Monday, March 31, 2014

Return to Winter Weather

Today we found this Winter Wren singing away while birding at Spring Valley Access.  Winter Wrens are now called Pacific Wrens, but I still like the old name because I always associate their song with hiking the dark wet trails of winter, and today definitely felt like winter.  After yesterday’s bright sunshiny morning, I was jazzed up for a repeat, so I was doubly disappointed with today’s cold gray weather. However, we stuck to our plan, and did get out and added one last eBird Hot Spot to my list by birding at Maude Williams State Park, bringing the total to 23 Hot Spots for the month of March. I’m ready for a new month tomorrow and better weather.   

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Listening to the Songs of Spring

This female Northern Flicker appears to be tilting her head to listen to the rat-a tat-tat of a nearby male pounding out his attraction call on a metal surface. Most people are used to hearing male flickers in the spring using this strange method to attract females, banging away on any kind of metal surface, but for me this was the first time to witness a female listening intently. I observed this pair this morning while birding at Brush College Park in West Salem.  This is actually the closest city park to my home in Salemtowne, but in my scattered approach for the perfect birding site it has been kind of over looked.  It jumped way up in the rating scale this morning.  Not only is it very close to home, but it was filled with birds, and on this sunny Sunday morning they we busy singing their songs of spring.  

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Trillium Time

While volunteering every Wednesday at the Salem AudubonNature Reserve I have been so focused on birds that I have neglected paying enough attention to wildflowers.  That changed over coffee at McDonalds after our work session yesterday when the conversation turned to a newly sighted Chocolate Lily, and various locations of Giant Trilliums. Later in the afternoon while at home I couldn’t get the flowers out of my mind so I made a second trip to the Reserve just to photograph wildflowers. Most people are familiar with the more common Western Trillium, but the GiantTrillium as shown here is a little more unusual.  Not only is it larger as the name implies, but its leaves have a mottled look, and even more unusual, it come in a variety of flower colors from white to different deep reds.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

An Unusual Duck

Today I finished up my list of 20 different Hot Spots to meet the eBird challenge for the month of March.  My last spot was a reservoir next to a dairy in rural Polk County called Wendell Kreder Reservoir.  I could see from the road that it was full of ducks.  When I walked a little closer and checked with my binoculars I noticed this duck in the above photo. I started right away counting the other ducks; 40 Ring-necked Ducks, 20 Green-winged Teals, 10 Mallards, 1 Rudy Duck, 1 Bufflehead, and one Coot.  I went back to the single duck I first noticed.  It was a little larger than a Mallard.  Looking closely with my binoculars, I could not decide, so I pulled out my camera and zoomed in for several shots.  Zooming in with the review function I realized I didn't have a clue, the butt was like no other duck I could think of.   I was just about ready to pull out my iPod and start looking through bird Apps when the light went on.  This is not a real duck, this is a decoy left my some duck hunter, or at least a person with a strange sense of humor. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Return of the Rufous

We have been watching closely for the return of the Rufous Hummingbirds from their wintering grounds in the tropics. All winter long we have daily had a female Anna’s Hummingbird at out juice feeder. Occasionally we would see a male, and since moving the feeder closer to the window we are able to see the male many times a day.  Yesterday, the long anticipated conflict between the Anna’s and the recently returned Rufous Hummingbirds ramped up into full blown warfare. The male Rufous has staked out a watch point in the neighbors alder tree, and from there can make a dive bomb to our feeder to attack any other users. You can see from the two photos he definitely has an “attitude”, and though smaller than the Anna’s is indeed a fierce competitor. It’s going to be an interesting battle for the territory.  In Elkton it was always won by the Rufous, and the Anna's went elsewhere, here in Salemtowne I hope we can all get along. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Birding at Luckiamute Landing

For the next Hot Spot to bird I selected the Luckiamute LandingState Natural Area.  It’s a favorite of ours but I haven’t been here this month yet.  It’s a large park that always promises a good number of birds, and we were not disappointed, we were able to identify 26 different species, everything from tiny Juncos to large Bald Eagles. We took the long trail down to the Willamette Water Trail access site, which is just across the river from where the Santiam River joins the Willamette. One of the first birds we spotted warming up in the morning sun was a Turkey Vulture. We also saw a good number of Downey Woodpeckers like the male in the bottom photo.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Exploring Hot Spots

At the first of the month eBird issued a challenge to submit observation lists for twenty different Hot Spots during the month of March.  They wanted to encourage birders to explore new Hot Spots, and those that did would have their name entered into a drawing for a new pair of binoculars.  That sounded pretty easy to me so I started keeping track to make sure I visited twenty Hot Spots. Daily I realize it is taking more of an effort than I imagined. It’s pretty easy to go to a tried and true location that you know is good for birding again and again.  Or even turn in a list for your own back yard, but to turn in a list for a different location twenty times in one month gets to be more of a chore.  I say this as a way of introduction and explanation as to why I found myself at the tiny Pioneer City Park in Independence this morning.  It was one more Hot Spot for me to knock off close by.  Surprisingly I was awarded an opportunity to photograph this Brown Creeper.  I have complained before that this is a hard bird to get a good picture of, and I took twenty this morning to be able to have this one good one. This park was was Hot Spot number 15 for the month,--- 5 more to go!  

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Closer is Better

This winter we have had our hummingbird feeder hanging under our covered patio, which worked well to keep it dry, but the light was wrong to get a good look at the hummers.  With the anticipated arrival of the Rufous Hummingbirds, I wanted to be able to see them better to differentiate between the two, so I moved the feeder out from the patio area to where the light was better.  It was easier to see them, but it took binoculars to be able to discern the differences.  Humming birds are so fast that by the time you get the binoculars on them they can be gone. A couple of days ago I moved the feeder up close to the living room window, which makes it close enough to see them without binoculars.  In fact when I stand next to the window I am literally only a couple of feet away. Now we are noticing details with the naked eye that we never noticed before, like the white eye-ring on this male Anna’s Hummingbird.  

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

First Osprey!

I spotted, and was lucky enough to photograph, my first Osprey of the season this morning while birding at the Dallas City Park.  In fact, it’s the first Osprey to be reported to e-Bird for Polk or Marion Counties for the year. If you look closely you can see that she has a fish in her talon which she is busy tearing apart. Osprey winter as far south as South America and normally arrive back in the Willamette Valley mid-March for the summer, so this one is right on schedule.  However finding her in the Dallas City Park was not what I would have predicted.  Although Rickreall Creek flows through the park, the creek is tightly packed with trees, and at the present is running high and murky, making spotting a fish very unlikely.  My best guess is that the Osprey must have caught the fish out of some nearby pond and flown to the trees along the creek to enjoy her catch. Later in the season she will be packing her catch off to a nest to feed her young ones.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Survey with Jake

I stopped by the Salem Audubon Nature Reserve with my grandson Jake this morning to survey the ten nesting cavity logs that volunteers have installed. Jake has the week off from school because of teacher/parent conferences, and his mom is busy with the tax season, so Jeanette and I are filling in.  I try to check on the hoped-for-nesting sites at least once a week or more. Jake was quick to find all ten logs but we didn’t notice any activity at any of the sites.  We heard a couple of Crows at a distance and also a couple of Flickers, and then while standing at the last site we heard a bird song coming from a near-by tree.  Jake was quick to spot the source of the sound, and with the binoculars I recognized it as a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. We both got to see the red crown of the male, plus another bird we assume was the female. A couple of Bushtits suddenly appeard on the scence to add to the activity.  Jake is very handy with an iPod, so he was able to find the Ruby-crowned Kinglet in my iPod and play its song. It doesn't get much better than that for a grandpa. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Shellburg Falls Hike

Kevin at Lower Shellburg Falls

During a night-time e-male and texting exchange on Friday night I invited Kevin Wright to hike with us to Shellburg Falls on Saturday. Kevin is a long time follower of Cascade Ramblings and has contributed photos several times.  We have so much in common with Kevin; hiking, photography, birds, and RV camping, that we never run out of things to talk about.  Yesterday all the stars were in alignment for a hike to Shellburg Falls, one of our all-time favorites.  The weather was perfect, lots of water was coming over the falls, the Pacific Wrens were singing, the first spring flowers were showing, and the exercise was great.
Jim and Jeanette -  Shellburg Falls

Friday, March 14, 2014

Lamb's Tongue

I stopped by the Salem Audubon Nature Reserve this morning to check on the bird population, but got distracted with the new wildflowers coming into blossom, particularly this one. It is most commonly known as FawnLilly, but I remember my mother and her mother always affectionately referring to them as Lamb's Tongue. I’m thinking of my mother tonight as I write this.  Her 97th birthday is on Sunday.  When I visited her this afternoon I told her I had just seen and photographed some Lamb's Tongue, a sure sign of spring.  Unfortunately in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease she was unable to respond. I have the impression that she once told me they were called Lamb's Tongue because they bloom in the spring when the new lambs are born.  

Thursday, March 13, 2014

First Trilliums of Spring

We went to Darrow Bar, an eBird Hot Spot, yesterday afternoon to look for birds, but our attention quickly turned to wildflowers after sighting our first Trilliums of the year. Afternoon is usually a poor time to look for birds and they were a little scarce so it was easy to turn our attention to wildflowers. The Trilliums were poking up through large expanses of Bleeding Heart foliage which will be calling us back to this location later to see their blossoms. Toothwort, shown in the lower photo, was also in bloom, reminding us of another early wildflower we have enjoyed so much in past springs. Darrow Bar is only a few miles from our doorstep so I am sure we will be returning to enjoy these woodsy trails again.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Moss Collecting

On Wednesday mornings I volunteer at the Salem AudubonNature Reserve in West Salem.  I always show up early to be able to walk the trails to get a count on the birds before everybody arrives to work.  Today I spotted this tiny Pacific Wren plucking moss presumably for nest construction.  Unfortunately the Pacific Wren is not a candidate for the artificial cavities we have been constructing, but prefers to build a nest low to the ground in thick brush. As a side note, we finished erecting our logs with our nesting cavities today, bringing the total to ten units available. Now all we need are some serious renters.  

Monday, March 10, 2014

First Rhody of the Season

We teamed up with daughter Lisa for a great five mile plus walk yesterday, something we hope to repeat weekly as she gets in some miles in preparation for a hike along the Rouge River in May.  We parked at Wallace Marine Park in West Salem, walked across the Historic Railroad Bridge, through the Salem Waterfront Park, up Pringle Creek, through Willamette University and looped the State Capital.  I was hoping to get a photo of the blossoming cherry trees with the capital but they were not in bloom yet.  We did spot this giant blooming Rhododendron, our first of the season. It was also a celebration day for Lisa, her fifth year anniversary of her last radiation treatment.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Talking Water Gardens

We went to Albany on Friday to explore the Talking Water Gardens.  For more information and photos check out the Trip Journal.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk

I first spotted this juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk high on top of a tree a block away. The tree was a common perching spot for the Merlin when he was around earlier this year. We haven’t seen the Merlin for several weeks now so I’m guessing that he has headed back north for the year. As I was watching this Sharp-shinned through my spotting scope, trying to figure out what it was for sure, and trying to get a photo, it took off and swooped down to perch on a small tree in the neighbor’s yard across the way. Before I could snap off a photo it flew into our yard and into a big rhododendron bush in an effort to get one of our small birds. He was unsuccessful and next flew up into our next door neighbor’s tree where this photo was taken. He looks a little scruffy after his foray through the rhody, but he is after all just a juvenile, and in time I’m sure his attacks will be more successful.    

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Scarlet Elf Cup

This small bright red mushroom, a Scarlet Elf Cup, caught our attention during a birding trip this afternoon. It stood out among the dead leaves of winter along a trail next to the brown muddy Willamette River whose riparian area still lacks the green of the season to come. We had come looking for birds, yet one of the things that impressed us the most was this small fungi poking up through the drab collection of winter. We were taking advantage of the nice weather to go birding at this nearby park with the strange name of Spring Valley Access. The park belongs to the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department and serves as an access point on the Willamette River Water Trail. I did a post in November on “Trail at Spring Valley”, and have been meaning to return to hike and bird. Today was the day.  One of the things that we discovered is there is not just one trail there, but three trails.  I believe the trails have been developed by The Salem Area Trail Alliance, and for the most part are unsigned but easy to hike and a great way to take in the natural setting. 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Signs of Spring

I caught this Bewick’s Wren in mid song yesterday afternoon while birding at Luckiamute Landing State Natural Area.  The sun was out, the temperature made it past sixty, we had our coats off. Northern Flickers could be heard calling from every corner.  Robins were in every bush, on every tree. Overhead, several pairs of Red-tailed Hawks were engaged in aerial displays, three bright colored Bald-eagles circled, the first of the season Turkey Vultures silently swooped by. All welcomed signs of spring and the promise of good days to come.  Alas it was short, as I sit at my computer this morning, cold and rain are the dominate features in the forecast for the next seven days.  Maybe spring is not entirely here yet.