To describe my lifelong fascination with flight and with creatures that fly I like to echo the words of John James Audubon who in 1839 wrote of himself as "...one who never can cease to admire and to study with zeal and the most heartfelt reverence, the wonderful productions of an Almighty Creator."
Thursday, January 31, 2008
I learned today of the recent passing of one of Oregon's most prominent ornithologists of the 20th century. Mr. Wesley Batterson was 98. One of my earliest memories is of a special trip my family made to Portland in about 1953 to hear Mr. Batterson speak. My father, Manassa Schrock, was an amateur ornithologist, a friend of Mr. Batterson, and also (with the requisite state and federal permits) a fellow collector. A common practice among collectors of that era was the exchange of sets of eggs; if you had a duplicate set from one species, you might trade for a set you were lacking which another collector had as a duplicate in his collection. That is presumably how this set of Western Flycatcher eggs, collected by Mr. Batterson in 1949, ended up in my father's collection, which is now housed permanently at Portland State University. (Clicking on the images above will make it easier to read the printing on one of the eggs, and on the catalog card that describes the nest and where it was found.)
Today, following a snowy night, my neighborhood was inundated by Robins. The holly trees were full of birds gorging themselves on the bright red berries. There must have been about 100 of them in the tree outside my office window most of the day, and many others were constantly in motion in the surrounding area. When the snow melted off they spent time probing in the lawns adding some animal protein to their diet.
Cold, snowy weather makes life challenging for Varied Thrushes and other species that live at high elevations, but for birders it does have the benefit of temporarily forcing some of them to lower levels where we can watch them. This one has been turning over old leaves in my backyard for the past week.
Steller's Jays are always a pleasure to watch, but during my recent outing to the Oregon Coast the pleasure was enhanced by seeing them against the backdrop of the blue Pacific. This shot was taken by my remote BirdCam while I was several miles away hiking on Cascade Head.
I just spent a few days of vacation at the Oregon Coast. There were very few seabirds visible on the cold, blue ocean from my vantage point, and only a few Gray Whales blowing. But the activity near the house was entertaining enough, and the Chestnut-backed Chickadees seemed unfazed by the unusual below-freezing temperatures and the strong east wind.
I'm enjoying watching the variation of color that flashes from the gorget of this male Anna's Hummingbird at my feeder, especially when I stop to consider that the color is not from pigment in the feathers, but from iridescence. According to the Audubon Encyclopedia of North American Birds, iridescence is, "the rainbow-like play of interference colors...caused by the scattering of light rays from the special structure of 'iridescent feathers.'" So, what color are those feathers, really?
Of course, it's not a good substitute for "real" birding outdoors, but when there are some important football games to be watched, some sacrifices must be made. Fortunately, some birds (such as this Red-breasted Nuthatch and Black-capped Chickadee) come to me, and pause just long enough to let my remote camera record the moment.
Cold weather seems to make many birds, including the tiny Bushtit, crave a regular intake of fat. There's a flock that is making frequent stops at my suet feeder on their circuit through my neighborhood, and today my BirdCam managed to catch one of them momentarily motionless, probably on the lookout for the Scrub-Jays that would quickly demolish the suet cake if they could get to it.
Making my birthday special today, a pair of Anna's Hummingbirds came to my feeder. It still seems strange to me when falling snow and hummingbirds show up on the same day, but this tough little non-migratory bird is proving to be very hardy, and is now not so uncommon here in winter.
Today my birding activity was confined to my backyard. I set up my WingScapes Birdcam aimed at the suet feeder mostly to try to catch the Townsend's Warbler in the act. I didn't know until this evening when I downloaded the captured images that a Ruby-crowned Kinglet had also stopped in. Unfortunately, he was photographed when he was inside the Starling-proof cage, but I still like the photo because you can see both his red crown stripe and his yellow feet, which are difficult to see when you are trying to watch through binoculars a flitting, hyperactive bird in a shadowy, leafy thicket.
For a birder who keeps lists, a bird showing up in a "new" place sometimes requires a sacrifice. For me, this Red-throated Loon found yesterday by one of my fellow "listers" meant that I had to skip lunch today. It was worth it. As far as I know, this species has never before been recorded in Yamhill Co. How could I not chase it? Anyway, it is a handsome bird, and well worth chasing. I'm glad it waited for me to get there, but it seems to be feasting on the small fish in this pond, so the fisherfolk in the Sheridan area would probably prefer that it move on soon.
Part of the pleasure of birding is finding birds where you don't expect them, and this Hermit Thrush in the dried-up cattails along a stream in Prineville (Ochoco Creek, I think) was a surprise for me during the Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 29. This spot is several miles from the nearest forest, which is where one would expect to find this bird.