Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Shelter From The Rain

This male Brewer's Blackbird seems to be doing the smart thing on this rainy afternoon ---seeking shelter from the rain.  Despite the rain, in about an hour of observing we had eleven different species in our back yard.  Most seemed oblivious to the rain, but this bird appeared to be the wisest,  taking advantage of the roof on the seed feeder to stay out of the rain.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Identification by Sound

Bewick's Wren
Jeanette and I are relatively new to serious birding, just a few years now. For many years we were dependent on a visual sightings to make a positive identification, but in the last couple of years the list of birds that we can identify by their own unique song or call has been growing,  and now a good number of birds we can identify just by their sound. It really adds to the enjoyment of the experience to be to be able to instantly recognize an old friend hidden away in the bushes, or completely out of sight high in a tree. Plus it really saves a lot of time when we make up a list on a bird walk not to have to find and see every pesky bird that we hear. This Bewick's Wren in a good case in point.  We are only this year starting to recognize it by its song.  We heard this bird today while birding at Luckiamute Landing State Natural Area.  It was buried deep in the blackberry bushes, but as it continued to sing I became fairly sure it was a Bewick's Wren.  Thanks to an App on our iPhones we confirmed it was the right sound for a Bewick's Wren, and as we played the song the wren came out to have a look. Since we are able to have a clue on this bird just by it's sound it is amazing that this bird we rarely could count before, we now find on almost every trip. As I right this I am surprised to discover when I look back at today's list that of the 23 species we identified today, 19 we can identify by sound alone.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Violet-green Swallows have Arrived!

Today we had our FOY (first of the year) Violet-green Swallows show up.  We have had Tree Swallows for a few weeks, and I have been eagerly anticipating the first of the Violet-greens. This afternoon I saw the first one in our neighbors tree, which is the one in the above photo, and later I took the lower photo of him inspecting  one of our nesting boxes. This morning we had four Tree Swallows checking out the other nesting box.  Up to this point a pair of Black-capped Chickadees seemed to be the only ones showing interest in either of the boxes, and this afternoon I noticed one very upset chickadee, visibly shaking with his crown sticking straight up. It will be interesting to see how this all shapes up with four interested couples and only two nesting boxes available. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Osprey Courtship Behavior

Yesterday I reported seeing our first Osprey of the season at Wallace Marine Park.  Today, while I was volunteering at the Audubon Nature Reserve, Jeanette called to report seeing a pair of Osprey cleaning the grass out of a nest site on Murlark Ave. NW.  Later I went by to check and took the following series of photos of their courtship behavior.  They can't have been in the Salem area for long, but they seem pretty serious about their intentions, or at least HE is!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Wallace Marine Park

Red-breasted Sapsucker
Wallace Marine Park is one of the big positives on the list of reasons we love living in West Salem.  It's a mere two miles down Wallace Road from our home in Salemtowne.  Although it is well know for it's baseball field complex, the 115 acre park contains a good network of trails that are perfect for birding.  Its location along the Willamette River also provides the opportunity to see waterfowl. Today's bird walk was a good example of the diversity to be found.  In an hour and twenty minute walk we identified twenty four different species.  The best photo of the day was the Red-breasted Sapsucker as shown above.  The most interesting bird to watch was a Brown Creeper working its way up a Maple tree.  But the real highlight of the walk were three Osprey.  Exciting for us as it was our FOY (first of the year) sighting of an Osprey for us in Oregon. The three Osprey were making a good amount of noise circling over the the softball complex where the remains of their previous years nest is located. They were probably working out the details of this years mating and nesting arrangements.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Returning Tree Swallows

Beaver Creek Nature Center - March 18th 

It's that time of year when the swallows are returning from their winter sojourn in the south.  Their numbers are just beginning to trickle in, but will grow in the coming weeks. Tree Swallows as this pair shown in this photo, are typically the first of the swallows to arrive, and with their presence it signals the important time to make sure your nesting boxes are in place and ready. I've already had Black-caped Chickadees checking out one of my boxes. Violet-green Swallows will also be coming soon and it will be an interesting show to watch and see which birds win the competition for the nesting boxes. It's important for your nesting box to have a entrance hole smaller than an inch and a half to be able to exclude the pesky House Sparrows from using it. It's beneficial to help the swallows with nesting sites because we have destroyed much of their natural habitat of standing snags to nest in.  It's a win-win situation for us because as we provide nesting opportunity for them they will in turn help keep the mosquito population down.

Friday, March 20, 2015

A Walk On Rickreall Creek Trail

A fellow blogger posted recently about the importance of getting outside for her.  She likes to get outside "a lot" was how she described it.  It's been a life long habit for me as well.  It is with out a doubt the healthiest thing I do for myself.  To get outside and exercise, to breath in fresh air, to take in nature's beauty.  Those are life saving events for me.  With my age now close to three quarters of a century, the toll of aches and pains of the body, confusion and forgetfulness of the brain, all get to be quite depressing. Fortunately when I get out to walk and bird, my mind clears and I feel young and energized once again. Yesterday I escaped for an hour to walk and bird and photograph on the Rickreall Creek Trail in Dallas.  Here are a few things the made my day.

A Band-tailed Pigeon, once numerous, now a real treat to find.

Flowering Currant, one that I helped volunteers plant a month ago.

Giant Trilliums, a rare native starting to bloom in good numbers. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Bad Hair Day?

And who is to say a bird can't have a bad-hair-day too? This male Red-breasted Merganser on Yaquina Bay in Newport turned out to be the best photo of the day yesterday. Actually for us, yesterday was the opposite of a bad hair day.  We had bright sunshine and warm temperatures as we traveled up the Oregon Coast on Highway 101 from Winchester Bay to Lincoln City with some of the best views of the ocean that Jeanette and I can ever recall. We stopped along the way to walk and bird at Heceta Head State Scenic Viewpoint, Beaver Creek State Natural Area, Ona Beach at Brian Booth State Park, and Yaquina Bay in Newport. It was one of those perfect days of traveling in the motor home that we love so much, all the conveniences of home with us, everything we need where ever we stopped.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Travel Itch

Siltcoos River Estuary 
We have been home now for only about a month and already have the itch to get out in the RV for a little more exploring. We found a little three day window in our calendar with some good weather and took off yesterday morning for three days on the Oregon Coast. Truth is we also wanted to check out our campsite for the summer. From the middle of May through September we will be volunteering with the Western Snowy Plover Conservation Program, staying at the Waxmyrtle Campground in the Siltcoos River Recreation Area. We wanted to have an idea about the cell and TV reception at our campsite, hence the need for the trip. Although Waxmyrtle Campground is closed for the winter the volunteer still stays there and we got  to meet the current volunteer, get an update from her and also get a few minutes with our supervisor.  The rest of the afternoon we filled in with hiking and birding some of the trails in the area. We spent the night dry-camped in the adjacent Lagoon Campground.

This morning we journeyed on stopping to bird at Carter Lake, and hike the Carter Dunes and Taylor Dunes Trails. I guess because of the recent rains, the water level in the lake was the highest I can remember in the past ten years.

 Carter Lake

This afternoon we are set up at the Winchester Bay RV Resort with all the amenities, electricity, water, sewer, free WiFi, and cable TV.  Quite luxurious. We especially enjoy winter camping here. Winter rates are lower, the campground is almost empty, in fact hosts seem to out number campers. Tomorrow we will journey north up the coast, no doubt stopping to bird and hike at some great but yet to be determined  location.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Gift of the Day

This morning while on a bird walk in the Dallas City Park this proud male Common Merganser lead his beautiful lady past me along the edge of Rickreall Creek. I have often wrote about the "gift of the day" in past blogs, and it seems to happen on a regular basis. The use of the word "gift" carries with it elements of surprise and pleasure. It is for me a sighting of a bird or plant, perhaps of the unexpected, a highlight of the day, and always puts a smile of my face. This mornings "gift" is a good example.  I had made a large loop through the Dallas City Park, noting as many birds that I could hear or see. I had spent about an hour with out anything significant or photographable. Then, as I came to the bridge to return to the car, this elegant pair appeared.  The most exciting thing was watching the female swim under water in search of fish or bugs. The water in Rickreall Creek was so clear I was able to watch her swim under water for a number of yards. I was surprised by both the distance and time that she was able to stay submerged. (click on the image for a larger view)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

First Fawn Lily

This morning while volunteering at the Salem Audubon Nature Reserve in West Salem I spotted my first Fawn Lily of the season.  I always delight in finding them, I think my mother left me with the impression that they were special. There is something about the delicate petals of the flower appearing magically out of the dead ground of winter that indeed grab a persons attention.  The unique shiny mottled leaves also add to a fresh appearance. If you are out hiking during the next few weeks, keep an eye out for them.

Monday, March 9, 2015

A Trio of Violets

Violets are little bright spots to be found on the dark forest floor early in the Spring.  They are one of the flowers I have enjoyed for many years along the trail deep in the woods on early spring hikes. Featured below are a trio of violets that I have enjoyed in the last week or so.

English Violet
This was the first violet that caught my attention this Spring.  I noticed it at the Salem Audubon Nature Reserve on the 25th of February. After spending some time with quide books to identify it I learned that it is classified as an alien, or non-native plant.  Most of the leaves in the photo close to the flower actually belong to Shinyleaf Geranium, with the single violet leaf showing on the far right. Notice the two upper and middle petals are twisted, while the lower center petal is flat. 

 McCloskey's Violet
McCloskey's is some times called Tiny White Violet. It is a native, however not so common. This is the first year I recall ever noticing it.  I found it at the Salem Audubon Nature Reserve on March 3rd. Notice the two upper petals are reflexed backward, while the middle two are turned downward.

Wood Violet
The Wood Violet, also called Stream Violet is our most common native violet. I photographed this one on March 3rd along the trail at Darrow Bar Access - Willamette River Greenway. I still remember the first time I photographed this species over 40 years ago while on a family backpacking trip on French Pete Creek Trail.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Birds Far and Near

We spent some delightful time today birding at Fairview Wetlands.  It's a long time favorite for us and we revisit it often.  It was especially nice today with the warming temperature and bright sunshine. As I looked through the photos when I got back home, I was struck by the differing distances in the birds we spotted.  The migrating geese against snow covered Mt Hood are many miles away and only noticeable with binoculars. A Coopers Hawk, although a form could be seen with the naked eye, took a close look with the zoomed camera shot to make an identification.  The Killdeer just across the pond could easily be identified with out the aid of camera or binoculars.

Migrating Canada Geese form a chain against the background of Mt Hood.

A Cooper's Hawk waits for Red-winged Blackbirds among the cattails.

A close look at a Killdeer provides a variety of colors.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Luckiamute Landing State Natural Area

Here is a "selfie" of Jeanette and I sitting on a sandbank on the Willamette River in the Luckiamute Landing State Natural Area.  We hiked there yesterday during a bird walk in search of waterfowl.  This month's challenge from eBird is to submit 20 observation lists with at least one or more water fowl.  There were no waterfoul to be seen, but we had plenty of sunshine and a great four mile hike.

We didn't have many birds, only fifteen. We did get to watch two Red-tailed Hawks in some amazing flight displays, and a Bald Eagle passed high overhead. Our most impressive sighting was a Rough-legged Hawk, important because it will probably head north by the end of the month. And our waterfowl requirement was finally covered by a flight of 80 Canada Geese.

The best photo of the day was of this Red-breasted Sapsucker.  It was also the busiest bird of the day. Noticed the holes that it has made to acquire sap from this cottonwood tree.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Beware of Imitations!

Jeanette is shown here here yesterday watching a Steller's Jay, the culprit in tricking us into thinking we had heard our first Osprey of the season. We were quite excited to possibly have an Osprey as they do not normally arrive until around the first of April. It took us five or ten minutes to discover that the source of the "Osprey" call was coming from a Steller's Jay. Steller's Jays are well known for their imitation of Red-tailed Hawks, and we hear them quite often.  In fact I have become so used to their tricks I almost didn't see a Red-tailed Hawk this winter while in California in a nearby tree. I was ready to dismiss the call as a Steller's Jay. Yesterday while birding at Willamette Mission State Park, we counted 17 Steller's Jays, and there were probably more, I think I just got tied of trying to keep track.  They were up to their old tricks and we heard several poor imitations of Red-tailed Hawks and many many more of their own normal harsh calls.  You can see our list of birds from yesterdays trip by clicking here. Another high-light of our day was watching a pair of cavorting American Kestrels, --- they were the real thing.