Posted by: atowhee | May 19, 2020


We have a loud, busy school playground in our garden.  These are not small people. They’re currently in homes across the region, their schools closed.  These are young starlings, newly fledged.  They squeal, they hiss, they follow around one parent or another, they practice being starlings.  The adults do show and tell, follow my example, play attention children—all the educational moves you would expect from a loud, social, inquisitive species like Homo sapiens or Sturnus vulgaris.

A young starling does not usually leave the nest until it is three weeks old or more.  These kiddies are the color of a female cowbird with no spangles or speckles like the adults.  They will shed that distinguishing plumage sometime in early fall and then blend into the flock. Out of the nest the adults are on call from the fledglings for ten days or more.  That is when they must pay attention to starling tutoring if they are to succeed in a hostile world.

My wife and watch them. They taste bits of plant to see what’s comestible.  They follow and adult and beg, head at a 30-degree angle from the ground, tail down, wings rapidly fluttering softly.  The pale gape is showing and often a squeal is emitted, not far along the sound spectrum from the sound of air being squeezed from a plastic balloon.


They use and corrupt the bird baths repeatedly. Bathing, drinking and pooping indiscriminately wherever they find a slot.  Here we see young wading and then standing in the water, wings dipped into water then splattering it about.  They have seen mom or dad do this so is it learned or instinct?

In the second image above the fledgling is on the left.

Feeding is a whole new complexity.  They can pick seeds off the ground.  But suet in logs stymies them even though they follow adults to the site.  Mostly they can’t even fathom how to cling to the small perches.   Suet blocks are easier, simpler…hang out, eat while hanging.

In this sequence we see the adult moving the lesson from “swallow this” to “you have to reach out for the food sometimes, it doesn’t come to you”.

So now we live in Starling City.  There may be as many as sixteen at any one time.  At least six of these are newbies, fresh from some nearby nest hole.  They are around the feeders, on the lawn, in the shrubs.  They lounge, they loiter, they linger, they starlinger, Never quietly.  Social distancing is out of the question.  They sound like a bunch of geezers escaped from quarantine.  Meetcha at the bird bath?


Across the street from our house stands a venerable cherry tree.  There hangs a sac wherein a pair of Bushtits are now raising their first clutch of the year.  The adults come and go with food.  The sac shimmies even though there is no wind.  There are twitchy little bushtitlets deep inside.BT NURSERY (2)_LIFirst we see mother bird with her tail pointing up, her head end within the nest entrance.  Then a series, two with here at entrance, one after she has flown off to the right:BT IN HOLE (2)

On one dog walk today I spotted two small birds next to one another on an overhead power line–House Finch fledgling being fed by its parent.  Far over the empty sidewalk.

Posted by: atowhee | May 17, 2020


Except for those lingering siskins there are no wintering birds left in our garden.  A Black-headed Grosbeak sings daily from within earshot though rarely in our trees.  A male Anna’s Hummingbird is on sentinel duty from a neighbor’s half-dead birch tree.  He sits on top of the tree on the bare twigs and surveys a busy intersection and many blooming shrubs.IMG_9938 (2)

A block east a scrub-jay is atop another tree, perhaps his mate is on eggs down inside the dense foliage.  The watcher on alert for any possible nest robber.  The starlings are  bringing the kids to school. Teach them about suet feeders.  There were at least four fledglings in our garden today, even joining a parent in the bird bath.


These days of grounding make flight even more magic to watch.  Yesterday a handful of swifts circled around a treetop, presumably some insects were gathered there.  Today a red-tail hundreds of feet up circled slowly with dark gray rain clouds as a back-drop.  Even slow moving clouds seem to signal a kind of flight I cannot imagine or find words.



820 NW 19th Street, McMinnville, Yamhill, Oregon, US
May 17, 2020
13 species

Eurasian Collared-Dove  3
Anna’s Hummingbird  1
Red-tailed Hawk  1
California Scrub-Jay  1
Black-capped Chickadee  X
Chestnut-backed Chickadee  X
European Starling  12
House Sparrow  1
House Finch  2
Pine Siskin  4
American Goldfinch  1
Spotted Towhee  2
Black-headed Grosbeak  1

Posted by: atowhee | May 15, 2020


Birder Nancy Carlson shared these photos with me, from her garden in southeast McMinnville.  In one we see the back of a painted turtle plus THREE finch species.  Those bright, big colorful birds–Evening Grosbeaks.  They are the biggest (size, not numbers) finch species anywhere in the world.  And they are nomadic, coming and going without any consistent pattern outside their breeding territory.  The little guys are a female Lesser Goldfinch, and a House Finch.  The male grosbeaks are the bright guys, the female is drably dressed but shares the bright, white wing bars.


Grown up starling taking care of two fledglings, cleaning up all the food in our garden:

Our own little finch flock is almost entirely siskins, up to day at a time, though we get one or two American Goldfinches now:2sisk (2)

Posted by: atowhee | May 14, 2020


Walt Sonner sent out some pics of ducks on a pond near his home in Jackson County.  Here are two photos of the female.  The male was more elusive.

They are Mandarin Ducks.  They are close cousins of our native Wood Ducks and are originally from Asia.  They’ve done well as an introduced species in Europe.  One estimate is that 7000 are living wild and breeding in Europe, especially in London city parks.  There is also a population around Berlin.

Like Wood Ducks, and about the same seize, Mandarins nest in boxes or natural cavities in trees.

Walt says these birds are quite wild and are hanging out with the local Wood Ducks.  They share a preference for protected, standing fresh water with plenty of over-hanging trees for security and cover.

One global meme of the covid virus pandemic is how animals (and plants) return to places where they had been scared off, crowded out, run over or otherwise disappeared when humans were behaving in their ways as expected way back in 2019.  Herewith a list of some of what’s happened, what we’re learning, what we’ve missed or ignored for too long:

Fire retarding goats break loose in Silicon Valley, organic, not digital.

Canals are boat free in Venice, clean water and sea animals can now be seen.

People, or not, 17-year ocusts are due to show up in parts of the U.S.

Not extinct after all–the rarely seen blue bee of Florida.

In Spain a larger, rare animal is back on its old range…after a 150 year absence.

Llamas versus covid–could the camel’s cousin win?

Feeling lonely?  Maybe you should befriend a garter snake?

Plumes come in many forms–smoke, feathers, nom de…but Cassowary clothing is unique.


Whale shark, a long-lived critter.

Then we have Greenland sharks, likely the longest-living vertebrate on the planet.  One hundred years is too young to breed!  A British publication just did a piece on this species but I went back and found this one fro 3 years ago in the New Yorker.  Hah, so there.

One word of advice as you go, try to act natural.

Posted by: atowhee | May 13, 2020


“Ragged men in ragged clothes…”   —Vincent, Don McLean

A young male Black-headed Grosbeak showed up in our garden this afternoon.  “Ragged” is the word.  He is still molting into his summer clothes.  A first year bird because there is still an orange bar above his eye, a field mark that will go away be the time he returns next spring, if he manages…

This fellow seems to appreciate the sunflower seeds we serve.

In past years we have had occasional sightings of this species, always in season, May through early September.  As far as I know they don’t nest in any of our trees though I can occasionally hear one singing across the street.

Posted by: atowhee | May 13, 2020


My wife and I spent some time in the forest at McMinnville’s Rotary Park Nature Preserve.  Two new birds of the year for me: Pac-slope Flycatcher and Cassin’s Vireo, the latter was in the doug-firs above the lakeside viewing platform.  Lots of grosbeak song, of course. Some chorus frog chorusing as well.

McMinnville Rotary Park (Tice Park), Yamhill, Oregon, US
May 13, 2020
11 species

Anna’s Hummingbird  1
Cooper’s Hawk  1
Downy Woodpecker  1
Pacific-slope Flycatcher  1
Cassin’s Vireo  1
Bewick’s Wren  1
European Starling  X
American Robin  12
Song Sparrow  4
Spotted Towhee  3
Black-headed Grosbeak  3

Posted by: atowhee | May 12, 2020


Chorus or cacophony?  However you wish to describe it, the season of the on-going, unending sound of Black-headed Grosbeaks fills our local forests now.  inthis species both genders sing in spring. Along Cozine Creek in southwest McMinnville this mid-day the dog and I were never out of earshot of at least one vocally obsessed grosbeak. During the long song I wonder how they get air into their lungs.  The musical score seems to have no marked rests.  Juvenile robin, newly fledged.  Bushtit in the foliage:

amro kid (2)bt-czine

Cozine Creek forest, Yamhill, Oregon, US
May 12, 2020
12 species

Canada Goose  2     on pond west of Old Sheridan Road
Eurasian Collared-Dove  1
Northern Flicker  2
Common Raven  1     fly over
Violet-green Swallow  6
Barn Swallow  X     over pond west of Old Sheridan Road
Bushtit  1
European Starling  X     at least three pairs nesting in holes in Grange building
American Robin  9
Lesser Goldfinch  4
Red-winged Blackbird  X     at pond west of Old Sheridan Road
Black-headed Grosbeak  4     singing continuously

Posted by: atowhee | May 11, 2020


These pictures I took myself:

Above is my first dragonflty of the year, an otter track through the weeds and several birds at Ankeny.  The water at Pintail Marsh is deep enough to suit some divers–Ring-necked Duck and a female Bufflehead.
Herons and egrets at Ankeny:

The woolly bear becomes an isabella tiger moth.  That Song Sparrow was staring at us, asking, “You talkin’ to me?”  Tree Swallows on top…a native wild rose in bloom, the Nootka rose.

Posted by: atowhee | May 11, 2020


Albert Ryckman and I spent three and a half hours birding Ankeny today.  The weather was calm, no wind and no rain and no rarities, but lots of birdy activity.  I got my FOY views of waxwings and Swainson’s Thrush which I had only heard previously.  The waxwings were in a bare tree along Buena Vista Road north of  Wintel Road and south of the railroad crossing.  They were next to two large conifers abloom with climbing wisteria, east of Buena Vista.

The thrush were scattered through the brush beneath the tall trees and sneaky as always.  Albert got some good shots of one who stopped moving in the shadows and presumed invisibility.swainson's thrush (ankeny 5-11-20)

The Black-headed Grosbeaks were singing, chasing, and one pair was beginning a nest.

Framing and foundation in place:bhg nest-anlk (2)

The Yellow Warbler males were also competing for dominance and even the Warbling Vireos made themselves visible.wavi-ank (2)


Albert Ryckman photographed this grebe match before I arrived.  He is a retired medical so he;s seen some animal violence effects, but he was shocked by this as the female watched while the two males apparently tried to drown one another.  At times both combatants were beneath the surface for more than a few seconds.  Of course, this species is an excellent diving swimmer.


Here are Albert’s shots of one or more of the Yellow Warblers chasing one another across the willow tops at Pintail Marsh:

ANKENY GALLERY–more of Ryckman’s good shooting:

If you haven’t seen enough, click here for more photos from Ankeny today, including an otter road and our one Osprey fly-over.

Ankeny NWR, Marion, Oregon, US
May 11, 2020
43 species

Canada Goose  X
Wood Duck  3
Cinnamon Teal  1
Gadwall  X
Mallard  X
Ring-necked Duck  5
Bufflehead  1
Pied-billed Grebe  X
Eurasian Collared-Dove  X
Mourning Dove  X
Anna’s Hummingbird  2
Sora  1
American Coot  1
Great Blue Heron  8
Great Egret  1
Turkey Vulture  3
Osprey  1
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Belted Kingfisher  1
Acorn Woodpecker  X
Downy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  2
American Kestrel  2
Warbling Vireo  2
California Scrub-Jay  5
American Crow  3
Tree Swallow  30
Violet-green Swallow  2
Barn Swallow  20
Cliff Swallow  2
European Starling  X
Swainson’s Thrush  12
American Robin  X
Cedar Waxwing  40
American Goldfinch  10
Song Sparrow  20
Spotted Towhee  6
Red-winged Blackbird  X
Brown-headed Cowbird  1
Brewer’s Blackbird  X
Orange-crowned Warbler  2
Yellow Warbler  5
Black-headed Grosbeak  15

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