Here’s a CALifornia GALlery of images from last week’s Rogue valley Audubon-sponsored trip to the Sacramento River Valley. Click on any image for larger view.
Sometimes cliches are called for. Like insects in the sky. Like row upon row. Like gaggle of geese. Like on alert. Like ups and downs (those in the air, those on the water).
This group of egrets includes Great, Snowy and many Cattle.
ANOTHER CLICHE: LEAST OF ALL
The three inmages above are: first, a dark morph Ferruginous Hawk. Gape at that gape for awhile. Our most handsome buteo according to many raptor watchers. Second, an immature Golden Eagle landing. Notice the calm demeanor of the nearby dabbling ducks. If htat were a Bald Eagle there would be panic and mass lift-off. Golden Eagle prefers land animal such as rabbit and ground squirrel. Third: if you were a vole or House Finch looking at this face you would be two seconds from oblivion. This is the glare of a Merlin, male of the columbaris columbarius subspecies, called either boreal or taiga. Allthese birds were seen by Peter Thiemann and I in the Klamath basin today.
Above: one of three Rough-legged Hawks we saw. More will be arriving in weeks to come.
Below is on eof nealry 100 Red-tailed Hawks we saw today.
We saw about Harrier but none were close enough for a good photo.
Raptors: we saw nearly 150 today. Is that a rapture of raptors? A congress? A rally? Revelation? Revelry? Regiment? Rendezvous? Round-up? A hunt of raptors? Or a scan? A predation even? Or a preyer of raptors?
NOT JUST RAPTORS
We did find one male Eurasian Wigeon in a shallowly flooded field across the stateline (in Oregon) from the pumping station in California at 10242 Stateline Highway. It’s the dark headed figure just to the right of the left-hand gap:
Below: one of two Great Horned Owls at Intersection F on the Lower Klamath NWR Auto Tour Route in California:
More to Klamath Ciounty right now that mere birds. have a little aspenglow:
Posted in birding, birds, california, oregon, flora, raptor, migratory birds, ducks & geese, Klamath Basin, eagles, Cascades, natural history | Tags: Aspen, Bald Eagle, buteo, Eurasian Wigeon, falcon, fall foliage, Ferruginous Hawk, Golden Eagle, Lower Klamath NWR, Merlin, Rough-legged Hawk
Caption on the back of photos reads: “Taken at the corner of Auburn & Hillside Streets on steps at Mrs. Lawrence Stalers’ home, Klamath Falls, Oregon, Oct. 1973. Picture won 1st place in awards from National Newspaper Assn. in competition with ore than 3,500 entries.”
I estimate there were at least 200 California Quail sunning themselves on those steps that autumn. In the head-on photo I counted 183 and that didn’t include the ones along the slope not seen in the photo but captured by the angled view. Clearly there were some wandering beyond the camera’s frame.
These photos were shared with me by a student in my OLLI bird class.
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.
WHEN AND WHERE WAS THE FIRST GREAT GRAY OWL NEST CONFIRMED IN OREGON?
ANSWER: 1959, FORT KLAMATH.
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.
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.
“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
“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
CLICK ON IMAGE BELOW AND YOU CAN SEE THE CRANES CALLING, OPEN-BEAKED.
“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
“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
“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.
Posted in birding, birds, california, Cascades, cranes, Howard Prairie Lake, Klamath Basin, migratory birds, natural history, oregon, ornithology history, winter birds | Tags: Aldo Leopold, Butte County, Gray Lodge, Nebraska, Paul Johnsgard, Platte River, Sand County Almanac, Sandhill Crane, Thomas Say
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
HAVING A CRANE WAVE
This was about a 40 minutes drive from I-5 and east of the Sacramento River.
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. 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:
Posted in birding, birds, birdsong, california, corvids, cranes, ducks & geese, migratory birds, natural history, raptor, shorebirds, tyrant flycatcher | Tags: beak, Black-necked Stilt, Butte County, Colusa County, duck hunting, endemic, Freeway Birding, Glenn County, Great Egret, Northern Pintail, Raven, Sacramento NWR, Sandhill Crane, stilt, White-faced Ibis, Yellow-billed Magpie
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.
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:
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.
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 in birding, birds, california, corvids, Dipper, eagles, finches, migratory birds, natural history, oregon, shorebirds | Tags: Anderson River Park, Black-billed Magpie, Castle Crags, Greater Yellowlegs, Hedge Creek Falls, Hermit Thrush, Louie Road, Pine Siskin, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Sacramento River, Turkey Vulture, Western Bluebird, White-crowned Sparrow
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