Posted by: atowhee | February 18, 2015


We have had little of true winter here in southern Oregon and northern California. Below 7000’ there’s no snowpack. While we are above average for precipitation this season, yet much of it has departed via streams and rivers.  The long sunny days and intermittent storms have brought spring in February. There is little snow left to feed streams into the late summer. Our temperatures have been running well above average for the time of year. Most days the high is over 50 degrees. As a result hardy plants and animals are well ahead of the usual schedule.

I’ve already seen mushrooms sprouting at 6500’. Meadows at 5000’ elevation are green with grass and mullein. Daffodils, crocus and Dutch iris are blooming in valley gardens. Today I saw finches and Golden-crowned Sparrows feeding on willow catkins. Plum trees are in full bloom. I found a shaded hillside prettied by the blooms of grass widows, a wildflower we expect here in late March. Manzanita have been blooming at 4800’. Along Ashland Creek the scouring rushes are three feet high while poison hemlock has grown into a miniature forest eighteen inches high around Ashland Pond. We have been picking fresh parsley from our garden all winter long.  I need to get out and mow my tiny patch of lawn.

All “winter” there’ve been insects in the air, swarms of aphids, moths at night. I found a heaving hill of ants last week. Scrub-Jays, Crows and other resident birds are early with nesting behavior. Flicker, Red-winged Blackbird, Purple Finch and Lesser Goldfinch can be heard with their spring songs. Some Robins already are singing as well. These Robins will not nest here but eventually migrate north to be replaced by “our” Robins returning from a southern sojourn. Not all the avian spring signals can be found. Bushtits are still in flocks, not broken into couples…and I’ve yet to hear a single Golden-crowned Sparrow song though the birds are ubiquitous and in breeding plumage with bright skull caps glowing.

If this is the new normal it will be fine for flexible resident birds, able to move their schedule with the shifting climate. For returning migrants they may find they have arrived too late, with plants and insects much further along the seasonal arc than the pattern that has shaped evolution.  Those migrant birds down in the tropics have no idea was happening up here.  Barn Swallows will not leave Chile a month early. What if the Calliope Hummer returns and finds the manzanita done with its blooming? What if berries and fruits are all early—will that doom migrating waxwings and Varied Thrush next fall? The shift in weather patterns will not only mean worse drought, worse storms, worse forest fires, it will bring these time-shifts that will stress-test every species in the region.

SPRING GALLERY IN FEBRUARYcatkin eater (1280x960) catkin eater2 (1280x960)Purple Finch and G-C Sparrow feed on catkins. caw (1280x960)CRO NST1Grows were calling back and forth, one in the nest they intend to use.  Eventually they sat near one another before flying off.  Tjheir real estate deal onthe nest is now in esCROW.  Love that pun. cro (1280x960) cro cupl cro face (1280x960)  G-C-S (1280x960)Golden-crown in spring finery.  rbs-aftrFirst there was the act, and we;re not talkin’ Shakespeare here.  Then there is the after-act. rbs-aftr2I am seeing some little Red-breasted Sapsucker eggs in the next act… rbs-lmbRBS SIDE (1280x960)The male bird, of course, hurried off to catch a bite to eat.

Ashland Pond, Jackson, US-OR
Feb 18, 2015 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Comments:     two visits, one in the afternoon
35 species

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)  X
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)  9
Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus)  3
Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)  1
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)  3
Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)  2     fly over
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)  2
Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna)  2
Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)  1
Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus)  3
Red-breasted Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus ruber)  2
Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)  1
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)  2
Western Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica)  7
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)  20
Common Raven (Corvus corax)  1
Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor)  3     FOY at pond
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)  1
Oak Titmouse (Baeolophus inornatus)  2
Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus)  15
White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)  1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula)  1
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  30
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  X
Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus)  3
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)  1
Golden-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia atricapilla)  25
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)  8
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)  X     singing
Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta)  X     singing
Purple Finch (Haemorhous purpureus)  3
Pine Siskin (Spinus pinus)  X
Lesser Goldfinch (Spinus psaltria)  X
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)  1
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)  X




  1. The Anna’s Hummingbird that had two nestings on my mother’s porch (in Salinas, California, just a bit in,and from Monterey) last year has already fledged her first pair of babies this year and is cleaning the nest preparatory to using it again.

  2. (in,and=inland)

  3. Yes, we had the same conditions back in the big drought of the 80’s. We’re in the western US. Weather is cyclical. Just prepare, and wait a bit longer we’ll see our wet season soon enough. Then prepare again for the next drought. In my life time this is the 4th drought I’ve been in living in CA…the wet season returns…of this I have no doubt. Like Earthquakes it’s our reality. We should prepare and know it coming. It’s weather. Period!

    • yes, the aridity is the major condition of the western U.S> as Wallace Stegner continually reminded us…thus cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas are insanely placed…and dare I add L.A.? We also went through the 20th Century droughts in the Bay Area, flushing toilets with laundry water, etc. Here in Ashland we saved over 30% from normal water use last summer just through voluntary conservation…brown became the new green as lawns, that shouldn’t be here anyway, were allowed to dry up…a lot more xeriscaping and planting of native shrubs like Oregon grape that snickers at droughty

  4. Hi, I’m enjoying your blog, I’m very interested in the climate situation happening along the western coast, especially from San Francisco to Washington. I’ve been writing about it on my blog as well, see link below.

    • I saw the recent NASA predictions that longer drought periods are in our future, which I am too old to have to worry about…I would predcict at some point California will have to stop growing rice in the irrigated desert

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