I drew this stylized picture of a belted kingfisher in flight several years ago. These interesting songbirds nest in horizontal burrows near shorelines. The tunnels range in length from 1 – 8 feet. Tunnels as long as 15 feet have been found.
This drawing is of a male bird. Belted kingfishers are one of the few songbirds where the female is more colorful. They have an additional orange-colored breast band.
While out walking my dog on the Deschutes River Trail this morning, I caught a glimpse of a male belted kingfisher perched on a tree limb. A lucky sighting! He was kind of far away but I had time to snap a quick shot before he flew.
This lone California Quail perched on a fence post near Winter Ridge and called loudly. Listen to the distinctive Chi-ca-go call of the California quail.
All About Birds describes this bird as “a handsome, round soccer ball of a bird with a rich gray breast, intricately scaled underparts, and a curious, forward-drooping head plume.” A great description of this bird!
I was visiting one of my favorite plant nurseries recently and saw a little sign on one of their grape plants. It says the plant is not currently for sale because it is occupied by a robin and her hatchlings. In other words, this bird is not for sale. You can see her with her beak pointed up in the air at the top of the picture. She is one proud and protective mother!
Birds of the shore are common in the spring in parts of eastern Oregon. Why? Because flood irrigation is one of the main methods used to water the crops. As the snow melts off surrounding mountains, it collects in rivers and reaches the lower elevations.
It is released in controlled amounts in the Harney Basin, where 320 bird species congregate. This ancient method of irrigation benefits the rancher and the birdwatcher.
Birds such as sandhill cranes take advantage of all of that water. You can see flocks of them in the photo above and a single bird below.
I love seeing delicate long-legged beauties such as black-necked stilts and American avocets.
If you’re lucky, you may even see a Wilson’s snipe. Yes, they really do exist.
Flood irrigation creates temporary ponds and lakes with miles and miles of shoreline.
I saw quite a few long-billed curlew this spring. I was dive-bombed by one once when I was too close to her nest. That bill is dangerous looking! It can measure more than eight and a half inches in length.
Thousands of Ross’ and snow geese congregate in this area.
Waterfowl are common in the ponds and lakes. Here is a raft of ducks. This image is a little blurry but I included it to show the difference between canvasbacks and redhead ducks. The pair on the far left are redheads. See how the plumage is more gray? There are lots of opportunities to get clear views of many species.
You may see elegant swans as well. Trumpeter and tundra swans have been seen here.
You will be amazed when you spot unique birds of the shore, such as this American bittern. Keep your binoculars handy when traveling through this country in the spring and you will be rewarded.
I saw plenty of raptors on a Birds of Prey tour in the wide-open country of Harney County, Oregon last April. We ventured briefly into the Malheur National Forest in search of eagles. Though we didn’t see any eagles, we did get a nice view of an American kestrel.
We saw immature and mature bald eagles later that day. It’s always exciting to see them.
Some of the wildlife out there was keeping an eye on us. This herd of elk on a distant ridge top watched us for a while.
Raptors were common and we saw many of them perched on fenceposts and telephone poles.
Ground squirrels hang out in the irrigated fields and the birds of prey congregate there to find an easy meal. They like to perch on the pivot irrigation systems.
Turkey vultures also enjoy some nice fresh ground squirrel. This one was close to the road and we had a great view of it having a little snack.
We were lucky to see a prairie falcon, the only one we spotted that day.
Mule deer were common. This herd had 30+ deer.
We stopped in another spot to take pictures of deer then noticed something else in the foreground. Two burrowing owls! Can you find both of them in the photo with the deer? That was my favorite observation of the day.
This tour was part of the Harney County Migratory Bird Festival. Our guides that day were Ben Cate, from the High Desert Partnership, and Melanie Finch, wildlife technician with the U.S. Forest Service .
Raptors Pocket Guide
Though I know certain species well, I’m no expert when it comes to identifying raptors. I rely on helpful tour guides and field guides. I have field guide books and the iBird Pro app, but this handy fold out pocket guide is really helpful.
This guide includes silhouettes, identifying markings, and different color morphs. It was a dark spring day on this trip and the silhouettes page helped make identifying birds easier.
We saw quite a few raptors so it was a successful seven-hour field trip. Until next year…
These bold little white-crowned sparrows can raise or lower their “crown”, depending upon their mood. They occur throughout North America, but their bill color varies. It can be orange, yellow, or pink depending upon where they live.
They have a cheery and distinctive song that you may recognize. Listen to it here.
I saw this bald eagle standing in the middle of a field this morning and couldn’t figure out why it was there. Then I noticed a couple magpies flying close by. Hmmm. Upon closer inspection, I saw a deer carcass several feet away. I guess everyone was there for a breakfast buffet.
As you wade through the waters of your life you often end up making a splash. Sometimes you make a big loud splash and other times you need to make a quieter one. Maybe only a ripple. Here are photos of quieter splashes I have seen in Oregon.
Last week I was out walking my dog on the Mill A Loop Trail in Bend, Oregon and I happened to see an osprey pair in the process of creating more ospreys. Spring is in the air!
Osprey pair on nest at Bend Whitewater Park, Oregon
Ospreys often nest in areas close to human activity. This nest is right next to the Bend Whitewater Park. There are perches and platforms installed on both sides of the Deschutes River here for birds. I’m glad to see them using the site after the initial disturbance caused by the park’s construction.
The osprey pair will lay 1-4 eggs and incubate them for 36-42 days. The nestlings will be in the nest for 50-55 days. It will be great to see more of them flying around in a couple of months.
On April 6, I was up bright and early for a birdwatching trip that would encircle Steens Mountain in a single day. Being a bit of an introvert, I wasn’t sure I wanted to partake in a tour like this one. The Steens Mountain tour was one of 22 tours available for nature enthusiasts at the Harney County Migratory Bird Festival. The festival, which started in 1981, takes advantage of the annual spring bird migration in the Harney Basin. More than 300 species of birds use this area annually.
A land full of drama
At 6:00 am, participants in the Circle the Steens Mountain & Alvord Desert tour met at Burns High School. The weather was not cooperating for the 200-mile trip. A big storm system was blowing in. Twelve hours and 76 bird species later, we returned to the high school. Though we didn’t see any rare birds, we did see a lot, considering the weather conditions. Our views were framed by the dramatic landscapes of Harney County. The pale colored sands of the Alvord Desert stood out in contrast to the dark stormy skies. Steens Mountain provided beautiful panoramas from many different angles. We also had great views of pronghorn and deer.
We traveled east of Steens Mountain, south to Fields, then north along the west side of the mountain. Our tour guides, Joan Suther and Rick Hall, worked for the Bureau of Land Management locally for many years. The first brief stop was to look at burrowing owls. The small owls were seen braving the wind on this tour and the one I was on the next day. Flocks of snow geese and Ross’ geese were in fields nearby. Our next stop, at Crystal Crane Hot Springs, was much longer.
Visits to places wet and wild
Crystal Crane Hot Springs is a resort with a large hot spring-heated pond and a recently created cold water pond for wildlife. We checked out the wildlife in both ponds. I’m not sure if the people visiting the hot spring appreciated a bunch of people walking nearby with cameras and binoculars.
Waterfowl seen here, and at other ponds and lakes on this tour, included swans (tundra and trumpeter), northern shovelers, cinnamon teals, redheads, common mergansers, and American coots. Western grebes were starting to do a little mating behavior but we didn’t get to see them do their unique walking-on-water display. American avocets and black-necked stilts gracefully waded through shallow water. Killdeer were seen and heard as they tried to make sure we didn’t get too close to their nests.
We saw quite a few raptors on the Steens Mountain tour. Northern harriers drifted over marshy areas. Bald and golden eagles hunted near fields. Swainson’s hawks, red-tailed hawks, and rough-legged hawks perched on pivot irrigation systems looking for prey. American kestrels perched on power lines watching all the birdwatchers driving by. On the field trip I was on the next day, we saw a ferruginous hawk peeking out of a nest in a lone juniper tree. This tree is one of their favorites for nesting, but last year ravens took it over.
Small but significant
Songbirds sought shelter from the weather but luckily we saw several species. It was a little early to see some of the shrubsteppe-dependent songbirds, but western meadowlarks and sage thrashers perched high singing their bright songs. Yellow-headed blackbirds, red-winged blackbirds, and marsh wrens sung in marshy areas. The descending call of the canyon wren was heard near rocky buttes. Say’s phoebes were seen perching briefly then flying out to do a little fly catching.
Dining at an iconic location
We stopped for lunch at the Fields Station Cafe, at the southern end of Steens Mountain. The isolated small town of Fields is famous for the burgers and shakes it serves at the cafe. We ordered ahead for our large group. I didn’t know if I would partake in slurping down one of the giant milkshakes but ended up splitting one. I think I was able to finish one-quarter of a coffee milkshake. It was just enough to give me a much needed infusion of caffeine. After lunch, we crossed the highway to a grove of trees. A great horned owl, perched in the cottonwoods, eyed us warily.
Home on the range
Wranglers were out on horseback herding cattle on the west side and east side of Steens Mountain. Harney County is 10,226 square miles in size. It is the largest county in Oregon and one of the largest in the United States. Yet with a population of only 7,200 people, it somehow still has a small town feel. One of our guides recognized a cowboy working the range many miles from Burns, where we started our tour.
This was a long, but good, day in Harney County. Our guides knew the country well and helped us spot wildlife. They also told us some of the interesting history related to the area. They pointed out to us what makes this country so special and that’s what made the Steens Mountain tour great.
Every time I see a killdeer, it brings a smile to my face.
A bold bird
They are a bold little bird. Yes, you usually hear their distinctive kill-deer call long before you see them. Their black and white banded markings, and cinnamon-colored rump and tail feathers, make it hard to mistake them for something else.
Their bold personality is another thing I admire about them. They are a small bird, but they are fearless if you are near their nest. They assume anyone nearby is a potential predator. Killdeer bob up and down and call if you get close. If that doesn’t discourage you, they’ll drag a wing, feigning injury. The birds flap their wings on the ground while leading you on a wandering path away from the nest. Courage in the face of adversity.
Nest and young
The nest is a scrape in the ground containing three to five speckled eggs. It’s easy to overlook so watch your step if you hear an adult nearby in the spring or summer months. The young birds are covered in down and ready to run right after they hatch. They are one of the cuter birds I have seen in the wild. Watch this short video to see a chick with a vocal adult.
They eat eat a wide variety of invertebrates. Killdeer eat crayfish and aquatic insect larvae in the water and grasshoppers and beetles on land. The birds are often seen following plows in farmer’s fields hoping to catch some recently unearthed worms or insect larvae.
Killdeer’s range covers a huge area in the Western Hemisphere and they can be found in a wide variety of habitats. You can find them around open areas such as mudflats, fields, lawns, parking lots, golf courses, and airports. Killdeer live in many areas year round. Do you have them where you live?
A group of killdeers is called a “season.” It’s a treat to see them, no matter what the season.
On January 20, visitors entered Classroom A at the High Desert Museum to find the room filled with lifelike mounts of raptors. One mount depicted a California quail being chased by a sharp-shinned hawk. Another was of a great horned owl perched on a branch. A golden eagle mount, with outstretched wings, dwarfed the other birds on display. Artist Ian Factor welcomed participants in the workshop and everyone got to work sketching the birds. Curator of Art and Community Engagement Andries Fourie also attended and offered help when needed.
My fancy drawing kit
Various art supplies were available for our use. Many attendees brought their own supplies neatly tucked into special cases. Others, like me, had the bare essentials, so we were grateful more were provided.
Drawing from reference materials
A variety of reference materials were displayed. There was a collection of bird wings, talons, and skulls. An articulated bird skeleton stood on a tabletop. We learned the basic form of our subjects by looking at mounts prepared by taxidermists. Though not available at this workshop, study skins, or museum mounts, are often utilized for research and artistic purposes. Photographs can help when you’re doing wildlife art and participants were snapping a lot of pictures. Reference materials are helpful in getting the details right and in understanding the underlying anatomy.
This workshop, like most hosted by the Museum, was open to people of all skill levels. Some attending the event were beginners, while others were more advanced. The artists drew the birds with a variety of media. Several sketched in black-and-white with pencils, graphite, or charcoal; other participants added color with pastels and colored pencils.
Drawing from life
Drawing from life can be much more challenging. When sketching in a natural setting, you have to work fast to capture the essence of the bird. In this workshop, we sketched a live red-tailed hawk and great horned owl from the Museum’s collection. The hawk was quiet and basically stayed in one position. The owl was vocal and active the whole time. It can frustrate you when your subject doesn’t cooperate, but you have to learn to be flexible.
Participants were told to draw large shapes first then “carve down” to the details. After getting the basics down, Ian Factor advised us to capture the character of the birds. Character in this case is related to their adaptations for a predatory lifestyle and their individual personality. Wildlife Specialist Laura McWhorter provided many interesting life history facts on both of the live bird models provided for this workshop.
Participants drawing great horned owl
Ian pointed out things each participant did well and areas that might need improvements. He was especially helpful to those new to drawing. Participants were enthusiastic about this workshop. In fact, one even asked if we could have this class every weekend.
You may have heard this bird flying overhead making a “peent” call. The common nighthawk is most active in the hours around sunrise and sunset. Due to their cryptic coloration and silent behavior during the day when they roost, they can be difficult to spot.
Common Nighthawk at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon
Here’s a picture of three young swallows perched in a willow tree at Sunriver, Oregon waiting for a snack. The fledglings are usually fed by the parents but sometimes they are fed by older siblings from a previous clutch.
Tomorrow many people will be eating a delicious turkey dinner. I wanted to share some pictures of what turkeys look like in the wild before they are transformed into the centerpiece of a Thanksgiving meal. Enjoy!