Readers’ wildlife photos

March 23, 2023 • 8:15 am

Please send in your good wildlife photos! In truth, I’m amazed (and grateful) that we have been able to keep this feature going so long—thanks to the generosity of readers.

Today we have bird photos from UC Davis ecologist Susan Harrison. Susan’s narrative and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge her photos by clicking on them.

Birds By The Thousands

Four times in the past year, I watched thousands of birds streaming to or from communal roosting places at dusk or dawn. The sheer numbers and dim light made for Hitchcock-movie-like scenes, but these birds were not out to murder anyone, only enjoying the safety of numbers on cold nights.

The first event was the spring arrival of Vaux’s Swifts (Chaetura vauxi) to the disused chimney of a middle school in Medford, Oregon (brief video here). During migration, these birds like to spend the night huddled en masse inside hollow trees or similar structures, where they lower their metabolism to save energy. This chimney has been one of their stopovers for four decades.  Local volunteers counted around 2,000 swifts the night I visited, and 12,000 a few nights before.

The second time was the emergence of an estimated 70,000 American Robins (Turdus migratorius) from a roost along the Rogue River, also near Medford, in December.  They flew out just before sunrise in a half-hour-long stream and scattered to daytime feeding locations, from which they presumably filtered back at dusk. The light was too low and the birds were too high to photograph the flyout, but a few hours later I saw them festooning the nearby Oregon oaks (Quercus garryana; Mt. McLoughlin in background) and madrones (Arbutus menziesii, the berries of which are a winter staple for robins).

The third occasion was the arrival on a January evening of roughly 5,000 American Crows (Corvus branchyrhynchos) to the campus of the University of California, Davis, where I work.  After a day of foraging in the farm fields, the crows converge at sunset to a particular grove of cork oaks (Quercus suber).  Like the American Robins, they do this mainly in the cold months. Here, members of the student birdwatching club are enjoying the crow spectacle from a parking garage roof.

And finally, one February evening while I was looking for owls near Davis, a crudely estimated 5-10,000 geese came swirling in to settle in the fields.  The vast majority were Snow Geese (Anser caerulescens), but mixed in were undoubtedly some Ross’s Geese (Anser rossii).  In the local overwintering flocks of white geese, perhaps 1-10% are Ross’s Geese, which are smaller and have a stubby bill lacking the black “smile” of the Snow Goose. The last photo, showing two of each goose species, was taken earlier that day at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.

6 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. Prof Ceiling Cat says he is amazed and grateful for those who contribute to Readers’ Wildlife Photos. Me too! This is my favorite feature on WEIT. Thanks to everyone of you who contributes!

  2. Chimney swifts roosted in a chimney across the street from my third floor apartment. They were shockingly fast, pouring into the chimney with no slowing down. It was like a reversed film of an explosion.

  3. Wow! I didn’t know that American Robins formed such dense flocks. Here in western Washington State we seem to have some robins that overwinter and others that are seasonal migrants. Population numbers seem to go up dramatically at the start of spring.

    NOTE: the above is what I have inferred from “lived experience.” I have not scientifically verified my statement about residents and migrants.

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