Posted by: atowhee | March 2, 2008

The Lesser and one of the greater

vg_swallow.jpglesser-goldfinch-7098.jpg  Violet-green Swallow, male Lesser Goldfinch. Photos by Len Blumin.  Want to see more of his fine pics, click here.

 Bridget and I walked the short loop around Ashland Pond this morning.  We were never beyond the tinkly song of the Lesser Goldfinches.  Many times we could not see the songster but the rapid, energetic notes tumbled over one another and all of those present were surrounded.  Often three or four the diminutive finches were within earshot at the same time.  The soft spring song itself doesn’t carry far, but there were plenty of terriorial males to carry the song wherever we went.  Nesting cannot be too manhy days off.

Overhead were swallows heading north from about 930AM until the rain picked up.  At first they were all Violet-green, the first I’ve seen this year.  They just missed making my February list (which was 101 species, all in Jackson County).  Then a swath of Tree Swallows passed over.  All were heading north along the Bear Creek Greenway and its bordering pastureland. Until the rain grew moderately there were plenty of flying insects about.  The low angle of the sun and the dense misty clouds gave little light on the swallows’ back.  But in my mind I could see the VG’s colors.  It is surely one of the greatest sights we have here on the Pacific Coast.  One our fellow birders east of the Mississippi do not share.  They have their Northern Cardinal, Indigo Bunting, a couple dozen wood warblers.  They don’t have that iridescent, madcap mixture of violet and green that an adult VG Swallow can show in bright sunlight.  The Violet-green Swallow is one of our prize western species.  Welcome them back to Oregon for the summer.  Their voracious appetite for insects is a bonus.

There was a pair of yellow-tinged Siskins along the pond’s shore.  A Blue Heron annoyed at the dog, flew off toward an open pasture full of Meadowlarks, Killdeer, Starlings.  One Cooper’s Hawk circled nearby houses, checking the bird feeders most likely.  The pond itself has more water than it’s had previously.  Dozens of Mallards.  Song Sparrows chasing one another across the frost-downed cattails.  There was a lone Coot.  When was the last time you saw a single Coot?

And Red-winged Blackbirds beginning to compete for nesting space. Both genders were giving our their “cong-ker-eee” song from the tops of cattail stalks.  The dark, streaky females will each claim a smallish territory first, then alpha males will compete to see how any of those estrogen allotments each can build into an Icterid empire for the breeding season.  Perhaps we hominids just borrowed our method of international politics from the eons-old gene pool on which we and the Red-wings both draw.  The allotropy of territorial aggression is complex and spread across so many species.

Near one bramble thicket I pished and was immediately scolded by the owner, a Bewick’s Wren.  Purple Finches ignored our lowdown contretemps–primate and wren–and continued their sweet whistling from the treetops.  Somewhere near Bear Creek a Northern Flicker rattled repeatedly.  Canada Geese honked from afar.  Scrub-jays were often in a dander, meaning nasal “screeeee” calls.  Once in awhile two male mallards in the reeds would squabble and quack alarm.  The background melody continued to be Lesser Goldfinch Symphony #1.

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