Posted by: atowhee | August 21, 2015


Real, furred wolves have been confirmed to be living in Siskiyou County, not far from where OR7 and his wolf clan are known to be successfully breeding in Oregon’s Jackson County.  Here’s story about California’s first confirmed wild wolf pack since 1924!

The wolf is on the endangered species list in California and thus cannot be shot or trapped.

Posted by: atowhee | August 21, 2015


UPDATE: Birding friend Steve Runnels tells me and some other volunteers have put together an updated checklist for Tualation River NWR.  It will be printed as soon as the current supply is exhausted.

I took a 1.5 mile circuit of the part of the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge this morning.  I came away pleased with the gloriously mild & smoke-free weather, happy at the shorebird count, and convinced the refuge needs a new printed checklist.  Five of the species I saw today are common enough in the real world but the checklist doesn’t even list them as summer possibles.  I saw nine Greater Yellowlegs which given the “occasional” rating for this season.  Meanwhile, the plain old Ruddy Duck I saw is called “rare” in summer.  Best bird of the morning was a lone Pectoral Sandpiper among the Killdeer about fifty yards south of the southernmost trail that parallels the water delivery channel, in turn south of the visitors center.

My best photos came while another birder and I were standing beside the nearly dry water delivery channel south of the visitors center…and three Greater Yellowlegs came sweeping and peeping in, calling loudly, then they landed and proceeded to make a meal.  We could see the water churning with the motion of small creatures moving about.  We did not wade out to see what the yellowlegs were pair (1280x960) gy--cu1 (1280x960) gy-cu2 (1280x960)Note how the yellowlegs closes his eyes as he reaches into the water with his beak, just like a diving human would do. gy-probes (1280x960)Here’s one shot of the distant phalarope. They all flew off while I was there: rnph--tual (1280x960)Queen Anne’s lace, one of the last blooming plants of the drought summer.QALACE (1280x960)There is very little water at Tualatin River NWR so the waterfowl and shorebirds are concentrated about a hundred yards west of the bus stop along OR99W.

Tualatin River NWR– Washington County, Oregon, US
Aug 21, 2015 10:15 AM – 11:15 AM.  20 species.  species not recognized as expected summer birds by printed checklist are in BOLD.  eBird, of course, gives a more accurate summer view of birding TRNWR…and shows that LB Dowitchers are regular there all summer, though not noted by paper checklist.

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)  500
Gadwall (Anas strepera)  X
American Wigeon (Anas americana)  1
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)  150
Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)  1
Ring-necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus)  6
Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)  20–still several zebra-striped young present
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)  4
Great Egret (Ardea alba)  3
Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus)  2
Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)  8
Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca)  9
Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos)  1
Long-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus scolopaceus)  3
Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus)  5
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)  50
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  20
Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)  8–feeding in berry-bearing tree along river
House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)  20
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)  4


Posted by: atowhee | August 20, 2015


Today in Rotary Park the scent of autumn was in the air. No cool breeze yet but the leaves are changing color, and ripe fruit is hanging out.
Seven-foot tall cow parsnips are desiccated, their dried leaves hanging down like crumpled brown paper. Hawthorn, blackberries, snowberries and dogwood have fruit. The bigleaf maple is pregnant with one-winged seeds. In the old abandoned orchard the apples and grapes are ripening. Interestingly there is not a single berry on any of the native Oregon grape–their response to the drought?BOLE
I would love to know what kind of fern this. It grows right along Baker Creek and has fronds at least four-feet long.

When I came near the Steller’s Jays broadcast my presence. I watched the two for awhile, adult and juvenile it seems. They held a private conversation high in an ash, singing in Pooh-like sounds. “Tiddely-pum, tiddely-pum.”

This Anna’s Hummingbird was on a sunny perch, surveying the park yesterday.hmmr

Posted by: atowhee | August 19, 2015


It was going to be another one of those 90-degree-pkus days.  So I hit McMinnville’s Rotary Park at 8AM.  And there, right before my eyes was a MacGillivray’s Warbler.  A Mac in Mac–not what I expected but the warbler was in exactly the sort of habitat they like, a very dense thicket of dogwoods under a canopy and with no direct sunlight.  I only saw the warbler because I was following a Spotted Towhee through the tiny view-tunnels between the leaves.  At one point the towhee dropped down out of view and his place on a horizontal branch was taken by this yellow-bellied bird with the dark gray hood, and the eye bracketed by white parentheses.  The rest of the morning’s birds were all the usual suspects.

McMinnville Rotary Park (Tice Park), Yamhill, Oregon, US
Aug 19, 2015 8:00 AM – 8:35 AM.  12 species

Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)  1
Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna)  3
Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri)  1
Western Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica)  1
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)  X
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)  1
Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis)  1
House Wren (Troglodytes aedon)  1
Swainson’s Thrush (Catharus ustulatus)  1
MacGillivray’s Warbler (Geothlypis tolmiei)  1
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)  1
Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus)  2

Posted by: atowhee | August 19, 2015


The Institute for Bird Populations has just published a study of all known Great Gray Owl nest sites in Yosemite area of the Sierra Nevada.  Here is the official citing for the article: Wu, J.X., R.B. Siegel, H.L. Loffland, M.W. Tingley, S.L. Stock, K.N. Roberts, J.J. Keane, J.R. Medley, R. Bridgman, and C. Stermer. 2015. Diversity of nest sites and nesting habitats used by Great Gray Owls in California. Journal of Wildlife Management 79:937-947.

It cost me $38 to see the whole thing so I will give you a summary.

As I found when writing my Great Gray Owl book this species is NOT a strictly montane bird, nor is it confined to conifer forests.  It may now be most likely there because we humans have driven them out of valleys and more oak-dominated terrain like the Sacramento and Willamette River Valleys where they may have nested three centuries ago.

One-fifth of the nests in this study were found below 1000′ in elevation.

30% of nest trees were oaks, large oaks, within conifer stands.

The GGO prefers well-rotted trees beneath a fairly dense canopy.  Message to land managers: don’t rip down all your old, rotting oaks or Doug-fir.

Many of the preferred nest snags lasted about five years after the first nesting use.  Good naturally occuring nest trees are ephemeral

Slowly deteriorating trees like incense-cedar and sugar pines are not used for nesting.

This study included no man-made platforms which are frequently used by Oregon populations of GGOs, both in the Wallowa Mountains and southern Cascades.

This study covered 56 nest sites in the California Sierra confirmed between 1973 and 2014.  The southernmost one is on the Tulare-Fresno County border.  That’s the southernmost GGO nest in the known world.Great Gray Owl female with 1 of at least 2 nestlings, 6-29-2014This female owl is with one of her young in a stick next near Oregon’s Grizzly Peak, Jackson County.  Photo by Peter Kreisman.  In that part of their range GGOs often use old Red-tail or Raven nests such as this one.

Here is link to information about my recently published book on Great Gray Owls in California, Oregon and Washington.



Posted by: atowhee | August 19, 2015


I often get asked by beginning birders, how long does specific species live?  We generally know that larger birds, once they reach maturity, live longer than small ones.

Recently there have been some surprising findings of “elderly” birds thanks to long-term mist-netting and bird-bansding projects.

First, this email from Frank Isaacs, one of Oregon’s leading eagle watchers:

“THE OLDEST BALD EAGLE – This last June, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) reported a Bald Eagle killed alongside a road in Monroe County in upstate New York. The bird, a male banded with the number 03142, had actually been an individual that had been brought to New York from Minnesota as a youngster in 1977 and released at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge as part of New York’s Bald Eagle Restoration Program . The USGS Banding Lab Longevity Records indicate that the eagle turned out to be the oldest banded Bald Eagle on record to date – older by a surprising five years. Once this 38-year-old male reached breeding age in 1981, he began nesting at Hemlock Lake, about 50 miles to the west of Minnesota NWR which is today part of Hemlock-Canadice State Forest. The Hemlock Lake nest territory continued, and this eagle became a steady and successful father to many eaglets fledged from that site for many more years.  Peter Nye, the now retired DEC Wildlife Biologist who spearheaded New York’s Bald Eagle Restoration Program, commented on the bird, “His longevity, 38 years, although ingloriously cut short by a motor vehicle, is also a national record for known life-span of a wild Bald Eagle. All I can say is, hats off to you, 03142; job well done!”

And the Pt. Reyes-based Institute for Bird Populations recently published a paper on findings from their long-term banding at Yosemite National Park.  Some banding stations there were begun in the early 1990s.  Now with a quarter-century of data, some surprising findings…almost 40,000 birds banded over the years and over 2,000 recaptured at least once.  Result: longevity records for nine species found in foothills (below 2500′ elevation) in Yosemite National Park.

The one that really got my attention was a Mountain Chickadee at Crane Flat Meadow over ten years old!  That’s one tough little fellow.  Other record-setters included a Lincoln’s Sparrow nearly 9 years old and a Cassin’s Vireo over eight years old, despite having to make annual migrations (which chickadees don;t have to do).

The full article was carried in the Oct-Dec issue of the journal, North American Bird Bander.

Posted by: atowhee | August 18, 2015


In this blog you will see extraordinary photo of snipe with its upper mandible curved convexly. That beak is actually a pair of finely sensitive tweezers, not just a senseless, stiff probe as it looks to us.  The tip of the beak is full of senseing organs for both smell, taste and touch.  Then it can bend open, grab the morsel, shut down and withdraw from the mud…all sight unseen.

Posted by: atowhee | August 16, 2015


I’ve been on the road a  bit this past week.  Some images follow.  Bald Eagle in far side of Plat I Reservoir east of Sutherlin:BE-PLATI (1280x960) CAQU LINE (1280x960)Covey of California Quail near Plat I. CAQU LINE2 (1280x960)Great Blue Heron behind rocks along the Willamette River at the Wheatland Ferry landing. HERON BAK (1280x960)Kingfisher with a mouthful at the reservoir: KFISH (1280x960) KFISH2 (1280x960)Osprey at Wheatland Ferry: P2510509 (1280x960) P2510512 (1280x960)Screech-Owl in Ashland. SCRCH LOOK-A (1280x960)Turkey Vultures in field near Plat I: TV TIME1 (1280x960) TV TIME2 (1280x960) TV TIME3 (1280x960)Werstern Bluebirds at Plat I: WB-OLDR (1280x960) WB-YNGER (1280x960)Panting heron at St. Paul Ponds north of Salem, Oregon:P2510283 (1280x960)Kestrel dives on Red-tail at Marion County hops field…this is a B-list photo…brutality, beer and birds.KEXT-V-RTH (1280x960)Fledglkng waxwing at St. Paul Ponds. young wax

Posted by: atowhee | August 16, 2015


RBN FLIT (1280x960)In our new neighborhood we are meeting the neighbors. Two humans from across the street brought us a blueberry pie (now long gone and deemed scrumptious). Our feathered neighbors are getting used to our presence, our field marks and our feeding habits…feeding them.  Perhaps the most emphatic visitors are the Red-breasted Nuthatches.  There is one that comes alone and then a family group of three, adult and two juvies.  The images here are of the youngsters in that family.  Note the huge feet for such a little bird, all the better to climb vertically up our dawn redwoods.RBN FORWD (1280x960)The nuthctahes can often be heard honking in the trees.  Panting nuthatch: RBN PANT (1280x960) RBN-BROWS (1280x960)Juvie Spotted Towhee becomes airborne. SPTO FLIT (1280x960)Black-capped and Chestnut-backed Chickadees. The lone or family RB Nuthatches may arrive with either group…or the Bushtits.  The Chestnut-backed are the nosiest, often calling before they arrive, bickering about the platform feeders and scuttering through the trees, one juvie even landing on the back of an adult.  No respect.  The young are very dark on the chest still.

Posted by: atowhee | August 16, 2015


This is the season here in Oregon.  The feral Himalayan blackberries–hated by native plant purists, beloved by casual scrumpers, adored by berry eaters in fur or feather, respected by jam makers–are now at their peak.  In the past two weeks I have tasted, tested and taken mental note.

First, pick only those central berries from a cluster first. They ripen first. And then only if the berry comes easily away from the stem into your soft, appreciative touch.  Any tugging should be unnecessary unless you are just working for quantity to make lots of juice for jelly or wine.P2510417 (1280x960) P2510420 (1280x960) P2510424 (1280x960)Sometimes the berry will have a coating of light plant dust or soil dust, blow it off as rubbing is likely to burst the fruit if it is as ripe as you wish it to be.  Once in the mouth there are many ways to crush the berry.  I have found the most pleasurable to be slowly crush the berry against the roof of the mouth with pressure from your tongue.  Teeth should be irrelevant in proper berry enjoyment.

Pressured, the berry’s individual juice sacs will burst easily and let forth the sugary and tart fluid that makes berry picking worth the thorns, the heat, even sometimes the attendant insects. In the Midwest the berry patches are the harbinger of chigger bites to come, and days of itching and distress.  So far climate change has not brought that scourge to the West Coast and our drouth conditions seem to preclude the chigger ever getting a hold out here.

A ripe blackberry from a well-watered plant should be the size of an American dime [you can retrieve one at your local bank] or greater.  Upon tasting the berry should first treat you to a smooth liquid with no lumps, often a metallic sharpness followed by whatever the sweetness the fructose level reaches.  A slightly over-ripe berry, starting to shrivel in the heat, can be as sweet as any mass-produced candy.  So a little zing, then the sugar our genes crave so astutely.  Finally the whole flavor becomes a short bar of dense music like the rat sees in tasting cheese in “Ratatouille.”  Then you want another, and another.

On one half-mile walk recently along a row of blackberries next to a dried creek (the soil below still sufficiently wet) there were easily 100,000 berries or more. Plenty to share with bear, raccoon, sparrow, jay and Robin.

One note: apparently the blackberry did not become naturalized in the Pacific Northwest until around 1945.  In Oregon the state has categorized it as a noxious weed.  It does crowd out native plants along riparian corridors if left unchecked.  Our climate is nearly perfect for it.  Even in this drought year the drier areas of blackberry thicket show shriveled fruit and early loss of yellowed leaves but the main plants are sturdy and simply waiting for next winter’s rain to continue to grow and spread.

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