Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Clouds, Asphalt, and Northern Mockingbirds

This afternoon was one of those days with heavy air trying to rain, but doesn't get around to it. The clouds on days like this are spectacular, high-rising thunderheads that along with the heavy, still air give everything else a subdued mood. When looking west towards sunset on days like this, there can be a golden tinge to the edges of the puffy white-colored water suspended in sky. Other than a few large drops of rain that fell while I was walking out to my car after work, there were no other results from Beltsville to Annapolis during the commute home. But when I was walking away from my office building, a friendly Northern Mockingbird tempted me to bring out my pocket camera - dropping down from a tree to the grass, luring me after it, jumping into a shrub, and then to a window ledge on the building before flying off when I got too close. The mockingbird is a regular to the grounds at the Carver Center, often singing other bird songs from high up in the trees that are no older than the grounds around the building, or from the tops of the parking
Northern Mockingbird
lot light post that are white-washed white from the droppings left behind by these birds perched there where singing their serenades. It is funny how I never see a Northern Mockingbird in our backyard, or on our street, but just around the block at the intersection of Bay Ridge Road and Bay Ridge Avenue, regular sightings can be made. It isn't more than 880 yards as the crow flies from our back yard to the intersection, but it is a world away for these birds. They seem to like an asphalt habitat, like that found in parking lots and at busy intersections.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Three Is Better Than Two

The final word came out in the news today - Peter Jackson's interpretation of the J.R.R. Tolkein's The Hobbit will be presented in three installments, beginning in December 2012. Earlier hints were that there would be three movies, now it is for sure. I bought a paperback copy of the book way back in undergraduate days, and hadn't read it until I was doing my Ph.D. I enjoyed it, and followed it up with the Lord of the Rings trilogy - reading through the series a second time in the year or so after graduate school. I remember when reading The Hobbit having a nightmare after a grand battle scene with Smaug the dragon. Here us the official movie trailer - it is good to see familiar film faces.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Oregon Birding - Day Twelve, Exit

Western Scrub Jay
Really no time the past five days to get in any birding - nothing more than casual glimpses. We have helped our oldest son paint this house, and yesterday painted the nursery at our daughter's house. We are getting ready to head to the Portland Airport, and while watching the London Olympics, happened to notice a Western Scrub Jay in the back yard. I have learned to notice Spotted Towhees fly by while driving - had not noticed them in the past. The towhee, Bewick's Wren, Bushtit, and Cedar Waxwing were the best new finds on this trip.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Getting Down To The Wire

Tailhook down, T-45 Goshawk
Our son is approaching the end of his Intermediate Flight School training. The crechendo - landing his T-45 Goshawk on an aircraft carrier. From what we understand, it is four touch-and-goes, and then down goes the tailhook, followed by 10 cable-arrested landings. In preparation for the real-deal, the training involves practices landings on land. Here is a video showing what he will be doing soon. The drawing of the T-45 shows the tailhook down - you can see it momentarily being tested before takeoff in the video.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Oregon Birding - Day Seven

American Crow
Today was a by-opportunity kind of birding day. When we had finished helping our son and daughter-in-law, along with our grand kids, paint the front of their house, it was time to grab the camera and walk down the street to get some closer shots of a couple of American Crows resting at the top of some sort of spruce tree. After greeting some of their neighbors a few houses down, and clicking off a few shots of the crows, I noticed a flock of small birds chattering in some shrubs across the street. I started taking some shots of them, and then the dozen or so of them together flew back across the street into a small tree. I took more shots until they went back back to where they came from - more shots. All the
time I was checking them out, they kept up a constant stream of chatter among themselves, and all the time the crows were keeping up their watch far above us - silent, not a peep. I took my camera up to Salem today, hoping to get a shot of the crows that are residents of the neighborhood. Occasionally while painting,  I looked up and noticed the trek of crows carrying various objects in their beaks: an orange peal, small twig, other things; along their path over the spruce tree and beyond to the stand of oak trees next to Wendy Kroger City Park at the end of 2nd Street. Given that the Bushtits came out in a chorus line - swarming as they sang in a choir, bringing the camera was timely for a little birding fit in at the end of the day, taking in a couple of big birds in the tree tops, and lots little ones in the bush.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Oregon Birding - Day Six, No Birding

Beaver-felled tree
No opportunity for birding in the Beaver State today - maybe there will be a chance to do so tomorrow. Beavers are interesting engineers. I remember seeing one of the PBS Nova weekly science programs titled: Still Waters in 1978 that showed a year in the life of a beaver pond. The program also introduced me to Aaron Copland's Our Town suite that was the background music to the narrative. Even though the beaver pond on television was in New England, beavers do the same in Oregon.

Oregon Birding - Day Five, Evening

A friend of mine and I drove over to Talking Waters Garden park this evening after dinner, where walked the perimeter of the facility. His firm had done the engineering for the various ponds and connecting pipelines used to treat the water from the industrial park before going into the Willamette River. We just about had the place to ourselves, except for the birds. The Red Wing Blackbird were roosting in the some old barren trees, the Mallard Ducks were still feeding, but some were already tucking their heads in for a night's sleep, the light was subdued as the sun was getting ready to set somewhere behind the ceiling of clouds that had muted light all day - a different way to look at the birds and their environs than earlier in the day.

Silhouettes at roost
Cedar Waxwing
Barn Swallow
Song Sparrow
Ducks down for the night
Teasil near the tracks
Tracks near the Teasil

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Oregon Birding - Day Five

Jackson-Frazier Wetland
We took a casual walk through the Jackson-Frazier Wetland north of Corvallis. There were lots of families out doing the same, so the birding opportunities were poor, since the foot traffic disturbed most chances to see birds doing their thing in the brush. All together, there were Cedar Waxwing, Black-capped Chickadee, Song Sparrow, American Goldfinch, and Red-winged Blackbird. Here are a couple of bird shots, along with some other sights.

Black-capped Chickadee
Cedar Waxwing

Common Wood-Nymph
Poison Oak

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Oregon Birding - Day Four, Morning On The Margin

Stump pile observation post
I went back to the pile of tree stumps and brush this morning, and found waves of birds would come through every ten to fifteen minutes - it was just a matter of waiting in one place for the birds to come to me. I had walked along the margin of the woodland and could hear a lot of bird activity, but rarely saw anything other than what flew overhead. Going back to the stump pile and standing still, after a while the margins of the leafed branches would move differently than with the rhythm of the wind-blown movement - birds were appearing. Taking photographs of the birds that hung out on the margin of the woodland wasn't easy - most of their appearances were behind branches and leaves, but eventually the subjects would move into the open for a clear shot. It wasn't pleasant standing there - the remains of an Opossum were nearly all decomposed except for the hide and bones. Off in the distance to the north, a rooster Ring-necked Pheasant made its clucking call.  Here are three birds that appeared this morning on the woodland margin:

Bewick's Wren
Spotted Towhee
Song Sparrow

Other morning sights, seen while waiting for waves of birds to appear:

Cinnabar Moth larvae on Tansy Ragwort
Bumble Bee on thistle
Honey Bee on thistle
Spotted Towhee on Blackberries

Woodland floor, with Spotted Towhee
Evening Post Script - Day Four: The entire height of the woods was alive with birds around 5:45 PM. Spotted Towhee were on the floor, as well as on the tree trunks along with Bushtit and Bewick's Wren, and Black-capped Chickadee hopping on branches up in the canopy. The lighting was subdued, so I was having to shoot at 1/15th of a second - not the best setting for stopping movements. I was engrossed in trying to get close-up pictures, so when a friendly teenage boy carrying a bag of groceries came up behind me on the path, I about jumped out of my New Balance running shoes.

Barn Swallow on air
After dinner, Jan, Tobby the Labradoodle, and I walked down to the near-by primary school. I took a quick look inside the woodland as we walked by on the sidewalk, but there was no apparent activity going on as earlier. As we approached the school, we saw a pair of American Robin and an adult Killdeer trying to lure me away from a youngster running across the athletic track. In the air, Barn Swallow floated effortlessly across the sky - darting this way and that, making it difficult to get a steady photograph.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Oregon Birding - Day Three

Yesterday was the warmest day for the next several - today being overcast, much cooler, and windy. As a result, the bird activity around the neighborhood is minimal. There were no birds inside the nearby Oregon Ash woodland that I search around yesterday, but there was a little bit of activity on the eastern, leeward side of the trees. Other than occasional swallows swooping over the grassland, and one hawk floating by over head,
there were few birds to hear, and even fewer to see. Near the sidewalk is a pushed up pile of tree trunks and old branches, probably the remnants of the street being cut through the woodland. Beyond the pile of spent trees, extends the grassland. Walking across the area, it is obvious that in winter much of the area is covered in water.  The three birds shown below were seen in and around this pile today.

American Goldfinch
I can't tell whether this is a female American Goldfinch, or something else that is yellow. The bird seem more rotund than the typical female goldfinch I am used to seeing in Maryland, and does match up with the Lesser Goldfinch, either.

Similarly for difficulty with identification, I think this bird is a Bushtit. With the poor results I got for this photograph with all of the brush placed at different depths in front of and behind the bird, I consulted with my daughter on how to set the auto-focus on my camera so that it will ignore the other distractions.

American Robin
This American Robin must be used to people, he was quite the subject - letting me walking around him, getting closer with each shot. There were a good number of robins perched on neighbors' roofs this evening, seeming to make up a flock intent in hanging out together for the evening.

Other flying critters included the following - they like the woodland margin and open grassland:

Western Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly
Widow Skimmer Dragonfly
Twelve-spotted Skimmer Dragonfly

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Oregon Birding - Day Two, Morning

Oregon Ash woodland
A short walk from my daughter's home is an open area between the housing development and a new primary school complex. A drainage runs near the edge of the development, with a stand of Oregon Ash trees that are typical of the Willamette Valley wetland terraces. Just beyond the woodland, there is a nice stretch of open grassland that is highly disturbed - probably managed so there won't be fire late in the season, very few native prairie species grow there.

American Goldfinch
American Goldfinch are abundant, including these that were perched on plant stems while eating seeds of a dandelion-like plant and grasses. These birds were very wary of me, so they would keep moving ahead of me - not letting me get a decent close-up photograph. They would keep doing this until I had bothered them enough, and then they flew away. The goldfinch traveled in flocks of five or six, and typically would land high in tree tops where they would flutter around moving from one tree to another - never coming down close to me for some more pictures. Shown in the photograph are a male (left) and female (right). Seeing how the goldfinches hang up-side-down from the feeder at home explains how they also can attach themselves to plant stems in what-ever-direction-best-suits-them in a more natural setting.

Brown Creepers
These two Brown Creepers were the best siting I made this morning. I stood on the sidewalk close to the edge of the woodland when they landed on a tree and started making their way in tandem up the trunk. After a while they flew to a neighboring tree and did the same - eventually flying to another tree further into the stand. I saw at least two other species inside the woods. All of these birds don't seem to hold still for very long - constantly moving along whatever branch they happen to be on, or jumping from one tree to another. The coloration of these birds blends in with the bark of the tree. It is easy to see the bird that stands out in contrast to the lighted background - the bird to its left is well camouflaged.

Putative Song Sparrow
Even with the clouds today, the light inside the woods is very muted, except where bright patches of light show through the canopy. The contrast is great enough to make any photograph taken near the canopy margins difficult using the automatic exposure setting on my digital camera. I tried to get a good angle for me with the bird in the picture to right so that it would look like a silhouette. As it turned out, if it wasn't for the Adjust feature in the Edit tool of iPhoto, I wouldn't have been able to make out that this bird was likely a Song Sparrow.
Map of local environs
Here is a Google Map for the housing development and the neighboring woodland mentioned above. The woodland is to the right middle of the map - grassland extends to the right half of the map. I did most of my birding this morning from the sidewalk along the road that cuts through the upper tip of the woodland. A feature of these woodlands that is important to remember: poison oak - when looking for birds, always pay attention to where you are walking and what you are walking up against.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Oregon Birding - Day One

We arrived late last night at PDX, flying in for a couple of weeks vacation while house sitting for our daughter, checking out the Salem grand kids and their folks, and seeing our Corvallis son. The leg of the flight from Chicago to Portland was uneventful except for some spectacular lighting storms over the Rocky Mountains - from 35,000 feet we looked across and down on the tops of clouds that were lit up and silhouette by discharges of electricity in rapid succession.

Mallard Duck family
After old grandma and grandpa shared a bunk bed and air mattress with our second grandson in his room, we drove to Albany to settle in for the duration of our trip and had lunch and then some down time for the afternoon. Mid-afternoon isn't the best time for viewing birds, but I drove over to Talking Waters Garden Park and walked the a good part of the roads around the facility checking out whatever happened to be around. My son-in-law brought me here last winter for the first time. The park vegetation has grown a great deal, and azola has covered much of the water surface area, leaving the appearance of green carpets covering the ponds that quickly engulfs the wakes of the ducks as they pass effortlessly through the water.

Mallard Duck female
Mallard Ducks were the most common bird of all. They were working the azola a lot, and the most viewed pose was them exiting before I reached near where they were doing their activities. I hadn't before seen the bright blue colored patch of feathers on the females' wings.

There were three species of shore birds, two which I hadn't seen before. The Killdeer was common on our farm in Central California, and annually I could find nests on the gravel parking lot near my office on the west side of the Oregon State University Campus. The one today went into its defensive posture as I walked along one of the elevated roads on the berm that held one of the ponds. She announced her presence, and walked slowly away from where I was standing. After walking in her direction for a while, she would fly back in the other direction beyond where I had come, and when I walked back that way again, she repeated her previous effort. I figured roughly the area where her nest must be - as I slowly walked back and forth, she would take off and fly beyond me - again, repeating her actions as I repeated mine.

Spotted Sandpiper
The Spotted Sandpiper was one of the two new shore birds I saw today. A pair were holding their place on rocks near the drainage outlet for one of the ponds. The call was the first thing I noticed, before I had seen them. They were fairly compliant as photographic subjects - not too alarmed by me jockeying for positions where brush and tree limbs didn't obscure my line of sight.

Unknown with yellow legs
My second shore bird unknown is still that - other than having yellow legs, I can't figure out what it is. I found a Website of sandpiper that is pretty straight-forward, but that hasn't helped with the identification. I thought it was a Greater Yellowlegs, but the coloration doesn't seem to fit - the clear, white underside. Also, the range seems out-of-place - it would have to be in the process of migrating to be here. This bird walked effortlessly on the surface of the floating azola in a conducting channel along This bird's identify will have to stay a work in progress for now - I will see if any of my friends on Facebook happen to know what it is.

Song Sparrow
This Song Sparrow was the first passerine bird that I saw this afternoon - the ducks are as prominent as the ponds. The way this bird flicked its tail feathers reminded me of the Carolina Wrens that frequent our yard in Annapolis. This bird vocalized a lot while I watched it - it kept moving around on the willow bush that served as its perch. I don't have a good handle on sparrows in general, there is a guide for sparrows that is on my list of books to get sometime soon. In the mean time, there are Websites showing a range of sparrows to identify.

Red-winged Blackbird
The Red-winged Blackbirds were among the most abundant birds at the park, and also pretty much totally uncooperative for holding a pose so I could get good pictures. This female was the only bird that held in long enough for me to get close, focus, and get a decent shot. The female red-wing's size makes it easy to distinguish from a sparrow. The red and yellow shoulder patches on the males were not very obvious today, but then, the birds continually flew out of range when I tried to walk close to them.

Cedar Waxwing
This Cedar Waxwing was the most exciting find today. I had seen the bird in my birding guides, but had never seen one until today. When it flew onto the cattails, I knew what it was right away. The only challenge was trying to get the auto-focus on my camera to work in time before it flew on its way - just a so-so photograph, but at least it was good enough to document the moment and verify the identification.