Monday, June 29, 2009

What bird is that?... Questions and answers

Question: (June 6) "Hello Greg,
My son and I spotted a unique bird in our backyard. Can you identify this from the attached picture?

Mike, location not given

Answer: I do, indeed, recognize the silhouette, Mike. That's a Northern Flicker.

Question: (May 30) "Greg, Thanks for your web site. It's very educational and very well laid out.
I work in Salem, Oregon and generally see the same birds that I see in my Portland neighborhood, but last week, I was walking back to my office around 12:30 p.m. and heard a bird song that I'd not heard before. I immediately assumed it was a warbler and I still believe so but I cannot put the song to the bird. I have listened to every warbler song on-line that I might expect in our area and cannot match it. Can you help?
The bird was singing in a mature purple-leaved plum so not a huge tree perhaps singing8-10' up in the tree. I never saw the bird while it was singing. I cautiously circled the tree (going out into the street and across the street to try to see it, but no luck seeing the bird!). This is an area of high-density buildings both government and apartments with heavily-parked lots and lots of pedestrians. There are many mature trees and shrubs around these buildings, however. The purple-leaved plums are the street trees on this street.
The song was fairly fast-paced, sounding more like a Warbling Vireo than any warbler song that I can I.D.
It eventually flushed and flew away from me and I could see that it was warbler sized with a flash of yellow on the rump and perhaps olive. It definitely wasn't a Lesser Goldfinch or an American Goldfinch. It wasn't their song.
Any ideas? The bird was solitary and flew into a large red maple row against a large apartment. I had started to draw a crowd with my cautious movements and my staring into the tree! I thought I better get back to work so didn't see the bird again. I've never seen a Warbling Vireo as I'm mainly a back-yard birder. Could it have been a Warbling Vireo with the yellowish rump? Such a sweet but vigorous song in such an urban area.
Thanks for your help, Greg."

Steve in SW Portland, Oregon

Yellow-rumped Warbler Answer: Steve, while Warbling Vireo is certainly possible at the time and place your saw this bird, the description of the yellow rump just doesn't fit. Thus, I would suggest that it is the most abundant migrant in western Oregon during the spring. Guess what? It has a yellow rump in its name! There are two races of Yellow-rumped Warblers and both migrate through the Pacific NW, Myrtle breeds farther north and starts migrating as early as March, and Audubon's starts in May, but both occur through spring. The voices, both calls and songs, are different. Many recordings are of the more widespread (common in the East) Myrtle Warbler. So make sure you are listening to the correct bird recording. Listen to the Audubon's Yellow-rumped Warbler songs on Cornell's "All About Birds" online field guide site.

Question: (June 3) "Hello Greg - I'm going nuts trying to discover the author of a fantastical call that I hear all day, every day right now. Here's my best description of it:
A single high-pitched, upwardly rising note, that spirals upward in three "loops", ending in a shimmery, echoing glissando effect. I am referring to this unseen bird as the Ventriloquist due to the amazing shimmery finish at the end, like water ripples spreading. It seems that between these beautiful calls, the bird hops around and makes a tiny, quiet, single "po" call. Then the upward-spiralling call again and again. It's so beautiful. I recall hearing it all last Summer and it just started again a few weeks ago.
Today I saw a classic LBB (little brown bird!) in the vicinity of the call... Looked just like a Hermit Thrush or so, with large eye and needle-sharp insectivore bill. Buff color with some speckles at the throat and barely lighter buff belly.
Any hope of IDing this masterpiece? I am always trying to get a glimpse of the singer but the bird is very, very shy. I live near a forested wetland with tons of cover. Lots of Robins around and lots of other birds too. (blog link below) If you can help me, it would be just wonderful. If not, I totally understand!! Thanks for reading this. Sincerely,"

Bonnie in Quilcene, Washington

Swainson's Thrush Answer: What a beautiful and accurate description of the song of Swainson's Thrush! Most people have a very difficult time describing a bird song or call, but you nailed it, Bonnie! The spotted thrush with buff underparts is Swainson's and not Hermit Thrush. Hermit Thrushes have more gray underparts and breed in the high mountains (spruce and true fir) and those that breed in Alaska will winter in your lowland woods. Hermit have rusty rump and uppertail. Swainson's Thrushes are rare north of Mexico before mid-April and head back down there in September when their distinctive "whit" and "heep" calls are heard overhead during their night migration. Swainson's Thrushes may be one of the most abundant birds in riparian foothill clear cut regions of red alders before the Douglas fir grow up too much. The other abundant birds in Swainson's Thrush habitat are Wilson's Warblers and Warbling Vireos. Listen to Swainson's Thrush song in Cornell's "All About Birds" field guide.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

American Avocet at Malheur refuge

American AvocetAmerican Avocet, Hines, Oregon on 23 May 2009 by Greg Gillson.


Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is an oasis in Oregon's sage desert southeast corner. This special area provides many opportunities for observing large, unique birds at close range in spring. I had the opportunity to spend nearly a week at Malheur in late May. Here is another photo from that trip.

Two of the most flamboyant shorebirds at Malheur are the Black-necked Stilt and American Avocet. While the black-and-white stilt sports impossibly long coral red legs, the avocet displays a rusty head and upturned bill perched on long blue-gray legs.

The range of American Avocet is a bit complex, but primarily seasonal wetlands in western North America. It is found in the prairie potholes of central Canada and the US. It is also found in the Great Basin lakes. Other breeding areas include coastal California from San Francisco south into Baja, Gulf coast of Texas and Mexico, interior Mexico, and isolated East Coast areas as far north as Virginia. Birds winter coastally from central California southward.

In the Pacific NW these striking birds breed in wetlands from SE British Columbia, southern Idaho, southeastern Washington, eastern Oregon, and northern California and southward. Winter birds are regular from San Francisco Bay, south.

The edges of the breeding range and the number of birds breeding in any location fluctuates from year-to-year based on water levels regionally. During periods of drought in the Southwestern United States, birds may move farther north in larger numbers in spring.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Can I count it?

Trumpeter SwanMost Trumpeter Swans in the Pacific NW are wild migrants. However, I learned that these at Brownsmead, Oregon on 31 December 2007 were pen-raised and released locally, thus "uncountable." Photo by Greg Gillson.


One major aspect of "birding" for many people is "listing," keeping track of the bird species that one has seen. These lists can be life-time lists, state lists, backyard lists, year lists, etc.

One question that arises is: "What birds can I count?".

Mary and Jim in Salem, Oregon posted such a question to the Oregon Birders OnLine (OBOL) email discussion list on 24 June 2009: "We saw a Mute Swan in McGilchrist Pond in Salem this afternoon. Are they "countable" for our life list?"

One response included the predictable: "You can count whatever you want, It's your list."

Of course, this is true. But Mary and Jim would not have asked if they were just going to make up their own rules about what they counted. They wanted to know about generally accepted rules about what others consider countable. There can be some healthy competition among the top listers. But even if comparison with others is not your goal, reaching a personal landmark of a list of 200 or 300 or 400 species in one of the Pacific NW states is quite an accomplishment.

Who makes up the rules? In the United States and Canada there is an organization called the American Birding Association that appointed itself the maker of bird counting rules. While this may seem brazen, most birders adhere to these rules because they provide a standard and, well, they just make sense.

For instance, the pertinent rules about counting a bird on your North American list (if you wish to conform strictly to the ABA rules) are basically as follows.

(1) The bird must have been within the prescribed area.
(2) The bird must have been a species currently accepted by the ABA Checklist Committee for lists within its area.
(3) The bird must have been alive, wild, and unrestrained when encountered.

For Jim and Mary's Mute Swan, the question comes down to the "is it wild?" requirement. Since Mute Swan is not a native bird to the Pacific Northwest, we'll assume that the Mute Swan they saw in a park in Salem is not a vagrant wild bird from Eurasia but, rather, an exotic release or the offspring of recently released birds. To answer this "wild" question the ABA has a whole page called Criteria For Determining Establishment of Exotics.

The particular guidelines to note are the requirements that the population of exotic birds is self-sustaining, not directly dependent upon human support, and present for at least 15 years.

Clearly, a single Mute Swan or even a pair or two does not meet the criteria for an established exotic. Even worse, there is a special rule specifically mentioning Mute Swans as an invasive species that is not likely to become self-sustaining because of active control efforts to eradicate any emerging populations.

So, by ABA rules, the Mute Swan seen in Salem is not countable.

By these rules, many Rock Pigeons probably should not be counted (free-flying birds raised by pigeon fanciers). Most populations of Wild Turkeys technically don't meet the 15 year establishment criteria in the Pacific Northwest. Ring-necked Pheasants may not be self-perpetuating west of the Cascades, even though they have been part of the avifauna for a century.

But it's nothing to get dogmatic about. After all, "it's your list," right?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Oregon Shorebird Festival

Wandering TattlerWandering Tattler on Shorebird Festival Field Trip, Bandon, Oregon on 2 September 2007 by Greg Gillson.


The 23rd annual Oregon Shorebird Festival will be held August 28-30, 2009 at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology in Charleston, Oregon.

This year the Festival will be a joint venture with the annual meeting of the Oregon Field Ornithologists. There will be field trips during the day and presentations in the evenings, suitable for all levels of birding interest.

One evening presentation is by birdsong recordist Geoff Keller: "My Most Memorable Field Recording Experiences." Another presentation will be by well-known birder Jim Danzenbaker: "A Workshop on the Nuances of Shorebird Identification."

There are two pelagic trips this year. The Bird Guide, Inc. will lead an 8 hour trip on Saturday, and a 5 hour trip on Sunday offshore to see albatrosses, shearwaters, jeagers, auklets, and other seabirds and marine life. Separate advanced pre-registration for the pelagic trips is required at The Bird Guide Pelagic Trips web site.

For more information and registration for the Oregon Shorebird Festival, please see the Oregon Shorebird Festival web page.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Backyard birds of... Campbell River, British Columbia

Fox SparrowA muddy Sooty Fox Sparrow, Forest Grove, Oregon on 8 December 2007 by Greg Gillson.


The following common yardbirds are found in Campbell River, British Columbia.

The seasons listed are those when most common, though some individuals may occur at other seasons.

Band-tailed Pigeon, spring, summer, fall
Rufous Hummingbird, spring, summer
Red-breasted Sapsucker, year round
Downy Woodpecker, year round
Hairy Woodpecker, year round
Pileated Woodpecker, year round
Northern Flicker, year round
Olive-sided Flycatcher, spring, summer
Steller's Jay, year round
Northwestern Crow, year round
Common Raven, year round
Barn Swallow, spring, summer
Chestnut-backed Chickadee, year round
Bushtit, year round
Red-breasted Nuthatch, year round
Brown Creeper, year round
Winter Wren, year round
Golden-crowned Kinglet, year round
Ruby-crowned Kinglet, fall, winter, spring
Swainson's Thrush, spring, summer
American Robin, year round
Varied Thrush, year round
Cedar Waxwing, spring, summer
European Starling, year round
Orange-crowned Warbler, spring, summer
Wilson's Warbler, spring, summer
Common Yellowthroat, spring, summer
Western Tanager, spring, summer
Black-headed Grosbeak, spring, summer, fall
Spotted Towhee, year round
Chipping Sparrow, spring, summer
Savannah Sparrow, spring, summer, fall
Dark-eyed Junco, year round
White-crowned Sparrow, year round
Golden-crowned Sparrow, fall, winter, spring
Fox Sparrow, fall, winter, spring
Lincoln Sparrow, fall, winter, spring
Song Sparrow, year round
Red-winged Blackbird, year round
Brewer's Blackbird, year round
Brown-headed Cowbird, spring, summer, fall
Bullock's Oriole, spring, summer
House Finch, year round
Purple Finch, year round
Red Crossbill, fall, winter, spring
American Goldfinch, spring, summer, fall
Pine Siskin, year round
Evening Grosbeak, fall, winter, spring

This checklist is based on information provided in the
Checklist of Campbell River area birds by Narrow Escape Vacation Rental.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

In the backyard... House Sparrow

House SparrowHouse Sparrow, Cornelius, Oregon on 10 January 2004 by Greg Gillson.


McSparrow. Perhaps no bird in the world other than the domestic pigeon is so linked to humans as the House Sparrow. Introduced to North America from European populations in the 1850s, 1860s, and 1870s, they spread rapidly. They reached Portland, Oregon in the late 1880s and had a population there of about 500 birds by 1887. They reached Spokane about 1895 and Seattle in 1897.

Ironically, these pest birds were brought to the New World themselves to control insect pests. However, at best, only about 10% of their diet is insects. Primarily they eat weed seeds. They did especially well when travel was primarily by horse-drawn carriage. They ate spilled grain and the undigested seeds in horse droppings. They have been undergoing a measurable population decline since the middle of the 20th century, but are still quite abundant.

In the cities, they found habitat unclaimed by North American birds, except recently the House Finch (See In the backyard... House Finch). So, these birds are quite abundant on city streets and fast-food restaurant trash dumpsters and parking lots (or perhaps I should say car parks in honour of their British background?). However, in the countryside these aggressive little birds took over cavities and bird houses intended for native wrens, swallows, chickadees, and bluebirds.

It is for this reason that most birders don't care to have these birds at their feeders. To reduce House Sparrows from your feeder, do not feed the generic seed mix. It has a lot of "filler" seeds, specifically millet, which House Sparrows love, but native birds don't really care for. House Sparrows are in the Old World weaver family, not the true finches or New World sparrow family. House Sparrows have a more difficult time chewing sunflower seeds than native sparrows and finches. Thus, serving black oil sunflower seeds can make your feeder less attractive to this bird (but not totally, as you can see from the photo above).

These birds are plump and brownish, with a contrasting gray rump, and grayish underparts. Males are patterned quite handsomely with chestnut ear coverts and shoulders. In summer the black throat grows to a black bib across the chest. The female is mostly gray and brown with a broad pale eyeline.

Monday, June 15, 2009


ButterflyButterfly #1 [California Tortoiseshell], Canyon Creek Campground, Jefferson Co., Oregon on 7 June 2007 by Greg Gillson.


Most birders have at least a passing interest in all forms of life. Many have become deeply immersed in butterfly and dragonfly identification. At this point, I have decided not to let my obsessions with birds extend to these colorful flying insects. But sometimes they demand attention. Such was the case on the Woodpecker Wonderland Bird Festival held last week at Camp Sherman, Oregon.

While leading bird tours in the Abbott Creek area of the now 6-year-old B&B Burn, I was impressed with the numbers of butterflies along the Metolius River at Canyon Creek Campground. So I took several photos of butterflies sunning themselves. Except for monarchs and swallowtail butterflies, I am pretty much ignorant of butterfly identification. In fact, I'm not sure what the differences really are between butterflies and moths.

So I present some photos here and hope that my readers will tell me what these are. For now, these are just "pretty butterflies" the same way that some people enjoy "pretty birds" without a strong need to name and chase them. If you know what these are, please use the "comments" link to post your response. Thank you.

ButterflyTiny little blackish Butterfly #2 [Two-banded Checkered Skipper], Canyon Creek Campground, Jefferson Co., Oregon on 7 June 2007 by Greg Gillson.


ButterflyAnother dark one, Butterfly #3 [Northern Cloudywing], Canyon Creek Campground, Jefferson Co., Oregon on 7 June 2007 by Greg Gillson.


ButterflyThe undersides of the wings were pale with orange dots on this on, Butterfly #4A [Dotted Blue (sp.)], Canyon Creek Campground, Jefferson Co., Oregon on 7 June 2007 by Greg Gillson.


ButterflyThis same butterfly had blue wings when open, Butterfly #4B [Dotted Blue (sp.)], Canyon Creek Campground, Jefferson Co., Oregon on 7 June 2007 by Greg Gillson.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Pygmy Nuthatches and Giant Pines

Pygmy NuthatchA Pygmy Nuthatch gets a drink in a stock tank, Sisters, Oregon on 27 May 2009 by Greg Gillson.


It's a good thing the already diminutive nuthatches are not capable of feeling sensitive about their small size. That's because some politician/scientist went and named this tiny denizen of the ponderosa pine forest a Pygmy Nuthatch! How insensitive! How redundant!

Constantly giving happy little piping contact notes, these birds band together in little flocks and crawl up and down and all over the immense old growth pondersoa trees. In fact, these birds and White-headed Woodpeckers are linked closely to the mature ponderosa pine forest.

The bird above was one of several near the bird feeders at our Best Western Ponderosa Lodge in Sisters, Oregon. This was a great place to explore the ponderosa forest. Feeder birds here included White-headed Woodpeckers, Pinyon Jays, and Cassin's Finches. I was there scouting for the June 5-7, 2009 Woodpecker Wonderland Bird Festival, where I was asked to be one of the field trip guides. I have more photos from the Festival to share in the coming weeks.

Pygmy Nuthatches are resident from southern British Columbia, south in Western mountains from Colorado to California, into western Mexico. They nest in old woodpecker holes.

If you happen to live in the ponderosa forest, then these birds will eat seeds from your backyard bird feeder, and nest in small nest boxes, such as those for chickadees. And don't forget about attracting them with water,... though you probably don't need as much as pictured above.

Friday, June 12, 2009

At the pond... Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged BlackbirdAdult male Red-winged Blackbird, displaying, with red shoulder patch obvious, Tualatin River NWR, Sherwood, Oregon on 9 May 2009 by Greg Gillson.


The musical konk-a-REE-a song of the Red-winged Blackbird is a familiar summer sound in marshes and wetlands throughout North and Middle America. In winter these birds move south out of most of Alaska and Canada, though they remain in milder coastal British Columbia and SE Alaska.

The males are glossy black with reddish-orange shoulder patches, edged with yellow. During mating or territorial displays, the male prominently shows off his red wing patches (photo above). At other times, though, the black scapular feathers of the upper shoulders conceal the red patch and just the yellow border shows (photo below).

Red-winged BlackbirdAdult male Red-winged Blackbird, singing, with red shoulder patch mostly concealed, Fernhill Wetlands, Forest Grove, Oregon on 3 May 2009 by Greg Gillson.


Females, on the other hand, are very streaky, and lack the red shoulder patches. They resemble sparrows, but have a longer, more pointed bill and full tail--the same silhouette as the male Red-winged Blackbird. Immature males, through their first year are similar to the females, but do show varying amounts of red on the wing. These plumages are the source of many questions we receive about bird identification.

Red-winged BlackbirdFemale or immature Red-winged Blackbird, Fernhill Wetlands, Forest Grove, Oregon on 7 June 2008 by Greg Gillson.


In fall and winter Red-winged Blackbirds form large flocks with other blackbirds, starlings, and cowbirds. While they often feed in fields and cattle feedlots, many also visit backyard bird feeders for sunflower and other seeds and suet. They prefer to feed on the ground or on a tray feeder.

In the Pacific Northwest, and especially in California, there are two other similar birds. Actually, there is a form of Red-winged Blackbird in the Central Valley of California that lacks the yellow edges to the red wing patch. This form of Red-winged Blackbird (not actually a different species) is called the "bicolored blackbird." A separate species, the Tricolored Blackbird is found in California, with scattered colonies in SW and Central Oregon and, in very recent years, barely into southeastern Washington. The Tricolored Blackbird has a deeper blood-red shoulder patch bordered with white. The voice lacks any musical overtones, but otherwise matches the pattern of Red-winged Blackbird. Females are similar, but the female Tricolored Blackbird is quite dark on the lower belly, while the Red-winged Blackbird female is streaked.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Trip to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon

Steens over MalheurThe Steens Mountains rise over Benson Pond and Great Basin desert landscape at Malheur NWR on 25 May 2009 by Greg Gillson.


Spring is such a wonderful time for birding. The weather is improving; the sun rising earlier each day. The flowers and leaves are out. Insects buzzing. Birds are migrating through, even ones that winter far to the south and breed far to the north. Local breeders are arriving on territory and singing vigorously.

For birders, spring passes much too quickly. "Next spring I am going to do more birding," you promise yourself.

After not even going to Malheur NWR in extreme SE Oregon last year--an annual birding pilgrimage for most serious birders in the Pacific Northwest--this year worked out quite well for me. I was able to visit Malheur during the traditional Memorial Day holiday and spend 5 days, rather than 3. My wife, Marlene, joined me and we had a relaxed week of birding.

White-faced IbisA pair of courting White-faced Ibis at Hines, Harney Co., Oregon on 24 May 2009 by Greg Gillson.


Over the next few weeks I will go through my hundreds of photos from Malheur. I will cull the bad ones and work on the good ones (taken in RAW format for best processing--though not immediately available). As I digitally "develop" more of the photos over the next few weeks, I'll be adding them to my pBase photo archive: Harney County, Oregon, 23-27 May 2009.

In the mean time, you might like to read about other people's visits to Malheur this spring.

Lee Rentz blogged about his April visit in his blog titled: The Old West Lingers on in the Oregon Outback. He continued with Malheur in April, then Dawn on the Sagebrush Plain, and finally Visions of Hell Quenched.

Dave Irons wrote two posts in the BirdFellow blog: Memorial Day Weekend: "Going to Malheur?" and also Memorial Day Weekend Essay.

Mike Patterson blogged in North Coast Diaries a post Malheur in the Morning, then, logically, Malheur in the Afternoon, and followed it up with some non-bird wildlife in Fierce Creatures.

Please enjoy reading these other writings and photos until I am able to post more photos of my own.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

What bird is that?... Questions and answers

Question: "We took a trip to the Oregon Coast (Otter Rock) and saw these birds on the beach at Otter Crest. We are unable to identify them. I know they are not loons (no red eyes and the breasts are black), but they don't look like grebes either. Thanks for the help."

Jody and Ed in Anchorage, Alaska

Answer: Your birds are Brant (formerly Black Brant), a type of small marine goose. They breed in Alaska, but on the west and north coasts. Then they migrate over the ocean almost directly to the mouth of the Columbia River. They winter on the West Coast. Thus, it is understandable that you haven't seen this goose in your Anchorage location. [Click photos above for larger view.]

Question: "Thank you for posting bird information on your website. I have a question regarding our state bird the Western Meadowlark. I don't ever remember seeing one and would like to find one. I live in the Portland metro area. Can you tell where and when to go to see our state bird?"

Diane in Portland, Oregon

Western Meadowlark Answer: Western Meadowlark was chosen as the State Bird of Oregon in 1927 by Governor declaration after a vote by Oregon school children. Rumor has it that they were "encouraged" to choose the meadowlark over perhaps more familiar birds. At that time meadowlarks were found in rural areas of western Oregon. Current agricultural practices prevent the Western Meadowlark from nesting in the Willamette Valley except in small numbers, more commonly in the less-populated southern end of the Valley. A few winter in short grass fields in the Portland vicinity and along the outer coast (in winter, try N Marine Drive in the Saint Johns area of Portland, near Smith and Bybee Lakes). However, they are quite common yet in the extensive sage flats of the eastern two-thirds of Oregon. Drive any road east of the Cascades from spring and summer and they will be singing from the fence posts. [Click photos above for larger view.]

There is apparently a movement underway to change the State Bird of Oregon from Western Meadowlark to Osprey.

Send your queries about Pacific Northwest bird identification or behavior or other topics. I'll do my best to figure out what you saw. I'll do some research. Then I'll write an article to answer your question. If you have a certain question, no doubt others will, too, and appreciate knowing the answer. My goal will be to do one Q & A article each week, answering all the questions I receive that week. I'll just use your first name and city in my answers. If you send photos I will likely use them (perhaps cropping and adjusting exposure for the web) so others can see what you are seeing.

Send questions to me using this link: PNWBB Q & A

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Backyard birds of... Midway, Utah

Black-chinned HummingbirdBlack-chinned Hummingbird, Malheur NWR, Oregon on 27 May 2007 by Greg Gillson.


The following common yardbirds are found in Midway, Utah.

The seasons listed are those when most common, though some individuals may occur at other seasons.

Mourning Dove, year round
Common Nighthawk, summer
Broad-tailed Hummingbird, spring, summer
Rufous Hummingbird, summer, fall
Black-chinned Hummingbird, summer
Downy Woodpecker, year round
Northern Flicker, year round
Olive-sided Flycatcher, spring, summer
Western Wood-Pewee, spring, summer
Willow Flycatcher, spring, summer
Black-billed Magpie, year round
Common Raven, year round
Tree Swallow, spring, summer
Cliff Swallow, spring, summer
Northern Rough-winged Swallow, spring, summer
Barn Swallow, spring, summer
Black-capped Chickadee, year round
Ruby-crowned Kinglet, year round
American Robin, year round
Gray Catbird, spring, summer
European Starling, year round
Yellow Warbler, spring, summer
Orange-crowned Warbler, spring, summer
Yellow-rumped (Audubon's) Warbler, year round
Western Tanager, spring, summer
Black-headed Grosbeak, spring, summer
Lazuli Bunting, spring, summer
Spotted Towhee, year round
Dark-eyed (Gray-headed) Junco, spring, summer
Dark-eyed (Oregon) Junco, fall, winter, spring
White-crowned Sparrow, year round
Western Meadowlark, spring, summer, fall
Yellow-headed Blackbird, spring, summer
Red-winged Blackbird, spring, summer, fall
Brewer's Blackbird, spring, summer
Bullock's Oriole, spring, summer
House Finch, year round
Lesser Goldfinch, year round
Pine Siskin, year round
House Sparrow, year round

This list was compiled based on information from Johnson Mill Bed & Breakfast, Midway, Utah. See a larger list of birds of Johnson Mill.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

In the backyard... Western Scrub-Jay

Western Scrub-JayWestern Scrub-Jay, Jackson Bottom Wetlands, Hillsboro, Oregon on 8 December 2007 by Greg Gillson.


In the 1940's Western Scrub-Jays reached the northern limit of their breeding range at Portland, Oregon. Since then they have increased in numbers and, especially since the 1990's, expanded into southern and northern Oregon coastal communities, Central Oregon, and even into the Puget Trough region of western Washington to become more and more expected in communities in the Seattle region.

Many casual birders and the general public call this bird "Blue Jay." However, the Blue Jay is a crested jay found east of the Rocky Mountains, rarely in the Pacific NW, except for eastern Idaho and nearby areas, especially in winter.

The Western Scrub-Jay is crestless. It ranges from western Washington and Oregon, eastward across southern Oregon to southern Idaho southward to western Colorado, and then from these areas south to Baja California, western Texas, and well into Mexico.

A few years ago, the former "Scrub Jay" was split into three species, the presently-discussed Western Scrub-Jay, the Florida Scrub-Jay, and the Island Scrub-Jay of Santa Cruz Island off the coast of southern California. Really, though, there are several additional distinctive populations and more splits are possible in the future. For instance, the bold and aggressive Western Scrub-Jay in the oak groves and towns of the West Coast from San Diego to Seattle are the "California" form of Western Scrub-Jay. In the Great Basin junipers resides the "Woodhouse's" form of Western Scrub-Jay. It is duller of plumage and is very shy and secretive!

Attracting these birds to your backyard is not a problem. If you have a feeder they will be present. In fact, their aggressive nature toward other birds may make you wish you could keep them away! In spring and summer they eat more insects and berries than seeds. However, in the fall they may come to "steal" sunflower seeds and peanuts, repeatedly gulping down large quantities in short order, then flying off to regurgitate and bury them in a winter cache.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Barrow's Goldeneye at Lost Lake, Oregon

Lost LakeThe 7844 foot tall peak "Three Fingered Jack" peeks over the forest behind Lost Lake in the Central Oregon Cascades on 23 May 2009 by Greg Gillson.


There are at least 19 lakes in Oregon named Lost Lake. Pitty all those Oregon Trail settlers, 160 years ago with their oxen-pulled wagons, trying to take a short-cut over the Cascades through the impenatrably dense mountain forests.

The Lost Lake pictured above is in Linn County. It is famous to local birders for the easy-to-spot Barrow's Goldeneye that swim and nest there from April to October, when the high elevation lake is ice-free.

Easily accessed by Highway 20 an hour off Interstate 5, it sits at 4003 feet elevation on the Santiam Pass between the major Oregon towns of Salem in the Willamette Valley and Bend in Oregon's high desert playground. In fact, for those birding "listers" just wanting a "tick" or "check" on their checklist for their trip, the birds can be seen by birders while just driving by at 55 miles per hour, without even stopping. In fact, the barely marked pull-off to the campground at Lost Lake is quite dangerous, as it occurs right in the middle of a passing lane. So, stopping has its hazards.

Barrow's GoldeneyeBarrow's Goldeneye at Lost Lake, Linn Co., Oregon on 23 May 2009 by Greg Gillson.


Both photos above came from an hour-long stop on my way to a week-long birding and photography trip to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in the sage scrub desert of southeast Oregon. There was still snow in the campground, partially blocking vehicle traffic from reaching all around the lake. But there were still plenty of hardy souls in campers and tents. I believe I'm past the camping stage of life now. A nearby motel and then a day-trip meets my needs better than a smokey campfire, yellowjackets, and a tree-root poking into my side through my sleeping bag because the air matress went flat during the night... again.

Other birds there included Mountain Chickadee, Yellow-rumped (Audubon's) Warbler, Osprey, and Chipping Sparrow. This is a good spot for Gray Jays, though I didn't detect any on this trip.

It is unlikely that Barrow's Goldeneye will ever be a backyard bird, unless you live in a cabin on a remote high-mountain lake. But that is no reason not to stop at Lost Lake, or other high-elevation lake in the Pacific Northwest to see this beauty.

Monday, June 1, 2009

In the woods... Black-throated Gray Warbler

Black-throated Gray WarblerBlack-throated Gray Warbler, Hayward, Oregon on 16 May 2008 by Greg Gillson.


Black-throated Gray Warblers arrive in the Pacific NW in April. They breed in oak and mixed maples and Douglas-fir woodlands from SW British Columbia, west of the Cascades of Washington and Oregon, and in juniper and pine areas in central Oregon east across the southern portion of Idaho to Wyoming, and southward to SW New Mexico, SE Arizona, and southern California and extreme northern Baja California. They migrate out of the Pacific NW in September to winter in Mexico.

The plumage is black and white with a gray back and a little yellow dot on the lores, between the eye and bill. The throat of the adult male is black, while the female has a white throat and variable black breast band.

A similar bird is the Black-and-white Warbler found primarily east of the Rocky Mountains. It has a distinctive white stripe down the middle of the crown, though. The Black-throated Gray Warbler behaves as a typical warbler, gleaning insects from high in the tree canopy. Quite different, the Black-and-white Warbler crawls nuthatch-like over the trunk of the tree, quite close to the ground.

Another similar bird is the adult male Blackpoll Warbler in breeding plumage. It is also an Eastern species, found primarily in the West as a fall vagrant to desert oases. It has a solid black cap and obvious white cheeks.

Black-throated Gray Warblers have a buzzy song that you can listen to on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's online field guide website, All About Birds. The song is similar to two other Pacific Northwest warblers, the Hermit Warbler and the Townsend's Warbler.