Posted by: atowhee | September 6, 2019


There were only seven ducks at the Yamhill city sewer ponds this morning, but they represented four species.  Three shorebirds. But that scarcity was balanced by hundreds of feeding swallows over ponds and pastures.  Perhaps even appreciated by the stolid Angus standing along the fence, their faces covered with flies.

One Lesser Scaup, a Gadwall and three shovelers.  It marks the start of yet another seasonal beginning, the arrival of waterfowl from distant nesting places.

Left to right: scaup, shoveler, Gadwall.
3DUCKS (2)ANGUS (2)GRT BLU (2)Pewee profiled against a bright sky.  May be my last pewee sighting of the year.WWP (2)WWP2 (2)Open this picture and then zoom in, sky is pocked with swallows swerving back and forth.YSP=SWLLWS (2)


A narrow Fellow in the Grass
Occasionally rides –
You may have met him? Did you not
His notice instant is –

The Grass divides as with a Comb,
A spotted Shaft is seen,
And then it closes at your Feet

And opens further on –

He likes a Boggy Acre –
A Floor too cool for Corn –
But when a Boy* and Barefoot
I more than once at Noon

Have passed I thought a Whip Lash
Unbraiding in the Sun
When stooping to secure it
It wrinkled And was gone –

Several of Nature’s People
I know, and they know me
I feel for them a transport
Of Cordiality

But never met this Fellow
Attended or alone
Without a tighter Breathing
And Zero at the Bone.                   –Emily Dickinson   * never so

Ms Emily’s avowed fear of the snake was widespread in her time and even in mine.  I get a tiny thrill each time I see one nowadays.  Here in agriculturally profitable western Oregon there are few enough.  Plows, mowers, balers, toxic chemicals, busy roads.  I marvel that any survive to adulthood.  Today’s garter snake at the Yamhill city sewer ponds was three feet long, good size for this species.

More than six decades ago when I was growing up in the Missouri Ozarks my parents were decidedly anti-snake.  Both had grown up on Midwest farms.  An animal is either useful to the farmer, or the enemy.
I was about twelve before I could finally convince them to stop killing garter snakes.  I knew from cub scouts and reading Missouri Conservation magazine that garter snakes were “on our side” eating mice and insects and such.  Finally I convinced my father and I think he stopped killing them on sight.

We rarely saw the larger, more menacing-looking black snakes.  They could reach up to five feet or more and would pretend to be dangerous if cornered.  As a pretend grown-up in my twenties I owned a small farm and one night in checking on the chickens before bed-time I noticed one hen setting on a clutch of eggs was perched up high in a strange angle in her nest box.  Beneath her was coiled a five-foot black snake with an egg in its throat.  Somewhere there is a picture of mw with the snake stretched at length between my out-stretched hands.  He was transported.  I took him to the far end of the farm, figuring at his size and speed it would take him a couple days to get back.  Yet I never saw him again, perhaps the ignominy of being handled by a stinky mammal was too much for his reptilian pride to risk a second time.

There were poisonous snakes in the Ozarks at that time but not often seen.  Cottonmouths in slow streams.  Copperheads in rock outcroppings or around cave openings.   All snakes were scarce as they were on the enemies list along with skunks, crows, hawks, raccoons.  Scariest of all the wild things were bats, widely believed to spread rabies willy-nilly.

I was proud of my parents for tolerating box turtles which we had to constantly remove from the garden. Those turtles loved low-hanging tomatoes and strawberries. More than once I picked a large tomato to find it had been hollowed out from the bottom. There was family understanding, too, toward the large, warty toads found around the house in warm months, only at night. My mother said they ate crickets which she was surfer were trying to break into the house and eat her rugs.  Of toads, she said, “They give you warts if you touch them.”  I refused that warning but learned, repeatedly, that the toads will piss all over your hand if you pick them up.  A smell I could still detect at ten paces should it ever be necessary.

Yamhill Sewage Ponds (restricted access), Yamhill, Oregon, US
Sep 6, 2019
19 species

Northern Shoveler  3
Gadwall  1
Mallard  2
Lesser Scaup  1
Eurasian Collared-Dove  X
Anna’s Hummingbird  1
Least Sandpiper  2
Spotted Sandpiper  1
Great Blue Heron  1
Turkey Vulture  1
Western Wood-Pewee  1
California Scrub-Jay  2
Violet-green Swallow  30
Barn Swallow  400
American Robin  6
American Goldfinch  10
Savannah Sparrow  1
Spotted Towhee  2
Common Yellowthroat  1


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