Posted by: atowhee | September 19, 2019


Our Malheur Field Station birding trip began and ended at the refuge headquarters today.  Migrants continue to populate the trees there: both kinglets, Wilson’s and Nashville Warbler, more solitaires, Swainson’s Thrush in the shadows, Olive-sided Flycatcher in the treetops, and the Broad-billed Hummer continues to please the crowd.  We headed out to Princeton where we saw seven Golden Eagles, a half dozen Ferruginous Hawks and 102 Sandhill Cranes–all the latter in one flock at the nature pull-out across the Hwy 78 from the Princeton Post Office.  We saw two of those Golden Eagles go after a flock of Canada Geese, and fail, settling down to recover their price on a nearby irrigation pivot.

But my favorite time came at the end of a long day, about 430PM, back at refuge headquarters where we watched a male Evening Grosbeak eating seeds from fallen spruce cones…and ignoring our curiosity:

Posted by: atowhee | September 18, 2019


No black-masked Bushtits today.  But we did have our second Peregrine in as many days.  Yesterday over French Glen, today over The Narrows.  This was Day #2 of the Malheur Field Station fall birding trip.

We had a lingering Caspian Tern over the headquarters pond, numerous egrets and ibis at The Narrows, dueling Gray Flycatchers in the junipers at Sage Hen Rest Area, a lone Hooded Merganser at Chickahominy and a Horned Lark in the road there.  The only other flycatchers have been Say’s Phoebe and wood-pewee. Shorebirds today included snipe at headquarters, Dunlin, Spotted and Least Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs and Killdeer.  Pronghorn were in irrigated field west of Riley along US 20.

The Broad-billed Hummingbird remains at refuge headquarters.
All day we dodged rain, thunderstorms, hale and wind.  Most of it passed us by.

Perhaps our most handsome bird of the day, Townsend’s Solitaire eating rowan berries at headquarters:


Best non-bird was this gopher snake at Page Springs yesterday:

Posted by: atowhee | September 17, 2019


Our Malheur Field Station birding group had a remarkable sighting today.  Five of us found a small flock of Bushtits at Page Springs.  One was a boldly marked black-eared variety.

One OBOL communicant today said she had one at her Harney County home for some time in recent years.  Then came this reply from a professional bushtit biologist:

“In fact, I would like any info about sightings of black-eared forms in Oregon and elsewhere.  I am currently updating my Bushtit BNA chapter and the only recorded information (both live and study skins) I can find says that the black-eared form is never seen north of the mountains near the Mexican border.

“Dr Sarah A. Sloane
Associate Professor
Dept. of Biology
Division of Natural Sciences
University of Maine at Farmington
Farmington, Maine 04938″
I failed to get a picture today so we will be going back and looking for that flock.  This time I will have my camera at ready.
Posted by: atowhee | September 15, 2019


The rainy season seems to have started.  And just before the rains resumed, a neighbor moved into our garden.  Precisely he took over the pool.  He is only about three inches long, when his legs are folded up, but he is bigger by far than the water boatmen who patrol the pool for fallen prey that can’t swim.POOL FROG (2)


Bushtits in willow, XCB Chuckadee at suet, first Spotted Towhee in or garden since…mid-April.  Towhews and Yellow-rumped Warblers both disappeared after tax day, but now a towhee is back.  The warblers go much further away to breed but I should one or more during migration.


I was back and forth on Corvallis on Hwy99W on Thursday, stopping at the state Fish & Wildlife office in Adair.  Each time they saw me, the pair of Wood Ducks would whistle in alarm and then fly a few circles before they settle back down on the pond.


As I watched the vulture teeter on the edge of the chimney then depart i told myself I knew who would like that chimney…left over from a long defunct lumber mill and just uphill from ODFW office.  Asking the clerk inside I was informed that nobody stayed around after 5pm to see if swifts use the tall stack.  Any Corvallis birders know?

820 NW 19th Street, McMinnville, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Sep 15, 2019
8 species

Eurasian Collared-Dove  7
California Scrub-Jay  1
Black-capped Chickadee  2
Chestnut-backed Chickadee  4
Red-breasted Nuthatch  1
House Finch  1
American Goldfinch  14
Spotted Towhee  1

Adair Wildlife Area, Benton, Oregon, US
Sep 12, 2019
11 species

Wood Duck  2
Great Blue Heron  1
Great Egret  1
Turkey Vulture  4
Downy Woodpecker  1
California Scrub-Jay  2
Violet-green Swallow  1
Barn Swallow  30
American Robin  X
Cedar Waxwing  40
Dark-eyed Junco  1

Posted by: atowhee | September 10, 2019


I spent much of the weekend in Summit, Oregon.  I was busy, in and out of  buildings all day, but Saturday was fine weather and warblers were moving through the trees.  The dominant local resident was a busy flock of Band-tailed Pigeons.  Our location was just below a thousand feet elevation.   Regenerated forest mostly Doug fir but plenty of broadleaf trees along streams and roadsides.  I saw my first Townsend’s Warbler of the season.  The Swainson’s Thrushes were still in place in thickets.BT GATHER (2)CW GATHER (2)A brief drive through part of Baskett Slough turned up very few birds.   It did reveal smoldering piles where brushy thickets once stood.  More blackberry hatred unloosed.HERN STANDS (2)BSMOKE (2)

In Corvallis I encountered the urbanized Store Sparrow, at Market of Choice.  These are sparrows with upscale taste, it seems:STORE SPARO (2)In parts of Europe this species has learned to time doors, so they fly in and out of cafes and bistros.  I’ve shared a table, but not my wine, with a House Sparrow at Deux Magots in Paris.  They also do well in airports and the tower that houses CNN’s headquarters in Atlanta.

Meanwhile, back in McMinnville, this guy let me take his picture as he worked one of our oak trees:WBN-M13 (2)

Summit, Benton, Oregon, US
Sep 7, 2019
11 species

Band-tailed Pigeon  30
Steller’s Jay  4
Chestnut-backed Chickadee  2
Violet-green Swallow  X
Swainson’s Thrush  1
Cedar Waxwing  25
Song Sparrow  2
Spotted Towhee  3
Orange-crowned Warbler  3
Black-throated Gray Warbler  2
Townsend’s Warbler  1

Posted by: atowhee | September 10, 2019


Ashland birder, Lee French, shared these two pictures of a Great Gray Owl eating a least chipmunk in the Cascades of Jackson County.  It is the smallest chipmunk species on earth but still a bit of a mouthful for a Great Gray.  They specialize in small prey: voles, shrews, etc.  An adult least chipmunk can weigh as much as 2.5 ounces while a montane  vole or red-backed vole (likely targets in that area) would weigh less than 2 ounces. In the research I’ve seen chipmunks do not rank high as food source.  Partially that may be because they don’t often wander in open areas to be caught.  The GGO is a noted locavore, lemmings in the far north, pocket gophers in California, reindeer in Lapland (I’m kidding).S-2_Moment.editS-1 edit_Moment. 3Normally a GGO would swallow its prey whole, head first. They can butcher, however, ass they must to feed the owlets when really small.

Posted by: atowhee | September 6, 2019


There were only seven ducks at the Yamhill city sewer ponds this morning, but they represented four species.  Three shorebirds. But that scarcity was balanced by hundreds of feeding swallows over ponds and pastures.  Perhaps even appreciated by the stolid Angus standing along the fence, their faces covered with flies.

One Lesser Scaup, a Gadwall and three shovelers.  It marks the start of yet another seasonal beginning, the arrival of waterfowl from distant nesting places.

Left to right: scaup, shoveler, Gadwall.
3DUCKS (2)ANGUS (2)GRT BLU (2)Pewee profiled against a bright sky.  May be my last pewee sighting of the year.WWP (2)WWP2 (2)Open this picture and then zoom in, sky is pocked with swallows swerving back and forth.YSP=SWLLWS (2)


A narrow Fellow in the Grass
Occasionally rides –
You may have met him? Did you not
His notice instant is –

The Grass divides as with a Comb,
A spotted Shaft is seen,
And then it closes at your Feet

And opens further on –

He likes a Boggy Acre –
A Floor too cool for Corn –
But when a Boy* and Barefoot
I more than once at Noon

Have passed I thought a Whip Lash
Unbraiding in the Sun
When stooping to secure it
It wrinkled And was gone –

Several of Nature’s People
I know, and they know me
I feel for them a transport
Of Cordiality

But never met this Fellow
Attended or alone
Without a tighter Breathing
And Zero at the Bone.                   –Emily Dickinson   * never so

Ms Emily’s avowed fear of the snake was widespread in her time and even in mine.  I get a tiny thrill each time I see one nowadays.  Here in agriculturally profitable western Oregon there are few enough.  Plows, mowers, balers, toxic chemicals, busy roads.  I marvel that any survive to adulthood.  Today’s garter snake at the Yamhill city sewer ponds was three feet long, good size for this species.

More than six decades ago when I was growing up in the Missouri Ozarks my parents were decidedly anti-snake.  Both had grown up on Midwest farms.  An animal is either useful to the farmer, or the enemy.
I was about twelve before I could finally convince them to stop killing garter snakes.  I knew from cub scouts and reading Missouri Conservation magazine that garter snakes were “on our side” eating mice and insects and such.  Finally I convinced my father and I think he stopped killing them on sight.

We rarely saw the larger, more menacing-looking black snakes.  They could reach up to five feet or more and would pretend to be dangerous if cornered.  As a pretend grown-up in my twenties I owned a small farm and one night in checking on the chickens before bed-time I noticed one hen setting on a clutch of eggs was perched up high in a strange angle in her nest box.  Beneath her was coiled a five-foot black snake with an egg in its throat.  Somewhere there is a picture of mw with the snake stretched at length between my out-stretched hands.  He was transported.  I took him to the far end of the farm, figuring at his size and speed it would take him a couple days to get back.  Yet I never saw him again, perhaps the ignominy of being handled by a stinky mammal was too much for his reptilian pride to risk a second time.

There were poisonous snakes in the Ozarks at that time but not often seen.  Cottonmouths in slow streams.  Copperheads in rock outcroppings or around cave openings.   All snakes were scarce as they were on the enemies list along with skunks, crows, hawks, raccoons.  Scariest of all the wild things were bats, widely believed to spread rabies willy-nilly.

I was proud of my parents for tolerating box turtles which we had to constantly remove from the garden. Those turtles loved low-hanging tomatoes and strawberries. More than once I picked a large tomato to find it had been hollowed out from the bottom. There was family understanding, too, toward the large, warty toads found around the house in warm months, only at night. My mother said they ate crickets which she was surfer were trying to break into the house and eat her rugs.  Of toads, she said, “They give you warts if you touch them.”  I refused that warning but learned, repeatedly, that the toads will piss all over your hand if you pick them up.  A smell I could still detect at ten paces should it ever be necessary.

Yamhill Sewage Ponds (restricted access), Yamhill, Oregon, US
Sep 6, 2019
19 species

Northern Shoveler  3
Gadwall  1
Mallard  2
Lesser Scaup  1
Eurasian Collared-Dove  X
Anna’s Hummingbird  1
Least Sandpiper  2
Spotted Sandpiper  1
Great Blue Heron  1
Turkey Vulture  1
Western Wood-Pewee  1
California Scrub-Jay  2
Violet-green Swallow  30
Barn Swallow  400
American Robin  6
American Goldfinch  10
Savannah Sparrow  1
Spotted Towhee  2
Common Yellowthroat  1


Posted by: atowhee | September 5, 2019


Here is a second round of fine photos from Panatal taken by Albert Ryckman of Eugene:BLACK COLLORED HAWK & PREYBlack-collared Hawk above; Black Skimmer at rest, below.BLACK SKIMMERBLONDE CRESTED WOODPECKERBlond-crested Woodpecker above, Blue-fronted Parrot below (should be “blue-nosed”).BLUE FRONTED PARROTBUFF COLORED IBISBuff-colored Ibis, Burrowing Owl (should be familiar to anybody who birds at Malheur).BURROWING OWL__Campo Flicker, one of over 215 species on the planet.  None are in New Zealand, Australia, Antarctic or some island nations.  Not among the living species is the legendary Ivory-billed Woodpecker, one victim of “civilization” in North America and Caribbean.  This guy is very handsome.CAMPO FLICKERHe is in the Colaptes genus which includes Northern and Gilded Flicker, plus twelve more species.  One cousin, Bermuda Flicker, is already extinct.  The genus  occurs only in the Western Hemisphere and the NOrthern Flicker is the only one found across NOrth America, the other species all more southerly.

Posted by: atowhee | September 5, 2019


We owlers are a small coterie, and our emails fly faster than our owls.  That’s how I first found out about Steve Mattheis. I was introduced via email by another nature photographer friend.
Steve’s a Jackson, Wyoming, photographer who has just published a marvelous book about his local Great Gray Owls–in the Tetons and Yellowstone.  I have been going through my copy–wow!

PHANTOM COVERMattheis GGo flightThere are spectacular night shots.  Images in all season from high summer to deep snow.  Adults in flight with vole in mouth.  Adult presenting vole to anticipating fledgling.  Owlets in all phases from fuzzy white to near-adult.  Female on nest. The Stare, seen in many places in many versions.  When you’ve been stared at by a Great Gray Owl you can believe the eyes look through you and into your deepest recesses…and you are thankful you are much larger than a vole or shrew.

The text will take you into the woods for wonder, excitement and even anxiety.  At one time Steve witnesses a red-tail attack a fledged owlet and then the mother attacks the red-tail which has gone to ground with the owlet.

Here is the website where you can order Steve’s book.

PHANTOM OF THE NORTH. Great Gray Owls of the Tetons and Yellowstone.
Sweetgrass Books.  Helena, MT.  2019.
Photos:  Steve Mattheis.
Text: Katherine Gura

Great job, Steve and Katherine.

Posted by: atowhee | September 5, 2019


My friend Shannon Ruo recently stepped outside her townhouse in central Ashland, Oregon, about five blocks from the town library.  It was dawn.  She heard some rustling in a nearby tree, followed the sound with her eyes and traded looks with a neighbor who was literally up a tree.  Her husband, Kirk Gooding, camera ever at ready, took these shots:


One of the many practical uses of Douglas fir.  Hang-out for black bear, so named regardless of the bear’s actual color which can range broadly from blond to cinnamon and on to near-black.

There are still people in Ashland but it is an urban center for bears, not of the kind you might find on Wall Street or in Frankfurt.  These are bears who work for a living, and have a thing for tree-climbing.  Click here for some family shots of mom and twins in a back garden near Ashland’s hospital.

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