“That must be a Bewick’s Wren,” I exclaimed, when one member of our group spotted a face in the dark hole of a small snag. “Look at the white eyebrow!” Ooops..turned out it was the striped face of a small chipmunk peering out at us from a hole about 15 feet above the ground.
This spring I registered for a class on sparrow and finch identification neither of which has been one of my strong points. Sparrows? I know the White Crowned and the Gold Crowned because of the crowns. But others are more difficult. Finches? Well, they often have a delightful song and when they fly they have an up and down, roller-coaster sort of pattern. American Goldfinch is hard to confuse with anything else except the Lesser Goldfinch because of its bright yellow color and jaunty black cap. House Finch is like a sparrow with a red flush of head and breast. But winter plumage makes everything more confusing. And there are lots of sparrows and lots of finches and, besides, it’s a great way to go for short hikes and to learn something new.
I’ve taken a couple of classes from Dave Bontrager before and have enjoyed getting to know the other birders as well as having some interesting birding. And Dave always has some great stories to tell about past birding adventures. For the sparrow/finch class we’ve had one evening meeting and will have a total of four daytime field trips that begin at 8 a.m. and end around 12 p.m.
Our first day was a walk along a dirt road at Howard Buford Recreation area where, although we didn’t get rained on, it was overcast and the grass was wet. Despite the damp day we saw a number of our intended birds as well as many others including a great view of a pileated woodpecker. The terrain was fairly level and consisted of open grassland as well as oaks, ash and big leaf maple. I left the trip early and, after I left, the others got a good look at a bald eagle.
Last week was another trip to Buford Recreation Area but this time closer to the Arboretum. We were pleased to be able to see a female red-shafted flicker enlarging a nesting hole in what appeared to be a cottonwood snag about 10 inches in diameter at the base. The snag had toppled over onto the trunks of a big-leaf maple. Before we saw the nesting cavity we observed an adult flicker in a tree above it darting at two starlings. Our instructor said to not be surprised if the starlings end up taking over the nest, that this often happens, and sometimes the flickers will go elsewhere to nest.
Today we drove over to the 250-acre Doris Ranch in Springfield. The Doris Ranch is the oldest, still productive, filbert orchard in Oregon. It frosted last night so I was bundled against the cold but by mid-morning was shedding my warm clothes. The arrival of a group of school children prodded us away from our first viewing area and further up the hill where we observed along the edge of meadows, oaks, ash, old orchard trees and shrubs. Some trees offered a full 20 minutes of observing a variety of birds, particularly the wide spreading branches of Oregon White Oak, not yet fully leafed out. The green meadows were brightened by a multitude of camas, purple flowers opening along tall stalks. It was a joy to be out there with birdsong, wildflowers and cheerful observations. Even the poison oak leaves were a nice combination of green and red. We tromped through wet meadows and dry ones and spent some time listening to and looking at Black-headed Grosbeaks. My mother used to tell me that their melodious song was “cordelia, cordelia, cordelia”, climbing slowly up the scale. To date we’ve seen most of our targeted species, as well as a wide variety of other species. One treat this day was seeing a male and female American Goldfinch, a male and female Lesser Goldfinch, and several chipping sparrows all in one small area. And of course, the chipmunk.