A Spotted Towhee

I had a chat with this young fellow the other day and he let me take photos while we talked. I’ve been trying to get decent pictures of his parents for quite sometime but haven’t been able to get close enough as they’re awfully wary. Thankfully this one decided, for reasons still unknown, that I was harmless. He said he might bring the family around one day to meet me. That would be nice.

The Crow

CrowI shot a crow out of a cherry tree when I was twelve-years-old. He fell to the ground and his wings fluttered violently as he struggled not to die. I grabbed a nearby stick to finish him off and as I raised it above him he gasped, “Wait.”
“What do you want, old crow,” I asked.
“I want to live,” he said.
“Why?”
“I want to love and be loved by my friends and family, to enjoy the sensual pleasures of life, to engage in creative work and play, and to continually investigate what is true and good and then arrange my life and manner in accordance with those discoveries,” he said. “This is how one becomes authentic, the key to all freedom and happiness.”
Then I whacked him with the stick.

A Song of Certainty

White-crowned Sparrow
Spotted this White-crowned Sparrow while hiking in the Cascade Mountains on Friday. He seemed to be keeping a close eye on me. I asked him how he sings with such certainty when we are surrounded by such overwhelming complexity. He said he had no idea what I was talking about.

Sparrow Encounters of the Weird Kind

Chickadee-dee-dee

The short version:

The above photo should have been of a House Sparrow.

The long version:

Last week, I had a House Sparrow approach me in the backyard. I was walking towards the apple tree when I noticed it exploring the ground around the trunk. It also noticed me, checked me out a little, and then skipped a few steps in my direction. Surprised, I stopped moving. It looked at me quizzically and then took a few more skips towards me.

At that point, the dog ran up but the little bird stayed put. This made me wonder if there was something wrong with it. So, I sent the dog searching for my wife and the sparrow moved even closer towards me as he ran off. Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, the dog came racing back at full throttle, excited to report he had accomplished his mission and show he had earned any biscuits I might have stashed away in my pocket. Oddly, the sparrow didn’t spook and skipped a little closer yet. I told the dog to sit, which he did, and the little bird seemed okay with his presence until the dog noticed the bird – by then only about four feet away – and started to moan and tremble in excitement. That’s when the curious sparrow decided to fly away.

So, I quickly put the dog in the house, grabbed my camera, and raced back out to the apple tree with my iPhone. I played the House Sparrow call with iBird in the biophilian hope of calling the little fellow back. It didn’t work. Instead, three Chickadees landed in the apple tree to investigate all the noise I was making. I snapped a few photos of them – the one above being the best of the lot – while they lectured me extensively on the finer points of Chickadeeism. It’s an interesting philosophy worthy of one’s complete attention, but I couldn’t stop wondering what was going on in the mind of that sparrow.

Garbage in the woods

View of Mountain FSR
It wasn’t much of a spring weather-wise, but my wife and I, and the dog, made good use of it and explored the local mountains as much as we could. We discovered some stunningly beautiful places but were often surprised to find large quantities of garbage in the woods. Sadly, it’s no longer much of a surprise. From major appliances to carpets of shotgun shells so thick it sounded as if we were walking on bubble-wrap, we came across so much trash that it was all rather disheartening. The above photo was taken as we walked through some beautiful country, enjoying the aerial display of a group of hummingbirds that were so plentiful we decided to call the area Hummingbird Hill. I’ve discreetly cropped out the sofa.

May Birds

Brown-headed CowbirdI added four species to my bird list in May: Brown-headed Cowbird, Lesser Goldfinch, Pileated Woodpecker, and Purple Finch. I may have also seen a Pacific-slope Flycatcher or two, but I’m not absolutely sure. They were moving too fast.

I spotted the Brown-headed Cowbird, who let me get close enough to take the above photo, and the Pileated Woodpecker while walking in Burns Bog, but the Lesser Goldfinches and Purple Finches seem to be nesting among the Chokecherry trees in the back corner of our yard. It’s nice to have them as daily visitors now that our old regulars, the Dark-eyed Juncos and Varied Thrushes, have disappeared.

I’ve had a few really good looks at the Lesser Goldfinch, including once when one sat still in a rose bush that was only three or four feet away. Generally, however, they like to stay hidden among the leaves and all I usually get to see are busy flashes of bright yellow, that rarely reveal themselves fully, or the occasional dart across the yard on a bouncy flight path.

Oddly, we’ve had very few robins and hummingbirds in the backyard this spring but both are in good numbers only a few minutes away at the bog. Like the finches, the hummingbirds would nest in the Chokecherry trees but they seemed to have made their homes elsewhere this year. Perhaps the major pruning our neighbours did to their side of the trees last year have upset them.

American Robin
Anna’s Hummingbird
Bald Eagle
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Brown-headed Cowbird*
Bushtit
European Starling
Glaucous-winged Gull
Great Blue Heron
Hermit Thrush
House Finch
House Sparrow
Lesser Goldfinch*
Mallard
Northwestern Crow
Pileated Woodpecker*
Purple Finch*

Song Sparrow
Spotted Towhee
Steller’s Jay

Living with dogs

Dog in the riverOne of the great benefits of living with a dog is that you often find yourself in places that make dogs happy.

The Birds of April

Birding in April was a bit of a bust. Putting almost no effort into the endeavour, I was rewarded accordingly and identified only two new birds, the Golden-crowned Sparrow and the White-crowned Sparrow.

I actually spotted three others while walking in the mountains but was unable to identify them. I think the first two may have been Pacific-slope Flycatchers and Pine Siskins, but both were experts at remaining half-hidden in the trees and evading careful study. The ‘third’ looked like an insomniac bat out in the sunlight and I’m really not sure that it wasn’t. The silhouette and erratic flight pattern looked very much like the bats that hunt mosquitoes above my backyard on most summer evenings, but it was just too far away to be certain and it disappeared quickly into a group of Douglas-firs.

I also came across the fresh remains of a bird in the middle of a trail where it had served as someone’s breakfast. Nothing remained but the legs and a pile of feathers. As you can see in the photos, the feathers were light brown with small patches of white and orange-yellow and the soft down had bright yellow tips. I’ve been through my bird books and software and can’t even muster a guess as to what it was other than, apparently, delicious. Any guesses?

American Robin
Anna’s Hummingbird
Bald Eagle
Black-capped Chickadee
Common Loon
Dark-eyed Junco
Glaucous-winged Gull
Golden-crowned Sparrow*
Great Blue Heron
House Finch
Northwestern Crow
Osprey
Rock Pigeon
Song Sparrow
Steller’s Jay
Varied Thrush
White-crowned Sparrow*

Early April Fishing

I was serious when I wrote that it was time to go fishing. Here are a few photos from my trip last week. The fishing was slow, but it was a beautiful day and my fishing partner and I had the lake to ourselves. Please don’t ask me where we were; I don’t seem to remember.





Taking sides

I can always tell when these egg hunters are on the prowl in our backyard; the crows kick up a big fuss.
Not long ago, I was sitting at my desk when the silence was suddenly broken by the angry cawing of crows. The cawing was loud and persistent, so I looked out the window, fully expecting to see a raccoon somewhere in the yard, and spotted three of them climbing the Douglas-fir.
I watched the trio methodically search the tree for eggs, long after the upset crows had given up and flown away. Trying not to take sides, I resisted the urge to scare away these nest raiders. It’s all too easy to side against the predator. But having experienced an empty belly myself a time or two, I try not to hold any creature’s hunger against it.