Posted by: atowhee | September 29, 2014


dowo feml-zFemale Downy above. Bushtits checkingout suet feeder below:

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Bushtits are the smallest songbird in Oregon. You want to cuddle one in the palm of your hand. They are nervous, restless, nomadic little birds most of the time. Their tininess seems to increase their frenetic motion. They make chickadees look sedate. That ain’t easy. A day without Bushtits is a quieter, less exciting day in the garden. Even when food is plentiful their stays are brief, even if repeated. How much suet could one Bushtit possibly eat at one time anyway?
In contrast the Downy will sometimes stay at the suet for a minute or more at a feeding.

Posted by: atowhee | September 29, 2014


No ‘golden pond’ this Ashland Pond, water greenish with algae. Yet a fresh flow of water from Ashland Creek keeps it from stagnating and the cormorant finds plenty of fish. A-POND 9-29 (1280x960) I made a mid-day visit today and added a few more species. So in 26 hours and three visits I saw over 40 species of birds. Not bad for an inland parcel of less than ten acres. A nice mix of trees from ponderosa to willow and ash, plenty of brush (mostly Himalayan blackberry) for cover, some grassland, flowing and still water and nobody using pesticides–makes it a nice place for living animals. There were butterflies and a couple of late season dragonflies about in the mild weather. High today–70. The air has that crisp fall promise of ice and snow yet to come. Wet leaves on the earth, the final flowers of the year on their stalks. Is that perfect birding weather or what?
I got to see a Western Wood-Pewee grab a snack on the wing, then it carried the prey back to its perch in bright sun. Here is the sequence of images: pewee prey1 (1280x960)
I believe this butterfly in the Pewee’s bill is a female cabbage white, an abundant butterfly across western Oregon.

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The process of the small flycatcher trying to swallow this butterfly is a bit like you or I trying to eat part of the cardboard box our pizza came in. Think how dry those wings are. No glass of water to wash it all down.
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pewee-prey13 (1280x960) Note how full the little bird’s crop is when the butterfly is finally inside.
The butterfly is at least 1.5 inches wide, mostly those parchment-dry wings. The bird is just over 6 inches long. Tight fit, I’d say. How tiny must be the esophagus of such a bird.
The Pewee prevailed–score one for the home team!
The cabbage white was introduced to Canada from Europe around 1860. It loves most anything that grows where humans have altered the habitat…a little like the Collared-dove that has now made itself at home across North America.
My refernce, BUTTERFLIES OF CASCADIA (by Pyle), says many butterflies in this genus (Pieris) have an unpalatable taste. Perhaps our hungry, or bold, pewee was forcing himself to clean up his plate?

The trees and shrubs are already dropping leaves after a hard droughty summer. There may not be much foliage when it comes time for the annual colors to show up. Will their bee ash or maple leaves to turn yellow?
No matter today there was bold crimson color for fall, a Red-breasted Sapsucker making what is his first appearance there this season (as far as I’ve noticed). They are not to be seen in the area over the summer, preferring denser woods with lower temperatures and often at much higher elevation.
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There was little bird sound. A couple wolf whistles from Starlings who seemed to be satiated, no foraging, just perched. And a Wrentit sang once right by the entry trail–bouncing his little ball down the stairs. The waxwings were still as was the small flock of White-fronted Geese who landed on Billings Ranch next door.

White-fronts come in for silent landing.
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Scrub-Jays are now wearing their bright new plumage. Dig that blue, baby. cool, man. Miles Davis would be jealous…that’s true blue. Jazzy color for a bird that knows the score.
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There were a few Robins around the pond today. Our locally breeding Robins left some weeks back so it’s been nearly robinless hereabouts. These may be the first of the wintering crop…or maybe just some from further north headed down to the Sacramento Valley. Eventually our wintering birds will arrive, darker than the ones who breed here as they come from the wetter forest further north. In general the birds of our temperate rain forests run darker than their kin in dryer spots: Robins, Song Sparrows, Fox Sparrows are all darker if they breed along the west northwestern coast of North America. Fits their sunless, damp habitat.

Posted by: atowhee | September 28, 2014


There are many North American cliches about autumn: bright leaves on deciduous trees, football (of course), apple cider freshly squeezed, back to school, Halloween, Thanksgiving, pumpkins, first frosty night, rain in Los Angeles (with luck). But not migrating warblers, nor arriving shorebirds nor hungry black bears nor fawns losing their spots can evoke autumn like a flock of migrating geese. This morning there were three small flocks of Greater-White-fronted Geese in air over Ashland Pond at different times. Heard as ever before they could be seen high over the landscape:

“Suddenly out of the north came the sound I had been waiting for, a soft, melodious gabbling that swelled and died and increased in volume until all other sounds were engulfed by its clamor. Far in the blue I saw them, a long skein of dots undulating like a floating ribbon pulled toward the south by an invisible cord tied to the point of its V….
“The long skein of dots was fading into the horizon and the calling grew fainter and fainter. Then for a moment it was gone and I heard it almost as a remembered sound. Once more it came and I caught the lift of the flock just before it was swallowed in the blue. There was the lake far below me and the rice-filled golden river running into it,and the air was rich with the smell of down leaves.” –THE SINGING WILDERNESS, Sigurd Olson.


“My heart knows what the wild goose knows,
I must go where the wild goose goes.
Wild goose, brother goose, which is best?
A wanderin’ fool or a heart at rest?”
country song written by Terry Gilkyson

goose up

“Aware at first only of the dust of sound
Drifting down to us here in the yard,
I saw him look up, searching fathoms of air,
As for tidings,
Some urgent spirits’ honking aloft:
Wild geese there–and my eyes strained after,
Into that azure,
Then there they were: there,
Flying in a straggle, so high, a wonder,
Glinting Like wafers, silver fish-
Scales in the sun, a
Strewing of foil confetti, yet aimed,
The string of a kite’s tail,
Dipping, being drawn
Through the gulf stream of air
By their migrant passion–at the edge
Of sight I still found them….
The abruptly,
“wild Geese Flying” by Barbara Howes


Posted by: atowhee | September 28, 2014


Yesterday at Ashland Pond I met Barbara Massey, a local ornithologist who knows our birds as well as anyone. She said she was disappointed that she’d not yet seen a wave of warblers. I agreed, silently pleased that the waves had not passed through while I was out of state earlier this month. Well, this morning Barbara would have loved being around the pond.

It was the first major influx of Yellow-rumps I’ve encountered, and it was MY highest count of Black-throated Gray Warblers ever on migration. In breeding territories they can sometimes be in overwhelming numbers.
BTG HIDES2 (1280x992)I chased the Black-throated Grays for over half an hour. Got some great shots of tree leaves. Many of my images, even when I “got” the bird, looked the one above. But I kept at it and some open shots were to had after I got into the bird’s flit, land, freeze pattern of foraging in the canopy.
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Look very carefully hits next shot. See why they are named “Black-throated?”BLACK THROAT
Here is typical sequence: bird on leaf, bird in flight, bird in brief moment after landing, then foraging begins and the bird disappears behind foliage with only occasional movement being seen.
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btg fliez

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The most abundant bird at the pond today: Cedar Waxwings. They were busily consuming insects in the air and downing the fruit on the menu. Haws from the exotic hawthorn trees, blackberries despised by native plants purists and chokecherries.
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The young Waxwings still have their streaked chests which will be replaced by the adult colors in the spring molt.

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Also I added my first-of-season Ruby-crowned Kinglet along Bear Creek next to the pond. Earlier reports from local birders mentioned Steller’s Jays in unusual places. There were three at the pond this morning. They only time they venture that far from their beloved conifers in Ashland is this time of year. They never look right among the cottonwoods, willows and ash trees along Bear Creek. Its part of the annual dispersal, like teenagers on their mopeds going into uncertain neighbrhoods. By winter these Steller’s will once again be back among the cedar and pine

Overnight local birders reported on Rogue Valley Birds email group that White-fronted Geese were heard. This morning there were small groups still in the air. Click here for images and words about this mornings geese.

Ashland Pond, Jackson, US-OR
Sep 28, 2014 10:20 AM – 12:05 PM

Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons) 45
Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) 4
Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) 1
Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) 1
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) 2
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) 1
Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) 2
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) 4
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) 1
Western Wood-Pewee (Contopus sordidulus) 2
Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans) 2
Warbling Vireo (Western) (Vireo gilvus [swainsoni Group]) 2 on migration
Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri) 3 not usual at the pond, except in September during dispersal
Western Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica) 6
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) 2
White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) 1
Oak Titmouse 1–not known to breed right at the pond, but certainly a year-round resident in the vicinity
Black-capped Chickadee 10
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula) 1 first of season at pond
Cedar Waxwings 100+
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) X
Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) 1
Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia) 2
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata) 10
Black-throated Gray Warbler (Setophaga nigrescens) 8

Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus) 4
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) 1
White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys) 1
Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana) 2

Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) 1
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) X

I returned to the pond in the late afternoon: no geese, no waxwings. Plenty of warblers still and the Wood Ducks seemed uneasy as darkness approached. Some times as many as three small flocks were winging around the sky, seemingly in search of a safe harbor.

Posted by: atowhee | September 27, 2014


Everywhere I went today the birds seemed to be intent on fall cleaning…except for the Turkey Vultures who are now beating a hasty retreat to the south where they eat over the winter. Up here the nights get cold, the carcasses freeze solid and thus the TVs can;t dine as usual. No good to them the iced-over road kill.

Double-crested Cormorant after a swim and a fish breakfast.







Green Heron, checking those chest feathers for possible leaks.



Western Svreech-Owl in his roost box, working over the shoulder feathers, then looking smug.









Can’t imagine a TV preening on the wing. Can any bird do that?
Besides the TVs heading south, not many migrants evident. One warbler, Three small flocks of Cedar Waxwings. The Cooper’s Hawk might have been migrant as well. No sign of the Golden-crowned Sparrows seen earlier this week. The Green Heron will likely leave soon. Still no coots or ducks on the pond.
Every local gardener’s scourge, the ever hungry California ground squirrel, this one about fifteen feet OFF the ground.CGS ALOFT

Ashland Pond, Jackson, US-OR
Sep 27, 2014 10:15 AM – 11:15 AM
19 species

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) 1
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) 1
Green Heron (Butorides virescens) 1
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) 12
Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) 1
Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) 1
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) 1
Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) 2
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) 1
Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans) 2
Western Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica) 12
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) 3
White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) 1
Wrentit (Chamaea fasciata) 1
Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) 40
Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia) 1
Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus) 2
Lesser Goldfinch (Spinus psaltria) 4
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) X

Posted by: atowhee | September 26, 2014


More fine work from the lens of Barbara Bens on our PIB trip along the California Coast earlier this month:BP FLIES LOW
Brown Pelicans at ease around the ocean.
Pair of Condors high over the ridge at the top of Pfeiffer-Burns State Park, Big Sur.
Elephant seals scuffling at Piedras Blancas.

Not all elephant seals are warlike all the time: PECEFUL PILE

Great Horned Owl in flight at Drake’s Beach, Pt. Reyes
Heermann’s Gull thinking deeply. Could be anywhere in coastal California this time of year.

Pacific-slope Flycatcher at Pt. Reyes.

California Quail at Pt. Reyes National Seashore visitors center.
Rockpipers: Surfbird on left, Black Turnstone on right. Asilomar State Beach.
Red-shouldered Hawk in fog east of Morro Bay.
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Western Scrub-Jay:
Warerfall at Pfeiifer-Burns:
White-crowned Sparrow in flight:
Flying Willet

Posted by: atowhee | September 26, 2014


On Pilot Rock Road this morning there was beautiful music. At least two Townsend’s Solitaires were singing. Their melodiuous compelx tunes with slurred notes and multi-note chords are typical of the great singers in their clan from Hermit Thrush to Song Thrush to Nightingale.
The singers were not far apart in the forest which includes western juniper stunted white oaks and ponderosa that don’t go beyond thirty feet high. The elevation was about 4500′.
I cannot guess why they were singing. The rain followed by a crisp morning of 50 degrees? The presence of a modest crop of juniper berries? Junipers are beloved of Solitaires, I know. Maybe just to warn off others…there was a pair, including on singer chasing one another from one juniper top to another.TOSONG1







The thrush family was well represented. There were many Robins feeding on the ground and Hermit Thrush joined the sparrows in the Oreogn grape thickets.

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The Oregon grape crop was substantial, and there were plenty of snowberries. The juniper crop was modest and there almost no elderberries to be seen. At the higher elevations where the white firs begin to grow the Oregon grapes seemed most productive and the dense thickets they form were full of sparrows and thrushes.
or-grapes alot
THere were two flocks of Band-tailed Pigeons in the trees: BTP

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My friend, Alex the plant expert, identified this late blooming bush for me: Rabbit Brush (Ericameria nauseosa, formerly, Chrysothamnus nauseosus). The only only flowers above 4500′ were a few wild chicory.

Pilot Rock Rd., Jackson, US-OR
Sep 26, 2014 10:30 AM – 11:45 AM
12 species

Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) 1
Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) 1
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) 3
Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri) 8
Common Raven (Corvus corax) 2
Western Bluebird (Sialia mexicana) 1
Townsend’s Solitaire (Myadestes townsendi) 3
Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus) 5
American Robin (Turdus migratorius) 25
Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus) 4
Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis) 2
White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys) 50

Posted by: atowhee | September 25, 2014


Here is the first gallery of California photos (hence Cal-Gal) from birder Barbara Bens, one of the folks on my recent California Coastal birding trip for Partnership for Interantional Birding.
Female California Gnatcatcher near Pt. Vicente, LA County: CA GNT (1178x904)
Ruyfous-crowned Sparrow, also at Pt. Vincente: RC SPARO-GUD (1280x888)

Hiding Cal Towhee:
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Curlew in the fog, Morro Bay.
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Diving Brown Pelican, Morro Bay State Park.
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Santa Cruz Island:
island (1280x853)is scrub1 (1280x853)Above: the endemic Island Scrub-Jay.

Banded Song Sparrow on Santa Cruz Island off Ventura:
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Willet and friend at Moss Landing:
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Yeloow-billed Magpie up Pine Canyon near King City in southern Monterey County.
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Two of three Great Horned Owls in Monterey cypress trees, Pt. Reyes. GHO IN TREE (1280x569)
On this trip we got both North American endemics: Island Scrub-Jay and Yellow-billed Magpie, the latter requiring us to drive far from the coast in search of dog in an outdoor location. When we inquired about the species locally one woman told us she can only feed her dog at night because the magpies onto the food instantly in the daytime. These are farm dogs not fed in the house. Neither, presumably are the magpies fed indoors, though if you left the door open…

Posted by: atowhee | September 25, 2014


Here is southern Oregon there are different phases of migration. Though none is distinct from the others, there are discernible shifts as the summer and fall progress. The first sign of migration is the arrival of a few shorebirds from the Arctic, and the concomitant disappearance of some breeding birds. Among those birds that seem to quickly go from “everyday” to “gone” are the Bullock’s Oriole and the Western Kingbird. When present both are usually easy enough to find. Then they are simply not often seen. EBird tells us that oriole and kingbird are scarce in the county by September. So this phase begins in July and slides over into August.
Then is late August another phase become evident: larger groups of shorebirds, some of the earlier dabbling duck arrivals (Wigeon, Shoveler, teal). Kettles of Turkey Vultures start to form at the base of the Siskiyou Pass. Now small flocks of migrating songbirds are encounters: Yellow, Black-throated Gray and Townsend Warblers, maybe a flycatcher or two, a vireo perhaps. That’s the phase we’re in now. Soon most insect eaters will have gone and only raptors and waterfowl will be the obvious migrants left in the air…plus those hardy Tree swallows who seem to challenge the change of seasons both in fall and then in late winter.
The last two days Ashland Pond has great to watch Phase 2.
In the rain last evening there were 200 Violet-green Swallows swirling about. Many would land in the dead trees at the west end of the pond, and then suddenly lift off again, despite wet feathers.
This morning the dog and I returned. Now some remnant or new flock of Violet-greens was flycatching far up over the pond and nearby fields. In the bright sunlight I could see their prey: hordes of half-inch pale moths with gray, translucent wings. Everywhere. Other species dining on moth:yewa clr1 (1280x960) Yellow Warbler, Warbling Vireo, loose groups of Cedar Waxwings. Other migrants were Golden-crowned Sparrows and a Lincoln’s. I cannot know if these Golden-crowns are those that I’ll be seeing in the same berry thicket in February or whether they are bound further south. Last week I’d seen a few Golden-crowns in San Francisco. I have yet to encounter my first Fox Sparrow of the fall in Ashland.
The sun was evidently greeted by some birds with pleasure.
Both a Bewick’s Wren and Western Meadowlark were singing. Last evening there had been no bird sound in the rain.

Ashland Pond, Jackson, US-OR
Sep 24, 2014 4:50 PM – 5:35 PM. 5 species

Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) 5
Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata) 1
Western Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica) 3
Violet-green Swallow (Tachycineta thalassina) 200
Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus) 2

Ashland Pond, Jackson, US-OR
Sep 25, 2014 10:15 AM – 11:15 AM. 22 species

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) 3
Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) 2
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) 2
Vaux’s Swift (Chaetura vauxi) 1
Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) 1
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) 2
Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans) 1
Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus) 1
Western Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica) 2
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) 1
Violet-green Swallow (Tachycineta thalassina) 50
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) 4
White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) 1
Bewick’s Wren (Thryomanes bewickii) 1
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) 15
Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) 30
Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia) 5
Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus) 2
Lincoln’s Sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii) 1
Golden-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia atricapilla) 3
Lesser Goldfinch (Spinus psaltria) 10
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) 4

Posted by: atowhee | September 24, 2014


The destructive history of humanity’s war against nature stretches from the woolly mammoth to the tar sands of contemporary Canada and the increasing use of neo-nicotinoid poisons. The battle that led to the extermination of the Passenger Pigeon in North America lasted a few decades. No single battle in the war against nature was more ignominious. None was more fulsome with heedless human greed.
In his fine book on the Passenger Pigeon, Errol Fuller (no relation) describes the skirmish near Petoskey, Michigan, in 1878. A local musician, H. B. Roney, was concerned that the bird was disappearing and he tried to expose the market hunting slaughter of the birds that had come to the area to nest. This pigeon nesting colony was estimated at 100,000 acres in extent. It would be one of the final large nesting colonies seen by man. Despite a state law supposed to protect the birds the slaughter by gun and net went on for days. Nest trees were chopped down to get at the chicks. Roney estimated a billion birds died.
The hunting and gun interests of the day immediately published a rejoinder to Roney’s outrage and exposes. Propaganda wars of the type we all know all too well in this age.
The startling parallel between those who warn and those who refuse to see has continued since the market hunting of the Passenger Pigeon through to today’s continued worship of petroleum and fracking and profits they bring. As the gunners who slaughtered the Passenger Pigeon by the millions, so do today’s energy corporations see profits…and little else matters.
This anihiliated nesting attempt by the pigeons in Michigan is just one of the episodes gathered together in Fuller’s newly published book, a centennial remembrance in print. The book also reproduces fine drawings and paintings of the Passenger Pigeon from the 1700s on to today.
It was exactly one hundred years ago this month that the final, captive, Passenger Pigeon died in the Cincinnati Zoo. Today she and her kind are immortalized by a gigantic downtown mural there. But wouldn’t we prefer to see, instead, a couple hundred million of these birds fly across the sky, once again blot out the sun and leave behind pigeon poop a foot deep? I would.

passpig-wilsonWhen Alexander Wilson drew this image of the Passenger Pigeon it was the first decades of the 19th Century and the birds were still legion in the forests of North America. He once estimated seeing a flock overhead of more than a billion birds. Just over a hundred years later they were all dead.

The Passenger Pigeon By Errol Fuller (no relation).
Princeton University Press. Hardcover | 2015 | $29.95 / £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691162959. 184 pp. | 7 x 9 1/2 | |eBook | ISBN: 9781400852208 |

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