Posted by: atowhee | October 17, 2020


The dog slept in this morning. So our “morning” walk began at noon, at Fairview Wetlands. The cockleburrs are still above water, but the first migrant waterfowl I’ve seen there have showed up. Green-winged Teal.

Last time I was there so were the Canada Geese, today they were busily passing overhead. None landed.
For the first time there were male red-wings in the catttails. Those are on the west side of the marsh adjacent to the CEP (Church Extension) offices. The males were practicing their territorial behavior, including songs. None of the Song Sparrows were singing but one gave a good scolding.

Far more subtle than a squawking Mallard or singing blackbird, the fungi were putting on a quiet show of ubiquity beneath the surface:

Across the street from Fairview Marsh is the Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife. Flickers dominated their open space margins. Plus a few plastic ducks and a Great Horned Owl, but that one left me flat:

At home: we got our first siskin visit of the season. None during the fires and smoke. This afternoon I looked up at a flock of about four dozen birds bubbling in the air, slowly the bubbles settled down into the top or our neighbor’s ailing birch tree*. Later they rose as if weightless and resumed their bubbling. Siskins departed, leaving only the few local goldfinches in the birch.

If I were a White House spokesman I’d call this guy a loser or sucker or socialist. Instead I am sorry to see him gone. RIP. Running Isn’t Protective.

*For information on the insect killing Oregon birches (which are introduced species, as is the killer) click on this link.

I am afraid airplanes and global shipping are continuing to spread deadly pathogens of all sizes around the globe. We aren’t the only species with a pandemic.

Posted by: atowhee | October 17, 2020


This patriotic symbol is just flyin’ around in circles. Photos taken by my life-long friend, Mike Lund.

Just read through the most recent State of the Birds report and raptors are one group of bird species that have been doing better since 1970 in North America. The 1974 DDT ban was one big help for thus species and Osprey. Thank you, Rachel Carson.

Posted by: atowhee | October 17, 2020


An evening stroll, click here for video of Lee French’s neighbor on upper Granite Street, Ashland, Oregon. 624PM says the camera data.

Posted by: atowhee | October 16, 2020



The dog and I are ambling through our little local park, Clay Creek.  With recent rains the little creek is happily chortling over rocks, then racing down its only ten foot long rapids over basalt.  The deciduous trees are turning color and yellowed, fallen leaves cover the greened lawn.  We stop as one walnut leaf frees from one of  the dozen huge trees.  Said leaf floats downward, flat against the air.  As gravity pulls and air resists the five-inch long leaf’s edges vibrate gently up and down.  As it touches earth it immediately loses individuality and becomes one particle in the bright leaf-carpet whose bold color will darken and vanish as autumn persists. Still the stubborn walnuts and some smaller nearby oaks hold onto most of their leaves.  Nearby cottonwoods and alder and ash are further along in their advancement toward winter bareness.  These large walnuts are over a century old. The people who planted them long dead and forgotten. These trees have been through this process of de-leafment every year, and will continue as long as they live. We short-lived mammals cannot know what their roots sense, what their accommodating fungi impart, what their cambium knows or has inherent.  Leaves will leave and return but each walnut tree will depart but once.  And then its wood may last more decades.  We have some old walnut furniture, at least one piece over 150 years old.  It is hard, dense, dark and firm in its resolve.  It will hold glue, screws, nails, shape and size far longer than almost any animal body this side of a sea turtle.

In the afternoon, a swift puff of wind rattles the leaves in the walnuts, then a gentle golden fall begins, some float off in front of the breeze, others speed straight downward.  The bright afternoon sun comes through each as if it were a small tinted window.  The wind makes a soughing tone, the leaves are silent in answer, but active in response, until they reach repose.

Back to morning: one squirrel acrobatically leaps from one bouncing, thin branch to another and it teeter-totters violently up and own when he lands on it.  His four squirrel feet grip tightly and then he climbs up the branch to the trunk and moves on.  Down on the turf one of his fellows races across the lawn with a walnut stuffed in his maw.  Up the slope and into a thicket he goes, another nut to be hidden away to fight the cold hunger of a January morning in the rain.

Later in our walk we hear, then see a red-tailed hawk circling above.  Wait, it is half of a pair.  It is a courting pair of adults. 

The smaller of the two, the male, is flying with his legs hanging down, talons spread.  That is a common courtship move for this species.  The high-pitched red-tail scream is familiar.  You often hear it in movies and videos.  It is popular among sound directors for making a landscape seem high, wide and lonesome, dangerous to the characters on the screen. One birding friend swears he has heard the red-tail’s call on other planets and around the globe, if you believe what you are watching. Meanwhile the real hawks–the pair circle and move slowly eastward.  Their courtship is actually a beginning of the next year, the next season.  The red-tails and the Great Horned Owls will nest in winter when the dormant, leafless plants make it easier to find the prey they need on the ground.

So it brings to mind something I read recently in a book by Helen Macdonald:
“Summer forests give me little sense of time past, or times to come; they’re rich with a buzzing, glittering, shifting profusion of life.  Everything seems manifested; there’s no obvious sense of potentiality.  But forests in winter do the opposite; they evoke the passage of time.  Winter days are always moving fast towards darkness…Above and around me are last year’s birds’ nests…”
                                                                                    —Vesper Flights, 2020.

And overhead are next year’s parents.  No eggs yet, but the potential is strong and eggs will follow.

Posted by: atowhee | October 16, 2020


The wintering Sandhill Cranes have returned to Sauvie Island and Ridgefield NWR. Thousands more are much further south, in the inland valleys of California–Sacramento, Carrizo, Salton Sea. Oregonian birder Abert Ryckman just sent me these photos from the Sacramento River Delta. I had advised him that Woodbridge Road, just north of Hwy 12 intersection with I-5, is usually a sure thing this time of year.
His note: “Amazing.  Not a single Crane in the Sacramento NWRs or visible in any fields anywhere. Per your recommendation  we got on Woodridge Road and started driving West…. Suddenly when we got to the Woodbridge Reserve we could see literally hundreds of SHC hanging around with lots of geese in a huge open water filled field. Only a few were near the road and thereby accessible for photographs + terrible light.”

Earlier Ryckman got some shots of waterfowl in the Sacramento Valley:

Posted by: atowhee | October 15, 2020


Nora the dog and I had to run an errand in McMinnville…afterwards we went to the places where you can overlook the Sheridan Sewer Ponds, then wound through back roads to Polk County’s Livermore Road which once again welcomed us with open fields. Saw two tractors and no other traffic. Later, homeward we drove Coville Road–seeing not one starling, but yesterday that road through Baskett Slough had murmuration happening.

Early yesterday morning the fog was dense and these birds would appear and whirl away into invisibility, or suddenly crowd onto roadside power lines.

Later in the morning the fog had thinned, visibility was sharper, but the flocks were unchanged. The flocks were restless even when landed. Inside the birds would swirl through the air, on the edges the group would seem to furl. It was flag-like, fluid, erratic without being jerky. The motion and emotion was some complex of frenzy, excitement (yet almost no vocal sound, just the wing whirring in the thick air), fluid mechanics and quantum physics. It was artful performance that no human dance group or swim ballet or basketball pros could hope to rival. Even if any of them could fly…

Click here for look at Welsh murmuration and then summary of the science of how these starlings track and follow and lead one another in these fluid crowds.

The first three images were from the cemetery south of the ponds. The volcano shot came from the small city park between the ponds and prison. In the first image it’s a real flock-up–caused by two birders scoping the ponds inside the fence. A majority of the ducks I saw on the ponds were shoveler, indicating there is a healthy population of


Then a smallish birds flapped across the pond and landed on the bank. I have to ask–eh wouldn’t answer–do you know what month this is? Don’t you have an appointment along the Sacramento River?

Later, along Livermore Road, there was action galore. A meadowlark landed near the road, so I stopped the car in middle of the empty gravel road, got out with camera turned on…the bird lifted up and flew parallel to me and I actually got to follow the uplift, flutter ahead, hover, drop down…I have seen this a zillion times as we had meadowlarks (those eastern kind) on Midwest our farm when I was a kid…but I never hoped to get any still pictures. (As far as I am concerned this sequence confirms my little Canon is a far better photographer than I am, never doubted it. I was just shooting in the general direction, no time to sight or focus.)

Then just down the road, a dog out hunting. I stopped less than forty yards away but this pooch was focused, concentrating. You might say, or I might, he was “coycentrating” on what was in the grass before him.

The Livermore Road fields are greening, in many shades. Do you wonder if the harriers ever look beyond the next meal, murmur to themselves–wow, that’s a pretty view, vole or no…

Posted by: atowhee | October 14, 2020


This open space in south Salem now has standing water on much of its 46 acres. The invasive cockleburrs still cover much of the area, their arrogant heads above water and each carrying a load of fearsome seeds–each a velcro-like football the size of an almond shell and capable of both pain and effective clinging. The Mallards and geese in the water will NOT eat those seeds.

With the onset of rainy season it is nice to see the local swim team in the Fairview water–Mallards, really big & local Canada Geese.

A bit of humor–a White-crowned Sparrow, not ordinarily a denizen of marshland, perched in small willow surrounded by water.

The last image shows a stick dam–beaver or people? I will try to find out.

Posted by: atowhee | October 14, 2020


Nature has always been repetitive…sunrises recurring, sunsets, tides in and out, many plants grow leaves and then lose them every year, seasons follow a set routine, so do planets and their moons. Now we have this every month-is-a-record thing going on. Of course, our species gets a lot of credit for setting this one in motion. We may not have invented gravity or H2O, but we sure had a lot to do with gettin’ this monthly record thing propelling us into a hot future. Click here for September’s record report.

Oh, how afraid of the President’s revenge is the pending SCOTUS Justice, Judge Barrett? Well, she says climate change is a policy question. All that science is just like lobbying from Exxon or Big Pharma, right? Justice Barrett I hope your god can hep us cause we ain’t helpin’ ourselves right now.

We all know that ice sheets are becoming extinct along with many animals and plants. But here’s report that one sheet took a research station with it. Canada is just one of many places seeing and feeling climate change up close–islands being engulfed by Pacific Ocean, streets flooding un coastal cities, massive wildfires in US and Brazil and Siberia and Australia and… Hurricanes bigger and more frequent, severe droughts and resulting famines, hotter temps from Phoenix to Australia…
Invest in underground housing and air conditioner companies?

Southeast Salem, OR, Oct. 14:

Posted by: atowhee | October 14, 2020


Fog by Carl Sandburg

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

Cat feet, shroud more like. Sits? Hah, swirls and furls and deadens sound and visibility. That’s what we found as we began our Salem Audubon social distanced bird walk this morning. Fogged in. We met at the large parking lot on Coville Road at Baskett Slough. We couldn’t see the marsh a quarter mile away. We couldn’t see the geese sounding overhead as they flew.

We could hear the air cannons firing, for good reason. There were prodigious flocks of starlings at the vineyards. Smoked grapes are just fine with them. No fussy palate in those flocks of feathered grape-grabbers.

By 1030AM the fog along Livermore Road was dissipating. We even felt some solar heat and saw patches of blue sky. at the same time raptors were busy: harriers cruising the weed tops, red-tails up high or perched, a male kestrel hovering. Local camera drones were jealous.

Birds of note: three Violet-green Swallows overhead; two adult male harriers briefly in the same field simultaneously; four shorebird species in same pond mud along Livermore Road; pair of phoebe there jostling for top perch in a bare tree top; Great Horned Owl flushed there as well. It is the second time recently that I have flushed a GHOwl in those trees along east side of Livermore Road. One of those owls must occasionally, or even regularly, roost in those trees.



Baskett Slough NWR, Polk, Oregon, US
Oct 14, 2020
22 species

Cackling Goose  500
Gadwall  3
Mallard  X
California Quail  30     covey seen before start of the field trip at main Coville Road parking area
American Coot  2
Killdeer  6
Great Blue Heron  1
Northern Harrier  5
Red-tailed Hawk  2
American Kestrel  4
California Scrub-Jay  X
American Crow  X
European Starling  5000
American Robin  X
American Pipit  2
House Finch  3
Dark-eyed Junco  X
White-crowned Sparrow  12
Golden-crowned Sparrow  6
Song Sparrow  X
Western Meadowlark  X
Red-winged Blackbird  X

Livermore Rd., Polk, Oregon, US
Oct 14, 2020
23 species

Cackling Goose  X
Killdeer  4
Long-billed Dowitcher  2
Wilson’s Snipe  2
Greater Yellowlegs  2
Great Egret  2
Northern Harrier  3
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Great Horned Owl  1
Northern Flicker  3
American Kestrel  2
Black Phoebe  2
California Scrub-Jay  2
American Crow  12
Violet-green Swallows 3
Marsh Wren  1
American Robin  50
Dark-eyed Junco  X
Golden-crowned Sparrow  X
Song Sparrow  X
Spotted Towhee  X
Red-winged Blackbird  X
Brewer’s Blackbird  X

We saw no rare birds, so here’s one for your Oregon life list:

Posted by: atowhee | October 13, 2020


We live in a time of critical change…help our species record what we are doing to the planet.

From: VESPER FLIGHTS by Helen MacDonald.  Grove Press. 2020.

“We have always unconsciously and inevitably viewed the natural world as a own world-view and our own needs, thoughts and hopes…I hope my work is about a thing that seems to me of the deepest possible importance in our present-day historical moment: finding ways to recognise [she’s British] and love difference.”                                                                             

“When habitats are destroyed what is lost are exquisite ecological complexities and all the lives that make them what they are…During this sixth extinction we who may not have time to do anything else must write what we now can, to take stock.”                                                                                                                                                                       

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »


%d bloggers like this: