Posted by: atowhee | July 23, 2020


When I am out chasing birds to watch I sometimes feel a kindred sense of what our ancestors would have been like, would have known about the other animals in their world.  Of course, the Cro-Magnon pursed birds, driven by a physical hunger.  It is a modern privilege to be able to pursue them for knowledge and their glamour.

I am starting some new eBird lists during this decade, likely to be my last even though the old body is not giving off any warning signs…yet.  We are moving to Salem so our new new home and garden are now a personal eBird location.  We are near a small city park, Clark Creek (6.8 acres) and I got to add it to the eBird hot spot list.  So the checklists for it will likely be all mine, until I find something rare there and outsides come pouring in.  Until that time Clark Creek will be my own little bird preserve.  There are conifers, large walnuts, a tiny year-round stream (C.C.) and its narrow riparian strip, lawn.  Blooming right now are QA lace, native spirea, tansy ragwort.  In fruit are blackberry, hawthorn and red osier dogwood.  So far my site list includes fewer than ten species and only three checklists.  Over time I will surely add swallows, perhaps swift, wintering thrush, waxwings, some passing warblers, wintering juncos and sparrows, a Cooper’s Hawk, passing vulture and Osprey.

In Ashland we lived between a creek-enriched city park and national forest land so our garden list passed 100–Band-tails would come and invade our feeders every April.  That never happened in McMinnville and I don’t imagine it will happen in Salem.  In McMinnville five years of watching got our garden list up to 72 species–two Band-tailed sightings, both fly-overs. Yet I hear there are Wild Turkeys in that part of Salem.  I miss their summer demands that were so forward and so frequent in Ashland.  Of all the introduced bird species they are most amazing and alarming for their ability to alter habitat.  Domination is their thing, must be good Republicans.

In Salem our garden list starts small, both jays, crows, chickadees (BC variety) RB Nuthatch, Anna’s, Spotted Towhee. The latter snarl at me from the dense shrubbery.  One scrub-jay has already claimed a suet block feeder and so informed me today in his own voice that I had better keep that feeder filled.  His suet block is two-thirds gone in a week.

One thing is already clear our new neighborhood around Clark Creek is crow country.  Their nasally whining and cavilling is nearly constant in daylight. In McMinnville they only fly over our suburban homes, but in Salem they strut about the lawns and park.  When I am out they watch, they comment (perhaps sarcastically as I cannot fly), the follow.  Cro-Magnon to crow magnet.  Is that progress or simply evolution taking its random effort at going somewhere toward survival?

The scrub-jays are still not used to being watched so they retreat into the shade when I stare at them.

Posted by: atowhee | July 21, 2020


After I published this post, my favorite enviro writer,George Monbiot, came out with column that just underlines the demolition thrust of modern governments.  Economic growth has replaced the medieval papacy as the dominant religious doctrine…and now its global.

I recently read Horizon, a memoirish book by Oregonian Barry Lopez.   He has traveled widely and often.  He has frequented and volunteered with scientific expeditions from Ellesmere Island to Antarctic to the tropics.  I know that his travels have drawn criticism from younger writers who descry his use of jet fuel to travel about as if privileged.  In fact, he was privileged by his writing to go places the rest of us will never see. Yet, today I see young men driving six-wheel pick-up trucks through the streets, with truck beds empty–the huge fuel-hungry metal boxes seem merely an expression of a certain kind of macho pride…planet be damned.  Any one of us can be accused, rightly, of doing damage to this life-enriched planet.  Any claim  of innocence by any living human is pretense. Almost daily we all contribute to the demise of life on earth.

Lopez is wise, seeing and relating the damage our species is doing.  Yet, he promises some hope if we can overcome the many current negative processes.  He sees how the nation-state only makes conflict and greed and environmental destruction more likely–just think of the global sport of GDP competition!  He also points out that humans have become so controlling and powerful because of some of our BEST–yes, positive–attributes as animals.  We can listen to one another, and we can co-operate.  We were never faster than the big cats or wolves.  We couldn’t swim like a fish or even a loon.  We couldn’t fly until very recently.  We were not stronger than grizzlies or horses.  People were not bigger than elephants or whales.  But we worked together, a dozen hands and six minds capable of a great deal more than other animals.  So we do have the capability of survival, if there is leadership and the will.  Lopez thinks the ordinary people will have to become leaders, like Black Lives Matter and Occupy and general strikes.  Our political processes are now so corrupted by money and greed that elected or self-selected leaders cannot be expected to make choices to preserve the life on this planet.

So, as ever, life hangs in the balance.  The pandemic has been a brilliant real-life political science test–which nations care more about money than people and vice versa?  Some results are clear–New Zealand suffered isolation to save its population.  Narcissist leaders in India, Brazil, Russia and the U.S.  have propelled those nations into an upward spiral of infection, fear and death.  Today the US President renews his daily covid performances in front of TV cameras, his resumed reality TV show.  Why?  because he has come to see covid as a way to instill fear in the population.  He imagines that fear in the population becomes weakness which imbues him with yet more power. Agent Orange’s niece has made it plainly clear why he sees weakness in others as strength in himself.  Is this President’s view of the U.S. truer than Lopez’s hope for our ability to save ourselves from destruction?  We shall certainly know by the end of January, 2021.

After reading this a former co-worker and long-time friend emailed his comment:
Really appreciated the remark about the nation state.  I’ve long been fascinated by the apparent synergistic relationship between the size of the basic polity and advances in weaponry.  Each such advance tends to require a larger, more industrial, and more technological political organization to support.  Tribal units couldn’t support bronze weapons, for instance, likewise the feudal system in both Europe and China were done in by the invention of firearms.

Under this view, the nation state made itself obsolete on July 16, 1945 in the desert of New Mexico.  The cost of maintaining a  modern arsenal outstrips the economic potentially of even the richest nation state, and a lesser economy such as that of the Soviet Union is literally eaten alive by its own military.
The nation state is an anachronism vainly ravaging the planet to secure resources that it only needs because of the ever-rising cost of convincing itself that it is defended against the rapaciousness of all the other nation states.
Or at least that is how it seems to me.
Posted by: atowhee | July 17, 2020


Owls have big eyes that more than match our own binocular visions.  But when sound becomes useful, we are inept, they adept, with both ears off-set in the front of that disc face, always scanning and pin-pointing and sound made by any moving object or critter. When hunting the dark, their specially designed feathers make for silent flight, envied by hawk and goose the world around.

Says nature photographer Martha Ture:  “I shot this at the Kehoe Beach [Pt. Reyes, Marin County] trailhead almost exactly one year ago today.” Great Horned Owl juveniles 2Ms Ture is a professional photographer, you can see her fine work, click here.

This from our Sutro Heights correspondent, Tom Kuhn–a nap in the sun, a wink at the observer: Adult Female 9Ae

From our South Korean correspondent, this note: “The Magpie is the national bird of South Korea ( I’m told they actually held an election to determine that). .. considered a sign of ‘good luck’ here .. there are many of the noisy rascals in our neighborhood and I spotted this one earlier this week.”IMG_6986

Photo and text by Greg DeRego, a skilled and respected co-worker in the long ago world of TV and Internet news, now retired to South Korea which nation actually used brains and science to cope with covid.  Hard to imagine. South Korea reports fewer than 300 deaths altogether from covid, just slightly ahead of Oregon.  But Korea has a much larger, more dense population.

The Oriental magpie (Pica serica) is a species of magpie found from south-eastern Russia and Myanmar to eastern China, Taiwan and northern Indochina. It is also a common symbol of the Korean identity, and has been adopted as the “official bird” of numerous South Korean cities, counties and provinces.  This is close cousin of the European Magpie, Pica pica, as well as our North American species, the widespread Black-billed and California’s endemic Yellow-billed.

There are seven species ow recognized in the Pica genus.  The word is Latin for magpie.  They are not as closely related to the colorful birds commonly named as magpies as well, their DNA says their closest relative is the European crow.

Posted by: atowhee | July 16, 2020


Stay healthy, go outside, quietly.

this two images come from Marc Reigel, our Minnesota correspondent.  Marc is a college classmate and now an avid birder.  Here is his description of nature in covid times:

Hey, Harry – I’ve seen more rara avis specimens this spring & summer than I’ve ever seen, perhaps because I’m more attuned to them.  Or perhaps they’re more attuned to fewer people, courtesy of C-19.  Or perhaps I’ve just been in the right place at the right time – the Cooper’s hawk nest off [a friend’s] deck in Eden Prairie is a prime example.  I’ve spotted yellow warblers, Baltimore orioles, sandhill cranes, catbirds, mockingbirds, red-bellied woodpeckers, butter-butts, and a redstart.  And those are just the ones I remember . . . .

So today, on a walk without my good camera and only my daughter’s iPhone, we went for a walk along Nine Mile Creek in Bloomington, about two miles from my condo.  And we start down the path, when she says, “What’s that red bird? It’s not a cardinal.”

No.  But is IS a scarlet tanager!  Only the second one I’ve ever seen, the first being maybe 35 years ago on a farm in Wisconsin.  Amaze-balls!  And he posed for us for maybe ten seconds!
So although the iPhone pics lack sharpness, one can get a pretty good idea about the way-coolness of that bird.  I was just blown away by the rarity of the sighting and the gorgeousness of its plumage.
So here he is!!
[Marc, never go outside without tour camera.  As a long-time bird addict, I confess I even take one when simply driving to run an errand in town.]
Here is my speculative answer to Marc’s email:

I think two things have coincided…we all [people] spend a lot less time driving around, shopping, doing group stuff that eats up our time…we all–who are able–walk more, are outside more.  Parks and outdoors even in cities are quieter because there is no softball or soccer or football…there are fewer airplanes in the sky…so life is quieter…many birds shy from noise because it makes them more vulnerable to predators if they can’t hear the ruffling of wings as the Cooper’s Hawk skulks through the trees…so we are more present in quiet settings which suit animals and they will ignore us when we are not screaming, giving concerts, flying about in loud planes.  When we become just another slow-moving, clumsy big mammal, they can feel safer near us and thus expand their own territories.
I recently had a conversation with long-time friend and former partner when we co-owned a fantasy baseball league team–that required rapt attention to every game and every stat in the entire season, including spring training.  He now lives in southern California desert and is outside a lot.  He used to be a fan of four sports: baseball, football, basketball and…wait for it, even hockey!  Now that covid has cut his travel and pushed him outdoors, quietly, he tells me he doesn’t care if any of those sports ever come back.  Why?  The real world, devoid of the antics of young millionaires, has plenty of excitement and complexity to keep a curious mind busy.  He sent me two tiny images of birds in his backyard: a pair of Hooded Orioles.  Wow, was his reaction.  He had lived there for many years–first time he’d noticed them.


Posted by: atowhee | July 16, 2020


Sleeping owl, working woodpecker with hungry young to feed. The Great Horned Owl was snoozing in Sutro Heights Park near where we used to live in San Francisco.  That photo is by Tom Kuhn. The working woody was at the nest site along Hyatt Lake east of Ashland, Oregon, and that photo was by Marty Karlin.  Enjoy.Great Horned Female 6e (1)DSC_1585-EditBTW–the owls nested in Sutro Heights Park this year, Tom has gotten fine photos of the owlets now nearly fully feathered.  Click here to see those images.

Posted by: atowhee | July 13, 2020


Click here for results of study of Andean Condor and its flight patterns.  Wings are not for flapping at that size.  Any hummingbird would be jealous. Be interested in knowing the percentage of soar in the condor’s miniature cousin, our Turkey Vulture…maybe 20% flap?  TVs are known to rise up to 20,000 feet in the sky and fly flaplessly for hours in the right conditions with sun-warmed air rising.

Posted by: atowhee | July 13, 2020


There are young birds out and about these days.  Here are some images from Kirk Gooding as he and his wife, Shannon Rio, birded Klamath Basin.  The young Cassin’s Finch was in the Cascades between Ashland and Klamath.  The small Eared Grebe chicks are zebra-striped as are many grebelets.  They can swim as soon as they fledge but won’t fly for some weeks.

Here is a painting Kirk made after a recent encounter with swirls of egrets in the Klamath:IMG_3739

Posted by: atowhee | July 13, 2020


Here’s the latest from our Twin Cities bird correspondent.  The nestful of young accipiters is fledging age.  Here’s the latest update from March Riegel: “The Cooper’s hawk chicks are almost fledged, just a couple of weeks after they were little puff-balls.  I think there are three chicks, but it’s hard to get a count, since they’re so big they keep pushing each other around in the nest.  These kids are gonna hafta fly soon, cuz there ain’t no room for them in the inn!
“So fun to have a great telephoto lens, even on a 300 buck Canon Power-shot camera.”
In at least one of the images you can count five legs, indicating three nestlings.  In another you can see three hawklets jammed onto the obsolete nest.

Posted by: atowhee | July 11, 2020


Steve Kaiserman got these pictures of the White-headed Woodpecker nest I found last week along the shore of Hyatt Lake above Ashland, in the Cascades. The young will fledge soon.

The nest is between the lake and the paved wildlife viewing pull-out on the west side of Lake Hyatt.  The small road sign for the location shows only a pair of binoculars.  The nest faces where you will park (lake in the background) so there is no need to even get out and spook the busy parents.

Posted by: atowhee | July 10, 2020


With some state parks and beaches still covid-closed, you may be wondering where to get your seabird fix. Like a few Common Murre crowded into their rock-top breeding communities?  Fish drooping from beak, a refreshing swim, gang’s all here.  My birding photographing phanatic phriend, Albert Ryckman, has your answer: DEPART FOR DEPOE BAY:

On the same rocks, the oystercatcher.  In one shot the bird is showing off its remarkable waterproof coat:

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