Posted by: atowhee | March 23, 2009

Moving swiftly past

It was an evening dogwalk.  I didn’t even have my binoculars, always a dumb idea to leave them behind.  There overhead were the cigar-shaped, sickle-winged birds.  Vaux’s Swifts.  First ones reported in Jackson County this spring.  About fifty of them circling overhead and the entire flock flowing northward.  Eventually there’ll be several pairs nesting about town and I’ll see them occasionally all summer fly-catching high above, in mornings and evenings.

They are members of a widespread bird family, some swifts and swiftlets are even found on some remote Pacific islands.  They cling with claw-like feet to walls, cliffs and caves.  Like bats.  They cannot perch.  Their sounds are chirps and clicks and they move about only in flight–no walking, no hopping and definitely no swimming.

At the same time a dark brown falcon passed over, heading southward up Ashland Creek Canyon for the night.  A Merlin.  I may not see another one around here until next fall.  They’ll be leaving soon for their breeding territory east or north of here.

At the Pascal Winery today a herd of grazing Wigeons were working a small pasture.  Near Newbry Park along Bear Creek at the south end of Talent, there were Yellow-rumped Warblers in the brambles. Pishing even brought out a pair of Wrentit, curious about the noise.  This domestic couple stayed low in the scouring rushes and berry vines, but did look me over carefully.  They have pale pupils and dark, delicate streaking on their thorat and upper chest.  The long, wren-like tails are held erect, the stiff feathers ending in rough edges.

I recently blogged about the Wrentit’s newly discovered cousin in Asia.  The Wrentit is the only American member of the babbler family.  They are so generally sedentary you have to wonder how any ancestral babbler managed to go so far as the land bridge in Alaska/Siberia and then work its way down to Oregon and California.  Near the Wrentits today was a lone Ruby-crowned Kinglet.  This crimson mohawk stripe was showing.  And the brassy burnish on the wings below the wing bars looked bright and newly molted.  Like the Merlin he’ll be heading out soon, though he may only have t0 travel uphill.  They do not nest along Bear Creek at 1700 feet elevation.

On Upper Granite today, at the gravel pit, Bridget and I were watched carefully by two suspicious locals.  I think B was the center of their attention:deerwatch













 Behind the deer: manzanita and Ponderosa pine.  And near a small seasonal pond, another suspicious pair gave us the eyeball:img_6266










 And on the willowed slope, this handsome fellow was chicken-scratching his way through the grass and the duff:img_6262





















Yes, the eye really is crimson.  The glossy, deep black of the head and throat suggests it’s a male.  The Spotted Towhee.  One of our larger sparrow family members.

In the garden today a couple of firsts for the season.  A pair of Mallards, literallyd ropped out of the sky to clean up any grain the smaller birds had missed.  And a pair of Mourning Doves were copulating atop the wooden fence.  Must be spring.

Location:     243 Granite Street, Ashland
Observation date:     3/23/09
Number of species:     14

Mallard     2
Mourning Dove     4
Anna’s Hummingbird     1
Downy Woodpecker     1
Northern Flicker (Red-shafted)     1
Steller’s Jay     5
Western Scrub-Jay     1
Black-capped Chickadee     2
Bushtit     1
American Robin     1
Spotted Towhee     1
Fox Sparrow     1
Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon)     16
Lesser Goldfinch     4

Location:     Newbry Park & Greenway, Talent
Observation date:     3/23/09
Number of species:     19

Canada Goose     8
Gadwall     14
American Wigeon     18
Mallard     5
Ring-necked Duck     35
Bufflehead     10
Pied-billed Grebe     1
Turkey Vulture     1
Red-tailed Hawk     2
Western Scrub-Jay     3
Black-capped Chickadee     3
Ruby-crowned Kinglet     1
Wrentit     2
European Starling     6
Yellow-rumped Warbler     3
Spotted Towhee     1
Fox Sparrow     1
Song Sparrow     1
Red-winged Blackbird     6

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