Posted by: atowhee | January 22, 2017


Yesterday I attended the third annual Willamette Valley Bird Symposium at OSU, Corvallis.

The lead-off speaker described plans being developed to bring California Condors back to Oregon.  The first released population is most likely to be on the border with California where the Yuroks have purchased a large swath of suitable habitat. The biggest dangers to the birds are all manmade: lead shot in carcasses, mercury in dead sea mammals, plastic trash collected by adults and fed to nestlings.  The young condors may be in the nest for six months.  Most condors do not breed until they are six years old.  There is a lot to learn to be an effective grown-up condor.  We all know some public figures who could never reach that level of maturity.

The speaker was in awe of the condors’ sociability, their intelligence, not to mention their ten-foot wingspan, North America’s greatest. Here’s a photo I took on Big Sur Coast in June, 2010, as a grandfather and grandson condor paired floated in and out of the coastal fog along Hwy 1.condor

There were some talks that dwelt on taxonomy: evidence that there are multiple species of the Old World’s Tawny Owl…and maybe four species now all lumped as Yellow-rumped Warbler.  Some preliminary research indicates that during migration myrtle may out-number Audubon’s in western Oregon!

Jujniper removal is leading to healthier sagebrush habitat, good for Sage Grouse, pronghorn and other species that need treeless habitat.  One study found that those grouse will stop nesting in an area when the juniper canopy hits only 4% or more…shade intolerant.  Also the trees aid the grouse’s worst aerial predators: Ravens and raptors.

The Edward Abbey Memorial Cattle Removal Association would have applauded one presentation.  Cattle removal from Hart Mountain and Sheldon Wildlife Refuges in the Great Basin has led to much more robust riparian corridor plants and return of sagebrush…Lazuli Bunting, Orange-crowned Warbler and MacGillivray’s Warbler populations all increased several fold twenty years after the  cows were evicted.

There was a talk on Barro Colorado Island, in the Panama Canal.

Because there are bird records going back a century, this man-created island is a perfect place to study habitat and species diversity. Originally there were about 200 rainforest species breeding on the island which was simply a mountaintop isolated from other land when the canal was built. Now 70 of those species are gone, and without looking at any rain or climate data you can tell the island is dryer.  The species that are disappearing are those found in wetter forests.  Dryer habitat birds have persevered.  Barro Colorado has dried because of the edge effects, more wind from the lake and thinner canopy as wind takes out big trees.

Another on-going study is tracking the effects of tall fescue’s toxicosis on quail chicks.  The toxin comes from ergot fungus, or the effects of ergovaline.  The alkaloid also affects mammals.  Tall fescue is found in thousands of acres of Oregon farm fields and many golf courses.

Finally, with some veneer of hope, there are still on-going efforts to reintroduce the alala (Hawaiian Crow) to the wild, with over 100 birds in captivity.  The crow is the only surviving native seed disperser left from the pre-human Hawaiian ecosystems.

The Alala Project website:

Around 2000 my wife and I saw two wild alala on the Big Island.  Within two years all the wild alala were dead.  They have deadly enemies in addition to the native native hawk (Io).  Toxoplasmosis from mammal feces and the introduced mammals themselves are the main foes: rats, cats and mongooses.  An attempted release of alala last fall failed, three died and two were recaptured.

Much of the research featured at the Symposium and some of the speakers depend on federal money.  The future of the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Geological Survey and land management agencies like BLM and Forest Service are all uncertain.  Nobody there was making any predictions.

Captive birds meeting symposium-goers:img_5271img_5270img_5264img_5261img_5260

Top to bottom: Barn Owl, Red-tail, Spotted Owl, Merlin X 2.

There are openings for a couple birders on two trips I'[m leading in the Pacific Northwest this year.  Both trips are sponsored  by Golden Gate Audubon of San Francisco/Oakland…but you do not have to be a member to join the trips.

Northwest Washington is March 9-13.  We bird the perimeter of Puget Sound for Arctic birds.  On past trips we have had Gyrfalcon and Snowy Owl.  We still hope for Yellow-billed Loon.  Trumpeter Swan, Red-necked Grebe, many Harlequin, Rhino Auklets and other goodies can be expected.

Southern Cascades is May 26-29.  This trip is based in Ashland and will include Klamath Basin and Butte Valley.   Of course, we will try for Great Gray Owl on their breeding grounds.  Other targets: Green-tailed Towhee, White-headed Woodpecker, nesting Sandhill Cranes, dancing Western Grebes, Black Tern, Swainson’s and Ferruginous Hawks, Calliope Hummingbird, Dipper, Oak Titmouse, California Towhee, White-tailed Kite and White-faced Ibis.

Here is websiute for more info:

If you are interested in either trip, let me know.


  1. Let’s march against ergovaline! Not with my quails you don’t! Thanks for the update. m a

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