Friday, May 29, 2015

Back to the Office

We had Wednesday and Thursday off from work so we made a quick trip home to check on the house and pick-up things we forgot to bring with us originally. This morning, Friday, we are back at the workplace, which for us are the beaches of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. Our assigned area today was the beach out from the Oregon Dunes Day Use Area, which means a hike of a mile out over the sand dunes, through the deflation plain, and over the fore dunes to reach the beach. In the above photo Jeanette is checking through a group of Sanderlings.  The lower photo is a close up of a few of the 150 we estimate we saw today.  Sanderlings, a member the Sandpiper Family, are not the birds we are concerned with which are the Western Snowy Plover of which we only saw four. Our job is to interface with beach users to inform them about the importance of staying on the wet sand and staying away from the dry sand on which the Plovers nest.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Snowy Plover Up Close

This weekend I got to see and photograph my first Western Snowy Plover up close.  I've been getting a glance of them while we cruise down the beach in the back seat of the ranger's truck, but this is the first chance I've had to see one while on foot, and it was totally unexpected. I was walking through an unrestricted area that is normally heavily used by people, but because it was 9:00 on a Sunday morning I was the only one there, when suddenly I saw movement a short distance in front of me and realized it was a Western Snowy Plover. These are tiny sparrow sized birds that blend in with the sand and debris on the beach, making them hard to spot until they move.  I stood as still as possible and snapped 20 or so photos. It was gratifying to get to see the bird that is the reason we are here.  We spend many hours each day talking to people on the beaches, trails and parking lots, about the importance of staying away from the nesting areas, but we rarely actually get to see the little guys we seek to protect.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Bonaparte's Gull

Bonaparte's Gull is named for zoologist Charles Lucien Bonaparte, a nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte. A widespread gull, it is one of the smallest. In Oregon it is a migrant, passing through in the Spring to breed far north in the Arctic, and back through in the fall to winter further South.  Jeanette's sharp eye's picked out this gull as different than the others collected on the beach in the area of the Carter Lake Trail yesterday. I was almost giddy as I clicked of some photos for later identification, knowing it was a gull I did not know. When I checked my bird Apps on my iPhone it was clear it was a non-breeding Bonaparte's Gull.  It's a "Lifer" for us, meaning the first time we have seen and identified this species.

Friday, May 22, 2015

First Day of Work

After a week of training, we got to have our first day of work in our volunteer position. This selfie was taken at the Waxmyrtle Trailhead this morning where we started the day with a hike out to the beach. At the beach we checked out some footprints entering the restricted area, because that's a part of our job to report any trespassers into the Snowy Plover nesting areas.  But a closer inspection revealed these to be deer tracks, so no reporting.

 We hiked north on the beach to the mouth of the Siltcoos River, then south to the Carter Lake Trailhead, where we took a lunch break.  From there our ranger picked us up and drove us down the beach to the mouth of Tahkenitch Creek where we helped install signs warning of Snowy Plover nesting and restricted information.

Our ranger took us back up the beach as far as the Carter Lake Trail, and then we hiked back to the Waxmyrtle Trail and back to our RV. It's obvious that we are going to get a lot of hiking in, and that's a good thing.  I think my biggest fear in coming here for the summer was that we might get bored, but today put that worry away, we will get tired, but we will certainly not get bored. We also checked in with a Predator Control officer, met one of the Nest Monitors, and got to witness a contact with people trespassing on the beach with their dogs. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Critters of the Campground

We are enjoying our stay here at Waxmyrtle Campground in the Siltcoos Recreation Area.  Every time we step out of our RV we immediately hear a bird that we know and enjoy.  But, not only are we enjoying the many birds, there is a good population of critters scampering around.  The most vocal are Douglas Squirrels. This morning I did a brief walk around the campground before we left for more training in Reedsport and took the following two photos.
 Townsend's Chipmunk (Tarmias townendii)

Brush Rabbit (Sylvilagus bachmani)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Tahkenitch Creek Trail

Today was another training day, this one was centered in Reedsport and the Oregon Dunes National Scenic Area. As with each of the last four training days, we managed to take a few minutes out of a tight schedule to recharge our batteries.  For today's outing we managed a quick 20 minutes on the Tahkenitch Creek Trail, one of our old favorites when we lived in near-by Elkton. Jeanette is shown here pausing to listen for Red Cross-bills.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Birding By Ear

Jeanette is shown here early in the morning listening for birds on the Lagoon Loop Trail in the Siltcoos Recreation Area. It adds a real dimension of joy to be able to identify a bird just by its song. Some times it provides the only clue that a bird is around. More and more we are getting better at bird identification by ear and it speeds up the process of birding when you don't have to actually see a bird to be able to identify it.  For example one of the most numerous birds we have here are Wrentits, and today we heard a total of at least 10 different Wrentits, but I think we only saw two and that was after coaxing them out with our iPhone. For the last two mornings we have taken Buster out for a walk and some birding before our day starts with working with the ranger, seems to be a good system.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Riding With The Ranger

Today we got a good introduction to our work area with a morning spent riding with our Ranger. We first drove an access road out to the beach on the south side of the Siltcoos River, then south on the beach as far as Tahkenich Creek and back.  Next we covered the area on the north side of the Siltcoos River which involved a tour the off-road campground, Driftwood II which left me with the impression of a combination refuge camp/circus, and then a drive north thru the off-road area and then back to the Siltcoos Beach Access parking lot.

Right off the bat as we were driving out to the beach we spotted a person walking in the DO NOT ENTER area in the Siltcoos Estuary.  That led to a training moment in how to track down and inform trespassers.

As we drove along the beach looking for Western Snowy Plovers, on the ocean side I saw these Harbor Seals.

This is one of two Western Snowy Plovers we saw.  This was taken from the vehicle through dirty windows while moving.  I will be hoping for better pictures as the days and weeks go by.

Friday, May 15, 2015

We're Here!

We arrived at Waxmyrtle Campground in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area this morning, our home for the summer.  From now through August we will be volunteering in the Western Snowy Plover Conservation Program, a joint effort of the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, Siuslaw National Forest, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, and US Fish & Wildlife Service. We have had a busy day of getting set up in our camping site, meeting with our boss Crystal Mullins, filling out paperwork, and meeting a couple of the other volunteers. For those who are interested in coming to visit us, we now know that our normal working hours will be 9-2:00, with days off on Wed & Thur. If you are planning on spending time with us, double check with us because the hours and days are subject to change.  For more information on our camp ground click here. We are in campsite #55.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Juvenile Feeding Time

Our own back yard continues to provide us with premium bird watching opportunities. Besides the terrorist actions of the House Sparrows that I have previously reported, we also get to see some successful nurturing moments.  This morning it was this male House Finch inserting food into the open mouth of his juvenile. The adults come to the feeder and then take some food to the juvenile waiting close by on the fence. We have watched both the female and male preform this duty. We have also seen adult / juvenile interaction with Song Sparrows and Brown-headed Cowbirds in our back yard in recent days, indicating the the fledgeling period for some species is well under way. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Chickadee - Sparrow Update

The timid Black-capped Chickadee continued to return several times yesterday with a green larva, perhaps not really understanding, or hoping that a helpless dead baby would magically revive.  I removed the dead body for sanitation, discouragement to the Sparrow, and in hopes the Chickadees would try again.  From what I have read they only have one brood a year, so that may be it.  I also installed a restrictive collar at the bird house entrance, which seems to have upset the House Sparrow.

I worry about the other two nesting boxes with Swallows, but so far the Swallows seen to refuse to allow the Sparrow around.  They are a little larger than the Chickadees, and are more aggressive in their defense by blocking the entrance with their body and attacking the Sparrow. We leave in two days for a three and a half month volunteer position on the coast so we may never know the outcome.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Wanted - Dead!!

Take a good look at this bold-faced killer who chased away the parents and killed the babies of our nesting Black-capped Chickadees. It's a non-native species called a House Sparrow, formerly known as an English Sparrow. We were enjoying the busy activity of the adult Chickadees as they brought spiders and green worms to feed the little babies which are born blind, naked and completely helpless. I became alarmed yesterday morning when I noticed the presence of this male Sparrow.  I spent most of the morning keeping him at bay and slowly the adult Chickadees returned to feeding.  In the afternoon we left the house for some shopping errands and when we returned I checked the nest and found the last dead baby. The nesting box has a specifically sized entrance hole of 1 1/8" to prevent House Sparrows from entry, but some how he must of squeezed in.  I've had plenty of experience with these aggressive House Sparrows over the years---they are bad birds.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Remembering Mom

On Mother's Day I was thinking about my mom, and remembering how much joy she always expressed when the swallows returned each spring. We had a rickety bird house that hung on the corner of the eve of the living room which she could see by looking across the front patio from her kitchen window. From the other kitchen window where we all sat at the table we could watch the swallows swoop for insects on the pond below. They were Violet-green Swallows, one of the smaller swallows of the swallow family. Years later I watch these Violet-green Swallows making a nest in the bird house in my front yard and am aware that they are my favorite swallows.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Acorn Woodpecker

This Acorn Woodpecker is the sixth woodpecker species I have featured since the 30th of April. It is likely the last, as these six are all the species that can normally be found in the Willamette Valley. This woodpecker is one of the easiest to identify for several reasons.  It's unique pattern of color for one, but in addition it likes to hang out in a group, and seems to always have a good deal of chattering going on.  Then there is their easily observed food storage program.  They drill holes in old snags where they tightly jam in oak acorns. I've backed up this photo to be able to include the acorns. We found a couple of these Acorn Woodpeckers yesterday on a old snag on the east end of the pedestrian bridge at the Dayton Landing County Park. The snag has a number of European Starlings nesting in old woodpecker holes.  A quick glance with the naked eye would indicate that all the birds are Starlings because of similar silhouettes and size.  My friend John West quotes bird expert David Vander Pluym as saying "bird every bird".  In other words it's important to take the time and look at each bird individually and not assume they are all Starlings for example.  

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Wedding Anniversary

Today is our 22nd Wedding Anniversary. For our Honeymoon Jeanette and I took a week long bicycle camping tour in the Columbia River Gorge.  This photo was taken at Rowena Crest on the Historic Columbia River Highway, between Moiser and Rowena. We still consider ourselves two of the most fortunate people on the face of the earth.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Feeding Day At Our House

Wednesday I spent two hours at the Audubon Reserve trying to get a good photo of a pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches feeding their young.  Yesterday on Thursday I discovered I could just sit on my back porch at home and also have an opportunity to photograph feeding birds.  Our nesting Black-capped Chickadees just started feeding their young, and just like the Nuthatches the babies are not yet making a peep.  While I was sitting and photographing the Chickadees, a Sharp-shinned Hawk flew in and nabbed a House Sparrow in a neighbor's tree.  The hawk was pursued by an angry American Crow which chased the hawk out of the area.  But, back to the chickadees, you may notice the spider it has in its bill. Check out the lower photo for a close-up look.  It's one itsy bitsy spider that will not be going up the water spout again.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Learning About Red-breasted Nuthatches

I took Buster for a walk at the Salem Audubon Nature Reserve because he likes to check out a couple of old culverts.  He even chased a cat out of one of them once so he always returns with hight hopes.  As I was patiently waiting for him to check out the culverts I was surprised to see small birds flying in and out of one of the snags we had installed with nesting cavities last year.  I soon determined they were Red-breasted Nuthatches. With one of the first photos with a bird in the entrance I noticed it was  carrying out what looked like a fecal sac.  Many species of young birds when first hatched produce their waist in a mucous membrane that allows the parents to remove their waist from the nest.

I took a lot more photos, over 50, but it was hard to catch the bird in flight coming or going to and from the nest.  They are very small birds and fly in and out of the nest so fast it is almost impossible to get a good photo.

I was unsure at this point if I was observing feeding behavior with removal of the fecal sac or if they were in the process of cleaning out the cavity and building a nest.  I moved up close to the nest to see if I could hear or see any baby birds.  I could not, but I noticed the sticky pitch in the entrance.  I remembered that I had read that Red-breasted Nuthatches smear pitch on the entrance hole to perhaps prevent small mammals or other birds from entering.

At this point I realized why it was so hard to get their photo, they fly in and out without touching the rim of the hole in order to avoid the sticky pitch. A second realization came when I got home and read that during the first week the babies do not make any noise.  My conclusion now is yes, we have nesting baby Red-breasted Nuthatches, probably in their first week, that are being fed.  That was a fecal sac I saw. And the parents are a couple of amazing birds to fly in and out of the nesting hole without touching the edges.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Working Woodpecker

This is the 5th woodpecker I have written about in the last week, so I guess it's some what like a series.  Jeanette noticed this Red-breasted Sapsucker yesterday on the pedestrian bridge over the Yamhill River at the Dayton Landing County Park. I've always assumed that sapsuckers must have weaker bills than their woodpecker kinfolk because they drill such shallow holes in the surface bark of trees to retrive the sap. But here we observed a sapsucker digging out a nesting cavity in this huge solid laminated beam on the suspension bridge.  The top photo shows it at the entrance, then it entered and we could hear it chiseling away, and then it appeared as in the lower photo, spiting out a mouthful of sawdust.  Obvious these are tougher birds than I imagined. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Hutton's Vireo

After a busy morning of errands, paperwork & phone calls yesterday morning, Buster gave us his "look" that says he wants to go for a walk.  We obliged him by going to Darrow Bar Access on the Willamette River Greenway, just a couple of miles from home. As happens so many times, I think we got a lot more out of the walk than him.  We always soak up the deep forest of this riparian area and it sort of allows us to do a "reset".  On this trip the forest canopy was alive with birds, Western Tanagers and Black-headed Grosbeaks were a couple of the most obvious.  In the lower thick vegetation were Bushtits, Wilson's Warblers, and most importantly a photographable Hutton's Vireo.  These tiny busy birds are easily confused with Ruby Kinglets, so it takes some time and patience to get a good look at them.  In fact this is the first time I've been able to get a good enough photo of a Hutton's Vireo to add to the Critters section of Cascade Ramblings.

Monday, May 4, 2015

No Vacancy

All three of our bird houses are now occupied here at 3346 Walnut Place.  It took over a month of the birds checking out the houses before every couple had settled on a house, which was a much longer process than I had thought it would take.

A male Violet-green Swallow is show above checking out house #1 on March 26.  They failed to follow up with signing a rental agreement, and #1 was ultimately rented by a pair of Black-capped Chickadees who took possession around the middle of April and I believe are now sitting on eggs.

The Violet-greens eventually settled on house #2.  This photo taken on May 1st shows the male inspecting the interior while the wife waits patiently. I saw her later that day bring nesting material to the house.

The Tree Swallows ended up with house #3, even though they spent a lot of time considering house #1 and house #2. This photo was taken on May 2nd and shows Mr. sitting on the front porch while the Mrs. is bringing a piece of nesting material to the box.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Downy Woodpecker

Perhaps I'm doing a series on woodpeckers as this is the fourth day in a row that I have featured a different woodpecker species. I won't say this is the last, it depends on what I see today, but this Downy is the smallest of the Woodpecker Family.  This tiny male Downy Woodpecker appeared at our suet feeder yesterday morning while we were in the midst of counting birds we commonly see in our backyard, Goldfinches, House Finches, and House Sparrows. In a little over an hour yesterday morning, starting at 8:00,  we had an amazing list of 18 different species of birds observed from our living room windows. You can click here to see the list.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Cavity Construction

Jeanette and I returned to Wallace Marine Park yesterday to show John West were we saw and photographed the Pileated Woodpecker the day before.  We didn't see it but we did find this busy male Northern Flicker. Jeanette observed that it was excavating the nesting cavity.  I was fortunate enough to catch the nano-second of the chips flying through the air.  If you look closely at this photo, or click on it to enlarge it,  you should be able to see a few specks of sawdust.  Northern Flickers are the builders of the bird world, providing housing for other cavity nesters like chickadees and swallows that don't have the bill size or strength to hollow out a cavity for nesting.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Pileated Woodpecker

This photo was taken yesterday while on a bird walk at Wallace Marine Park in West Salem.  We were just starting to come out of a deep forested area near the ball field when we heard some loud noises.  Jeanette said, "What was that noise?"  I replied that I thought it was from the construction crew near the bleachers in the ball field. Although doubtful, she went along with the explanation.  Just on the rare possibility it was a Pileated Woodpecker I started to look closer at a couple of big cottonwood trees, and then I saw it. Because the Pileated Woodpecker is the largest of the Woodpecker Family it makes quite an impression when you see one.  I still remember the first time I saw one on a hike deep in the coast range even though it was close to 40 years ago. Jeanette and I have heard Pileated before in Wallace but this is the first time we have actually seen one.