Posted by: atowhee | September 1, 2014


At the blunt point of the quill where this feather once hung from the turkey’s chest, there is but a quarter-inch of bare shaft. Then the barbs and barbules begin. This is the after-feather section which contains silky, flexible plumes. Where each plume is attached to the main shaft there is only a miniscule, thin, hairless mini-shaft, like the thinnest thread. Each plume is flexible but springs back into position. Beyond the connecting shaftlet each plume becomes expansive, fuzzy and almost like fur. This is insulation, waterproofing, comfortable down next to sensitive skin. The color is a matte medium brown. This afterfeather extends 2.75 inches along the shaft, almost exactly half of this feather’s whole 5.5-inch length.


Toward what was once the outer end from the plumes the coloring gets complex and fascinating. The next inch of so along the shaft the barbs and barbules are two-tone giving rise to arced, wavy lines of yellowish brown on a dark brown background.
The last 1.25 inches of this feather are both more subtle and more complex. An iridescence dominates. The background brown remains but in sunlight at some angles there is a blue-green sheen on the surface. A slight change of light of angle and a pale golden-green light appears. Even in dull indoor light you can see there are two soft-edged stripes running across the feather…just before you get to the grand finale.
For the ultimate 3-8ths of an inch on this feather there are only pale golden brown fingers made up of individual plumes not stuck together. Each ends in a tiny, wavering end, spaced apart for its neighbors by the tiniest margin.

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At one time this feather formed part of the contour on a Wild Turkey’s chest. It is curved slightly to fit the breast form and also to match its fellow feathers.
Above: turkey in our garden. Below: the Ghost of Turkey Passed.
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Here are two illustrations from the great feather-brained work, BIRD FEATHERS by Scott and McFarland. Stackpole Books.
feather structure

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Posted by: atowhee | August 31, 2014


This fall marks the centennial of the death of America’s last Passenger Pigeon. It is one of many species driven into extinction by human action. It seems our ancestors have been killing off other animals far before the Dodo, way back to the era of the Wooly mammoth. But now we seem prepared to mark the next century as our biggest kill ever, hundreds, maybe thousands, of species hang in the balance as we humans add ever more heat and energy to the earth’s environment.
Click here to read piece in today’s “New York Times” by the head of the Cornell Ornithology Lab.passpig-wilson This drawing of the Passenger Pigeon is by pioneer bird artists, Alexander Wilson, who once estaimed more than a billion of the birds flew over his head along the banks of the Ohio River. Just over a hundred years later the bird was gone forever.

Posted by: atowhee | August 30, 2014



These two pictures were taken by a homeowner who lives south of Ashland at about 3100′. This Great Gray Owl was perched on her porch. The owl stayed around for some photo ops then flew back into the forest. Needless to say, this was a unique experience for her ten years of living there.

There are small grassy meadows near her house. The forest is mixed black and white oak and conifers. These are cedar, Doug-fir and ponderosa. There are some small springs on the slopes that keep the grasses and forbs green even in this droughty summer. That should mean food for the GGO. The owl’s hostess has declared this the “Year of the Vole.”

Posted by: atowhee | August 30, 2014


Yesterday’s ho-hum is today’s bulletin. We will be seeing and feeling more of this radical shift in perspective as climate change continues to change more than climate.
We’ve heard about the steep decline in monarch butterflies. This year marks the low point in the population for as far back as record go. Click here for the sad story.
When I was a kid in the Missouri Ozarks back those many decades ago, monarchs were around my parents’ farm all summer long. “Weed sprays” were still a rarely used weapon against plants that were not domestic. So milkweed flourished on roadsides and along fences. No more.
So this month I have seen two living monarchs (both butterflies, neither of royal blood) on their annual migration. One was near Emigrant Lake, the other came through our garden and sampled our buddleia. The later plant is now an “invasive” and no longer legally sold in Oregon. One man’s pest is another bug’s delight, you might say.
So the good news: there are still monarchs. That means we humans have time to intervene on their behalf now that we humans have done so much to destroy them. It means we have to kick our addiction to poisons and that means saying “no” to some powerful cultural and corporate forces. Too bad the monarchs themselves can’t rule. Give them a seat on the Monsanto board of directors? I thought not.

Posted by: atowhee | August 28, 2014



like woodpecker

Today forester Marty Main hung the first two Great Gray Owl nest platforms on a private ranch near Grizzly Peak. The platforms were the first constructed by Peter Thiemann using funds donated to Rogue Valley Audubon’s newly inaugurated GGO Platform fund. RVAS is the only Audubon chapter in the nation to be running such a program. Very few are lucky enough to be in habitat where Great Gray Owls nest.
Here are some more pictures of today’s action where nest platforms are now within 200 yards of a nest site used this summer by GGOs who fledged an owlet there.

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Now getting down to applause is the fun part:P2130025 (1280x960)
Peter, his wife and Marty check out platform #2 prior to lift-off:
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Here’s reporter Mark Freeman and ranch co-owner, Suzanne, watching the first platform going up.
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Here’s my full description of this platform program:

RVAS is helping place nest platforms for Great Gray Owls. Jackson County has 300-500 GGOs, mostly in the Cascades. A few are in the uplands along the Applegate River. That estimate’s from Steve Godwin, BLM’s chief biologist in the county. For about two decades BLM field biologists in southwestern Oregon have searched for Great Gray Owls during an annual spring survey. Great Grays are in eastern Josephine County and Klamath County. The only confirmed GGO population in northern California is a small one north of Alturas in Modoc County. There’s an isolated population around Yosemite.
Godwin assured me the recent forest fire east of Greensprings did NOT hit known GGO nesting habitat. That fire mostly burned commercial timber land, not the right habitat for the species.
Platforms are being made by volunteer and nature photographer, Peter Thiemann. Each needs to be carefully placed in dense, mature forest near meadows good for Great Gray hunting. A platform is put 35 feet above the ground by an experienced forestry worker. Donations go for materials and pay the person equipped to hang the platform.
One limitation to Great Grays’ population is lack of nesting places. Owls don’t build nests. They use cliffs, cavities, old nests for other species, manmade structures. GGOs do not use buildings, bridges, cavities or cliffs. Left to their own devices GGOs need a large tree trunk broken off at the right height or a nest built by Raven or Red-tail. Many of these natural nest sites are short-lived. A pair we monitored this spring on a private ranch near Grizzly Peak used a fast disintegrating Ravens’ nest. That area is where the first two platforms will be placed this fall.
There is good evidence of Great Gray Owls using nest platforms over many years. Here in the southern part of their range owls will pair and nest almost every season because food supplies—small rodents—are generally available. Further north lemming populations may crash leading to a dormant season where nests are fewer or non-existent. Platforms are now used for GGOs in Scandanavia, Canada and in their scattered nesting areas in the western U.S. One platform on private land near Howard Prairie Lake has been used both in 2013 and 2014.
If you can donate to the Great Gray Owl nest platform fund, please send check to RVAS, P.O. Box 8597, Medford OR 97501. Your donations are tax deductible.

Posted by: atowhee | August 27, 2014


This time of year the mid-day temps climb above 90 degrees. The sun threatens to melt the binoculars’ strap. Birds take looong siestas. So I tell myself the birding is better at 4000′, or maybe even at 6500′ elevation (not admitting that each 1000′ climb means 4 degrees less heat in the air).
Yesterday evening I had to drive to Klamath Falls. I left in time to get in some pre-darkness mountain birding.
One young Mountain Quail standing next to Shale City Road before ducking back into the underbrush.

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Later a Sooty Grouse picking insects off the road itself. I followed this bird for a hundred yards without trying to get out of the car. Shots taken through a newly cleaned windshield.
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Around Milepost 12 on Clover Creek Road: Olive-sided Flycatcher sharing treetop with his little cuz, the Western Wood-Pewee. Neither bird is ever likely to share a hunting spot with one of its own species outside of family-rearing season.TWO FLYS

TWO FLYZ UP Olive-sided alone: OSF
Half of the Kestrel pair hunting a hayfield in Keno:KEST AT KENO

On the eastern slope of the Cascades the Aspen are beginning to shower the ground with gold.
When even a slight, parching August breeze ruffles the aspen, the quaking leaves sound like rainfall. It’s an aural mirage.
A cedar tree of two minds…
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Late morning today I met some visiting birders up on Mt. Ashland. There was a hatch of small dark flies and every bird we saw was flycatching. Not only flycatchers and bluebirds… but Juncos…Red-breasted Sapsuckers…Chipping Sparrows…Red-breasted Nuthatches. Getting hungry, I was tempted to grab a bit myself, but stayed with the trail mix.
But the best catch of the day was not one but two sightings of a Northern Goshawk. Each time it was cruising above the treetops. The second time the bird circled high above the campground, gaining altitude without a single wing flap. The big, muscular, soaring accipiter is a wonder to watch. No Sharp-shinned Hawk could ever muster that kind of aerial show.Northern GoshhawkThis photo of the Goshawk far overhead was taken under difficult lighting conditions by Dianne Fristom. The mid-day sun and sky were very bright.
Throw in the TVs, a Peregrine and a Cooper’s Hawk and we had four raptor species and not one of them was a Red-tail! That’s as good as a crowd of ducks with no Mallard!

Mt. Ashland, Jackson, US-OR
Aug 27, 2014 11:25 AM – 12:55 PM
12.0 mile(s). 22 species

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) 2
Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) 1
Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) 1
Red-breasted Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus ruber) 2
White-headed Woodpecker (Picoides albolarvatus) 2
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) 3
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) 1
Olive-sided Flycatcher (Contopus cooperi) 1
Western Wood-Pewee (Contopus sordidulus) 4
Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii) 1
Common Raven (Corvus corax) 3
Violet-green Swallow (Tachycineta thalassina) 4
Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli) 2
Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) 4
White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) 2
Western Bluebird (Sialia mexicana) 8
Townsend’s Solitaire (Myadestes townsendi) 3
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata) 1
Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina) 3
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) 50
Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana) 1
Cassin’s Finch (Haemorhous cassinii) 1

Posted by: atowhee | August 26, 2014


We hear all the time about the human atrocities against other humans. Less often we are confronted by our inhumane treatment of the non-human. Well, National Geographic makes it graphic: over one-tenth of all bird species now face extinction.
Stout of heart? Click here to read the story.

Posted by: atowhee | August 25, 2014


Summertime and the livin’ is easy. Bugs are jumpin’ and the feathers need cleanin’.
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WHW CLEAR (1280x960) All photos taken of single bird preening in woods just downslope from Mt. Ashland Ski Lodge on the Ashland side. Heavy smoke still obscures the view into both the Rogue River Valley on the north and the Shasta Valley in California to the south.

Posted by: atowhee | August 25, 2014


Hunting, hopping about in the dense but very low shrubs that survive on the wind-whipped slopes of Mt. Ashland…at around 6500 feet elevation…a few buckwheat plants and some of the very lowest-growing blue lupine possible still had flowers…mostly the habitat was parched and sere…the towhee the most colorful thing on the ground. Even in migration this bird usually moves down the spine of mountain ranges and is rarely seen along the coast or in low-lying valleys of the American West.

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Posted by: atowhee | August 25, 2014


I did most of my birding after 5pm and above 6000 feet in elevation. Standing around with the sun on my back and a slight breeze in my face was easy birding. The high elevation species were taking advantage of the mild temps (about 70) and full sun to eat and eat. Nesting season is over. Must feel like last day of school when you’re a sixth grader. Whooopee!

Flycatchers and bluebirdsBLUBRD FLIEZ (1280x587) were flitting about from high branches. Here is a sequence of one pewee over my head: P2120410 (1280x960)

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One lone wren sneaking through the underbrush. I am still amazed at these high elevation House Wrens here in southern Oregon. They don’t have to compete with the Bewick’s Wrens in the valleys. as always the Yellow-rumped Warblers were glad of any reason to battle over a foraging spot.

A White-headed Woodpecker came out into the sunlight to preen on a mossy bough.preen lean
To see more of the White-headed workout, click on this link.

The Red-breasted Sapsucker was feeding intently on a moss and lichen draped trunk. RBS-UP (1280x960)

My favorite encounter of the evening was a Green-tailed Towhee who presented himself for admiration and then went about the ground feeding.GT-POSE-E

If you’re a big fan of the GT Towhee, as I am, and can’t get enough, click on this link for a whole gallery of one bird on the ground, going about his towhee-business.
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Hermit Warbler in the foliage.
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You can click on any of these small images for a larger version.
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LUPIN-BLU (1280x960)Tiny silver-gray leaves on the four inch high lupine with its delicate blue flowers. Crushed all winter by heavy snow this lupine can’t thick trunks and height. Grow low and live.

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Bad as these pictures are, they are the first I’ve ever gotten of Mountain Quail. This coveey scampered off the road and down a 30-degree slope into brush and shade and kept moving. Fortunately each had to cross the log before completely vanishing. Note the V-shaped head quills and one shot shows the white and white side pattern as well.
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Nice elderberry crop this summer for the bears and thrushes.

Mt. Ashland, Jackson, US-OR
Aug 25, 2014 5:00 PM – 6:45 PM.
22 species

Mountain Quail (Oreortyx pictus) 11 THREE SEPARATE SIGHTINGS
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) 1
Band-tailed Pigeon (Patagioenas fasciata) 1
Red-breasted Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus ruber) 1
White-headed Woodpecker (Picoides albolarvatus) 1
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) 3
Western Wood-Pewee (Contopus sordidulus) 2
Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri) 1
Common Raven (Corvus corax) 2
Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli) 2
Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) 3
White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) 1
House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) 1 At 6500′ elevation
Western Bluebird (Sialia mexicana) 10
Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides) 2
American Robin (Turdus migratorius) 2
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata) 3
Hermit Warbler (Setophaga occidentalis) 2
Green-tailed Towhee (Pipilo chlorurus) 2
Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina) 8
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) 40
Purple Finch (Haemorhous purpureus) 1

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