Take the White-throated Sparrow as a case study.
In one sense this is a rare species even when there are a lot of individuals around.  I  blogged about recent science on this bird…and the analysis that there are four sexes in a manner of description.  Click here to read summary of that research. 

Evidently, along with humans, it is a rare species that can claim multiple sexes.

In the eastern U.S. the white-throat is among the abundant species.  One autumn day I joined a bunch of New Yorkers birding Central Park.  They shrugged off a flock of these birds feeding along a path in The Ramble.  I lingered to look.  When later I mentioned that there was a White-crowned Sparrow in the flock, the other birders all went running back.  I was still naive about bird distribution in those days, not knowing that the White-crowns I heard daily in California all spring and early summer were a good find in New York.

Lately I’ve become puzzled about the bird’s wintering habits here on the Pacific Slope.  In years of Bay Area birding I saw one.  In Ashland every winter there would one to three in the same location, all winter.  You could hear the WTs sing there in spring before they departed.  For the past two winters I have had a wintering WT in my McMinnville garden.  Paul Sullivan sees them at his house.  His detailed records show at least one bird there every winter starting in 1997, usually present from November through April.  Today I saw three in my garden, two pale chests, one with a darker chest like its Golden-crowned cousin.  Is this a small flock heading back north?

I have to agree with “uncommon” which is the word used by Alan Contreras in two books: Northwest Birds in Winter and Handbook of Oregon Birds (with lead author Hendrik Herlyn). At what point does the species become expected but still uncommon which seems to be its status in the lowlands of western Oregon?  In Ashland the wintering birds were at 1800 feet elevation, here less than 200 feet.  Surely the birds that return annually to the same locations must be the same birds or at least their progeny?  We already know that many migratory species can be very loyal to specific locations.

It would be fascinating to compare the DNA of these Pacific wintering birds with their cousins that go east and then south….as well as the ones that always live east of Mississippi River.  There is a breeding population that breeds in northeastern British Columbia, due north of my house…but that’s also on the other side of the Canadian Rockies.  Surely these birds we see here are more than vagrants as they annually fly over the Rockies to get here.  None breed in the coastal lowlands.  Is this a fraction of the overall population that always migrates along the Pacific Slope?  Similar to the small population of Tree Swallows that always winter in the Sacramento River Valley rather than go further south?  Maybe some graduate student at OSU will do some analysis for us.

The first two pictures are Bird 1, the next two with more streaky chest is Bird 2.  Both are of the pale-chested variety.  The darker one got away when he was chased by a Golden-crown.  Click on any image to enlarge.  These guys showed up after the morning rain drizzled down to mist.  When real rain resumed, they vanished into cover.

Posted by: atowhee | April 13, 2019


Photo by Peter Thiemann…full-throated song:cathNOTICE TO OREGON BIRD RECORDS COMMITTEE…there is an effort to get volunteers to capture images of this bird and his apparent nesting activity this season.  Locals claim there are sometimes as many as four thrashers present in late summer.  Sure sounds like family to me…we live in expectation.  There is no previous confirmed nesting record for California Thrasher in Oregon.  May be a another species moving north with climate change?

Posted by: atowhee | April 13, 2019


Dipper near the nesting bridge on Baker Creek yesterday–still no evidence they are feeding young.  I presume they are still in the incubation stage. The third shot shows the blink of an eye.

Posted by: atowhee | April 13, 2019


Our spring birding class had its first field trip this morning.  Had some good sightings even though the rain washed us out  by 11 AM.  Three swallow species, all spring arrivals.  Orange-crowned Warblers among the Yellow-rumps at Wennerberg.  First year Bald Eagle over Westside Road.  Cooper’s Hawk at Rotary Park where we rendezvoused.  Sure signs of spring: song from White-crowned Sparrow, numerous robins, Bewick’s Wren.  Lingering waterfowl at Yamhill Sewer Ponds: Shoveler, Bufflehead Lesser Scaup, large flock of Cackling Geese.

In two hours of birding we had over thirty species despite the impending deluge.

Above one of at least three fresh robin nests we saw at Wennerberg, each solidly built with an engineering flat top edge.  None had an incubating robin… yet.  Then three of the V8let-green Swallows feeding at Yamhill Sewer Ponds.  As the rain grew heavier some of them chose to rest rather than fly wet.

Rotary Park (Tice Park), Yamhill, Oregon, US
Apr 13, 2019.  3 species

Cooper’s Hawk  1–calling in flight
American Robin  X
European Starling  X

Westside Road, Yamhill County, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Apr 13, 2019. 4 species

Bald Eagle  1     first year bird
American Crow  X
European Starling  X
Brewer’s Blackbird  X

Wennerberg Park, Carlton, OR, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Apr 13, 2019.  17 species

Northern Shoveler  2     fly over
Eurasian Collared-Dove  X
Mourning Dove  X
Anna’s Hummingbird  1
Red-breasted Sapsucker  2     mated pair flying around together from tree to tree
Acorn Woodpecker  X
Tree Swallow  1
Bushtit  2
Bewick’s Wren  1     singing
American Robin  X
European Starling  X
House Finch  8
Dark-eyed Junco  X
Song Sparrow  1
Orange-crowned Warbler  2
Yellow-rumped Warbler  8     all Myrtles as far as we could see
House Sparrow  X

Hwy 47, North Yamhill County, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Apr 13, 2019. 2 species

Red-tailed Hawk  1
European Starling  X

Yamhill Sewage Ponds (restricted access), Yamhill, Oregon, US
Apr 13, 2019.  Comments:     rained out
17 species

Cackling Goose  300
Canada Goose  20
Wood Duck  2
Northern Shoveler  2
Mallard  X
Lesser Scaup  10
Bufflehead  5
Eurasian Collared-Dove  X
Anna’s Hummingbird  1
Killdeer  1
California Scrub-Jay  2
Violet-green Swallow  20
Barn Swallow  6
American Robin  X
European Starling  X
White-crowned Sparrow  1     singing
Red-winged Blackbird  X

Posted by: atowhee | April 12, 2019


Rarely is there anything exciting at Safeway.  But this morning as I pulled to pick up a couple items, there was a flock of Barn Swallows sweeping back and forth over the building’s flat roof, warmed by the sun and probably providing plenty of heat for flying insects, thus supplying food for swallows outside while people had to go inside to get their provender.

In my garden: my juncos are all gone but wintering sparrows linger: Golden-crowned and White-throated.  One pair of Bushtits visit our feeders, nesting nearby I surmise.  I hear the flicker calling nearby but there is too much natural food now for him to bother with our suet cakes.  No warblers today either.  we await our first swift checking out the chimney.

Posted by: atowhee | April 10, 2019


Dr. Tom Love began his annual spring bird walks on the Linfield College campus this morning.  There were only five us willing to face the chill.  The birds on migration have no choice of weather, so they were out as well as local residents singing out their territorial claims.  Two new species for me this spring: Evening Grosbeak and Orange-crowned Warblers.

We were serenaded, or warned off, by a singing Bewick’s Wren.  A male Downy was drumming loudly on a cdead, hollow tree trunk right next to the trail.  Our presence did not impress him.  We also heard from robins, a flicker, Steller’s Jay, both warbler species, Song Sparrow, nuthatch, grosbeaks and goldfinches. Altogether a tuneful morning.

Here are images, click on any one for full screen view: Downy, E-G male, Orange-crowned:

Linfield College campus, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Apr 10, 2019 8:00 AM – 9:00 AM.  17 species

Mallard  2
Eurasian Collared-Dove  X
Downy Woodpecker (Pacific)  1
Northern Flicker  X
Steller’s Jay (Coastal)  1
American Crow  X
White-breasted Nuthatch (Pacific)  1
Bewick’s Wren  1     singing
American Robin  X
European Starling  X
Evening Grosbeak  2     first of year
Lesser Goldfinch  X     seen on campus lawn after walk officially ended
American Goldfinch  X
Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon)  2
Song Sparrow  1
Orange-crowned Warbler  2     first of year
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s)  X

Posted by: atowhee | April 9, 2019


I was watching a kettle of five Turkey Vultures circling over the South Yamhill River in McMinnville’s Joe Dancer Park this morning…suddenly a black bullet dropped out of the sky and shot across the lawns of the soccer fields, my first Barn Swallow of the year…this bird’s co-geners will be above those fields regularly until mid-September when their exuberant flight will take them south.

Mid-afternoon I was walking through a suburban neighborhood here in McMinnville: starlings, Brewer’s Blackbirds, a flock of crows pass overhead, a male Anna’s holding ground…then I heard what I took to be a White-crowned Sparrow song.  I looked around: large parking full of new Toyotas, small garden with scrawny saplings and scattered flower beds, clipped lawns, an empty street, large elder care facility…no real habitat.  I shrugged it off and went on, later I passed the same spot, there sat my songster atop one of the saplings.  Maybe he was just passing through and felt like singing about the lack of rain for the moment.  We’ve had over three inches already this month, more than all of March.

Posted by: atowhee | April 8, 2019


Birds come and birds go, especially here in the month of April, just above the 45th Parallel.  After the rain fell off late yesterday, 6pm or so, there was a loose flock of Ruby-crowned Kinglets passing by.  Some in our back garden, some in front of the house in deciduous trees just beginning to leaf out.  At one point two little specks rested on an overhead power line.

Then this morning there was a small gaggle of aggressive Yellow-rumps, both color variations, chasing one another and bullying the hungry Bushtit couple that is nesting nearby.  Reports say I should see my first Vaux’s Swift any day now, and hear a singing grosbeak before the end of this month.  Meanwhile juncos are a memory, wintering sparrows soon to follow.

Today I saw a crow above one of our suburban streets, carrying a stick off to its nest site.

At Joe Dancer Park a certain male Anna’s Hummingbird has a select twig on one side of his favorite tree, and when I see him, there he sits.  This species does spend most of its time sitting, after all, they fly so fast and burn some much petrol, they need plenty of rest to recuperate between sorties.

In recent days both Purple and House Finches have been singing.


*BIRDING MALHEUR *  May 22-27 & June 7-12  * 5 Nights * Leader :  Harry Fuller *  $900 / $850 RV *

BIRDING MALHEUR & STEENS MT *  Sept  16-22 * 6 Nights * Leader :  Harry Fuller * $1000 / $940 RV

Cost includes all meals and accommodations at Malheur Field Station on the wildlife refuge.

About Harry Fuller:  Harry has lived in Oregon since 2007.  He has been leading bird trips and teaching bird classes since the 1990s.  He annually leads birding trips in Oregon and Washington for Klamath Bird Observatory, Road Scholar and Golden Gate Audubon.   See more at:
To register contact the Malheur Field Station at 541-493-2629


Spring: Trumpeter Swan, Cinnamon Teal, Black-chinned Hummingbird, White Pelicans, Franklin’s Gulls, Black Terns, Wilson’s Phalarope, Wilson’s Snipe, Long-billed Curlew, Sora, Sandhill Crane, Ferruginous Hawk, Swainson’s Hawk, Golden Eagle, Great Horned Owl, Short-eared Owl, Burrowing Owl, Eastern and Western Kingbirds, Say’s Phoebe, Gray Flycatcher,  Loggerhead Shrike, Prairie Falcon, Horned Lark, Sage Thrasher, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Sagebrush Sparrow, Brewer’s Sparrow,

Mammals: pronghorn, mule deer, badger, kit fox, coyote, long-tailed weasel, river otter, Belding’s ground squirrel, Nuttall’s cottontail, black-tailed jackrabbit, yellow-bellied marmot.

Fall: Trumpeter Swan, migrant ducks, migrant shorebirds, Sora, Sandhill Crane,  Golden Eagle, Ferruginous Hawk, Great Horned Owl, White Pelican, Common Nighthawk, Prairie Falcon, migrant woodpeckers (Lewis’s, et al.), Say’s Phoebe, Horned Lark, Sage Thrasher, Brewer’s Sparrow, Western Tanager, Yellow-headed Blackbird, migrant warblers.

Mammals: wild mustangs, pronghorn, mule deer, kit fox, coyote, long-tailed weasel, river otter, Nuttall’s cottontail, black-tailed jackrabbit.


Posted by: atowhee | April 7, 2019


Wednesday mornings 8-9, front steps of Pioneer Hall, starting this coming Wednesday 10 April!

And today I note a single junco in our garden.  Yesterday I saw none here.  Three months ago they were abundant, out-numbering all other species combined, even on days when the local starling gang descended.  Now they’re off to nest on the forest floor.  Here, in memory of juncos past, is one of my first pictures of Cheeky who was in our garden until sometime in March: white-cheek

My wintering White-throated Sparrow has been seen in three days though two Golden-crowns are still here.  So are both varieties of breeding plumage Yellow-rumped Warblers.  Robins and House Finches in sing at all the usual locations.  Flickers yelling about their territorial claims. I am listening carefully for my first B-H Grosbeak song, any day now.

No sighting of dippers in muddy Baker Creek today.  Here is what Baker Creek is like after the rains and all the logging on slopes in that watershed…how would you like to try fishing in that?BKR CRK MUDDY (2)

Posted by: atowhee | April 5, 2019


In several ways people have changed the course of the Mississippi and history simultaneously.  New Orleans is in a countdown to destruction.  To preserve corporate profits the U.S. Corps of Engineers changed the flow of the Mississippi River so it no longer provides large amounts of silt to a low and watery coast on the Gulf of Mexico.  Thus rising sea level, currents and recurrent storms ( remember Katrina?) eat away at the coast, endangering towns and farms and an entire region.

The Corps and the corporations have an ally in destroying the marshy coast: invasive nutria brought in for fur-farming, then they were either turned loose or escaped and now they penetrate the marsh, dig tunnels and channels and make it easier for salt water to kill the vegetation that might otherwise preserve the marshland.

Isle de Jean Charles is already being depopulated as it becomes impossible to save it from the sea.

To read an analysis of the situation, click here for new article by Elizabeth Kolbert.

The two maps below come from Kolbert’s New Yorker piece.  Here we see how maps can be used to enhance people’s denial of what is really happening.  How much money will the U.S. be willing to spend to try to preserve New Orleans as a habitable city?  Is it more important than Miami, New York, Providence, San Francisco, Seattle, Tampa…?

DELTA1 (2)DELTA2 (2)

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