Posted by: atowhee | March 18, 2017


A male American Goldfinch appeared in our garden today for the first time this year.  I took some lousy shots through a window…the bird is partially molted into bright new breeding plumage.AMGO1

Not far from our house is a calling Flicker, the hormones must be raging as he can’t shut up.  Yesterday three Yellow-rumps came through our garden, one Audubon’s male in bright spring feathers.

Posted by: atowhee | March 18, 2017


Here is a poem formed by my friend, Kirk Gooding, using some of the words from my recent crane blog from a recent trip to Sauvie Island:

Sauvie Island

A leak in the clouds lets sunlight spill across the land.  
Geese cackle and honk, a pair of Osprey whistle 
from their nest, and Wigeons and Mallards contribute 
squeak and quack to the cacophony. Yet over it all 
High above spreads the bugling of Sandhill Cranes.  
Their calls make the air vibrate, hinting of primitive compulsions 
carried across time from ages when long-gone species ran 
and swam in seas and prairies that are gone as well. 
The sounds of the crane reverberate through their 
elongated and convoluted trachea that can only have 
evolved to produce such music. Humans can only listen 
and marvel that such sounds pre-date cave art, villages, 
stone tools and even digital recordings. This sound 
both ancient and inimitable belie a hope that they 
can out-live the damage we humans commit. Whatever 
sentient creatures are about in some future time they

will be sure to halt and listen when those yet-to-be cranes bugle.”

Posted by: atowhee | March 18, 2017


I was just participating in a discussion of dipperology on OBOL and it recalled to mind one of my favorite pieces of bird-lit.  Click here for John Muir’s essay on the “water ouzel” of Yosemite.

Posted by: atowhee | March 17, 2017


Here in Oregon we can be looking at Great Gray Owl will warblers sing and there are wildflowers ad Tree Swallows in the nearest meadow.  Look at what poor New England birders must suffer to see an unusual GGO in their area.  This bird has down from Canada…without a visa.  Don’t tell ICE!

Even Audubon only saw a single live Great Gray Owl–flying across Boston Harbor in winter.  He had to borrow specimens from the British Museum to draw his image in the early 19th Century.  At that time nobody knew the GGO nested in what would be the United States south of Alaska.

Posted by: atowhee | March 17, 2017


Yesterday brought a rare dry day to Sauvie Island.  Occasionally a leak in clouds let sunlight spill across the land.  Geese were cackling and honking, a pair of Osprey were whistling from their nest. Wigeon and mallards contributed squeak and quack to the cacophony.  Yet over it all spread the bugling of Sandhill Cranes.  Their calls made the air vibrate, hinting of primitive compulsions carried across time from ages when long-gone species ran and swam in seas and prairies that are gone as well.  The sound of the crane reverberates through an elongated and convoluted trachea that can only have evolved to produce such music.  We humans can only listen and marvel that such a sound pre-dates cave art, villages, stone tools and even digital recordings.  The crane sound is both ancient and inimitable.  I much  hope their kind can out-live the damage humans are determined to commit upon this earth.  Whatever sentient creatures are about in some future millennia will be sure to halt and listen when those yet-to-be cranes bugle.


“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 that incredible sweep of millennia which underlies and conditions the daily affairs of birds and men…The sadness discernible in some marshes arises, perhaps, from their once having harbored cranes. Now they stand humbled, adrift in history.”  –Aldo Leopoldc and sIn several marshes the Trumpeter Swans and cranes were feeding side by side.crane feedcrane feed2Sauvie Island usually has the northernmost wintering populations of cranes in North America.  In Europe the Common Crane may winter even further north, not far from Troyes, France.

In late winter the crane population is augmented by the arrival of cranes heading north from California. The cranes using Sauvie as a stopover are traveling the Pacific Coast Flyway.  That population is less than 5% of the total Sandhill population.  Cranes we saw yesterday included both the lesser and greater sized cranes.CRANE-F1CRANE-F2CRAnE-F3


Compelled by nature’s uncaring demand for survival and adaptation the cranes now have a flight that is elegant, graceful and strong.  With wings moving in fluid flaps, the long. thin legs trailing like a streamer, the sharp spade of a beak thrust toward the future, a flying crane is kinetic art of the finest.CRANEFLY1

“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


Cranes often gather together in big flocks for migration or simply to find better forage.CRAN-LIN2CRAN-LIN1Riding tail winds or seeking thermals cranes may migrate at elevations up to 15,000 feet.  Some cranes in Asia fly over the Himalayas thus topping 20,000 feet elevation.CRAn-LIN4

For sixty 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 mountain 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.”  Jim Miller in Valley of the CranesCRANE-TWOCRASNE-TWO1

Posted by: atowhee | March 17, 2017


Getting to see, watch and admire Harlequin at close range is a high point of any trip to the Olympic Peninsula.  So, enjoy:harl chaseTwo fancy guys chasing the less decorated female off Ediz Hook. While the Harflequin breeds on inland rivers it winters on ocean bays and inlets often.  Not quite as keen on open ocean as scoters, Long-Tailed Duck or RB Mergansers are.harl diveharl faceharl fourharl going awayharl pairharl protrtWhile many Harlequin were already paired, there was plenty of pursuit going on.harl pursuitThis pair was feeding at Keystone Harbor on Whidbey Island, just beyond the waves kicked up by the ferryboat.  We could stand less than forty feet away as they cruised just off the rocks:harl at kystnharl-keyst

Posted by: atowhee | March 17, 2017


Our Golden Gate Audubon trip to the northwestern portion of Washington took us along the Hood Canal, across the top of the Olympic Peninsula to Ediz Hook, to the Dungeness NWR, by ferry from Port Townsend to Whidbey Island, thence northeast to Skagit Flats. We saw a lot of water: estuaries, bays, open water of San Juan de Fuca, lakes, ponds, flooded fields, roadside gutters full of water.  With all that water came thousands and thousands of wintering ducks. With all those ducks came hungry Bald Eagles.  Herewith a photo sampler:bg maleAbove: male Barrow’s Goldeneye, Hood Canal. Below: Common Goldeneyes sleeping through wind storm at Hama Hama.COGO ASLEEPcome pairAbove: Common Merganser pair; below Greater Scaup–both afloat in Hood crowdHOODY1Hooded Mergansers at Nisqually NWR.HOODY2HOODY4Below: Long-tailed pairNISQ-DUXWigeons at Nisqually.wigeamwi sleepAbove: sleepy wigeon, all squeaked out.  Below: courtship fuss among Buffleheads, Ediz Hook.buffourbuffour2Farm pond collection in Sequim, includes Shoveler, Ring-necks, wigeon.dukmixrbm asleeprbm awakRed-breasted Mergansers, Ediz Hook: male above, female pair below.  Nice hair!rbm-ladiesConga line of Surf Scoter off Ediz Hook, sleeping sausages in foreground turned out to be harbor seals having a snooze on floating logs from nearby paper mill.scoters-sealsscotr lineWhen you find such a concentration of waterfowl, you can be sure the hungry Bald Eagles are not far off.BE-EYE2

Posted by: atowhee | March 16, 2017


There were signs of spring, emblems of migration, flowers abloom and skies of blue.  And we were birding Sauvie Island.  Who needs nirvana…or drugs…or mere politics?

I saw my first snake of the winter.  Two Snow Geese heading north were trying to hide among the Cackling Geese.  A pair of Song Sparrows were trading courtship signals   on the roadside, wing flutters and bowing to one another. Great Blue Herons, Osprey, Bald Eagles and Great Horned Owls were sitting on nests.  Mosquitoes and bees were in the air.  Plum trees were blooming.  March 21 is irrelevant as nature knows it is spring.

There was a single Great Egret to be seen along NW Reeder Road at the elevated blind.  There was a pair of Snow Geese seen from the Coon Point overlook. There were Bald Eagles in every direction at every location.BE PROUD2g-snakeCRAnE-F3GHO0-NESTTgreg-sauvieAll the swallows we saw were either Tree or Violet-green, the only warblers were Yellow-rumped…and the summer birds were not to be seen–orioles, martins, other warblers, flycatchers.

Posted by: atowhee | March 15, 2017


long taillong tail3long trioThe first three images came from Ediz Hook in Port Angeles.  Then about ten miles away I took these photos of other Long-tails showing off their tales. tails uptails up2tails up3 All are males with tails.  Can they be doing anything except trying to shame one another?  Insecure males from Hemingway to Trump have been fixated on appendage size…and in this duck it seems to be in the genes, or at least the courtship culture.  My tail’s bigger than yours…

Birds of North America online offers little enlightenment about this species’ courtship behavior: “Information on mating system scarce. Serial and/or long-term monogamy. Site fidelity of male and female to breeding grounds suggests long-term monogamy is possible… Pair formation in winter not based on territory, so mate choice based on individual choice and/or competition.”

Biggest tail or  most erect tail or most elegant tail wins?

This duck is also highly vocal. Click here to listen to their calls.
The Cree Indian word for the bird is based on its call: ha-ha-way. Onomatopoeia.

We saw these birds on my recent trip for Golden Gate Audubon to the northwest corner of Washington.

Posted by: atowhee | March 15, 2017


Smaller is better for survival in the heat. There is research showing that previous eras if higher CO2 content in the atmosphere led to many species evolving into smaller forms.

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