Sunday, October 31, 2010

Cedar Waxwing feeding on hawthorn berries

Cedar WaxwingCedar Waxwing, Forest Grove, Oregon on 21 October 2010 by Greg Gillson.


Viewing Cedar Waxwings is always a joy. What is it about these subtly-colored birds that makes them so exciting? Maybe it is their distinctive crests or bandit-masks or hyperactivity. I don't know. But as their flocks buzz about hawking insects or descend on a fruiting tree in autumn, they always make me pause to watch.

Recently I came across a hawthorn tree loaded with berries... and Cedar Waxwings. They were gulping down these big berries. I don't know how many each bird was eating, but they were gorging themselves. The berries were rather large, but down they went. Whole. Gulp. On to the next.

Cedar Waxwing


Take a careful look. What else can we see and learn about this waxwing? Stay tuned for more about this waxwing on November 4....

Monday, October 25, 2010

Lincoln's Sparrow portraits

Lincoln's SparrowLincoln's Sparrow, Fernhill Wetlands, Forest Grove, Oregon on 19 October 2010 by Greg Gillson.


Earlier this spring I discussed the identification of Lincoln's Sparrow.

Besides being a bit difficult to identify--because many sparrows are similar with striped heads and striped breasts--Lincoln's are notoriously skittish. Usually, they pop up on top of a shrub or fenceline for just a second (literally), then dart away, never to return. They usually do not allow you enough time even to lift your binoculars.

Thus I was delighted and amazed to have a bird in view for almost two minutes this morning, allowing several good photos!

The crown feathers of all birds can be raised and lowered at will, turning the normally rounded head of this species into a slight bushy crest.

Lincoln's Sparrow

Lincoln's Sparrow

Lincoln's Sparrow

Monday, October 18, 2010

Sometimes the best birding memories aren't the birds

Humpback WhaleHumpback Whale, off Newport, Oregon on 2 October 2010 by Greg Gillson.


On a recent ocean bird watching boat trip we enjoyed many seabirds and marine mammals. Now, I've seen humpback whales about 35-40 times. But in all those encounters I've never seen such active whales... continuously-repeating full breaches, and tail lobbing--how exciting!

This got me thinking. Watching birds has taken me to nearly every corner of Oregon--open ocean, sage deserts, rain forests, mountain tops... Crater Lake, Fort Rock, Multnomah Falls, Steens Mountains, Cape Arago. Likewise, I've birded in many scenic places throughout the West, and just tasted a couple of the unimaginably wide variety of birds and locations across the planet.

Sometimes the highlights of the birding trips are not the birds. Sometimes it is some other animal--like the humpback whales seen in the accompanying photos. Sometimes it is the fantastic scenery. It may be a historic place. It may be the people I meet at a new locale, or the people I travel with--birders or not.

Birding is a great way to see (and appreciate) the world and meet new people!

Humpback Whale
Humpback Whale
Humpback Whale
Humpback Whale

Monday, October 11, 2010

Banded albatrosses

Black-footed AlbatrossSome of the 135 Black-footed Albatrosses, off Newport, Oregon on 11 September 2010 by Greg Gillson.


Thirty miles off the Oregon coast Black-footed Albatrosses gather every summer to feed in the rich California Current. They come from far away across the sea. Far, far, away.

Many of the Black-footed Albatrosses off the coast of the Pacific NW come from remote islands such as Laysan, Midway, and the French Frigate Shoals.

It is approximately 2500 miles SW from the Pacific NW coast to Honolulu, Hawaii. From there it is another 560 miles NW to Tern Island, French Frigate Shoals. This coral atoll is the worn down top of an ancient volcano. The waves wear down the volcano until the top is under the water. Coral grows up to the surface, detritus and flotsam get caught in the shallows and an island is formed,... barely. Because the waves tear it down again.

But there, 3000 miles from the cold and rainy Pacific NW, on warm sandy beaches, Black-footed Albatrosses come ashore to breed in December and January. There they raise their single chick until May, then they strike out eastward to the continental shelf of western North America to feed in the cold, productive waters.

Map of Tern Island

More on Tern Island

Even out in the middle of nowhere, there are biologists working on these remote islands to catalog the endangered wildlife. Thus, many of the albatrosses we see off the Pacific NW in summer and fall had been banded as chicks many years before. These carry a metal US Fish & Wildlife band and a larger plastic band with easier to read larger numbers.

On an offshore birding boat trip this fall we found one such banded bird. It wore a numbered plastic leg band. One of our passengers was able to get a photograph of it and sent it to me. I reported the number to the Bird Banding Laboratory and received the thank you acknowledgement below.

Then, going through my own photos, I found I unknowingly took a picture of another albatross with a different band number on it. This, also, I turned in, but have not yet heard back. If I had turned in the number on the stamped aluminum band I would have gotten an answer directly from the US Fish & Wildlife Service. But the colored leg bands are only tracked by the research scientist. The researchers put both bands on, but the aluminum one is the official band, but harder to read. So, I haven't heard anything about the bird in the photo below, but expect it has the same story as that detailed in the acknowledgement above.

Black-footed AlbatrossBlack-footed Albatross with band A386, off Newport, Oregon on 11 September 2010 by Greg Gillson.


To report a color-marked or birds banded with aluminum band (except domestic pigeons), record the number and report the number on : this web site.

Monday, October 4, 2010

American White Pelican

American White PelicanAmerican White Pelican, Forest Grove, Oregon on 19 August 2010 by Greg Gillson.


Rarely seen in western Oregon historically, non-breeding American White Pelicans have been summering in variable numbers in the Willamette Valley for about 10 years. This is the second summer in a row that pelicans have summered at the local wetlands where I took the photo above.

With a wingspan up to 9 feet these are the largest flying birds regularly found in the Pacific NW, indeed, all of North America, rivaling the wingspan of the California Condor. (The only larger bird ever recorded in North American, with 2 records, is Wandering Albatross with a 10 or 11 foot wingspan. The other albatrosses found at-sea off North America have wingspans of 7-9 feet.) American White Pelicans are heavy, too. At 16 pounds they are as heavy as a tom Wild Turkey. In North America only the California Condor, Mute Swan, and Trumpeter Swan are heavier.

The following is gleaned from Birds of Oregon: a general reference. 2003. Marshall, Contreras, and Hunter, editors.

In Oregon they nest at a few specialized locations, primarily barren islands in alkaline lakes of SE Oregon, and also on islands in the Columbia River. The nest sites are not necessarily the same from year-to-year; they change nesting locations periodically depending upon water levels. They seem to prefer more shallow lakes where fish concentrate in the receding waters. If such lakes dry up or, conversely, fill up with too much water, they will abandon that location. They easily abandon their nests when disturbed. One colony with 800 nests was abandoned in 1988 when trespassers visited the nesting island by canoe.

There are a few breeding colonies in eastern Washington, mostly on islands in the Columbia River. They breed at scattered sites in southern Idaho. My 1979 book, Birds of Canada, by Godfrey lists only one location for breeding in British Columbia (Stum Lake). But I suspect that, like Oregon, these magnificent birds have become more widespread throughout the Pacific NW in recent years. What can our readers tell us?