Posted by: atowhee | June 8, 2008

Further adventures in a late, cold spring

Saturday’s birding at Willow Witt Ranch was exemplar of how late this spring is for mountain plants and animals.  At 4700 feet mule’s ears are just now in full bloom, several weeks after their height of bloom down at 2200 feet.

There are over seventy acres of mountain meadow near the Willow Witt ranch house and barns.  The owners are carefully restoring these to a more natural state after decades of heavy grazing. While the owners still raise livestock and vegetables, they’re committed to protecting the fragile mountain habitat they now steward. 


Another blooming wildflower covered some of the south-facing slopes with little or broken shade:  the common camas, a former favored source of food for northwestern Native Americans who ate the bulbs.  It is a lily, Camassia quamash.

Willows are being returned to the edges of fast-flowing spring-fed branches that move down the meadows and eventually become part of the headwaters of Bear Creek.  Birds of those damp meadows include Wilson’s Snipe–we heard one still winnowing in June. Also, Brewer’s and Red-winged Blackbirds, Song Sparrows and Tree Swallows hawking insects overhead.

This male Red-winged was photographed by Grace Ruth far to the south.  But those flashing epaulets and the clear tones of a full spring song are familiar to birders and hikers all over this nation. 




Away from the springs are some dryer open grasslands. Here Vesper Sparrows were singing from fenceposts, only to dive back into the grass when somebody looked at them.  Up at the feeders around the ranch house, activity was intense.  Two Evening Grosbeaks did not stick around for the photo shoot.  But:


Purple Finches.








Pine Siskins, always eager to be part of the crowd.  And as fearless as the ones that came into our garden over the winter. Up at Willow Witt’s elevation these guys are breeding up in the evergreens.




The male Black-headed Grosbeak was wary when I was around, two Purple Finches on the right.  They have many similarities but are in different families, Cardinalidae for the BHG and Fringillidae for the finches and siskins.  Most willing to be photographed: a male Tree Swallow perched on a post near the nest-box being used by his mate and him.  So there I was eating fresh goat-cheese on baguette and taking pictures of a Tree Swallow in bright noon-day sunshine.  His glossy back came in various reflected shades fromgun-metal black to purple to deep ocean blue.




All that grace and beauty, AND he eats mosquitoes.  What more could you ask from a small bird?  Swooping and swift flight perhaps?  Check.  Rugged character able to withstand late winter freezes?  Check. These birds begin returning in February!  Willingness to accept the charity of a cozy nest box just a few yards from the kitchen window?  Check. Glorious singing voice?  Errr, nah, sounds like a bunch of quarreling trolls.  Buzzing and fussing and gurgling of murky waters.  Oh well, even a fine creature like this can’t have everything.

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