The Weekly Photo Challenge this week is Waiting. This young Cooper’s hawk was checking out the scenery (and prey) before taking off.
This western kingbird distracted us while we were on a field trip looking for Swainson’s hawks and ground squirrels. Their bright color and bold personality forces you to take notice of them.
You can see part of Fort Rock in the background on the left. To learn more about the cave with ancient artifacts near there, see my post here. For information on the great museum at Fort Rock, see my post here.
Weekly Photo Challenge – Ooh, Shiny!
Some birds you hear long before you see them. I was happy to follow the sound of a northern flicker’s calls to discover it was nesting on our property. Here it is peeking out from its nest cavity in a western juniper tree. Their markings are loud and sharp – just like their calls. I know the birds won’t be in their nest for long, but I am glad to catch glimpses of them glimpsing at me.
Weekly Photography Challenge – Transient
I recently heard a complicated and beautiful birdsong but it took me a minute to locate the singer. Though the photo I took turned out to be one of a blurry songster, the mockingbird’s song was loud and clear. Be sure to visit this site to hear it – Northern Mockingbird’s song. No wonder its Latin name translates to “many-tongued mimic.”
Weekly Photo Challenge – Focus
Here’s a view of a hummingbird working the flowers of spring last year. The flowers fade away as the seasons turn but the memory of their brilliance remains.
Weekly Photography Challenge – Evanescent
Apparently some hawks think our backyard water feature is their personal smorgasbord. I often see a swoosh of wings go by as songbirds scatter. The Cooper’s hawk, and the very similar sharp-shinned hawk, are frequent visitors to our backyard. Like the jays that always seem to follow me, the Cooper’s hawk has now decided it must be one of my totem animals. I have seen them in a wide variety of habitats here in central Oregon. They always pose nicely for my camera. Here’s a bit more about them…
Range: Cooper’s hawks live throughout the United States, southern Canada, and Mexico. Their breeding range extends from southern Canada southwards to the northern parts of the U. S. They winter and live year-round in the southern and central parts of the U.S. and in Mexico.
Identification & unique characteristics: This medium-sized bird has the rounded, broad wings, and relatively long legs that help to identify it as an accipiter hawk. Adults are gray on their backs and on the upper side of their tails and wings. Their head has a darker “cap” and they have red eyes. There are thick dark bands on the tail. Their breasts have orange-reddish bars. Juvenile birds are brown on their upper parts and their breasts are streaked with brown. Their eyes are yellow. This hawk has a length of 14-18 inches and a weight of 8-14 ounces. Females are always larger. Cooper’s hawks fly in a distinctive way – a couple quick flaps and then long glides. This bird is silent much of the time though it does sometimes vocalize with a cak-cak-cak call during the breeding season.
It can be very challenging to figure out if you are seeing a Cooper’s hawk or a sharp-shinned hawk. Cooper’s hawks have a larger head, thicker legs, bigger feet, a paler back of the neck, and a rounded tail with a thicker white tip. The Northern Goshawk looks similar but it is much larger and it has a more distinct white eye stripe.
Behavior & life history: The breeding season begins as early as March. Courtship includes aerial chases and displays with gliding flights with their wings held up in a ‘V’ position. In bonded pairs, the male does a bowing display to the female before and after building the nest. Cooper’s hawks prefer to build their stick nests 25-50 feet above the ground in trees located in areas with flat habitat. Eggs are incubated for 30-36 days and the young birds are in the nest for 27-34 days. They lay 2-6 eggs. This skillful flier often sits in wait and in a sudden burst of speed captures its unsuspecting prey. They mainly eat birds but also prey on small mammals and, occasionally, frogs, snakes, and lizards. Bird prey ranges in size from warblers to robins on up to grouse (and chickens!). Cooper’s hawks live up to 12 years in the wild and as long as 20+ years in captivity. Predators of this bird include red-tailed hawks, great horned owls, and raccoons.
Habitat needs: Cooper’s hawks live in a wide variety of habitats that include mature forests, mixed woodlands, edges near wetlands, and in open country. They prefer to live in forested lands but are now common in urban and suburban areas. This may be due, in part, to the abundance of rock pigeons, one of their favorite prey species. This bird and other birds of prey are also attracted to backyard feeders.
Status & conservation: This hawk’s population is considered stable at this time. In the past, Cooper’s hawks were adversely affected by the pesticide DDT but after it was banned in 1972 their numbers increased. Since they prey on chickens, they were heavily hunted in the past. One of their names is “chicken hawk.” Cooper’s hawk populations may be affected by habitat loss and degradation.
Interesting fact: Cooper’s hawks do not have the notched bill that helps falcons kill their prey. They kill their prey by squeezing it and sometimes they even hold it under water to drown it.
Robins feasted on juniper berries while waiting out the snowstorm.
Weekly Photo Challenge – Ambience
These ducks are getting themselves all tucked in in anticipation of a long cold winter.
Weekly Photo Challenge – anticipation
I used a little digital magic to edit this picture into a meme. The picture above is the finished product.
I posted this version several months ago but I thought it needed some more emphasis on the peace sign in the branches so I added a few more.
Here is the original image with no editing.
Weekly Photo Challenge – Magic
We sleep, but the loom of life never stops, and the pattern which was weaving when the sun went down is weaving when it comes up in the morning.
Henry Ward Beecher
Weekly Photo Challenge – Tiny
I figured out these were not bad pictures, they were just bird bloopers so I had a little fun with them. Enjoy!
Weekly Photo Challenge – Fun!
Weekly Photography Challenge – Narrow
Last weekend I was out looking for some of the 11+ species of woodpeckers that can be seen near Sisters, Oregon. The Dean Hale Woodpecker Festival brings birdwatchers from all over the world into the woodpecker-rich habitats in the area. East Cascades Audubon Society has been putting on the well-attended event since 2011. There were 17 different field trips this year.
It was a hot day and stunning views of the Sisters peaks, Black Butte, and Mt Jefferson welcomed us.
Our group looked for birds near Camp Sherman. We saw seven types of woodpecker including Lewis’s woodpecker, red-breasted sapsucker, downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, white-headed woodpecker, black-backed woodpecker, and northern flicker. We saw about 60 species of birds that day including a few of my favorites like osprey, western tanager, black-headed grosbeak, and cedar waxwings.
As always, I am more there for the experience than looking for specific birds. We visited the Metolius River near where its headwaters spring forth from the ground. It is an impressive river. An American dipper bobbed along the shores in search of prey.
It’s been a great year for wildflowers. We saw lupine, columbine, blue flax, sego lily, and many other plants bursting with flowers.
Special thanks go to our fearless leader, Tony Kutzen, and to the East Cascades Audubon Society. Here’s a photo of the groups waiting to leave for the various field trips in the morning with Tony posing on the left side of the photo. It’s great to go out with such a knowledgeable birder. He was not able to show me the ivory-billed woodpecker I requested but oh well. 😉
Looks like an old homestead, right?
Look a little bit closer.
Go on…zoom in.
If we learn to focus in on things we sometimes find the unexpected.
In this case, it’s a double-crested cormorant and great blue heron rookery. These birds look and act so differently yet they manage to get along.
This rookery is located at the Sod House Ranch at Malheur NWR. It was built by cattle-baron Peter French in the late 1800’s. The ranch was the headquarters of the French-Glenn Livestock Company that at one time covered 140,000 acres.
Nature’s fireworks on display
Exploding in a timeless rhythm
Welcoming visitors to share
In a celebration of Spring
Hmmm…a predominantly pink woodpecker named after a famous early American explorer and a wily relative of the crow named after his partner. That might make for an interesting bit of writing. I started to research the topic.
Little did I know there was controversy linked to the plants and animals “discovered” on the Lewis and Clark expedition. The expedition supposedly discovered 178 plants and 122+ animals previously unknown to science. Or did they?
Other sources say they “encountered” or “reported” certain wildlife and plants. Due to discussions as to the accuracy of previously published lists, one recent list is divided into two sections: Discovered (for the first time by European Americans) and Described. Some of the flora and fauna species had been discovered in other parts of North America (or the world) prior to the time of the expedition while others had been a part of native people’s life for many years.
I am lucky to have seen many of the wildlife species that Lewis and Clark discovered and described. Here is a quiz that includes pictures of wildlife encountered on the expedition.
Did the Lewis & Clark expedition Discover them or Describe them? The answers are at the end of the quiz.
I couldn’t find a clock I really liked so we made one with some leftover scraps of wood. I painted a Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta, on it because it’s our state bird. It’s also the state bird of Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, Kansas, and Nebraska.
They are a beautiful bird with bold, bright markings. They have a cheery sounding song that always reminds me of the Wild West. Listen to it here. Western Meadowlark song.
Thinking about trying out snowshoeing? Last weekend I went out for the first time on Mt. Bachelor on a free guided tour. Knowledgeable volunteers take you out for a 90-minute walk in a forested area near the ski runs. The tours leave at 10:00 am and 1:30 pm. Snowshoes are provided (thanks to REI for donating them) or you can wear your own.
The volunteers will give you a quick talk on a few of the dangers associated with this sport such as tree wells. This is the area that forms in the snow close to a tree that people can fall into and sometimes not be able to get out of. I also learned that predators like to go into them in search of entrances to the burrows of small mammals. Kind of like a vending machine area for them.
This particular tour can be very popular. On the day I went, there were 33 people on the tour. They said there can be 50-60 people sometimes. They stop in several places along the way so it is not a strenuous hike.
We learned about some of the wildlife in the area. The snowshoe hare, Lepus americanus, leaves distinct tracks and one of the volunteers demonstrated how their large hind paws hit the ground before the front paws. We didn’t see a lot of wildlife on the trip but we did see common ravens, Corvus corax, Clark’s nutcracker, Nucifraga columbiana, and gray jays, Persoreus canadensis. As I have mentioned in a previous post, the jays always seem to be near me. See Jays .
The hike goes up a hill to a scenic outlook area. We were lucky to have pretty clear weather so we got a great view of some of the nearby peaks.
The volunteers also talk about some of the geology in the area and demonstrate how much water is collected after snow melts. The snowmelt here takes 10-30 years to reach the nearby river systems.
The hike is free but they suggest that you donate $5 or more to benefit the non-profit Discover Your Forest program.
This was a great experience and I will be doing more snowshoeing in the future.
The birds were so happy at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge that some of them walked on water.
Video of Western grebes dance…
His twittering voice kept leading me on through the wilderness. It seemed like every time I raised my binoculars to my eyes, he would make a quick getaway.
I followed him on winding trails bordered by bubbling and spouting geysers. He flitted through pine forests doused by thunderstorms. Gusts of wind kept pushing him just out of my reach.
Finally, finally, I came eye to eye with the mysterious beast. A Yellow-rumped warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni. This pint-sized songbird perched in the tree and stared at me as if he was shouting, “Ollie, Ollie in come free!” Our game of hide and seek was over and he stayed in plain sight on his home base.
The tree clung to the side of a cliff overlooking Tower Fall. The little bird had lead me to an important spot in Yellowstone National Park.
In 1871 the U.S. Geological Survey sent an exploratory expedition to the Yellowstone area. Artist Thomas Moran was a member of the team and he painted a picture of the falls that showed the public one of the area’s natural wonders. William Henry Jackson was also part of the expedition and he took black and white photographs of the area. Due to the Moran paintings, Jackson photographs, and the observations of early explorers, the area was designated as the world’s first national park in 1872. Moran’s colorful paintings were instrumental in convincing Congress to preserve the region.
So you might say that this twittering bird had lead me to the place where a short message – in the form of an image of the falls – saved the land for generations to come. It was like a “tweet” in its time that was seen by thousands.
When you go outside into parts of the 135-acre property, you will be able to visit various exhibits. The Autzen Otter area is being renovated and won’t be open again until sometime in the spring of 2016. Be sure to stop by to see the entertaining otters once the exhibit reopens.
Keep going around the trail and make a brief stop at the wildlife viewing area. Here you might get a glimpse of woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, squirrels, and chipmunks. You might get lucky and spot a hawk or owl waiting to get a snack.
The Wind, Earth, and Fire Trail is nearby and it shows how fire plays an important role in forest development. Keep following the trail and stop into the Changing Forests exhibit to learn about forests in the area.
Next you will see the Miller Family Ranch. The buildings there are built to show what a farm in 1904 would have looked like. Peek inside the cabin to see how a family lived and watch interpreters demonstrate life in those times. There’s also a barn, corral, chicken coop, saw mill, and even an outhouse. The woven wood corral is practical but also a work of art. You may see horses, donkeys, and chickens at the ranch.
Continue on the trail and you will come to an overlook at a small pond. You’ll get a great look at the native Redband trout from there.
Keep walking on the trail and you’ll get to the Donald M. Kerr Birds of Prey Center. See the porcupines in their enclosure just outside the door? The Museum has bald and golden eagles, a turkey vulture, a barn owl, a great horned owl, and other birds in their collection. Most of the animals at the Museum were injured or kept as pets so they would not be able to make it in the wild.
Head back to the main building and be sure to stop at the Silver Sage Trading store. There are books, artwork, clothing, toys, and many other items related to the high desert and current exhibits at the Museum. You might be able to find a piece of unique jewelry or something kind of quirky like dog treats containing beer byproducts.
Near the store, there’s a Whose Home? area for young children to climb and play in. They can pretend they are a baby bird in a huge nest. There is also an outside play area called Dig, Crawl, Climb! Kids can pretend like they are a giant spider or some kind of burrowing creature hiding in a hole.
As you leave the building through the main entrance, be sure to look up. There is a metal sculpture of a sagebrush plant that shows just how big their root system really is. This icon of the Wild West has adapted to the harsh environment of the high desert. A visit to the High Desert Museum will teach you how plants and animals have adapted to the environment and how people, past and present, have learned to thrive there.
For more information go to High Desert Museum
It’s ironic that a bird that almost disappeared from the face of the earth has their name associated with a phrase that means “final appearance.”
At one time the population of the Trumpeter Swan, Cygnus buccinator, was thought to be down to fewer than 70 birds. They were just steps away from their swan song. The birds were overhunted and their feathers were used to adorn hats and make writing quills while their skins were used to make powder puffs. They were also hunted for their meat and eggs.
In 1932 the last known remnants of the population lived near Yellowstone National Park. Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1935 to help save the Trumpeter Swan. The Refuge is in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. The photo above is of a Trumpeter Swan I saw last summer in Yellowstone National Park. Threats such as lead poisoning and habitat loss still exist but the current population in North America is over 46,000. See…conservation can be a success!
Here in Central Oregon steps are being taken to ensure their survival. At the Sunriver Nature Center in Sunriver, Oregon, a potential mate for the resident Trumpeter Swan was introduced last summer. After a somewhat rocky start, the pair bonded with each other and it’s hoped they will produce many offspring in the future. There was a story in the Bend Bulletin about the pair and you can read it here: Swans Find Love in Sunriver.
My photos show the pair floating across a duckweed-covered waterway near the Nature Center. You can see the neckband on one of them. If you ever happen to see a banded or tagged swan, as I once did in the Skagit Valley of Washington State, contact the USGS Bird Banding Lab. Here’s a link to a handout from the Trumpeter Swan Society that gives more info on how to report a sighting: Reporting Marked Trumpeter (and Tundra) Swans – Collars, Wing Tags, and Bands.
Jays have insisted on being a part of my life since I was a young child. They are brash, bold, raucous, and not easily ignored.
As a five-year old living on a wooded lot in Maryland, the Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata, introduced itself to me with little formality. Its loud voice and striking appearance said, “Notice me!” Its frequent companion, the Northern Cardinal, also made it hard for me to look away. I guess that must be why I have a thing for birds with crests on top of their heads.
When I moved back across the country to Washington State, I met more Jays. On camping trips with my family, the Gray Jay, Perisoreus canadensis, made its kleptomaniac presence known. Otherwise known as the Camp Robber, this gray bird has a way of sneaking in and taking what it wants.
I had a boyfriend in high school named Jay. One winter I was out of town for a couple of weeks and when I came back he broke up with me. He told me he had started going out with “Mary” while I was gone. He said he had gone outside in the middle of the night and shouted to the world how much he loved Mary. Like I said, Jays have a way of being loud and taking what they want.
The next Jay played an important role in my life for many years. Steller’s Jays, Cyanocitta stelleri, are a deep azure blue topped with a black crested head. They like to imitate Red-Tailed Hawks and other birds. Steller’s Jays also have an appetite for other bird’s eggs and young. They especially like to prey on the endangered marbled murrelet, a small seabird that breeds in inland forests. While working on a project to preserve a forest where murrelets nested, I learned more about the football-shaped seabirds and their predation by jays than I knew about any pigskin football.
The latest Jay in my life is the Western Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica . When we first considered moving to the high desert of Oregon, I remember looking at potential houses and thinking, “What is that bird I keep seeing?” The bird raised its white eyebrows, cocked its head, and regarded me curiously. When we found the place we eventually bought, the blue, white, and gray Western Scrub Jays were in the backyard shouting a welcome.
Jays, with their distinctive appearance and mannerisms, always seem to be a part of my life.
Working at saving a special place or creature can sometimes be a struggle but then they express their gratefulness to us and it’s all worth it.
There are certain members of the plant and animal world that have invaded habitats successfully. Some are admired; others are reviled. A few are both liked and despised at the same time.
Where I live, the Western juniper, Juniperus occidentalis, fits into that last category. It is a native species but due to fire suppression and habitat destruction, it has spread like -excuse the reference- wildfire. Juniper has taken advantage of the situation and has significantly expanded its range. I have heard a lot about how much water it can suck out of the landscape – supposedly 30 gallons a day. Its root system taps downwards and outwards to effectively use the available water. Many people don’t like them for that reason and because at times they have a not-so-pleasant scent. I’ll always remember listening to a person that lives in the wealthy part of town saying that she eliminated all 18 junipers on her property as soon as she moved in. Eighteen trees.
However, juniper also has its good side. As it ages it epitomizes the image many people associate with the Wild West. I love to photograph them. The form of the tree changes from a pyramid-like shape to a twisted, sprawling irregular one. It can be covered by purplish berries (that are really cones) and these are used in gin production. Wildlife loves it for cover, nesting, and food. Its wood is bi-colored and lasts forever.
Some animals do what they can to fit in so that you won’t notice they are invaders. I have a pair of European starlings, Sturnus vulgaris, that nested on my property last spring. I don’t know many people that are fond of starlings. They are referred to as being ugly, dirty birds that many think should be destroyed. However, if you look at their breeding plumage closely it’s actually quite beautiful and iridescent. Anyway, back to my story…the pair on my property produced a brood of young and taught them how to sing and call. The weird thing is that they sound like the much more well-liked Western meadowlark – not starlings. There aren’t any meadowlarks close by but they do live many miles away to the east.
Some plants moved here from far away and have settled in all over North America. The common mullein, Verbascum thapsus, is one of those plants. It is a member of the snapdragon family and bears long stalks of yellow flowers and produces a lot of seeds. Mullein can grow 5-10 feet high (!) Its large leaves have a thick whitish covering of soft “hair”. It is native to Europe and was introduced here in the mid-1700’s for use as a fish poison. Where I live it is considered a noxious weed whose presence should be controlled and monitored by landowners. It will grow in almost any open area and will push native plants out.
This plant has some interesting uses. As previously mentioned, it was used as a fish poison. It stuns the fish so that they float to the surface where they can be easily caught. A dye was made from the flowers and was used on hair and on cloth. It also has medicinal uses and has been used to treat chest colds, bronchitis, and asthma. Mullein was also used to treat bruises, rash, tumors, and other maladies. I learned in a high school plant ecology class that its soft leaves can be used as toilet paper in an emergency.
Mullein is easy to pull but I decided to leave a few in my yard. Why? The songbirds, which I do not feed, LOVE them.
There are other successful invaders that have become so successful that they have become a threat to the environment. Consider the white-tailed deer. White-tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus, have steadily moved westwards, northwards, and to the south in North and South America. There are more than there have ever been – even though hunters use much more sophisticated technology to hunt them. However, there are fewer people hunting them and their natural predators have been eliminated in parts of their range.
About 100 years ago, small scale agriculture pushed the deer off much of their range east of the Rockies. White-tailed deer were also overhunted in North America in the late 1800’s. Their population dropped precipitously from 24-33 million, down to only 350,000.
During the Industrial Age, farms were abandoned leaving behind a patchwork of habitats that was ideal for deer. Wildlife conservation adapted practices that created green space for populations to become established. Preserves for regulated hunting were set up. The population rebounded with a vengeance! The current population is estimated to be over 30 million and they are much more densely packed than in the distant past. That density has caused numerous problems.
I read an interesting article about white-tailed deer on Staten Island in New York City. The population on the 60-square mile island has increased from 24 to 793 in just six years. That’s a 3,304% increase! The deer cause traffic accidents, eat gardens, and pass on tick-borne illnesses but the far greater problem is that they are destroying habitat. The community can cull the animals with sharpshooters, have hunters take them, apply contraceptive vaccines, or use surgical sterilization. None of these options has been popular with the public so nothing is currently being done. When an animal is given the Disney treatment, in this case as the main star in the Bambi movie, it can become much more difficult to control.
Successful invaders have taken advantage of various situations and many are firmly established in their new range. They have velcroed themselves into their new homes and peeling them away will be a difficult, if not impossible, task.
Heffernan, T. (2012, October 24). The Deer Paradox. Retrieved November 3, 2015, from http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/11/the-deer-paradox/309104/
O’Connor, B. (2015, January 14). Deer are invading New York City, and we don’t know how to stop them. Retrieved November 3, 2015, from http://www.theverge.com/2015/1/14/7537391/new-york-city-deer-problem
The Herb Companion staff. (2009, August/September). Herb to know: Mullein (Verbascum thapsus). Retrieved November 3, 2015, from http://www.motherearthliving.com/plant-profile/herb-to-know-mullein-verbascum-thapsus.aspx