Date: 7/1/18 10:27 am
From: Joel Geier <joel.geier...>
Subject: [COBOL] Ochoco Mtns: Buffleheads at historic nesting site (Crook), Spotted Towhee and Orange-crowned Warbler at Aspen Springs (Wheeler)
Hi all,

My daughter Martha and I ran the Barnhouse Breeding Bird Survey (BBS)
route in the southeast corner of Wheeler County yesterday morning (June
30th), then (after hiking a bit into an approximately 5-yr-old burn at
the top end of the Black Canyon Wilderness), we took a leisurely drive
via Forest Road 30 over to Big Summit Prairie, stopping at a few
interesting patches of habitat along the way, before wrapping up a long
day with an owl survey on private land north of Prineville.

The Barnhouse BBS route went smoothly with no flat tires and no major
surprises. It seems to be a good year for CASSIN'S FINCHES and RED
CROSSBILLS (at least two types heard) in the northeastern Ochocos.

As usual there were a few unseen warblers singing Hermit Warbler type
songs, which we recorded as "unknown Hermit/Townsend's Warbler sp."
since the only ones I've ever seen well in that area turned out to be
hybrids but I suppose there must be a few real Hermit Warblers along
with the predominant Townsend's.

Toward the end of the route (south side of Spanish Peak) I heard a
"WESTERN" FLYCATCHER sing briefly, but did not hear the male position
note. I've encountered birds giving Cordilleran-type male position notes
a couple of times along this route, but you can also find birds giving
Pacific-slope-type notes along the north slope of the Ochocos.

Along the Owl Creek Trail leading into the Black Canyon Wilderness (from
"Boeing Field" just north of the Wolf Mountain Lookout), we found an
abundance of nesting BLUEBIRDS (both Mountain and Western feeding young
in cavities), NUTHATCHES (both Red-breasted and White-breasted feeding
young in cavities - we encountered Pygmy earlier in the day but not in
the burn), plus an assortment of woodpeckers/sapsuckers. The wildflower
bloom in that whole part of the Ochocos is spectacular, including in the

After a siesta back in camp, on our way west along FR 30 we hiked down
into Aspen Springs which is still on the Wheeler side of the zigzagging
county line. In addition to expected riparian species such as
MacGillivray's Warbler and Lincoln's Sparrow, I heard a SPOTTED TOWHEE
call several times, and also heard an ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER singing.
Both of these species are surprising rare as nesting species in that
part of the Ochocos, but with the lush riparian streamside growth in
this aspen grove, it made some sense to find them there.

At Peterson Creek Reservoir on the NE edge of Big Summit Prairie, Martha
spotted two ducks which turned out to be female (or immature?)
BUFFLEHEADS. This was interesting because in May of 2001 I watched the
female of a pair fly into a cavity in an old dead snag at this same
spot. At the time, this was one of the strongest indications of
Buffleheads nesting in Oregon, outside of the Cascades. That snag is no
longer standing but perhaps Buffleheads are still using this site.

In ranchlands north of Prineville we had a sad encounter with a large
WESTERN RATTLESNAKE. I saw a big snake stretched out as if heading out
from the shoulder of the road. I just barely managed to swerve in time
to avoid it. I couldn't tell if it was a gopher snake or a rattlesnake
but figured I should go back to shoo it of the road ... though I had a
bad feeling since another car was following close behind me and they
might not have seen it in time.

Sure enough, when we turned around and went back, we found it coiled in
a defensive position as if hurt. It shook its rattles as I approached,
though it didn't seem to be able to move its head. I found a 6-ft-long
juniper branch on the side of the road and used that to nudge it gently
over the fog line. But it looked like the front part of its head was
badly injured, and unable to move on its own.

It was one of the fattest rattlesnakes that I've ever seen in Oregon --
about 3 ft long but it was about as thick as my wrist, over the main
part of its body (the head was only about half that thickness). We
wondered if it had just eaten a big meal, but now I'm wondering if it
might have been pregnant. I didn't count the rattles closely as I was
more focused on trying to move the snake to safety without getting
bitten, but it had at least 6 rattles, maybe 7. Most of the rattlesnakes
I've ever seen in Oregon have just had 2-3 rattles or just a single
button, so I'm guessing this was a fairly old one.

Good birding,

Joel Geier
Camp Adair area north of Corvallis

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