Saturday, March 28, 2015

Cleaning Up Our Target List: Winter Wings Festival, Epilogue

As much fun as we had exploring southern Oregon during the festival (see our previous posts here, here, and here), there were certain species we weren't able to turn up around Klamath; we were going to have to do some serious strategizing if we wanted to pick them up on our return trip home, and pick them up we must! The festival ended on Sunday, but now we had all of Presidents' Day to inspect every burrow, cavity, and undergrowth until we struck birding gold. Our targets: Lewis's Woodpecker, Oak Titmouse, and California Towhee.

For guidance, we turned to the all-knowing and all-powerful eBird machine (Hail, eBird!). As luck would have it, there were a couple of places along OR 66 where our targets had been reported in the last week. These weren't hotspots, but random pullouts that we certainly would have driven past if we didn't know better. Both were on the road to Medford where we were headed anyway, so there was no risk in stopping to give them a good looking-over, even if we felt like we were standing where we didn't exactly belong.

Some landscape on the way to Medford. This was the view from Songer Wayside

The first stop was entered in eBird as a personal location named "Lewis's Woodpecker spot". That sounded promising enough. Maureen saved the coordinates in her phone to help navigate our way through the mountain roads, and it's a good thing she had, because it would have been super easy to miss otherwise. We pulled over on the widened shoulder of a road, dividing a privately owned orchard in half, along the steep grade of whatever large hill / small mountain we were on. The welcoming committee consisted of a sign reading, "Smile, you're on camera".

We'd be smiling soon enough, as the birds began filing in. First were the Acorn Woodpeckers, and Western Bluebirds. A Black-billed Magpie flew over, and a Kestrel perched to watch the action. But what excited us most was the drabbest one of all: our first Oak Titmouse! These small and unassuming parids penetrate into only a tiny portion of southern Oregon, so this wasn't a species we were likely to encounter elsewhere any time soon. It was good that we found it early, too, as our next bird would have been a tough act to follow.

Oak Titmouse

Lewis's Woodpecker is one of the most unusually colored birds in all of North America, in addition to being one of the most beautiful. Maureen spotted one farther back in the grove, but being in private property, we had to hope and wait for it to come to us, which it soon did. In fact it flew across the road and gave us some really great looks, where it was soon joined by two others. The "Lewis's Woodpecker spot" was living up to its name. We spent nearly an hour along that little shoulder as countless 18-wheelers and logging trucks raced by, but still, it was difficult to eventually pull ourselves away from such a striking and impressive bird.

Lewis's Woodpecker

From there we headed to the Songer wayside area at Emigrant Lake, where I'd found recent reports of California Towhee. We stepped out of the car, and, sure enough, a California Towhee was right there in front of us, just like he'd been waiting for us all along. Maybe he'd expected us sooner and got frustrated, because he wasn't prepared to stick around long; he took off even before we could get any pictures. But we'd gotten cocky and didn't chase after it. We figured if we could find a towhee without any effort whatsoever, they must be superabundant and another would turn up any second now… yessir, any second… TOWHEE, WHERE ARE YOU?!?

We walked every inch of trail we could find, squeezed through brambles, and tramped through mud, but never did turn up another California Towhee. We did have a nice look at some Western Bluebirds, while turkeys gobbled away from a nearby grove. It wasn't easy, but at last mustered the fortitude to call off the search and move along to the next stop, having at least glimpsed all three of our targets for the morning.

Western Bluebird

We had one more place to visit before the long drive home, which was at Tou Velle State Park. We had already seen our last lifers of the trip, but Tou Velle ended up being notable for another reason: the hordes of Acorn Woodpeckers pillaging oak trees wherever we turned. Before today, the most we'd ever seen in one place was three. We counted six at Songer Wayside, and now there were no fewer than 18 or 19! The granaries where they stored their thousands of acorns were enormous, and spread all the way up and around the surface of the largest oaks.

Acorn Woodpecker

Bracing for impact

Tou Velle had one other significance for us: we identified our very first butterfly of the year, a Mourning Cloak. These butterflies are commonly some of the first seen in the spring, but mid-February seems early, and could be a sign of the extremely mild winter we've experienced in the Pacific NW this year. It was an ominous note to end our trip on, although I'm glad for the return of butterfly season, along with the rest of the pollinators. Southern Oregon couldn't have been kinder to us over the long weekend, and we racked up just about every species we hoped for. It was also a great chance to see a new part of the state, and a hint of what's to come during our planned trip to Crater Lake later this year.

Our first butterfly of the year - Mourning Cloak
Black-tailed Deer


  1. Gotta get down to business--it can't all be pleasure.
    Way to tie up the loose ends, clean house, and various other idioms.

    I did not know it possible, but I feel sympathy for that pine tree. Reminds me of myself as a 14 year old.

    1. It's true, we just had to grit our teeth and set ourselves to look at the Lewis's Woodpeckers no matter how unpalatable the experience. Ugh, but someone's got to do it! You're welcome, internet