Saturday, February 28, 2009

Saturday Morning Nests

Our dog has made it clear that she no longer enjoys walking around our neighborhood due to the nonstop construction noise, so we took a walk at Dawson Creek Park. We checked on the great horned owl nest and were pleased to see an adult in place.

We walked east of the owl to check on a red-tailed hawk nest in a large oak.

The nest is still up there and the adults were flying around, but they did not go to the nest.

Back at the apartment, I found a "new" old nest in a Japanese maple.

Based on the size of the nest and the material, I think it was constructed by our resident scrub jays. These little maples collect a lot of nests from a variety of bird species, so they are nice to have around.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Return of Raptor Cam

It is now the season for large birds to start nesting on man-made structures, and we can can all monitor many of these nests via webcams. The Audubon Society of Portland recently switched on their Raptorcam. This is the third year they have featured the red-tailed hawks nesting on a fire escape in downtown Portland.

The little blue arrow marks the building. This year, the camera is pointed at a side view of the nest and the viewer can watch the goings on at the nest and the streets below.

At this time the adults seem to be guarding their nest and bringing in new materials.

Last year, two of these three chicks fledged. The year before, one of two survived. It will be interesting to see the outcome this year.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Weekend Trips

Today I led a birding field trip and Dawson Creek Park for the Audubon Society of Portland. About eight birders, a perfect sized group, came out and the rain stopped just in time for the walk. The highlights, as usual were the acorn woodpeckers, wood ducks, and the nesting great horned owl. Unfortunately, the hooded mergansers and red-breasted sapsuckers I saw last week did not show up. Maybe next time.

Dawson Creek Field Trip Birds:
Great blue heron
Canada goose
Cackling goose
American wigeon
Green-winged teal
Lesser scaup
Ring-necked duck
Wood duck
American coot
Mourning dove
Great horned owl
Anna's hummingbird
Acorn woodpecker
Northern flicker
Scrub jay
Black-capped chickadee
American robin
Yellow-rumped warbler
Spotted towhee
Dark-eyed junco
Song sparrow
Red-winged blackbird
Brewer's blackbird
House finch

Yesterday, we visited the confluence of the Willamette River and the Columbia at Kelly Point Park. Lately, I like to view the natural and human worlds coexisting on the lower Columbia and Willamette Rivers.

The Willamette is on the left side of the pilings and the Columbia is on the right.

Up the Columbia, Mount Hood could faintly be seen behind the noisy industrial area.

A tug boat cruised down the Willamette.

We saw three bald eagles, several double-crested cormorants, and a pair of mew gulls before our fraidy-cat dog demanded we return to the car because the noises were alarming her.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Dawson Creek Birds

I took a break from work today to scout Dawson Creek Park. I am leading a birding trip there on Sunday and if the birds I saw today stick around, it will be a great day.

A pair of red-breasted sapsuckers followed me around and sipped from their wells in the park's many maples.

Above, one of the sapsuckers works on a trunk while a robin watches from a branch.

At one of the maples, honeybees were taking advantage of the sweet sap provided by the birds.

I checked on the snag that held a great horned owl nest last year. It was tough to tell with binoculars, but I'm pretty sure I saw an adult in the tree. This weekend, we will have scopes to check for certain.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Butte Beer

While trying to decide on which beer to buy at New Seasons, I came across a familiar scene. I found a 6-pack of Bayern Killarney Red Lager with a painting of my hometown of Butte, Montana on the label. The Bayern Brewery is a few blocks from a house I once rented in Missoula.

I had to buy it for old-time's sake.

The painting features revelers leaving a bar with drinks in hand, still a common occurrence in Butte because police do not enforce open-container laws. In the background you can see the Continental Divide, smelter stacks, and the head frame of a copper mine. The smelters are now gone, but the bars and decommissioned head frames remain iconic symbols of a drinking town with a mining problem.

Cockle Drop Zone

Sand lake is one of my favorite spots on the Oregon Coast. It is a unique body of water that in not really a lake, but a saltwater estuary. Unlike the many bays along the coast, there are no major streams draining into the lake, so most, if not all of its water comes from the sea.

At high tide the area is flooded and actually resembles a lake with Whalen Island (the forested area) in the middle, but at low tide, as seen above, it is more like a series of channels that wrap around the island.

Last weekend, we visited the west side of the island at low tide. This is a great time to catch some interesting gull behavior.

Like the human clammers, western gulls and glaucous-winged gulls flock to sandy flats at low tide to hunt bivalves such as this cockle.

After pulling a cockle from the sand, they carry their prize high in the air.

At a certain height, they drop it. When the cockles hit the wet sand, you hear a "crack" as the shell breaks. The gulls drop down to eat the contents before another gull swoops in to steal them.

The beach is littered with shell fragments from successful cockle drops. It might be wise to wear a hard hat when clamming in the area.

Monday, February 16, 2009

First Nest of 2009!

The western Oregon nesting season has begun. While taking Andie for a walk, I noticed an Anna's hummingbird picking lichens from the trunk of an oak tree.

I froze and watched her fly above my head and land on her nest. She worked the material into the nest and stayed on.

She was still on the nest when I returned to take a quick picture (she's in the center of the photo), so she must be incubating her eggs.

Her nest is well concealed by remaining on the oak leaves. It amazes me that such a small bird nests in the winter, when most of the nesting birds are large bodies-species such as great horned bald eagles, and ravens. I hope the weather will be easy on her and her young.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

We're Back!

Sarah and I just returned from our winter vacation on the coast. This is the third year we have taken a week off before Sarah's work gets really busy. This year we decided to spend a few nights in Manzanita before moving on to Pacific City.

Manzanita, named for the shrub pictured above, is my new favorite beach town. I loved all of the restaurants and shops and I never got tired of looking at Neahkahnie Mountain, which looms large over the north end of town and projects into the ocean.

Neahkahnie looked great in the fog..

and in the snow.

Our motel was a few blocks from the beach and the rest of the town's highlights.

Last year, we had nothing but sun during our winter break, but this year the weather was a bit more appropriate.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Raptor Road Trip 09

Today Sarah and I worked our third Raptor Road Trip at Sauvie Island. The event is sponsored by the Audubon Society of Portland, Metro, and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The Road Trip consists of several stops on Sauvie Island where the public is invited to learn about raptors and other birds while enjoying coffee and donuts. The three birding spots are marked above with green tacks.

This was the first year that we did not get soaked by rain or snow. It was also the first year Sarah and I were stationed at Coon Point overlooking sturgeon lake.

The morning started off with loud flocks of sandhill cranes, one of my favorite species of birds. They are identified in flight by their calls, their outstretched necks, and long legs.

We had a great turnout of over 850 visitors. I think I explained the differences between cackling and dusky geese to all of them.

The sun came out by late morning and we enjoyed views of many birds, Mount Saint Helens, and the tip of Mount Rainier.

The highlight of the day occurred as the air heated and bald eagles began souring in a huge kettle, using the thermals to gain elevation above sturgeon lake. At one point, at least 14 eagles could be seen in the air at once. The crowd of birders looked up in silence and awe, enjoying a spectacle they did not expect to see.

Here is the list of birds I compiled from our station:

Double-crested cormorant
Great blue heron
Great egret
Tundra swan
Canada goose (dusky subspecies)
Cackling goose
Snow goose
Northern pintail
American wigeon
Northern shoveler
Green-winged teal
Common merganser
Bald eagle
Cooper's hawk
Northern harrier
Red-tailed hawk
American kestrel
Sandhill crane
Glaucous-winged gull
Ring-billed gull
Belted kingfisher
Northern flicker (red and yellow-shafted)
Western scrub jay
American robin
Spotted towhee
Song sparrow
Red-winged blackbird
Western meadowlark

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Bird Count Progress

As you can see in the list to the right, my Great Bird Count of February is off to a slow start.

I have limited my list to birds seen or heard from the windows or deck of the apartment, so I am at a disadvantage to the other participants. I have had plenty of mourning doves and house finches at the feeder, but not much else. Today I added a glaucous-winged gull and a robin flock to the list and I am hoping for some raptor and waterfowl flyovers.

It is a nice sunny day and birds are probably singing, but their songs are being drowned out by leafblowers and carpet-cleaning vans. Ah, the perks of apartment life. Oh well, at least I have a job and I'm not being foreclosed upon.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Super Bowl Biogeography

Another bird-sports connection:

Last night, I started watching the Super Bowl as a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, but by the end I was cheering for the the Arizona Cardinals because I was so impressed by the play of wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

Unfortunately for the Cardinals, the Steelers won a hard-fought battle by scoring a touchdown in the final minutes.

Arizona has a great mascot in the northern cardinal because the actual birds can be seen in much of the southern half of the state.

I distinctly remember my first encounter with a northern cardinal. It happened in the parking lot of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument near the Mexican Border. My classmates and I had driven through the night from Montana for a field ecology course. We wearily exited our car and were greeted by a blazing red denizen of the desert.

I was excited to see the bird, though my friends from the east had seen plenty before and were not as impressed.

The Cardinals were one of the original NFL teams. They started up in Chicago and later moved to Saint Louis, both cities near the center of the northern cardinal's range. In 1988, the team moved to Arizona, keeping their mascot. I wonder if they would have changed mascots had they moved to California, as once planned, where northern cardinals rarely occur.

Recently, I looked at the range map of northern cardinals and noticed that they occur in Texas and southern Arizona, but skip over much of New Mexico. I gave this some thought and figured that their shunning of the Land of Enchantment must be a result of vegetation patterns, which determine the ranges of most landbirds.

In the east, Cardinals nest among tall deciduous shrubs and small trees near forest edges. Fragmentation of forests has therefore led to increases in cardinal populations throughout much of the country.

In Arizona, cardinals are found in Sonoran desert scrub habitat that contains small deciduous trees such as palo verde and ironwood, pictured above.

These trees do not exist in much of New Mexico, which is dominated by grasslands and short shrubs at low elevations, large cottonwood trees along rivers, pinyon pines and junipers at mid-elevations, and tall conifers at higher elevations. These vegetation types are not preferred nesting habitat of cardinals.

During the last century, however, small deciduous trees such as saltcedar and Russian olive were introduced from Europe and Asia and have spread throughout much of New Mexico, changing the composition of nesting habitats.

The consequences of this habitat change are mixed, depending on the bird species examined. Generalist, shrub-nesting species often respond well to high densities of exotic shrubs and trees. If Northern cardinals find these exotic habitats favorable, they may soon occupy a larger range in New Mexico.

Great Bird Count of February

I signed up for the Great Bird Count of February, so I am now listing all the birds I see or hear from the apartment on the sidebar to the right.

I do not expect to see as many birds as the other bloggers with their nicely landscaped yards, but it will be fun to document the birds that come by while I am hard at work.