Tag Archives: Birds

The Water Ouzel

Out of the corner of my eye I catch the flit of a dark, buzzing bird flying low over the water of Ashland Creek, just above Lithia Park. I’ve caught the melodic babbling brook song over the breeze (Click here for song and another). I pause, and search the riffles and tops of boulders for my favorite denizen of the sky and water, the Water Ouzel.

The Water Ouzel (ouzel) Cinclus mexicanus, or American Dipper (AMDI, dipper), as it is recognized by the American Ornithologist’s Union, is a small dark bird that lives a relatively secretive life in the Western United States’ clear, fast-flowing mountain waters. Being closely related to the wren family, the ouzel is most easily recognized by its slender insect-picking beak, upright-angled tail, and erratic flitting and foraging.

Perhaps the most amazing feature of this small bird is its prowess in the air and water. Much like me on a tropical vacation, the ouzel spends much of its time with its head underwater, looking for its audubonAMDInext meal (though I’m only a silent observer). American Dippers feed on macroinvertebrates, the aquatic larvae of insects, like the stonefly, mayfly, and caddisfly. This unique ability is facilitated by the AMDI’s transparent nictitating membrane, a protective longitudinal moving extra eyelid; an insect eating wren-like beak; strong legs; long, grasping toe-nails; and short powerful wings. While snorkeling, the ouzel moves along on underwater stones and cobbles, searching for tasty morsels. When satisfied with its gleaning in an area, the ouzel flits upstream or downstream, landing on the occasional mid-stream boulder to sing and call. When just the right riffle has been found, the ouzel returns to its feast.

On the walks that I am lucky enough to spy my favorite bird, I know that I am blessed. Nature reveals its secrets to the patient, brave, and passionate. As I sit and watch what I have now come to call my Water Ouzel, the worries of the day, week, and month drift away. I watch this small being in wonder. Alone on the boulder in the big riffle, the little soul sings its heart out in trills, whistles, and buzzes, then flits to a small riffle and begins searching for a bite to eat. In its little niche, the dipper has found its place. Flying up and down this quieter reach, away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Ashland, this dipper is wild and free.



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!

Winging It: Hawks, their migration, and the nuts who watch them

In late September I was lucky enough to take part in one of my favorite activities, hawk watching. Every year, tens of thousands of raptors move south across America in a brilliant display of endurance and grace. People from all over the world congregate in areas called hawkwatches to share in some small part of this experience.

Now you may be wondering how people know where to go to watch hawks, and that’s a very good question indeed. As hawks, and birds in general, migrate they are using certain landmarks to guide their journey. The two biggest geographical features used are coastlines and mountain ridges. The birds use long connections of ridge lines to travel huge distances without flapping. As the wind hits the side of a ridge it creates an updraft of air that allows the birds to glide along with hardly any effort. Some ridgelines and coastal areas work as funnel systems, and this is where we place hawkwatches.

Now you may be wondering why anyone would want to watch hawks. That’s another great question. From a scientific point of view we watch hawks to monitor populations. Raptors have had a rough road in the United States. Their troubles began in the 1900s with people killing them en masse because they were seen as predators to livestock. In fact, many of the hawkwatches today, like Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania, began as popular sites to shoot raptors for sport. In the 1960s, fish eating raptors like Bald Eagles and Osprey were affected by DDT. Today, possible effects of climate change and habitat destruction are causing more problems for our birds of prey.

Hawks killed at Hawk Mountain
Hawks killed at Hawk Mountain (photo: HawkMountain.org)

The second reason to watch hawks is for the sheer joy of it. When I went hawk watching here in Oregon, I spent all day on an exposed ridge above Upper Klamath Lake with binoculars held to my face until my arms ached. I came home dehydrated, sunburned, and not regretting a single moment of that day. Hawks in flight are some of the most beautiful animals you’ll ever see. From the tiny but beautifully colored male American Kestrels, the Turkey Vultures wobbling in the sky as they try to find a rising current of hot air, and the large Golden Eagles who soar by like WWII bombers, every bird is a thrill. On this particular outing we were lucky enough to see a Peregrine Falcon with lunch held in its talons. It would seem as though this bird’s mother never taught it not to play with its food.  We watched as the falcon flew up high and dropped the prey item, only to catch it again mid-air in its talons. It’s those moments that make hawk watching, and bird watching in general, so compelling. For some people it becomes almost like an addiction. They can never get enough of it.

So join us, I say! The migration season isn’t over yet, and you don’t have to spend all day on a ridge to see hawks. Birds also use interstates as migratory pathways. So on your way to work, school, or wherever you happen to be, keep your eyes open because you never know what you’ll see. Who knows, you may just wind up on a ridge with me next year as we both try to get a fix for our bird addiction.

header photo: redtail hawk over Grizzly Peak, by Chaney Swiney

Take a Hike! Table Rocks Weekend Hike Series Finale

Table Rocks Hike Season — Spring 2013

BLM and The Nature Conservancy Offer

 Interpretive Hiking Opportunities

Cohort 5 grad student Mandy Noel leads hikes for the environmental education program at the Table Rocks for the Bureau of Land Management in the spring.
Cohort 5 grad student Mandy Noel leads hikes for the Bureau of Land Management’s Table Rocks Environmental Education Program in the spring. Photo by Jenna Raino.

Wildflowers are displaying colorful blooms; bird songs fill the air – spring is returning to Southern Oregon. It’s time for the annual spring Table Rocks weekend hike series! The Nature Conservancy and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are offering guided, educational hikes on the Table Rocks in April and May. This popular hike series promises a spectacular view of the valley, an abundance of wildflowers, and expert interpretation from specialists on the natural and cultural history of the area.

The hike series is nearing its end, so get a spot while you still can! Anyone from the community is welcome to sign up. There is no fee to participate, but reservations are required. Participation is limited to 20 individuals per hike unless otherwise noted. To reserve a space on a hike, call the BLM Medford District Office Monday—Friday, 7:30 a.m. —4:30 p.m. at (541) 618-2200. Please sign up no later than 4 p.m. the Friday prior to the date of the hike. Higlighted below are the final hikes for this year’s hike series. More information on the hike schedule can be found on the BLM’s Table Rocks Web site and The Nature Conservancy Web site:



Participants should dress for the weather and bring a lunch and water (drinking water is not available at either Upper or Lower Table Rock).  Restrooms are available at both trailheads.  To help protect this special place and its inhabitants, dogs are not allowed on the trail.  The hikes range from three to five miles roundtrip along a moderate grade trail, and last three to five hours.


The mounded prairie/ vernal pool habitat on the top of Upper Table Rock. Photo by Jenna Raino.
The mounded prairie/ vernal pool habitat on the top of Upper Table Rock. Photo by Jenna Raino.

2013 Table Rocks Weekend Hike Series Spring Schedule

Saturday, May 11               8:00 a.m. at LOWER TABLE ROCK

Bird’s the Word: Teresa “Bird” Wicks, Klamath Bird Observatory intern and Southern Oregon University environmental education graduate student, will lead a group on a birding excursion through the chaparral, oak savanna, mixed woodland and mounded prairie/vernal pool plant communities of the Table Rocks. Bring your binoculars and bird guides and pick Bird’s brain with your ornithology curiosities.

Henderson's Fawn Lily. Photo by Jenna Raino.
Henderson’s Fawn Lily. Photo by Jenna Raino.

Sunday, May 12  Mother’s Day       10:00 a.m. at UPPER TABLE ROCK           

Nature Rocks! Spend Mother’s Day with a BLM environmental interpretation specialist on a family hike to the top of the rock!  This is a general information hike suitable for the whole family. Topics will include wildflower identification, ethnobotany, geology, wildlife, ecology, and cultural history.

Grass widows blowing in the breeze. Photo by Jenna Raino.
Grass widows blowing in the breeze. Photo by Jenna Raino.

Saturday, May 18                10:00 a.m. at UPPER TABLE ROCK

Incredible Insects and Spectacular Spiders: Dr. Peter Schroeder, Associate Professor of Biology and Entomologist at Southern Oregon University, will lead a hike to explore and discuss the amazing six and eight-legged animals found on and around the Table Rocks.

A Western Fence Lizard basking in the sun. Photo by Jenna Raino.
A Western Fence Lizard basking in the sun. Photo by Jenna Raino.


Sunday, May 19     10:00 a.m. at LOWER TABLE ROCK  

Spring Nature Sketching: Join artist Cheryl Magellen, local drawing instructor and member of the Southern Oregon Society of Artists, for a spring nature sketching session of the magnificent vistas, flora, and fauna of the Table Rocks. Bring along your sketchbooks, pencils, felt-tip pens, or other drawing supplies, and learn to capture your interpretation of the natural world on paper.

Participation is limited to 15 individuals.

 7:30 p.m. at LOWER TABLE ROCK LOOP 

That’s Batty! Join Tony Kerwin, BLM wildlife biologist and district planning and environmental coordinator, to learn more about the regional bats, their unique characteristics and the threats facing them. The group will use bat detectors to listen for bats on a short walk around the Lower Table Rock Loop (1/2 mile accessible trail). Bring your flashlights and good hiking shoes!

I spy with my little eye a Pacific Tree Frog! Can you find him? Photo by Jenna Raino.
I spy with my little eye a Pacific Tree Frog! Can you find him? Photo by Jenna Raino.

Winter Birds of the Klamath Basin

Fuller sets his spotting scope on an interesting bird and points out its location in proximity to a willow along the riverbank. Photo by Amanda Noel.

On a frigid December morning, a group of dedicated birders set off on a journey to Klamath Falls carpooling behind their fearless leader and local bird wiz, Harry Fuller. Crawling along Dead Indian Memorial Road through the snow, the group made their first pit stop just past the turn-off for Grizzly Peak.

Fuller spotted a small bird in a tree that he was able to determine while driving by was more than a plain ole robin. Throwing his spotting scope over his shoulder and binoculars around his neck, Fuller emerged from his Subaru to get a closer look at the bird. The group of birders followed Fuller’s lead, pulling off to the side of the road and piling out of their cars to spot the bird. “Townsend’s Solitaire!” Harry shouted to the group. And so began the day’s routine.

The group wound their way through the frosted conifer forests covered with freshly fallen snow until they came to an open meadow full of hawks perched on fence posts. Far off in the distance on a tall snag, a pair of young eyes spotted another large raptor perched on the tree top. Fuller focused his scope on the bird and informed the group of what he had found, “There’s our first Bald Eagle of the day,” he said. “Come take a look!” It would not be the last.

The birders gathered on a bridge crossing link river to search for birds. Photo by Amanda Noel.

When the group finally arrived in Klamath Falls, they were in for a treat. Lake Euwana was crowded with American Coots, Pied-Billed Grebes, Buffleheads and Common Golden Eyes. On a nearby bridge crossing Link River, the birders were pleased to find trees full of Black-capped Night Herons. Floating on the river were a myriad of other water birds including the rarer Eared Grebe and Barrow’s Goldeneye.

The next destination was Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. In route, Fuller led the group down a gravel road with agricultural fields on either side. Ferruginous, Rough-legged, and Red-tailed hawks were abound as well as coyotes off in the distance. Both Mt. McLoughlin and Mt. Shasta were in view from the road. A few of the highlights at this particular birding hot spot were sights of an American Kestrel and a Red-tailed Hawk resting on a power line pole together just after chasing one another and a Bald Eagle perched on a irrigation sprinkler tearing apart an ill-fated prey. Farther down the road, Tundra Swans were spotted walking across the ice on a frozen, flooded field. Fortunately, waterfowl and other birds have a special adaptation that keeps their feet from freezing in cold conditions like this. For a proper explanation of this adaptation, check out Ask a Naturalist.com.

The birders feasted their eyes on a Rough-tailed hawk perching on boundary post. Photo by Amanda Noel.
The birders feasted their eyes on a Rough-tailed hawk perching on boundary post. Photo by Amanda Noel.
View of Mt. Shasta and lenticular clouds from Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Amanda Noel.

Following the swan sighting, the group pulled into a parking lot on the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge to stretch their legs and search for birds. To their surprise and delight, they had a beautiful view of Mt. Shasta and a swath of lenticular clouds in the distance. Once the caravan was reloaded, they continued on their route inside California south of Stateline Road. The most abundant birds in site during the rest of the trip included Northern Shoveler, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye and American Wigeon. There were also plenty of Ruddy Ducks, a few Lesser Scaup, and a handful of Greater Yellowlegs. The bird outing finale ended with spectacular views of Bald Eagles and a single Great Horned Owl.

Fuller organizes trips for individuals with a half day for birding, or small groups with a long list of target birds and days to spend afield. For more information, check out his Web site http://www.towhee.net. Fuller also maintains a blog about his bird sightings which he updates on a regular basis. You can find his posting about this particular trip by clicking here. Be sure to check out the rest of his blog too, http://atowhee.wordpress.com/. It includes fabulous photos and comprehensive lists of all the birds Fuller spots during his outings.

The Joy of the Common Bird

There is something to be said for the birds that are so common you hardly notice them anymore or you even find them to be pesky. Mallards fill the lakes and ponds. Robins sing in the oak trees outside of your neighbor’s house. Crows pick around in the local schoolyards. Rock Pigeons coo from above in the evergreen tree on your walk around the neighborhood. And who hasn’t had to watch where they’re stepping for fear of the Canada Goose poop? It feels like home when these birds are around. And home could be anywhere from New York City to Grand Junction, Colorado to Southern Oregon. The common birds are what make you recognize a place or remind you of home when you’re far away.

I moved here from the Midwest last summer and one of the biggest differences are the kinds of birds that exist here and back home. I grew up with robins and doves but also with true Blue Jays and real Cardinals.  In fact, Cardinals are so common they’re the Illinois state bird. It blew my mind when I realized those just don’t exist here. I took those birds for granted! I never thought they wouldn’t be there. It is equally amazing to me that there was a time when I’d never seen a Western Scrub Jay or a Stellar’s Jay before I moved here. I see them more often than even the robins! Even Brewer’s Blackbirds are rare back home, although we do have the Grackle (good luck telling the two apart)!

Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)
Common “Purple” Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)

The common birds are what make up the scenery of a certain location and they shouldn’t be taken for granted just because they’re everywhere. The unique birds are exciting to see but they don’t describe life in a certain place. Appreciating the birds that make up your hometown can add an element of character to the town that you never noticed before. So stop and listen to your Spotted Towhee if you’re lucky enough to hear one west of the Rockies or watch your Dickcissel singing from the fence post while in the grasslands and remind yourself that these birds are home to you.