Posted by: atowhee | February 15, 2017


“Throughout North America the junco, a slate-colored sparrow-sized  with a flashy white-sided tail, rules the urban jungle.”    —Welcome to Subirdia by John Marzluff

Not just sparrow-sized, the junco is a proud member of the American sparrow family. This family, Emberizidae, includes towhees, longspurs, Neotropical grassquits, Old World seedeaters and some Old World buntings. In Latin junco means Reed Bunting, an Old World bird with a sparrow’s beak and a black head.  Hyemalis refers to winter when this little bird flocks into towns and cities across North America.

In Ashland we sometimes have five dozen in our garden, here in more urbanized McMinnville we still over two dozen in winter.jnc-3Whenever I seer this hardy, doughty, successful little bird I remind myself that they breed on the ground…but do it so well they even breed in city parks.  Only once have I actually seen a Junco nest.  It was in a tuft of grass just outside a patch of forest at 4500′ elevation near Howard Prairie Lake in Jackson County, Oregon.  In years birding in San Francisco I never found a single nest in Golden Gate Park where the bird is a common breeder.

Fellow birder Pamela Johnston shares this haiku:
“In pouring rain
a Junco sings”

Posted by: atowhee | February 14, 2017


We have four suet feeders in our garden this winter.  And we have several birds that are suet afficionados.  In fact, we have feeder feeders that are nothing short of excellent experts.  There are the starlings, the Downy, the female flicker–long, pointed beaks, strong feet, dangling and hanging upside down–no problem.

Yet, even among the smaller birds two have become adept at feeding any manner necessary to get at that suet.  They are the Bewick’s Wren and one Yellow-rumped WARbler whom I’ve named War-war for his warlike

Pretty quiet at Wennerberg Park today though I did see an Anna’s Hummer sitting on a wire which is unusual.  They are most often on trees, bushes, and other natural perches.anh-upanh-wiredgoose-line820 NW 19th Street, McMinnville, Yamhill, Oregon, US
12 species

Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)  X
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)  1
California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica)  X
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)  X
Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus)  X
Bewick’s Wren (Thryomanes bewickii)  1
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  X
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata)  1
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)  25
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)  1
House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)  8

Wennerberg Park, Carlton, OR, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Feb 14, 2017.  6 species

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)  16     fly over
Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna)  2
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  30
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  X
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)  1
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)  2

Posted by: atowhee | February 14, 2017


Peter Thiemann, my friend and co-author of our book on Great Gray Owls, is in Yosemite…he is having a wild wildlife adventure in the cold and snow.  Here are three images from his iPhone:img_2802img_2871img_2939Top to bottom: sleeping wolves…bison grazing on hillside where snow is not deep…cow moose and her calf from last summer.

Posted by: atowhee | February 13, 2017


Some days you have to look for the beauty in nature, other days it looks back at you:beautyIs it the fine edging colors on the wing feathers?  Is it that tail arrowing out, announcing gender and species? Is it the flashy white tracing stripe up the side of the throat, emphasizing the longer, more slender neck than most ducks could even hope for? Is it the under-stated tweed effect on the sides of the chest?  Is it the overall effect of color and design?  Is it the green sheen that makes this Pintail’s head into a shining example? Finally, could it be the pale blue slash along the side of the beak, making Nike’s swoosh look childish by comparison?  Whatever it is, this duck can so quickly make human art and architecture look like clunky failures.  The steady look from that dark eye says it all.  “I got it, whatchew got?”

The sunshine said “Go birding.”  The dog said, “Let’s get going.” The binoculars didn’t speak, they just gave me that look with both eyes wide open.  The scope averred, “I’d like to stretch my legs.”  So who was I to argue with such urging?

Thus we found ourselves, on a perfect winter day, birding at Baskett Slough…braving road graders, the glare of sun on water, a blindingly blue sky, coots ambling down the roadside, the sound of hunters’ shotguns all around and an island crowded with shorebirds. That shorebird concentration had precipitated onto one small, slender island in Coville Dunlin were so skittish and frenzied it was hard to pick out the other shorebirds, but in this shot you can see at least two of the dowitchers with their dark fronts and a line through the eye, both are near water line in front. I believe that is a third dowitcher in the water with his back to us.  Those duck butts in front belong to two male Green-winged Teal.  The teal were so plentiful it was hard to get a shot without one or two teal-tush in the frame. They may have even out-numbered the coots!dow-infrnt

The pipits were in a short grass pasture along the north side of Smithfield Road.2pips3pips2Roadside Cackler grazing:cack-on-grndI once had neighbors who would have called this a “varmint.”  I prefer nutria or marshland terrorist.  But he didn’t come here intent on destruction. His ancestors were slaughtered for human clothing and profit.  His race was enslaved, and then set free to make his own way in a strange and cruel world.  So he did make his way… newtree-ahMS PINTAIL: Not the bold tail, but finely marked feathers.  A hint of that spiffy swoosh along the side of the beak. She, too, can give you that look with the dark, inscrutable eye.pinpair2Let sleeping ducks lie, while teal feed.  Call this photo “pin-teal.”pin-teal

BTW: There is a new bird checklist for the whole Willamette Valley Wildlife Refuge complex. Click here to link to that PDF.

Baskett Slough NWR, Polk, Oregon, US
Feb 13, 2017 11:05 AM – 11:50 AM.  Comments:     BRIGHT, CLEAR AND CALM
30 species

Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii)  X     thousands
Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)  X
Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator)  9
American Wigeon (Anas americana)  X
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)  X
Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)  X
Northern Pintail (Anas acuta)  X
Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca)  X
Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis)  X
Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)  X
Common Merganser (Mergus merganser)  X
Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)  X
Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)  1
Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus)  1
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)  2
American Coot (Fulica americana)  X
Dunlin (Calidris alpina)  100
Long-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus scolopaceus)  20
Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca)  5
Western Gull (Larus occidentalis)  1
Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)  1
California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica)  4
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)  X
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  X
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  X
American Pipit (Anthus rubescens)  40
Golden-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia atricapilla)  X
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)  X
Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus)  X
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)  X     males singing

Many of the birds I saw today will be around until spring when I am teaching a birding class for Mc Minnville Park & Rec. Baskett Slough is one place we will visit. Click here for info on the class and its four field trips.

Posted by: atowhee | February 12, 2017


Feb. 12—Today we got one of those gentle respites from serious winter.  Clear, mild, sunny, windless. Fine day for us pagan birders. At the Yamhill city sewer ponds this morning the most abundant bird was not starling, nor Canada Goose, nor Shoveler (zero!) nor scaup…it was…Wilson’s Snipe.  The seasonal marsh and the nearby soggy fields were snipe-rich.  As dog and I walked around the marsh a couple dozen snipe took wing and most moved across the fence into the fields.  A group of seven circled and climbed and circled some more and then headed off east of Hwy 47 to some other marshy spot.  Most just lifted over the fence and landed far out into the fields.  Some already in the field moved away from the near fence and then set down.  I tried to follow some of the flying birds until they landed.  As they did each one vanished into the grass which was a few inches high.

In flight the snipe zig-zag and twist about invisible objects, a difficult flight to follow if you are a Peregrine moving at 70 MPH.  I have seen Peregrine dive after snipe, never seen one connect.  As snipe fly they gave out their alarm call, a nasally whistle.  National Geo says this call’s a two-syllable “sni-ape.” Brinkley’s field guide for the Wildlife Federation says the call’s an “unmusical tzehp.” That’s pronounced with a strong eastern European accent, no doubt. Here’s an image of several snipe up in the air:snip-aloftI am pointing my camera due west toward the Coastal Range.  Note in second image a snipe s suddenly visible at the horizon line.  Then in the final image more snipe enter from upper left hand corner. In that shot the clustered seven, heading to the right, is the group that circled 36o degrees, twice, then headed off east, directly opposite of where the camera was pointed.  All these other birds landed in the grassy field below where they are flying…but not in the newly planted hazelnut orchard,snip-aloft2snip-aloft3snip-aloft4This is the snipe marsh in Yamhill.  It gets mowed when dry in the late summer so there is not a lot of dense growth above eight inches tall, no cattails or willows.  Accidentally it is maintained as near-perfect snipe habitat, especially in this wet winter.snip-marsh

I got no close-up photos today but in spring the males call, winnow, display and perch in the open.  Here is one such bird.ma12-d_1533a-netThis is a snipe photographed on a Golden Gate Audubon Malheur trip in 2012 by Bob Mandell. Those eyes are placed near the top of the skull so when the beak is in the ground the bird can still see above and behind it, on the look out for Peregrine or Harrier.

It is still legal to hunt snipe in Oregon.  They are the only shorebird so honored.  Puts snipe into that special class with waterfowl, grouse, quail and crows.  A number of introduced game birds are also hunted like chukar, pheasant and turkey. So for this species “snipe hunt” is no joke and neither is some guy walking past their marsh with a big dog…

Yamhill Sewage Ponds (restricted access), Yamhill, Oregon, US
Feb 12, 2017 10:50 AM – 11:50 AM.  12 species

Wood Duck (Aix sponsa)  3     in the creek
Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis)  13
Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)  1
Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)  6
Wilson’s Snipe (Gallinago delicata)  35
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)  7
California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica)  4
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)  X
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  X
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  X
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)  3
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)  25     males were singing from high perches


Posted by: atowhee | February 11, 2017


Are the U.S. Geological Survey Climate Science Centers doomed?

I ask as a one-time summer employee of the USGS.  The USGS gave me my first real job after high school.  The summer after my freshman year in college I worked as a rod-man for the field surveyor from the USGS.  We were in rural Minnesota, starting south in Madelia and ending up the summer in Red Lake Falls.  There the nearest city was Winnipeg.  August 12th it snowed on us.  Our truck was attacked by a badger because we’d parked over his sett.   The deer flies bit harder, faster and meaner than all the mosquitoes you could launch from whatever marsh you could find.  Breakfast at the diner was 90 cents, with bacon, toast (no brown bread), eggs and grapefruit juice.  I could drink that stuff in those days.

I was under age but the local used car man in Red Lake Falls sold me my first car, a beat-up, bluke-gray ’57 Chevy. Low-end model, not even a Bel-Air.  At high speeds (over 50) you had to hold onto the gear shift (it was an automatic) to keep it from sliding into neutral.  I spent a week’s salary on that old beater–$90. That was 1964. A hometown friend was working for the USGS over in North Dakota.  One weekend we drove to Winnipeg in that car to see a movie. Crossing the border meant nothing.  Those were the days…

Thus, I have a very warm spot in my heart for the USGS.  It had its Midwest map center in my hometown (that connection got me that job).  The man who ran that office lived just up the road from our farm on his own sixty acres.  The USGS gave me my first summer away from home.

The USGS should be revered by birders.  It afforded time and money for much of the original research on animals across the western U.S. after the Civil War.  Florence Merriam Bailey wrote the first field guide (1902) to Western US birds, and she did so after many summers camping with her USGS-employed husband who was doing rodent research in the West. She also wrote the first book about birding with binocs and the first full treatment of the birds of New Mexico.florencebailey

Anyway, you can click here for link to the climate centers’ website, which has not yet been deleted.

Posted by: atowhee | February 11, 2017


Feb. 11   This day broke under dense ground fog but that soon burned off.  No wind, no rain.  Today I heard a Flicker giving his spring territorial call from atop a conifer.  This is not single note “clear” call that you may hear any time of the year.  This is the string of notes undulating in tone and pitch in a rapid, staccato series of twelve or more.  This call drops out of the flickerly repertoire after breeding season ends.flkr-calls

Along with a wolf’s howl in darkness, a strangled scream from a Barn Owl, the harsh barking of sea lions and the bugling of a flock of Sandhill Cranes in flight, this call from a flicker is one of the signature sounds that comprise the call of the wild here in North America.

Shot through a window, two images of “our” Bewick’s Wren.  In one he holds a seed from the feeder.  First time I’ve seen him accept one of our menu items.bewr-onebewr-thre

bt-on-sootThat pale-eyed Bushtit on the left is a female.  This red-eyed critter below is male. His crazed look might be taken for a sign that he’s working part-time in the White House. Nice colors, whatever his shade of politics, huh?male-twhee

While dog-walking and birding just at the edge of McMinnville yesterday we disturbed a herd of at least nine mule deer, all does.   Seeing the dog the deer hurried up the hill behind the nearby houses and off to some dogless spot.  My dog doesn’t even pay attention to deer anymore, hardly seems to even note the spore.deerun1deerun2deerun3deerun5In this one shot I got nearly all the does, eight can be seen.deerun6deerun7BED O’ LEAVESsqrl-bathsqrl-leaf1sqrl-leaf2sqrl-leaf3

McMinnville, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Feb 11, 2017.  7 species

Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)  X
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)  1     making its springtime territorial call from treetop
California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica)  5
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)  3
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  X
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  X
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)  15

Posted by: atowhee | February 10, 2017


Rain squalls off and on today.  We are already near six inches of rain for the month compared to an average of 5.7 for a full February.  That explains the flooded fields.  Not too cold. Yesterday we hit 60 in the sun, today in the fifties when there was no cold wind.  Our first crocus are in bud, yellow ones.

Today I heard a chorus of chorus frogs.  Heard only a single one some days back.  These were in the marshy area below Pinot Noir Drive in McMinnville. There is a colony of Acorn Woodpeckers in the oaks there.  Two Fox Sparrows were pished out of the berry thicket.

Rainbows were to be seen morning and evening as rain clouds and sunshine shared the sky and vied for dominance.  Neither side won.  Rainbows were sometimes full arc.rb1rb2rb3

Some of the less bold birds can often be seen lurking…partially hidden but on alert.fosp-hidesThe Fox Sparrow was at the end of Pinot Noir (the street, fear not, the wine will go on nearly forever).  Varied Thrush hiding in our garden.vath-peeks

Pinot Noir Drive NW, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Feb 10, 2017 4:00 PM – 4:30 PM.  7 species

Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna)  1
Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus)  3
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  X
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  X
Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca)  2
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)  20
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)  X

820 NW 19th Street, McMinnville, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Feb 10, 2017.  11 species

Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)  X
Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna)  1
Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)  1
California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica)  1
Varied Thrush (Ixoreus naevius)  1
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  X
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)  25
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)  1
Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus)  1
House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)  8
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)  1

Posted by: atowhee | February 10, 2017


There was cold wind, recurring rain squalls, rainbows, ducks after delicious daphnia, a kiting Rough-legged Hawk and a dense flock of Least Sandpipers constantly circling and banking for another pass.  These shorebirds were in the air the whole three-quarters of an hour I was at Sheridan Sewer Ponds.  They never landed but when the light was right the dark heads, short beaks and white bellies glowed in the sun cheating through the broken storm clouds.
The Least Sandpipers at this time of year are a surprise to eBird. But checking eBird I find records in this part of the Willamette Valley* for every week of the year.  This species is scarcest here in June. This flock may have been sweep inland from coast during recent storms.   While Osprey, Turkey Vultures, Tree Swallows and cranes may begin appearing north of wintering grounds this month, it is too early for these little guys to be migrating.  Storm vagrants is my guess.

Ducks on daphnia at sewer out flow…Shovelers, scaup, coots and even a few Bufflehead off camera.daphnia-crowdThe rough-legged Hawk, first seen hovering over the sewer ponds, later moved across Hwy 18 to soar along the foothills on north edge of Sheridan town.rlh-from-belorlhl-prfctrlh-prfct3rlh-s1Male scaup, coot I watched a flock of Golden-crowned Sparrows came out of the berry thicket, began to feed along the road and then bathe in the puddles.gc-puddlinggc-puddling2

Sheridan South Side Park and Fishing Pond, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Feb 10, 2017 11:00 AM – 11:45 AM.  12 species

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)  X
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)  4
Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis)  20
Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)  8
Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)  2
American Coot (Fulica americana)  50
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) (Columba livia (Feral Pigeon))  2
California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica)  1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula)  1
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  X
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)  15
Golden-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia atricapilla)  18

Sheridan WTP Ponds (restricted access), Yamhill, Oregon, US
Feb 10, 2017 11:00 AM – 11:50 AM.  15 species

Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii)  1
Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)  X
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)  X
Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)  200
Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis)  300
Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)  50
Common Merganser (Mergus merganser)  1
Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)  30
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)  1
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)  1
Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus)  1
American Coot (Fulica americana)  X
Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla)  100     single flock, in the air circling the whole time I was there
American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)  1
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)  3

  • I searched Polk, Washington and Yamhill Counties which stack up here in the northwest corner of the Willamette and contain two national wildlife refuges: Tualatin River and Baskett Slough.
Posted by: atowhee | February 9, 2017


All around us species of plants and animals are struggling to survive in this man-altered world.  Some humans can’t see beyond the turf on their golf course, or the profits from their rice paddies.  For those who do care about other species the human war on nature is taking a painful toll.  Here is just one example of a few mountain lions clinging to existence in urban Los Angeles.

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »


%d bloggers like this: