Posted by: atowhee | October 20, 2014


I have asked numerous people who know a lot more about Oregon birding history and/or Great Gray Owls than I do. I got a shrug. Even Evelyn Bull, a retired federal agency biologist, who co-wrote the Birds of North America account on GGOs could not answer my question.

The brief but interesting story is in a one-page account published in “The Murrelet” in the Sept-Dec issue, 1959. The account was written by W. E. Griffee of Portland, Oregon.

“I…was greatly interested in seeing a nest near Fort Klamath, Oregon on April 4, 1959 and in collecting from it an excellent set of eggs which had been incubated from about five to nine days [this is highly unlikley as the eggs are laid several days apart and incubated from the paying of the very first one].
“Credit for the discovery is mostly due Mrs. Anna Strahan, a Fort Klamath school teacher, and one of her former pupils, Lyle Brewer. Both are avid bird watchers and really know their local owls.”

Griffee traveled to Klamath County to persuade Mrs. Strahan to help find a nest. She had been annually reporting GGOs on the local Christmas Bird Count.

She was reluctant at first. Perhaps she knew the city feller was determined to steal the birds’ eggs as a show of his triumphant discovery. Thankfully ornithology w]=has largely evolved beyond nest robbing some 55 years later. In less than two hours the group of three birders did find a nest. Griffee did have to work for his egg cache. He says the nest was 70 feet up in a dead lodgepole in an old Red-tailed Hawk nest.

2014 GGO 1 Photo by Peter Thiemann.


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.
Below is nest platform that has been in place for over a decade, still in use. Almost no known natural nest site could last that long. The platform in the picture is in Cascades of Jackson County at about 4500’ elevation in a privately owned parcel of land that includes a spring-fed grassy meadow good for hunting small rodents year round.

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 Scandinavia, 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 | October 20, 2014


“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language. The quality of cranes lies, I think, in this higher gamut, as yet beyond the reach of words.” –Aldo Leopold, Sand County Almanac
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“Our appreciation of cranes grows with the slow unraveling of earthly history. His tribe, we now know, stems out of the remote Eocene. The other members of the fauna in which he originated are long since entombed within the hills. When we hear his call we hear no mere bird. We hear the trumpet in the orchestra of evolution. He is the symbol of our untamable past, of the incredible sweep of millennia which underlies and conditions the daily affairs of birds and men.” — “Marshland Elegy” by Aldo Leopold
On seeing them in Nebraska in winter: “Despite being forewarned, I was unprepared for the sheer volume of their calls, and it was getting louder by the minute. My overall impression was of a riotous free-for-all…it was a din unlike any that I had ever heard, a haunting, otherworldly sound. And it was the sound that had already been heard for ages when this river, the Platte River, had been born.
“For 60 million years, the call of the sandhill crane has echoed across the world’s wetlands and waterways, and it’s been heard in North America for at least 9 million years. Sandhill cranes, the oldest living bird species, have seen the violent birthing of entire mountains ranges, and then watched these same experience slow death at the hands of wind and rain… Long before man first took feeble steps on two legs, or raised a rock in anger, sandhills were already ancient.”
–“The Valley of the Cranes” by Jim Miller
cranes calling
“Flock after flock came weaving across the sky, often in mile-long skeins, changing shape, flowing without a pause. The air, before and behind us, seemed filled with their moving forms, filled also with the clamor of their voices. The wild chorus rose and fell, changed continually. At one time it suggested brant in flight, at another the rough purring of a cat, but in the end it remained unique, the commingled calling of many cranes…
“More than once, as the twilight deepened, a long skein of returning cranes passed directly across the luminous disk of the moon, each bird in turn standing out in sharp-cut silhouette. Each performer in this silhouette parade flew easily, buoyantly, riding the air on wings whose spread exceeded the extreme length of the bird by as much as three feet.”
Wandering Through Winter by Edwin Way Teale

“In all of North America, only a handful of animal calls have the power to stir the human soul as profoundly as these crane calls. The yodeling of loons on a northwoods lake, the bugling of elk across a misty meadow, the lugubrious howling of a wolf pack in a wilderness forest—these are sounds that bypass the ears to sink their teeth into a nerve deep within the listener, these and the ancient gurgling cries of cranes echoing over a dark river.”
The Cry of the Sandhill Crane, by Steve Grooms.

“The Romans noted the changing of the seasons by the raucous trumpeting of the cranes. In Greek mythology the alphabet was said to have been invented by the god Mercury which observing cranes in flight.”
The Book of Cranes, Claire Cooley

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“There are now only two seasons in my personal calendar—crane season and the rest of the year… I would far rather see and listen to cranes than gaze once more on Arizona’s magnificent Grand Canyon, or listen to a concert performed by the finest of the world’s choirs…” Sandhill and Whooping Cranes, Paul Johnsgard [an ornithologist in Nebraska who has written as well and lovingly of the Sandhill Crane as any man who ever lived. Johnsgard himself is tall and crane-like.]

“High horns, low horns, silence, and finally pandemonium of trumpets, rattles, croaks, and cries that almost shakes the bog with its nearness, but without yet disclosing whence it comes. At last a glint of sun reveals the approach of a great echelon of birds. On motionless wing they emerge from the lifting mists, sweep a final arc of sky, and settle in clangorous spirals to their feeding grounds. A new day had begun on the crane marsh.
Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold
“This morning we were awakened by the loud cries of the sandhill crane, performing evolutions in the air, high over their feeding grounds… This crane is a social bird, sometimes assembling in great numbers, soaring aloft in the air, flying with an irregular kind of gyratory motion, each individual describing a large circle in the air independently of his associates, and uttering loud, dissonant, and repeated cries. They sometimes continue thus to wing their flight upwards, gradually receding from the earth, until they become mere specks upon the sight, and finally disappear altogether, leaving only the discordant music of their concert to fall faintly upon the ear.”
Journal, Thomas Say, 1820
cranz-legs down
“Those who pass through life without stopping to admire the beauty, organization, melody or habits of birds rob themselves of a very great share of the pleasures of existence.” –Jacob Giraud
I’ve had many of my own experiences with cranes. The flights at the start of this blog were driven into the air by duck hunters discharging weapons near Gray Lodge in Butte County, CA.
I’ve seen cranes dancing before a curtain of fog in the soggy Sacramento River Delta. I once shivered through the pre-dawn darkness on a frigid March day along the Platte River. As light almost began to appear in the sky thousands of cranes gave voice to the sound that comes from their looped esophagus, began to jump up and down and finally to lift off. It is a wildlife spectacle unparallelled anywhere else in North America. I’ve heard them calling from beyond cottony fog masking the face of the Klamath Basin in December. It’s a time when the freezing fog gives every surface a hoary coating of ice sequins. I’ve seen dozens of cranes strolling across the Carrizo Plain, scattering flocks of Mountain Bluebirds. I’ve watched a wintering crane flock spade for food between the dead corn stalks in the gummy mire of Sauvie Island. One sub-freezing February day my wife and I were looking for waterfowl on a lake near our home in southern Oregon. We became aware there was the bugling of hundreds of cranes coming from somewhere. There were none visible along the shoreline. None in the fields further away. Perhaps they were beyond the ridge, out of sight?
Then as I followed a soaring Red-tail with my binoculars I could see a swarm of tiny gray gnats circling far above. Even with binoculars the northbound cranes flew at the far edge of my visual perception. Long after my arms tired their calls came across time and space as they have through the eons. May they fly and call as long as the earth provides.
crane rouge

CRANES--GOODING This great photo of a crane pair stepping out was taken by Matthew Gooding of Ashland.

Sandhill Cranes, 5-25-2013, near Lily GlenThis is one of pair of adults that raised TWO colts near Howard Prairie in Oregon one summer.

Posted by: atowhee | October 19, 2014




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So this is the sequence of actions taken by a Pied-billed Grebe that had caught a small perch with a diameter greater than the bird’s throat. Apparently standing up in the water with erect neck allowed the bird’s msu7cles to pull the fish, head-first down into the stretched throat…then a drink to lubricate the process, then the bird swims around with enlarged crop.
This occurred this morning at River Park, Anderson, California.

I toyed with other headlines for this blog: One swallow does not a meal make…he ate the whole thing…head’s down…big gulp…deep throat…alimentary, my dear Watson…no dessert, thank you.

Posted by: atowhee | October 18, 2014


weki calls

WEKI-OCT1 (1280x960) This bird was feeding along Butler Road in southern Glenn County, an immature Western Kingbird. They’ve been gone from southern Oregon since late August. In much milder climate of California’s Central Valley, they ate often around through October. But it was an unexpected sight for us and caused slamming of brakes, and much staring and gesticulation.

Posted by: atowhee | October 18, 2014


Today our Rogue Valley Audubon sponsored trip visited a few more places described in my I-5 FREEWAY BIRDING book, and a couple places a bit off that map.
We saw a Western Kingbird today, much to our surprise. Click for those pictures and blog.
Here are some of the other birds we encountered:
ybm looks down

ybm peks down
ybm-cheek vu
Thia Yellow-billed Magpie, one of California’s much-beloved endemics, was in west Orland where I often recommend birders look to find this species (good directions in my book).
Note how hefty this beak is compared to the longer, more slender beak of its Black-billed cousin. This beak may be better suited for acorn crushing. The deep root of the beak inside the skull argyes for hefty jaw muscles to anchor and move it during use.
yb face-cup This individual flew toward us and watched us intently. Perhaps he is used to being fed by his human neighbors?
Northern Pintails are always one of the most numerous wintering ducks in the Sacramento River Valley. As a dabbler they are coping with the drought-induced shallow water. Not sure what divers will do. All the Ring-necked Ducks had confined themselves to a single deeper impoundment. No Bufflehead nor Ruddies yet.

ppintl paird Yes, this male has an unusual white spot on the side of his otherwise perfect visage. A leucistic touch?

This was about a 40 minutes drive from I-5 and east of the Sacramento River.
CRAN WAVE (1280x960)
The cranes were in Butte County at the north edge of Sutter Buttes. We suspect the noise of shotguns drove them into the air even though they were not the presumed target. BUTTEDS (1280x960)We have thought to go into Gray Lodge Wildlife Area but were completely out-gunned by the many duck hunters. We clung to the public road where we’d not be taken for drake or gander.
Here is what the Sacramento NWR looked like in one place
Here we have a Great Egret in upper left, Greater Yellowlegs–ever so much NOT greater than the egret–in lower right. Whie-faced Ibis in center. Black-necked Stilts scattered about the frame with a broken line of Long-billed Dowitchers across the middle ground. CLICK ON IMAGE FOR LARGER VIEW.
A pair of Ravens in consultation:
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Posted by: atowhee | October 17, 2014


I left Ashland n early morning with two birders who bought a Freeway Birding expedition I donated to Rogue Valley Audubon for their annual auction. The purchasers had chosen a trip to the Sacramento valley for fall migration. Today we got as far as Anderson, California.BBM-LOUIE RD
The Black-billed Mahgpie was along Louie Road south of Yreka. We saw Yellow-billed later in Anderson River Park.
These two Western Bluebirds were among flock in Siskiyou County:
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The Greater Yellowlegs numbered two in a small farm pond just downslope from the bluebirds.
The Dipper was in the Sacramento River at Castle Crags State Park.

This Hermit Thrush was feeding around the spring that feeds the Sacramento River at its source in the town of Mt. Shasta.

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This Turkey Vulture was at carrion in Anderson.
White-crowned Sparrow:
Flicker at Hedge Creek Falls, Dunsmuir:nofl-hedge flls
Siskins feeding on white fir along Pilot Rock Road, Jackson County, OR:
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Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Anderson.


Other sights of interest included Bald Eagle, Spotted Sandpiper and Sharp-shinned Hawk at Anderson River Park…Savannah Sparrow flock along Louie Road…golden ash trees along the Shasta, Klamath and Sacramento Rivers…and rabbitbrush in bloom in Siskiyou County.

Posted by: atowhee | October 16, 2014



Posted by: atowhee | October 15, 2014


There was a cold, rainy night. Followed by a calm but cool morning with scattered sunshine between cloud banks. The little birds had been dampened and chilled all night. With daylight they needed to eat and replace the lost calories. Yellow-rumped Warblers and Golden-crowned Sparrows were especially evident and busy feeding.
This was a field trip for my OLLI (Osher Lifetime Learning) birding class. Only the hardier souls dared come along in the cold and damp but we were rewarded. Two Ravens chasing a Merlin across the sky…bright Lesser Goldfinches eating thistle seed…a Red-breasted Sapsucker and flock of Cedar Waxwings at Ashland Pond…female Common Yellowthroat at North Mountain and an Orange-crowned Warbler at the Pond…singers includes: Bewick’s Wren, Wrentit, Red-winged Blackbird and Golden-crowned Sparrows. Numerous chinnook salmon heading up Bear Creek for the last round-up.


Thie graound squirrel’s demeanor was the exact opposite of the frantic, desparate Chinook. The squirrel sat calmly in his chosen blackberry bush, eating fruit and staring at us intruders
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A young Double-crested Cormorant, perhaps the most persecuted native bird species in North America.* This cormorant is hated and killed by the fishing induystry from the mouth of the Columbia River to the catfish farms of the Deep South.
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White-breasted Nuthatch, in an oak tree, of course.
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North Mountain Park, Jackson, US-OR
Oct 15, 2014 8:50 AM – 10:10 AM
0.4 mile(s). 24 species

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) 3
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) 1
Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) 1
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) 1
Merlin (Falco columbarius) 1
Western Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica) 6
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) 4
Common Raven (Corvus corax) 2
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) 1
Bewick’s Wren (Thryomanes bewickii) 2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula) 1
American Robin (Turdus migratorius) 6
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) X
Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) X
Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata) 25
Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus) 2
Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca) 1
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) 2
White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys) 1
Golden-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia atricapilla) 50
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) 2
Lesser Goldfinch (Spinus psaltria) 15
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) 1

Ashland Pond, Jackson, US-OR
Oct 15, 2014 10:15 AM – 11:15 AM
23 species

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) X
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) 2
Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) 2
Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) 1
Turkey Vulture 8 in small kettle
Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus) 1
Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) 2
Red-breasted Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus ruber) 1
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) 1
Black Phoebe 1
Western Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica) 4
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) X
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) 1
White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) 1
Wrentit (Chamaea fasciata) 1 singing
American Robin (Turdus migratorius) 2
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) X
Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) 15
Orange-crowned Warbler (Oreothlypis celata) 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata) 30
Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus) 3
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) 1
Golden-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia atricapilla) 40

* Click here for details about a Corps of Engineers’ proposal to slaughter thousands of Double-crested Cormorant in the Columbia River. This is bitterly symbolic, coming in the centennial year of the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon, driven to extinction by humans slaughtering the species by the millions. Haven’t we learned that short-term financial gain does NOT justify murdering our fellow creatures wantonly and wastefully?
I checked with Portland Audubon and the Corps has made no announcement about its decision. It tries to get ahead with the cormorant crusade, expect lawsuits.

Posted by: atowhee | October 14, 2014


With folded front legs, this creature is commonly known as “praying mantis.” I believe this is an introduced Chinese mantis, not our one native species. If I am right his proper name is Tenodera aridifolia.
Our daughter, Julie Talcott-Fuller, took his picture in our garden over the weekend.

Posted by: atowhee | October 13, 2014


Monday’s Merlin. This is the explanation for why there seemed to be no songbirds around Ashland Pond about 430pm today. One Heron, a few passing Starlings. Merlin perched high and obvious, taking no cover and taking no chances. The bird was swiftly turning its head side to side, then silently it dropped off its perch, gave a couple strong wing beats and sped off across the nearby meadow. Bad news for some careless, small bird.

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This was my first Merlin of the season here in Jackson County.
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I saw the Ehite-throated Sparrow again so I know the Merlin hasn’t eaten it.
Two Crows with their heads together must surely be termed a “conference of crows.”
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This young Band-taild Pigeon was as shocked to see me as if I came from another planet. It was lounging in our garden, perhaps I was its first human? The juvenile status confirmed by the lack of a white neck band.
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