Thursday, May 24, 2012

Baker City Birds--Vaux's Swift

[Edited May 25, 2012]
The Vaux's Swift

Yesterday, as I traveled west during "rush hour" on Campbell, to its intersection with Main Street, I noticed a large swarm of birds over the intersection and the beautiful old home on the south west corner, at 2419 Main. Recognizing them as Vaux's Swifts, which I normally only see in much smaller groups, most often flying over local forests, I pulled into the parking area at Bisnett Insurance to see if they were going to do their thing and fly down the chimney at the two story home to roost for the night.

Large, loose counter-clockwise swirl of swifts over a fine old home and chimney at 2419 Main Street during "rush hour." Photo includes a minor fraction of the swifts present.

I vaguely remembered that the home had been mentioned by others as a sometime roost site, and was excited by the thought that the spectacle was about to happen on such a congested corner, right here in Baker City at "rush hour." It was about 3:55 PM on a cloudy, somewhat rainy day, and as I approached the corner with an older camera that I carry for other purposes, the smell of exhaust fumes from the traffic was evident to even my somewhat insensitive nose. I wondered what the effect would be on the birds as they circled over the home and exhaust-filled intersection.

They seemed unperturbed by the traffic and exhaust fumes, as they continued to circle counter-clockwise in a large, loose, swirling swarm of swifts, approaching the chimney on the old home, but then shying off entry to join the circle once again. At about 4 pm, when I was watching from the north east corner of the intersection, some of the birds in the group dropped straight down into the chimney, while others flew back into the swirl. Within about two or three minutes, most of the birds had literally dropped into the chimney on succeeding passes.

I was able to get a few photos with a small lens on the old camera as they went in.
Swifts approach from the upper left and drop down into the chimney. Not exactly the crowded vortex seen with larger groups, but you get the idea.

Here are two more photos of the swifts dropping in to their communal roost site:
Small group of swifts dropping into chimney

The last few of another small group as they entered the chimney. You can see the wings of the last few birds of the group as they enter.

I was able to talk to the occupants of the home, Nanci Sheppard and Thommy Whitlock, and they told me that they have come to roost since April of 2005, and enter the chimney roost early if it is cloudy, like yesterday, but roost around dusk when it is sunny. They circle for about twenty minutes. Another observer told them there have been about 300 birds in recent weeks. They also said that they do not hear the birds in the chimney from within the house.

They stated that the swifts come in during the migration north in spring, late April and early May, and at least some will stay for perhaps a month and a half, and then head north and elsewhere. The birds used to also roost at a chimney in a home on Valley Avenue, but since that chimney was closed off, they come to their home. They appreciate the birds and keep the chimney open (and without a fire below) so that they have a place to roost during migration. They usually return to migratory communal roosts, such as this one, on the way south in Oregon around August. Only a relative few are around in winter.

As for spraying by County vector control of the swift's food supply, mosquitos and other flying insects within the city and surrounding environs, they "hate it," but think they understand the need for mosquito control also.

The 1940 edition of Oregon State College's Gabrielson and Jewett publication, titled "Birds of Oregon," described the communal roosting scene of a much larger group in an East Portland, Oregon, chimney:

"The sight of this company of rapidly moving birds circling about the chimney like a large whirlpool, with the birds in the vortex dropping like plummets into the chimney, excited much interest among local bird lovers who made many trips to watch the performance."

A local bird expert, perhaps it was Joanne Britton or Anne Frost, described the birds in flight to me some time ago, as "cigars with wings." In the photos above, you might also find the silhouettes of birds that are significantly larger and do not fit the description. They are likely interested avian predators, like the sharp-shinned hawk or American kestrel, and at other times even ravens or crows (R rated video below), looking for an early evening snack.


Thousands of swifts at

brutal crow cafe

The "Birds of Oregon" (1940) describes the bird as:

". . . a strong flier, its oarlike wings sending the slender body through the air at astonishing speed. Often the bird appears to work the wings alternately, and again, in orthodox fashion. Its speed far surpasses that of the swallows with which it often associates in migration, enabling the swift to dart past the swallows with no apparent effort."

Vaux's Swifts, "pronounced 'Vawks' rather than 'Voh,'" was brought to the attention of European American society by the short-lived famous American naturalist and Quaker, John Kirk Townsend (1809-1851) with a description in 1839 (He originally thought he was describing the eastern Chimney Swift.) See the new "Birds of Oregon," (Marshall, Hunter, & Contreras, 2006). Another local bird of sage brush and juniper, the Townsend's Solitaire, also bears his name.

These aerobic acrobats are not an uncommon sight in the forests of the Blue Mountains, including the Elkhorn and Wallowa Mountains in Baker County, but they range over much of the North and South American continents. Our bird, the northern subspecies, Chaetura vauxi vauxi, is larger than the southern subspecies, but both are smaller than their eastern cousin, the Chimney Swift. While they will roost and nest in chimneys, they are often associated with tall hollowed out snags of conifers, most especially in our region, in the commonly rotted out cores of an old grand fir.

They are somewhat dependent on old growth forests, which have been in severe decline historically, and their nests are affixed to the inner surfaces of chimneys and probably more often, to old hollow trees. Both the nest structure of twigs, and the nest connection to the inner wall, are cemented together by a "sticky saliva."

Vaux's Swift, clinging to brick wall. (Photo from the Washington Division of Wildlife Services.)

Bull and Beckwith, 1993, report that the primary diet is made up of Homoptera (Hemiptera), that is flying aphids and whiteflies, and their relatives (43%), along with prodigious quantities of Diptera (mosquitos, flies, gnats and midges--27%), along with many mayflies (18%) and other flying insects. (The sources I was able to access do not indicate whether the determination was made by weight or by numbers of insects.) In any event, their diet is a testimony to their value, from the perspective of humans hoping to be rid of mosquitos, so the effects of arial spraying of insecticides on their health and survival needs to be considered.

Conservation status in north east Oregon is uncertain. The new "Birds of Oregon," (Marshall, Hunter, & Contreras, 2006) states that:

"In 1990, Bull( 1991) observed about 100 swifts using a roost in a hollow tree all summer in ne. Oregon and suspected they were not nesting because nest sites were not available. In ne. Oregon, conversion of stands dominated by grand fir to an earlier seral stage dominated by ponderosa pine would probably further decrease the number of nest and roost sites because all nests and roosts located in this area were in grand fir trees (Bull 1991, Bull and Cooper 1991). Large diameter grand fir trees typically contain extensive heartwod decay which creates hollow chambers suitable for nesting; this same phenomenon rarely occurs in ponderosa pine. . . . . Additional research is warranted. . . ."

Other well known communal roosting sites in Eastern Oregon, according to the new "Birds of Oregon," (Marshall, Hunter, & Contreras, 2006) include:

"La Grande (4th and Adams), . . . Pendleton (318 S. Main), . . . Union (Union High School)."

5/25/12--Mary McCracken, of La Grande, reported seeing the the swifts circling the old Elgin High School in Elgin last night.

As the birders like to say--"good birding."

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Odds & ends: Warming, Supreme Court Polling Negatives, Rancher Slush Fund, War in Context, etc.

Busy with Spring so just some articles of recent interest, hopefully.

Yesterday, Jay Hanson's America 2.0 mailing list sent out an article stating that the U.S. Has Hottest 12-Month Period on Recordduring the last year. Democracy Now! also carried the story in their headlines today, albeit the last one.

The story was from the NOAA Satellite and Information Service:
"12-month period (May 2011-April 2012)
The 12-month period (May 2011-April 2012), which includes several warm periods for the country — second hottest summer, fourth warmest winter, and warmest March — was the warmest consecutive 12-month period for the contiguous United States. Twenty-two states were record warm for the 12-month period, and an additional 19 states were top ten warm. The 12-month running average temperature for the contiguous U.S. was 55.7 degrees F, which is 2.8 degrees F above the 20th century average."


The Pew Research Center released a poll stating that the Supreme Court Favorability Reaches New Low.

Public assessments of the Supreme Court have reached a quarter-century low. Unlike evaluations over much of the past decade, there is very little partisan divide. The court receives relatively low favorable ratings from Republicans, Democrats and independents alike.


PEW also notes that:
Most Swing Voters Favor Afghan Troop Withdrawal
Support for U.S. Troop Presence Hits New Low

Public support for maintaining U.S. forces in Afghanistan has reached a new low. And as the general election campaign begins, swing voters, by nearly two-to-one, favor removing U.S. troops from Afghanistan as soon as possible.

Nearly two-thirds (65%) of voters who say they are certain to support Barack Obama in the general election favor a rapid U.S. troop withdrawal. But support for a troop pullout is nearly as extensive (59%) among swing voters — those who are either undecided in their general election preferences, lean toward a candidate or say they may still change their minds. Swing voters make up nearly a quarter (23%) of all registered voters.

Voters who express certainty about voting for Mitt Romney in the fall are divided over what to do about U.S. troops in Afghanistan: 48% favor removing them as soon as possible, while 46% support maintaining U.S. forces there until the situation has stabilized.


On Tuesday, former labor Secretary Robert Reich offered up a critique on the economy and former President Clinton's errors:

Former Labor Sec. Robert Reich on Clinton’s Errors of Crippling Welfare to Repealing Glass-Steagall

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich critiques President Obama’s handling of the economic crisis and the Clinton administration’s repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, a key deregulatory move that ended the separation of commercial and investment banking and is widely seen as having helped lead to the financial collapse. The Clinton administration also presided over a drastic transformation of U.S. welfare laws, throwing millions off of welfare rolls. "I went outside of the White House, walked back to my office along Constitution Avenue, expecting I would see signs. ... There are a lot of people who were concerned about that issue. But there was nobody on the streets. It was deafening. The silence was deafening," Reich says of the day Clinton signed the change into law. He notes this is when he realized, "if people who are concerned about the increasing concentration of wealth and power in this country are not mobilized, are not visible, then nothing progressive is going to happen." Reich is professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has written 13 books, including "Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future." His latest, an e-book, is just out: "Beyond Outrage: What Has Gone Wrong with Our Economy and Our Democracy, and How to Fix Them."


From The Wildlife News via NorthEast Oregon Ecosystems:

Conservation Groups and Livestock Interests Work to Create a New $25 Million Rancher Slush Fund
The Wildlife News
May 8
Recently we were informed of a new effort by two conservation groups, a Native American tribe and livestock interests “to secure $25 million from the upcoming 2012 Farm Bill to help livestock producers reduce the risk of livestock losses to grizzly bears, wolves, black bears and mountain lions.”

This taxpayer money is meant to “reduce the impacts that carnivores can have on livestock producers” although how the funds’ effectiveness would be monitored is unclear.

There is no doubt about the need for ranchers to incorporate non-lethal, preventative livestock husbandry practices into their grazing management regimes in order to prevent conflict with wolves and other native predators.

The question that needs to be answered is who ought be responsible for the costs of needed animal husbandry ?



Website Worth Reading:

War In Context

Game over for the climate
by NEWS SOURCES on MAY 10, 2012
James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, writes: warming isn’t a prediction. It is happening. That is why I was so troubled to read a recent interview with President Obama in Rolling Stone in which he said that Canada would exploit the oil in its vast tar sands reserves “regardless of what we do.”

If Canada proceeds, and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate.

Canada’s tar sands, deposits of sand saturated with bitumen, contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history. If we were to fully exploit this new oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now. That level of heat-trapping gases would assure that the disintegration of the ice sheets would accelerate out of control. Sea levels would rise and destroy coastal cities. Global temperatures would become intolerable. Twenty to 50 percent of the planet’s species would be driven to extinction. Civilization would be at risk.

That is the long-term outlook. But near-term, things will be bad enough.. . . . .

In preparation for war against Iran, U.S. set to give Israel largest grant of military aid ever
Posted By News Sources On May 8, 2012 @ 2:40 pm In war against Iran | 3 Comments

Following a decision by the U.S. House of Representatives Defense Appropriations Subcommittee which just approved over $948 million in funding for Israel’s anti-missile defense programs, Israel will receive a record $4 billion in military aid in 2013.

The Jewish Press reports [1]: Approximately $679 million of the funding will go to the Iron Dome, thanks in large part to legislation initiated last month by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chairwoman and ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, respectively.

The remaining $269 million will go to Israel’s other anti-missile initiatives: the short-range David’s Sling ($149.7 million), and the current long-range Arrow anti-ballistic missile system and its successor the Arrow 3 ($119.3 million). These projects, unlike the Iron Dome, are joint Israel-US projects.

While the increase in funding for the Iron Dome was expected, with the Department of Defense stating in March that it “intends to request an appropriate level of funding from Congress to support such acquisitions based on Israeli requirements and production capacity,” the funding for the other projects represents an increase of $169 million over the Obama administration’s proposed number.

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Article printed from War in Context

Preview of "Wild Things"

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Connecting the Dots on Climate Change

When you click on the link to the Connect the Dots Day, the description of the photo can be found just to the photo's upper left side.

A note from Bill McKibben at

From: "Bill McKibben -
Subject: Amazing images.
Date: May 6, 2012 9:20:06 AM PDT

Dear Friends,

This is a thank you note, a thank you note to the whole planet.

Except for the hours when I went out to the events nearest my home in Vermont, I’ve been by the computer, transfixed by the images streaming in.

From every corner of the earth people have been doing their best to Connect the Dots on climate change. And their best has been pretty amazing — we have photos from beneath the ocean waves and from high-altitude glaciers, from the middle of big cities fighting sea level rise and remote deserts battling drought.

Click here to see the amazing photos from the day:

We’re going to need you soon to fight the political battles that will make use of these images, but for the next day or two just relax, and enjoy the feeling of solidarity that comes from knowing there are millions of people thinking the same way, harboring the same fears and, more importantly, the same hopes.

On we go together.

With such gratitude,

Bill McKibben

P.S. There's still time to submit photos for our slideshow and compilation video -- just send your best photo as an email attachment to Make your city and country the subject line of the email, and put your story and description in the body. So many thanks in advance!

For more information on climate change, see

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Bradley Manning show trial & May Day

Here are two pieces, both with Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, on the important "show trial" of Bradley Manning, the brave young soldier who is accused of releasing whistle blower information (“aiding the enemy” ) to WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. Manning allegedly is responsible for allowing the American people to understand the depth of the depravities committed by the US military in Iraq, and for releasing other information about US foreign policy shenanigans.

The first piece is Ratner's article about the Manning trial printed last week in the UK's Guardian, and the second is an interview on Scott Horton's Antiwar Radio from today, where Scott and Michael Ratner discuss the article. The interview is well worth listening to.

Bradley Manning: a show trial of state secrecy
The US government's suppression of all accountability and transparency in prosecuting the WikiLeaks suspect is totalitarian

On 24 April, a hearing in one of the most important court martial cases in decades will take place in Fort Meade, Maryland. The accused faces life in prison for the 22 charges against him, which include "aiding the enemy" and "transmitting defense information". His status as an alleged high-profile whistleblower and the importance of the issues his case raises should all but guarantee the proceedings a prominent spot in major media, as well as in public debate.

Yet, in spite of the grave implications, not to mention the press and public's first amendment right of full and open access to criminal trials, no outside parties will have access to the evidence, the court documents, court orders or off-the-record arguments that will ultimately decide his fate. Under these circumstances, whatever the outcome of the case, the loser will be the transparency necessary for democratic government, accountable courts and faith in our justice system.

In the two years since his arrest for allegedly leaking the confidential files that exposed grand-scale military misconduct, potential war crimes and questionable diplomatic tactics, army private Bradley Manning has been subjected to an extremely secretive criminal procedure. It is a sad irony that the government's heavy-handed approach to this case only serves to underscore the motivations – some would say, the necessity – for whistleblowing like Manning's in the first place.

The most well-known of the leaked files, a 39-minute video entitled "Collateral Murder", depicts three brutal attacks on civilians by US soldiers during the course of just one day of the Iraq war.

Collateral Murder - Wikileaks - Iraq

The video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-sight, clearly shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his rescuers. Two young children involved in the rescue were also seriously wounded.

See: Bradley Manning: a show trial of state secrecy
The US government's suppression of all accountability and transparency in prosecuting the WikiLeaks suspect is totalitarian
for rest of article.

Scott Horton Interviews Michael Ratner
Scott Horton, May 02, 2012

Michael Ratner, President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, discusses his article “Bradley Manning: a show trial of state secrecy;” Manning’s quasi-public trial (which is open to observation, yet vital evidence and court documents are withheld from the media and public); why the NY Times is just as guilty of “aiding the enemy” as Manning and WikiLeaks; how President Obama and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta made a fair trial impossible; and how you can support Bradley Manning in his time of need.
MP3 here. (15:33)
Michael Ratner is President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

You can support Bradley Manning by visiting the Bradley Manning Support Network.

Yesterday there were many May Day protests in Major Cities across the US. Just Google the May Day protests, or go to Democracy Now!

The Occupy Guitarmy with Tom Morello

State Police Confirm Death of Probable Wolf Was A Crime

The Oregon State Police just sent out this alert of local interest. Note that killing a state endangered species is not a felony (only a Class A misdemeanor) in Oregon. How serious is that? While the genetic tests for wolf confirmation have not been completed, the update does strongly suggest that the animal was an endangered wolf.

Update: Investigation Into Possible Wolf Death in Union County

Oregon State Police (OSP) Fish & Wildlife Division, with the assistance of Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW), is continuing the investigation into the death of a possible wolf found mid-March in northeast Oregon's Union County. Genetic tests to confirm if the animal is a wolf are still to be completed and the ongoing investigation confirmed the death is a crime. OSP is seeking public tips to help solve the case.

On March 16, 2012 at approximately 8:30 a.m. OSP Fish & Wildlife Senior Trooper Kris Davis received a call regarding the discovery of a possible deceased wolf on private property about 6 miles north of Cove, Oregon. Davis and Sergeant Isaac Cyr responded and contacted the property owner and person who reported finding the deceased animal to Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife that morning.

After taking possession of the 97-pound animal, OSP took it to a local veterinarian for x-rays. The initial examination didn't confirm a cause of death. A necropsy confirmed the cause of death was the result of a criminal act. The actual cause is not being released at this time but the investigation indicates the animal [an earlier update said "the wolf"] had been dead about one week.

Wolves are protected by the state Endangered Species Act throughout Oregon. Except in the defense of human life or with a special permit, it is unlawful to kill a wolf. Doing so is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine up to $6,250.

Anyone with information regarding this investigation is asked to contact S Trooper Kris Davis at (541) 963-7175 ext. 4673 or email

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See Also:

Oregon Wild: Oregon Wild Press Statement on Likely Wolf Poaching

Sneak Cat Blog: Oregon State Police confirm animal believed to be a wolf killed in March a “criminal act”

State police seek tips on who killed wolf in northeastern Oregon's Union County
Published: Wednesday, May 02, 2012, 10:44 AM