Birding Josephine County, Oregon
Grants Pass to the Oregon Caves
A birding site guide and trip report: June 29 to July 3, 2002

by Greg Gillson

Yellow-breasted Chat
Yellow-breasted Chats are one of the common riparian species in Josephine County.
click to hear the song

The extreme southwestern corner of Oregon is known for its "California specialties"--a half dozen, or so, birds that venture north from the Central Valley of California, but rarely farther north in Oregon. The "big three" are Oak Titmouse, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and California Towhee. These three are nearly restricted in Oregon to the Rogue Valley, contained in Jackson and Josephine counties, and venturing eastward into southern Klamath County. Another three species might also be included, but they are spreading a bit beyond the southwest corner of the state: White-tailed Kite, Red-shouldered Hawk, and Black Phoebe. These last three are most common in the Rogue Valley and coastal Curry County, wandering north in winter. Other typical birds in this area of oak savannahs and hot summer grasslands and scrublands are Lesser Goldfinch, Acorn Woodpecker, Lazuli Bunting, Spotted Towhee, and Nashville Warbler.

All is not low, dry, hot, scrub, however. The Rogue Valley is bounded on the east by the Cascade Mountains and on the west by the Coast Range There are mountains on the north separating the Rogue Valley from the Umpqua Valley. And on the south are the imposing Siskiyou-Klamath Mountains. All these mountains spawn numerous streams and rivers, all feeding into the Rogue River. The Rogue River carves its way through scenic canyons and rapids to the Pacific Ocean. The main tributary draining the Siskiyous in Josephine County is the Illinois River.

I had done very little birding previously in Josephine County. As a confirmed "lister," I wanted to increase my Josephine County list from a paltry 33 speces to something more respectable. Also, I was interested in observing the special subspecies of birds in the area, including the California Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus californicus), San Joaquin Wren (Thyromanes bewicki drymoecus), Pallid Wrentit (Chamaea fasciata henshawi), Sacramento Towhee (Pipilo maculatus falcinellus), and Thick-billed Fox Sparrow (Passerella ilica megarhyncha). On the other hand, I wanted to spend the week with Marlene, now that our last child at home had recently fledged. Marlene enjoys nature and birds, but doesn't want to rise at dawn and spend all day chasing them around the countryside. Our simple plan was to drive to a campground about noon and spend the rest of the day in camp. I'd rise at dawn and bird the local area until late morning. Then I'd come back for lunch, pack up our pup tent and food, and we'd drive to a new campground to repeat the process.

Joe Evanich's bird finding guide: "The Birder's Guide to Oregon" (1990) mentioned 2 birding sites in the area: Whitehorse County Park, and Lake Selmac. Evanich listed about 25 summering species each at Whitehorse County Park and Lake Selmac. Both of these places were on our list of places to bird and camp. [See: http://www.co.josephine.or.us/parks/Whitehorse.htm for information on both these parks. Also see the map of all park locations near Grants Pass: http://http://www.co.josephine.or.us/parks/Map.htm ] I was fortunate to get some more birding tips from local (or former local) birders Lee Cain, Romain Cooper, Dennis Vroman, and Linda Heinze. Romain was especially helpful, providing a Forest Service map that he had marked up with 18 sites for me to look for birds! These helps were right on--I found nearly every bird mentioned, right where these birders said they would be.

Begin Day 1: Whitehorse County Park...

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