Category Archives: birding

Flying Home

The erratic weather patterns of late winter seem to be the signal for birds to return to the Klamath Basin.  Some will stay in southern Oregon for the warmer months while others just lay over here as they journey along the Pacific Flyway.  With over 350 bird species migrating through the area and a significant concentration of bald eagles, the Klamath Basin is a winter haven for birds and birders alike.

I have been doing my own bit of migrating lately.  As a nontraditional student with a family and a career, I commute from my home in Keno, OR driving 110 miles a day to attend graduate school at SOU.  Imagine then, my delight, when our program director decided to lead a birding trip to the Klamath Basin to view Ferruginous Hawks and other migratory birds.  I would finally have the opportunity to share my home with these people who have become my second flock.     

Early on that crisp March morning, seven members of the Environmental Education cohort piled into Subaru Outbacks (stereotypical, right?) to make the journey from Ashland to Keno.  They came in their own kind of winter plumage dressed in cold weather gear, and equipped with binoculars, spotting scopes, and bird guides.

Owls_Klamath Basin_By JohnWe started the day along Townsend Rd., a.k.a. “raptor road” due to the plethora of birds of prey which can be found there.  We saw Red-tailed Hawks, Bald Eagles, and Rough-Legged Hawks hunting the open fields.  The highlight of raptor road was two Great Horned Owls perched above an irrigation ditch. John, the photographer of our group, cautiously made his way around the canal to capture this amazing photograph just before the owls took flight down the canal.  

Flock_Klamath Basin_By JohnNext, we moved on to the Klamath Wildlife Refuge along Stateline Rd.  This vast marsh area is home to abundant water fowl and shore birds.  It was salt and pepper skies as thousands of Ross’s Geese flew in.  Our professor had fun challenging us to a game of ‘name that waterfowl’ as we fumbled through our bird books trying to identify the many species on the water.  I can definitively say that we all got the Northern Pintail right.  

Sandhills_Klamath Basin_By JohnJust outside of the refuge, we spotted Sandhill Cranes mixed in with livestock drinking from a pond.   Joyful expletives were shouted as we rushed out of the cars to get a better view of the birds which for some in the group was their first crane encounter.  This moment depicted all that I love about living in the Klamath Basin: spectacular natural resources, wildlife, and people, existing in juxtaposition.   

Fruggy_Klamath Basin_By JohnThe final leg of our trip took us across the California border near Dorris to find Golden Eagles, Bald Eagles, and Ferruginous Hawks.  At one point, we found all three perched on a single irrigation line.  As I watched these large birds of prey take off and soar above us, I couldn’t help but be envious of their ability to fly (it sure would make my commute easier).  

As we pulled into my driveway at the end of the day, we noticed a Merlin resting on a utility post across the street.  One last bird to close out this epic birding adventure.    

To learn more about birding in the Klamath Basin, visit http://klamathbirdingtrails.com .


 Below is the full list of birds we saw on this trip.  

-Common Raven

-Lewis’s Woodpecker

-Stellar’s Jay

-American Robin

-Black-billed Magpie

– Great Blue Heron

– Canada Geese

-Rough-legged Hawk

-Bufflehead

-Red-winged Blackbird

-Mallard

-Red-tailed Hawk (Dark morphs and regular plumage)

-House Finch

-Great Horned Owl

-Common Merganser

-Common Goldeneye

-Lesser Scaup

-Tundra Swan

-Northern Pintail

-Greater White-fronted Goose

-American Wigeon

-Gadwall

-Northern Shoveler

-Ruddy Duck (Winter plumage)

-American Coot

-Bald Eagle

-Ross’s Goose (One dark morph was spotted)

-Eared Grebe

-Sandhill Crane

-Ferruginous Hawk

-Say’s Phoebe

-Golden Eagle

-Northern Harrier

-American Kestrel

-Downy Woodpecker

-Merlin 

-Mallard

 

+ 1 coyote


Written by:  Christy Vanrooyen

Pictures by:  John Ward

A New Nesting Season Dawns

Believe it or not, spring is upon us. The signs are all around us if you care to look. Trees are budding, flowers are blooming, tiny love-struck mammals are replicating at a break neck pace, and, most wonderful to me, birds are building nests.

I was lucky enough to find one of these nests this past Monday. An adult Western Scrub-Jay flew into a bush not 10 feet in front of me. A few moments later I heard a “snap” come from the bush. I peered in to see the Scrub-Jay maneuvering a freshly plucked twig in its beak. The jay then flew out of the bush 50 feet to the parking lot across the street, and deposited the twig on a branch of one of the magnolia trees. I walked over to the tree and noted the distinctive messy pile of unorganized twigs that can loosely be called a nest made by jays.

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A Scrub-Jay nest from summer 2014 just up my street

I couldn’t help but feel a jolt of excitement when I found the nest. It means that there’s a whole new round of babies to watch! You see, every year I take part in a citizen science program called Project NestWatch. It’s a project where anyone can go out, find a nest, and monitor it for a season by reporting certain dates and numbers to the site. You get to watch the adult build the nest, lay eggs, see nestlings hatch out, and cry a single manly tear as your baby birds take flight.

The great news about this project is that some birds are very obvious nesters. Out west where I am, Scrub-Jay nests are very easy to find, and across America the American Robin can be found nesting anywhere it can find a spot. I’ve watched Scrub-Jays, Robins, and Western Kingbirds fledge from nests that I found myself. I can’t tell you how special that feeling is. It’s even better if the birds fledge from a nest box that you built yourself. I’ve watched Eastern Bluebirds, Chickadees, and Tree Swallows fledge from nest boxes that I’ve built.

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Adult Scrub-Jay in front of nest protecting it from a predator (me)

It’s an absolutely wonderful experience. Every spring I get to help raise new baby birds, and it’s super easy. All it takes is a pair of eyes and some patience. Not only do you get the satisfaction of watching the birds grow, but at the same time you are contributing data to researchers across America about when birds breed, how many young they produce, what predators they face, and much more. If you want to know what it’s like to have some baby birds of your own, then go to Project Nestwatch to start learning how you can share in this experience. And as always, if you are going to participate please follow the ethical guidelines that are outlined on the site.

As for me, well, I have some nests to check up on. Good luck in your nest searches and happy birding!