Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Finding the Gray Flycatcher

Veteran birder Roy Gerig extended an invitation on-line for a couple of people to make a return trip with him to Detroit Flats to see the Gray Flycatcher. Jim Kopitzke and I jumped at the chance to go with him.  Jim is also a very experienced birder, so it was a chance for me to sit in with two very good birders and learn a lot. I learned that the Gray Flycatcher is a bird of the pine forest and sagebrush on the east side of the Cascades, so is a rare bird for Western Oregon.  As it turned out this flycatcher was almost the first bird we saw when we got to Detroit yesterday morning, save for a Wild Turkey roaming the streets. And the next bird we saw was a Long-eared Owl, but that’s a story for another day. Without Roy’s expertise I would never have been able to recognize this Gray Flycatcher.  Flycatchers can be very hard to identify because a number of them look so similar.  This one has a couple of strange behaviors that can tip you off.  It wags its tail differently, something I would have never noticed, and for the most part flicks from bush to bush picking up bugs close to or on the ground.  We reported four sighting of the Gray Flycatcher to eBird, its quiet possible we saw more, but Roy was hesitant to push the envelope.  In all we identified 42 different species of birds, two of which were “lifers” for me, and 15 of which were county firsts for the year for me. It’s going to take a day or two for me to calm down from all this.  

Sunday, April 27, 2014

In Search of the Perfect Larkspur

I am reminded of how my friend Bill Geibel conducts an endless search of the perfect Manhattan cocktail. I’m somewhat like that with wildflower photos, in particular the Larkspur.  For some reason to get a photo of the flower completely in focus has been an almost impossible task over the years.  Yesterday while hiking in the Columbia Gorge up the trail to McCall Point, I found a sheltered spot out of the wind with about the right amount of light, and got what I would rate as a “10”. (zoom in to see the detail) To see more photos of the hike click here for the Trip Journal entry. 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Juvenile Anna's Hummingbird

This juvenile hummingbird showed up at our juice feeder on Thursday afternoon with its mother. While the mother drank it sat there with beak straight in the air wanting to be fed like I’m sure it has been use to at the nest.  In the end the mother flew off and the disgruntled juvenile remained as shown here, unable to figure out how to feed out of the metal flower.  It spent some time puzzled at its reflection on the juice feeder glass and when leaving flew over to our window where I’m sure it saw its reflection for a second time. A complicated new world for the poor thing. I think the nest is possibly in our rhododendron bush, but I haven’t been able to find it. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Osprey Up-date

I went back to the Audubon Nature Reserve yesterday morning to check on the Osprey. Everything was quiet when I got there at 10:00, no sign or sound of the Osprey, so I went to check out the Bushtit’s and Robin’s nests.  Just after taking a photo of the Robins nest I heard the Osprey cry and I hurried back to the platform to see what was going on. A single Osprey was on the perch, which is called a “pilot’s perch”.  The perch is an important accessory to the nest platform to provide a perch for the male to stand guard when the female is on the nest.
A closer look at the bird on the perch indicated it was to my surprise a female. Soon other birds appear and it looks as though we have two pairs competing for the nest.

This photo shows the female still on the perch and a male, no necklace, coming into the nest site with something.  It looks too short to be a stick that they would normally add to the nest.  As best as I can tell it’s possible a small fish minus its head.

Now all hell breaks loose here.  Notice the big female in the center chasing off the male on the left while the first female is still on the perch though visible upset.  By this time there are a total of six birds in the sky swooping and screaming.  It’s all-out war.   ---- hello Lee? Could you call Salem Electric for two more poles and platforms?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Osprey Action

Yesterday for the first time we had Osprey at the nesting platform at the Audubon Nature Reserve. The platform is located next to the parking lot and was donated and erected by Salem Electric at the suggestion of Lee Slattum.  Naysayers, myself included, questioned its feasibility; too close to busy Eola Drive, too close to the parking lot, too far from the river.  But yesterday, Lee and Salem Electric were vindicated with an amazing amount of activity at the platform. In the course of my morning volunteer time I watched and took almost fifty photos trying to capture the experience.  The following photos hopefully tell a story that based on my research seems to be quite plausible. The first photo shows a female descending to the nest site.

Female Osprey can be recognized by the line of dark feathers at the neck line resembling a “necklace”.

This is a male, void of the “necklace”. (All photos can be enlarged by clicking)

What we first assumed were a pair of Osprey became three Osprey, and my best guess is that this is one of the two males bringing a “gift” to the female in hopes of winning her approval.

This I believe to be the second male bringing a different “gift” in hopes of winning the contest. I think these are gifts because they are not the large sticks used in the construction of the nest.

This could be the happy couple.  Osprey migrate to Oregon mid-March from as far away as South America. They are monogamous, pairing up for the summer to breed and raise their young.

Reference:  Birds of Oregon by Burrows & Gilligan / The Birders Handbook by Ehrlich, Dobkin & Wheye / The Birds of Bidwell Park by Lederer & Burr

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

American Robin's Nest

Today while picking up trash at the Salem Audubon Society's Audubon Nature Reserve I spotted this Robin’s nest.  The amazing thing is I walk these trails several times every week, the last time being Monday, and yet this is the first time I have seen the nest.  It's about eye level, and so close to the trail that I think I could probably reach out and touch it while standing on the trail. From what I have read, three to four eggs are the average.  As I have said before, it’s all about nesting right now.  We did not see anything of the Bushtits at the nest they were building last week, but we did see for the first time Ospreys building a nest on the platform by the parking lot.  Lots of excitement there, and I’ll try to have a post put together by tomorrow about the Osprey.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

First Ducklings

I checked out the Fairview Wetlands in South Salem yesterday afternoon and was surprised to find a number of Mallard hens with new ducklings. As you can see in the photo these little guys are busy feeding away.  At this stage in life I guess they haven’t learned about predators and they paid no attention to me and continued feeding close to the shore line. In the lower photo is a mother who has better control as she leads her ten little one out of harm’s way.  It’s hard to believe the season has moved along so fast to have new ones hatched, while back in my neighborhood in Salemtowne the swallows have yet to build a nest. (photos can be clicked on to enlarge)   

Monday, April 21, 2014

Too Much Competition!

Originally we had a pair of Tree Swallows showing interest in one of the new bird houses I put up as I posted on April 1st,  but it is now looking like we have lost out.  At the height of their interest, they were disturbed for four days by workers installing new windows in our house. Then our across-the-way neighbors returned from their winter hiatus and put up a whole development of cute little bird houses on their fence. And now it’s looking like the swallows have made a choice on this house in the photo.  Never mind that our house is an official bird house I bought from the Salem Audubon Society, and never mind that officially they frown on paining bird houses, lead paint, and all, you know. And can you believe these birds settled for a side entrance?  It is awfully cute though; rock foundation, log siding, front porch, and shingled roof.  

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Favorite

This is one of the favorite flowers I photographed yesterday during a wildflower hike organized by the Chemeketans. I was captivated by the beautiful colors of this very small plant, but it wasn’t until I got home and went through a number of flower guide books that I figured out its rather ugly name, Common Dead Nettle. It’s an introduced species, and in all honesty, I guess is considered a weed, but I like it anyway. The hike took place in the Columbia Gorge at the Catherine Creek Recreation Area on the Washington side of the Columbia River.  It’s an outstanding area that I have hiked a lot in past years every spring, so it brought back many great memories.  I took over fifty photos, so it’s going to be awhile before I get everything sorted out, edited, organized and included in Cascade Ramblings.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Down the Chimney

I spent the day on a wildflower hike in the Columbia Gorge with the Chemeketans.  It brought back many wonderful memories; I got in a good hike, took some wildflower photos, and all in all had a great day.  But on my way home, just before crossing the Marion Street Bridge, I got the biggest surprise of the day when Jeanette noticed a huge number of birds circling over the First Baptist Church. We recognized right away that they were Swifts preparing to enter the chimney for the night.  Jeanette stopped at the curb, I grabbed my camera and jumped out of the car and started taking photos.  It was hard to catch the exact micro-second they entered the chimney, and of the 30 photos I snapped off this was the best one.  My best guess is that there were 100 of these Vaux’s Swifts that went down the chimney in just a couple of minute’s time and then it was over.  The camera took the photos at 4:26 PM

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Nesting Suprise

This season is all about nesting as far as I am concerned, and yet I was surprised yesterday while at the Salem Audubon Reserve when some of the other volunteers reported a Bushtit nest. I was taken to the location at this drooping Indian Plum shrub where we observed the pair busily constructing a nest. I took some photos, which didn’t turn out that good when looked at closely on the computer, and had to make a second trip in the afternoon to get this photo with a Bushtit working with a long piece of material at the nest.  They make a very interesting, sock-shaped hanging nest of up to twelve inches in length with an opening at the top. These are very small birds, only about four inches in length from beak to end of tail. The question came up, which I had to research to find the answer, how small are the eggs? The average size is 13.7 x 10.1 mm, which strikes me as enormous given the size of the bird.   I think only some hummingbirds have smaller eggs. They normally produce 5-7 eggs.  I was most surprised because I have only seen Bushtits on three occasions on the 24 observation lists I’ve made at the Reserve since the first of the year. This is the first known nest at the Reserve this season that I’m aware of, and unfortunately not by a species that would take advantage of the ten artificial cavities that we have constructed.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Patio Birding

We were sitting out on our patio enjoying our lunch today when Jeanette noticed this male Evening Grosbeak in our neighbor’s tree. Along with it were several bright yellow American Goldfinches. When they flew off a dominating male Rufus Hummingbird took the position, and soon he left and a Chipping Sparrow showed up.  I started making a list and by the time lunch was over we had fifteen different species of birds.  The amazing part is that two of these birds were FOY (First of the Year) for Polk County for me, the Evening Grosbeak and the Chipping Sparrow.  Many days we travel to the far reaches of the county and walk for hours tallying birds without a single new species.  But to sit in the comfort of your own backyard and see a good number of interesting birds---that’s the true luxury!io

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Buster's Anniversary Hike

I picked Willamette Mission State Park as our birding destination today.  We parked at the Mission Lake Boat Ramp, which we recalled was where we took Buster for his very first opportunity to hike.  When I got home this afternoon I researched in Cascade Ramblings to find when that took place.  Turned out to be eight years ago on March 3, 2006.  This was before the Cascade Ramblings Blog, back in the days when all the reporting took place in the Trip Journal.  You can read the entry here. There was quite a contrast in these two hikes.  On his first trip it took a lot of encouragement to get him to take a few wobbly steps along the trail, and you can see in the photo above his furrowed brow indicating his concern over this strange situation.  By contrast today he was the first one out of the car and off exploring smells before we could even get our boots on. Hiking is now his favorite pastime. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Osprey Time

It’s that time of year when the Osprey have returned to Oregon and we get to watch their fishing and nesting activities. While birding at Wallace Marine Park in West Salem yesterday afternoon we noticed an Osprey on the nest at the ball field crying away.  The next thing that we noticed was a second bird in the air, and it had a fish in its talons.  It flew to the nest for a few seconds and then flew away with the fish. Our first thought was that it was the male bringing a fish to his mate on the nest. Did she reject his offering? The thing that nagged at us was that both Jeanette and I thought we could see the “necklace” on the bird with the fish indicating it would be a female. It’s too early in the year for the bird on the nest to have been a juvenile, and I think it’s way too big of a stretch of the imagination to think that an adult male would be just sitting there asking to be fed. :)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Spring Cleaning

Yesterday afternoon while enjoying a pleasant walk through the Salem Riverfront Park we stopped to observe a busy pair of Black-capped Chickadees.  We quickly realized that the chickadees were focused on a hole in a tree. As we continued to watch we began to understand what was going on, they were cleaning out a nest site. A bird that we eventually decided was the female would disappear into the cavity for a few seconds and then reappear with a mouth full of debris. You can see her in the above photo and see her mouth-full, and notice how her feathers are all akimbo. Now, not to read too much into these behaviors, the other bird which we concluded was the male, seemed unable to take on any responsibility in the cleaning chores, and took on the role of an observer. He is shown in the lower photo, notice he has not a feather out of place as he watches at the edge of the opening, and if you look closely you can see just the end of her tail feathers sticking out of the door way as she fiercely attacks all the dust and dirt.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Nesting Competetion

Here is a cute photo --- but of a bad bird, a European Starling; bad in the sense that it robs native species of nesting opportunities. We have a number of native species like chickadees, nuthatches, swallows, wrens, bluebirds, and woodpeckers, that all depend on tree cavities for nesting, and in our crowded sterile urban environments, old snags with good cavity opportunities are fewer all the time. Years ago in 1890-01, a group of citizens of New York thought that it would be a swell idea to have the birds of Shakespeare in Central Park, so was introduced the European Starling.  In the ensuing years they have spread all across the United States, became a plague to farmers, a nuisance in urban areas, and a major competitor to native birds. I took this photo yesterday while birding at Orchard Heights City Park in West Salem, and of the sixteen species we saw, this one, the European Startling I’m sorry to say was the most numerous.     

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Right On Time!

April is considered the month that birds start nesting, and today April 1st, we had two prospective renters show up right on time.  I was having lunch when I noticed a pair of Black-capped Chickadees show up in our back yard, and just as I hoped, one went and inspected one of our bird houses.  I ran and got my camera and was lucky enough to get a photo.  I sat back down to proceed to finish my lunch and suddenly a pair of Tree Swallows swooped though.  After several passed they too inspected the bird house, and I got a second photo. I've had two houses up for a couple of weeks now, and have had interest from the House Sparrows, but the entrance hole by design is too small to allow them to enter.  It's going to be an interesting time seeing who, if anyone, moves in first.