Thursday, May 29, 2014

Success at Last!

I now have photographic evidence that our efforts to provide nesting sites at Salem Audubon Nature Reserve are a success.  In January I began helping construct artificial cavities in large salvaged oak limbs for nesting sites at the Reserve.  A crew of volunteers worked at the Reserve every Wednesday, and by end of February we had ten limbs finished and planted in the ground. Then the waiting game began.  April and May passed, with only an occasional “looker” spotted at sites #1 and #6, but no one seemed to be setting up house.  Watching a bird house in my own back yard, I have come to realize that chickadees are rather cautious and quick in and out of the box, as I had baby birds before I was even aware a nest had been built. This clued me in to what might be happening at the Reserve, in spite of checking at the nest sites several times a week I just might not have been lucky enough to be there at the right second. Then, yesterday I had a fleeting glance of a bird leaving a nest site, but not a good enough look to even know what kind of a bird, so this morning I went back determined to be able to get a better look and hopefully a photo.  It took almost an hour and a half, but I finally did come up with this photo of a Black-capped Chickadee bringing bugs to the nest site.  For those you might want to check at the Reserve, the nest site with the activity is #4.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Spotted Towhee

I went birding this morning to a couple of my favorite sites east of Salem, Lyons City Park and Stayton Riverfront Park. Most of the birds seem to be out of sight in the thick summer foliage, but this Spotted Towhee seemed insistent that I take his photo on the pedestrian bridge in Stayton, so I finally obliged. Some of the ones that seemed to like to hide the most were Common Yellowthroats and Black-headed Grosbeaks, and some that I could not identify by sound at all. Almost makes one wish for the bare trees of winter. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Aumsville Ponds County Park

I took the old adage, let sleeping dogs lie, to heart yesterday morning and slipped out the door early leaving Buster still asleep in bed.  I wanted to check out the Aumsville Ponds for birding, and dogs are not allowed.  Plus with Jeanette gone for five days to hike the Rogue River Trail, he has little motivation to get out of bed. If memory serves me right the ponds were formerly used to raise fish by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife years ago. They are now maintained by Marion County as a day-use park. At the east end of Aumsville I took Bishop Road south to Bates Road and parked in the parking lot at the largest pond, Young Lake.  It has a restroom, a picnic table, and a one mile trail, more like a path, circles the lake. The habitat looks good for birds, with lots of smaller ponds, and lots of vegetation, but I left being un-impressed with the birds I saw, even though I counted fifteen different species in the thirty minutes I was there.  I would have expected to see a Kingfisher or two and some Great Blue Herons, and more ducks than just a few Mallards.  I’ll probably try it again another time and I’ll try exploring some of the smaller ponds, which access seems unsure. If you go, keep in mind the park is only open 8 AM to sunset, May 1st to Oct. 31, and no dogs are allowed.
male Rufous Hummingbird 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Once in a Lifetime Experience

You almost need to have watched the PBS production of “An Original DUCKumentary”, narrated by Paul Giamatti, to understand what I saw yesterday. I certainly wouldn't have been aware of what I was witnessing if I had not previously watched the DVD. The import fact you need to understand is that baby ducks, in the DUCKumentary case, Wood Ducks, have to jump out of their nest high in a tree and make their way to the water the first day after hatching.  This is what I got to see by pure coincidence yesterday while birding at Luckiamute Meadows in Kings Valley.  As I was approaching the Luckiamute River, I saw a bird drop to the ground.  I moved in closer to see if I could spot it, and could hear quite a bit of peeping going on.  Then another bird tumbled to the ground.  I looked up and spotted a nesting box and realized these were ducklings jumping from the nest box some fifteen feet up in an oak tree.  I could tell from the sound and all the commotion that they were making a mad dash through the tall grass to the river, so pulled out my camera and started photographing. 

Ducklings making a bee-line to the river.

The mother suddenly appeared out of nowhere to collect the ducklings. 

As the mother leads the ducklings away, I realize for the first time they are Hooded Mergansers. Eventually I counted seven ducklings.

The empty nesting box
I am still amazed that the little ducklings on their first day had to free fall from their nesting box fifteen feet to the ground, and then make their way through the tall grass another fifteen feet or more to the river, jump in and swim away.  All this without any practice. I doubt that I will ever be lucky enough again to be at a nesting box at the exact moment when this amazing event takes place. 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Babies in the Borja’s Birdhouse

Earlier this year I set up a bird house at my daughter Lisa Borja’s home in Dallas.  A pair of Black-capped Chickadees found it, and in fact Lisa and her boys named the birds Roger and Mindy and painted the bird’s initials on the bird house.  Roger and Mindy built a nest and laid some eggs and now are busy bringing food to the babies. I stopped by yesterday and was lucky enough to catch Roger or Mindy, I’m not sure which, arriving at the bird house with food.    

Friday, May 23, 2014

Seven Feathers RV Resort

This is our campsite at Seven Feathers RV Resort in Canyonville Oregon where we stayed three days while attending the View-Navion Group National Rally. If you look closely you will see a small skinny dog standing in the shade in the bottom left hand corner.  Camping with around a hundred other people in sixty of the same kind of RV’s was pretty interesting.  We made some new friends and picked up a lot of pointers regarding Winnebago View motor homes.  It was especially fun for us, as we have stayed at this RV park coming and going to California and Arizona since it first opened a few years ago.  It was amazing to see how the small trees they planted such a short time ago are now grown and providing shade for camping sites and habit for birds. Black-headed Grosbeaks seem to love the trees particularly and sang their hearts out every morning. Besides attending the daily seminars and events we also made time to go birding.  Below are photos of some of the birds we saw. 

   California Quail

Red-winged Blackbird

Green Heron

White-crowned Sparrow

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Bullock's Oriole

Yesterday was such a busy one at the Seven Feathers RV Resort where we are attending a National Rally of the View-Navion RV Group, or Skinny Winnies as they are also called, that I didn’t get around to posting a blog until after 9 PM, and by then so many people were on the WiFi it was totally bogged down.  What I wanted to report was that we spent a pleasant day in Elkton on Monday, helping our renters and catching up with friends.  We also got in a bird walk from the city park out to the Elkton Community Education Center.  This male Oriole at the ECEC was one that we enjoyed the most.  We spent a lot of time last Spring watching them build their very interesting nest in this same tree. Click here to see some more photos of Bullock’s Orioles. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Juvenile Mourning Dove

This juvenile Mourning Dove showed up this morning in our back yard, appearing to be seeking the warmth of the morning sun after last night’s rain which was probably his first experience of rain in his new short life.  Shortly after I took this photo, three other of his juvenile siblings showed up and all four began an inexperienced search for bugs under the rose bushes. To add to the circus, two juvenile European Starlings appeared, and seemed confused as to whether they were doves or something else. Eventually an adult Starling showed up with a worm to feed them. We originally saw a juvenile Mourning Dove for the first time last evening as we were sitting on our patio. He was looking a little scruffy and unsure of himself as he tried to follow an adult. Below is a photo of the adult from last evening for comparison of juvenile vs adult plumage.     

Friday, May 16, 2014

Virginia Rail Chick

Last summer while volunteering at Beaver Creek State Natural Area we became very familiar with Virginia Rails.  We enjoyed walking a trail in the marsh in the evening and listening to their oik-oik-oik sounds. They were easy to hear and identify, but extremely hard to see.  We could be within a few feet of them and even see the grass move but still not see them.  For me, they have been almost impossible to photograph. Yesterday morning while birding at Fairview Wetlands in South Salem I again heard their strange sounds, but could only get a fleeting glance. Then on the far side of a pond I got the chance to see this very young juvenile feeding along the water’s edge.  My conclusion is that being young it hasn’t learned yet about the danger of spending time out in the open.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Oregon Geranium

For some reason the last two posts have not drawn any comments. They were about birds, so I thought I would try a different subject, wildflowers.  Actually, what really happened was yesterday while volunteering at Salem Audubon Reserve, doing birding things, my attention was diverted once again by wildflowers. I recognized this flower as different than any I had already seen at the Reserve, so I went back to the parking lot and got my camera and took some photos. It looked like some kind of geranium to me, and over coffee at Mc Donald’s, Ed Myers confirmed that it was an Oregon Geranium. Once home I dug through my flower books, I’m afraid to count how many guides I have, but possibly over two dozen. The amazing thing to me was that only one guide listed Oregon Geranium.  It’s a beautiful plant, and reported to be common in the Northwest. It’s going to be interesting to see how many times I will now find this “new-to-me” plant.     

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Empty Bird Box?

Earlier this month Jeanette saw Black-capped Chickadees entering this bird house with nesting material.  We haven’t seen any activity recently, so yesterday I decided to check the box to see how much of a nest they had started. When I opened the box I was startled by a fleeing bird and I discovered a completed nest of grass and moss, and nestled in the bottom were 5 little eggs! My next question was - where are we in the process.  I was able to go back in my records and find the date of Jeanette’s observation as May 2.  I knew from past research that nest construction takes 3 or 4 days, and incubation takes from 10 to 13 days, but how many days for egg laying?  It’s been an answer I haven’t been able to find in any of my books, but today I found in on the internet, of course.  Cornell’s site, All About Birds says; “Virtually all songbirds lay one egg per day, usually in the early morning, until the clutch is complete.” Constructing a time line, the nest would have been finished by the 6th at the latest, egg laying completed around the 10th, so we are now in the incubation period.  We will be watching closely for the more obvious signs of the adults bringing insects to the peeping sounds in the box. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A Difficult Identification

Here is a photo of another bird I took yesterday while we were birding at Minto-Brown Park.  It’s one thing to spot a bird with your naked eye, and then quite another thing to find it with your binoculars to get a closer look, and then a whole other challenge to re-find it with your camera.   And in this case the bird was a busy one, constantly moving tree to tree gleaning insects off of the leaves. However, we have discovered that though difficult to get sometimes, a photo is the best tool in making an identification as it gives us the opportunity for a close examination and the luxury of making comparisons with images in bird guides. What we use for guides now in the field are bird apps on our iPones, saving us from lugging around paper books. My first guess was a Yellow-breasted Chat, maybe in part because that was what I wanted to see.  But Jeanette pointed out it didn’t have the white eye-brow.  She thought the yellow abdomen was a clue that it was a Western Kingbird.  I didn’t think that was quite right, back and forth we went, neither identification seemed just right.  Some-where along in the process it finally came to me that it was a female Western Tanager. What fun, we love the challenge.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Juvenile Great Horned Owl

This morning we went birding at Minto-Brown Park in Salem.  It started out rather frustrating as although we could hear lots of song birds, it was almost impossible to find the little guys in the thick leaf coverage of the cottonwood trees.  Then, I saw something big enough to recognize, this Great Horned Owl. Great Horned Owls are almost two feet in length from head to tail, so a lot easier to see than a four inch warbler. If you look closely you will notice all the white “fuzz” especially on the head, indicating that this is a juvenile. When I got home I was reading up on owls in a bird guide that said; “With its poorly developed sense of smell , this owl happily hunts skunks,”.  Well, what do you know, we did smell skunk along the trail!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

New Challenges & Opportunities

Life has gotten a little more complicated this month.  I took on eBird’s challenge to turn in 100 observation lists during the month of May, which puts my name into a lottery for a new pair of binoculars.  What that means is that I have to average three observation lists a day, every day, for the month. Turns out to be not a small task. 

Jeanette, on the other hand, accepted an opportunity to hike a 40 mile section of the Rogue River Trail with a group of ladies, which includes my sisters Susan, and Rachel and my daughter Lisa. What this means for Jeanette is that she needs to be putting some miles on feet and legs every day in training.

We managed to both work on our goals together Monday with a trip to Luckiamute Landing State Natural Area, where I birded and Jeanette hiked.  We were something like the old tail of the Turtle & the Hare.  I was the turtle as I crawled along the trail listening and looking, noting and photographing every bird I could find, while Jeanette tripped off down the trail ahead of me rabbit style making several laps around the park burning up the miles.   Should be an interesting month as we both encourage each other to accomplish our goals.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Nesting season is not just about birds, but other things too.  On Friday morning while checking on the bird life at Salem Audubon Nature Reserve I notice a pair of Eastern Gray Squirrels busily gathering moss, presumably for a nest.  The Eastern Gray Squirrel is an introduced species in Oregon, and interestingly enough is only found in urban areas. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

A Turkey Vulture

With all the current attention going to nesting birds and newly arriving neo-tropic warblers and flycatchers I was a little startled to find this roosting Turkey Vulture at the Salem Audubon Nature Reserve yesterday morning. It was not what I was looking for in the thick understory, I was hoping for something new and exotic. But there it was, probably waiting for the day to warm up before venturing out to soar on some thermals. I think most people would consider them to be ugly birds, but I find their appearance and colors quite striking. Their featherless head and neck serve them well as they feed on dead carcasses. They deserve if not our respect at least our appreciation for all the clean-up work they do all summer long.

In the way of an update on other birds at the Audubon Nature Reserve; all the fuss with multiple Ospreys seem to have settled down to one pair at the platform and I heard that someone saw them mating. The Robins nest with the three eggs that I reported on last week is now unfortunately down to just one egg and no parents in sight.  Again there was no activity at the Bushtit nest. Stephanie Hazen reports that she saw two Chestnut-backed Chickadees entering artificial cavity snag #3 on Tuesday.