Posted by: atowhee | July 21, 2017


My wife and I are the proud sponsors of Vaux’s Swifts, the 2017 edition. Today we saw the parents and at least three young swirling over our house and garden…we heard the calling and wing woofing in our chimney earlier in the morning. So this family has apparently fledged three this year. It almost feels like being a grandparent all over again. And no diapers…
We are not Swift Family Robinson, but could we be Swift Family Fuller? It’s a name to be proud of.

There was a Bewick’s Wren singing from just beyond our garden fence at mid-day. Both the chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches have returned after disappearing during their nesting period in late spring. Obversely the starling s have all but vanished for now, too much good food on the area farms I suspect.

820 NW 19th Street, McMinnville, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Jul 21, 2017. 9 species

Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) X
Vaux’s Swift (Chaetura vauxi) 5 includes three young who fledged from our chimney
Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna) 2
California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica) X
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) 2
Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) 1
Bewick’s Wren (Thryomanes bewickii) 1
American Robin (Turdus migratorius) X
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) X

Posted by: atowhee | July 20, 2017


Here’s the first-ever, one volume nature guide for anyone headed to Ecuador’s wondrous mountains and rain forest and arid western slopes:
Wildlife of Ecuador:
A Photographic Field Guide to Birds, Mammals, Reptiles, and Amphibians

Andrés Vásquez Noboa. Photography by Pablo Cervantes Daza. Princeton Press. 2017. $29.95.
I wish I’d had a book like this when I was in Ecuador…or even Panama where I got far too close to a pit viper without recognizing it. The bird section is fine but the real value is in all those other critters: face-to-face shots with snakes. It’s the head that matters…look for the heat-sensing pits. You may want to keep your birding guide nearby or back at the ecolodge because only breeding plumage shots are given for most avian species.
Now I know there are two species of agouti in Ecuador and I saw the black in Coca. Not sure even my bird guide knew there were two, certainly didn’t tell us.
Superbly clear range maps. Both English and Latin indices.
My favorite Ecuadoran bird is at the top of page 140…the Collared Inca.
Yellow-tufted Woodpecker:
Yellow-tufted Woodp.Great Ani:Great Ani2Hoatzin at Sani Lodge:Hoatzin pairSquirrel monkey:squirrel monk on limb
Swallow-tailed Kite over Napo River in Amazon Basin:ST Kite over Napo River

Posted by: atowhee | July 20, 2017


It was a cool and overcast day, the temp never neared 80.
In bloom right now are roses, mimosa, hydrangea, the evergreen magnolia with the dark, leathery leaves. Some apple trees are already dropping nearly ripe fruit onto the sidewalks and streets of town. Found one chewed on by mammal with fairly small teeth. Got a photo.appl chewn
I saw a first-year Galucous-winged Gull over McMinnville today. Any gull is unusual here in summer and this is the first time I’ve seen this species before autumn. Maybe something is driving the gulls inland for food? I had a young Western at Baskett Slough last weekend, also unusual at this time of year.
Some songbirds are molting, found a Steller’s Jay feather in the woods at Joe Dancer. Food supply is at max now so it’s good time to be investing protein and energy in feather replacement.STJ FEATHR
A pair of Black-capped Chickadees came down to our feeders for their lunch as I was eating mine nearby. “Chicka-dee-dee-dee” came the call. Though we feed crushed sunflower seeds even those chunks are two large for this tiny tot. Each time the chickadee grabs one kernel, takes it up to a branch. There it holds the bit between its toes and proceeds to chip off even smaller particles that will fit down its slender gullet.bc goingbc going2bc in domebc in dome2bc ind ome3bc luxbc lux2bc peeks
I also heard a flicker calling its multiple note territorial call. Perhaps a pair is doing a second clutch in home hole in the nearby oak woods.
Dragonflies dart through the air in daytime. Dragonflies do dart, and nearly are living darts.GRNFELL DFLY
Turkey Vultures found something interesting in a newly mown field. Not far off three Red-tailed Hawks perched on top of tall stacks of large hay bales.TV GANG

Just collect our money, says the Interior Dept. Forget those sinking villages in Alaska.

Posted by: atowhee | July 18, 2017


Recently a long-time friend, Dr. David Sachs of Palo Alto, sent me a great photo of a fish eagle taking a fish from a lake in Zimbabwe. He asked a little about the eagle and I inadvertently buried him in data.
David, I got your recent note with the action shot of the African Fish Eagle. Kate and I saw this bird several times around the lakes in Uganda. Handsome bird. Yes, the fish eagle would carry food back to brooding mate and then to young after they hatch. The nest would never be left unguarded once the first egg is laid. And the nest has to be protected from such possible nest thieves as Red-tailed Hawks and Canada Geese. Even winter nesting Great Horned Owls are known to steal an Osprey’s nest that has been years in the building. The owls nest even before many Osprey have returned to their nesting territories. Many large birds (storks, eagles and osprey) will usually return to previous year’s nest if they can, and simply repair and remodel. Then young eagles will spend over a month in the nest before they can even begin to try short flights and then they are fed wherever they perch after leaving the nest. To become an adept predator a young bird needs lots of practice and parental support. At least their “college” is free.
The African Fish Eagle is in the same genus as our own Bald Eagle and the White-tailed Eagle of Northern Europe. They are all in Haliaeetus genus. Haliaeetus is a compound of two Greek words, translated literally as “sea eagle.” Our Bald Eagle is not really a “sea eagle,” more strictly a bird of marsh, lake and river though it will fish in quiet salt-water lagoons and estuaries. The fish eagle is smaller than our Haliaeetus eagle and the European one. It is less than thirty inches tall. An adult Bald Eagle will be at least 31 inches tall and the female (which is always the larger of the pair) can be over three feet tall with a wingspan up to 7 feet or more. Our Bald Eagle does fish but in winter often lives on carrion from dead waterfowl as large as swans. This eagle has evolved an immunity to avian cholera and botulism which is handy in winter when large number of migrants waterfowl sicken and die on any over-crowded wintering range.
I have always though the Bald Eagle—contra Benj. Franklin who favored the Wild Turkey—was a perfect symbol for our money-mad country. This eagle will catch its own fish but often uses theft, bullying or simply good luck to find food. Other birds’ diseases leave carrion for eagles, ditto road kills. An eagle pair is great at ganging up on a hard-working Osprey (almost a pure piscine feeder) and stealing its fish. I have also seen eagles take ground squirrel away from Red-tailed Hawks. The Bald Eagle is sort of a hedge fund manager looking to make off with anybody’s else’s hard work or profit for its own selfish good. They are pretty good parents, of course. But among adults there is only begrudged sharing of a carcass. Often one eagle will have found carrion and a coterie of ravens will land just out of reach, waiting for the scraps. The Bald Eagle has one other great strength which is its great strength. It can easily remove bits of frozen deer or goose flesh from a hard-frozen corpse. Some scavengers like ravens and Turkey Vultures lack that strength. Eagles can winter anywhere there is food, fresh or frozen. However, the Turkey Vulture must migrate south to where the nights are warm enough to not freeze a carcass solid. On the Pacific Slope that is generally south of Redding or along the coast. Now, with global warming, a few vultures are wintering in Willamette Valley.
Our other native American eagle is the Golden. It’s a member of the large tribe in the Aquila genus. Aquila is Latin for “eagle” and especially refers to a sharply hooked beak. It is believed that “eagle” derived from old French word “agile” which in turn derived from the original Latin.
Our Golden Eagle has cousins all over the world, most smaller in size. The American Golden females can be up to 40 inches tall. Most of the Old World eagles in this genus are less than three feet and most are some shade of brown with little bold patterning (except the bright white on the Wahlberg’s Eagle). These are birds of mostly open terrain. Our Golden is a specialist in catching jack rabbits and other denizens of our grasslands and prairie. This bird takes talon strength to the max. It can muster several hundred pounds per square inch pressure when it grabs prey. It generally hits prey from behind and kills quickly by crushing the victim. They often nest high in tall trees or on cliff faces in dry areas where there are no trees. Nobody bothers a Golden Eagle in any serious way in daylight.
Two quick stories: I once saw a territorial male Osprey go about trying to drive off a Golden Eagle soaring over a hillside near the Ospreys’ nest. Twice the Osprey screamed and then dove down toward the eagle’s back…each time the eagle flipped over onto its back at the last instant and invited the Osprey to come on down. The eagle’s talons were open and waiting. Each time the Osprey swerved off at the last minute. Those talons would have meant a crushing defeat and death, literally.
A friend in Ashland lives out in the parched, grassy hillsides of the lower Cascades. The Golden Eagle and the Red-tailed both hunt there regularly. A pair of Golden Eagles were nesting on a rocky point uphill from my friend’s house. He often saw the smaller and more agile Red-tails harass the eagles as they hunted, hauled food to the young, built their nest. This is common in avian world—smaller, quicker birds pester bigger, slower predators. I’ve even seen blackbirds go after a vulture which eats only carrion. An angry hummingbird can drive off a huge raven. My friend was out on his hillside planting oak saplings to restore the chaparral that was once there. He saw a Red-tail swoop down the slope and nail a California ground squirrel. Then the hawk tried to get a good grip to haul away its fairly weighty prey. Shortly my friend sensed a big shadow speed by and looked up to see a Golden Eagle hit that Red-tail from behind. Astounded, he watched the eagle tear apart the hawk and the squirrel, fairly efficiently, then fly off. Nothing was left on the ground but shredded bits of both creatures. Apparently the Golden Eagle was settling an old and bitter score.
“Eagle” is an old English word thrown around in naming many unrelated species in the Old World. Some eagles there would be simply big “hawks” here. We would not consider a bird less than two feet tall worthy of that grand a moniker. There are even now birds commonly named “hawk-eagle,” go figure. Perhaps the most striking of the African eagles is the Bateleur, 28 inches tall. In the Old World “buzzard” is synonymous with “buteo,” the genus of our Red-tails. “Vulture” in old world is a group of large predatory birds, not strictly scavengers like our vultures and condors who are actually well-adapted members of the stork family, unrelated to Old World vultures. So it goes in the world of taxonomy vs. common lingo.
More than you ever wanted to know.
Here’s my own shot of a pair of fish eagles perched in a forest in Uganda:FISH EAGLES
Here’s a Long-crested Eagle, also from Uganda:EAGLE, LONG-CRESTED

Posted by: atowhee | July 17, 2017


It is not so loud at Joe Dancer Park these days. Most of the bird song has ended and what can be heard is generally subdued. The Spotted Towhees still zizz when the dog I walk past them. An occasional grosbeak sings a measure or two. The vultures make their usual sound, a soft rustling of wind over wing, nothing more. Crows occasionally complain. Song Sparrows sing softly and an American Goldfinch may “potato chip” in flight. One single flicker call…but plenty of soft wind sounds and faint bee buzzing. The wrens, flycatchers, warblers, vireos and even the chickadees are quiet now. I did hear a few honks from a Red-breastd Nuthatch in my home garden today. The Collared-Doves, never silent it seems. Migrant birds are busy building up body strength for the impending migration. Some resident birds are feeding young, others working the next clutch of eggs. Shhh…

FLKR-JDFlicker above, male towhee with berry in mouth, below:SP-BERRY

The dog and I like to look over the river bank and see what’s moving around down below us. Today a couple of male American Goldfinches came out of hiding and flew across the river, looking like sun melted butter. There were no clouds and the solar energy was heating up the berry vines and sweetpeas along the bank. A cluster of thistles was already going to seed, like so many of us this time of year. As I watched a soft breeze nudged loose a fibrous tuft of thistle down. It floated toward the river, rising gently in the heated air wafting upward from the sun-heated riverbank. It must have risen at least twenty feet from its origin, all the while drifting out toward the middle of the river. There an air current that seemed to be following the river current current below blew the next generation of thistle downstream. Thus do sun and wind and air help life find new places to thrive, new ground to claim. The thistle cluster:THIST1Ocean spray at end of its blooming season:OC-SPRYI believe this lichen is called lungwort or lung lichen:LICHNMOON HALF

Joe Dancer Park, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Jul 17, 2017 9:50 AM – 10:50 AM. 15 species

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) 3
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) 1–juvenile bird
Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) X
Vaux’s Swift (Chaetura vauxi) 3
Northern Flicker (Red-shafted) 1
American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) 1 carrying rodent prey
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) 2
Violet-green Swallow (Tachycineta thalassina) 10
Barn Swallow (American) (Hirundo rustica erythrogaster) 2
Swainson’s Thrush (Catharus ustulatus) 4
American Robin (Turdus migratorius) 17
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) 3
Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus) 4
Black-headed Grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus) 2
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) 3

820 NW 19th Street, McMinnville, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Jul 17, 2017 7:50 AM. 6 species

Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) X
Vaux’s Swift (Chaetura vauxi) X young calling from nest in our chimney
California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica) X
Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) 1
American Robin (Turdus migratorius) X
House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) 2

Posted by: atowhee | July 16, 2017


Birds of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. Frederic Jiguet and Aurelien Audevard. Princeton Press. 2017. paperback. 5 X 7.5 inches. $29.95.

This is a more thorough guide than the traditional birds of Europe because it moves further south and east than many other guides and thus is great if you are traveling beyond just western Europe. The text is precise and the range maps fine. However, this book depends on photos for bird illustrations and any photographer must admit that has its limits. No single photo or even two, can show everything you might want in a field guide. Illustrations are thus more…well…illustrative. Here are exact quibbles. The text on Coal Tit says “long white nape patch” yet the photo shows a totally black nape. Text on Azure Tit describes a sky-blue mantle while the photo shows a pale gray one. This may be a printing problem similar to what happened with Sibley’s American guide when it went into second edition and the first runs came out with muddy looking birds that were supposed to be bright, like a drab Scarlet Tanager male. Ooops. That print run was withdrawn and the edition re-printed.

It is instructive to see that the newest range map for Collared-Dove shows it has conquered all of Europe except northeastern Scandenavia. The book is polite about the invasive Ruddy Duck, saying only that it is being culled in Britain and France. There the Ruddy is an existential threat to its cousin, the endangered White-faced Duck. Americans need to broaden thei nomenclature as the lingo here in British. Loons are “divers.” Horned and Eared Grebes are “Slavonian” and “Black-necked.” The Common and Velvet Scoters have finally been taxonomically split from our White-winged and Black Scoters…whew. The Eurasian Teal is now split from our Green-winged. The book does not disclose that the Mandarin Duck has dense populations now in some London parks. It simply tells you there are breeding populations spread around western Europe for this Asian species.

If I’d been editor of this book I would have added a single line at the top of the page with the pratincole photos: “These are some of the coolest birds you’ll ever see, anywhere!”

The book covers 860 species and the index has both Latin and English names for each species. Each entry includes a description of the bird’s vocalizations.eurobirds-1eurobirds2eurobirds3

Posted by: atowhee | July 16, 2017


Recently I feel like I live in the land of the Kestrel. We can call it “Kestralia.” No complaints. I think it may be because kestrels are done nesting and now they are out and about and the mild days invite their obvious presence from poles and tree tops.
Yesterday Rob Schulman and I encountered a family of four along the dirt road into Baskett Slough’s main ponds and marsh. The two adults and two young kestrels were using the utility wires as perches, then launching themselves out over the fields to hunt. One youngster took an interest in us driving slowly along the road. This juvenile would fly in front and land on the wire to watch, as we drew near it would again fly in front and land, waiting for us to catch up. This lasted for about a half mile before he headed back to where the rest of the family had been. A “kurious kestrel” indeed.
Today at JOe Dancer my wife and I found one Kestrel hunting from a treetop.AK
Below, invasives of beauty: teasel and Canadian thistle even more of a problem than Canada Geese. TEASLTHIST

Posted by: atowhee | July 15, 2017


The lower Willamette Valley is distant from the Pacific by forty air miles and separated by a range of low mountains…but in the past two days I have seen six shorebird species and a oceanic gull. Admittedly these shorebirds all prefer mudflats to beach sand.
On Friday Paul Sullivan and I birded the scentful Sheridan Sewer Ponds. Plenty of Least Sandpipers and a few Westerns. Least likely birds of the day were a Black Phoebe and a male Lesser Scaup. While uncommon, neither species would be considered a vagrant. The phoebe is an uncommon nesting bird in parts of the Willamette Valley.

Rob Schulman and I birded Baskett Slough today–six species of shorebird and that excludes Killdeer and snipe which probably nest there but were not seen by us. There was also a first-year Western Gull arrived from the coast. This species does not breed inland like several smaller gull species: Ring-billed, California, Franklin. Another bright spot today at Baskett Slough was a rusty juvenile Harrier, outstanding in his field, apparently overcome by the size of the big wide world. He was on a row of mown hay, standing speechless and motionless. Dazed and confused.
Also at Baskett were a number of nutria and a pond drying with carp dying. The Turkey Vultures and crows eyeing the spectacle greedily.

blph-bblph-gudBlack Phoebe above. Bullfrog, his ancestors were introduced from eastern U>S> to provide frog legs to California’s Gold Rushers. Now he is the scourge of many low elevation waters and marshes along the Pacific Coast. frogeye3s
There must have been a thousand swallows at the Sheridan Sewer Ponds yesterday. At any moment over any pond you couldn’t count fast enough to estimate how many were swooping and swallowing within a single view. Then there were those resting on nearby fences, roofs and wires. Most of the crowd seemed to be Cliff Swallows, but five species were represented.
Above, right to left: tree, violet-green, tree, cliff x 3. Below, right to left: cliff, cliff, barn X 3. swll2swll3swll4

least-cuLeast Sandpiper above. Western in following images is the large paler bird, other are leasts.peeps1peeps3peeps4Ruddy Duck maleruddrudd2Killdeer:

kd yngkd yng2

Mud Flats Ensemble, inc. Western Gull, sleeping Greater Yellowlegs, GBHerons,
Mallards at rest, Brewer’s Blackbirds:beach gangThe doomed carp in a slough getting smaller and shallower with each minute of bright sun and low humidity:carpgbh-bsYellowlegs with legs in watergy at bsKestrel passing by:kestaire
Lesser Yellowlegs is bird partly submerged with pale eyebrow showing. Only one we found today.lesyelMale goldfinicho ntghe beach in his fading glory.
amgo-bssw-tail-bsTV n the beach next to the carp pool:tv landd


Western on right, least on left. Compare leg color, overall size, height of bird, darkness of plumage, length and curve of beak, stir in your memory and know which is which.peeps-comp

Sheridan WTP Ponds (restricted access), Yamhill, Oregon, US
Jul 14, 2017 9:00 AM – 11:00 AM. 29 species.

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) X
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) 200
Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata) 2
Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis) 1
Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis) 10
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) 1
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) 20
Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) 1
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) 1
American Coot (Fulica americana) 12 including one juvernile
Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) 10
Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla) 20
Western Sandpiper (Calidris mauri) 3
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) (Columba livia (Feral Pigeon)) X
Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) X
Vaux’s Swift (Chaetura vauxi) 2
Northern Flicker (Red-shafted) (Colaptes auratus [cafer Group]) 1
Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans) 1
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) 8
Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis) 1
Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) X
Violet-green Swallow (Tachycineta thalassina) X
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) X
Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) 400
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) X
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) 2
Brewer’s Blackbird (Euphagus cyanocephalus) 80
House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) 2
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) X

Baskett Slough NWR, Polk, Oregon, US
Jul 15, 2017 11:30 AM – 1:30 PM. 29 species

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) X
Gadwall (Anas strepera) 1
Mallard (Northern) (Anas platyrhynchos platyrhynchos/conboschas) X
Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata) 2
Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) 2
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) 20
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) 25
Northern Harrier (American) (Circus cyaneus hudsonius) 1 juvenile
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) 2
American Coot (Fulica americana) 1
Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus) 2 one was juvenile
Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla) 50
Western Sandpiper (Calidris mauri) 3
Long-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus scolopaceus) 1
Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca) 20
Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) 1
Western Gull (Larus occidentalis) 1 first year bird;
American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) 4 family group hunting together
California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica) 1
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) 8
Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) X
Violet-green Swallow (Tachycineta thalassina) X
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) X
Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) X
Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) 1 fly catching over pond
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) 3
Red-winged Blackbird (Red-winged) (Agelaius phoeniceus [phoeniceus Group]) X
Brewer’s Blackbird (Euphagus cyanocephalus) X
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) 3

Posted by: atowhee | July 13, 2017


Click here for article summarizing recent research into how corvids think ahead,delay gratification better than some political leaders we know…and generally organize for future success.

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