Common Nighthawk

Silent Sleeper

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

Common Nighthawk at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon

Weekly Photo Challenge – Silence

Bridge Art – The Other Side

I have posted a couple pictures of  bridge art on one side of this bridge in Bend, Oregon. Now it’s time to show the other side. The colorful artwork brightens up these cool cloudy winter days.

Bridge of Art in Bend, Oregon 14July2017

Links showing the other side

Here’s a link to a photo of the artist, Sandy Klein, working on the paintings on the bridge – Bridge of Art.

Here’s a link that shows the completed artwork on the other side – Bridge of Art Update.

Friday Flowers

Kingbird surveying his realm

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.

Western Kingbird at Fort Rock, Oregon 21April2017

Western kingbird at Fort Rock, Oregon 21April2017

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!

Peek-a-boo view

Northern flicker in western juniper nest 19June2017

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.

Northern Flicker2 11-14-2015

Weekly Photography Challenge – Transient

Blurry songster

Out of focus but in tune

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.”

Northern mockingbird 7May2017

Northern mockingbird Mimus polyglottos

Weekly Photo Challenge – Focus

Cooper’s Hawks – Common but cool

Cooper's hawk 21Oct2016

Cooper’s hawk, Accipiter cooperii

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.

Cooper's Hawk 17Nov2016

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.
Cooper's hawk 21Oct2016

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.
CoopersHawk

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.

Where’s Woody?

White-headed woodpecker, Picoides albolarvatus

White-headed woodpecker, Picoides albolarvatus

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.

Black Butte & Mt Jefferson, Oregon

Black Butte & Mt Jefferson, Oregon

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.

Metolius River, Oregon

Metolius River, Oregon

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.

Dean Hale Woodpecker Festival, 4 June 2016

Dean Hale Woodpecker Festival, 4 June 2016

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. 😉

 

Look Closer

Sod House Ranch, Malheur NWR 4-2016Looks like an old homestead, right?

Sod House Ranch, Malheur NWR 4-2016Look a little bit closer.

Sod House Ranch, Malheur NWR 4-2016Go on…zoom in.

Sod House Ranch, Malheur NWR 4-2016If 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.

 

Flocking to Malheur

 

Ross's Geese, Chen rossii

Ross’s Geese, Chen rossii (Snow geese were in some of these flocks)

Flocks alighting
Optics focusing

American Bittern, Botaurus lentiginosus

American Bittern, Botaurus lentiginosus

Nature’s fireworks on display
Exploding in a timeless rhythm

Say's Phoebe, Sayornis saya

Say’s Phoebe, Sayornis saya

Wings fluttering
Voices trumpeting

Malheur Birdwatchers

Malheur Birdwatchers

Welcoming visitors to share
In a celebration of Spring

 

Lewis & Clark Critter Quiz

Bison at Yellowstone National Park, WY

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.

Sandhill Crane at Malheur NWR, OR

1. Sandhill crane, Grus canadensis

Clark's Nutcracker at Mt. Bachelor, OR

2. Clark’s nutcracker, Nucifraga columbiana

Bison in Yellowstone National Park, WY

3. American bison,  Bison bison

Channel Catfish by Siobhan Sullivan

4. Channel catfish,  Ictalurus punctatus

Lewis's Woodpecker in Bend, OR

5. Lewis’s woodpecker,  Melanerpes lewis

Red Fox at Yellowstone National Park, WY

6. Red fox,  Vulpes vulpes

Pronghorn at Yellowstone National Park, WY

7. Pronghorn,  Antilocapra americana

Mergansers Bend,OR

8. Common merganser, Mergus merganser

The answers:

  1. Sandhill crane – Described
  2. Clark’s nutcracker – Discovered
  3. Bison – Described
  4. Channel catfish – Discovered
  5. Lewis’s woodpecker – Discovered
  6. Red fox – Described
  7. Pronghorn – Discovered
  8. Common merganser – Described

Meadowlark Time

Western Meadowlark Clock

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.

Snowshoeing at Mt. Bachelor

Mt. Bachelor

Mt. Bachelor

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.

A snowy Mountain Hemlock forest

A snowy Mountain Hemlock, Tsuga mertensiana,  forest

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.

Snowshoeing

Snowshoeing

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.

South Sister with Gray Jay

South Sister with Gray Jay

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 .

Broken Top

Broken Top

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.

South Sister & Broken Top

South Sister & Broken Top

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.

Hey look! I took a selfie.

Hey look! I took a selfie.

This was a great experience and I will be doing more snowshoeing in the future.

Twitter

Audubon's Warbler

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.

Audubon's warbler

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.

Tower Falls 6-2015

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.

High Desert Museum – Central Oregon Attractions (continued)

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.

Redband Trout

Redband Trout

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.

Silver Sage Trading Store

Silver Sage Trading Store

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.

Whose Home?

Whose Home?

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

Swan Song

 

Trumpeter Swan, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

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!

Trumpeter Swans, Sunriver, Oregon

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.

Trumpeter Swans, Sunriver, Oregon

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.