Posted by: atowhee | October 22, 2007

Confrontation at dawn


The Bushtit picture is from May Woon.

It was pretty quiet up at the old abandoned quarry about Glenview Drive on Saturday.  It was cold so I hadn’t expected little birds to be out anyway.  After near-freezing nights, they sleep in until it warms up a bit.  But it was really quiet.  A couple Flickers could be heard calling in the distance. 

 Then Bridget the dog and I turned around and looked back just in time to see a Sharp-shinned Hawk settle on a branch deep within a ponderosa pine.  Aha, no wonder the birds are silent, and not moving about.  We did see a pair of Ravens go overhead and could hear the usual squawking of distant Steller’s Jays, but that was it.  And I assumed that was all there would be.   I turned away to speak with Bridget, then looking back the Sharpie had vanished.  But I suspected he was nearby.

Further up the hill we were nailed in place by the sudden eruption of a series of loud, sharp, calls that sounded much like a woodpecker.  In fact it was a Pileated, not an Ivory-billed, but in size as close as I can now reasonably hope to come in North America.  It sounded fairly close.  Up at the top of the quarry I flushed one of the Pileateds which flew straight and low into the dense forest uphill from us.  Then more sharp calls.  Bridget and I ventured into the woods for another possible look.  I couldn’t see the callling woodpecker though it was somewhere in front of me.  Another Pileated, not the caller, flushed and flew further uphill.  Dense oak, Douglas fir and ponderosa, madrone, Oregon grape, manzanita–it was a complex pattern of greens and earth tones.  Then suddenly a large woodpecker shape burst from behind one tree and chased away a dark-backed bird about the same size.  I think I had just seen one of the two Pileateds chase away the Sharpie.   I didn’t see any more birds on that walk except for a couple more Steller’s but that was enough, thank you.

This morning, Sunday, there was ice on our windshield for the first time this fall.  I was out at Emigrant Lake by 8 A.M.  En route I watched a covey of California Quail scurry acorss the road in front of me.

One hayfield just below Emigrant Lake dam had over 300 grazing Canada Geese.  A thicket of thistles and brush at its edge had a flurry of Lesser Goldfinches.  I cannot believe how abundant they are here in the Bear Creek Valley.  Among them were Spotted Towhee, Golden-crowned Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows.  On the west side of the lake I would later see another flock over of over four dozen Lesser Goldfinches.  A Red-tailed Hawk was sitting atop an oak.   I think he was pondering whether there was any way he could carry off one of the fat geese only a short flight away in the neighboring field. 

The Oregon black oaks around Emigrant Lake are tortured and stunted.  The giants among them are but 25 feet high.  The soil is poor, summers baked dry.  There are Oak Titmouse and Acorn Woodpecker further from the road though I didn’t pursue them today.  We’re at the northwestern edge of the Oak Titmouse’s inland range.  There was one in our yard last month but I haven’t seen him in over two weeks.  Acorn Woodpeckers, as I’ve mentioned, abound in the lower elevations of this valley.

Also at Emigrant Lake there was a Belted Kingfisher.  Though I’ve seen Osprey fish there, the sky over the lake was empty this morning.  It’s a favorite nesting area for Barn and Tree Swallow in the summer, but they’re now far to the south.  So too the Ash-throated Flycatchers that nest around its southern shoreline.  One willow-lined dry ravine yielded Song and Fox and Savannah and White-crowned Sparrows, Ruby-crowned Kinglet.  Three Yellow-rumped Warblers flushed from the weeds where the golldfinches were feeding. From the nearby highway Red-winged Blackbirds sang from roadside power lines.  Far back from the road I heard a Red-shoulderd Hawk crying.  More Flicker calls.  Near the willows I drew the angry chip calls of the Song Sparrows.  This was their turf.  All year round.  The visiting Golden-crowned Sparrows and a Fox Sparrow didn’t quite have that territorial imperative operating.

Emigrant Lake is a resevoit, with its waterline line about two hundred yards from the high water mark.  Four Common Ravens explored the area near where a creek flowed across the dried mudflats toward the shrunken lake.  They walked about like old men with stiff knees.  One of them gurgled a message while the others cocked their heads and listened.

I was back home by 930AM and Bridget wanted her walk so we went up to the western end of Granite Street,  where the pavement ends and the Rogue National Forest begins.  In a clearing we watched the sun hit the tops of the maple and oak and fir.  Kinglets bounced about.  Then I spotted a male Townesend Warbler.  Then one of the Kinglets sat up straight.  It wasn’t a Kinglet but a migrating Pacific-slope Flycatcher. Definitely not the more common Dusky that breeds locally.  Smaller beak and missing the pale pince-nez look of the Dusky.  Late in the year for him.  Then a Black-throated Gray Warbler,  Another late migrant.  A Chestnut-backed Chickadee.  They do not seem to come to feeders here. In a nearby abandoned quarry (not the one above Glenview) I found jays and a couple Yellow-rumps.  Then a flashy woodpecker flew overhead and landed uphill in a pine.  It was a Red-breasted Sapsucker.  My bird book on wintering birds of the Northwest tells me they’re regular wintering birds here in the lowlands.  The elevation is around 2100 feet which counts as lower elevation here in the Siskiyous.

Later at home the garden had the usual suspects.  One Mountain Chickadee came to feed during the sunny afternoon. They seem to disappear when it’s raining.  Then the local Bushtit crowd descended.  They favor the suet feeder.  At one time fourteen of the tiny gray balls hung every which-way on the sides of the five-inch square suet cage.  They may not be the smallest songbird around, but there the smallest around here.  And in our garden, at least, one of the most beloved. 


  1. […] here Author Comments […]

  2. I invite all birders I find on the internet to visit the Ivory-billed Woodpecker Foundation’s Update Blog, just in case they are interested:

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