Sunday, June 19, 2016

Willamette River Killdeer

Willamette River Killdeer

We did a little kayak paddle down the Willamette from The Wheatland Ferry to San Salvador landing. My partner and I like to do this paddle for camping and rock hunting. Today is just a day trip looking for agates, but I thought I would do a little post on the wildlife that we saw during the paddle, especially a noisy little guy called the killdeer.

Killdeer are mockingbird sized shore birds that are named onomatopoetically from their call, which evidently some deaf poet thinks sounds like "kill deer!! kill deer!". The real reason is, of course, much more grizzly than that. These cute little guys lay their eggs this time of year in sparse nets out in the rocks on gravel bars along the Willamette (and other rivers, presumably). When you come up on their beech, they will start yelling at you and flying around (kill deer, kill deer, they cry). This is how you know that they have a nest in the area and you should be careful where you step. You see, the killdeer are very good at hiding their nests in the rocks and their eggs are brown and speckled and tiny and just really hard to see down there amongst all those rocks.

And when I say 'nest' I am taking some poetic license. They may move a few stones around. They may drop a feather or two. But they really don't do much else. So the little indentation where the 3 or 4 eggs lay is just another place in the rocks where there are not agates. I have accidentally stepped on a nest once and it didn't make me happy, so today we are keeping our eyes out and trying very hard not to upset some poor mommy killdeer. I was looking at the nests closer in the these pictures below and what appears to be happening is that the adults have laid their eggs in an area of egg-sized rocks. They have moved the egg size rocks in the "nest" away and put the speckled rock looking eggs in the place. So now the area looks ..... untouched and has a normal rock size distribution pattern.

This was the first nest I found. I marked it with the bucket whilst I went off to get my camera.
Do you see the nest? I know where it is and I can't find it.

What about Now?
There it is.  note that some of the larger stones have been moved such that when the Eggs are
put there, they replace the larger stones and leave that sense of sameness.

The killdeer has this behavior that they manifest when you get a little too close to the nest. They land nearby and make their little killdeer call at you. When you look at them, they turn away from you and fall to the ground like they have a broken leg. They splay their rear end like the have a broken wing and they make a piteous crying sound and desperately try to crawl away from you. Look in the direction they are crawling, the nest is probably the other way. As soon as you look away from the birds, they jump up and start making loud cries again to attract you. If you have walked a little past the nest, they fly around the other side and try to lure you, once again, away from the nest. Damn, I must have missed it. I turn back around. And there it is. Man, it is hard to see even when you are concentrating and looking for it. Here are some pictures and a video of the Mommy (perhaps the Daddy too?) doing the broken wing thing.

Just before the Dance

Oh OH, I am so injured and Helpless. Won't someone come eat me?

Here is the nest, when we finally found it.

Nest in Foreground, momma is out there in the background doing her dance

We saw a few other birds on the river worth mentioning. There are many osprey nests set up by the farmers and such along the river. And the ospreys and the Eagles are always messing with each other, trying to steal each other's fish and such. We ran into a pair of Bald Eagles. One immature and one mature. The adult just couldn't get rid of the pesky teenager. He did fly over and land near where I was going to hunt agates, so I took his picture.

The day was very hot. Record breaking upper 90s hot. The river was very cold. Great to cool off, hard to swim.

On one of the big rock bar islands that we like to stop on, we were trying to explore back into the interior of the island when we heard this big loud noise. A clump. A very large animal smashing through the underbrush just on the other side a little pond ahead of us. I thought it must be something like a wild boar. I picked up a couple of big rocks to throw. The sound went away, however, without incident. My partner thought it was probably a deer trying to get away from us. But I knew that it couldn't be a deer. Not on an island infested with Killdeer. They would have immediately swarmed the poor animal and used their little pointy peaks to stab it to death. All of the time singing their victory song "Kill Deer!! Kill Deer !!"


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