Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Eagles and Vulture and Cougar, Oh My!

Black Oystercatcher (BLOY) abundance survey and nest monitoring season has arrived, but, so far, other animals have provided far more excitement.

On my first trip up The Thumb at Road's End this season, to count BLOY and look for nesting, a young eagle dove on a foraging rock full of gulls and one pair of Oystercatchers, sending all into the air in a frenzy. The gulls soon settled down on their end of the rock while the eagle settled down on its end. The BLOY disappeared and were seen no more.

After awhile, the eagle moved to a favorite eagle perch on the cliff. But the BLOY stayed in hiding.

I gave up and drove to my North Cascade Head site, hiked the long, arduous hike in, only to have another bird disrupt that BLOY nesting opportunity. Perched atop the highest point and looking all around was a Turkey Vulture. The BLOY, of course were nowhere to be seen. After fifteen minutes or so, the TV left, but it took the BLOY pair another half hour to show up, screaming loudly and indignantly. I am wondering if they had started a nest, laid eggs, and had the eggs eaten by a hungry vulture. I'll never know but the next week no BLOY appeared in the hour I watched and waited.

On that first trek, on my way back to the car, an explosion of sound from one or more very angry and upset eagles erupted right over my head. Although I've never heard of eagles attacking people, the noise above me was, um, startling and my heart skipped a few beats. This is a site where my friend and eagle/peregrine monitor told me the eagles were not nesting this year. Hah! I watched an adult bald eagle chase a subadult out of the area. And then another. All the while punctuating his orders with loud screams. I was hoping he wasn't mad at me. I had no idea he had a nest much less where it was.

I told my friend and he found the nest the next day. I had been right next to it! On my second trip to that site, I found no BLOY but did find the eagles' nest... and an eagle watching me. Word now from my friend is that they have a nestling and that's the reason for their extreme territorial behavior.

The first part of that otherwise difficult North Cascade Head hike is tame from a walking standpoint, but treacherous for me because it goes through a monumental forest of blooming Scotch Broom, which I am horribly allergic to.

Although this invasive and dangerously flammable weed makes me unable to breathe, I have to admit it's pretty.

Yesterday, I made my second trek up The Thumb and, after very long waits, eventually saw the Middle Rock pair do a nest exchange (the nest is on the west side of the rock, invisible from my shore observation point). Likewise, eventually, for the South Rock pair.

 Just to prove I actually saw an Oystercatcher, here is one of the South Rock pair on a foraging rock after its mate relieved it of nest duty.

However the North Rock pair must be nesting, if they are nesting, on a side where they don't come into view when they exchange places.  Eventually, I gave up and headed down the trail. That's when the excitement peaked. I wasn't excited on my way up as I did not think too much about the dead animal in the middle of the trail, covered with leaves and brush. But on the way back I noticed the scratch marks on either side where some obviously large clawed animal had scratched dirt over the carcass.

I looked closer and saw a head of the dead animal and a leg and hoof and part of the body.

Bobcats cover their kills in our woods, but they pull them under a brush pile first. This audacious cat had left its kill right in the middle of the path. This is a well used by hikers path. I guess if you are an apex predator, like a cougar, you only have to leave your scent by your kill and no other predator is going to nibble on your dinner. No doubt this was a cougar kill and I had never thought about the fact that there were cougars in the area. Why I had not thought about that, I don't know, considering how many elk are in the areas on the coast where I monitor Black Oystercatchers. You can bet I'll be thinking about big cats from now on.

Today provided a heart rush of a different kind. I arrived at Cape Lookout, for my second attempt to find BLOY, without my trusty Panasonic camera, which took all the photos on this blog. Here are a few it took on my first hike here this season, with Johnny. We saw no BLOY but did see pretty scenery...

... and a couple lazy seals...

Although I had left my Panasonic at home today, I had brought my new Nikon with the huge lens in hopes of finding the distant BLOY nest reported at Cape Meares. However, when I tried to take a photo with it on the Cape Lookout trail, the battery was dead. I have used it seldom so did not understand why.

Today's trip was fogged and rained out anyway, so I came home and researched. Apparently, I am supposed to take the battery out except when in use because my camera may drain it even when its off. It is now plugged in and charging. Plus I found the second battery I had bought and will charge it and keep it with the camera. Being camera-less on a hike feels a lot like being naked.

And I sure don't want to be "naked" on these hikes... with eagles and vulture and cougar, oh my!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Singing Dipper and Other Bird Stories

We take time off from farm chores to do fun things, especially (in my case) bird-related things. Every so often we survey Dippers up Agency Creek. And starting this month and lasting all summer, I survey Black Oystercatchers in several areas of the coast with Johnny's frequent help.

Last Sunday, we did our Dipper survey, and happened upon two fledglings begging from a rock downstream of their nest. Birder friends had told us they found Dippers by that nest earlier in the day, so we drove up the road to find them... and others. We found no Dippers by the nest, but a little ways downstream were the two begging fledglings. A parent flew in while I watched but did not feed the chicks. Instead, it sang to them! Another adult was farther downstream gathering food.

empty nest

singing Dipper and fledglings

I took a video of the babies and their serenading parent. I don't know if it was singing to the children to pacify them or if it was telling its partner to hurry up with the food. I didn't wait long enough for the other adult to come. I put the video on youtube:

Thursday, May 5, 2016


It's been spring-like for some time and we have been very busy with spring stuff on the farm. Johnny has spread barkdust on all the paths, built an arena fence on the north side to match the south fence, chopped a lot of firewood and much more. I've been weeding and hoeing and planting... and fighting with my new computer. And now and then taking photos of what's blooming. Here are some from a few days ago.

The new arena fence...

To travel back in time, here are the photos of blooming pear and apple trees... and others... that I promised in an earlier blog. These were taken early April.

Those trees are done blooming but today more flowers opened, including roses. Everything has been about a month early. Peonies opened in March and are still blooming today, May 5, along with the just-opening roses. The following photos were taken today.

The rugosa roses and hawthorns in the arboretum are blooming, too.

The veggie garden is not ready for photographs. I am trying yet another weed-suppression system... mulching with paper feed sacks (50# sacks) between the rows. It's not a pretty picture, but better than hoeing the entire garden.

Happy Spring!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Our Latest, Greatest, Waterfall Adventure

It was very hot Wednesday afternoon. I was tired of working in the garden. Johnny was willing to take off to look for the latest waterfall we had heard about... just up the road a piece (about 11 miles). And so off we went after feeding the baby goats their mid-day bottles a little early.

We followed our 1988 Oregon State Forestry map, which is outdated of course, but we did pretty well except for one wrong turn which quickly became unpassable with a tree blocking the road. I walked ahead to see if I could find a marker to tell us where we were while Johnny took a little nap in the van. Happily, I soon saw an orange ribbon tied to a tree with a well worn path leading into the woods and more marking ribbons. I followed the ribbons to this:

It told us that we were in Section 11. By our map, we knew we should be in Section 10 to find the waterfall. The nail with ribbons told us we were in the upper left portion of Section 11 which put us very close to Section 10. So Johnny backed out to where we had turned and on we went, with a small alder to drive across but nothing major blocking our route.

Soon we came to a Ruffed Grouse standing by the side of the road. Always a good omen.

After one major intersection where the map told us to go left (I hoped), we hit a road full of elephant traps which told us we were on National Forest Service land. Instead of culverts, the FS drains water away from their old logging roads by digging ditches that we have to bounce in and out of. Farther along, we ran out of elephant traps and saw signs for a logging sale by the Oregon State Forestry, which meant we were close to our destination... an old logging landing at the top of a knoll in Oregon Forestry land.

Before we arrived at the landing, we hit some serious barricades where feeder streams ran down to the Little Nestucca River, which is where our waterfall awaited us. The streams were well protected by dirt berms on both sides that were barely walkable, much less driveable. So we parked and walked.

And walked and walked. Eventually, we hit a barricade of tree roots that was blocking the road we had been on. They were blocking access from a road beyond. Where that road came from, we don't know. Probably from Hwy 18 and through Miami Corp. land, which is usually all gated off. I took this photo on our way back, thus the nice gravel road in the foreground.

Eventually, the nice gravel road petered out and young alders were growing all over it. We pressed onward until we came to the old landing, which we could tell was the old landing because the forest dropped off steeply to the right, hopefully to the Little Nestucca River, and ahead, probably to Fall Creek. I could hear rushing water straight ahead so forged onward and downward through the woods and brush and fallen logs with Johnny insisting I was going the wrong way. But I didn't care. I heard a waterfall and I was going for it! He gave up and followed.

Soon we could see water far below. There was a waterfall, but not a big one. We dubbed it Fall Creek Falls. With leaves budding out, it was impossible to get a clear photo no matter how close we got. If you look carefully, you can almost see that the water is also falling on our side of the log that is heading down the cascading falls in the middle of the creek. No way to tell from this height how tall the falls really is, but I doubt more than ten feet. However, I hope to go back next winter when the leaves are gone and get a better view.

Our goal, however, was the Little Nestucca River falls so we pressed onward, Johnny leading the way through and over downfalls and brush and trees. Here and there were signs of early 1900s era logging of giant trees, with giant cables around their now rotting bases.

Finally we came to the junction of Fall Creek and the Little Nestucca. We could hear a falls and see a little one on the Little Nestucca just before it was joined by Fall Creek. But a short distance beyond where the creeks came together, the water disappeared entirely, reappearing in the distance, far below. The waterfall!!

a little falls on the Little Nestucca before Fall Creek joins it

At this point, we realized we had to cross either the Little Nestucca (wide) or Fall Creek (full of criss-crossing downed logs) to get below the falls where we could see it. So we made our way across Fall Creek. I should have taken photos of that mess but I was too engrossed in trying to stay upright.

Eventually, we arrived on the other side, which was still full of downed trees, and clambered downhill to where we could see the first drop. Wow! Johnny and I separated then as I wanted to get a photo of the entire falls. He wanted to get below the first drop to see how high it was. I guess. Actually, I had no idea where he was going and he had no idea where I was going. We were both just excitedly going to our separate destinations.

Never have I seen such a mishmash of downed trees and logs. I crawled along one to reach a point where I could see the bottom two cascades but the top drop had mostly disappeared. I needed to be farther toward the middle of the stream. I guess I didn't take a photo from there, so determined was I to get the whole falls in view.

That proved to be challenging. I could see where I needed to be but getting there was exciting. Half an hour later, I arrived on a log going all the way across the stream. I did not have nerve enough to crawl along it so stayed near the root wad on the bank.  In the second photo, you can see Johnny in his orange vest way up at the base of the top drop.

And here he is, zoomed in.

He could not see the bottom drop from where he was.

But here is what he could see. (He took this photo).

Eventually, we agreed by boops and hand signals that we needed to start back. I hated to leave this gorgeous waterfall but I would also have hated to be stuck in that jungle after dark. This time I took a lower, more direct route up, steeper but with less tangled logs to get through.  We made our way back over Fall Creek and decided to follow the Little Nestucca a ways and then head up to our logging road. That may have been a mistake. It got very brushy on the way up. So brushy, with stickery salmon berry everywhere, that we resorted in some places to crawling through on our hands and knees. Johnny was behind me part of the time and took this photo of me making my way upward under the mess.

It was a relief to get back up to the road. We hope to do it again next winter but by following a feeder stream down to the Little Nestucca in hopes the going is easier.

But, difficult as the hike was, the beautiful Little Nestucca Falls was worth the trouble.