The dog and I took a neighborhood walk this morning. We had a crowning moment. This was not the sort of crowning moment that a self-proclaimed real estate poobah would expect when becoming winniest person in the universe. This was a far more subtle but meaningful crowning: orange-crowning. A small flock of Orange-crowned Warblers and a local pair of Black-capped Chickadees were feeding in birch trees at 16th and Michelbook. Orange-crowns are honest, hard-working, unpretentious warblers. They do not demand the tallest conifers in a dense mountain forest (like the Hermit) nor marshy lands (like the Common Yellowthroat) or running water (like the Yellow) or some magical mix or oak and pine (like the Black-throated Gray). No, they are content with brushy hillsides, low-canopy forest with underbrush and even the wayside oak groves that will never figure in somebody’s photo essay on Facebook.
Further, their coloring is subtle compared to the bright golden of the Wilson’s, the gray faces of McGillvray’s or Nashville, the sunlight yellow of the Hermit’s head, the waxy red streaks of a male Yellow. They lack the bold black face marks of male chat or yellowthroat. Just a subtle green and yellow shading, no bold lines. Even the crucial field mark of a dark line through the eye is a subtle darkening, neither white nor brown. Many small birds have distinct, bright head patterns: White-crowned Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Savanna Sparrow (love that saffron dusting around the eye), Bewick’s Wren, any and all chickadees, both our local nuthatches. Our Orange-crowned prefers a subtle palette, a subtle song and a habitat that’s not extreme. Welcome, back, guys….breed on!
Soon at least one Bushtit arrived to join the crowd.
I hope native plant enthusiasts will note that these were non-native birch trees. Even though there were nearby native oaks and Doug-firs, these birds were gleaning from the birches. Though it is nice to imagine a time when all the Willamette Valley was clothed in native trees and shrubs, those days cannot be restored. Now these birds we see are coping with an environment heavily altered by man and if we happen to plant something like birch or blackberry or pyracantha that aids the birds in living and feeding we should embrace that fact. If we did kill off all introduced plants and go back to what would have been here in 1800 it is not clear there is enough open space left to let native birds survive on those parcels of land. Some introduced plants like blueberries and blackberries may in fact produce more fruitful habitat that the same acreage of Oregon grape or ceanothus.
McMinnville, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Apr 6, 2017 10:00 AM. 12 species
Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) X
Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) X
Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) 1
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) X
California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica) X
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) 2
Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus) 1
White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) 1
American Robin (Turdus migratorius) X
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) X
Orange-crowned Warbler (Oreothlypis celata) 4
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) X