Pearly Everlasting

Native wildflowers are an important component of any healthy ecosystem.  This season unusually warm and dry conditions have made things difficult for many native flowers in the region and as a result made times hard for the species that depend on them as a source of nectar and pollen.  I came across a notable exception up on Mt Hebo this week, Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea).

Hydaspe Fritillary - 8/27/2015

Pearly Everlasting is most typically found in well-drained, low-nutrient soils and is particularly well-suited for dry conditions and open sun. Expansive patches can be found in sandy dune areas and in gravelly, thin soils at higher elevations. It does well along unsprayed/unmowed roadways as well.

Phasia aurulans - 8/22/2015

The numbers and kinds of insects that use Pearly Everlasting can be quite impressive. In the half-hour that I sat, camera in hand, watching a single patch I found butterflies, moths, bees, beetles and flies in good numbers.

Xestoleptura crassipes - 8/27/2015

One of the more common insects I found was a very small, flickery moth called Choreutis diana. I took lots of photos, but the moth is tiny and movious which left me with mostly blurry photos. I might have been able to do better if I still had my extension tubes (replacements are on the to-do list).

Choreutis diana - 8/27/2015


Silver linings

On July 23 I was in Newport.  I had just finished a day of butterfly counting and was in Old Town to eat dinner.  I parked on a side street at the west end next of a “Salmon for All” sign.  When I returned to where my car was parked about an hour later, it was not there.  Someone had stolen my car.  I won’t bore you with the specific details about the next several hours.  My car was relocated, the passenger window broken, most of my stuff, gone.  I lost my spotting scope, my binoculars, my sleeping bag, my boxes of tools and equipment.  They even took the brown paper bag which had my lunch for the next day in it.

I am insured.  They left the two yellow notebooks full of field notes.  I had my camera with me which had the photos taken that day.  I did not lose anything irreplaceable.  Just stuff.

They did get my camera bag with all the camera paraphernalia and my telephoto lens. It was not an expensive lens, but I needed the lens for a job I was scheduled to do the next Monday.  I ordered a new one with an expedited, overnight delivery.  It is a much nicer lens.  It has vibration reduction (passive and active), a wider objective lens and it’s heavier (and before anyone asks, the insurance company will only be paying for the replacement value of the other lens, not the full cost of the new fancier one).

It is a way nicer lens, way, way nicer.  I am definitely noticing a difference in the sharpness of the photographs.  I suspect that once I get all the functions and nuances figured out, my photos will improve even more.

Semipalmated Plover


I was very attached to all my stuff.  A lot of it I’d had for years (the claims adjuster remarked on how old all the stuff I reported was).  I would rather not have been robbed, but I would probably have continued to put off the purchase of this new better lens as long as the old one was still functioning.  All my stuff was old, but it all worked.  I’ve never been very good at buying new stuff for the sake of buying new stuff and I am pathologically cheap frugal…

This event has driven me to make a decision about a newer better lens that I’d been putting off for years.  Now I have a new and better piece of equipment.  There will be other new stuff coming as I replace my other things.  I guess that’s a good thing, but here’s hoping this is the only time I have to deal with losing my stuff.

Good advice

I went up to Beneke Creek this morning hoping to check out the deer-vetch patches at mile-marker 4.5 only to discover that the roads were being re-graded.  There was no way for me to get to the spot I had been hoping to get to without being in the way.  The guy operating the grader stopped to ask me to move my car and when he found out I was photographing butterflies he offered up some advice.  He told me I should go up to the Northrup Creek Horse Camp.  He said he’d seen lots of butterflies there, so many butterflies it was like being in Mexico or something.

I’ve been up Northrup Creek in previous years.  It can be kind of hit or miss, but I figured why not.  I hadn’t been there this year.  It turned out I got good advice.  Northrup Creek ended up being a four-skipper day.

Sonora Skipper

Dun Skipper

Silver-spotted Skipper

Persius Duskywing

I don’t know about Mexico, but a four skipper day in the North Oregon Coast Range is not a common thing.  Northrup Creek is a new location for all four of these species.

The day list for Northrup Creek:
  1 Clodius Parnassian
  8 Margined White
  6 Eastern Tailed Blue
  1 Echo Azure
  1 Lorquin's Admiral
  1 Satyr Anglewing
  3 Red Admirable
  4 Common Wood Nymph
  2 Persius Duskywing
  1 Silver-spotted Skipper
  2 Sonora Skipper
  1 Dun Skipper

  Red-shouldered Ctenucha
  Habrosyne scripta

All today’s photos HERE


DSC_3640National Moth Week is only a week away.  Are you ready?

I have been trying out my portable moth attractor (patent pending) over the last couple weeks with good results.  The frame is made from PVC pipe.  Two pieces of re-bar are pounded into the ground and the PVC is slipped over them.  A secondary bar is built into the frame to provide a place to support the light.  I am using a $25 fixture that came with a black-light tube.  The fixture will also work with a standard fluorescent tube and I also have an actinic tube that is for fish aquariums.

So far, the blacklight seems to be most effective, but I’m still doing the data collection and can’t make definitive claims.

I had a good night last night, catching a pair of Sabulodes aegrotata that appear to be courting – male below; female above.  These two were on the side of my house not on the sheet trap.

Sabulodes aegrotata - 7/10/2015

A very striking, though slightly beat up, Anania hortulata stayed on the sheet for most of the night, solving a mystery as to the identity of a bug I saw a couple weeks ago but only managed ventral-side photos for.

Anania hortulata - 7/10/2015

Which brings me to the matter of English vernacular moth names.  The Anania has a kind of cool name, the Small Magpie Moth, but far too many of these moths are named for the plant for which the larvae are considered to be a pest.  The pair of Sabulodes are called Omnivorous Loopers.  Omnivorous Looper, what kind of name is that for such an attractive bug?

I will be posting photos to my 2015 moth album at Flickr throughout the season.  And Jim Johnson has been posting many of his moth photos from Manzanita at his site

Strange attractors

I took a hike up Saddle Mountain today. This being an odd numbered year, GREAT ARCTICS are flying and I like to go up at least once by myself and spend a day focusing on photography without trying the patience of family or friends.

I found plenty of Arctics flying around and managed one or two snaps that came out tolerably well…

Great Arctic - 6/29/2015

I also had no trouble relocating the LAZULI BUNTINGS that have (apparently) set up territories along the south face between the 1 and 1.25 mile markers.

Lazuli Bunting - 6/29/2015

The surprise of the trip was a pair of CHIPPING SPARROWS hanging around in my special secret Arctic spot.

Chipping Sparrow - 6/29/2015

Chipping Sparrow is a regular spring migrant to the county, but only very rarely encountered in summer.  In the vast majority of cases where I have chased summer reports of Chipping Sparrow, I find only Oregon Juncos.  Juncos are remarkably adept at sounding like one kind of Spizella sparrow or another.  The pair of Chipping Sparrows I found today were almost certainly on territory and probably keeping house.  Which brings me to some wild speculation…

It is unusual to have Chipping Sparrows in the summer in Clatsop County.  It is unusual to have Lazuli Buntings in the summer in Clatsop County (and there have been multiple reports this year).  There seem to be more House Wrens in the county (at least for me) this year than would be typical.  We’ve also had a warmer and drier spring this year.  Perhaps there is a connection.

In a more typical spring, Saddle Mountain and other spots in the North Oregon Coast Range are shrouded in the cold dampness of fog and rain that can persist into early July.  Perhaps the conditions this season made spots like Saddle Mountain more attractive to passing migrants and they stayed.

Idle speculation.  We’d need a lot more data from a lot more years to establish any kind of definitive correlation…

All of today’s photos can be viewed HERE.

On a Clear(cut) Day…

I’m born and raised in the Pacific Northwest and went to school back in the day when educators explained to us that clearcut timber harvesting mimicked the natural succession forests go through.  In a timber economy, the only way to restore a forest after harvest was to cut everything, scrape and burn to bare soil, then re-plant.  We were told it was nature’s way; good for the land and good for the wildlife.

That is, as any honest ecologist will tell you, utter nonsense.  We clearcut forests to replace unruly, mixed-age, high diversity forest ecosystems with even-aged, easy to manage, higher profit mono-cultures.  In other words, we replace wild spaces with tree farms.  None of the conifers in these plantations are likely to be allowed to live past 50 years.

I am not a big fan of the practice of clearcut logging.

Most of Clatsop County is one giant industrial tree farm on a tight timber harvest rotation driven by the timber market.  Spending the day in clearcuts, most of them anyway, is not a particularly interesting or productive way to spend one’s time.  But not all timber harvesters are equal in their practices.  Those managers that leave the slash-piles and a scattering of stumps, and snags and nurse trees, create a window of opportunity for wildlife in a recovering clearcut.  Somewhere between year three and year seven, when the shrubs and forbs have filled in the gaps between the stumps, but the newly planted conifers have not yet taken over, there is an ecologically diverse sweet-spot.  I spent my day in one of those spots today…

Western Bluebird - 6/5/2015

I spent just over 2 hours exploring the area along Beneke Creek around mile-marker 4.5.  This is a spot near Jewell off hwy 202.  I found a total of 30 species of birds, plus five species of butterflies.  I also discovered nesting HOUSE WRENS in two spots, a GRAY JAY and a pair of WESTERN BLUEBIRDS that had moved into a cavity in an old stump.

Western Bluebird - 6/5/2015

That stump probably pre-dates the most recent clearcut and represents the stand of trees that was cut 40 or so years ago.  There are stumps in the area that were probably left from two harvests ago, 80 or 90 years…

Silver-spotted Skipper - 6/4/2015

This spot will almost certainly follow the same pattern I’ve watched at other spots.  The conifers will grow up to cover the area, shading out the undergrowth in a dense impenetrable tangle.  Most of the species I saw today will have moved on and there won’t be many other kinds of birds and butterflies to move in.  The ecological reality is that the Oregon Coast Range does not have many species that are adapted to densely planted, even-aged, conifer mono-cultures.  I’ll be obliged to move on, too.

My day-list at eBird

I have seen the future, and it works (about 90% of the time)

I noted on the eBird news page this morning that they are promoting their new Merlin ID app. This is a (currently web only) bit of photo recognition software for bird identification. Those of you who watch police procedurals on the TV are no doubt familiar with facial recognition software which can (at least on the TV) compare photos of suspicious characters picked up on surveillance cameras with a database of known faces and spit out the name of the perp and his last known address in seconds. Well, the Merlin app does the same thing except with birds and, during the beta test, for only 400 common species in North American.

So, is a computer as good a bird-watcher as I am? No, and we covered this ground way back in 2011 when I mused about the ramifications of a computer named Watson winning against two Jeopardy champions. Merlin is a specialized search engine, nothing more.

But how does it fair as a specialized search engine?

The claim is that it can identify a bird in a photograph 90% percent of the time. That’s mighty bold talk, so naturally I set out to test it. The instructions tell us that “High quality images of birds in typical poses work best, but feel free to try any image of a common North American bird. You’ll help us learn how Merlin performs.” Naturally, I went for marginal photos in unconventional poses. I mean, what’s the use of ID software that can only identify perfect photos of stuff in perfect poses?

Let’s see if you all are as good as the software. My first photo was…

wavi20150505ss003Typical pose, but the beak obscured. Merlin got it right.

Merlin failed on the second try, but it turns out this one isn’t on the current list of 400. In fact, the shorebird list is missing quite a few species. This is the beta test though, so I can’t fault the machine for guessing Short-billed Dowitcher.

Hudsonian Godwit - 5/16/2015

The next one is also not on the list, but I don’t know how Merlin got to Cackling Goose from the photo.

Black-headed Gull - 1/28/2015

It did put the right bird in the top 3 choices for this next photo, however, and given that it is an immature gull, that’s arguably better than the average birder would do.

Ringed-billed Gull - 8/7/2014

For birds that were in the database, the software managed to get 8 out of 10 of the birds I threw at it. It missed the leucistic Red-winged Blackbird and Orange-crowned Warbler that had its middle-third obscured by a tree branch. That’s not too bad, but as a “local expert” who gets photos of leucistic blackbirds and blurry or partially obscured warblers routinely, I have to say I don’t get the feeling this software will be diminishing my load of emails, yet.

I suspect that any controversies that result from software like this, once it finishes the bench tests and fills out its database, will revolve around fairness issues. It will be thrown into the pile of technology vs no technology arguments that birders have with one another. The capacity to take a photo with one’s smart phone, plug it into an app and let the search engine do the ID’ing does seem kind of like cheating, but I’m old school. I don’t even own a smart phone and I don’t see myself throwing away my 300+ field guides and getting a smart phone any time soon…




“…that and $3.50 will get you a 16oz mocha at the Yellow Dog in Hebo.” ———————————————————————————-– American proverb (var.)

I’ve been bird-watching for a very long time. I have some measure of experience and even what might be considered a reputation (the specifics of which probably vary depending on who you talk to). I have what the kids call street cred, I guess.

One of the things experience has taught me is that EVERYBODY makes mistakes and that NOBODY should be allowed to get by on their reputation or experience alone. That’s why I’m always harping on the importance of written details or photographs. The experienced birder knows the importance of details and understands that being asked to provide them is nothing personal. There are nearly 7 billion people on the planet. Not everyone is up to speed on my reputation…

So when I encounter a statement in the rare species description box on eBird that says “I’ve been a birder for 20 years and have seen many…” without any mention of what the bird looked like, I know I’m not dealing with a truly experienced birder.

This brings us to the dilemma. As an experienced birder living in Clatsop County, I know the common species and the rare species in my home patch, but when I’m traveling elsewhere, the depth of my knowledge regarding avian biogeography becomes less dependable.

I stumbled into this chasm just last year when I reported a Black-capped Chickadee in the Bend area [Central Oregon]. Black-capped Chickadee is very rare in Bend, but very common here at home. When I reported the sighting to eBird, it flagged as rare, but it didn’t occur to me when I was making the observation that I might be dealing with something unusual. No photographs, no in situ written description, only my experience…

Yes, I have plenty of experience with Black-capped Chickadees. Yes, I’ve been birding for 45+ years. Yes, I have a reasonably good reputation for not being too stringy. None of that eliminates the possibility that I may have depended too much on expectation and personal bias; that I may have made a mistake. My experience tells me that I have to consider the possibility that I have made an error, reconsider the report and make some decisions:

1. Can I recalled enough details about the observation to provide clear field marks and a location so others might follow up on my claim? If so, those details go into the description box, not my birding resume, and if those details are lacking…

2. Can I return to the place where I saw the bird and collect more data? Photographs? Recordings? Drawings and written details? This is my favorite option. I enjoy testing my claims by gathering more data when my observations fall short of confirmation, but this option is not always feasible, especially when I’m on a traveling schedule (or the bird in question is). Which brings us to the last option…

3. I may want to consider demoting the observation to “chickadee sp.” on the eBird checklist, perhaps with a note in the details box explaining that it was originally identified as Black-capped, but details are insufficient to eliminate more common species.  This was the eventual fate of my Deschutes County Black-capped Chickadee.

That last choice is a hard one for some folks. Admitting to uncertainty takes courage. In a hobby that is all about putting names on birds, uncertainty might be taken for a sign of weakness or a lack of competence. It also means that I won’t get to keep Black-capped Chickadee on my eBird list for Deschutes County and those numbers are ever so important in the listing game.

Mountain Chickadee - 7/10/2014

But here’s the thing: eBird is first and foremost a crowd-sourced data base for collecting quantitatively useful data. It needs to have some mechanism for filtering potential error. I need to rein in my ego and accept that the editor for Deschutes County may have more experience than I do when it comes to the local chickadees. I am obliged to document those events that contradict his experience or let my claims go. That is something experience has taught me.

The personal list-building thing on eBird is cool and kind of useful, but it is not the main point of eBird. It’s a byproduct. Besides, if we really care about the credibility of our personal lists, shouldn’t we also care about whether what say we saw really was what we saw?

Let’s use those rarity flags as a tool for personal growth; as a means of growing our experienceness…

Another motorless adventure

Steve Warner found a HUDSONIAN GODWIT yesterday at Wireless Road.  I thought it might make a nice addition to my motorless list, but low tide was about 7:30 this morning meaning that it was more likely that the bird would be out on the mudflats than in the Wireless cow pastures in the morning.  A walkabout that included both the mudflats and Wireless was not practical, so I pulled out the trusty bicycle, filled the tires with air and had myself a bike-about.

My bicycle allows me to cover more ground and it’s also far easier for me to schlep my spotting scope and tripod around.  I made two stationary counts from the Youngs Bay Bridge and walked the dike at Warrenton.  I found RED KNOTS and a RUDDY TURNSTONE on the flats, along with about 200 WHIMBREL, but no godwits of any description.

The tide was turning, so I figured it was time to head toward Wireless.  The Lewis and Clark River Bridge is currently closed which meant I’d have to backtrack across the Youngs Bay Bridge to get there.  The large Whimbrel flock had moved into the field across from the old wireless radio facility (now just a cyclone fence) and it only took me a couple minutes to find the Hudsonian Godwit.

I also managed to find a WILLET.  It turns out that I’ve seen more Hudsonian Godwits in the county than Willets (though Willets winter annually in decent numbers up in Willapa Bay about 45km north of Youngs Bay).  The LONG-BILLED CURLEW, which has been hanging out in the area since April 25, was also in the pasture.

My motorless bird count for May currently stands at 94 species and my count for the year is 133 species.  Willet, Hudsonian Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone and Red Knot were all new species for my motorless life-list which brings it up to 209.