Posted by: atowhee | October 4, 2019


Climate change has a very severe effect it is beginning to exercise.  Not only will island nations vanish, coastal cities nestle down next to Atlantis, droughts remove millions of square miles of land from arability…no, worse than even dengue fever in the Arctic…the taste of fine French wines will be changed…as the same time as the US government has levied a heavier tariff. Serious is as serious does, my granny used to say.

Posted by: atowhee | October 4, 2019


One large British farm has been de-industrialized, modern farming with chemicals and machinery has been abandoned.  There in heavily populated, long populated by people, urbanized and criss-crossed by motorways, nature has been given free rein once again.  Isabella Tree and here husband now tell their story, proud of having rewilded their farm despite widespread condemnation by their farming neighbors.

Also, in Britain, George Monbiot is my favorite environmental writers and a long-time proponent of rewilding.

Here is video of a talk by Monbiot for TED.  Step back, restore large species where they once were.

Perhaps a little rewilding in our living rooms is a worthy start–spare that spider says one expert.

Posted by: atowhee | October 3, 2019


Foraging species can have incredible time and space memories.  Without a paper calendar or smart phone, without paper maps of GPS satellites, birds and mammals, bees and butterflies know when and where they found food last year.

Annually a waxwing flock comes to clear out the ripened berries from our neighbor’s medium-sized rowan tree.  Today was that day.  The waxwing flock descended out of the sky, soon their motion and commotion brought in other berry-lovers, to wit, nearby robins.  Knowing the waxwings proclivities for rowan fruit (in Scotland where the tree is native I have seen one full of Bohemian Waxwings) I found a small volunteer rowan sapling and have transplanted it into a proper spot in our garden.

The streaky-chested waxwings are this year’s young.  The adults have streakless fronts and more crisply marked face masks.  All are equally adept at berry plucking, the fruit then swallowed whole.
Behold the waxwing, a fruitful endeavor among robins:

Birds attract…and they often attract other birds with similar gourmand leanings.  Local Song Sparrows may suddenly find themselves followed around by wintering Fox or Golden-crowned Sparrows.  Spotted Towhee may also attract smaller sparrows and juncos.  Like any wise travelers, wintering birds know to ask the locals where to eat.

The same goes for insectivores.  It is not unusual to find wintering warblers or migrants, kinglets from afar, even migratory flickers or sapsuckers following around the locals:  Downys, Bushtits, the locally resident chickadee species.  Bushtits seem to often be the heart of a winter gleaning flock.  They ignore the large birds but their constant soft messaging is heard by the others and heeded.  The Bushtits don’t cover large territories but they know the local area as well as any bird can.  Their presence and movements means good gleaning for those not familiar with the surroundings.  Plus it means more eyes on alert for an accipiter or Merlin.

Posted by: atowhee | October 3, 2019


Paul Sullivan lives here in McMinnville as I do.  He has huge county lists for every county in Oregon.  His birding expertise is admirable and his dedication to seeing our feathered neighbors is intense.  He occasionally leads birding trips out of the Willamette Valley and I recently got him in touch with a couple of my birding friends in Ashland where he was taking some birders.  Lee French and Dr. Karl Schneck met with Paul and his group…and, of course, they headed into the Cascades after big game.

Karl sent out his photo under a subject line…what happens when you can’t find a single Great Gray Owl?  You find …2 GGOW smallI recognize this meadow not far from Howard Prairie Lake.  This may be an adult male and one of his nearly grown off-spring from the past breeding season.  Maturing owlets are fed by the father long after the mother has departed for her own hunting meadows if all goes well over the summer.

Congrats to Lee, Karl, Paul and their owlers.

Posted by: atowhee | October 2, 2019


Today an adult White-crowned Sparrow appeared in our garden.  It is the first one I have seen here this season.  He is not likely as our garden is like a small forest and he will want a more brushy, open habitat most likely.

I  Washington County this afternoon I drove past Western Bluebirds pon Bald Peak.  This species is not abundant here in northwestern Oregon.  Too much intensive agriculture.

Posted by: atowhee | October 1, 2019


Fall migrants have not all left, or arrived.  We have juncos and Golden-crowned Sparrows in our garden now but American Goldfinches continue.  Vaux’s Swifts were over the church chimney on Second Street in McMinnville last night, at least two dozen.  Today Barn Swallows coursed across the playing fields at Joe Dancer.  They were out-numbered, however, by a congress of crows with over three dozens attendees.  It seemed to be a tea party punctuated by strolls across the soccer fields where the quality of the fare on offer was discussed by attendees.

Unseen so far: siskins, Hermit and Varied Thrush, kinglets, Fox Sparrow, any warblers in motion.  At Yamhill Sewer Ponds a couple days ago the swallows were mostly violet-green.  The ducks were nearly all shovelers, here for the duration.

Posted by: atowhee | September 30, 2019


From our Malheur Field Station birding trip earlier this month.  Click on any image for large version.  First, young night-heron on rock at The Narrows. #2, largest flock of cranes we saw, 105, in wet meadow at Princeton, west of the post office.  #3 Heron in background, Great Egret foreground, Narrows. #4 Male Evening Grosbeak at Refuge Headquarters.  #5 Nuttall’s cottontail, Field Station.  #6 Spotted Sandpiper at Silvies River Bridge, east end of Ruh-Red Road. #7 White Pelicans aloft, beneath leaden clouds.  Then three shots of fluttery Wilson’s Warbler male at headquarters.  Wood-pewee.  Then juvenile YH BLackbird atop road sign.

And still more– #1 Young Kestrel on sign at Chickahominy; #2  young Pied-billed Grebe, the zebra-stripes on head still discernible; #3 Peregrine over The Narrows; #4 male pheasant along Sodhouse Road; #5 Savannah Sparrow at Chickahominy; #6 Townsend’s Solitaire in rowan at headquarters; #7 & 8 Ibis and young night-herons at Narrows; under the white bar is a Wilson’s Snipe, one of several at headquarters pond the only morning we managed to get a look at these elusive hiders.

SKY9-184 (2)That’s our van on the edge of this sky-filled image, a rainy, windy afternoon at Chickahominy with crowds of clouds.  Then an unsubtle sunset at the Field Station:sunset

Posted by: atowhee | September 30, 2019


One look at the disappearing birds that people and our economy are pushing toward extinction.

This morning Kate and I were walking our dog in a large city park here in McMinnville.  It has acres of grassy soccer and softball fields.  A crew of city workers were out spraying herbicides on unwanted weeds.  Toxins that elementary school kids will walk on, perhaps lie on, get on their clothes.  I know what it is like to detest invasive weeds, be they thistles or dandelions.  But they can be dug out of the ground if only our culture would still allow low-tech labor.  Why not stop using poison and hire some folks to dig out the weeds?  Might be cheaper, certainly less poisonous.  Or even get volunteer groups to help dig weeds?

In most bitter irony Violet-green Swallows and Vaux’s Swifts were plying the air over the sprayers.  These insectivores were there harvesting insects scared up from grass by the mowing machines.  Just as all of us now contain uncounted numbers of plastic bits in our bodies and ingested daily, so the insects there must contain some of the herbicides plus various chemicals spewed out by the inefficient internal combustion engines of the mowers.  From the insects to the birds, from the birds toward oblivion.

Our current “civilization” is so addicted to quick fix, high tech, no sweat living that we daily pour more poison and plastic and micro-fibers into an already ailing planet.  It would be unthinkable to actually bend over and dig out the dandelion root?

Time for somebody to write the ultimate country tune, “Hope is Just a Four-letter Word.”

Joe Dancer Park, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Sep 30, 2019
5 species–none of these birds can survive in a toxic environment, the red-tail eats ground-dwelling rodents, the others eat insects, robins also eat earthworms and fruit that may contain spray residue

Vaux’s Swift  5
Red-tailed Hawk  1
American Kestrel  1
Violet-green Swallow  50
American Robin  X

Posted by: atowhee | September 30, 2019


brb flok (2)Nature has many practitioners of gathering.  Our own species can conglomerate into colonies of millions in what we call cities or conurbations. The buzzing of insect swarms is familiar in many parts of the world.  Ants, termites and other catacomb builders can form multitudinous societies that dominate a small part of the earth therearound. Plants from dandelions and fescue to redwoods seem to prefer the company of their own kind.  Habitats with a wide variety of plants often feel as if there were a truce, not what any single species would have willed could it do so.

In the animal world I have seen gatherings of many kinds.  Almost daily the score of Bushtits hit my garden feeders several times, then buzz off.  In fall there are flocks of migrating swallows, geese, kettles of Turkey Vultures, swirls of swifts.  In Uganda nesting weavers would dominate a huge tree, nests hanging on every available branch.  On the New Zealand coast a colony of nesting gannets jammed together, an intentional tenement. In Spain you can find a Lesser Kestrel flock hunting above the town like swallows. Many finch species from siskin up to Evening Grosbeaks are notorious for roaming in greedy hordes, so are waxwings. Waxwings fly in such tight formation often that I use that aerial formation as an easy field mark. March hundreds of thousands of Sandhill Cranes nightly roost along the shallow Platte River.  Along the Pacific Coast nesting colonies of murre, puffins, cormorants, gulls, auklets populate offshore islands, daytime flights make any airport look peaceful.  Cliff Swallows in America, House Martins in Europe, can turn a bridge or roof overhang into a busy condo complex.  Many different corvids have their own forms of gathering: young ravens form play groups in the wind; Jackdaws go nest and roost the cracks in old cathedrals or at Stonehenge; Rooks prefer riparian forests for their gatherings; Pinyon Jays have their own arboreal preferences in the arid U.S. West; Canada Jay gangs move about dense conifer forests assuming camp sites and picnic tables are their own property; Yellow-billed Magpies could tell you every outdoor feeding location for cats and dogs in their territory if you could but listen; Steller’s Jays will sound the call if you begin tossing out peanuts within their sight, and then the clan will gather. Starlings are famous for their murmurations.  So it is not unusual that our American blackbirds and their kin congregate.  They have no relations in the Eastern Hemisphere so their movements and behavior are a New World phenomenon and I consider myself fortunate to get to watch them so often. In Latin America their colorful oropendola cousins build hanging nests by the dozens in a chosen tree.  Icterids seem very tolerant of various species in their family, even tolerating starlings when they decide to join the club.  We have all seen western blackbirds or grackles back east—in parking lots, on overhead wires, in marshes, in fields (farm or soccer), in flight, homing into roost trees at night.

So it was familiar but still exciting to see tens of thousands of blackbirds flocked in the fields at Princeton in the Malheur Basin earlier this month.  We failed to find our first cowbird but what we did see was a mix of Brewer’s, Yellow-headed and Red-winged Blackbirds.  Living in the U.S. we found ourselves asking “Who’s in charge of the flock?  Who leads?”  Perhaps unpoisoned by the political ideas that cripple our kind, the blackbirds do what’s best for one and all.

The bold white wing patch shows only on the male Yellow-headed Blackbirds.  For larger view, just click on the image.

Posted by: atowhee | September 29, 2019


Here are some images from our Malheur Field Station birding trip last week:EGRET WINGS (2)Above, Great Egret takes flight  at dawn.  Below: one of the many southbound flights of cranes.  We heard their bugling as they headed for their California wintering grounds.CRANE FLITE (2)aisk atop2 (6)_LIAbove siskin flock in a spruce at Malheur Refuge headquarters.  I marked the four I could pick out.  Below, waxwing in Devine Canyon north of Burns.cewa in canyon (2)Two more canyon birds, solitaire and White-breasted Nuthatch on ponderosa trunk, far from nearest oak tree:

Least chipmunk on cliff face in Devine Canyon:C-MUNK 9-21 (2)My favorite sagebrush eating mammal:prhorn1 (2)We saw several harems similar to this one; it was along Sodhouse Road just east of the Field Station Lane.  Male is second from left.
Below (click on any image to enlarge) are gopher snake, meadowlark–at sunny moments one might sing and thrashers would do the same though autumn bird song is an exception, peregrine over French Glen, Turkey Vultures sulking at dawn in headquarters “forest” as they wait for some solar heat to generate those blessed up-drafts:

At dawn, two sleepy Great Horned Owls at headquarters.  One of them had hooted at us before we saw them:gho two in spruce (2)HARRIER CRUISES LAKE SHORE AT CHICKAHOMINYHARR-CHK (2)HARR-CHK7 (2)HARR-CHK11 (2)

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