Posted by: atowhee | August 2, 2019



This month’s birding is off to an interesting start.

These white-tailed juncos seem to be following me. A few days after I saw one here in Yamhill County I happened to be in Hillsboro.  My wife was inside the Kaiser medical center and I had time to kill.  There in the Kaiser courtyard [near Evergreen Park] was ANOTHER white-tailed junco.  Thirty miles from the first one I had seen.  Do we have a genetic concentration of these neo-Oregon juncos with white tails?  Can there possibly be some evolutionary advantage to those tail flags?

Aug. 5 Email from Matt: I have at least one white-tailed junco coming regularly to my feeder for the last month or so. At first I thought I was imagining it as I’ve never seen a white-tailed junco before, but have since gotten very clear looks at it. I believe there might be another one or two coming that have either full white or at least partially white tails as well. I’m in Lake Oswego.
[so that makes at least three, maybe five, in the Portland Metro area…]

And this note from Richard Tyler, in another part of Hillsboro [can Hillsboro be a hotspot for white-tails?]: I thought it was kinda cool that I had just read about this on OBOL in the morning and had one at my feeder at few hours later. Normally, I wouldn’t pay much attention to “just another junco” out at the feeder, but the all-white tail caught my eye immediately.  

It has been suggested that perhaps these are adult birds molting and the dark tail feathers have not yet been replaced.  I did learn that DE Juncos have two white feathers on each side of the tail and that would account for sparse white tail if all the dark feathers have fallen out. It would also explain the timing.  Late summer, breeding over, plenty of food to supply needed protein for new feathers.  Anybody know how many tail feathers a jucno should have when NOT in molt?  BNA online and other references have been no help.
Daniel Farrar tells me that sparrows have a dozen tail feathers.  The white-tails I saw did not appear to have that many so it certainly seems this a molt phase and not a lasting condition, solving the mystery of the white-tailed juncos.

First, ordinary junco in Evergreen Park, then whitey under bench at Kaiser:





While in Hillsboro I took some time to explore Evergreen city park.  It was not previously marked on eBird so I entered its first checklist.  There were forest birds busily feeding.  I was surprised to see Ruby-crowned Kinglet at that time at that elevation.

Swallows and swifts have begun gathering into pre-migration flocks in the past several days.  Over our home last night there were at least 15  Vaux’s Swifts circling in as hunting flock.  At Wennerberg Park today Barn Swallows were gathering around the town’s largest public works building and feeding over the nearby hayfields. In the final picture I added marker above a youngster who still has only short tail streamers:





Today Nora took me off to Yamhill Sewer Ponds.  She loves the rich panoply of smells found there.  The surprise bird there was a Hutton’s Vireo.  I have over 100 checklists for this location in all seasons.  It is the first time I have found a Hutton’s Vireo there.  It was in the dense forest corridor along the creek.

It is swallow season over the sewer ponds, four species present today including my first Northern Rough-wings in Yamhill since April 18.  My later spring sightings all came in Harney County.

There were a handful of shorebirds, four species represented. The first image is one of the Least Sandpipers, far across the ponds.  Then pewee pics, there were at least two.  I kept running into one as I walked along, no way to know how many times I saw one or the other of the birds.





If you look carefully at the background in the enlarged version of the final image above you will note the pale streaks.  Those were bits of moisture blown down from the Coastal Range by intermittent breezes.  Tiny conglomerations of water molecules kept hitting my bare skin, each producing a brief frisson of damp coolness. Yet there was not enough of this mist/fog/atmospheric perspiration to even dampen the blades of grass or make circles on the pond surfaces.  The individual molecules are attracted to one another and cohesion occurs.  If you want to get into water drop behavior, click here for an intro.

At the Yamhill Sewer Ponds today Nora and I walked the perimeter.  At the far south end of the property a thick hedge is dominated by blackberry bushes and some of the canes reach ten feet into the air.  In the moist, sunny spots the berries are already sweet and so soft they could be not be picked and carried home.  They would simply jiggle into a black smear inside any container.  In dry areas and shady spots some of the blackest berries still have astringent tang, and the flavor is richly “berried” and not yet buried beneath fructose.

It is harvest festival time for fruit and seed eaters—finches, thrushes, waxwings, sparrows.  A flock of American Goldfinches, mostly adult males, were in the thistles near the sewer ponds.
The snowberries are filled out, ash trees dangle dense clusters of paper thin seeds, oaks are showing plump acorns, haws on hawthorns are still hard and green but coloring will come this month.  The haws will last well into winter inside their hard coats.  Dry and cold will only soften but not destroy.  Blackberries must be taken now.  Within a few weeks they will ferment, then desiccate.  The first frost will render them into leathery raisins.  The chokecherries are already gone while the feral apples are hard as oak galls but they, too, will sweeten and soften as the summer cools in September.  In our garden the squirrels are harvesting the green apples eating up to 75% of each fruit before leaving the core or corpse on our lawn.





Images above”white oak acorns, apples, ash with seeds, blackberries, hawthorn.

Oregon grape with fruit at Hillsboro’s Evergreen Park:OR-GRP (2)Yamhill Sewage Ponds (restricted access), Yamhill, Oregon, US
Aug 2, 2019
20 species

Mallard  22
Eurasian Collared-Dove  14
Killdeer  1
Least Sandpiper  2
Long-billed Dowitcher  2
Spotted Sandpiper  1
Western Wood-Pewee  2
Hutton’s Vireo  1
California Scrub-Jay  4
Northern Rough-winged Swallow  3
Violet-green Swallow  X
Barn Swallow  30
Cliff Swallow  X
Bewick’s Wren  1
American Robin  5
European Starling  X
American Goldfinch  16
Song Sparrow  2
Brown-headed Cowbird  X
Brewer’s Blackbird  X

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