Cascades Adventure

I’ve just returned from an extended tour of the Central Oregon Cascades.  Michelle had not yet been to Crater Lake and there were other points of interest we thought might be amusing.  So, we packed up the car and headed south.

Wizard Island and Crater Lake

We landed in Cottage Grove on the first day, then headed toward Diamond Lake via Dorena Lake and the Steamboat cutoff on day two, arriving at Crater Lake by late morning.  We found the CLARK’S NUTCRAKERS to be friendly.

Clark's Nutcracker

We landed in Klamath Falls for the second night and took some time to check out the Link River Birding Trail.

Common Mergansers

On day three we drove through Klamath Marsh, a bit too late in the season for good birding, but the butterflies were impressive.

Common Buckeye

We spent the afternoon at Newberry Crater National Volcanic Monument.  Once again, the butterflies outnumbered the birds…

Speyeria zerene (?)

We spent two nights in Bend and explored some of our favorite Deschutes County locations.  While the girls slept in, I took an early morning stroll on the river walk near the motel and was surprised to find PINYON JAYS walking along the path like blackbirds.  Apparently, Pinyon Jays are walkers, like crows, rather than hoppers, like regular jays.  I learn new stuff every day in spite of my advanced age and alleged experience.

Pinyon Jay

We headed to one of our favorite spots, Cold Springs for an mid-morning nature walk.  This is my go-to place for woodpeckers.  The special treat was an almost cooperative  WILLIAMSON’S SAPSUCKER.

Williamson's Sapsucker - 7/10/2014

We then headed to P. S. Ogden State Park for the expressed purpose of ticking WHITE-THROATED SWIFTS.  They are pretty much guaranteed at the very scenic gorge along with 100′s of VIOLET-GREEN and CLIFF SWALLOW.  They’re very difficult to photograph, however.

Crooked River Canyon

We finished our day with a visit to the High Desert Museum where I spent a good bit of time watching the squirrel bird feeder.

Yellow Pine Chipmunk

We came home via the old McKenzie Highway.  Stopping to count PINE SISKINS at the Dee Wright Observatory and mosquitoes at Scott Lake.

Scott Lake

In five days we found 111 species of birds and 20 species of butterflies (plus a couple identifiable day moths).  I also took over 400 pictures, the best of which are available at my Flickr Site as a Collection.

Chestnut-sided Warbler

As has become my habit, I was checking the recent day-list posting at eBird last evening, just to see who might be lurking in Clatsop County and what they might be seeing and I came across this list:

Someone had found a CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER at Battery Russell in Fort Stevens State Park AND they had pictures and audio to confirm it.  Back in the olden days, we might not have ever heard about a bird like this, or at best, found out about it days or weeks after the original sighting.  Thank you John Trent for posting this on eBird in a timely manner and with unequivocal supporting documentation.

Ah, what a brave new world…

I arrived at Battery Russell at around 09:30 this morning to find that Dianna Byrne had already seen the bird (and documented it thoroughly).  Within a few minutes Lee Cain was on the scene followed minutes later by Steve Warner.  It took us about 30 minutes to relocate the bird by ear.  The song is very loud and sounds like it’s coming from somewhere closer than it actually is.  I was eventually able to get identifiable photos…

Chestnut-sided Warbler

and a good Chestnut-sided Warbler song recording

It is hanging out in the trees between the area around the outhouse at the parking and just south of the cyclone fence up the gravel trail.  It seems to prefer higher trees, you will almost certainly hear it way before you actually get to see it and it really does sound a lot closer to you than it is when it sings.

Now for the embarrassing part.  I almost certainly heard this bird as far back as June 10.  I normally only stop at Battery Russell to use the outhouse.  I prefer birding along the bike path area on the north side of the road and don’t spend much time around the actual battery.  I heard this bird on June 10, did not recognize it, tried to pish it out, could not locate it (probably because I thought it was closer than it was), then dismissed it as probably just a funky MacGillivray’s or Yellow Warbler.  I heard it on a couple subsequent visits that included a stop at the outhouse, said to myself “there’s that funny sounding Yellow, again.” and went on to other things.

So, once again, thank you John Trent for sharing. I missed it completely.

All the photos I took today are HERE

Proof positive

My daughter came home from school the other day deeply offended.  She had been working on a science project about bumblebees and was using an online crowd-sourced ID site call to help with ID’s.  Using the site requires a photograph.  Submitted photographs become part of a communal database for documenting range and phenology as well as providing tools for helping others identify species.  In other words, submitted photographs become part of a giant communal field guide for bugs.

Photographs that fail to be useful in identifying a species are labeled “frass” and are put into a queue to be discarded.  Michelle entered a photo that was deemed frass.  Frass is the term used by bug people for bug poop.  Given that bugguide is supplying the disk space for all the photographs at the site, it is perfectly reasonable that they might choose to discard photographs that are not useful to their mission.  Labeling those unuseful pictures as frass is meant to be a cute, bug-centric euphemism intended to lighten the act of saying no.  Michelle took it personally that her contribution had been labeled poop.

There are a lot of online data collection sites out there on the interwebs and they all have rules about providing evidence for what we send to them.  Some are tougher than others.  These folks don’t know me.  They don’t know what skills I have.  I’m just one of the thousands of users they interact with on a daily basis.  They are providing a service, usually free of charge and they have to have some sort of regulatory mechanism for processing, verifying and storing the data that gets sent to them.  Their house, their rules.  It’s not an unreasonable expectation that any claim I might make to one of these sites be supported by tangible proofs and failing that, it’s not unreasonable for them to either ask for additional data or reject my contributions.  So, why do we complain so much about having to submit additional documentation along with our report to these communal data bases? And why do we feel so angry when we’re told no?  Who is doing whom the favor?

I regularly submit information to, odonata central, bumblebee watch,, Butterflies and Moths of North America, and eBird (which turns out to be the most liberal of the bunch).  I have had records accepted, modified and rejected at all of these sites.  They all have their own rules of operation and they all have regional experts who interpret those rules uniquely, often producing inconsistent outcomes.  The bee people at bugguide (for example) are much less forgiving about the quality of photographs than the fly people and the folks who set the filters on eBird for Tillamook County set them differently than the folks who set the filters for Clatsop County.

My solution? be my own best filter.  Make a game of documentation.  If the filter says more than 50 California Gulls is too many, I don’t get mad (anymore), I take a picture of that flock of gulls and attach it to the bird list.  Rather than complaining about having a photo rejected because it’s ambiguous, I challenge myself to take another better picture.  Can’t get a photo? draw a picture, write a written description.  My rule for eBird?  If it’s a rare species and I can’t document it, it doesn’t go on eBird.  It may go on OBOL and I will almost certainly alert Steve and David and Neal, but eBird will get hummingbird sp. (or whatever).

There are reasons why documentation is important to these communal databases and none of them should be taken as personal affronts.  I always try to remember: the folks doing the hard work of evaluating my input don’t know that I am the smartest, most gifted Natural Historian in Clatsop County (and a swell guy).  I have to provide them with evidence to that effect.  And even after they’ve made the discovery that I am God’s gift to the Natural Sciences and infallible, I need to be a good role model and continue to thoroughly document things for appearances sake.

Nobody is making you or me send data to these sites.  We choose to send in data, hopefully, because we want to contribute to something greater than ourselves.  We are, consequently, bound by the rules set by the house.  Don’t like the rules? Don’t play the game.  That’s a tough lesson for a fifteen year old, newly passionate about bumblebees.  It’s a tough lesson for us old farts, too.

Bombus mixtus

Plan C

Yesterday evening I got an email note from Neal Maine which included photos of an EASTERN KINGBIRD he found working the fence line at the Neacoxie Forest in Gearhart.  I went out this morning to try for the bird.

I arrived at the site at around 8:30, camera in hand and there was the bird sitting on the fence.  I pointed my camera.  Nothing.  The battery was dead.  And the spare battery was not in the camera bag.  No problem.  I have the older D50.  Three safety shots from too far away and the battery is dead.  The spares for the old camera are, for some reason, not in the bag either.

And it turns out the battery in my cell phone? also dead.

So, I drove home to get the batteries that should have been in the camera bag.  That I should have checked on before leaving the house in the first place.

Thirty minutes later, I returned to the kingbird site and, naturally, it was nowhere to be found.  Luckily, the safety shots are identifiable…

Eastern Kingbird

I have seen at least two previous Eastern Kingbirds in the county (maybe three, I’m still going through old notebooks).  This is Neal’s third Eastern Kingbird (two previously from Circle Creek).  I know of one other record from Cannon Beach (late 1980′s).  They always seem to turn up in mid-June.

At the Hammond Breakwater


For the past couple of years, summering WHIMBRELS have been using the Hammond Breakwater at the mooring basin as a loafing spot during high tide.  Today I counted 41 Whimbrels and 14 MARBLED GODWITS.

Marbled Godwit

As the southbound shorebird migration ramps up, the diversity should increase at these favored high tide roosting sites.


What it means to be a bee

In my final installment, we come to Hymenoptera

This is a large family that includes honey bees, bumble bees, wasps, hornets, sawflies and ants.  Yes, ants are really bees and many ant species are pollinators and dispersers of seeds.

Western Thatch Ant

What binds all hymenoptera into a single order is the structure of the wings.  The hind wings have hooks on them that lock them into the forewings allowing the two wings to function as a single unit.  Reproductive females within the order have needle-like structures called ovipositors which are used in egg laying.  These structure can be quite long and intimidating in some species which use the structures to insert eggs deep into plant tissue producing a gall.

Pontania sawfly gall

Most hymenoptera do not string.  Those species of bees and wasps that can sting have a modified ovipositor that is used for defense and most stinging hymenoptera are sterile (worker) females.  Male hymenoptera cannot sting.

Once you get used to looking at the basic shape and structure indicative of bees and wasps, most can be reliably sorted from all the bee mimics, but some are easier than others.

So, while we are celebrating all those truly wonderful bumble bees and honey bees this week, take some time to note the other kinds of busy bees and wasps and ants doing their share of the hard work of pollination.

Sweat Bee


Birds do it

When we think of pollinating birds, we probably picture hummingbirds.  Hummingbirds do important pollinating work, but they are not the only bird pollinators.

Some plants accomplish pollination by exploiting the relationship between birds and bugs.  Birds spend much of their time in picking through the emerging flower buds for small insects including ants, aphids, and psyllids.  Those small insects are attracted to sugars produced by flowers, but lack the mobility to be efficient pollinators.  The birds, in the process of gleaning insects from flowers, get covered with pollen and spread it around.

Black-capped Chickadee

Other bird species, are attracted to flower petals and developing ovaries.  Waxwings, grosbeaks and finches work clustering flowers like crabapples and maples.

By producing clusters of flowers, a tree can afford to sacrifice some of its developing fruit to attract bird species that will pollinate the flowers that get missed.  These birds will also play a fundamental role in seed dispersal when the ripened fruits appears later in the season.

Much of what we humans define as bird “damage” is actually an important component of the plant’s life-cycle.  When a bird eats the blueberries out of your garden, that bird is doing the plants bidding.  The seeds inside the berries birds eat get distributed to new sites where they can grow and flourish.  When we eat the berries, the seeds end up in a sewage treatment facility…

Pollinate like a bee

There is no arguing that bees are pretty important when it comes to pollination, but not every bug on a flower that looks like a bee is a bee.

syrphid fly

In the world of pollination, there are at least as many flies pollinating flowers as there are genuine bees, but many of these flies are wearing disguises.  Looking like a bee affords a certain amount of protection from predators, who prefer not to take chances with potentially stinging insects.  The trick is called Batesian Mimicry and the pollinating world is full of non-bees masquerading as bees and wasps, most of these wanna-bees are also important pollinators.

We can find examples of bee-mimicry among the moths.

Albuna pyramidalis

and the beetles…

But no group matches the flies for number and variety among the bee-mimics.

Two of the largest fly groups where we find these sorts of disguises are the Syrphids and the Tachinids.

Xanthoepalpus bicolor

These species are not just important pollinators.  They are also important biological control agents.  The larvae of many syrphid flies eat aphids and and thrips.  Tachinid flies lay their eggs in the larvae of butterflies and moths which they find by tuning into chemical signals produced by plants that are being eaten by caterpillars.  These groups of flies are keeping other insect populations in check and contributing to the over-all balance of natural ecosystems while they pollinate flowers.

They’re multi-taskers…

Float like a butterfly

Butterflies and moths are pollinators.

Pale Swallowtail

There are even several species of plants that would seem to be operating on that assumption.  They have arranged their reproductive parts to accommodate visitors.

Red-shouldered Ctenucha

But butterflies and moths have a secret past that sometimes gets them in trouble…

Anise Swallowtail

In order to keep butterflies, we need to get used to the idea of caterpillars… caterpillars that are chewing holes in our plants.  This may be hard to believe, but most plants don’t need our help in handling a bit of nibbling from insects.  There’s an adaptive tradeoff at work.  Eat a few leaves now, pollinate me later.  The plant is paying attention to how much of a leaf is being eaten.  Leaf nibbling induces the plant to produce chemicals that make the leaf less tasty over time and also produce odors that attract caterpillar predators and parasitic species.  It is in the caterpillar’s best interest to eat a little then move on, but that depends upon the caterpillars having something to move on to.

The notion of insect damage is a human value claim, not an ecological one.  Plants and animals have evolved a slow dance of interactions that, over the long-haul, benefit everybody.  The dance depends on diversity.  It depends on space.  It depends on time.  The damage doesn’t come from a caterpillar eating a few leaves.  It comes from our very human control issues and our tendency to label other organisms as competitive villains rather than cohabitants.  We think we have a better plan.  We try to tweak the balance.

Share those plants in your garden with all the life stages of a bug and trust that the plant, if it’s the right plant for the space, will be able fend for itself.

Tyria jacobeae