In Praise of Snags

Snags are standing dead or dying trees. In natural forests in the Pacific Northwest, there are usually a number of trees that have died from lack of light, overcrowding, competition and whatnot. Forests older than 150 years are heading into old growth status and by then some trees in these forests have been killed by fungi infecting the roots or trunk (the diseases they cause go by colorful names like stringy butt rot or laminated root rot). Wind is a big creator of snags. There may be some broken tops in trees with sound roots but weak trunks (windsnap) or if the roots are rotten or the ground soft from rain and snow, blow downs (windthrow).

In an old-growth west side conifer forest (250 – 1000+ yrs) diversity abounds: openings where giants have fallen let in light to allow shrubs and seedlings to grow better, there is wood on the ground, standing dead snags, trees growing out of nurse logs, a mossy zone with perennials and groundcovers, a shrub layer, a lower understory tree layer, intermediate to very tall trees. This is all great from an ecologist’s perspective.

An oak woodland has a different character. If a woodland or savanna was burned, it might have an open character. If no fire killed the young trees and brush, it will be crowded with skinny trees reaching over each other for the light, maybe one or two legacy giants that were seedlings 150 to 300 years ago, overtopped by douglas firs; dappled shade, poison oak shrubs, and vines climbing the trees, grasses, a few shrubs (serviceberry, snowberry) and flowering bulbs (camas) and perennials (checkermallow, strawberries) persist in the low light. There will be dead standing oaks in either case, many with dead branches and brittle broken limbs among the live ones. And lichens: many species and a great biomass of lichens.

In a managed forest, the forester does the thinning in order to grow fatter trees for market, like a row crop. When these trees – all the same age – are eventually cut, like giant broccoli, there will be some green trees left and some dead standing snags because the Oregon Department of Forestry requires it.

Why? Why do we value snags enough to write them – however few and inadequate in number – into the forestry regulations? Life. And diversity. A dead tree has arguably more life in it than a live tree. The diversity of fungi, bacteria, and wood decay organisms is enormous. Beetles, termites, ants, and others feed on the dead wood and fungi. These are the base of the food web, the decomposers and recyclers that return nutrients stored over decades or centuries, to the forest.

There are plenty of birds (woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches) who visit the snag to find food, and excavate nest cavities in the softening wood. Others (owls, bats) who can’t excavate a hole, use those made by woodpeckers, in a grand circle of beneficial re-use and mutual aid. A dead tree is a great place for a raptor like a hawk or osprey to nest or sit and watch for prey, possibly a douglas or flying squirrel. Snags are so important to wildlife that getting rid of them endangers species that rely on old growth and dead wood.

Next time you drive through the Oregon Coast Range on the way to the beach, observe the difference between a national forest and adjacent tree farms owned privately or by the BLM. Instantly the trees get bigger in the national forest, the ground level cooler and more diverse, the depth of the canopy is higher and the light changes. Streams look like real streams. This you can tell at 55 miles per hour.

We had a tree next to the house made into a snag. A dougfir that needed to be removed for safety. Our arborist Brian French (that’s him up the tree in photo below) took off the limbs, topped it and crafted a new jagged top – an outstanding fake lightning strike to accelerate fungal invasion. (Final touch was a birdhouse built by birdman Tom Brewster, volunteer with the Yamhill Conservation District, local woodworker, and possessor of the best Willamette Valley accent/drawl ever.) Brian also hollowed out a section of trunk behind a carefully cut piece of bark, then replaced the bark so the birds could move in right away without waiting for the snag to soften up.

Just in time for nesting season, a tree swallow pair scouted it and pronounced it livable. The rest of the flock looks on in envy. For the first time we have tree swallows careening over the house grabbing insects in the new, more sunny and open space. Yay snag.

How Green IS A “Green Building” ??

Update: Since this was originally posted, Jeff Acopian kindly pointed out some inaccuracies. His family actually started looking into protecting birds from window strikes in the 1980’s. You can read more on the Birdsavers website.

Also, the American Bird Conservancy has just launched an appeal for help with spreading the word about their own ratings and endorsements for good products for homeowners and commercial buildings. A few of the products below are included. I hope you will consider a donation to help the cause!

Due to a recent upheaval in living arrangements, there’s been a dearth of posts here on Gopher Valley Journal. We retired and moved form the big City Up North to Gopher Valley permanently, and we couldn’t be happier. In the process we replaced our old double wide, aka manufactured home with a new one (also made in a factory). It is a fully eco rated Energystar® model with efficient water fixtures and lots of insulation. It also has beautiful windows and lots of light. These windows are super energy efficient but are also more reflective (think mirrors) than any other window. I knew there would be some work to do when I saw the plans and those beautiful windows.

We had sliding glass doors on a porch in the old place, and more than once birds slammed into them, prompting me to do a lot of research on birds and windows. At the time, the easiest remedy was to paint some vertical stripes with tempera paint on the glass. As funky as it looked, it worked out well and in fact they are still on one set of doors we re-purposed for an art studio. But what about the pristine and, frankly, fancy looking new ones? There was a lot more glass, and even before we moved in, bird-shaped collision marks started to appear.

The good news (well kind of): in his newest book Subirdia, Professor John Marzluff (from whom I took one of the best classes of my second undergraduate career) relates that cats are by far the biggest human-assisted killers of birds. Way more than windows. 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds are expected to die by cat in the lower 48 alone. Every year. Please, please keep your cat indoors. Please. Helpful info at the link.

The bad news: windows are the second biggest cause of bird fatality around homes. Somewhere between 250 million and almost 1 billion birds smack into glass every year, in the U.S. alone. Skyscrapers are responsible for only a fraction of that, with residences and shorter multistory buildings the worst.

What to do?? I went back to the internet for an update. Researchers have helpfully measured the exact dimensions of products that help birds see glass and avoid death and injury that I used for my previous fix. And, there are also some cool new ideas out there. I got a few more tips from the Mid-Valley Birders listserve.

Here below are the results of my search and (trial and error) product testing.

1. External screening by http://www.birdscreen.com/. Thanks to a couple of rave reviews on the birdlist I sent away for a trial amount of this flexible fabric-like screen to try on a variety of window sizes and shapes. I ended up cutting some down to fit on smaller windows that were particularly popular targets for bird strikes. This made the suction cup application a little clunky looking but the ease of installation and modification was a plus. Extremely effective and seems to be holding up to the weather, although the pipe insulation recommended to weigh the bottom down is getting fried on the hot south side. It is as see-through as a window screen. I opted for the attachment method that does not involve drilling into the siding, and it’s only useful for windows that are not on our sliding glass doors. Economical and user friendly. It can be ordered in custom sizes.

This is how Birdscreen (TM) product looks from inside

The view from inside

Birdscreen (TM) product outside

Birdscreen (TM) product outside

Treatments above rely on a weight at the bottom. You can also attach the bottom to the window with suction cups but I ended up using all of those for the multiple smaller pieces I modified from the kit. Here are the smaller window treatments. These were particularly lethal windows, and we have not had problems since adding the external screens.

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The pink tape is to keep us from hitting our noggins on the open casement window.

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2. ABC BirdTape. Sold directly by the American Bird Conservancy, this product is economical and easy to apply. It comes as a roll of tape or wider squares. You can also get long rolls of uncut wide tape. These are all designed according to research that indicates that vertical or horizontal striping or squares of a specific width and distance apart, will help birds see a window, or avoid crashing. The minimum spacing for the stripes is important: 2″ horizontally or 4″ vertically. The tape turned out to be just the thing for the expanse of glass used on our deck panels. If you’re careful, it can be repositioned if you make a mistake, and if you goof up it is not too expensive to discard the piece you have and start over. The product is translucent, so you cannot actually see through it, but it has been fine visually. Visitors often think the glass came that way, and if I had it to do over I would have it frosted like this.

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Birdtape in squares.

Birdtape in strips

Birdtape in strips

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3. Acopian BirdSavers. Another outfit that sells a product they invented just for bird protection. Their product is made  from parachute cord. This product saved us and the birds. It is by far the easiest to apply, and if you want to save money, the website offers instructions on how to make your own. It has the advantages of simplicity and minimal things to go wrong, plus it is low profile. With the amount of glass we had to cover, this was the most satisfactory. Update: A few of these stopped adhering to the siding, and since I did not want to drill into our new siding I used suction cups on a couple of windows, and on others a magnetic strip with holes drilled to hold the strings tucked behind a window flange. I am told by the company that they also offer a permanent attachment bracket that has small screws to mount a bracket which looks very satisfactory in the photos on their website.

Here is how it looks on arrival. I measured my windows and gave them the dimensions to make each one for me (essentially cutting to size and tying the knots) so all I had to do was attach them. They are suspended from a header cord attached to pieces of aluminum with heavy double stick tape on the back. The green color blends in well.IMG_4840Installed, they are effective and low profile. Although they look a bit dark in the photo looking outside, the contrast is not that harsh. The attachment detail can be seen on the product website. Although they mention attachment problems in some applications, we have had very little need to re-attach. When it really gets busy at the feeders, sometime birds perch on the cords for a few seconds!

birdsaver2 birdsavers

Birdsavers cord installed

BirdSavers cord installed, looking out

4. CollidEscape This product seemed like a great idea. It is a mesh adhesive. It was quite pricey even for some samples but I thought it might look better so I tried a few; clear for the deck panels, grey and green to match the siding. The material comes in thick, very adhesive sheets that can be ordered to size, and they will color match for you. It also comes in patterns. I was told it is the material that is applied to buses for advertising. How they get those huge pieces on a bus is beyond me.

The colored film is nearly opaque from the outside, and pretty see-through from inside, although not as transparent as any of the other materials I used, probably because the colored sheets are black on the side that adheres to the glass, plus the holes of the mesh are dense.

If I was an experienced applicator or had an extra person or two to assist it might have been easier. I tried using the methods suggested, but it was a teeth-grinding experience on a hot day. In the end I removed the clear piece I had on the deck because it wasn’t very attractive. I think these photos actually make it look better. To me it just made things look out of focus and did not enhance the glass like the BirdTape.

2014-10-03 15.50.30 2014-10-03 15.50.43

In any case, after my first experience, I tried cutting one piece into the dimensions of the bird tape and applying it according to those specs. After a couple of months I decided it was too distracting and took it off.

IMG_4841 IMG_4842

The one application that seems to work is a couple of windows where I got it on evenly and it blended in well. On the south side of the house (left) it helps keep the house cooler by reflecting the heat and sun. On a small bedroom window (right) the reduced light is minor. The color match is quite good.

IMG_1701 IMG_1702

See below the difference between CollidEscape film and bird netting (left) and the film and BirdSavers cord (right) looking from the inside.

BirdSavers cord on left, CollidEscape film on right

BirdSavers cord on left, CollidEscape film on right

inside view0001

CollidEscape left, bird netting right

These examples show that different solutions work in different areas. The main thing is to do everything possible to protect the wildlife we life with whenever we can.

Because we know better, all buildings must take into account their surroundings. Green buildings can’t be green unless they include bird protection in their design. On the positive side:

  • Some cities have laws about what kind of glass can be used in commercial buildings with birds in mind.
  • Bird-friendly glass does exist.
  • Retrofitting is always an option, as I hope I’ve demonstrated, and not only for new construction.
  • It is really great that LEED building certification includes not only glass specifications but interior and exterior lighting standards for bird protection.
  • Lighting! a whole other story that you can read about in John Marzluff’s great book and also here.

It’s Raining – But Only Under This Tree

I had an arresting experience when I went out into the woodland the other day. It has been extremely dry this winter in Oregon, but there is often a lot of fog. As I walked under one of the larger Douglas firs there was a sound of dripping rain on dried oak leaves and yet, it was not raining.

I’m not sure if I have ever experienced fog drip first hand in quite this way. I learned about it many years ago as a very significant (in the statistical meaning) source of ground water and soil moisture in the western Cascades.

Have I ever been in the woods when they are dripping? Yes, but standing under one single tree, that is collecting and dropping water is kind of eerie when everything else is quiet, the ground is dry, and it’s just very foggy. Being present as a tree essentially waters itself and channels the water into ground storage, reveals how trees = water = more trees and life.

So, come along with me and experience it for yourself. You might be able to see the raindrops falling in this cellphone movie:

Here, stand in the open where no rain is falling, and look back toward the mixed oak and the big Doug fir in the ravine. These trees were left behind when the forest was logged the first and/or second time in the last century. We left them too, when we thinned trees to revive the oak woodland. They protect a riparian zone of seasonal streamflow – the source of some of that flow is now apparent! That’s a Steller’s Jay imitating a Redtailed Hawk in the background.

So, why fog drip under conifers and not oaks (I asked myself)? I believe that the answer lies in leaf architecture. Moisture runs off the vast surface area of thousands of needles intercepting fog. Oaks are leafless in winter, but besides that, they support a huge biomass of lichens and mosses, which are designed to soak up nutrients and water from the air, as it’s their life support. Hence, lichens and mosses may tend to increase the humidity around a tree, but they sponge up rather than repel moisture like fir needles. Fir needles don’t need the moisture – they send it to the roots where they can use it.     Wow.

Swallow update

Current news from the Yamhill Birders’ list. Wowwee.

Four birders and two local folks gathered at the BARN SWALLOW roost site on Grand Island Loop Rd. this evening. We saw few birds until sunset about 7:55. Then they gathered from all compass points and went down into the cornfield as advertised. I estimate about 80,000. The show lasted from about 8:00-8:20 PM.

Some (approx) migration schedules here http://www.learner.org/jnorth/tm/swallow/News.html

See the swallows go out for breakfast – on radar

How many swallows does it take to create a radar image??

I just found out about a migratory event taking place in SE Yamhill County not far from our place. According to the Yamhill birder’s newsgroup, a scientist in B.C. alerted them to the radar signature of 70,000 to 100,000 swallows leaving their nighttime roost in a cornfield at around 6:10 am.

See below to be amazed! The swallows are the burst of green in backwards L-shaped Yamhill County, next to the I-5 marker. On the two mornings I have looked at it, they disperse slightly differently. Today, they veer SE and back NW before dispersing.

Just take a minute to imagine what this looks like from the ground! I am sorry to not be able to go there right now to witness the departure, or the evening return.

If you want to try this at home, go to the weather radar for this area, click “previous” to back up from the current time until you get to 6 a.m. on the clock (upper left of the map). Then you can click “animate” and watch it happen. Yikes

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Mr. Handsome

Great birding this spring and early summer here in Gopher Valley.

Since I finished Birding by Ear with Lisa and Don through the Corvallis Environmental Center, I have been obsessed with all the bird conversation going on. I took the class so I could learn to listen in on who is here, and I was not disappointed! I have been making some recordings (to come in future posts) and have identified many formerly unknown songs.

I found out there are birds out there I’ve never seen, and may never be able to see – Pacific Slope Flycatcher for example. Tom finally pointed out the elusive Swainson’s Thrush yesterday, when we visited Miller Woods, but we can’t seem to see our own, despite the fact that they sing practically all day long.

One great thing about our newly cleared oak woodland, is there is space between the trees – through which birds fly, and when they land, we can see them. Thus I was able to photograph the exotic, tropical-looking Western Tanager today. I think they live behind our house, because I hear their crickety chirping call from the trees. There seem to be two adult males here in the photos, the less exuberantly colored one is a non-breeding male, I think. Perhaps one of the kids. All the bird babies are out trying their wings and hunting skills.

Western Tanager adult male

Western Tanager adult male

Western Tanager left profile (showing off?)

Western Tanager left profile (showing off?)

Western Tanager non-breeding male

Western Tanager non-breeding male

Resident WBNs

Aside

The day before I took on the Scotch broom (previous post) I indulged in a day of scouting for birds and plants. It is so much easier to see birds since the tree thinning! I finally got a picture of the white breasted nuthatch (there are at least 2) in its element, with a tasty morsel of some kind – nowhere near a feeder!

© 2013 Taylor Gardens
All rights reserved.

© 2013 Taylor Gardens
All rights reserved.

Things Are Looking Up, (I think) Here in Gopher Valley

This is unscientific, because their appearance coincided with an improvement in my birding skills, but I noticed three bird species last summer that might be new arrivals: Purple Finch, Western Wood-Pewee, and Lesser Goldfinch, plus the aforementioned White-Breasted Nuthatch this fall and winter.

Hoping that we had some rare and important new species, I cracked open the Land Manager’s Guide To Bird Habitat and Populations in Oak Ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest  (note that link goes to part II). Of the six “obligate or near-obligate” species (don’t live anywhere else, or if they do, then much fewer outside this habitat), only two – Acorn Woodpecker and Slender Billed White-breasted Nuthatch have ranges in our part of the Willamette Valley. When we have a resident Acorn Woodpecker, we’ll have all two of them and the champagne corks will pop.

Moving into the more numerous “highly associated” species part of the list, we’ve seen or heard 13 of 20. The authors note that “highly associated species are those that are abundant in some other habitat(s), but reach some of their highest densities in oak habitats.” So not all of these are bell-ringers, so to speak.

The 13 in our neighborhood:

  • Bewick’s Wren*
  • Black-capped Chickadee*
  • Black-headed Grosbeak
  • Bushtit*
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • House Wren
  • Lesser Goldfinch
  • Purple Finch
  • Spotted Towhee
  • Western Bluebird
  • Western Scrub-jay
  • Western Tanager
  • Western Wood-pewee

*For the record, these are pretty common in urban Seattle neighborhoods too

I think the neighbors’ 92 acres to the south are providing a lot of this habitat. We are watching closely for signs of a land sale at that location. It would be a tragedy if it was cleared, following the trend to plant crops on former woodland.

So, back to the ones that cropped up on the radar recently. Lesser Goldfinch prefers tree/shrub and shrub/tree edges and open areas. We saw them foraging on the open savanna area last summer on weeds (weeds!). They like the thistle and sunflower-family (Asteraceae) seed, and they were dancing around over the false dandelions in the savanna.

Purple finch

Purple finch

Purple Finch Listed as a short-distance migrant. Abundance is higher in larger patches (>25 acres). Since ours is 20 acres, the adjacent habitat is probably improving the chances of having them here. Here is a fuzzy photo of one at the feeder last summer.

Western Wood-Pewee. The guide lists this species as a “potential ‘early responder’ to overstory thinning or conifer removal that opens up the canopy of oak or oak-fir forest”. Ah-ha, I’ll take credit for that! I watched one fly to a nest in the fork of a tall skinny oak in the newly thinned woodland. They may have been here previously and we mistook it for some other sort of flycatcher, but they are making the most of the new habitat. They are really easy and fun to watch when they’re feeding because they perch near an opening and fly out and back catching insects. There is an audible ‘snap’ of their beak as they make contact.

Here is someone else’s Youtube video of one in Arizona

I was sorry to learn from The Sibley Guide that “recent population declines in…the Western Wood-Pewee may be due to major losses of wintering habitat in the South American Andes, the result of human activity”. The double liability of habitat loss for long distance migrants  in both breeding and overwintering areas is a very complicated issue for conservation.

White-breasted Nuthatches are residents (non-migrating), and they use edges and small habitat patches. So they should be better off if the acreage in woodland restoration continues to increase. If I do nothing else this year, I am going to get a photo of ours that’s in focus.

Lesser Goldfinch. Another resident and edge-user. Good prospects for our population because we’ve got edges galore! Here is someone else’s Youtube video of one at the Tualatin River NWR not far from us – and a really great place to visit.

My Oregon Master Naturalist Cohort

Here, belatedly, is a short video of my Willamette Valley Specialization group in the Oregon Master Naturalist Program. This was the field portion of a day learning about birds and plants of the endangered Oregon White Oak Woodland and Savanna ecosystems. (With regard to Oregon white oak vs. Garry oak, see the note on Oregonian naming practices, on my other blog.)

Great Horned Owls

When I was out on the hill killing scotch broom the other day, I heard the great horned owls spooning. There is something comforting about these big birds still choosing to nest among our firs. They are one of the most melodious owls – so pleasant to listen to.

Later I heard a sound at dusk behind the house in the woods. When I went to investigate, it stopped and started up again down by the pond. Just enough time for one bird to fly down there. I thought it might be one of the owls, since they fly away like that in the daytime, but the call was just a short, rising couple of notes. After much searching through recorded bird sounds, I finally found the little short call I had heard, not included on most recordings at all, but very distinctive.

Until I can record our own owls on my phone to post (can’t say I’ll ever get a good photo), let me introduce you to the professionals: Feathered Photography and bird calls at the Neighborhood Naturalist.

Death in Nature – a look back and a new link

I recently read this article in the New York Times, and it reminded me that I had also written a blog post on the same topic. Of course the great scientist, Bernd Heinrich, has thought way beyond my musings, but there are parallel observations nonetheless.

Here is my humble previous offering.

And here is the real deal, scientifically speaking. I must read that book!

Reblog: IT’S 18 DEGREES FAHRENHEIT — WHERE’S THE PEANUTS????

I’m reblogging a post from this wonderful southern Oregon bird blog, because it is so appropriate and I can’t really add anything:

IT’S 18 DEGREES FAHRENHEIT — WHERE’S THE PEANUTS????.

It was 20 deg F last night, and stayed cloudy all day, preserving the thick layer of frost on all things leafy.

We had lots of birds flocking in to gobble birdseed, suet cakes, and leftover apples hanging in the trees. Notably, also a brand new bird siting (for us) – a Townsend’s Warbler partaking of the granny smiths. They winter along the west coast. It was a treat to see a new visitor we would likely not see in the summer. Here’s a great video http://youtu.be/hpQlILzavms Check out the eyeliner!! I only wish the videographer would keep his cat indoors, such an obvious example of why he should do that.

We still have the one White-Breasted Nuthatch hanging around with the Red-Breasted ones, who practically sit on your shoulder in their frenzy to eat enough to keep from freezing. I noted a Stellar’s Jay scaring off the WBNuthatch as it was cracking a sunflower seed it had wedged in the bark of the dougfir. The Jay snatched it. Turns out those jays can cling to the bark too, the bullies. The WBNuthatch may disappear once the weather warms up, but I hope it finds a mate and settles down for the summer.

Here is the bird lineup near the house currently:

Townsend’s warbler (new to us), white breasted nuthatch (recently noted), Stellar’s jay, black capped chickadee, chestnut backed chickadee, (oh- they are sooo dapper!), dark eyed junco, golden crowned sparrow (took awhile for Tom to settle on that i.d. as their crowns are not very golden in winter), spotted towhee, mourning dove, varied thrush (heard the policeman’s whistle of its call briefly in the evening, and then it visited the ground under the feeder); heard but not seen – golden crowned kinglets.

A Map Of Time, Time In Maps

This is a gallery of landscape changes in our little corner of the world. In a very short time (1994-2012), the local vegetation has been altered by land management quite dramatically. From our perspective (our 20-acre rectangle) it often seems overwhelming.

In 2005 we had a comfortable buffer of forest around us for the birds and wildlife we like to watch. We knew it was tree farm country, so logging was a given but, patchy as it was, it didn’t seem too traumatic. You can see the tree farms mostly blanketing the area in the earliest GoogleEarth map.

Then came a shift in land use – ‘conversion’ is the term – from timber to vineyards. Watch the photos as the trees begin to disappear. Vineyards and orchards sound like a sort of idyllic alteration, but think just a minute about what that entails. Conversion from old growth to tree farms is a step away from diverse, patchy habitat of a particular kind: spotted owls, flying squirrels, really big trees with a lot of carbon stored in their massive trunks, a lot of cavities for owls and other specialists. Old growth trees (250+ yrs) that store and hold – sequester – more carbon than any other type of forest. You can see that even in the earlier views, the connectivity between patches is important – those are corridors that allow wildlife and plants to move across the landscape either to escape the clearcutting or to find food or mates.

Timber farms, especially smaller ones cut in patches on a long rotation, (time between cuts), shelter many important organisms while they grow, and if those plants and animals are lucky, they can shift over to another patch when the clearcut begins. Technically, people are required to leave a certain number of trees and snags, but the rules about that are so lenient that it doesn’t really amount to anything ecologically important in most cases on private land. Federal forests are another story, as they are managed differently. The other thing about forestry is that there are relatively long periods between soil disturbance.

Now, step it up one notch with conversion from timber land to row crops, vineyards, or a hazelnut orchard. If you look, you can see that to the north and east of our 20 acres, all trees were removed, conifer, oak, even the ones that were formerly left by commercial forestry. Stumps were bulldozed, burned, and the land plowed. Two major changes that occur now are the absence of trees and shrubs, and soil disturbance on a regular schedule. Weed control and monoculture demand constant spraying, plowing, or both. All these activities restrict plant life and, importantly, affect the insects that can survive in disturbed habitat.

Unless a farm, orchard, or vineyard is conscientiously managed to leave patches of undisturbed habitat for native ground nesting bees, predatory insects, and other beneficials, the landscape is a depauperate one compared to a natural one.

In the gallery above, you can view the transition from 1) patchy timber harvest to 2) clearcuts on a larger scale (there is a large absentee landowner to the north and east of us who is progressively extracting all the monetary value from his timber, then selling off the land) then 3) conversion to vineyard to the east and north. Note the extremely clean patches and rows of plowed and planted crops. Oak trees that were left after cutting douglas firs were stripped off the land and sold for firewood. Thankfully, a few trees were left around a low spot on the east side, that is the source of a stream that flows across our property and down to Deer Creek. However, our hydrology is permanently altered. Erosion from the force of high water flows, and lower flows in summer are byproducts of vegetation stripped off the soil surface.

Next week – the closeup view of our patch before and after we acquired it.

Oh, Happy Day

There are two birds whose presence, to me, would signify that we have attracted the holy grail of bird residents: the Acorn Woodpecker and White-breasted Nuthatch.

I looked out the window, and LO and BEHOLD! There was a White-Breasted Nuthatch!!

What these species have in common is their fidelity to, or requirement for, a vanishing Willamette Valley habitat – open oak woodland and savanna. The nuthatch will go for mixed conifer/hardwoods which is exactly what we have. They are not the only species of concern here, just a couple I particularly like. A brand new publication online in two parts [ here and here ] called the Land Manager’s Guide To Bird Habitat and Populations in Oak Ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest provides a larger list:

Oak-associated bird species designated as being of conservation concern by the primary wildlife natural resource agencies in the Pacific Northwest…

  • Acorn Woodpecker
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Vesper Sparrow (Oregon)
  • Lewis’s Woodpecker
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Western Bluebird
  • Western Meadowlark

As I noted, to my delight, a White-breasted Nuthatch arrived recently at our feeder and on the trees by our house. Because I don’t currently have the proper camera or skills, here is a nice photo swiped from the above publication.

wbn

White-breasted Nuthatch. Photo credit Tom Grey. Published in Landowner’s Guide to Bird Habitat and Populations in Oak Ecosystems of the PNW. 2012

Our species – the slender-billed subspecies – resides west of the Cascades. Fat white belly, an impression of upcurved bill because the lower bill curves toward the straight, sharp upper; used for hacking or ‘hatching’ open nuts and seeds it wedges in tree bark – a fun fact learned from my new Christmas book, the Sibley Guide to Bird Behavior. Oh, so cute and spunky. I hope they find lots of holes in our old trees to make nests.

Weather

The end of the year is often so gray, dark and rainy. Sometimes we have floods, incessant rain and sogginess. Just now it is stormy. Heavy rain interspersed with calm breaks. According to the weather station, we had over one inch of rain in the last 24 hrs.

Today we took a chance and headed out for a hike after midday, despite rain showers – heavy at times, as they say. We got lucky. We arrived at the Luckiamute Landing Natural Area mid afternoon. Under a stormy sky, with surprising sunbreaks and little to no rain, we strolled around the trail looking for birds and noting high water in the Luckiamute and Willamette rivers. If we had ventured further toward the camping area for paddlers, we might have seen the Santiam river estuary on the east shore of the Willamette.

We saw no new or unknown birds, and not too many of our old friends, but it was pleasant to have all these acres to ourselves on a day when many are crowded together at the mall. In the spring and summer, this gallery forest of cottonwoods, Oregon ash, and alder will be fragrant and full of birdsong.

Birds we saw:

Flocks of Robins, Juncos, one immature bald eagle, one osprey, a few black-capped chickadees, a red-shafted flicker, geese overhead, and a group of small geese in a field from the car (no time to i.d.), small raptor on elelctric wires.

It was breezy, and we heard there was a high wind warning for the Willamette Valley (50 mph) and the coast (70+mph). In our sheltered valley, we often do not get the big wind, although sometimes it swirls around oddly and breaks trees. Keeping an eye on the weather station, the wind here has not been over 26 mph – those gusts have caused our dougfirs to rain cones and twigs on the roof. It sounds like the trees are hurling things at us as they do in the Lord of the Rings (or did those trees just grab people?). Anyhow, as I began to write this post, the lights went out, came back on, went out again. So I’m guessing the wind is high out on the flats. We have electricity for the moment anyway. We’ll see what the morning brings.

Since I missed last week, I’ll post the results of my planned lichen-gathering expedition tomorrow – windstorms are great for bringing down the lichens! Why collect them? Stay tuned…

Winter twigs and lichens color the winter landscape - surprisingly vivid

Winter twigs and lichens color the winter landscape – surprisingly vivid

LukiamuteLukiamute1

Willamette in view

Willamette in view

Winter Birds Are Animated Poems

I looked out the window today at the Douglas fir trunks. Something floated down from the roof – a leaf?

Brown Creeper image © Kelly Colgan Azar

It was a Brown Creeper – light as a leaf in the wind, it flitted to the trunk on the nearest tree; like a butterfly it circled the trunk, its mate or flock pal on the tree next door similarly flitting and pecking.

Brown creepers are cryptic little guys. Their backs blend in with dappled brown bark, their white bellies toward the trunk. They systematically search around and up the trunk, then start again at the bottom of the same or a neighboring tree. The eye has to catch their movements…they are gone so quickly. They seem to fly around like scraps of paper.

This time, I saw the most enchanting behavior – so quick, so easy to miss – one bird swirled several times in a quick spiral around, around, around the trunk one direction, then reversed and went the other direction. Is it scaring up the insects in the bark, the better to catch them? Is it doing a quick search to see if there’s anything worth eating? And why the white belly? Does that keep their identity secret from the creatures in the bark – do they look like the sky? They seem to come from the tree, to be the tree in a way. So delightful.

Videos here and here. Note the need for old snags with loose bark and cavities for nesting.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Green – A Look Back to Warmer Days

Some summer photos recalling warm, dry feet and abundant birdsong:

A short essay on my nemesis the California ground squirrel

The squirrely-est (and most beautiful) of squirrel youngsters. Is there no animal as irritating as a teenage ground squirrel? The parents must be so glad to get them out of the way. One was up on the roof CLOMPING back and forth trying to figure out how to get down (yes they climb), then the next thing I know it is making a systematic, and hyperactive circuit around the house, checking out every inch; scrabbling around trying to dig in the concrete window well, popping up to sniff the mouse traps, running around checking all the vents. Face to face with me through the glass door on the porch, scratching and chewing on the screen door. The local name for these guys is grey diggers. They are digging machines. I believe this one is hibernating under the house at this moment. Sleep well my friend, we will duel in the spring!

Meet the Neighborhood Naturalists

White lined sphinx moth larva – discovery on the naturalist walk. That horn is on the tail end and it’s sharp! It turns into a very large moth, as you might guess. And yes, it’s native Woo-hoo!

I just received the new Neighborhood Naturalist Newsletter in my email. Such a delight. Each newsletter is full of everything you could want to know about a couple of local Willamette Valley species – flora or fauna; the design is high quality and the photos are fabulous.

Did I mention the newsletter is free by email? Do yourself a favor and subscribe! It is just one of the easy ways to learn about the diversity around us in the Willamette Valley.

I took a beginning birding class from the authors, Don and Lisa, and I have rarely had such a rewarding learning experience. Their avocation is natural history and they know a lot (a LOT!) yes, but they also have a facility for getting the information across in an interesting and helpful manner.

Their goal is to inform and to educate, and they spend a lot of their time taking people on walks (free – the next Neighborhood Naturalist Adventure in Corvallis is October 21) and teaching classes (very inexpensive). A bird walk is always enlightening. Lisa and Don will call out the names of unseen birds, identifying them by song, and point out salient details of those you can see. Don can also imitate bird songs, which is a handy skill.

My neighbor found this arresting caterpillar last summer when we attended a naturalist adventure walk near Corvallis. Lisa looked it up and confirmed the i.d. and posted it to us online later the same day.