Posted by: atowhee | September 23, 2017


Sept. 23, 2017, Ashland, OR
This morning Shannon Rio and I were leading a Klamath Bird Observatory field trip in the Ashland area. We ended up watching a TV show. This show was organic, nutritious, rich and satisfying. It was long-lasting, complex and exciting. It short it matched and then exceeded all the advertising copy you expect when watching TV.
Except…this TV was not that tv, but Turkey Vultures. We began our morning in the 45-degree chill at Emigrant Lake and by 9AM the air was warming and the sun was suppressing the clouds and we looked up to see Turkey Vultures. Not one, not a few, not a couple dozen…but kettle after kettle of south migrating TVs gathering and circling over the southern end of the Rouge Valley.
Here the vultures that migrate in the troughs between the Cascades on the east and Coast Range on the west face their highest hurdle. They must get over the Siskiyou Pass which tops 4000 feet elevation, 2000 feet higher than the upper end of the Rogue Valley. The pass is the highest point on the length of Interstate 5 just as it is the highest point on the inland migration route of these TVs. To most easily surmount the challenge the vultures seek out thermals and sunny days to lift their spirits and their wings. This Saturday in kettle after kettle the vultures would circle (mostly clockwise) and rise with each circuit. When they got high enough they would peel off from the whirl and coast straight south or southeast to a point where they would join another, higher elevation kettle. Some of these kettles swirled over the Emigrant Lake itself. Eventually all these birds got high enough to challenge the pass itself and thus coast southward into California and their ultimate goal of getting at least to the Sacramento Valley where carcasses don’t freeze on a winter’s night.
Here are some far better TV images from the camera of George Peterson who’s a real photographer, out of my point-and-shoot league.turkey Vulture emigrant lake (2 of 1)turkey Vulture emigrant lake (3 of 1)turkey Vulture emigrant lake (4 of 1)turkey Vulture emigrant lake (5 of 1)Turkey vultures emigrant lake (6 of 1)Turkey vultures emigrant lake (7 of 1)Turkey vultures emigrant lake (7 of 1)-2
We now get few natural phenomena where the creatures around us overcome our ability to count or estimate. One woman in our group started out counting the vultures, then counting the kettles and multiplying by seventy. But when each scan of the sky turned up more and more distant kettles even she was overwhelmed. Did we see five hundred, seven hundred, over a thousand? Yes and maybe to all those questions.
We no longer see elk herds in the hundreds, pronghorn herds of equal size, duck flocks so dense you think you could walk across the lake on their backs,pods of sea lions or fur seals covering offshore rocks. But we do have the Snow Geese who cover Sarcamento Valley refuges beneath drifts of white…and Turkey Vultures that perform gyre after gyre above Ashland before following the warmth to the lower lattitudes. It inevitably happens here in late September just where the Rogue Valley narrows and begins to slope up toward 2500′ elevation in preparation for the climb toward the Siskiyous.
There was a lone Pectoral Sandpiper among the Killdeer at the southwest end of the lake. Violet-green and Barn Swallows numbered in the hundreds. Common Mergansers pursued a school of fish along the lakeshore. They were diving and splashing in the shallows, attracting heron and egret alike. In the weeds growing in the dried lakebed of the half empty reservoir we found a flock of American Pipits, busily chasing down food. A Peregrine found a high perch, better to study the small fock of Green-winged Teal feeding in the muck. Acorn Woodpeckers, Western Bluebirds, Oak Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatches, House Wren–all doing what they are wont to do.API2AW UPP HIKD RUNZLesser Goldfinch, a beauty ammidst beauty.LEGO HIPSOsprey.OSPPeregrine.PG STAREZOne siskin???pisi on wirreWB IN ROSE
Later at Ashland Pond we found Yellow and Orange-crowned Warblers, waxwings and a Pied-billed Grebe family along with a skittish Green Heron who was camera-shy.
Some other fine images from George, including his shot of Pectoral and Killdeer: kildeer pectoral emigrant lake (1 of 1)peregrine falcon emigrant lake (1 of 1)Peregrine action!!!peregrine falcon emigrant lake (2 of 1)Blue bird emigrant lake (1 of 1)

To keep track of thing birdy in the Rogue Valley try the local Audubon website which has an updated feed of all sightings reported to the local birding listserve. That news feed is at the bottom of the front page, click here.
I wish all the local Audubon societies would get modernized and have their websites offer a similar service.

Springsteen is 68 years old today. Happy birthday, Bruce!

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