Bird Photography

Photos from personal trips  AND trips with
Birds of Oregon and General Science, (BOGS) in association with Eugene's Celeste Campbell Center

provided by:
Priscilla Sokolowski
Eugene, OR

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BOGS Raptor Run,
March 13, 2014

BOGS Raptor Run, Coburg-Brownsville, March 13, 2014

The lobby of the Campbell Center was buzzing with excited voices 10 minutes before 9am, as our BOGS group gathered for a "raptor run". This was to be essentially a car trip co-led by both Steve and Floyd. Floyd provided written directions for the route we would take, which was one he developed for his Willamalane birding classes. It was basically a lot of backroads North of the town of Coburg up to Halsey. From there, we would go East on Hwy 228 to Brownsville, then South back towards Eugene along and through some of the low foothills East of I-5. As Steve gave an overview of the trip and got car-pooling organized, he had to raise his voice twice to get everyone's attention because people were doing so much talking. We don't usually have that problem, but I think folks were excited about doing the raptor run. Some folks had done this trip when they took Floyd's Raptor class through Willamalane. I hadn't done so and I suspect there were quite a few others who hadn't done it either.

The photo album for the Skinner Butte walk premiers one page of a web site I have been developing. The main point of the website is to display photos in slideshow galleries on my own website, rather than using Google's Picasa albums or Yahoo's Flckr web albums. In addition, the website will have all my trip reports for the last year and most, if not all the bird lists compiled by Doris for our bird walks. This is the first time I've shared any of this new website, so there may be things which need to be adjusted or changed. For example, I am concerned that I may have set up the pages to be too large for the monitors some folks are using. That is something I can change without too much trouble (I think), so let me know. If that is the case for you, hold down the control key and press the "-" key (next to the "+" key on your keyboard) to shrink the zoom level of the webpage. (This works on most websites actually if you didn't know about it). Hopefully, after some tweaking, this slideshow gallery approach will end up working better for those of you who have had trouble viewing the picasa albums.

Floyd and I provided a total of five walkie-talkies so that most of the cars could relay messages to each other about what was being seen. Mostly the lead cars were transmitting what they were seeing since they usually saw things first. I think we had 7 cars on this trip. That would put the group size somewhere around 2 dozen. If Marylee hadn't been preparing for a trip to Costa Rica, we would have had another pair of walkie-talkies.

We started out from Eugene under clear blue skies but drove into a low fog bank a short distance North of Coburg. We were optimistic about the fog burning off and in fact it did so within a half an hour.

We saw a few raptors while in the fog, most of them were thought to be Red-Tailed Hawks, though one or two were large enough that they might have been immature Bald Eagles, which are extremely common in this area during the Winter because they feed on the plentiful sheep afterbirth, (or stillborn sheep) in the many sheep-grazing fields in North Lane County and South Linn County.

The first bird we really got to see well was right after the fog lifted. It was a fairly good sixed raptor with a white head and white upper breast. There were brown vertical streaks throughout the white areas. This was a Rough-Legged Hawk, which is my favorite Hawk. (I might like the Merlin more, but I almost never seen them and technically the Merlin is a Falcon rather than a Hawk). The Rough-Legged Hawk is often initially taken to be either a Red-Tailed Hawk or a Bald Eagle. It is confused with a Red-Tail sometimes because of the white upper breast and darker "belly-band". However, the dark belly-band is not unique to Red-Tails. More importantly, the Red-Tail does not have a white head., (Not even the juvenile Red-Tail has a white head). As for thinking it to be a Bald Eagle, it's too small for an adult white-headed Bald Eagle and the white extends too far down into the upper breast for it to be a Bald Eagle. Lastly, the "white" of the Rough-Legged Hawk is actually a slightly cream-color rather than pure white, though this is not always easy to see.

I did some checking in eBird after our trip and it turns out the Rough-Legged Hawk is much more frequently seen in South Linn County (in )Winter than in Lane County. In Winter, over the last 30 years, there have been far more sightings of Rough-Leggeds in the polygonal area bounded by Harrisburg, Peoria, Tangent, Brownsville and Coburg than have been seen anywhere around Eugene. I've included a screen shot of the Rough-Legged Hawk sightings between Eugene and Albany over the last 6 years.

On an East-West running road East of Halsey, which might have been Bond-Butte Rd, we stopped for about 20 minutes because there were quite a few Bald Eagles visible in the area. Most of them were immature, with smatterings of white here and there on otherwise black or very deep brown bodies and heads. Some were in the trees and some were in the sheep fields. There was also a Red-Tailed Hawk flying around and perching in the area. We set up spotting scopes and took it all in.

We took a much needed restroom stop at a small public park at the South end of Halsey. It took 20 minutes for everyone to get through with the restrooms, so in that time everyone had a chance to do some talking.

We drove to the North end of Halsey and turned East on Hwy 228 to head for Brownsville. From there we explored the roads South towards home. Along 228, we saw a small group of what appeared to be Tundra Swans on the ground not far from the road, mixed with a larger flock of Gulls. Gail managed to get a picture of one of the Swans and contributed to our photo album.

We didn't see much along Rowland or Gap roads going South of out Brownsville, though it is beautiful country just to drive through. We turned West on a little gravel road named "Ranch Road", which I had never explored before. This road climbs over a low place in the foothills and then winds back down to the valley floor. We saw some deer grazing not far off the road, on a lush hillside. When we came over a small rise, a lovely panoramora opened up before us, of a rich green valley, rolling hills and a big ranch house nestled down in the lowlands, surrounded by expanses of white fencing. There were sheep on one hillside near the ranch house. It was beautiful so we stopped the car to get out and take a few pictures. Someone radio'd over the two-way that they want that house down there.

We stopped for a long time where the road comes down to the valley floor again, with large sheep fields extending out to the West and North. The nearest bird was an American Kestrel on a wire, eating something. We immediately began seeing Bald Eagles scattered around in the fields. These were mostly immature, though one adult flew by low over the fields when we first got there. We got out the spotting scopes to enjoy watching the many Eagles, and several of us took a lot of photos.

When we started to leave this area, we were treated to another Rough-Legged Hawk, flying in circles in the sky above the fields, not terribly far from us, so we stopped to enjoy that as well. We got nice looks at the large black "elbow" patches under the wings, which has a lot of white on their underside. We were also able to see that the Rough-Legged Hawk has a very conspicuous white rump patch just like that of the Northern Harrier. So the white rump patch of a hawk flying over fields in Winter, is not conclusive evidence that it is a Northern Harrier. It's not unique to that bird because the Rough-Legged Hawk also has it.

We didn't get more than a half mile before Floyd spotted another Rough-Legged Hawk up ahead of us in a short bushy tree right where the road makes a right turn, so the hawk was right in front of us. Again we stopped and pulled out spotting scopes for a better look. This bird had a very bright sky behind it so it was one of those situations requiring that I override the camera light meter and overexpose the bird by about a factor of four in shutter speed (longer exposure) so as to brighten the bird. Without doing that, the sky gets exposed properly and the bird ends up underexposed and very dark.

We started for home after that, but had one more brief stop before getting onto I-5 Southbound to Eugene. This stope was for what turned out to be a Northern Harrier flying high above us, right alongside the road.

While most of us got back to the Campbell Center somewhere around 1:15 or 1:30, one carload had come back closer to Noon, Steve having organized the carpooling so that those needing to get back early could travel together. We had a very satisfying day viewing birds of prey under blue Sunny skies.

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