Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Berries are for the Birds

I have a volunteer shrub in my backyard that I have allowed to spread since our purchase of our home three years ago.  It's an interesting plant in the spring and summer with green leaves on red stems and yellow blossoms. In the fall the leaves change out to a bright red.  It has berries that start out green and turn to yellow and then orange as they mature, finishing off with a dark purple or black in winter.  As I pull weeds and trim back foliage of a variety of plants, I have continued to allow this small shrub to expand because my thinking was perhaps the birds would be attracted to the berries.  However,  I have never seen any activity to support my hope of  providing for the birds.  That all changed yesterday morning when I photographed this Oregon Junco feasting on the dark berries.  This led me to get serious about identifying this plant.  Thanks to my sister-in-law Patty, and my wife Jeanette, I now know this plant to be a variety of St John's-wort (Hypericum). Mystery shrouds the real value of the plant, from poisonous to a number of healing properties.  I'll continue to keep a close watch, either for a dead Junco or robust harvesters, but at the moment I feel successful in providing berries for the birds.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Winter Survival

An opening statement in an article of Salem's Statesman-Journal a couple of days ago caught my attention.

"We know, winter sucks.  It's a glorified, three-month inconvenience filled with murky skies, awkward holiday parties and chapped lips."

That really rang true for me.  Cold wet conditions truly are an inconvenience to me in pursuing and photographing birds (my current passion) outdoors in parks and nature areas.

During my working years my trick for surviving the winter blues was to go cross-country skiing on the weekends.  Lots of exercise and fresh air provided good medicine to survive another week.  Now, as I age, the call of the wild goes unheeded, and I find myself almost house bound in this dreary season.  These days my trick for surviving is to spend a good amount of time birding from the inside of our home.  It's warm and dry and we have a nice variety of birds visiting out back yard.

Yesterday, I fabricated this combination suet and seed feeder and installed it on a pole just outside our bedroom window.  It involved a trip to Ace Hardware for a seed feeder, rounding up a suet feeder cage, figuring out an attachment, rummaging through the garage to find the poles and mounting plate, and then the installation. It's not so much about providing winter survival for the birds as it is winter survival for me.  Activity for my brain and physical exercise for my body helps me survive.  And now I have an additional feeder to maintain and monitor for bird activity.

Yesterday's winning backyard visitor and photo was this male Downey Woodpecker below.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

A Bird Thanksgiving

With all the advertising and talk swirling around the Thanksgiving Season about food, I got to thinking about what we had observed with the birds during our bird/dog walk at Staats Lake in Keizer yesterday morning. Below are a few photos of birds with their dining choices.

Suet was selected by this Townsend's Warbler

Fresh fish was the choice of this Glaucous-winged Gull

A Sharp-shinned Hawk pauses while enjoying her duck

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Comfort and Consternation

One of the things we love about owning a small RV is the ability to park in our drive-way and then on the spur of the moment, to be able to take it and all the comforts it provides on a short excursion to a local park to walk and bird.  Yesterday was a good example, we took our new-to-us Serenity to Willamette Mission State Park to do some birding. Jeanette took this photo in one of the parking lots where we parked. We got in about 30 minutes of walking and birding before the rain moved in and we took shelter back in the RV.  The timing was good so we had lunch, relaxed, took a nap, and then later in the afternoon when the sun came out we resumed our birding.  That's the positive spin on the day.  On the other side of the coin is the fact that when we tried to heat water in the micro-wave we discovered that we had no power from the generator. That led to searching for tripped breakers or blown fuses. Searches on the Internet gave up some ideas, but still no power from the generator.  For the past two weeks I have be trying to resolve a tail light problem that I discovered on an over night trip, so I am more than dismayed that after four weeks we are still dealing with system problems. Stay tuned as we continue practice camping with the hope that it will lead to perfect camping.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Welcome to Subirdia

Song Sparrow

I am currently reading an interesting book entitled "Welcome to Subirdia" by John M. Murzluff.  Basically the idea that he explains is that when humans clear the land and develop the suburbs, we still can have good bird populations, in fact in most cases better than some wilderness areas, and better than our inner cities. Although some species, which he calls Avoiders, flee the developing suburbs for their preferred habitats.  Other species, which he calls Exploiters, take advantage of the situation and replace those that have fled, in fact many times over.  Examples of Exploiters are Canada Goose, European Starling, House Sparrow, Mallard, Rock Pigeon, American Crow, and House Finch.  The third group, which is in fact the largest, are the Adapters.  They adapt from natural streams, lakes, and ponds to artificial water impoundments. They adapt from natural seed sources to seed feeders, from nesting cavities in trees to man-made bird houses. The net result can be a vibrant diverse bird population that has either adapted or moved in to exploit the new habitat of green spaces, feeders, houses, and a huge variety of shrubs and trees.

I thought about all of this while taking our dog Buster on a dog/bird walk this morning in  our suburb development of Salemtown.  In a little over an hour I counted 60 individual birds from 18 different species.  eBird list here. I feel very fortunate that I can just walk out my door and enjoy the benefits of living in subirdia.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

White-throated Sparrow - the Joy of Winter Birds

I was having a quiet morning, sitting on the couch reading, when out of the corner of my eye I noticed a bird on the suet feeder by the window.  The light was bad with the weak morning sun behind the bird, but it suggested to me it might be a White-throated Sparrow.  This is a winter bird for the Willamette Valley, and a couple of birders have reported seeing them recently, but I had not yet seen one this season.  I went and got my binoculars and my camera and followed the bird to the sunflower feeder to get this photo. To understand my excitement, I have only seen this species in our yard the first winter we moved here in 2013. I only know this, not from my great memory, but because of the great records e-Bird keeps. White-throated Sparrows can easily be overlooked for the much more common White-crowned Sparrow, which are available to be seen some place in Oregon year around, but the white throat and yellow spot at the base of the bill are telling signs. They spend their breeding season in Canada and are only seen in this area October thru April.  Enjoying our winter visitors from the comfort of my living room, helps enduring the cold and damp Oregon winter.

Monday, October 31, 2016

A Cooper's Hawk - Not A Merlin

During a brief dry spot in late afternoon yesterday we took Buster for a short walk in the neighborhood. When returning to our house, Jeanette noticed this bird in the top of a tree half a block away.  She said, "Wait, is that our Merlin or a Crow?"  I said, "Most probably a crow".  Viewed only with the naked eye it was hard to tell at that distance.  Jeanette got binoculars, and I got my camera. Disappointingly we realized it was a Cooper's Hawk.  Disappointed in a Cooper's Hawk?  You see we have been hopefully checking tree tops daily this fall for our Merlin. For the past three winters we have enjoyed a Merlin showing up in our neighborhood, probably returning from its summer breeding grounds in the far north.  We have watched it from our kitchen window keeping an eye on our backyard feeder. Merlins are members of the fast flying falcon family and are capable, as we have witnessed, of snatching a song bird in mid air. Watching the Merlin each winter since moving here in 2013, we have become familiar enough with it to know the exact four trees where it can be seen.  At this point it feels like it is past due, and we fear that for the first time our Merlin has not made it back. (Looking back at my records, we have seen our bird begining in the middle of October thru March.)