Friday, January 31, 2014

House Sparrow

This common male House Sparrow is the best I could come up with from my bird walk yesterday. I don’t see them often in my own back yard, but a walk in Salemtowne always produces some sighting. They used to be called English Sparrows, probably as they came to this country via ships from England. They have made themselves right at home in this county and had spread across the whole US, in part because they can have three broods a year. They are however looked down upon because of their ability to take over nests of other birds.  And I know about this first hand from warring with them for many years as they repeatedly won out in a contest with White-breasted Nuthatches for a bird house.  Year after year the Nuthatches would get started with nesting in a bird house we had at our South Salem home, and repeatedly the House Sparrows would come in and take over, and the Nuthatches would leave. That being said, if my choice is a House Sparrow or no birds, I will always choose the sparrow and go ahead and enjoy its sweet chirping sounds and industrious behavior. And, I think this guy is rather handsome. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Balmy Fifty Degrees

This pair of House Finches took advantage of the mid-fifty degree weather yesterday afternoon to do a little sun bathing. The ice has now melted in the bird bath and they were acting like they thought they were on a beach in Florida. The male seems to be trying to strike his best pose showing off his brightest breeding colors. The female seems to be intent in checking her reflection in the water, perhaps to check her hair or make-up. Spring must be right around the corner.  

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

These are strange small busy birds, and hard to catch sitting still long enough to get a photo.  I noticed this little guy yesterday while making a circle through the Salem Audubon Nature Reserve. Male Ruby-crowned Kinglets have the ability to flash their red crown when trying to impress a female, or when agitated with an intruder. I presume it was the latter in this case, as he spent 5 – 10 minutes running through a series of antics that I can only conclude was meant to have the effect of scaring away the weird guy with the camera. It didn’t work, and he had to eventually give up and fly away. 


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Repeat Trip to Lyons City Park

Monday’s weather forecast was for the last dry day for a spell so I made a return trip to Lyons City Park for another attempt to see the Red-naped Sapsucker. No luck there, but this Pileated Woodpecker was the highlight of the trip.  Just after I got out of the car he raised a big ruckus, flew over to the bottom of the power pole and continued to carry on all the way to the top of the pole before flying off. Pileated are the largest of the Woodpecker family and are always an impressive sight. It’s hard to be disappointed at not seeing a Red-naped when you get to see one of these.  I did see a good number of other birds, 25 different species in all before I had to retreat to the warmth of the car.  Below are some that I photographed. 

male Ring-necked Ducks

male & female Hooded Mergansers

Canada Geese

Monday, January 27, 2014

Seeking Sapsuckers

This Red-breasted Sapsucker has his bill buried deep in search of sap in a tree at Lyons City Park.  I went there yesterday in search of a Red-naped Sapsucker that Bill Geibel had recently photographed.  Red-breasted Sapsuckers are fairly common, but Red-naped Sapsuckers are rare, particularly on this side of the Cascades. I didn’t find the Red-naped, but it was great to get to watch this Red-breasted work on this tree just a few feet from where I got out of the car.  There were lots of other birds to watch on the ponds on this bright sunny afternoon, including twenty or more Gadwalls, many Mallards both resident and wild, some Ring-necked Ducks, and of course noisy Canada Geese.  In all I counted 20 different species in the 45 minutes I was there.  Just as I was getting back into the car to leave I spotted a Bald Eagle. As I was looking at him, he was looking a me.


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Birding at Minto-Brown's Island Park

This brightly colored male Mallard was trying to hide from me yesterday morning at Minto-Brown Island’s Park. It was another bright sunny morning so I took Buster there for a walk.  It sort of feels like I have been avoiding Minto-Brown, but at almost 900 acres it is clearly one of the best parks around for walking and probably birding.  I guess I have been mainly concentrating on birding in Polk County because it’s the county I live in, but just across the river is Marion County, Salem proper and Minto-Brown Park.  I also like to take the “road less traveled”, which means I normal seek out less crowded areas.  I picked the South-East end of the park which is less used and did a loop around the sloughs there as I wanted to get a look at waterfowl before they all leave.  One particular pond had the most ducks, easily a 100 Mallards, a good number of American Wigeons, and a few Buffleheads, Ring-necks, and Northern Shovelers. We walked over three miles and were warm enough as long as we kept moving.  

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Oil Change at Capitol Toyota

While I was getting the oil changed on the Scion at Capitol Toyota yesterday I checked out the lake there in the Capitol Auto Group complex. The first bird I spotted was this Double-crested Cormorant drying its wings in the bright sunshine. This lake, which for lack of an official name I am calling Capitol Auto Group Lake, is a former thirty foot deep gravel quarry for Salem Sand & Gravel.  Capitol Auto Group built three new buildings and moved their dealerships there from the former Mission Street location recently. This ultra-modern complex ofdealerships situated around this lake is beyond anything I have ever seen or know about for car dealerships. By the time I had circled the lake counting and photographing birds my car was ready. I mean, where else can you have your oil changed on your car while you go birding? In all fairness I should disclose that I am a former employee of Capitol Toyota of over 20 years, and oil changes are free to me for life. Thank you Scott Casebeer. 

American Coot

Herring Gull

Friday, January 24, 2014

Keizer Rapids Park

We had lots of sun yesterday so I took Buster for a “walk”, which is a code word that means I went birding. I am continuing to check out Hot Spots as shown on, and this one, Keizer Rapids Park is the closest spot to me, that is as the crow flies.  It is probably not much more than a mile from my home in Salemtowne, but because of the Willamette River between us it is probably over 6 miles away.

Keizer Rapids Park is a City of Keizer park of 360 acres bordering the Willamette River at the end of Chemawa Road.  I didn’t find many birds, but then I didn’t have my “spotter” with me. Buster and I walked a mile and a half of paved trails, of which there are many more miles of dirt trails.  I am looking forward to returning later in the season because the habitat looks very promising with lots of snags showing obvious nesting holes.      

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Bad Thing or a Good Thing?

Yesterday while working at constructing nesting cavities at the Salem Audubon Nature Reserve, Ken a fellow volunteer, spotted this bight colored beetle when he split apart a section of the oak log he was working on.  I got my camera and took a photo, hoping it would enable me to make an identification, as none of us had any idea what kind of beetle it was. Luckily, Lee Slattum who is the driving force to the volunteer work being done at the Reserve knew an entomologist that would probably know. I sent Lee a photo and he reported back to me: 

“It is a clerid beetle.  He said they can also be blue and yellow.  They eat other species of beetles in wood by crawling down their bore holes to get at them.  They are considered good to have around.”.

This gave me a starting point and sent me on a search for more information which led me to narrowing it down to the common name of Checkered Beetle.  It was also a relief, as my guess was that it was probably a beetle having a bad effect on our oak trees, similar to all the destruction the Pine Beetle has had on the Lodge Pole Pine forests of Oregon. So here is a beetle that goes after the bad guys!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Common to Uncommon

I took these photos yesterday while birding at Huddleston Pond in Willamina, they show two male Wigeons, the one on the left being the common American Wigeon and the one on the right an uncommon Eurasian Wigeon.  I counted over 120 American Wigeon, but only saw this one Eurasian Wigeon, and that is the normal situation with these two ducks.  American Wigeons summer and breed in the upper region of North America, and winter in great numbers in this area and further south.  The Eurasian Wigeon breeds in Eurasia, and winters in the tropics, but some birds seem to stray and end up here for the winter where they can be seen hanging out in single numbers with their more numerous cousins the American Wigeon.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Nesting Cavity Construction

I spent yesterday afternoon volunteering at the Salem AudubonNature Preserve in West Salem working on a project to provide nesting cavities for birds. It involves drilling out an entrance hole, then removing a section of wood and chiseling out a cavity large enough to provide space for a bird to construct a nest. Possible tenants could be Black-capped Chickadees, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, White-­breasted Nuthatches, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and possibly Bewick’s Wrens, House Wrens¸ and Downey Woodpeckers. It’s going to be interesting to watch this spring and see if and how many get used. --- photo courtesy of Dorald Stoltz.  

Monday, January 20, 2014

Cutler City Wetlands

Oppressive fog and cold continues to entrap the Willamette Valley, so yesterday we went to Lincoln City on the Oregon Coast seeking sunshine and birding hot spots. Lincoln City is only about an hour away from where we live in Salem, but recently the coast and the valley are worlds apart in regards to fog and sunshine. Following up on Hot Spots listed in we made stops at five parks: D River Open Area, East Devils Lake State Park, Seid Creek Open Area, Josphine Memorial Park, and Cutler City Wetlands. This Trail Access is at Cutler City Wetlands, a brand new discovery for us and one we enjoyed the most. It contains some great hiking trails and potential for outstanding birding opportunities when the spring migrants return. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Butter Butt

The readership has been down on the last couple of posts, so I was hoping that spicing up the title a bit might increase the traffic.  But, it is also a fact that “Butter Butt” is a recognized optional term to refer to the Yellow-rumped Warbler.  We had two of them having a little dispute at the suet feeder this afternoon, and what caught my attention was their ability to flash this yellow butt at will. You don’t always get to see this yellow butt, and apparently they have some control over whether you do or not.   

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Rough-legged Hawk

A lump appeared ahead of us in the dense fog as we were returning to the car at the Luckiamute Landing State Natural Area yesterday morning.  Jeanette spotted it, and as we got closer we could make out the form of a large hawk.  Without a clue as to what hawk, I began getting photos.  As I got closer and zoomed in with the camera I saw this guy staring back.  Finally it flew off and we noticed the white butt and concluded it was a Northern Harrier.  One thing nagged me in my mind though was I could not recall a Harrier having that much white on the head.  Back home I checked on Harriers in The Sibley Guide to Birds and no white heads.  Well,  do any other hawks have white butts? Page by page I looked, and then I saw it, a Rough-legged Hawk! A brand new bird for us, so a new addition to my Life List.  We will be taking a closer look at hawks we spot with white butts, not jumping to the conclusion it’s a Northern Harrier, but considering the possibility of a Rough-legged Hawk.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Great Egret

This elegant Great Egret is another bird I photographed yesterday at Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge.  They are one of the easier birds to spot and identify, particularly in winter, with their bright white coloring against the gray-brown of winter. Like the Tundra Swan I posted yesterday they are both big white birds, how big and which is bigger, I had to look up in a bird guide.  Birds are measured from the tip of the beak to the tip of the tail.  The Great Egret measures 3 ½ feet in length compared to 4 ½ feet for the Tundra Swan. The Egret is a year around resident here is Western Oregon, where as the Swan migrates here only for the winter.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Tundra Swan

I was asked recently what time of year is the best for birding.  My reply was something to the effect; any time of year is good for birding, there are just different birds different times of year. Today’s short trip to Baskett Slough National Wildlife is a good illustration of that point.  It was a very stormy day with lots of wind and rain, and I did all my birding from the car.  But even in these bad winter conditions there were still some great birds to see.  In thirty short minutes I had identified and counted fifteen different species.  My main motivation for going out today was that I would have an opportunity to see some birds I won’t be able to see in the summer. This Tundra Swan, one of two that I saw, is a case in point.  They spent most of the year far to the north and are normally only seen here in Polk County, (according to eBird data) from November thru February. This Tundra Swan can be separated from the Trumpeter Swan by the yellow spot at the base of the bill.  The brownish color on the neck tells us it’s a juvenile. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Rain is a Good Thing

Rain returned to the Willamette Valley today, and I think it is a good thing for both man and bird.  We have had an unusually long dry spell. I took a brief break this afternoon from un-packing to sit at the window and watch the birds in the rain.  This Mourning Dove was sitting stoically all alone on the fence in the pouring rain.  Then all of a sudden I noticed this strange behavior of lifting up its wing.  It repeated this several times, then reversed sides and repeated the same exercise with the opposite wing.  This was followed by a vigorous shake and then more wing lifts.  I’m convinced it was taking advantage of the rain for a shower.  I’ve been aware that rain is important to humans; it is after all what makes Oregon green. It fills our streams and lakes and cleans out the pollutants in the air.  But I had never considered that rain is something that birds might take advantage of and even enjoy. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Everyone Enjoys Sunshine

This Downy Woodpecker appears to enjoy soaking up some sunshine.  We have had more than our fair share of cold fog hanging on in the Willamette Valley this winter, brought on by an extended temperature inversion.  So, when the sunshine comes out as it has the last couple of days it’s time to get out and get to birding.  We made a trip yesterday from West Salem to Dallas to see grandson Jake on his ninth birthday, and then continue south to Elkton for some more work on moving more of our stuff. On the way to Elkton we stopped in Corvallis to bird at Jackson-Frazier Wetland, and in Cottage Grove to bird at Row River Nature Park.  Considering that we counted birds in Salemtowne before we left home that means we counted birds in three separate counties yesterday. I think that’s some kind of a personal record.  This morning we had an abundance of glorious sunshine in Elkton, so we took an hour off from packing and got in a good bird walk, counting twenty six different species of birds. This tiny male Downy Woodpecker was one of the highlights.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Starting the New Year Right

On this first day of 2014, I again joined in with a group of 1st Day Hikers, a nation-wide program in America’s State Parks. Last year in Arizona, I co-led the hike at Lake Havasu State Park. This year I went on the hike at Luckiamute Landing State Natural Area, a relatively new and almost totally unknown Oregon State Park, located along the Willamette River between the towns of Independence and Albany.  It was one of twenty five Oregon State Parks participating in the national event. I choose it because of its close proximity and the natural setting which we have enjoyed in the past for hiking and birding.  I had no idea how many people would show up on the cold foggy morning, perhaps, I would be the only one.  I missed that a mile, fifty two hikers showed up! Fifty two people are a bit much for my style, but it was great to see so many people interested in hiking.  It was also a good opportunity to net-work and reconnect with hiking.

Update 1/9/14: Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation announced that 943 people participated at 30 parks on this January 1st event.