Monday, August 31, 2015

Waxwings on the Wing

South Slough National Estuarine Reserve, Coos County, Oregon

Aug 22, 2015

We are heading to the coast. …. and starting a new journal – Volume 45.  Oh my gosh!  That makes me older than dirt!  

I always wonder just what all these blank pages will get filled with.  For now I’ll start with our ‘Yellowstone Breakfast’:  three hard-boiled eggs, three Jimmy Dean turkey sausages, four slices of ancient grain toast from the Lighthouse bakery (of course with peanut butter on all four and jam on two of them), and one banana to share.  I’ve already taken a couple of bites out of one of my pieces of toast.  Dale is getting gas so I have a moment for notes.  (If you don’t know what my ‘Yellowstone breakfast’ is go to my June 2015 post 'Pavlov's Dogs.')

This bodes well!  We haven’t even gotten out of town when a young grey fox streaks across the road in front of us, his feet barely touching ground.   I can count on one hand the grey foxes we’ve seen in Oregon.  We know they are here, but very nocturnal.
Spent the afternoon ‘bugging’ at South Slough National Estuarine Reserve – hiked in to the beaver pond again.  I’m falling in love with the trails at the reserve.  They give us easy access to habitat usually too dense to struggle through, and we hardly ever meet anyone.

A couple of weeks ago we heard the trail into an old beaver pond at South Slough Reserve is open.  We looked forward to finally seeing this tucked-away pond.  This summer we’ve been photographing insects at the reserve.  Eventually I’ll write a blog post about that project, but I’ll wait until that project is nearer to completion.  Meanwhile we return to the reserve every few days to search out new habitats and see what insects we can find. This particular day we are hoping for dragonflies at the pond. 

Early afternoon we head down the meandering trail along the edge of a coarse grassy meadow with peeks of Hinch Creek and cool stretches through a mixed canopy of alder, cascara, and evergreens.  We’re hiking in to the beaver pond for a second time.  The trail opens suddenly onto the beaver pond.  The first time we approached the pond too quickly and spooked a great egret and then a great blue heron.  Today we are careful.  Dark shadows are on the far side of the pond and warm summer sunshine highlights the green marsh grasses, sedges and cattails.  Bright yellow monkey flowers capture little dots of sunshine.  Many years ago beaver dammed this small thumb of a valley that juts off from Hinch Creek’s valley.  We haven’t seen any sign of current beaver activity, just their overgrown dam and their pond.

No egrets or herons today, but several mallards and one goose rest on a downed log.   A kingfisher rattles off in the distance.  We catch a glimpse of him as he flies along the far edge.  A small flock of cedar waxwings darts over the water.  Usually I think of cedar waxwings eating berries, but these are hawking for insects.  They perch on a weathered Sitka spruce snag near us, then zoom out after a bug, and back again.  Sometimes two or three crowd onto the little snag; sometimes even four.   

Cedar waxwings have always intrigued me.  Waxwings have a smoothness to their feathers that doesn’t seem quite real – hardly any sign of individual feathers and a soft gradation from a pale yellowness on their lower belly into the warm browns on their chest and head, grading into soft greys on their wings and tail, plus exclamation points of red, yellow and black.  A beautiful bird.  I don’t see them often, so just seeing one is a pleasure and these were entertaining us to boot. 
They zipped and zoomed in the bright sunshine – flashes of golds and warm browns against the dark shadows on the far side of the pond.  For awhile we forgot all about photographing bugs and just concentrated on the waxwings.

Our hike in to the pond has been quite productive:  two new dragonflies, a sexton beetle, an unusual wasp, a better photo of a wood nymph (butterfly).  We’ll be back.

August 25, 2015

We’ve returned to the beaver pond.  The day seems almost the same – bright summer sunshine, still shirt-sleeve weather, but just a little cooler and windier.  The breeze is kicking up a choppy riffle and bending the long marsh grasses – not good weather to find insects hovering over the water.  Hardly a waxwing was to be seen.  Darn.  I was looking forward to seeing more of them.

Insect hunting in general has been a little slow, but I did find a new damselfly and we finally take time to try for a good mosquito shot.  That means I offer my arm to the cause, i.e. I hold still while a mosquito lands and sucks a drop of my blood.  I’m not sure why I’m the one offering my blood and not Dale. 

Late afternoon we head back to our car.  Shadows were reaching out into the meadow along the trail, but most of the meadow is still golden in the late summer sun.  Suddenly we are invaded by a little flock of waxwings.  This time they are hawking over the meadow.  Down into the long grass one disappears and then another.  A third perches on a swaying weed jutting high above the grass and several more are higher in the air.  The whole flock works the area around us and then flies on down the valley.  Before long they are back again, flying right over my head, just a few feet away, and some landing on a Sitka spruce just a few feet from me.  Still no sign of them eating berries, even though the nearby bushes were full of ripe salal, huckleberries and blackberries.  Insects seem to be on the menu at this time of year. 


  1. Your adventures sound positively wonderful. I love cedar waxwings. They are such busy birds and they seem to keep an eye out for each other. A real clan.

    1. Thank you Lisa .... I do feel fortunate that I get to spend so much time enjoying nature... and I agree that the flock of waxwings is watching out for the whole group. Fun to see.

  2. Elva, we saw our first grey fox last week at Lagoon near Waxmyrtle. It seems to be a kit that habitually naps on a branch jutting over the lagoon.

  3. Such lovely luminosity in that weedy meadow...and set off by the waxwings perched and landing. Wish I could have filled my eyeballs with that scene. Thank you.

  4. Hi Elva. I've seen waxwings hawking for insects just like flycatchers, but only in the summer when there are nestlings and fledglings that may need a higher protein diet. That's my hypothesis, anyway. Have never seen them feeding in a meadow, only on the edges of forest clearings. How much there is to learn! Lovely sketches and photos, I must say. A fitting start to Journal #45. May it be filled with wonderful sightings!