Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Challenges of BLOY Monitoring

So... in my last Black Oystercatcher post, I mentioned that the pair of BLOY that nest in the Cliff Creek Falls cove on Cascade Head were wandering around looking for places to nest and I would go back the next week and check to see if they had settled on a nesting site. I did. They had not. They were still wandering around. Then they flew away. Frustrated, I asked Elise, my BLOY guru, what she thought. She thought I should go back again. So I did the following week. And waited for an hour without ever seeing or hearing an Oystercatcher. I gave up and did not go back the next week... or the next. It's a long hike and what's the point if the birds are gone?

Fast forward a few more weeks. Both the nests at Road's End failed, apparently. The South Rock birds took up nesting in a totally different spot. The Middle Rock birds hung out one week on the opposite side of the rock from where they usually nest, the east side where I could watch them. The following week they were gone, although I waited for more than two hours. But...

The week after the Middle Rock birds were no shows, a scan of their rock when I arrived found, to my surprise, a bird nesting within plain sight (although at a great distance). Look closely and you may see two eggs under her (him?).

Hmm... Might the Cliff Creek Falls birds have come back and started nesting? I did not think so after so many weeks of goofing around and then disappearing. But I went back anyway for one more check, just to make sure.

And found them nesting. It's an even longer look than Road's End's Middle Rock but with binoculars I could see a bird on the nest. And when she/he stood to rearrange things, I glimpsed at least one egg.

In the space of two weeks, I had gone from one nest to monitor... at Road's End (South Rock)... to three nests to monitor... two at Road's End and one at Cliff Creek Falls. That made me wonder about the rest of my apparently abandoned nest sites.

So this past Tuesday, July 12, I made the long difficult trek to another site where I have seen no BLOY all season, also on Cascade Head, at the north end of Penacle Cove. I again saw no BLOY... there...but... looking south across the cove to a distant sea stack at the south side, with my binoculars I could just make out a tiny black bird foraging on a tidal flat. Alas, I did not have my superzoom Nikon P900 with me... so I took photos with my Panasonic.

 That tiny spot in the water is the sea stack where I spotted a BLOY, believe it or not.

And here it is a little closer...

A tiny black spot in the tide flat in the center of the photo was a black bird with a red bill.

  Soon I saw two BLOY on the ridge line. Back home, I put the photos on the computer and zoomed them in.

There had been two BLOY, not one, on the tidal flats. Was one smaller than the other? A fledgling perhaps?

 When they later disappeared from the tidal area and appeared on the ridge line, were those the same two birds? Was it a pair? Or was the one on the tidal flat smaller than the one to its right in the above photo and perhaps a different bird from either on the ridge line?

Well, I'll never know because I can't tell from the photos. I went back two days later with my scope and the super zoom Nikon. There were no BLOY on that island sea stack that day. Next spring, I will have to spend more time searching the Penacle Cove and 073.1 area for tiny black birds with red bills. And what about the North Cascade Head nest area, where the last bird I saw there was a Turkey Vulture? I may have to check that one again next week...

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Our Final Breeding Bird Survey

We ran our tenth and last Breeding Bird Survey on the last weekend in June. It has become too much for us to do evening chores early, drive 2 1/2 hours to our camping area, get up at 4 the next morning to eat breakfast and hike into our first stop where we must begin our three minute count at 4:58 a.m., then scurry to finish all 50 stops located approximately one-half mile apart, ideally by 10 a.m., (we never quite make it), then drive home and do "morning" chores... in early afternoon.

It has been an adventure. Some years more of an adventure than others. One year our pickup sprang a leak in the transmission fluid on our scouting trip a week before the actual count. Some kind passers by gave us a ride to Dallas. Theirs was the only car we had seen all day. It is not a well-traveled road. Our mechanic friend and neighbor towed the pickup out.  It got a new transmission that year.

Another year we drove through open gates on our way up but found one closed on our way back early the next morning. Fortunately, it was closed but not locked. There is no cell phone service up there and it would have been a very, very long walk out.

One year when Johnny's back kept him from joining me on the early morning hike to our first stop, I wandered off the "trail" and fell into a hole left by a giant root wad. Fortunately, I did not break anything and was able to scramble out of the hole with nothing more than a few scratches.

This year we discovered on our scouting trip two weeks before the actual survey that a huge old growth fir had fallen across our camping area, totally blocking our access to the trail to Stop #1. However, it was sort of climbable and Johnny assured me he would park the van right next to the log and we could climb up the van's ladder and onto the log. Splits in the log on the other side provided steps of a sort to get down.

One happy discovery was that on the other side of that huge downed log, the trail to our first stop had been cut open by Marbled Murrelet surveyors who had a survey site just beyond our Stop #1. So instead of our usual hour of bushwhacking our way in on this scouting trip, we had only to hike to our spot and clip a few stray branches. There was another downed log to climb over enroute but not as huge as the one at our campsite. That left us time to hike the "real" trail from the Valley of the Giants kiosk (our Stop # 5).

Sean Burgett accompanied us on this scouting trip. He had responded to my plea on the bird email lists to take over this route starting next year. He is a perfect fit... grew up in the area, has cruised timber and surveyed owls nearby, knows and loves the area... and knows the birds! Together, we marveled at the size of these old growth trees along the trail in the Valley of the Giants.

 The following two photos were taken by Sean's phone...


Because of other obligations, it was two weeks before Johnny and I could run the actual route. We arrived in gathering darkness at our campsite. Johnny parked as close as he could to the downed log and I practiced climbing up on the back bumper, then the ladder of the van, then to the top of the log and carefully down the other side. At 4:30 in the morning, it is usually very dark and I did not want to break a leg on my final BBS. As it turned out, luck was with us as a moon came up and gave us light in the morning.., plus it helped that the huge old growth fir was down on the ground instead of up blocking the night sky. We still needed flashlights, but between the moon and the pre-cleared trail, it was by far our easiest trip in to Stop #1.

I heard an owl the night before that I could not identify. Plus a different one at Stop #1 in the morning that I also wasn't sure of. I have sent descriptions to the BLM biologist who is in charge of monitoring owls in that area and he is checking it out. I heard a for-sure Barred Owl at Stop #4 (Who Cooks for You?) and Marbled Murrelets at several stops. With just 3 minutes to listen at each stop, there is no time for deliberation. Then we tear off over the washboard gravel road to the next stop.

Although there is no time for photos on the route, I couldn't resist taking a minute to photograph a Common Yellowthroat bringing insects to its chick in a marshy area on one of our stops.

And this Cedar Waxwing sitting up in plain view in another stop begged for a photo. This was the only Cedar Waxwing I saw this day. Johnny said he saw two of them, but, as per BBS rules, I can only log what I see and hear.

The weather was dry and clear most of the morning, although fog moved in at several stops dampening the birds' enthusiasm for singing. That's okay as at most stops the Swainson's Thrushes, in particular, are so many and so noisy it's hard to hear anything else. A dawn chorus of Varied and Swainson's Thrushes, Pacific Slope Flycatchers, Pacific Wrens, Warbling Vireos and others is a mite overwhelming to sort out.

By the time we reach stop #50, I'm always hungry and cranky. We ate our lunch quickly and then headed home to some also very hungry horses and impatient goats.

Here is Johnny at the last stop of the day on our last Breeding Bird Survey.

 It has been an interesting ten years and I'm glad to have helped document the waxing and waning of some species that need old growth forests, plus the changes as forests go from clear cuts to young trees to older trees. Our route, although all timbered, has many steps in the succession and each age of forest harbors different species of birds.

I look forward to hearing about Sean's adventures in the coming years... while I sit comfortably at home.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Father's Day and The Day After

Johnny wanted to tour the farm in his EZ Go on Father's Day plus walk through the ox-eye daisy field that I had photographed a couple days earlier. So we did. A butterfly flitted from daisy to daisy as we walked behind and I took photos. From the web, I learned it was a Checkerspot Butterfly. I don't remember seeing one here before. We have many Swallowtails, but this butterfly was new to me.

Beside the daisy field is a steep drop-off to Agency Creek. I took Johnny to my lookout spot where I sit and watch birds and whatever else is around the water. Johnny found it to be a very restful spot.

Here is the shirt he was wearing...

After he woke up, we took an EZ Go ride past the goat field...

Johnny measured a gate that needs replacing while I hiked to another spot on the creek... to see what I could see... but I was so noisy crashing through the underbrush that has grown up considerably since the last time I went that way that anything around would have been long gone before I reached the creek.

As I came back out to the horse field, the horses looked to see what was emerging from the woods... Mr. Smith and Nightingale wear grazing muzzles to slow down their munchings so they don't kill themselves on grass. Jessie Anne (the palomino) does not have the metabolic problems of the other two so she doesn't have to wear a muzzle.

Johnny noticed a Red-breasted Sapsucker flying back and forth between a shrub (behind the horses in the above photo) and a big maple down by the gate Johnny had been measuring.

He investigated the shrub and found it riddled with sap wells that the Sapsuckers had drilled. The holes were swarming with happy yellow-jackets. The two Sapsuckers were  busily carting either insects stuck in the sap or the sap itself? to the big maple that must have had a nest hole on the back side. The sapsuckers were presumably feeding nestlings.

They made a lot of trips back and forth.

As usual, there was a lovely sunset that evening...

followed by a full moon...

After such a restful, peaceful Father's Day, I guess Johnny needed some excitement. When I came home from my morning Qi Gong practice the next day, Johnny was behind his shop with a row of bottles. I didn't know what he was doing until later, when I saw the photos he had taken and heard his explanations. Oh my.

These are bottles of cider he made that have started to work. See the white bubbles?

Johnny decided he needed to pop them outdoors before they exploded indoors. So he found a tool to poke a hole in a bottle... from a distance.

It worked.  Here the mist is beginning to escape.

Each bottle emptied quickly after being stabbed open...

Often, more quickly than Johnny could get out of the way...

So he tried a pitchfork with a longer handle.

It didn't work. Johnny came in for lunch covered in sticky hard cider. But I think he had fun.

That night, the first day of summer ended with another lovely sunset...

 that grew more and more brilliant...

And would not quit...

 A beautiful and lasting finale to The Day After Father's Day... and the first day of summer.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Hay is in the Barn!

It was a challenge between broken-down equipment, unsettled weather, and illness. Johnny was nearly over his bad cold when he finally rounded up a neighbor, Bruce, to cut our hay. The usual neighbor, Paul, had not repaired his equipment over winter and although Johnny spent two days running around trying to get parts, it was hopeless. Then he borrowed Paul's rake and had to replace numerous tines before he could use it. Paul brought the baler over but had not looked at it, either, since last summer and the baler had a broken hose that had to be repaired before it could be used. In spite of all that and a little mist right after the hay was cut, it all got dried, baled and in the barn.

Of course, the day we had to put it in the barn was 95 degrees. I was still sick with a bad cold and so was neighbor Irv who usually drives the tractor while we load and stack, so Johnny loaded the hay wagon himself. Johnny and I unloaded after the sun went down and finished at 11:30 at night.  The next day the rest of the hay was baled and we got it in a little earlier, since it was a little cooler that day (June 5). So glad to have that job done! The operation, in photos:

Bruce, mowing

Johnny, raking

Paul baling while Johnny pitchforks hay into place to make it more efficient for the baler

Johnny loading the trailer

It was a lot of work for Johnny. Of course, other things fell apart at the same time: the barn refrigerator quit working; the barn hot water heater sprung a leak... all over the milk room floor. But Johnny managed to replace the hot water heater before too many days and we have given up on a refrigerator in the milk room for the time being. I haul baby goat bottles back and forth from house to barn. Soon the two little wethers will be weaned!

This week I transplanted tomatoes, peppers and artichokes into the garden, and weeded and watered from the rain tank that collects water off Johnny's shop... lots of water. Now it has rained and filled the tank again. It is a wonderful system that gravity flows water from the tank through a hose to the garden at just the right rate. Of course, that newly devised system had to be reconfigured and repaired a bit before being put into use this week.

Johnny has earned his afternoon naps.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

More Black Oystercatcher Surveys

For the first time, I was actually relieved when I found no nesting BLOY at the end of one of my most unfavorite survey hikes... the North OP (Observation Point) at Road's End. The view once I arrive is spectacular. But... the hike is difficult. I amused myself along the way by taking photos of Johnny climbing up the steep Thumb to his OP. That little dot in the middle of the green cliff is him.

And cropped...

 However, that's the only tough part of his hike. Then he gets to sit on top and watch for BLOY on the two nest rocks below him. Here he is from my vantage point on the North OP, where, by the way, I saw no BLOY on the North nest rock. So I don't have to go back there this year!

Can't see Johnny? He's between the two trees on top. Here...

 And up close with my Nikon...

Johnny watched the two pair that nest on South Rock and Middle Rock, while I took close-ups of the rocks from my OP... but saw nothing on them. Thank goodness for the lovely view in all directions...

In the afternoon, we went from Road's End to another site where Johnny had an even shorter hike and sat for two hours watching a pair of BLOY wander around the top of Refusal Rock looking for a suitable nest site, apparently. Meanwhile I hiked in on a very rough non-trail to the North Cascade Head nest site... and found nothing. This is the site where I had found a Turkey Vulture lurking two weeks ago. I suspected it had disrupted the BLOY nesting plans. This was the second time with no BLOY so I don't have to make that hike again either!

The next day, we looked for BLOY on Cascade Head itself. Johnny hiked in to look toward one known BLOY nesting area while I hiked to another. (We have a permit to enter these areas to monitor BLOY in this otherwise closed-to-the-public season.) Johnny had interesting encounters. First with a couple herds of elk.

And then, with a pair of eagles just building a new nest. The rocks in the distance are where Johnny is supposed to be looking for BLOY. The leaning trees between him and the rocks were where the eagles were bringing long sticks for their new nest. If you have exceptional eyesight, you might see a white dot in one of the leaning trees. That's an eagle.

 Here it is closer...
Johnny said some of the sticks the eagles carried in were twice as long as their wing span. You can see some of them in this photo. A pretty messy looking nest so far!

Meanwhile I was hiking the long Hart's Cove trail to a point where I head downward through the brush to a viewpoint looking out on the big rocky island where a pair of BLOY traditionally nest.

They were there, but not yet nesting. Instead, they tried out one spot after another.

All the while I was serenaded, if you can call it that, by dozens and dozens of sea lions on the rocks in that cove.

After an hour, I gave up and hiked back up the long, steep, 7 switch-back trail to my car. I will be back to this site next week to find out if the BLOY have actually laid eggs and begun to incubate.

It was a relief to rest up today after two days of strenuous hikes. But we did have two evenings of wonderful dinners at our favorite Thai restaurant in Lincoln City. And enjoyed meeting Dawn for one of them and swapping BLOY stories with her. Only another BLOY nest monitor can understand why we do what we do. Some days, after long hikes, I wonder myself...