Posted by: atowhee | January 15, 2008

I meant to go birding today, but…


Brown Creeper photo by Louise Won. 

My wife’s computer died. That required tech support from a person, in person, then getting on the phone to buy a new box.  I had a 90-minute session with my new dentist, everything from a mild scolding about not flossing enough to x-rays to getting a cavity drilled & filled.  Later a wood artist, carpenter is too weak a term for this man, came to pick up a fractured French oak antique that he will rescue.  This man carved a most wonderful modern totem pole that stands at the main intersection in central Ashland.  It heralds the area’s original human inhabitants.  Those were the original Oregonians, largely killed and dispossessed by the onslaught of settlers from far to the east.  And we were out of dog cookies, which in our household is tantamount to no beer at the baseball game.  So off we went to the Grange for Bridget’s bickies.

So I did some standing around, in our garden, then in the gravel lane that goes past our house and up the hill.  The birding had come to me. On this partly sunny day the temps never got much past forty but the air was clear and still up in our canyon.  While cold ground-dampening fog hung over the lower parts of the valley, we were above all that.  And so, too, were some of the hungry birds.  Robins and Cedar Waxwings gathered in nervous flocks in the cedars, madrone, leafless deciduous trees.  Some of the male Robins were practicing their spring song.  A gang of Chestnut-backed Chickadees with a lone Ruby-crowned Kinglet sidekick came past. The Mountain Chickadees went straight to our garden feeders and never strayed. Then the local Red-breasted Nuthatch and a Brown Creeper, the latter strangely unsual in this forested lanscape.  It is the first one I’ve seen near our home.

I carefully scanned across the rows of Waxwings, not a single one could I turn into a Bohemian, but they were great to watch nonetheless.  Primarily they preened and loafed.  Some flew into the biggest madrone on the hillside which still carries berries.  There Robinsx were also feeding.  You have to love the madrone: ornage bark, bright green leaves and a fruit that seems to last all winter.  I did see a handful of waxwings in a clump of mistletoe, eating the small white fruits.

It was intersting to see a resting Red-tailed Hawk, verbally abused by the jays but never did they lay a talon on him.  The nasally trumpeting of the Red-breasted Nuthatch seemed constant.  Juncos, of course, scurried around the hillside doing what Juncos always do.  Scratching about, pecking, hunting, pushing one another around because of some unseen boundary that had shifted position and thus required some aggressive redefinition.  There was chirping Downy, a “clear” calling Flicker.  The local deer herd eyed me and yawned as they shuffled downhill toward some of their favorite bushes in our neighbor’s yard.  Just yesterday three of them gracefully vaulted our “deer fence” and proceeded to clean out the bird feeders.  The real objection, however, came from their fellow greedy mammal, Mr. Gray Squirrel.  He squawked, he scolded.  He shook his Musketeer’s plume, that bushy tail, up and down.  He scurried over to the kitchen window and looked in at the two humans inside. 

“You idiots,”  he might have screamed in squirrelish,  “You just gonna let those big rats clean out all the squirrel feeders?  Do Something!  This is an outrage.”

Of course, after the deer ate their fill and left peacefully, we did re-fill all the bird, or rather, squirrel feeders in our garden.

All of that was fine to see, but the treat of the day, perhaps of the winter was yet to come.  I noticed the Waxwings dropping out of one bare tree in little fluttery foocks, descneding towsrd the ground then disappearihng behind a tiny hillock.  Well, that little mound is the dam on a very vernal pond.  Due to nights of very heavy rain it has all of eight inches of water standing in the bottom of its irregular shape.  The Waxwings were bathing.  And like all things Waxwings do, they bathe in groups.  A few would flutter down and then take their splashing position in the shallow water and all flap their wings and dip their heads under at once, creating a bird shower of impressive thoroughness.  When a group of several had wahsed enough they would fly up into the bare tree, preen and air dry while other small groups would take their place in the bathing pond.  At no time did the Waxwings push or grump like Juncos, or insist on space like a Robin or Jay.  Often they were so close together in the little clumps that their wing feathers brushed  other Waxwings.  A tight group of bathing birds might be fifteen feet of open water from the next set of splashers.  I was close enoughto note the yellow tail tips ranged in width from an eyelash to the thickness of a piece of well-buttered toast.  Apparently tail wear is a very personal thing among these otherwise group-act birds.

I did get to see a female Common Merganser fly up the canyon towatd the duck pond. A good yard bird.  And on our way back from Phoenix (Oregon, that is) there was an unseasonal Osprey hunting over the small ponds along I-5, just north of Ashland.  There are many breeding Osprey here but they usually migrate south and are scarce in the winter months.

Location:     243 Granite Street, Ashland
Observation date:     1/14/08
Number of species:     17

Common Merganser     1
Red-tailed Hawk     1

Mourning Dove     5
Downy Woodpecker     1
Northern Flicker     1
Steller’s Jay     9
Western Scrub-Jay     5
Black-capped Chickadee     1
Mountain Chickadee     2
Chestnut-backed Chickadee     12
Red-breasted Nuthatch     1
Brown Creeper     1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet     1
American Robin     140
Cedar Waxwing     185
Spotted Towhee     1
Dark-eyed Junco     70

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(


  1. Harry,
    In spite of the title you did go birding today. As usual you have written a neat piece. Roz and I are in the Rio Grande Valley this week and while seeing more species, I cannot describe the scene nearly as well. Have a great week and keep us informed about your days.

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