Thursday, April 7, 2011

N.E. Oregon Birds: Song Sparrows & American White Pelicans

There is so much "going down" that most of us couldn't possibly keep up. I've been busy trying to observe birds migrating through, but also listening to news reports on my iPod, putting off taxes, and reading e-mails, some of which are disturbing to say the least. It's a mixed bag, so to speak.

This blog concerns two Oregon birds. I hope to get back to other important matters soon. Besides--it's Spring, and spring things are so much more pleasant than decadent and corrupt American politics.

Two N. E. Oregon birds of interest.

Song Sparrows

Song Sparrows (Melospiza melodia) are a common year-round resident of our N.E. Oregon area, even inhabiting neighborhoods in Baker City where thick brushy habitat can be found, preferably near flowing water in riparian areas. You might catch a glimpse of one along the Powder River or irrigation ditches, like Settlers Slough, especially so in winter. If you maintain a good deal of shrubby habitat in your yard, as in forsythia, lilacs, Oregon grape, and etc., you may have them there too. They are often seen in my yard, especially in winter when food is scarce, because I put out millet and the commonly found bird mixes (like Audubon's).
Song Sparrow on School House Road, April 5, 2011

The problem in seeing Song Sparrows, is that they are what people might call "shy," and they don't appear in flocks. Normally, when you are lucky enough to see one, if you are not putting out seed, it is because you heard them singing or caught a glimpse of one before it drops down into the shrubbery and vanishes. They feed on a variety of insects, seeds, and fruit, and breed over a large area of North America from S. Alaska, across most of Canada, in the Western US, and the northern Mid-West and the North-eastern states.

Song Sparrow on Peach Road, Ladd Marsh, April 9, 2010

American White Pelicans
American White Pelicans on Ladd Marsh fish pond, Union County, OR, 4/6/11

American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) are relatively uncommon, oddly beautiful, five foot long white and black fishers of primarily Western North American lakes and ponds. In Oregon, I first encountered them at the Malheur National Wildlife "Refuge," about 11 or 12 years ago, or perhaps an earlier trip in the mid-ninetys, where a large flock was cooperatively fishing in two or three ranks stretched across a medium sized pond that evidently contained fish. They would drive the fish from one side of the pond to the other, swimming rapidly, often with their long pouched bills in the water, bagging what they could. It is a sight that I am unable to forget.

Peach Road, Ladd Marsh, Union County, OR, June 18, 2010

On a trip to La Grande yesterday, a fairly miserable day weather-wise, I drove through Ladd Marsh on Peach Road and found 7 or 8 of them on the small fishing pond. As I watched them swim around the pond, which also contained two Double-crested Cormorants who were happily catching small fish, three of the pelicans suddenly lunged at one of the cormorant competitors.

Three White Pelicans confronting a Double-crested Cormorant fishing competitor.

The cormorants left shortly thereafter.

Fortunately for cormorants, the White Pelicans don't possess, and couldn't use modern firearms. The pelicans haven't aways been so lucky. According to "Birds of Oregon" (Marshall, Hunter, & Contreras, OSU Press, 2003-2006), "American White Pelicans were historically shot because they were blamed for decline of commercial fish stocks, even though [it] prefers fish of low economic value (Evans and Knopf, 1993)." Other threats are fluctuating water levels from drought and irrigation uses, habitat loss, human disturbance, powerlines, botulism, and other diseases. Due to their numbers and the various threats, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife lists the American White Pelican as a Sensitive Species. Distribution in Oregon is variable, but primarily east of the Cascades, with the largest concentrations in Harney, Lake, and Klamath Counties.

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