Posted by: atowhee | November 21, 2019


The nuthatch comes alone, Bushtits in a gang.  There are now over a half dozen starlings hanging around our garden and as many collared-doves but never more than two scrub-jays.  The Bewick’s Wren Black-capped Chickadee (see below) are single but the chestnut-backs are a trio.  Geese go overhead in pairs or in flocks up to 100.  The junco crowd is up to at least 20 while I never see more than one or two Golden-crowned Sparrows at a time.  At the Trappist Abbey I saw a lone female Hooded Merganser in the large pond near the dorms.  There is only one Audubon’s Warbler in our garden while we may get up to three House Finches at once.  The Downy and Flicker now appear as singles, yet the Acorn Woodpeckers six blocks south are always a tribe.

rbn facedown (2)

Posted by: atowhee | November 19, 2019


This afternoon the dog walk became a modest raptor run.  First, at Joe Dancer the waning afternoon sun, that brightness of dusk, shone on a male Kestrel in a bare tree.


Then, as we drove home past a school, my wife noticed a hawk on the ground…eating something.  We turned around and went to check it out.  It was an accipiter dining al fresco, menu was collared-dove tartare.  Even though the tail was blunt I took this to be an adult female Cooper’s Hawk, based on size and plumage.  After she lifted off with the meal, I walked over to check the feather pile–definitely collared-dove.


Posted by: atowhee | November 19, 2019


It’s not been very wet this “rainy season.”  Many of the seasonal marshes are still dry. At the Yamhill Sewer Ponds neighboring fields have no standing water, the usually wet low spot is dry sothe usual wintering snipe are somewhere else.  This means that ducks and other wetland birds are more concentrated.  There were at east 150 Shovelers on the sewer ponds yesterday.  They and most of the Bufflehead were  the southeast end where the daphnia concentration is highest.  Ducks delight at delectable daphnia dining.

At one time the entire shoveler flock lifted off. They did not call out like geese do when disturbed.  The noise was of hundreds of wings beating against the air.  At first I was confused by the ducks’ panic. I didn’t think the dog and I were close enough to bother them.  Then off to the north I saw an adult Bald Eagle.   The eagle flew on past the ponds and landed in a bare oak about a quarter mile to the west.  The ducks circled a few times then settled back down to the water. Through it all the Bufflehead remained unruffled.  They know they can dive to escape an eagle attack.shov-ysp (2)shov upp (2)

At the sewer ponds there is a plentitude of fruit for the many robins.  Crabapples, haws, snowberries.


In our garden we struck gold one day this weekend.  Not just the small golden forehead spot of the Golden-crowned Sparrows, both a bright yellow male Lesser Goldfinch and then a brightly marked Audubon’s Warbler showed up. Here is the goldfinch at feeder along with House Finch:2finch (2).JPGA majority of yellow-rumps in Oregon in winter are Myrtle Warblers so we are pleased that for second year we have an Audubon’s in our garden.  Here’s Auddie, hiding in the hydrangea:




Sunday evening I spotted the Short-eared Owl at the McMinnville Airport around 450PM.  He was on the north side near the hangers and other buildings.   I saw him in flight but could not re-locate him once he went to ground.  Russ Namitz and another birder were there searching as well.

Below: Downy at Yamhill Sewer, junco bathing in the cold water, nuthatch in motion and all a-blur:


Yamhill Sewage Ponds (restricted access), Yamhill, Oregon, US
Nov 18, 2019
14 species

Wood Duck  2
Northern Shoveler  150
Bufflehead  40
Mourning Dove  8
Bald Eagle  1
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Downy Woodpecker  1
American Kestrel  2
European Starling  X
American Robin  80
American Goldfinch  2
White-crowned Sparrow  1
Golden-crowned Sparrow  12
Song Sparrow  1

820 NW 19th Street, McMinnville, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Nov 18, 2019
12 species

Eurasian Collared-Dove  X
Downy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  1
California Scrub-Jay  X
Black-capped Chickadee  X
Chestnut-backed Chickadee  X
Red-breasted Nuthatch  1
Bewick’s Wren  1
House Sparrow  X
House Finch  X
Dark-eyed Junco  X
Yellow-rumped Warbler  1

820 NW 19th Street, McMinnville, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Nov 17, 2019
11 species

California Scrub-Jay  1
American Crow  1
Chestnut-backed Chickadee  1
Bewick’s Wren  1
House Sparrow  X
House Finch  2
Lesser Goldfinch  1
Dark-eyed Junco  20
Golden-crowned Sparrow  1
Spotted Towhee  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler  1     Audubon’s Warbler

Posted by: atowhee | November 17, 2019


CBS Morning News did interview today with David Sibley, bird illustrator and field guider.

Big bird by big talent:condor--sibley

Posted by: atowhee | November 17, 2019


SALEM AUDUBON SOCIETY: Birder’s Night – Tuesday, December 10, 2019 – 6:30 PM

 Note Change of Venue, This Program Only:

Magnolia Room, 3rd Floor, Broadway Coffee House, 1300 Broadway St NE, Salem;

Parking lots along 5th Street next to Coffee House and across Gaines Street

 “Malheur:  Its Birds, Its Nature, and Its Future”

Oregonians are extremely fortunate to have Malheur National Wildlife Refuge with its wealth of wildlife in our state.  At December Birder’s Night, we will explore the variable habitats of Malheur, its annual cycle of birds, and some of its conservation challenges from carp to climate change.  The area has a rich variety of birds—resident, annual breeders, migrants and vagrants.  Many of the species found in Malheur, from Wilson’s Phalarope to Bobolink, are rare or non-existent west of the Cascades.

We have an ideal guide for our evening’s venture to the SE corner of the state:  Harry Fuller has lived in Oregon since 2007.  He came to us from San Francisco and London, where he managed TV and Internet newsrooms.  He has been leading bird trips and teaching birding classes since the 1990’s.  Currently he leads birding trips for the Malheur Field Station and the Klamath Bird Observatory and provides private guiding service.

Harry has written three natural history books: “Great Gray Owl in California, Oregon and Washington”, “San Francisco’s Natural History, Sand Dunes to Streetcars”, and the ever-useful “Freeway Birding, San Francisco to Seattle”.  Newly published this year by Oregon State University Press is an anthology of essays about Malheur and the Steens, “Edge of Awe: Experiences of the Malheur-Steens Country”. Fuller contributed the chapter on Common Nighthawks at Malheur. You can follow Harry online at:

Birder’s Night is a monthly program presented by Salem Audubon Society at 6:30 pm on the second Tuesday of each month from September through May.  Meetings are free and open to the public, although Salem Audubon always appreciates donations to support its conservation, education and stewardship programs.  For more information contact the Audubon office at (503) 588-7340.


all sponsored  by the Field Station, fees partially tax deductible

May 23(Sat)-May 28(Th)
This trip will give us a chance to see the results of on-going spring migration.  Many nesting species will have just returned.  Males will be singing and there will be territorial displays.  There may be the young of early nesting species like Ferruginous Hawk, Bald Eagle, Great Horned Owl, Sora.  There is always a chance of vagrants such as Catbird, eastern warblers, Orchard Oriole.  Some species that nest in the region will be passing through and may include Lewis’s Woodpecker, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Olive-sided Flycatcher.

Arrive for dinner on the 23rd, depart after breakfast on the 28th.  All meals and accommodations provided by Malheur Field Station.

June 13(Sat)-June 18(Th)
This trip will give us a chance to see most of the nesting species of Harney County.  Common Nighthawks and American White Pelicans will be in the air.  Both Eastern and Western Kingbirds will be on territory.  Bobolinks should be seen along with water-related birds such as Trumpeter Swan, Black Tern and Wilson’s Phalarope.

Some birds we expect to see on both spring trips include Mountain Bluebird, Sagebrush Sparrow, Brewer’s Sparrow, Horned Lark, Franklin’s Gull, Short-eared and Burrowing Owl, Swainson’s and Ferruginous Hawk, Golden Eagle, numerous harriers, Marsh, Canyon and Rock Wrens, Loggerhead Shrike, Sage Thrasher, Yellow-headed Blackbird, White-faced Ibis in large numbers, Long-billed Curlew, Willet I breeding plumage, Eared Grebe in breeding plumage.  Nesting ducks could include Blue-winged Teal and Canvasback.

Arrive on June 13th in time for dinner, leave after breakfast on the 18th.  All meals and accommodations provided by Field Station.

Sept. 12(Sat)-Sept. 18(Fri)
This trip will allow us to spend a full day in the Steens where we will go to the peak at just under 10,000 feet elevation.  In the late summer we may get access to areas closed during breeding season.  There may be migrating raptors passing through the valley and mountains.  While many insectivorous birds will be gone there will also be songbirds on migration including huge numbers of White-crowned Sparrows and their cousins from several species.

Arrive for dinner on the 12th, depart after breakfast on the 18th.  All meals and accommodations provided by Field Station.

Mammals possible on trips include: Belding’s ground squirrel, pronghorn, wild horses, mink, river otter, long-tailed weasel, badger, coyote, mule deer, yellow-bellied marmot, kit fox, Nuttall’s cottontail, black-tailed jackrabbit, bats, California ground squirrel. 

To get more information or sign up for these trips, call the Malheur Field Station at (541) 493-2629.

Posted by: atowhee | November 14, 2019


We don’t seem to be able to control the behavior of people, so instead we try to control terns, cormorants, sea lions, et al.  Dam the river and then damn the birds.

Here’s a look at one effort to keep Caspian Terns from migrating as far north as the Columbia River.  Even though the Bay Area Miwok ate a lot of salmon back in the pre-colonial period, nobnody realistically expects big salmon runs on the Sacramento River during the remainder of anthropocene.

One place in Oregon where the Caspian Terns are welcomed: Harney County where they’ve been encouraged to nest around Malheur Lake to help kill the invasive carp that meddling humans deliberately introduced there decades ago.  The carp are now a major environmental problem for the wildlife refuge as they infest the lake by the millions and destroy any plant life that tries to grow on lake bed.  Carp kills have become major food source for insects, ravens, Turkey Vultures and other experts in devouring fish carrion.  The Carp War is years old, click here for s story from 2014!

Here’s update on feds versus cormorants on the lower Columbia.

Posted by: atowhee | November 12, 2019


Today Oregon Public Broadcasting radio re-ran an interview with Oregon-based writer, Barry Lopez.  It begins with his recollection of what he thought when he first visited Cape Foulweather*.

Here’s an interview done by NPR back in March.

A Lopez anthology called Horizon came out early this year.  Here is review of this book from the Guardian newspaper.

In The  Nation there is a harsher review, admiring but sharply critical of what we Boomers enjoyed and simultaneously trashed as we treated the natural world as entertainment.

Here is an excerpt: “I have long admired Lopez’s work and related to his particular strand of environmentalism, which views plants and animals and ecosystems as certainly sacred, maybe bordering on divine. Lopez is around the same age as my parents, and reading this book I felt our generational divide acutely, in a way I never had before. Lopez is certainly conscious of the losses that are being passed on…  But no amount of reflection squares our experiences. For those of us who grew up learning about climate change as a looming threat, and for those who are young now and have inherited a fully formed crisis, reading about this whole lifetime spent wandering the pristine-by-comparison Earth is like visiting the palace at Versailles—there’s beauty to appreciate and history to absorb, but the opulence almost passes understanding.”

Lopez does say in the OPB radio interview that what we people have thrown away and destroyed is often not recoverable or reparable.  Further, he says we could see that in the hominid line our imagination may have been a faulty evolutionary development.  We may see the end of the hominid line. “Some things should not be touched.”

Lopez has been diagnosed with terminal cancer.  For almost five decades he has lived in the forest along the MacKenzie River, uphill from Eugene, Oregon.

*Captain James Cook first touched land in North America at Oregon’s Cape Foulweather in 1778.  It was on his third and fatal voyage to the Pacific for the British Navy. Click here for more on that voyage.

Posted by: atowhee | November 12, 2019


A tree squirrel is a marvelous creature.  I’ve been known to rail against their “theft” of  bird food, their devouring of suet, their rapacious consumption of “my” apple crop.  Yet they are always an entertaining set of acrobats.  Right now we have five that regularly come into our garden and eat until their little bellies form small, gray, inflated balloons. The species here in McMinnville I believe to be western gray squirrel (scirus grieseus).

I WAS WRONG ABOUT SQUIRREL SP.  SEE THIS NOTE FROM READER:”I see too much brownish or tan on the face of your squirrel. Western Gray are nearly all gray without tan, brown or ochreous color. I think you have a nasty Eastern Gray SquIrrel! Our poor Western Grays are in big trouble in the northern end of the Willamette Valley.  I took mammalogy because I couldn’t see the difference in squirrels.  yours in all things native,
Shawn Schmelzer”

These squirrels seem to be among those mammals that are inherently and then, with age, exemplary empirical masters of physics.  There are other such creatures: bats, flying squirrels, the arboreal monkeys, sea mammals, otters.  The grave import of gravity,  harmonic motion, calculations of speed and weight and friction and distance for each leap through the air–these all require some sort of internal slide rule, a “calculator” to those born since 1960.  The squirrels I watch daily, often just half-noticing their doings, their darings, their daring-does,  leaps across gaps between foot-holds, races along the top of two-inch wide fence, hanging by two legs while two  more scoop up the goodies.  Allare matter of course, daily.

I recently stopped my navel-gazing and cell phone addiction long enough to enjoy one squirrel’s penchant for a pendulum hammock, a hanging feeder platform that swings in a frantic back and forth each time the critter jumps onto it and begins to feed.  The free-riding, free-loading squirrel not once loses his balance, his nonchalance, his rhythm of seed consumption.

Here you see the set-up.  Launch site is the top of the nearby trellis where squirrel now sits.  He (or she) will leap down onto the platform and get into the swing of the thing:IMG_6778 (2).JPGHere, riding the pendulum, eating on the swing.  The last image captures the instant of right-hand apogee of the platform’s arc. Click on any image to see full-screen version.

Even acrobats must rest:

Posted by: atowhee | November 9, 2019


I was out in our garden this morning.  A large flock of Cackling Geese overhead, noise included.  They may sound like they’re cackling when hundreds of them gather on nesting grounds on some Aleutian Island.  Here on wintering grounds an overflight like that is raucous with shrieks of alarm.cack overr (3)

This morning’s flock likely came from some peaceful pasture where the geese  had been muttering softly as they packed more blades of grass into their gullets. Then a typical blundering Bald Eagle tried to make a stealth attack.  Suddenly hundreds of geese rose, frantic to gain speed and altitude.  They call out their upset as they fly past, bound for another grassy field, without eagle, thank you very much.

The times they are a-changin’.   We have had up to twenty juncos at a time this past week, and a half dozen starlings.  The Audubon’s Warbler has been coming to the suet several times a day.

One good morsel leads to another, one of our neighbors in the compost bowl:sqrl compst (2)

Posted by: atowhee | November 5, 2019


Today lay beneath a junco sky.  Grays of various shades pertained, changing one subtle hue to the next as the unseen sun swept past, behind the cloud curtain.  Unseen by the eyes of each of us—person or bird or squirrel.  Juncos themselves must be the logo of November for our garden.  They even out-number the eager squirrels. Both have tell-tale tails—the juncos with its two white bars that flicker in flight; the squirrels sit upright with a well-furred tale making the sign of the treble cleft along its back.JUNCO LOGO (2)

Juncos were on the ground beneath the electric lights I turned on.  It was before sunrise, before 7AM.  At 656AM I’d spread sunflower seed chips on the cement and into to hanging platform feeders.  Let the games begin.  The temperature was 36 degrees, the fog low and damp, the sun laggard and absent.
658AM The first Chestnut-backed Chickadees of the day.  They never come alone, a trio inhabits my garden and nearby bushes.

705AM I realize the suet log is bereft.  As I am taking it down one of the Chestnut-backed Chickadees lands on the platform feeder less than two feet from my face.  There is no sound from his small wings (a wingspan of less than 8 inches), no vocal squeak.  There is only the faintest scratchy sound as his tiny feet grasp the wooden edge of the feeder.  He looks at me, I at him.  Recognition and disgust on his part and depart. Again, a silent exit.  I take the log inside to refill.  The chickadee is back when I look out the window.

710AM Squirrels begin to cluster and bluster, chase one another, cock bushy tails, generally bully the small birds. It’s mostly junco: one the ground true to their sparrow nature, on feeders when squirrels absent, on the suet log, in the hydrangea vine, in the nearby trees.  Flutter and flurry is the order of their disorder.  Sometimes a dozen, spread across my visual expanse.  Nervous, alert and not comfortable being close together, like finches or Bushtits often are.

The chickadees are back and this time I catch sight of our lone Black-capped in the coming and going.  Even tiny sunflower chips must be carried off singly and further chipped at by these delicate birds.  Their delicate ways in no ways prevent them from being hardy. Almost as cold-tolerant as the juncos.

728AM  Our pair of male House Finches arrive, plunk down onto a platform, and proceed to gorge.  The only motions are stoop, grab, munch with mandibles.  Repeat as needed for satiety.

8AM  Still chilly.  Fog even heavier now at ground level.  40 degrees.  Still.

802   The first Golden-crowned Sparrow arrives stealthily.  Has he been sleeping cozily?  Feeding elsewhere?  A quick drink at a bird bath, then to the seeds on the ground, ignoring his busy little cousins, the juncos.

805   There are a dozen juncos about.  Squirrels, sometimes five at once.  They do not share, and so some aggression and chasing occurs periodically.  They never scold one another but will scold me if I stay on their veranda too long, and they want to get at the sunflower seeds.  The chickadees make quick sorties to the suet block and suet log, then instantly off they go with their booty.

852  Now 45 degrees, still foggy.  The local House Sparrow gang attack the suet.  Sometimes they also go down to the ground among the American sparrow species though they eschew any taxonomic connection to the New World natives.

930  I think I catch sight of a Yellow-rumped Warbler, the tell-tale tail flashing as the bird vanished back into the hydrangea thicket.  I watch for several minutes, no confirming sighting.

940  Spotted Towhee male appears out of the fence-climbing thicket and feeds on the ground, juncos be damned, they’re only here part of the year anyway, who needs ‘em?

945  Towhee retreats as suddenly all the juncos and the Golden-crowned Sparrow make like feathered popcorn, popping in seemingly constant turmoil.

950  I see the first collared-dove of the morning.  They roost in our evergreen magnolia with its heavy, protective, leathery leaves.  Good for sleeping in, and those species too clever to believe in daylight saving v. standard time, etc.  House Sparrows continue.

1040  I spot a robin in a neighbor’s shrub.  They never have anything to do with our feeders but often enjoy a good bath in one of our two bird baths, usually the taller one further from the windows.  The robins clean out the local berry vending plants and gobble up earthworms when it is wet enough to force them to the surface.  Right now we are about ten days without rain.  Worms deep beneath.

1055 I toss out a handful of peanuts, in shells.  Good for the cachers.  Scrub-jay lands within twenty seconds of my closing the door when I return inside.  He takes two in his beak and leaves.  If the squirrels are not quick to respond this jay will have carried off all the peanuts in less than five minutes.  I have had peanuts sprout in spring before…but never here.  Maybe he plants them in a neighbor’s garden.


1220PM  As I eat lunch I watch a swirl of juncos, a gray whirlpool, drops down from the shrubs to the ground.  Where had they gone and how/why they decide to return in a crowd?

1230  Bewick’s Wren on the suet log.  He feeds, looks around, gives me a stare through the window. More days than not I miss his visits, if he even comes daily.


1240 Golden-crowned Sparrow on the ground.  I believe this is a different individual  from the morning bird, with a less boldly colorful crown.

130  Outside to do some duties I look up and see collared-dives in treetops of three tallest trees on the horizon.

240pm  Juncos abounding, still, again, as always, as everywhere. I always tell my birding classes there are 600 million juncos in North America.  I am glad they out-number shoppers, sports fans, Amazon employees, even this week’s political lies.

330PM  A quick glance out the window…aha, the Yellow-rump, an Audubon’s Warbler, is on the suet log.  Flies off, poses on a low branch while I get a good binoc view, then decides he does not want his picture taken and vanishes.
I checked my records on eBird.  Last year I did not see a Yellow-rump in our garden until the first week of December.

5PM  I begin the evening dog walk.  It is past dusk, the sky on its way to being black.  Before we get out the garden gate I hear Canada Geese honking.  They are above the fog level, moving by smell or radar?  I know they often graze a nearby golf course and likely they are headed there, or leaving.  This time of year wandering geese flocks are a fixture in our Willamette Valley heavens.  Sometimes you can even see them.

Not a single starling or woodpecker nor any sighting of the Red-breasted Nuthatch but otherwise a typical day save the first fall appearance of a Yellow-rump.

820 NW 19th Street, McMinnville, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Nov 5, 2019
13 species

Canada Goose  X
Eurasian Collared-Dove  3
California Scrub-Jay  1
Black-capped Chickadee  1
Chestnut-backed Chickadee  3
Bewick’s Wren  1
American Robin  1
House Sparrow  3
House Finch  2
Dark-eyed Junco  12
Golden-crowned Sparrow  1
Spotted Towhee  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler  1     Audubon’s

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