Saturday, June 12, 2010

"Seen only" -- bad photos, great birds in the forest

Pacific-slope Flycatcher The magic of digital photography allows me to brighten the shadows and darken the highlights in order to better see this Pacific-slope Flycatcher. Like most flycatchers, it is easier to identify this bird by its song and calls than by its visual field marks. Photographed near Timber, Oregon on 12 June, 2010 by Greg Gillson.


Today I visited Reeher Forest Camp near the town of Timber in the Coast Range west of Portland, Oregon.

I love birding in the forests of the Pacific NW--especially during the breeding season when nearly every bird is singing. Non-stop.

Because it is so hard to see in the deep forest--dark with blinding shafts of golden light piercing through--more birds are heard than seen. Many more. Photography is just about impossible in harsh light and deep shadows with most birds high above you in the canopy backlit. I have one flycatcher photo to share, but most will go in the digital trash bin.

Some people, when writing out their list of birds detected from their birding day in the field, mark some of their detections with the comment "heard only" to indicate they did not actually see the bird. On my trip today I kept track and have just the opposite to report. Most of my birds were heard and identified first and seen later, if at all.

To see what I mean, here is today's list, broken out.

Saturday, June 12, 2010
Timber, Washington County.
Primarily Reeher Forest Camp, walking new 2 mile loop ("Triple C Trail") through forest and clear cut. Also drove to top of Round Top Mountain and birded road sides.

Seen only (not heard)
Turkey Vulture 1
Rufous Hummingbird 2
Violet-green Swallow 1

Identified optically first, then heard
American Robin 4
American Dipper 2

Identified by call or song first, then later saw at least one individual well enough to identify by sight
Sooty Grouse 2 (saw 1)
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Band-tailed Pigeon 50 (saw 35)
Northern Pygmy-Owl 1
Red-breasted Sapsucker 4 (saw 1)
Pacific-slope Flycatcher 25 (saw 1)
Gray Jay 2
Steller's Jay 4 (saw 2)
Common Raven 4
Chestnut-backed Chickadee 30 (saw 20)
Red-breasted Nuthatch 6 (saw 3)
Brown Creeper 12 (saw 2)
House Wren 8 (saw 3)
Golden-crowned Kinglet 6 (saw 1)
Orange-crowned Warbler 8 (saw 4)
Hermit Warbler 15 (saw 4)
MacGillivray's Warbler 7 (saw 2)
Willson's Warbler 10 (saw 6)
Western Tanager 8 (saw 3)
Spotted Towhee 7 (saw 2)
Song Sparrow 6 (saw 3)
White-crowned Sparrow 12 (saw 7)
Dark-eyed Junco 10 (saw 7)
Black-headed Grosbeak 8 (saw 3)
Evening Grosbeak 15 (saw 8)

Identified by call or song and not seen, or not seen well enough to identify by sight alone
Common Nighthawk 1
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Pileated Woodpecker 1
Olive-sided Flycatcher 6
Willow Flycatcher 8
Hammond's Flycatcher 3
Warbling Vireo 35
Bewick's Wren 1
Winter Wren 4
Swainson's Thrush 20
Varied Thrush 5
Brown-headed Cowbird 2
Purple Finch 2
Red Crossbill 25
American Goldfinch 1

Notice above that some of the most abundant birds were "heard only." Even when I did see birds, I heard far more than I saw.

See how many birds I would have missed if songs and calls weren't part of the "field marks" I have memorized?

What an empty place the forest would appear if I couldn't identify the birds I heard.

How do you go about learning calls and songs? Anyone who can hear can learn bird calls and songs. Go birding in the forest more. Track down any unfamiliar song or call you hear. Watch it sing and remember. Use mnemonics or whatever works best for you. Start small. You already know crow and killdeer and several others, right? Learn one or two a day--don't confuse yourself with too many. Start in your own backyard. Review. Have fun!