Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Morning on the Coast

A morning on the coast in beautiful weather is a good day even when the blasted Oystercatchers don't cooperate. We drove to Cape Kiwanda today to try to find out if the BLOY were nesting on the Rock and carrying food from the cape to their chicks as they have in past years, presuming they have chicks yet. That presumption is almost certainly wrong for the pair that hangs out on the south flats. One BLOY was below us, doing nothing, for half an hour before it flew to the Rock... without food. I followed with my binoculars as long as I could, but it eventually disappeared in the waves. The Rock is a mile offshore.

But, like I said, it was a beautiful day.

 But, like I said, the Rock is a mile offshore...

The tidal flat where the BLOY was hanging out is here...

And here is the BLOY...

Try following that little black bird all the way out to that big distant rock... Then scan the rock with a scope for any sign of the disappearing bird. Give up? I did. Instead I watched a seal below me trying to position a big fish so it could be swallowed.

A fisherman friend tells me this is a Black Rockfish, also known as Seabass

Not every day on the coast is so clear, of course. When it is hot inland (as it has been most of July), it is foggy on the coast. So it was when I monitored nests at Road's End and Cascade Head last Thursday. Every once in awhile, the nest rocks came out of the fog.

Road's End

Cascade Head 073.1

And then disappeared again... There is a Black Oystercatcher in the following photo, on top of the 073.1 nest rock... right in the center of the photo. That's the guard BLOY. The nest is on the west side of that rock, totally out of view. We know because that's where the BLOY fly to and from... when we can see them.

At Short Beach, above Oceanside, far north of my other sites, the problems are more than fog and distance, although those are problems, too. The beach can only be accessed at low tide. A week ago, conditions were right and off I went.

Somewhere on that distant cliff is a BLOY nest. I knew it was there because I saw the guard BLOY fly up to a ledge, disappear, and then another reappeared in its place.

nest ledge in center of photo

 BLOY in center of photo after leaving nest

 I thought I saw a tiny spot of red on the ledge through my scope. So I took zoomed-in photos and scanned them at home on the computer. Sure enough, there was a nesting BLOY on the ledge, just left of the grassy area.

Don't believe me? Here she is, cropped and fuzzy.

She is safe from my prying eyes until the next low tide at a time of day when I can get there.

The farthest north nest I try to monitor is at Cape Meares, just beyond Short Beach. Cape Meares has been buried in fog most every day, even when the rest of the coast is clear. But last Tuesday, after I left Short Beach, it was clear, and I could see the BLOY still on her eggs. But only because I knew where to look. The north toe, where they nest, is a long way across the cove. A scope is necessary.

First, you find the little pools at the ocean end of the cove...

Then you follow the upper pool to the ridge in front of it and follow it up a short distance to a sort of level area between the two brown cliffs...

Look for nesting gulls. Look down and right from the upper gull to a boulder with two big "eyes". Well, that's what they look like to me. Your mileage may differ.

 Just to the right of that boulder is a black dot with a red smaller dot on it. That's the BLOY.

BLOY is in center of photo

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on the weather and my stamina, three of the original nests I monitor failed soon after eggs were laid. Since Black Oystercatchers may live twenty years if they make it through the first year, they do not need to reproduce themselves every year. Time will tell if the remaining two nests at Road's End, one at Cascade Head, one at Short Beach, one at Cape Meares, and who knows at Cape Kiwanda... will produce chicks and then fledglings.

But, as long as the weather on the coast is lovely, who cares?

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The End of an Era

The big snag is gone. I knew it would fall sometime as it was thoroughly rotted out. But it has been such an icon since we moved here in 1977... still alive, barely, then. Grand Firs grow fast but don't last long. Several have bit the dust since we moved here. But this one was huge and towered over the entire valley. So many birds have perched on its peak to survey the territory.

A Great Blue Heron sat up there regally many a morning.

 Turkey Vultures used it for a perch... in fact, yesterday two were on it. Some days there were lots more than two...


  An Osprey sat there once and a Red-shouldered Hawk a time or two...

Red-shouldered Hawk

 ... a Peregrine Falcon...  and many, many Red-tailed Hawks...


 The only Acorn Woodpecker I've ever seen here poked around at its top...

 with a Kestrel watching... for a time. Wondering, I'm sure, what that strange bird was doing on *his* (the Kestrel's) snag.

A few times a year, a Bald Eagle posed on top. The day after the below photo was taken with an adult eagle on the broad top, a sub-adult eagle tried to land on that skinny point next to the broad top. It never could balance on that point but it kept trying.

As the tree rotted more and more, pieces broke off, leaving the top looking different from month to month. But always very tall, providing a wonderful lookout tower for the birds.

 Birds have nested in the holes that its rotting limbs created. Raccoons slept in those holes. A college class got to see two of them curled up together high above just a year or two ago.

 So many birds used the top as a perch that I moved one of my scopes down to Johnny's machine shed to be closer and had it set so I could just move it a few feet outside and it would be aimed at the top. I have taken a zillion photos of that snag with its occupants. Now the skyline looks bare without it. How will the hawks react, I wonder, when they fly in to find it gone?

To take this photo today, I stood where I set my scope to look at the snag... which is no longer there.

  After all this steaming hot weather, it was a joy to hear the thunder roll this morning as I sat up in the horse barn loft measuring out hay cubes for the horses. Then rain began to fall on the roof... what a wonderful sound! But the rain didn't amount to much. Still, it cooled and cleared the air. After feeding the horses, I cleaned their paddock as usual into my EZ Go, enjoying the cool breeze and the very occasional rain drop. Then I drove the EZ Go to the field adjacent to the little creek and the big snag that stood over it, the field where I spread manure every morning.

Just as I started into the field I heard a tremendous crashing in the trees by the creek. I looked just in time to see the last descent of the snag as it fell through the trees and across the creek and the culvert crossing.

Suddenly, there was no snag on the skyline.

I called Johnny and he came out to see. It was completely blocking the culvert crossing. The horses would not be going into their lower field today. This is the shaky photo I took when I first arrived at the scene. Although I knew it was destined to fall, it was still hard to believe it was really gone.

Johnny, being less sentimental, went right to work sawing the snag into a piece that could be towed off the crossing with the tractor.

He towed it to a spot alongside the path... a place to sit and rest, he said.

I crawled through the brush to where it had stood. Just a stump was left with the rest in pieces lying across trees and the culvert and into the creek.

From the horses' side, it looked formidable... and the horses agreed. When I turned them out a little later, they spooked at the strange mess across their creek crossing.

The rings on the stump told a tale of rapid early growth, followed by slower growth, interspersed with good years of wide rings and not-so-good years of narrower rings. The newest growth rings were very narrow. It had slowed down considerably in its old age.

The core of the stump was completely rotted out but I found a hunk of it lying nearby. Look how wide those rings are, back in the fir's youth.

An interesting set of very narrow rings were in the middle of wider rings (photo below), showing a couple years of severely stunted growth. I wonder what caused that?

Ah, the tales that tree could tell... of birds and other wildlife in its boughs... of good years and bad years. I started to count the rings but could not finish because so much of the core is gone... The rings that remain tell me it was at least 200 years old.

It's like having an old friend die. That snag has watched over our farm forever. But nothing lasts forever. Goodbye, old friend.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Be Careful What You Wish For

For years, I wished I could get a permit into Cascade Head before the official opening so I could monitor Black Oystercatcher nests I was sure must be on the offshore rocks. Well, this year, I got the permit. Um, there are no "trails" to viewpoints for those rocks. I found my nests, 3 of them, but bushwhacking through the salal and downed trees is a mite exhausting. Then there's my regular 3 nests at Road's End with a lengthy hike... and the occasional jaunts to Cape Kiwanda, Short Beach and Cape Meares. I'm to the point where I'm relieved rather than saddened when a nest fails so I don't have to make that hike again.

But the scenery is lovely.

Road's End

Short Beach

Cascade Head

Cape Kiwanda

 And the company delightful...

Between trips to the coast I work like crazy on getting the garden planted. Well, first there was the problem of bindweed and thistles... but that story in another blog.

I also take time to enjoy the roses, which seem to thrive in spite of neglect.

Gebruder Grimm

Paul's Himalayan Musk

Paul's Himalayan Musk


Morning Has Broken

Burgundy Iceberg

And the butterflies... they love the urine-soaked soil in the horse paddock. Apparently, horse urine has minerals that attract butterflies. My daily manure cleaning in the paddock becomes a delight when the butterflies are around.
Western Tiger Swallowtail

Pale Swallowtail

Lorquin's Admiral underwing

Lorquin's Admiral

And so I haven't much more to wish for in my life... and I'll be careful before I do.