Posted by: atowhee | February 8, 2023


The win ter means lots of interesting birds at Ankeny NWR. I saw many robins, for example, and wondered if one were our Motus motivator from Canada? Many of the birds at Ankeny are obvious–ducks, harrier, eagles. But today I focused on trying to focus on one of the more elusive locals–not rare, just sneaky. Not as hard to spot as a rail or bittern, yet the Marsh Wren is one of the toughest songbirds. And that cliche, “just a blur,” really applies here:

Ankeny today: Female Bufflehead at Eagle Marsh, only one I spotted (didn’t carry my scope today); Cacklers coming in for landing; six Canada Geese in flight; adult eagle by distant pool in far-off field; another eagle perched; kestrel on wire; harrier on stick stack with distant eagle in upper right corner; tiny fraction of big blackbird/starling gathering near Pintail Marsh; large crow flock east of Nature Center; Eagle Marsh with lotsa water and two yellowlegs(not shown here); afternoon sky; molting ruddy male; dsark red-tail; Tundra Swans at Eagle Marsh; eagle had un-landed.

GARDEN OBSERVATIONS: Last turkeys were a pair on Saturday. Today our garden was visited by fifteen turkeys today, many seemingly yearlings not ready for courtship and pair bonding. Both a male and female Varied Thrush came today. The siskin did not appear. The American Goldfinches are still here in the dozens. Juncos and Mourning Doves seem part of the landscaping/ Crows and scrub-jays–permanent. Flicker(s) daily, one to three. A female always. The Steller’s Jays have been absent for a few days now. At least a dozen squirrels daily.


Photo from Tim Stuart, visiting Florida from Yamhill County. He writes: “Greetings from Venice Florida. Sandhills crossing a busy road. Drivers yielded, they made it. I saw Florida Scrub Jays earlier.” Those jays are Florida endemics and there are two endemic corvids species in California: Yellow-billed Magpie and Island Scrub-jay. I’ve seen those but not the Florida jay. ANd Tim sent me this shot of a gopher tortoise in his back yard at the rental he’s using:

Photo by Tom Kuhn in San Francisco:

Rather Be a Bird? Check out this colum by Nick Hoppe:

FEB 8                 I’m fortunate to live near San Francisco Bay, where I overlook a bird sanctuary. At certain times of the year, like the last few weeks, it’s an aviary wonderland.                Egrets, Blue Herons, Canadian Geese, Terns, Pelicans, Cormorants—thousands of birds, some migrating, some permanent, all darting this way  and that. As I watch, one question always comes to the forefront of my brain.                WHERE ARE ALL THE OLD BIRDS??!!                It’s not fair. Every bird I watch has enormous energy, whether they’re big birds like Pelicans or small birds like Terns. They soar into the sky and zip around without a care in the world about their health.                Don’t they ever get old? Where is the Pelican that flaps away as it rises from the water and then does a face plant into the bay, cursing its failing body? Where is the Cormorant who can’t keep up in the V-formation, just saying “the hell with those young whippersnappers,” and dropping back to take a well-deserved nap?                Not one old bird can be seen. They all keep up, they all soar into the sky, they all act like teenagers with way too much energy. And I find it really irritating.                Why can’t our species behave similarly? Why do our bodies have to slowly deteriorate until our dying day? If I had wings, I’m pretty sure my flying days would be over about now. I’d be like a turkey in a seagull body.                Of course, my jealousy of birds begs the question of whether I’d rather be a bird and never get old, or a human being that slowly but surely falls apart. Since a bird’s lifespan generally ranges from four years (hummingbird) to over 30 years (Bald Eagle), and because I have an inherent fear of flying, I’m probably going to go with human being.                It would just be nice to grow old without being old. The birds I watch almost every day seem to be having a marvelous time with their eternal youth. None of them are on the sidelines, watching their younger counterparts do things they used to do.                They don’t even look old. Their beaks don’t wrinkle, their feathers don’t turn grey, they have no replacement parts. Like I said, it’s not fair.                Then again, as noted, they do die, which begs the next question: There are millions of birds out there, thousands of them outside my window. They don’t age, so how do they die?                Apparently, and this is another reason I’d rather be a human than a bird, is that they’re not quite as bright as we are. An estimated 976 million birds are killed each year by flying beak first into windows, thinking the mirror image is their natural habitat. While I’ve done that many times, I’m smart enough to not go very fast.                They also are susceptible to disease, like the West Nile Virus, which has killed millions of birds. Affected birds will often be fluffed out and stay low to the ground, or seem off balance and unable to stand. They usually die within three days.                I can assure you that none of the birds I’ve ever watched had that disease. My specimens are all acrobats.                Predators also take out their share of birds, especially cats, who are responsible for millions of kills every year. The good news for birds is that cats, like dogs, do indeed age. Their pouncing days come to an end before they know it.                If not a cat’s belly, or at the foot of a window, where do birds go to die? And barring a disease, how do they know it’s time? One minute they’re darting from tree to tree, the next minute they drop dead.                Lots of questions, very few answers. Researchers are flummoxed as to why birds don’t age and where they go to die. They have some convoluted ideas, but no one knows for sure. It’s one of the great mysteries of life.                So as I watch them from my window, different species intermingling, all exuberant, all well-fed from the little fish in the bay, I marvel at their health. As I creakily rise from my chair, I wonder if old age is a blessing or a curse.                I’m going with a blessing. And it sure beats getting eaten by a cat.
Contact Nick at
For archived columns, visit LIKECOMMENTSHARE 
Read Hoppe Columns in the app.Listen to posts, join subscriber chats, and never miss an update from Nick Hoppe.© 2023 Nick Hoppe, 496 Jefferson St, San Francisco CA 9410

I am leading a fund-raising bird trip sponsored by, and based at, the Malheur Field Station. It is May 15-20. We will see Ferruginous and Swainson’s Hawks, Prairie Falcon, Golden Eagles, White Pelicans, Short-eared and Great Horned and Burrowing Owls, Loggerheasd Shrike, Sage Thrasher, Sandhill Cranes, Black Terns, Franklin’s Gulls, White-faced Ibis, Rock & Canyon Wren, Sagebrush and Brewer’s Sparrow, Cinnamon Teal, snipe, Wilson’s Phalarope, possible bittern. There are likely to be usual (Lewis’s Woodpecker, Evening Grosbeak) and unusual (any bird that migrates to northern Canada) migrants at the hotspots. We will bird the basin and foothills of Steens Mountain.
Interested? Call 541-493-2629.

PHOTO TRIP: this trip is already filled.  IT’s May 31-June 4

SEPTEMBER. I am leading a fund-raising bird trip sponsored by, and based at, the Malheur Field Station. It is Sept. 8-13.   We will see Ferruginous and Swainson’s Hawks, Prairie Falcon, Golden Eagles, White Pelicans, Short-eared and Great Horned Owls, Sandhill Cranes, Black Terns, Franklin’s Gulls, Loggerheasd Shrike, Sage Thrasher White-faced Ibis, Rock & Canyon Wren, Horned Lark, Cinnamon Teal, snipe, Wilson’s Phalarope, possible bittern. There are likely to be usual (Lewis’s Woodpecker, Evening Grosbeak) and unusual (any bird that migrates to northern Canada) migrants at the hotspots. We will bird the basin and the entire Steens Loop. Interested? Call 541-493-2629.

Ankeny NWR, Marion, Oregon, US
Feb 8, 2023. 32 species

Snow Goose  30
Cackling Goose  3200
Canada Goose  200     mostly Dusky–at Pintail Marsh
Tundra Swan  2     Eagle Marsh
Northern Shoveler  X
Gadwall  30     Eagle Marsh
American Wigeon  X
Mallard  X
Northern Pintail  X
Green-winged Teal  500
Bufflehead  2
Ruddy Duck  50     Pintail Marsh
American Coot  X
Killdeer  130
Greater Yellowlegs  2     Pintail Marsh
Great Egret  2
Northern Harrier  4
Bald Eagle  11     several near Pintail Marsh at nest on northeast edge of that marsh
Red-tailed Hawk  7     including one fairly dark morph
Northern Flicker  1
American Kestrel  5
California Scrub-Jay  5
American Crow  130
Common Raven  2
Black-capped Chickadee  1
Marsh Wren  1
European Starling  X
American Robin  X
Lesser Goldfinch  1
Dark-eyed Junco  2
Red-winged Blackbird  X
Brewer’s Blackbird  X     large mixed flock near Pintail Marsh, 300 birds


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