Photos from personal trips AND trips with
Birds of Oregon and General Science, (BOGS) in association with Eugene's Celeste Campbell Center
BOGS Walterville Reservoir Bird Walk
February 13, 2014
We've been in the grip of the weather Gods for quite a while now. First it was a sudden big snowstorm which arrived on Thursday morning, February 6. Five to seven inches of snow fell in the Eugene area over the course of two days. Temperatures dropped into the 20s and remained there until Sunday afternoon, keeping most people home-bound. The transition from snow to freezing rain to normal rain was an excrutiating, slow process, leaving us with a silver thaw; up to 1/2 inch of ice crusting everything and bringing down whole trees and innumerable branches everywhere. This ice frosting lasted a couple days too. Some people were without power for several more days. From the first snow on Thursday morning, it wasn't until Monday that the roads were clear of ice and little snow remained on streets. By then, the surges of tropical moisture streaming across the Pacific from Hawaii had established what is called "the pineapple express". This moisture plume had already been aimed at Northern California while we were iced over. But now it shifted North, aiming right at Oregon. So once our snow and ice event was over, we headed directly into what was expected to be a steady rain, lasting through the next weekend. It was this same weather configuration, which coincidentally also began on Feb 6, 1996 and sustained itself for about 10 days, resulting first the Mohawk River, then the McKenzie River to flood, followed by flooding in various places downriver in the Willamette Valley, to the point that downtown Portland was at risk and sandbagging it's riverbanks.
A few days before our BOGS Walterville bird walk, the predictions were for gusty winds and steady rain on Thursday, with temperatures expected to be in the upper 30s and low 40s. But as the week progressed, the meteorologists hedged their bets and by Thursday morning they were saying it would be a warm day with only light showers. The pineapple express was still expected to deliver the winds and loads of rain, but now that was to resume on Thursday night. With all of the cold, and snow and ice and rain we've been through, no one really expected the Sunshine we woke to on Thursday. And I guess very few believed we would find the temperature climbing to the low 50s. But that is what we experienced on our Thursday walk.
Everyone was finding themselves to be overdressed. While most of our conversation was about birds, the next most frequently heard remark was about the warm Sunny weather we were enjoying. Most everyone was over-dressed. I had taken the liner out of my raincoat when we arrived at Walterville Pond, gambling that it would not rain too hard or get cool again.
On this walk, I remembered to take pictures of the overall habitat and scenery, so as to capture the mood and setting of the area, especially for those who view these albums but cannot go with us on these walks. These photos are interspersed throughout this album. They are taken from various locations all the way around Walterville pond, showing the shoreline, and in some places, the surrounding country as well.
The "birding action" was pretty steady throughout the walk. As we started to head to the trail from the parking lot, Steve spotted a single small bird flitting nervously about from branch to branch. It was olive colored with a white wing bar and split eye ring. Steve explained that it behaved like a Kinglet and that Golden-Crowned Kinglets are rarely found alone, so our bird was very likely a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet. The ruby swath of feathers on the crown of it's head, does not show on this bird unless it is excited, either about territoriality, or displaying for a prospective mate. We saw more single Ruby-Crowneds further around the pond.
A Belted Kingfisher was seen from time to time on our walk. At one point it was close enough to allow a few decent pictures.
We saw a bird we've not seen many times in the two years I've been "BOGGING"; namely, a Ruddy Duck. While our first views were from some distance, we found ourselves closer to the bird after rounding a bend and walking further, so this bird found it's way into my photo album.
There were cows grazing way high up on a clearcut hillside. A large diameter rotting log had jelly fungus squeezing it's way out of cracks. A common name for this yellow to orange gelatinous fungus is "Witches Butter."
I heard someone say that a Stellar's Jay imitated a Red-Tailed Hawk's call. A Red-Tail was on Doris's list of birds seen on this walk, so maybe what we heard was the hawk, rather than an imitator.
Common Mergansers were seen here and there. These too were approached closely enough for good photographs. These are more commonly found in rivers rather than in reservoirs. The Hooded Merganser frequents pools and reservoirs, but I didn't seen any of those on this walk.
I missed (as I usually do), getting photographs of a handful of the birds seen. I didn't get the Ring-Necked Ducks only because they were too far away for worthwhile pictures. For the same reason, I didn't photograph the Green-Winged Teal or the Canvasback. And some birds I flat-out didn't even see, such as the Mourning Dove.
On the last leg of the walk, along the South shore of the pond, the trail runs between the pond and the Walterville Power Canal. There were some American Coots walking across the trail in front of us. Several people wanted me to try to get a photograph of their oddly lobed feet, so I walked a bit ahead of the group to do that. When the group caught up with me, Donna spotted a black and white bird in the canal further ahead. At first she thought it might be a Western Grebe, but it was much too small for that. It was smaller than the Coots with which it was swimming. I was fussing with getting photographs of it rather than looking through my binoculars, because I was sure this bird would take off before we got any closer. Had I looked at it right away, I would have known it was either a Horned or Eared Grebe, because I've encountered and studied these a few times before. As it happened, Floyd quickly saw it through a scope and announced that it was a Horned Grebe. That's a pretty special find because the field guides will tell you that these do not come into the valley much even in the Winter. They are said to be more of a coastal bird. The Eared Grebe is supposedly far more likely to be seen in the valley in Winter. That's contrary to my experience this year, because I've seen two Horned Grebes this Winter in our area and no Eared Grebes at all - yet.
I've written some material about sorting out these two species in Winter and have put it at the end of this report for those who are interested in those details.
Our group was a little smaller than it has been on recent walks, so we were able to be a little more cohesive - less strung out. That allowed pretty much everyone to be in touch enough so that we all got looks at most of the birds. Those which I missed, I missed because I was busy photographing something else. I think some folks are happier when the group is not as big as it has been the last few times. I have heard from a handful of folks who have been unhappy with the very large groups we've had of late. I'm not sure if this is enough of a problem to require some discussion and problem solving. I heard one suggestion that we split the larger group into two groups and even go to different places. There have been times when we have enough very good birders that the large group has naturally spread out with a good leader in each smaller group, all of which toured the same area. Last Spring's Stewart Pond trip was like that, where Rick Ehrens lagged behind with a sizeable fraction of our large group that day.
All-in-all, I think everyone had a very pleasant walk in surprisingly pleasant warm weather.
Click the link below for the photo album
http://priscillanhk.com/bogs_walterville_2_13_2014.html (click here) Details about Wintering Horned and Eared Grebes are further down.
***** Horned versus Eared Grebes in Winter ******
In breeding plumage it would be very easy to tell a Horned Grebe from an Eared Grebe. But in Winter sorting these out from each other is another thing altogether. When I encountered the Horned Grebe at Fern Ridge in December, I did a lot of studying to learn how to tell these birds apart. I knew it was tricky because I had come across one of these species at Delta Ponds in Winter a few years ago and never was certain which one it was.
I've annotated a few of my photographs of our Walterville Horned Grebe so that those of you who have not yet wrestled with this challenge can pick up some tips. Too bad we didn't have an Eared Grebe to compare with. But that would be asking a lot really considering how uncommon both of these are in our area in Winter.
One field mark of the Horned Grebe is a white tip on it's bill. While diagnostic (meaning unique to this Grebe), it is very difficult to ever really see this little white tip. But I got lucky because one of my photographs juxtaposes the Grebe with it's head and bill right in front of the very dark body of a Coot. This brings that white tipped bill into clear sight. One could try and try to get this particular picture and take years to get it, but I got lucky!
Really all of the field marks separating the Horned from the Eared Grebe in Winter can in many cases be rather subtle and I've read that even experts make mistakes with these two. The demarcation line separating the upper black side of the face from the whiter lower half (below the eye) is supposed to be quite sharp and well defined in the Horned Grebe, while murkier in the Eared Grebe with some smoky grey below the demarcation line. But in low light and at a distance, seeing the sharp, well defined line of the Horned Grebe is not a sure thing.
Another difference is in the shape and size of the bill. It's longer and thinner in the Eared Grebe, with a slight upwards curve on the lower mandible, if you are close enough to see it. The Horned Grebe's bill is shorter and stockier.