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.