Sunday, September 18, 2011

NAMC: Yamhill County

This weekend was the fall North American Migration Count (better known as the NAMC). There's one in the spring, too. We live in Yamhill County and, this year, our fall count was on Saturday. Polk County is one mile up the road and that count was today, Sunday. Sometimes they're on the same day... it's up to the count coordinator for each county to decide which day to use. When Yamhill and Polk are on different days, I do both. You can bird anywhere you like on migration count day, just reporting where and for how long and what you see.

Saturday morning, I birded our farm. I love this excuse to squeeze chores between birding instead of the other way around. And I love hiking through our woods with no other purpose than to find birds. Which I don't find many of in our woods but who cares? The beauty of the woods restores my soul. (And is a lot easier on my back than shearing sheep, trimming horse hooves, or any number of other farm chores.)

Our resident Red-tailed Hawk starts his morning on our big snag. Even from a distance, the buteo shape is identifiable. Through binoculars, the characteristic dark head, light chest, dark belly band of a Red-tail is visible.

And when he flies and gives the Red-tail scream, his identity is certain.
Besides walking the farm, I bird in front of the barn while milking goats. Every morning I throw grain on the ground for the birds. This morning, I planned to count the usual quail, sparrows, jays, towhees, etc., who show up for the bounty. However, this morning a screaming juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk kept the birds in hiding, or most of them. The Steller's Jays dive-bombed the hawk who retaliated by chasing them. Jays and Sharpies are about the same size so the hawk had little chance of nabbing a jay for a meal. (Side note: I've recently learned that Sharp-shinned Hawks are called that because of their very skinny legs (shins). You can see those "sharp" legs in this photo.)Meanwhile, in the bushes, I could hear the fifteen-member quail family having a fit. This mutual jay/hawk harassment went on and on and on... for at least an hour, all the time I was milking and feeding... until an adult Sharp-shin flew in from somewhere and dove toward the sound of the screaming young hawk. The sound stopped. A few minutes later, the adult flew off. The juvenile hawk was not seen or heard again. What, I wonder, did the adult tell that youngster? Whatever, we were all glad. The California Quail, White and Golden-crowned Sparrows, Spotted Towhees, Song Sparrows, Scrub and Steller's Jays, and the newest kids on the block, Eurasian Collared Doves, soon were out happily eating grain.

Side note #2: Years ago I had a hard time telling juvenile white-crowned sparrows from young golden-crowned sparrows, since they don't have the white or gold crowns that they'll develop as adults. Then I learned that all white-crowns, no matter the age, have yellow bills. Golden-crowns have mostly dark bills. Pictured here is a juvenile white-crown.
Now for the mystery. The House Sparrows that live in our barn are always the first to come out for grain. Understandably, they did not appear when the young Sharpie was raising a ruckus. But I did not see them in the barn then, either. And they did not come out with the other birds after the Sharp-shin disappeared. And I have not seen them since. It's not that I miss the messy things, but where did they go?

In the afternoon, the mist of morning turned to rain. I drove up Agency Creek to add some American Dippers to the count. Thanks to my Dipper survey last spring, I know where their territories are and easily found five of them, each on territory, not far from its nest site. The only other birds out in the rain in any numbers were Band-tailed Pigeons on their usual perches six miles up the road. But, as always, it's not just birds that make the count so fun for me, it's the beautiful areas where I do the count.

And, for today's Polk County version, the fun was in doing it with a friend. That story will come next.

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