Photos from personal trips AND trips with
Birds of Oregon and General Science, (BOGS) in association with Eugene's Celeste Campbell Center
BOGS Fern Ridge Royal Ave, May 8, 2014
Heavy clouds persistently threatened rain which never came, the morning we headed out to Fern Ridge Reservoir. It wasn't even cold, actually. My only issue with the weather was it's impact of the low light level on taking pictures. I was shooting at ISO 400 most of the time, rather than my preferred 100 - 200 range. With my camera, that translates into images which are not quite as sharp, unless the bird is very close.
Our group was probably close to twenty people, perhaps more; requiring 6 or 7 cars to ferry us all to Fern Ridge. As usual, there was quite a bit of excitement apparent in our group before we left Campbell Center. A lot of socializing and checking in with each other takes place before Steve gives the pre-trip briefing.
Driving along Royal, we saw Eurasian collared doves and Mourning doves on wires. Steve said that some folks also saw a Red-Tailed Hawk. Our first stop was at the Acorn Woodpecker patch for a while. This is on Royal Ave, just West of Fisher Road. Several Acorn Woodpeckers were seen by some observers, but I don't think anyone saw any that were really close to us. In this and other more wooded areas as far as the early sections of the Royal Ave trail West of the parking lot, we found the usual birds one might expect, such as; Bushtit, Black-capped chickadee, American goldfinch, Lesser goldfinch, Hairy woodpecker, Northern flicker, and Western Scrub jays. We also made a second stop on Royal to look for the frequently reported Lewis's Woodpecker, but we didn't find it.
Once again Don Laufer came up with a lot of really fine photos on this trip. His Common Yellowthroat and male House Finch photos are excellent. He also photographed a few things which I missed, such as a family of Geese and the White Pelicans out on Pelican Island.
Once we were walking towards the observation platform, the habitat became more open; with fields containing mostly only younger trees, and shrubby vegetation. It was in this area, near what is called "the burn" because of a fire which burned many of the young trees on the South side of the trail, that we had some close-up views of male and female Purple finches; the male showing brilliant deep red colors on his head, and which showed up well in our photographs. At first we thought they were House Finches, but the lack of strong streaking on the breast changed our minds.
This early section of the trail is usually good for Savannah sparrow, Marsh wren, American robin, and sometimes Vaux's swifts, which we did see flying high above us with their short bodies and fast wingbeats. Also pretty regular in this area are Song sparrow, Red-winged blackbird, Tree swallow, Violet-green swallow and Cliff swallow. This time we came across an active Common Yellowthroat which Don and I both photographed with some success. The Marsh Wrens are very actively calling and still setting up their territories at this time of the year.
There was quite a buzz of excitment when Steve pointed out an American Bittern which our group had flushed from only a short distance in front of us, right along the trail. Seeing an American Bittern isn't something one can usually count on. Some people have never seen one before, even flying. Of course, seeing them when they are on the ground is even less likely because of how well they camouflage with the tall grasses and such. The past few weeks, a number of people have reported on eBird.org, that they have heard American Bitterns calling and frequently being flushed right along trails, both at Fern Ridge and at Finley Reservoir. The water level is very high at Fern Ridge right now, so the edge of the marsh is very near the trail. We got lots of looks at flying Bitterns on this trip because a pair or perhaps two pairs of Bitterns flew in very large circles several times as we continued our walk, flying away from us and then near to us again. Each time they were seen flying again, many of us got excited all over again. The low light level troubles the auto-focus mechanism of my camera and the motion of the dark colored flying birds against a brighter sky, added more to the challenge, but both Don and I did manage to get a few reasonably good photos of them.
There were Canada Geese with gosliings in the fields and someone spotted an American White Pelican flying in the distance on the North side of the trail further West of us, where there are extensive marshes. Later, closer to the observation platform, we saw a half-dozen or so more Pelicans way out to the Southwest, where they have been spending their Summers on a patch of island that local birders have taken to calling "Pelican Island."
In the area just before reaching (and after arriving at) the platform, in various directions and ponds, we saw four Western grebes, a Pied-Billed Grebe, Mallard Ducks, Gadwall, Cinnamon teal, and American coots. The Western Grebes had their heads folded down over their backs so we couldn't be sure that they weren't Clark's Grebes, which also have been Summering at Fern Ridge in recent years.
While scouting about in all directions from the observation platform, with all of us crowded together up there, chatting and sharing what we were seeing, Donna pointed out a single shorebird about 200 or 300 yards out to the Southwest, walking and feeding on a log anchored out there in the pond. Initial impressions suggested a Dowitcher, but very quickly that was quashed. Dowitchers are very rarely found alone, for one thing, and they have a characteristically thick and long straight bill, which this bird did not. An ID of Short-Billed Dowitcher was dismissed just about as quickly as it was suggested. This bird's bill was only slightly longer than the width of it's head, and in fact it seemed in my photos to have a slightly downwards curvature to it.
As more people looked through the spotting scopes and studied the bird, we also noticed that the color of the breast did not span the entire area of the breast. The color was also a little deeper red than the rufous usually seen on a Dowitcher. Finally, someone, perhaps it was Janet, tentatively suggested the possibility of a Red Knot. As Floyd studied the bird through his new spotting scope, he leaned increasingly towards that ID for it. He was never completely sure but that was his best guess. I like that about Floyd; that he won't give a positive ID to a bird unless he is truly positive. As Dave Irons said (posted on OBOL) the very next morning, in reference to someone's photo of a Gull which no one could ID with certainty, "Insisting on assigning a name to every bird no matter how distant or how poorly it was seen or photographed will result in lots of mistaken identifications. Sometimes, you just need to walk away and leave a bit of mystery in your wake." Wise council in my opinion. However, I think this sometimes takes some will power, especially if one is keeping a list of any kind and wants to add a new species to it. And for some folks, just letting go of getting an ID for a bird while it is still in sight can be very frustrating. There's an element of "giving up" in doing that, and if the bird can still be seen, one carries the hope that it will come closer or do something else that will give more clues to it's identity.
I posted to OBOL (Oregon Birders Online) from the field using my iPhone to let people know we had a possible Red Knot at Finley. Another birder, Leith McKenzie, followed up on that and sent me photos which he took of the bird just before 2pm the same day. I posted some of my photos to OBOL that afternoon to ask the experts to give us their opinion of our bird. Alan Contreras, bird-book author/editor, replied that it looked like a Red Knot to him and he'd never seen on inland in Oregon before now. Jeff Gilligan also wrote to say it was definitely a Red Knot, so we had a solid confirmation! I looked on eBird.org and found that no one had posted a Red Knot at Fern Ridge since 2006 and 2003, when Tom Mickel reported one there. After all this, I expected to see some others posting on OBOL to say they had gone to see the Red Knot, but no one did. I was surprised because I really thought a bird so rarely seen inland would have produced a bit of a stir. Turns out that it did, but I didn't find that out until almost a week later, when I ran into Anne Heyerly. She told me that quite a few people HAD gone out to Fern Ridge that Thursday afternoon to see the Red Knot. She told me that there had been some discussion about it at the monthly SWOC meeting on May 12. I was glad to hear all this, as it restored my sense of the expected order of things. Our BOGS group has made something of a name for itself among these folks, not only because of the Red Knot, but also because of a few other postings I've made to OBOL over the past year and a half, such as when we saw the Walterville Wintering Horned Grebe, or times when we've had trouble identifying a bird and had a decent photo of it to post.
A little background might be helpful here. SWOC is the Southern Willamette Ornithological Club, which began in the mid-70s. I recently discovered the very first SWOC newsletter online from circa 1974. From that I found out that Margaret's husband George was a founding member of SWOC. I've also heard that the current Oregon Birding Association (OBA) originated out of SWOC. I've gone to some of SWOC's meetings and they are a very welcoming and helpful group of serious birders, some of whom travel internationally to see birds. Some of it's active members (the ones whose names I remember) are Tom Mickel, Sylvia Maulding, Don Shrouder, Fred Chancey, Ellen Cantor, John Sullivan, and Dan and Anne Heyerly. I should mention that the SWOC group has made it very clear to me that they would welcome anyone who would like to come to their monthly meetings. They have a great deal of collective wisdom and experience and are very happy to share what they know. SWOC continues to meet on the 2nd Monday of each month at the restored Victorian house at 13th and Jefferson. They meet at 7:30pm. Typically they begin by sharing and discussing any recent sightings of interest. Sometimes after that one of them gives a presentation about a trip they've been on. It's all very informal, much like our BOGS meetings.
Marylee and Jody and I got together after our Fern Ridge trip and in looking at some of the photos, Marylee pointed out the white patch on the back of the shorebirds that flew by beyond the log where the Red Knot had been feeding. In reflecting over that by herself later on, Jody realized that flock of birds were Long-Billed Dowitchers, so she wrote to tell me so. Marylee might well have come to that conclusion as well, since I know she had been intrigued by those birds. In that photo, it can be seen that the birds have long, straight and fairly stout bills. The white stripe on their backs is even more obvious.
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