Photos from personal trips AND trips with
Birds of Oregon and General Science, (BOGS) in association with Eugene's Celeste Campbell Center
Winter is upon us, without question. It was a rather dark cloudy day with off and on drizzle and rain. However, there were plenty of people excited enough about visiting Finley Wildlife Refuge so we had a nice sized crowd. I can name 14 people who were gathered at the Campbell Center before 9am, and I'm sure I'm forgetting a few. I didn't count how many cars we had driving out there, but I think it was about five cars, maybe even six.
As we left the building to get in our cars, we had what Jennifer said was a good omen; a Red-Breasted Sapsucker identified by Marylee, (though Jennifer might have known what it was too), was on a tree at the Southwest Corner of the building grounds. There are obvious horizontal rows of sapsucker-drilled holes visible on the reddish tree trunk only about 10 feet above ground. The bird itself was only about 15 feet up and I was easily able to photograph it.
Along the way to Finley, Marylee counted over a dozen Kestrels on the telephone wires. I spotted an adult Bald Eagle in the trees above the Hwy 99 ponds South of Junction City. Someone from another car asked me if we had seen it so we weren't the only ones to see it. A few Red-Tailed Hawks and a Northern Harrier or two were also seen along Hwy 99W along our way.
Our group re-connected when we all arrived where Bruce Rd heads off West from Hwy 99W, at the Southeast corner of the refuge area. As we drove West on Bruce Rd, to the first parking lot, which is a short distance after the RR tracks, an adult Bald Eagle flew over our car caravan.
We parked and walked the short trail the observation blind which overlooks the Marsh, named McFadden I think. Along that trail a Golden Crowned Kinglet and a Golden Crowned Sparrow were seen. Cackling Geese were flying here and there and the large white shapes of a few Swans could be seen through the hedgerow, off in the marsh at some distance.
Once in the large, round, roofed Duck Blind structure, Steve scoped the Swans and identified them as Tundra Swans, based on the yellow spot near the lores. This is not always present and not always easily seen, but it is diagnostic for Tundra Swans when seen. Northern Pintails, Mallards and a few Green-Winged Teal were also seen out in the marsh.
Of particular interest was an Eagle in a tree Northwest of the marsh. Many of us looked at this bird through binoculars and scopes. Steve was fairly confident that it was a Golden Eagle. He was pretty sure he saw one when he reconnoitered the area a few days before our trip. The bill of this Eagle was not yellow as it would be on a nearly adult Bald Eagle. (Bald Eagles develop yellow on the bills in their 2nd or 3rd year according to the Sibley guide. The bird was far away so my pictures are rather unclear. I made my three best photos of this bird into a collage.
While Dan Gleason told me last month, that most reports of Golden Eagles in the Willamette Valley are mis-identified immature Bald Eagles, there are some sightings of Golden Eagle which are highly credible. Molly Monroe of USFWS posted on OBOL, (Oregon Birders Online), that she conducted an Eagle Survey of the valley wildlife refuges the week we were at Finley, and she reported one adult and one juvenile Golden Eagle at Finley along Bruce Road, which is the area we saw ours. At Headquarters I saw something posted about the occasional Golden Eagle showing up in Winter at Finley. I might be mistaken, but I think one or two of them are seen at Finley almost every Winter.
There were numerous immature Bald Eagles to be seen as we toured the South boundary of the refuge. Also seen was a Rough-Legged Hawk. The Eagles were scaring the Geese up off the water at times, though as far as I know, we didn't see any any Eagles make active attempts to catch anything.
Jody, Marylee and I have done a few birding trips together and we have been discovering that some of the field marks that we have been using to identify specific birds - especially Hawks, are not definitive. In other words some of those field marks are not unique to the species. For example, a black band across the lower breast of a Hawk is likely to mean it was a Red-Tailed Hawk. Juvenile Red-Tails have such a band. However, the juvenile light morph and the adult female Rough-Legged Hawks also have this band, though it is lower across the belly than that of a juvenile Red-Tail Hawk. Jody, Marylee and I have recently encountered such Rough-Legged Hawks.
Marylee brought up how easy it would be, to see a small falcon like bird on a wire while driving, and call it a Kestrel (because they are so numerous in Winter), but it might in fact be a less common bird such as a Merlin or Sharp-Shinned Hawk or even a Shrike or small Peregrine Falcon. I've initially mistaken Northern Shrikes as Kestrels in the past, especially when they've been at some distance on a gloomy day.
It tqkes time to learn which field marks of various birds are unique to a particular species, and thus adequate by themselves for identifying the bird. Some field guides, such as Peterson's for example, make an effort to always highlight those markings which are unique to a bird, (even if some of those markings are not easily seen). This works best with illustrations rather than photographs. Some other field guides highlight the field marks which are most readily seen, making them useful but not necessarily conclusive by themselves to ID the bird. It's a good idea to check the guide you are using to see which method of presentation they are using in their illustrations. Rick Ahrens mentioned in a recent presentation, that he likes the Peterson guide. I grew up birding with a Peterson guide in the 70s and I still like it and use it a lot. Rick also recommended learning to ID birds by their songs. He suggested learning the House Finch song in February when it is one of the first to sing; then add the Song Sparrow and Bewick's Wren as they come along.
I used to keep an old copy of "Golden Guide to Birds" by Zim close at hand because I found the sonograms useful when sorting through bird songs. Lately though, with all the bird songs and calls available online at the Cornell site and the audio files of bird songs and calls which come with apps for iPhones and tablets like my Nook, I'll probably not be turning to my Golden guide sonograms quite so much.
We stopped at two more places along Bruce Road during our Finley trip; the parking area which overlooks a large open area South of the road; and adjacent to a wetland marshy area alongside the North side of the road. There was not much to see up close at the overlook, but it was one of the places that Golden Eagles had recently been seen. We stopped at the marshy area because Steve had learned from folks at Headquarters that Short-Eared Owls have been seen in the grass beyond the edges of the marsh. They've been very active he was told, at dawn and dusk, which is not uncommon for this Owl. We thought we had one for a moment but when it flew up off the grass, the white rump showed us it was a Northern Harrier.
At Headquarters, we were treated to some pretty steady Acorn Woodpecker action. Those make up my best photos this time.
There were also some Western Bluebirds there. In the pond behind the Headquarters bldg, a male and female Hooded Merganser pair were seen, along with a female Ring-Necked Duck.
Our last stop was at the Prairie Overlook near the Northeast corner of the refuge. A White-Tailed Kite was seen there. It was in the very same area in which Jennifer and I had seen it a month ago when we went up to Finley on the day the BOGS trip was canceled because of the snowstorm and icy roads. We had seen two of them on that occasion. More Western Bluebirds were seen here and a few Meadowlarks were also seen, all some distance away. I thought I only captured the backs of the Meadowlarks in my photos so I was surprised when I got home and found that in one of the photos, one of them had turned to face us, revealing that beautiful yellow breast with that black "necklace." Donna spotted what turned out to be a Northern Flicker. This too was quite a distance away and I only managed a very fuzzy photo, but it's good enough to recognize some of the Flicker's colors.
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