Bonney Butte and HWI

So, there’s this awesome organization called HawkWatch International.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Their study site in Oregon is at this awesome place called Bonney Butte.

Bonney Butte

There are several HWI monitoring sites across the American west and one in Vera Cruz, Mexico. They’re all open to the public, and visitation is encouraged (!). The sites are set up along optimal raptor migration paths where topography centralizes air thermals or “wind highways” the birds use to sustain energy while covering long distances during migration. Less flapping, more soaring.

A relatively smaller number of birds migrate over Bonney Butte, (2,500-4,500/yr vs. 4 million/yr in Vera Cruz), but it’s still apparently the best hawk-watching location in Oregon in the fall (open Aug 28-Oct 31). The last four miles of forest service road up to the butte is not in the best shape, think 4 miles = 40 min of slow, rocky dips and bumps (still worth it!!). I was happy to go as part of Audubon’s Raptor Identification & Migration class.

Bus ride

The class was led by birder extraordinaire and artist, Shawneen Finnegan and Dave Irons, another exceptional birder. We were in good hands. We arrived, hiked up the short, but steep distance to the top of the butte, and got to work looking for hawks.

Hawkwatching

Hawkwatching

Hawkwatching

Hawkwatching

Eventually, we saw a some. They fly over so fast, I only managed a handful of photos.

Not pictured: the numerous Sharp-shinned Hawks that whizzed by, the Cooper’s Hawk, Bald Eagle, Merlin, and Red-tailed Hawks.

The highlight by far, was witnessing the trapping, banding, and release process.

Bird blind

Hawkwatching

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper's Hawk

The HWI team traps the birds, then weighs, measures, and bands them, before finally releasing them back on their way south. The above bird is a hatch year male Cooper’s Hawk. During our visit, they also banded an adult Cooper’s Hawk (below).

Cooper's Hawk

And a hatch-year female Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk

So damn beautiful and inspiring.

Did I mention Hawkwatch International is awesome? Here’s a video that explains more about their great work.
 

 
Here’s my short video of the sharp-shinned release.
 

 
Watch those talons!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

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Listing Birds

A friend recently shared this New York Times article about a Red-tailed Hawk spending time outside the White House. Attracting spectators, it perches above the East Wing windows and hunts gray squirrels. The article includes a quote from Theodore Roosevelt, former president and “birding citizen-scientist-in-chief,” who listed 93 species he spotted around Washington and on the White House Grounds.

Roosevelt notes at the end of his list, “Doubtless this list is incomplete; I have seen others that I have forgotten.” Roosevelt’s sentiment reassures me about my list, for it too is “doubtlessly incomplete.” It also solidifies my changed opinion about listing in general and using tracking sites, like eBird.

Originally, I was skeptical of bird-sighting apps (*shakes old lady fist at newfangled technology*). I thought it would draw attention to sensitive species locations and cause greater disturbance due to enhanced visitor traffic. But now I realize it’s especially important for people to know where birds are. And subsequently, when they go missing.

Roosevelt’s list from 1908 paints a picture of the White House grounds with more forest birds sighted than today. The suspect cause of the missing species is habitat loss and knowing this sort of census data may ultimately help scientists help birds. I’d say that pro certainly outweighs any cons.

So, let’s go see -and list- all the birds!

Learning. Slowly, but surely.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Books!

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This is my current bird-book library.

1. The World of Birds: A Beginner’s Guide is a fun, eye-pleasing book from the National Wildlife Federation. It contains beautiful and engaging illustrations, trivia, facts, and all sorts of information for over a hundred bird species.

2. My boyfriend, Tomas, won Latin for Bird Lovers for me in a Twitter contest presented by Timber Press. This delicately illustrated book explains and explores more than 3000 bird names. Digging deeper into the origins of names reveals connections of why birds were named the way they were. For instance, the scientific name (genus) Pelagodrama is of Greek origin for pelagos, sea, and dromos, runner, as in Pelagodroma marina, the White-faced Storm Petrel, for its habit of pattering its feet on the sea surface. Fascinating!

3. I picked up the Birds of Oregon book from a trip to the coast. I like the way this field guide is laid out, including a quick guide on the back cover and  large illustrations. The book details the 328 bird species expected to Oregon annually.

4. The Big Year. What can I say. Besides having a hilarious front cover (who doesn’t want to be that guy??) this book inspired the 2011 movie with Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson. I picked it up at a used book shop in Seattle and am about halfway through, taking notes as I read. The book follows the 1998 North American Big Year, “the greatest – or perhaps the worst – birding competition of all time.” I enjoy the narrative pace of this adventure story, and it incorporates meaningful details about the birds seen and places traveled, as well as the eccentric birders. It’s given me insight into other birder personalities.

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5. The National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of Western North America is a new addition I picked up for Tomas last week. He hinted he would like a field guide of his own to take on his adventures. I’ve heard from others, including Laura Whittemore, birding instructor with Audubon, that the NGFG is an excellent field guide with detailed illustrations noting important field marks to look for.

6. Just the other day I came across Red-Tails in Love: A Wildlife Drama in Central Park at a used book store in Portland and couldn’t resist taking it home. The book jacket reveals this is a story about a pair of Red-Tailed Hawks that nest on the ledge of a tall building in NYC on Fifth Avenue. People become devoted to watching the hawks as they attempt to survive in the city. The author, Marie Winn, is a guest speaker in the movie Birders: A Central Park Effect.

7. The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America is my go-to field guide! This book has been my buddy since my Ornithology professor in college recommended it years ago. I’m pleased with the illustrations, the quick guide in the back, the size of the book, and so far I’ve yet to come across a bird not included. Everyone has their own preferences for field guides, and this is the one that works for me.

From an informative field guide review site:

Peterson’s field guides have the better illustrations, they are somewhat larger and more color saturated than the Sibley series. The Peterson’s series also include sections highlighted in bold for “Similar species” and “Habitat”, Sibley’s does not include these sections.

The Sibley’s series has more varied illustrations of individual species, including many more in-flight illustrations than the Peterson guides provide. Sibley’s also has the better field mark notations that include pointers and textual information surrounding the subject. Peterson’s just includes pointers to the field marks.”

8. When I attended the waterfowl outing hosted by Audubon, the group leader and longtime birder, Ron Escano, recommended finding an older Peterson guide since it includes black and white bird illustrations. This is helpful for identifying birds in poor light or bad weather conditions. Pretty useful for winter in Portland. I lucked out finding a 1941 version of A Field Guide To Western Birds Peterson guide at a used book store in town. I plan on enlarging/laminating key pages to make it more useful in the field.

9. Birds of Oregon is a handy little guide that has bird photographs rather than illustrations. It might seem counter-intuitive, but illustrated guides are favored over photographs because illustrations emphasize important field marks that photographs might miss due to lighting, camera angle, or subtle variations. It’s generally recommended to have (at least) two field guides, one with illustrations and one with photos to use as a cross-reference. I have another edition, Birds of the Willamette Valley Region, on my wish list.

10. Bird Brain-Teasers: Puzzles, Games, & Avian Trivia is AWESOME. This book combines birds and puzzles, two of my favorite loves. I only wish it would last forever.

11. A teeny tiny Golden Guide to Birds contains illustrations and notes on 129 common birds of North America, where/when to find them, how to attract them, and what to look for. I picked it up from Audubon gift center for supplemental reading.

12. Last but not least is a Stokes Beginner’s Guide to Hummingbirds. It’s small, includes photographs, and looks pretty thorough. We have hummingbird feeders up in the yard, but I’ve yet to need the guide since the only resident winter hummingbirds we have are Anna’s. I’m hoping to see a few more species this summer!

Happy reading!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

 

Old Field Guides

I’ve grown fond of old field guides.

The 1941 Peterson Guide I bought from a used book store has notes inscribed inside by the Bruno Hukari Family: “Swallows arrived March 26, 1967, March 1978, March 1979.”

I think it’s neat to think about how birding has changed (and not changed) through the years. Recently, a friend of mine picked up a few older guide books on the cheap from an estate sale for me. I’m curious if old field guides and journals might hold clues about changing bird populations over the years.

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So cool!

Flipping through old field guides at a book store yielded this 1977 Cedar Waxwing trading card from Kellogg’s. Apparently, there’s an entire series of these vintage bird trading cards.

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The earliest field guide in the US is Birds Through an Opera Glass (1889) by Florence Bailey. A reprint of this book is available as a free eBook on Google Books! (or for purchase on Amazon).

I’m entranced by the colorful descriptions of the birds. Here’s an example:

THE BLUEBIRD. As you stroll through the meadows on a May morning, drinking in the spring air and sunshine, and delighting in the color of the dandelions and the big bunches of blue violets that dot the grass, a bird call comes quavering overhead that seems the voice of all country loveliness. Simple, sweet, and fresh as the spirit of the meadows, with a tinge of forest richness in the plaintive tru-al-ly that marks the rhythm of our bluebird’s undulating flight, wherever the song is heard, from city street or bird-box, it must bring pictures of flowering fields, blue skies, and the freedom of the wandering summer winds.”

Vintage tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Owl Pursuit

Owl sightings are special. Probably because they happen so rarely and owls are incredible. I can clearly remember the handful of times I’ve shared space with these charismatic feathered beings. One of those lucky moments occurred last Monday at Shillapoo when I saw the Great Horned Owl. The next day, I was still high on that owl sighting and was itching to go out again. Alas, I was at work most of the day, so I put it out of my mind. Until later…

I’ve been following other local birding blogs, some of which are shared on the side-bar on my page. One in particular posted pictures of a Great Horned Owl with an owlet. I thought, I know the general birding areas in that neighborhood, I wonder if I could find that owl? I studied the pictures of the trees. No specific location was given, and I wasn’t about to ask about such sensitive information, but I figured, best case I see an owl and owlet, worst case, I see other birds. Pretty much a win-win either way.

I set off after work near sunset with a few destinations in mind. I stopped at one, hopped quickly out of the car, surveyed the area…no, not it. Stopped at another, scanned the trees with my binoculars and decided, nope, this wasn’t right either. It was like searching for a specific garment in a world of thrift shops.

Then the third stop surprised me. This! This looks like the site! Could it really be? I felt a childish sense of adventure and savored the moment. I was a detective, hot on the birding trail. The trees and horizon matched, it had to be the site. I surveyed the tree-tops and there she emerged in all her stern glory.

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I couldn’t believe I had actually found the owl. Stupefied and coming down from my adventure high, I gazed and observed her from afar. Then I looked around me and felt a sense of sadness slowly sneaking in. This was not dense wilderness, but a commercial-industrial area and to me the owl seemed exposed and vulnerable. This owl deserves better, I thought. Then I started thinking about the impact of my own presence…and then I saw the owlet and I forgot about everything for a second.

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This was the first encounter I’ve ever had with an owlet. Pretty neat.

I have a huge amount of respect and admiration for what animals in nature, especially birds, have to put up with just to remain alive; find food, brave winters, migrate, fight for habitat, avoid predation and hunting, and/or a combination of all of it. They also have to deal with people seeking them out. That’s essentially what most birding is, visiting known habitat areas in the hopes that bird encounters will result. People feel connected to nature when they experience it first-hand.

This trip felt different. I’d gone after something specific. I had no idea that I’d actually find the owl and I suppose it’s similar to birders chasing a rare bird alert, but I’m not sure how I feel about this kind of birding yet. Overthinking it some? Maybe. In any case, I remain cognizant of the code of birding ethics.

I think I have as much to learn about my emerging birder identity as I do about the birds.

Tweets, chirps, and hoots!

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Audrey