Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Steve Gordon's December Willow Creek Walk

I wanted to post Steve Gordon's account of an early December morning he spent with Cary Kerst last year. This is theatrical story of nature at its best...

This was first posted December 2006 to www.wewetlands.org

Bird Watching at Willow Creek Natural Area in the West Eugene Wetlands
Written by Steve Gordon
See also, the segment by KVAL 13 on the 2006 Lane County Audubon Society Annual Christmas Bird Count, filmed in the West Eugene Wetlands (mainly Meadowlark Prairie).

This morning Cary Kerst and I went out to cover my Willow Creek monitoring route. We picked this morning last week and decided to stick with it despite the weather updates and the darkness that comes with a Monday morning rain. While on the route, we agreed that once you get dressed properly and get into the field, it is always easier and more comfortable than it sounds from in front of the fire at home.

The first half of the route was usual with some sun, wind, rain, and a little mixed snow. The firs on the hills above the Willow Creek Reserve sported a skiff of white snow. We found a Varied Thrush and a couple of Golden-crowned Kinglets. We heard a sorry excuse for a Chorus Frog trying to croak.

As we ended the route along Willow Creek's east branch, a Red-shouldered Hawk flew westward across the field and banked with its back to us, giving us a wonderful view of the red shoulders contrasting with the black and white checkered wings. We also saw A flock of Juncos mixed with Spotted Towhee, Song Sparrow, three Lincoln's Sparrows, and a White-throated Sparrow. American Kestrels had flown by several times. As another Falcon approached it seemed much lager. It flew overhead and landed nearby in a cottonwood - a Peregrine Falcon! I was sure it was a new bird for the Willow Creek bird list, and the best was yet to come.

As we walked back to the pickup along 18th Avenue, we spotted a White-tailed Kite at Luk-wah Prairie. Then the Peregrine returned and flushed a Northern Harrier. The Peregrine would gain altitude and then dive and fly strongly toward small trees; scaring up Flickers each time. Over and over it repeated this behavior, until a Flicker made a fatal mistake and flew west across the expanse of prairie just south of the old speedway. The Falcon hit it in mid-air and grasped the dead Flicker in its talons. Harriers, Red-tiled Hawks, two Kestrels, and the White-tailed Kite were all flying about and the Peregrine dropped the Flicker. Soon it disappeared to the ground to feast.

The walk in cold rain and snow seemed worthwhile. It was all worth it to watch the Falcon hunt Flickers on a Monday morning. And the Peregrine is now bird number 115 on The Nature Conservancy Willow Creek list.

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