next Wednesday…if smoke allows.

There is a pair of scrub-jays around our house that travel together, feed calmly together more like finches do, acting like friendly siblings, which is how I think of them.
The House Finches now are at our seed feeders all day long. Around for the winter I’m sure. Probably born within a hundred yards of here.

Above: Bewick’s Wren stealthily moving through rose garden; the pewee in dense foliage (two shots); sapsucker in dark opening; sun mid-morning; two white-crowns on neighbors’ garage roof.

954 Ratcliff Drive SE, Marion, Oregon, US
Sep 16, 2020
15 species

Mallard 11–fly overs
Anna’s Hummingbird  1
Red-breasted Sapsucker  1
Northern Flicker  1
Western Wood-Pewee  2
California Scrub-Jay  2
American Crow  X
Black-capped Chickadee  2
Bushtit  20
Bewick’s Wren  1
European Starling  2
House Finch  3
American Goldfinch  12
White-crowned Sparrow  2
Orange-crowned Warbler  1

Posted by: atowhee | September 15, 2020


In nature nothing we see, hear, feel, sense, nothing lasts forever. In this hour, in this time, more than ever we note that nothing lasts. Not the centuries old forests in the Cascades, not the coastal beaches in the face of a hurricane, not the tropics’ glorious coral reefs, not the once-tremendous flocks of monarch butterflies, not our neighbors, not our selves.
Smoked in I watch the world outside through glass, air filters blowing and droning constantly. And I cannot miss the comings, and the goings, the here at this moment and perhaps not again until next year.

This morning a Willow Flycatcher was hunting from the edges of our trees and rose bushes. The first I’ve seen here and maybe the last until…

Yesterday there was a single young White-crowed Sparrow, clean feathered. Today two, even younger, their feathers still those of new fledglings, fuzzed and indistinct. Will there be any tomorrow? Most of their kind are headed further south.

It’s been two days since I got my look at a Hermit Thrush, none since. A swift yesterday but perhaps “sayonara” until spring.




Bushtits in their usual cluster

He’s around every day, youngster, I suspect, with that pathetic imitation of a wren tail:

American Goldfinch, left. House Finch, right:


The roses are still blooming profusely. An occasional butterfly or dragonfly passes the window, A large garden spider has her web hanging from the frame, a small fly hangs therein. A snack before dark.

I broke one of my own personal rules today and am chagrined. I always tell myself, “never leave home without your camera.” We needed to make a grocery run after four days in the house. As we drove down our driveway a skunk sniffed and moped along the hedge that edges the drive. In normal times I would exclaim about this generally nocturnal critter, “What’s he doing out in broad daylight [it was about 230PM]?”
Of course, there is no broad daylight around here now. No high noon. We have dusk, we have low light levels, fog-like fuzzy vision, then we have darker skies and then we have night without moon or stars. The poor skunk may have had no idea he was abroad in the after noon. Noon, what’s that?

954 Ratcliff Drive SE, Marion, Oregon, US
Sep 15, 2020. 14 species

Mallard 6, fly over
Downy Woodpecker  1
Willow Flycatcher  1
Steller’s Jay  1
California Scrub-Jay  2
American Crow  X
Black-capped Chickadee  2
Bushtit  20
Bewick’s Wren  1
European Starling  X
House Finch  3
American Goldfinch  12
White-crowned Sparrow  2
Song Sparrow  1

Posted by: atowhee | September 14, 2020


Here in our new home and garden. No evidence of any montane fire refugees, no junco nor Hermit Thrush. But some fall nomads, for sure. White-crowned Sparrow, first year bird. He certainly wasn’t born anywhere around here, could even be migrant from the Far North. The white-crown and the Song Sparrow were both new for the yard list, now exactly thirty species.

Contrary to most of my past experiences with these species, here the goldfinches and House Finches seem to come and go together. The House Finches may be local but are just now groking the feeder set-up here.

The bird bath was used by both species of jays this afternoon–get the ash off.



The smoke is still horrific. Salem had an air pollution reading over 400 all day. Businesses are advised to close when the number tops 150. All my birding was done through closed windows, air filters rumbling in the background.


There is some evidence that our western wildfires are killing migrating songbirds. Click here report on gathering evidence.

954 Ratcliff Drive SE, Marion, Oregon, US
Sep 14, 2020
16 species

Vaux’s Swift  1
Anna’s Hummingbird  1
Downy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  1
Steller’s Jay  1
California Scrub-Jay  3
American Crow  X
Black-capped Chickadee  2
Bushtit  20
Bewick’s Wren  1
European Starling  3
House Finch  3
American Goldfinch  10
Song Sparrow  1
Spotted Towhee  1
White-crowned Sparrow 1

Posted by: atowhee | September 13, 2020


I believe we may have given succor to some refugees from the burned-over district this morning. I looked out our window and into the hazardous air. There were more birds in view than I have ever seen here at one time.
There was a flock of local American Goldfinches moving on and off a great new feeder one friend sent us as a house-warming gift. The finches say, “thank you.” One of our Bewick’s Wrens was flitting about.
Then on the ground was a robin, seen yesterday but not often before this smoke. Then an adult male junco hopped past. Likely he’d fled the fires up in the Cascades. Juncos do breed here in Salem but not in this habitat or immediate neighborhood. This one was a first for my yard list. I had originally presumed the small dark bird on the ground was a Song Sparrow, but this afternoon he reappeared–Hermit Thrush. Another first for our garden and another probable refugee as they wouldn’t breed in this neighborhood. Looking through my shots I also found one of a House Finch, another first, part of the feathered frenzy of the morning flock.

Below: goldfinches on feeder, House Finch, two shots of secretive bird suspected of being a Song Sparrow, terrible junco shot:

The daily smoke-eaters of our garden:

The wildlife rescue centers along the Interstate 5 corridor are gearing up for an influx of injured or burned animals as our species gradually returns to areas that have been hit by the fires this month. So far they report some squirrels and small rodents have been delivered to them.

If you want to donate I have listed five active wildlife rescue centers below:

Wildlife Images
11845 Lower River Rd, Grants Pass, OR 97526
Phone(541) 476-0222

Chintimini Wildlife Center – Wildlife Hospital
Address311 NW Lewisburg Ave, Corvallis, OR 97330
Phone(541) 745-5324

Turtle Ridge Wildlife
Address9483 Jackson Hill Rd SE S, Salem, OR 97306
Phone(503) 540-8664

Portland Audubon’s Wildlife Care Center
5151 NW Cornell Road
Portland, OR 97210
Phone: (503) 292-0304

And in Klamath:

Badger Run Wildlife Rehab
Address: 15993 Homestead Ln, Klamath Falls, OR 97601
Phone(541) 891-2052

Each of these are non-profits. It is far less likely that the Cascades Raptor Center will get new patients. Their clientele generally out-flies the flames. In most cases from insects to mammals like us the smoke damage is slower to take effect. Most large mammals like deer and elk successfully out-run the fires. Habitat destruction will mean serious displacement around the burned area.

Click here for current article from Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife on fire effects on wildlife.

954 Ratcliff Drive SE, Marion, Oregon, US
Sep 13, 2020
11 species

Mallard  7–fly overs
Anna’s Hummingbird  1
Northern Flicker  1
California Scrub-Jay  X
American Crow  X
Bushtit  20
Bewick’s Wren  1
American Robin  1
Hermit Thrush 1
House Finch  2
American Goldfinch  12

Posted by: atowhee | September 12, 2020



They are among my favorites, great social democrats, all for one and one for all.  But violently tribal as well. Without the whole village they could not withstand the acorn pillaging of squirrels or scrub-jays.  They know in their genes, it takes a village. And these villages are prone to inter-tribal wearfare. Sound familiar?

Click here for article on latest research into what happens when a piece of acorn-rich territory opens up for occupation.

Ours is just one of the many species that resort to violence in defense of our materialism. For the ACWO that material is the acorn and the oak trees they depend on to survive, winters, droughts, even forest fires. Oaks generally do better than most conifers during a fire. Native Americans used annual burning in the Willamette and Sacramento Valleys to keep weeds and brush down, acorn production up. These woodpeckers must have laughed happily to watch those fires.

“Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer”
–by Hans Friedrich August Carste, translated by
Charles Tobias; famously recorded by Nat King Cole

There words and phrases in English that have become nonsense, we hope temporarily. Sunrise, sunset. Daylight, nightfall. High noon. Sunshine, dayglow, blue sky. Hah!

I am not supposed to go outside at my age, in this air. Tell that to the disgusted, bored, angry dog, Nora. Sp we were out briefly in Bush Pastures Park. This sapsucker was doing some woodpeckering:

While many wild animals can out-run or out-fly a fire, domestic animals aren’t as free. In Clackamas County now there is an animal evacuee crisis.

Posted by: atowhee | September 10, 2020


“God gave Noah the rainbow sign
No more water, the fire next time…”
from the spiritual “Mary Don’t You Weep”
and with a bow of respect to James Baldwin.

It seems now that what is burning and burned is the wrong fuel. Our species is quickening the destruction of the natural world when it is our nation-states and corporations and individual irresponsibilities that are now threatening survival of so many organisms. It is not greed nor the products of rapacious capitalism that are burning, it is trees, it is part of Beirut, it is homes of people just getting along, it is the souls of people who see the brutality and injustice of our legal and enforcement regimes in nation after nation, from Belarus to Brazil to Beirut to Boston.
We won’t spend the money to underground our electric wires so we instead pay billions for fire-fighting and take huge public and private losses from preventable fires. One couple in SoCal throws a party and then a firecracker in the tinder-dry forest and burns thousands of acres. Like the deaths from covid the destruction is partially preventable and partially due to individuals’ bad judgement and is especially bad in nations where the government is used for power and money, not caring about what’s best for the people there. It is no accident that the US, India, Brazil and Russia have the most admitted cases of covid. Each has an authoritarian leader whose own power and money is the first consideration in national policy and action.

So to take my mind off the lamentable, pathetic situation in which much of the population of our species now lives, I try to watch those creatures who live in spite of us, sometimes beside us.

Silent yesterday, both the flicker and local crows are back making calls today. The Bushtit flock passed my window about 1030AM, checking buddleia flower clusters for insects, then moving on. I feel sorry for our many garden spiders–every web is corrupted by bits of ash and soot that have stuck to the threads. There are some bees on the roses, asters and other blooming plants. I see no butterflies at all. The tree squirrels are about business as usual–today dining on pears that are still in the tree. All outside surfaces are covered with the fine grit that came from the Cascade fires on the recent winds.

The sky mi-day. The jay on sentinel duty as usual–nothing goes on around here that they do not monitor between the tepid dawn and the dirty dusk of our Oregon fire season.

Don’t tell the White House.
Click here for why the colors that come with smoke in the air.

La Nina is coming, so that could mean a colder and wetter winter here in Oregon…if we survive until it arrives.

Fire apocalypse–have we reached peak flames yet? Probably not, according to this report.

Posted by: atowhee | September 10, 2020


Here in the Willamette valley we are smoked in. Covid plus ash fall makes going outside less than a fine experience. So here are a couple submissions from our far-flung volunteer photography unit:

The horned lizard was sent to us by Bronwen Magraw from her home turf in western Colorado. The young Bald Eagle was seen along the coast of North Carolina by Mike Lund.

Then, to brighten a smoke-gloomed day, a quartet of gaudy midgets from the lens of Albert Ryckman–blue darter (on the berries), flame skimmer, paddle tailed darner (in flight), great pondhawk (on reed leaf). Makes you doubly glad not to be a midge or mosquito, don’t it?

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