Posted by: atowhee | May 14, 2016


My birding friend Emmalisa Whalley has taken a series of photos of an Acorn Woodpecker (or various woodpeckers) working on a nest hole in the utility pole in Ashland.  See the sawdust fly:acwo-em1 acwo-em2 acwo-em3As communal nesters it is likely that more than one member of the Acorn Woodpecker tribe is working on this hole.  If this hole is used for nesting this year all the females in the tribe will lay eggs in this nest, then each will help with incubation, brooding and feeding.  Don’t tell the Republicans about this communist bird.

Posted by: atowhee | May 14, 2016


“Trees are big creatures that live a long time, supporting vast weights of themselves at various splayed angles against the steady tug of gravity, the occasional burden of ice or snow, and the intermittent shoving and twisting of wind.”                             in “Reaction Wood” by David Quammen

The cottonwood that often dominates streamside woodlands in the western U.S. has numerous cousins in its Populus genus.  One such species is the white poplar introduced from Europe, but in many arid landscapes of the American west the cottonwood is emblematic, approaching synecdoche.  And even though the Willamette Valley is wetter than much of the cottonwood’s range it thrives here and in spring it messages the world.COTTON ON LMBThe tufts of cottonwood’s cotton float through the air, a srping blizzard of white fuzz.  The bits catch on limbs, leaves, eyebrows, dog tails, and heavier bits float to the ground.  A small cloud of white floats long distances even when there is no wind, weighting less than an eyelash. cttn-wood

In his essay quoted above Quammen explains the ways trees bend, grow and cope with the forced the world places against them.  Along the North Yamhill River in Wennerberg Park there’s a chance to see how several deciduous trees and the Doug-fir have their various approaches to finding a place in the sun:tree1Above: oak on left, alder on right.  Below: willow in foreground, maple behind, Doug-fir in background and far right. tree2 tree3Above: ash on left, maple in center, oak on right.  Below: willows each with its own idea of willowy. willozThe North Yamhill meanders slowly toward its appointment with the Willamette and thence the Columbia and the Pacific Ocean: yam rvr1

Posted by: atowhee | May 14, 2016


I grew up in the Ozarks where one of the highlights of each hot and humid summer was the “lightning bug” season.  I was no longer a kid when I first heard the more affected name “firefly.”  Whatever you called them they were always a wonder, especially when you had fifty or more in a large Mason jar. Nature’s fireworks.  We always let them go at our bed-time.

Now there’s a beautiful book about them by a woman who never lost her interest or wonder, Tufts University biologist Sara Lewis.SILSPRKS1The field guide section covers all American species.  And I sadly learn there are only dark fireflies here in Oregon, with lumenescent larvae but no flashing adults.  The true bling is all back where forests and fields are wet in summer.SILSPRKS2Lots of great stories and good summary of the science from range maps to biochemistry of  the light.  Good index which really matters in any reference book.

Silent Sparks.  By Sara Lewis.  Princeton Press.  Princeton, NJ.  2016.  223 pages.  $29.95.

Here’s interview with the book’s author.

Posted by: atowhee | May 13, 2016


The dog and I had a pleasant mid-day ramble around Wennerberg Park.  Nothing unusual but plenty of Black-headed Grosbeak song ( at least three individuals) plus House and Purple Finches and a Song Sparrow all in voice.CAGO ALOFTT (1280x960)Canada Goose over Wennerberg.  Below, House Finches at our garden feeder with the curved upper beak clearly visible. HOFI (1280x960) HOFI 2Red-breasted Sapsucker at Wennerberg. RBS ON MPL RBS ON MPL2Song Sparrow displaying a bit of a crest as he sang. SOSP CREST

Wennerberg Park, Carlton, OR, Yamhill, Oregon, US
May 13, 2016 11:00 AM – 11:40 AM.  12 species

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)  2
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)  1
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)  4
Red-breasted Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus ruber)  1
Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus)  1
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  20
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  X
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)  2
Black-headed Grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus)  3     singing
House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)  2
Purple Finch (Haemorhous purpureus)  1
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)  X

Posted by: atowhee | May 11, 2016


Joannes Farness and I got to watch a sea otter cracking open a clam just off the pier at Sea Market Restaurant in Moss Landing this afternoon.  Using a stone brought up from the ocean floor.  Otter, the tool-user:OTTR WERKS (1280x960) OTTR WERKS2 (1280x960) OTTR WERKS3 (1280x960) OTTR WERKS4 (1280x960) OTTR WERKS5 (1280x960)

Posted by: atowhee | May 11, 2016


I took Amtrak down here to Monterey County to talk about Great Gray Owls for the local Audubon folks.  And then had some time for birding around one of my favorite spots: Elkhorn Slough and Moss Landing.  Plentiful pictures after I get home.


Still a number of shorebirds on migration including Willets, Whimbrel, Marbled Godwit, Black Turnstone, Western Sandpipers.  Resident shorebirds even more plentiful: Oystercatcher, Avocet, Stilt.

Surprise was a pair of Brant on shore near Sea Harvest Restaurant in Moss Landing.  I have never seen Brant in this location before.  They were near the spot where the well-fed local sea otters raft.  There was a single Pigeon Guillemot there as well.

Other birds I enjoyed: a female Surf Scoter on a rock in a gold course, just ten  feet from the path.  Wait until you see her plumage.  Whatta bird!SUSC ASLEEP (1280x960)

Ash-throated Flycatchers fighting over territory at Elkhorn Slough.

Numerous singing California Thrashers in the brush there as well.

Nice variety of mammals: jackrabbit and brush rabbit, harbor dolphins, Cal. sealion, harbor seal and the inimitable sea otters.OTR RAFT1 ottr nap

Posted by: atowhee | May 9, 2016


In this election year there are many mammals in the news: elephants, donkeys, a jackass (you know who I mean), rats, weasels, people who are bats, skunks, laughing hyenas (more beloved than many of our fellow hominids), guerillas and gorillas, but there is now real news about a noble mammal that we humans almost drove to extinction.  Behold America’s new National Mammal:bison

Time for a set of commemorative stamps.  Put the buffalo on our paper money.  When the gas is all fracked out, let’s turn the grasslands back to the buffalo.  They know best how to use it.

Posted by: atowhee | May 8, 2016


bloomChikecherry tree in bloom: chokcrryI believe this is a baby blue-eyes, Nemophila menziesii.  Menzies for whom this is named was the physician on Captain George Vancouver’s expedition to the Pacific for the British in the 1780s.  He discovered many new species of plant and animal for European science.delicatesLichen beardslichen beard lichens mtn mahogTwo tones of trillium: P2700726  trill-dSugar pine with its out-sized cones, once a common tree in the pre-colonial Cascade forests.  It is not re-planted by lumber companies.sugar pineDipper on Baker Creek upstream from McMinnville:dppr rok1 (1280x960) dppr rok2 (1280x960) dppr rok3 (1280x960) dppr rok4 (1280x960)

Posted by: atowhee | May 4, 2016


Four friends from Ashland and I spent a good morning birding around Howard Prairie in the southern Cascades today. We ignored the rain when it came. By now most of the migrants are back…still awaiting most of the flycatchers.  Interestingly I saw two unexpected birds up here at 4500′.  One was a Western Kingbird, a species that does not nest up here.  The other a Lewis’s Woodpecker, miles from the nearest oak tree.  Both must have been on passage.LEWOThe Lewis’s landed briefly in a large dead tree that has been a busy avian tenement for years. It’s a tiny hotspot well known to local birders just north of Dead Indian Memorial Road. This year it seems to be nesting site for Mountain Bluebirds, Starlings and Tree Swallow…at least.  Here is the Mountain Bluebird male that is apparently nesting in this tree.BLUE-MAL MBLUE

Some of the returned migrants we encountered today (besides all the local swallow nesters): Vesper and Chipping Sparrow, Western Tanager and Kingbird, Sandhill Cranes, Wilson’s Snipe, Cassin’s Vireo, Hermit Warbler (no MacGillivray’s that we found) and Green-tailed Towhee, like this one along Keno Access Road in a patch of re-generating conifer forest interspersed with dense brush.GTT PEEKS GTT PEEKS2 GTT--DEJUAmong the birds were heard singing where Cassin’s, Hermit, Vesper (beautiful and delicate song) and the buzz of the Chipping.chip2 Chipping Sparrow above, Tree Swallow below: TRSW IN AIR (1280x960) vesp clear

Ceanothus prostrata, I learned this plant’s name from one of my fellow birders who’s studied plants.  This company ground-hugger is less than four inches high with tiny dark leaves and flat clusters of tinier florets.  It was open ground just off Howard Prairie Dam Road.  It is a natural ground cover also found in the Sierra.CEANOTHUS PROSTRATATrillium in rain:trill-dThere was a time when bees were as ho-hum as their buzzing.  Now their endangered plight makes bee-sighting a happy moment:BEE (1280x960)  BEE2 (1280x960) BEE3 (1280x960)This assiduous little guy was half the size of the previous bumble-bee.BEE ROSE (1280x960)

Howard Prairie Lake, Jackson, Oregon, US
May 4, 2016 9:15 AM – 10:00 AM
Comments:     two unexpected species: Kingbird and Lewis’s Woodpecker
16 speciesCanada Goose (Branta canadensis)  X
Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis)  3
Lewis’s Woodpecker (Melanerpes lewis)  1
American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)  1
Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis)  1
Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor)  X
Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli)  X
Western Bluebird (Sialia mexicana)  X
Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides)  X
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  X
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  X
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata)  1
Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina)  15
Vesper Sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus)  4
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)  X
Brewer’s Blackbird (Euphagus cyanocephalus)  X

Keno Access Road: Blue Heron, Canada Goose, Mallard, Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk

Red-breasted Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus ruber)  X
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)  X
Cassin’s Vireo (Vireo cassinii)  1
Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri)  X
Common Raven (Corvus corax)  X
Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor)  X
Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli)  2
Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis)  2
House Wren (Troglodytes aedon)  1
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  X
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata)  X
Hermit Warbler (Setophaga occidentalis)  X
Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina)  30
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)  X
Vesper Sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus)  X
Green-tailed Towhee (Pipilo chlorurus)  1
Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana)  X

Posted by: atowhee | May 4, 2016


The leader of Canada’s Green Party is already blaming the catastrophic Fort McMurray fire on climate change.  Only the densest denier of same could miss the deep and ugly irony that a city spread through once pristine forest and now rich on oil sands income could be destroyed by fire spurred by extra hot and dry weather.

Just chance or a warning from Mother Nature?

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