[birding] 12 singing Vesper Sparrows at Soap Creek Ranch plus flowers and a "cow wash"

Joel Geier joel.geier at peak.org
Wed Jun 12 16:53:08 PDT 2013

Hi all,

A morning of mapping VESPER SPARROW territories on part of OSU's Soap
Creek Ranch turned up a provisional total of 11 different males singing
on the upper pasture (adjacent to Dunn Forest in northern Benton
County), plus one more on another pasture. 

I couldn't confirm that all of these guys were paired up. At least one
of them seems destined to be a bachelor, from the way that he was
singing way off in a corner on territory that no one else seemed to
want. However, I saw at least half a dozen females, adding up to perhaps
18-20 Vesper Sparrows total in 200 or so acres of habitat. 

The competition for territory was intense. At one point two Vesper
Sparrows were counter-singing from branches on opposite sides of the
same spreading oak tree. Another oak had two males Vesper Sparrows
chasing each other around in the branches, before both returned to their
"home bases" at a distance. Throughout the morning I could hear three or
four singing at a time.

This is far and away the most impressive concentration that I've seen in
the mid-Willamette Valley -- even better than Bald Hill Farm. You
actually start expecting to see Vesper Sparrows as the most common
sparrow in the area, ahead of Savannah, White-crowned, Song, and
Chipping Sparrows which are also present (not to mention Oregon Juncos
and Spotted Towhees).

Bob Altman has described some comparable places (mostly on private
ranchland) in the Umpqua Valley. There are precious few places today
where one can get a sense of the former abundance of this prairie/oak
savanna species.

Along with the birds there were still plenty of wildflowers. HARVEST
BRODIAEA is the latest one that's starting to bloom, along with a
small-flowered CLARKIA sp. (not the usual Clarkia amoena, a.k.a.
Farewell-to-Spring). The HAIRY OWL-CLOVER (thanks to Lisa Millbank and
Howard Bruner for the ID help) is still blooming. Some of the LOMATIUM
up there -- now setting seed -- is more narrow-leafed than typical
Lomatium nudicaule so I wonder if it might be something else.

When I got back to our Toyota minivan (I had permission to bring it on
the ranch), I found out that I'd received a free car wash as a bonus.
Well make that a "cow wash." As I was wandering out on the premises I'd
noticed that one of the yearling bulls on the pasture had taken an
interest in the van, and gradually his interest had spread to others in
the herd.

When I returned to the van a couple of hours later, I found that the
cows had licked all the windows (they seemed to like the side windows
more than the very dusty rear window, which could have benefited more
from their attention). They also pushed up against the side mirrors
until they folded up (luckily the mirrors are designed to do that). 

For good measure several of the cattle urinated and dropped big wet cow
(or perhaps bull) pies right next to the van, spattering the sides and
even the windows with the evidence. 

Now it looks like a real ranch vehicle that I'd be proud to drive onto
any ranch in eastern Oregon.

Happy birding,

Joel Geier
Camp Adair area north of Corvallis

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