Saturday, December 31, 2016

Last Bird List of the Year

Today we took or bird/dog walk in near-by Wallace Marine Park.  We were all bundled up against the cold with temps in the 30's. This was my 551 bird list for this year, and probably the last list for 2016, and for that matter the last post for this year. Tomorrow starts a brand new year and I start all over with zero. Below are some of birds we saw. Here is a link for the complete list. 
This is a male American Wigeon.  A winter migrant that normally is seen in large flocks, but today we had just a pair, a male and a female. They give off a squeaky call that you can often hear before you see them.
This is a male Mallard.  A very common duck that can be seen year around, but the bright colors of the male always call to me to photograph.
This is a Merlin, and a little strange on the color to the point I gave serious consideration to thinking it was a Sharp-shinned Hawk. It flew like a Merlin, and sat posed as a Merlin, but it was not until I got home and looked at it close in the laptop that I was convinced it was a Merlin.  We know for positive that their are two different Merlins in West Salem this year, and this might be a third.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merlin a Favorite

I am quite often asked, especially when meeting a new person, "What is your favorite bird?", and with out exception I am always stumped because I enjoy so many.  But for the moment today what easily comes to my mind is a Merlin.

Temperatures in the high 20's last night caused ice to form on our streets and sidewalks, and I was content to stay hold up in my den.  But at 8:30 the sun burst out in full force, pulling me out to get in a walk and check out the birds.  As I stepped out my front door this is the first bird I saw high in a tree across the street.  What a lift to my dismal winter spirits. We saw him yesterday a few blocks away as well as a female in a nearby park. Making yesterday our first ever two Merlin day.

We enjoy watching Merlins every winter, and this marks the forth winter for us to watch them in Salemtowne where we live.  Their seasonal presence is easy to notice because they are gone the rest of the year, traveling north to breed. They are a small member of the Falcon Family, and extremely fast in flight, which allows them to catch a small bird in flight.  Salemtowne makes a good area to hang out in for the winter for a Merlin because of the numerous backyard feeders which provide a good supply of little song birds.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Catch of the Day

We have spent the last five days on the Oregon Coast in our Serenity RV in order to escape the sub-freezing cold, snow and ice in the Willamette Valley.   Temperatures were as much as 10 to 15 degrees warmer there, which enabled us to get out and do some birding. We packed up on Tuesday morning and in the afternoon drove as far as Florence where we stayed right on the bay at the Port of Siuslaw RV Park. On Wednesday, the worst of the weather when it rained all day, we moved on south to Coos Bay were we took a site in the Mill Casino RV Park with an Internet Special Price of twenty five dollars a night. Thursday the sun came out at we went birding at Mingus Park, which gave us this list.  We had lunch at SharkBites Seafood Cafe and went grocery shopping at Safeway.  The weather looked the best in Coos Bay so we stayed a second night. On Friday we went birding at Empire Lakes, which is where this Osprey photo was taken with its catch of the day, notice the fish tail hanging down. It was also the catch of the day for me in terms of bird photos.  I knew it was a real treat for us to be able to see an Osprey in the winter, because they have basically been gone from the Willamette Valley since the first part of October. In checking further and taking a closer look at the data on eBird, I discovered that Coos County is actually the only county in Oregon that has observations reported for every month of the year. Our bird list for Empire Lakes is here. We continued our adventurous day, driving on towards Charleston, but at the the corner in the road which becomes the Cape Argo Highway, a parking lot called The Hollering Place caught our attention as a place to park and have lunch next door at the Fisherman's Seafood Market.  We lucked out, they had just opened this second location and we had the Seafood Bisque, their Catch of the Day, and the best ever.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Berries are for the Birds

I have a volunteer shrub in my backyard that I have allowed to spread since our purchase of our home three years ago.  It's an interesting plant in the spring and summer with green leaves on red stems and yellow blossoms. In the fall the leaves change out to a bright red.  It has berries that start out green and turn to yellow and then orange as they mature, finishing off with a dark purple or black in winter.  As I pull weeds and trim back foliage of a variety of plants, I have continued to allow this small shrub to expand because my thinking was perhaps the birds would be attracted to the berries.  However,  I have never seen any activity to support my hope of  providing for the birds.  That all changed yesterday morning when I photographed this Oregon Junco feasting on the dark berries.  This led me to get serious about identifying this plant.  Thanks to my sister-in-law Patty, and my wife Jeanette, I now know this plant to be a variety of St John's-wort (Hypericum). Mystery shrouds the real value of the plant, from poisonous to a number of healing properties.  I'll continue to keep a close watch, either for a dead Junco or robust harvesters, but at the moment I feel successful in providing berries for the birds.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Winter Survival

An opening statement in an article of Salem's Statesman-Journal a couple of days ago caught my attention.

"We know, winter sucks.  It's a glorified, three-month inconvenience filled with murky skies, awkward holiday parties and chapped lips."

That really rang true for me.  Cold wet conditions truly are an inconvenience to me in pursuing and photographing birds (my current passion) outdoors in parks and nature areas.

During my working years my trick for surviving the winter blues was to go cross-country skiing on the weekends.  Lots of exercise and fresh air provided good medicine to survive another week.  Now, as I age, the call of the wild goes unheeded, and I find myself almost house bound in this dreary season.  These days my trick for surviving is to spend a good amount of time birding from the inside of our home.  It's warm and dry and we have a nice variety of birds visiting out back yard.

Yesterday, I fabricated this combination suet and seed feeder and installed it on a pole just outside our bedroom window.  It involved a trip to Ace Hardware for a seed feeder, rounding up a suet feeder cage, figuring out an attachment, rummaging through the garage to find the poles and mounting plate, and then the installation. It's not so much about providing winter survival for the birds as it is winter survival for me.  Activity for my brain and physical exercise for my body helps me survive.  And now I have an additional feeder to maintain and monitor for bird activity.

Yesterday's winning backyard visitor and photo was this male Downey Woodpecker below.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

A Bird Thanksgiving

With all the advertising and talk swirling around the Thanksgiving Season about food, I got to thinking about what we had observed with the birds during our bird/dog walk at Staats Lake in Keizer yesterday morning. Below are a few photos of birds with their dining choices.

Suet was selected by this Townsend's Warbler

Fresh fish was the choice of this Glaucous-winged Gull

A Sharp-shinned Hawk pauses while enjoying her duck

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Comfort and Consternation

One of the things we love about owning a small RV is the ability to park in our drive-way and then on the spur of the moment, to be able to take it and all the comforts it provides on a short excursion to a local park to walk and bird.  Yesterday was a good example, we took our new-to-us Serenity to Willamette Mission State Park to do some birding. Jeanette took this photo in one of the parking lots where we parked. We got in about 30 minutes of walking and birding before the rain moved in and we took shelter back in the RV.  The timing was good so we had lunch, relaxed, took a nap, and then later in the afternoon when the sun came out we resumed our birding.  That's the positive spin on the day.  On the other side of the coin is the fact that when we tried to heat water in the micro-wave we discovered that we had no power from the generator. That led to searching for tripped breakers or blown fuses. Searches on the Internet gave up some ideas, but still no power from the generator.  For the past two weeks I have be trying to resolve a tail light problem that I discovered on an over night trip, so I am more than dismayed that after four weeks we are still dealing with system problems. Stay tuned as we continue practice camping with the hope that it will lead to perfect camping.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Welcome to Subirdia

Song Sparrow

I am currently reading an interesting book entitled "Welcome to Subirdia" by John M. Murzluff.  Basically the idea that he explains is that when humans clear the land and develop the suburbs, we still can have good bird populations, in fact in most cases better than some wilderness areas, and better than our inner cities. Although some species, which he calls Avoiders, flee the developing suburbs for their preferred habitats.  Other species, which he calls Exploiters, take advantage of the situation and replace those that have fled, in fact many times over.  Examples of Exploiters are Canada Goose, European Starling, House Sparrow, Mallard, Rock Pigeon, American Crow, and House Finch.  The third group, which is in fact the largest, are the Adapters.  They adapt from natural streams, lakes, and ponds to artificial water impoundments. They adapt from natural seed sources to seed feeders, from nesting cavities in trees to man-made bird houses. The net result can be a vibrant diverse bird population that has either adapted or moved in to exploit the new habitat of green spaces, feeders, houses, and a huge variety of shrubs and trees.

I thought about all of this while taking our dog Buster on a dog/bird walk this morning in  our suburb development of Salemtown.  In a little over an hour I counted 60 individual birds from 18 different species.  eBird list here. I feel very fortunate that I can just walk out my door and enjoy the benefits of living in subirdia.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

White-throated Sparrow - the Joy of Winter Birds

I was having a quiet morning, sitting on the couch reading, when out of the corner of my eye I noticed a bird on the suet feeder by the window.  The light was bad with the weak morning sun behind the bird, but it suggested to me it might be a White-throated Sparrow.  This is a winter bird for the Willamette Valley, and a couple of birders have reported seeing them recently, but I had not yet seen one this season.  I went and got my binoculars and my camera and followed the bird to the sunflower feeder to get this photo. To understand my excitement, I have only seen this species in our yard the first winter we moved here in 2013. I only know this, not from my great memory, but because of the great records e-Bird keeps. White-throated Sparrows can easily be overlooked for the much more common White-crowned Sparrow, which are available to be seen some place in Oregon year around, but the white throat and yellow spot at the base of the bill are telling signs. They spend their breeding season in Canada and are only seen in this area October thru April.  Enjoying our winter visitors from the comfort of my living room, helps enduring the cold and damp Oregon winter.

Monday, October 31, 2016

A Cooper's Hawk - Not A Merlin

During a brief dry spot in late afternoon yesterday we took Buster for a short walk in the neighborhood. When returning to our house, Jeanette noticed this bird in the top of a tree half a block away.  She said, "Wait, is that our Merlin or a Crow?"  I said, "Most probably a crow".  Viewed only with the naked eye it was hard to tell at that distance.  Jeanette got binoculars, and I got my camera. Disappointingly we realized it was a Cooper's Hawk.  Disappointed in a Cooper's Hawk?  You see we have been hopefully checking tree tops daily this fall for our Merlin. For the past three winters we have enjoyed a Merlin showing up in our neighborhood, probably returning from its summer breeding grounds in the far north.  We have watched it from our kitchen window keeping an eye on our backyard feeder. Merlins are members of the fast flying falcon family and are capable, as we have witnessed, of snatching a song bird in mid air. Watching the Merlin each winter since moving here in 2013, we have become familiar enough with it to know the exact four trees where it can be seen.  At this point it feels like it is past due, and we fear that for the first time our Merlin has not made it back. (Looking back at my records, we have seen our bird begining in the middle of October thru March.)

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Birding at Cheadle Lake

October is looking to be a record setting month for rain, which is driving our desire to head for California in our-new-to-us Serenity motorhome. A forecast for dry contitions for Friday prompted us to make a short overnight stay at Waterloo County Park near Lebanon to get a chance to test out all operating systems on the RV before making a long trip. We left in driving rain on Thursday afternoon with our fingers crossed that the forecast would be correct. It stopped raining just before we arrived at the park.We did discover a number of little things to add or fix, and the biggest supprise to me was that we had neither brake nor tail lights on the right rear. Maybe more on that later.

The second part of our plan was to spend the next day birding at Cheadle Lake in Lebanon.  When I was growing up in Lebanon, Cheadle Lake was the log pond for Cascade Plywood Corporation.  In those days Lebanon was dominated by too large mills, Crown Zellerbach Paper Mill on the north end of town, and Cascade Plywood Corportation on the south end.  My grandfather, Arthur McClain worked for a brief period on the Casacade mill pond, and interesting enough in later years Jeanette's dad, Jim Dye also worked on the pond. Today the old logging pond has be transformed into a great recreation site for fishing, walking, and birding, complete with paved paths, benches, and boat launch. The weather forecast was right on and we had a great morning of sunshine for birding.

Bald Eagle
male Anna's Hummingbird
old photo of Cascade Plywood Corporation 

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Change to Serenity

We have traded RVs, our Free Spirit for a Serenity. Most people will possibly not notice, it is the same color and the same brand, Leisure Travel Van, but it is a more spacious model, 11" wider, 21" longer, and 5" taller.  Most importantly it is an entirely different floor plan, giving us more living area, a better bed, and a real shower. Also a big plus are larger tanks for fresh, black and grey water, allowing us longer periods between hook-ups.

We took advantage of some fair weather on Saturday afternoon to take a trial drive with the Serenity to Huddleston Pond in Willamina and do some birding. The fall colors were glorious and we got some good birds, see the list here. We like the way it drives and the spaciousness of the floor plan. But we did find that a squeaking door is a major annoyance. The Serenity Prayer comes to mind.

"God give us the the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference".

So far the Serenity is allowing us to accept the needs of aging a little more gracefully. We did prove to have the courage to change vans, and we looking for wisdom on fixing the door.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Chipmunk at our Feeder

When Jeanette called out from the kitchen to say that there was a chipmunk in the bird feeder, I was pretty sure she was mistaken.  "Are you sure it's not a squirrel?", I hollered back.  Amazingly it was, in fact, a Townsend's Chipmunk.  The reason for my surprise is that we live in a retirement community built around a golf course with manicured lawns and greenways. It's not the woodsy habitat where I would expect to see a chipmunk.  Squirrel possibly, or even a dreaded rat, but not a cute little chipmunk. You will notice in the photo it has its cheek pouches plumped full with bird seed. We watched it fill up with seed and disappear into the shrubbery and later make a return trip. Hopefully it's storing the seeds close by and we will get to see it again.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Birding in the Rain

 You can easily assume that we have a faily heavy addiction to birding when you realize we have a need to bird even if it is raining. Today was a pretty good example, even though it was raining this morning we chose to go out to Fairview Wetlands in South Salem, umbrellas in hand to protect our optics, and look for birds.  It had rained for the past week and we were anxious to check the wetlands for water and for new water fowl.  We were pleased to finally see the ponds gaining some water after a long dry summer.  We could hear the Mallards before we could even see them, eighty some were busy enjoying their fresh new habitat.  In the coming weeks as the ponds grow in size more species of winter water fowl will drop in to enjoy this spot. You can see our bird list here.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Birding the Waxmyrtle Trail

We spent an enjoyable morning yesterday hiking and birding the Waxmytle Trail in the Siltcoos Recreation Area.  The trail is very familiar to us from our volunteer time spend here last summer, so it was great to get in a good hike and check out areas of the trail that we knew we be good for bird sightings.  The most amazing thing we saw, or I should say smelled first, was this detached head of a skunk right in the middle of the trail.  (I Think I like the macro powers of the new camera.) Don't know what predator got it, but the smell permeated the air for quite a ways up and down the trail.
Although it was a quiet morning for birds we did get a respectable list which can be seen here. After our hike we enjoyed lunch on the picnic bench in the sun at our campsite, and then moved on to Winchester Bay RV Resort where we are currently set-up and will stay a second night, watching the Ducks play on the big screen in the activity center tonight.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Birds of the Siltcoos Lagon

We are taking a multi-day trip in the Free Spirit, making a loop down the coast, over to Roseburg, and back to Salem. Yesterday morning we spent time doing some serious RV shopping in Junction City, but by afternoon we were set-up in a campsite in the Silcoos Recreation Area at Lagoon Campground.  The summer crowds are gone and we had the campground to ourselves, save a nice chat with Ron the campground host. We took a late afternoon walk on the Lagoon Loop Trail to walk Buster and look for birds. It was a perfect opportunity to work with my new camera the Nikon P900. Below are some photos of the birds we enjoyed.

Black Phoebe

female Downy Woodpecker

Belted Kingfisher

American Bittern

Great Blue Heron

Friday, September 23, 2016

Day Tripping in the Van

The idea of spending a good part of the day birding in Yamhill County, grew more intriguing when we decided to take the van and make a complete day of adventure. Our first stop was in downtown Sheridan where Jeanette went on a whirlwind shopping spree at the grocery store, a brand new Dollar Store, and Subway. We journeyed on to our main birding stop, Huddleston Park in Willamina, which is shown below.  We circled the pond counting birds and taking photos. You can see our bird list here.

After a Subway lunch on a picnic table in the sun overlooking the pond we went directly to Dallas to Focal Point to purchase a new camera, a Nikon COOLPIX P900 with an amazing 83x zoom. Next stop was the Dallas City Park for another bird walk and a opportunity to try out the camera.  Birds were very very scarce, so I had to settle on photos of a squirrel with its harvest.
 Our final stop was Dallas High School where we parked for a recouping nap before watching the Dallas Dragons soccer team and our handsome grandson Will Borja.
After the game we found ourselves cold and hungry---no problem it was warm in the van and Jeanette dug into her pantry and produced hot soup, crackers and sliced apples. Life in the van takes travel and adventure to an amazing level of convenience and comfort.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Fun in the Cascades

Our second day in the Cascades started with a birding stop along Diamond Lake.

With a cold morning, our next stop was a stop for hot chocolate at Diamond Lake Lodge.

                                  After lunch Kliever's took us for a hike at Benham Falls

Overlook at Benham Falls

We spent the night at the Kliever's and the next day they took us  on a hike to Todd Lake.

Todd Lake with Mt Bachelor in the background.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Broken Arrow Campground

Jeanette put together a fall RV loop up thru the Cascades with friends Michael & Melisa Garguilo.  On Saturday we drove down to Elkton to Michael & Melisa's place for our first night's stay. Sunday morning we drove up the scenic North Umpqua River to Diamond Lake to stay at the Broken Arrow National Forest Campground on the south end of the lake. The campground was almost empty so we had lots of sites to choose from. We choose to stay in this double site B-7, and in the process of paying the $10 Senior Pass rate, we discovered this was the last night of the season for this campground! Boy did we luck out.

campsite B-7

After getting setup and having lunch we took off for an afternoon hike.  Leaving the campground we took a trail that connects to the John Dellenback Trail, a paved trail that completly circles Diamond Lake, which we took to the junction with the  Teal & Horse Lakes Loop Trail.
Michael, Jeanette & Melissa

While hiking on the John Dellenback Trail we met and were passed by several bicyclist, among them much to our suprise were our friends Jeff & Joan Smith from Elkton who were cicling the lake on their tandem!
Joan, Jeanette, Jeff, Melissa, Michael

We visited both Teal and Horse Lakes, enjoying the great scenery and identifying a number of birds, among which were two Green Teals.
Teal Lake with Mt Bailey in the background

Saturday, September 10, 2016

For The Record

I am guessing that some readers may think that all I take photos of are birds.  For the record, I do take photos of other wildlife. This native Western Pond Turtle is one of a half dozen or so that we saw today while birding at Row River Nature Park in Cottage Grove. They are always a joy to see because they are now a Threatened Species.  An invasive species of turtles call Red-sliders, which have been introduced by careless pet owners are out producing them.

Also for the record there is one other thing I need to get off my chest, and that is my motive to keep posting to my blog - it is for our own record. A lot of my time is spent on posting to the Internet on a couple of other sites.  I daily post to e-Bird in an effort to help with citizen science and maintain my own records. And of course Facebook has made it extremely easy to post anything. But with Facebook it is hard to be able to look at past posts in any kind of organized fashion. You say what you want to say, and it's available for the moment, and then it is lost into the mishmash of Facebook. With my blog, it's pretty easy for me to find a past post either by date or subject. In fact Jeanette and I often use my blog to find out what was going on in our life in years past.  In other words, it is a log of what we have done and where we have gone; our record.  Despite the number of posts in my blog dropping the past couple of months, I am determined to keep posting,  just for our own record.  I do recieve a lot of enjoyment from the feed-back I get from my readers.  But over time it has become evident to that the most important reason I post is for my own record.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Beautiful Morning - Lyon's City Park

Jeanette's request of Lyon's City Park for our today's birding location proved to be an excelent one.  We had bright skies and perfect fall temperatures to enjoy this favorite of ours. This first bird we spotted in the parking lot was a real stumper.  A nondescript brown bird with a yellow stripe on it's back.  Before I noticed the yellow stripe, I wanted to make it a female House Finch, but with the yellow I was trying to convince myself of a Yellow-rumped Warbler.  Jeanette spotted the red male and was thinking a House Finch or a Purple Finch.  After zooming in close with a couple of photos I realized we had a pair of Crossbills.  The insect I thought was in the bill turned out to be the crossed bill, but wait -- if you click on the image below and look close enough there does appear to be an ant on the lower mandible. We had a great morning, you can see our complete observation list here.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Solitary Sandpiper

Many bird names are quite descriptive of the bird itself and provide a good clue to recognizing and remembering a particular species. Solitary Sandpiper is the name of this bird in the photo above, and it was indeed all by itself, which is its habit. My wife Jeanette spotted this Sandpiper yesterday while we were birding at Minto-Brown Island Park in Salem.  It took some work to come up with the identification, although our first thought was a Greater Yellowlegs, it seemed much smaller.  It wasn't until I got home and did some serious comparisons that I came up with the correct identification of a Solitary.  The only other one I have seen and photographed was in the Dallas City Park in May of 2013.  The most significant thing of yesterdays sighting at Minto-Brown is the last time an observation was reported there was March 25, 1992.  This is a migrating species, passing through in Spring and again in the Fall.  I suspect they stop here every year but just have not been reported. You can bet we will be keeping a sharper eye out for Solitary Sandpipers the rest of this month.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Leucistic Red-tailed Hawk

This afternoon while sitting in our back yard, Jeanette spotted this leucistic Red-tailed Hawk circling high  overhead along with a standard Red-tail Hawk and a Turkey Vulture. I went and got my camera and started trying to get some photos, and Jeanette started making a bird list.  Leucism is a condition where the feathers lack the normal pigmentation and appear white. This can be only small splotches or large areas without color.  Complete lack of color would be considered an albino. This the third year in a row that we have enjoyed occasional looks at this leucistic Red-tailed Hawk from our back yard. To see our complete observation list and photos click here

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A New RV Lifestyle

Knight Park - Salmon River Estuary

This summer it is becoming obvious that Jeanette and I are developing a new RV lifestyle, that is new to us. I'm sure there are lots of RVers out there already using their RV in this way.  With the purchase of our smaller Leisure Travel Van this spring we are using it in a different manner than past motor homes.  The lifestyle that I speak of is one that is not so much tethered to a campground or RV park, but rather has the flexibility to enjoy our day in scenic areas of choice, and then at the end of the day seek out a place to just park for the night.

Wapiti RV Park & Campground

This week's trip to the Oregon Coast Thursday thru Sunday, to escape the heat of the inland valleys, provided a graphic example of this new lifestyle.  We had booked a campsite for three nights at Wapiti RV Park, but on the second day a wedding party of 250 started pouring into the park for their 2-day event.  We got a refund and were out of there.  We drove to a shady parking-lot for a snack and considered our options.  As luck would have it earlier we had come upon a free parking spot at a harbor during our morning birding excursion, so that would became our nights destination and we spent the remaining afternoon and dinner at a scenic location.

undisclosed harbor parking spot

The next day we choose to spend at Yaquina Head Outstanding Nature Area, a BLM managed area north of Newport.  There we hiked and birded, lunched, napped, and ejoyed the scenery.  When the fog moved in late afternoon we journeyed on to the Walmart parking lot.  Dinner, free WiFi, and reading filled out the evening.

Yaquina Head Outstanding Nature Area

With all the conveninces of life on board the van, with no need for hook-ups for water and electricity for several days, and only the need of a parking space, we are free to roam and enjoy.  To quote traveler extrodinaire Ed Seajack - "take joy in your day".