Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Changing Seasons

For several days near the end of January it was warm and balmy. The daffodils were budded out, the yellow shrub by the back door in full bloom. It felt like spring.

On Saturday afternoon, Jan. 30, we took a drive up into the hills above us. It was such a nice day and we were tired of working... the pleasant weather had allowed us to do a lot of outdoor clean up work. We decided to drive to South Lake, about 16 miles from our farm. We were surprised to see snow along the side of the road as we started upwards. When we reached South Lake, it was snowing. So much for spring.

The snow had just started, but there was enough for Johnny to make a tiny snow person.

We drove on the few miles to North Lake. More snow. And sunshine on snowy trees.

Johnny made another snow person, slightly bigger.

We started to drive up to Mt. Hebo but we did not have snow tires and there was more and more snow. So we turned around and headed back down the 14 road to the 2283, where we had found a massive landslide and tree blockage on our Upper Nestucca Christmas Bird Count. We hiked in the .3 miles to see if the road was still blocked. It was.

We did the rest of our touring inside the warm van. I wanted to see the area of the East Creek fire so we drove up that way. We found lots of blackened trunks and dead trees.

As we drove home, we could see the hills to the south of our farm that had been bare and balmy when we left... now covered with snow. In a few short hours, an early spring had turned back into winter.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Rain Breaks

Western Oregon is having a lot of rain. At least, that's how it looks from the inside looking out. But it usually is not raining hard, so I go out. If I stay inside I get cabin fever. And sometimes there is a several hour break in the showers. Johnny doesn't pay attention to rain either. If it's too heavy, he works in his shop.

On January 7, it looked dry enough to make our Grand Ronde raptor run, so we did, and found three Red-shouldered Hawks. Here is one of them, just a few miles from home...

We found this Bald Eagle also just a few miles from home.

 In the Willamina area, we found a team of draft horses out for a stroll...

This Red-shouldered Hawk was in the Willamina area where we usually find one or a pair.

 This pair of Bald Eagles was hanging out on one of their favorite perches over the Willamina fishing pond, where we ate our lunches.  The rain held off until we returned home, when it let loose once again.

  On Sunday, January 10, it was again fairly dry (by Western Oregon winter standards). So in the morning, while Johnny was at church, I hiked down to our creek and found this snag that a Pileated Woodpecker had tortured. An amazing amount of wood chips were below it.

 This feather was floating in our seasonal pond. I don't know what bird it came from. But most exciting for me when I looked closely at this photo were the little red dots I could see in the water... copepods! I was so afraid our drought last spring and summer had killed them off as I've not been able to see them. But my camera could. Today, the 21st, Johnny and I hiked down to the pond again and found zillions of little black things swimming around plus quite a few tiny red copepods. I'm so glad they're back!

 When Johnny came home from church on the 10th, we drove up Agency Creek Rd. to look for Dippers. With high water in the creek, we did not see all the Dippers we usually see. But where there were exposed rocks, there were sometimes Dippers, launching themselves into the icy water to catch underwater prey.

 After surveying for Dippers on Agency Creek, we drove up Yoncalla Creek Rd. and hiked into Yoncalla Falls. So beautiful and so energizing.

 There were lots of smaller falls along both Yoncalla and Agency creeks. I love waterfalls, even little ones like this.

 January 15 was another fairly dry day so we took off for our North Santiam Raptor route. At our lunch stop at Lyons City Park/John Neal Park, Ring-necked Ducks (that have visible ringed bills, not necks) floated in the reflections of trees along the bank.

Snow dusted the hills as we headed west, with no rain until we finished our route back in Salem.

It was wet, though, on the 19th when I drove to Salem to participate in a rally on the Capitol Steps with other birders and lovers of our public lands. We were protesting the armed takeover of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and declaring our solidarity with the people of Harney County who are being intimidated and threatened by the lawless thugs who have occupied the refuge that belongs to the American people. I decompressed afterwards by eating my lunch at The Narrows at another beloved wildlife refuge, Baskett Slough. All of these public lands are threatened by the militia men in this country who seem to think God intends for them to overthrow the government's laws... forcefully. Wow. An afternoon visiting friend Nancy and her horses and dogs helped me realize there still are some sane and wonderful people in the world, just none in Malheur NWR headquarters right now.

On the 20th, I spent the day with another sane and wonderful person, birder friend Dawn. We ran her Lincoln city raptor route, then drove down to South Beach State Park to look for the Mountain Plover that had been hanging out there with Snowy Plovers. Both were life birds for Dawn and we had no trouble finding them. The drizzle returned as we walked the beach but we found the "cute" plovers easily. Dawn says the way you can tell plovers from other shorebirds is by their cuteness factor. And they really are cute, with their short bills and little round heads. The Mountain Plover was considerably bigger than his even cuter companions, the Snowy Plovers. It was a great day with a fun friend.

Mountain Plover

Sanderling left (long bill, not as "cute") with three Snowy Plovers following

Today, Jan. 21st, Johnny's birthday, is dry and warm. He spent the day working outside on farm projects, as he likes to do. Then we cleared trails in the woods. But what he likes best on his birthday are phone calls from his kids and grandkids and others who love him... simple pleasures in a life lived simply, kindly and well, rain or no rain.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Hair Ice and Other Wintry Wonders

At first, I thought this was a fungus. But when I touched it, it turned out to be ice and shattered.

From the web, I learned it was Hair Ice. "Hair ice is a fairly rare phenomenon that only occurs around 45-55 degrees north latitude. It forms when the temperature is just below freezing with high humidity and in the presence of a particular fungus, Exidiopsis effuse, on rotting wood. As the moisture in the wood freezes, it is forced through the pores in the wood and extruded as tiny hairs. The fungus secretes a substance, lignin, which prevents the ice crystals from locking together to form larger crystals, so each hair remains separate. Hair ice is extremely delicate and ephemeral, usually disappearing as soon as the sun touches it."

 It seemed to be on every dead branch on the ground. Beautiful and fragile.

 Our cold weather of the last week (below 20 degrees for several days) had created other interesting ice formations. Our seasonal pond was frozen over but as the water level had begun to recede, the ice on the edge began groaning and cracking as I watched and listened. It reminded me of break-up I've heard on larger bodies of water that can sound like thunder.

Agency Creek looked cold and turbulent. Icicles hung over it from a log on the bank.

Along the driveway, even the frozen puddles created art forms. At least, that's what they looked like to me.

And then, it snowed. And rained on top of the snow. Cold, icy rain. Schools were closed and roads slick. Icicles formed on our metal gates.

It was only a dusting of snow, but enough to allow the rain to form an icy crust on top.

Every footstep was captured in ice. Here are California Quail footprints.

The garden netting we had not yet taken down was coated in ice and hung in graceful arcs over the deserted garden.

The winter blooming tree outside the back door was loaded with buds, now preserved in ice.

And then it began to melt and icicles formed on the roof as sheets of ice fell off and formed ridges below.

With the falling snow and ice came hysteria in the horse paddock. My horses do not like snow and ice sheeting off the roof. They refused to come in to eat. Finally this afternoon, I was able to lead them in. We are all tired of this weather, pretty as the ice formations may be.

Johnny was gone for the whole week of cold, snow and freezing rain. I burned up all the wood he had brought into the house before he left... getting up several times a night to stoke the fire. (I kept the door into the jungle room open so my plants would not get too cold... Plants are people, too.) The water lines to the goat and horse stock tanks froze so I carted water all week. Yesterday, they finally thawed.

Hair Ice and other wintry scenes are lovely... But there are downsides...

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Christmas 2015 in Photos

The build up to Christmas Day started with a spectacular sunrise on the 23rd.

On the 24th, snow was low on Spirit Mountain above us.

With just a little left on the path from the night before...

I asked for my Christmas present a little early that morning. Johnny wanted a photo of me with it before it was unwrapped for people to guess what it is. (Hint: I was on my way out to the barn and it is *not* a snow shovel.)

We had mixed reports on whether the Hwy 22 five foot sinkhole had been repaired or not. That is the route we take to go to Tillamook on Christmas Day to have dinner with friends. So we decided to drive that far to find out. If the road was still closed, we would have to go the long way around through Lincoln City.

Happily, the road was repaired. Temporary guard thingies protected cars from a very long drop to the creek.

Just beyond the road repair area was Gunaldo Falls. It is invisible in the summer with only a trickle of water. Leaves on the trees block the view anyway. But now it was full and visible.

As long as we were out and about, we drove up Agency Creek Rd. to see the new pavement now that that road is finally reopened. Close to the end of the pavement (six miles from our farm) we ran into snow on the road... and in the air.

I wanted to go back quickly before it got too thick but Johnny, as always, had to build a little snowman first. I took a photo through the van window.

That night there was a lovely full moon with a colorful halo around it but my camera did not pick up the colors. My New Year's resolution is to read my camera's info guide and figure out what all these settings are for.

Christmas morning dawned clear and cold. Snow was very low on the mountains above the horse pasture.

The horse pasture was white with frost, not snow. The horses were muddy from their rolls in the field earlier so the only one I will show a photo of is Nightingale because she is too dark (and too far away) to show the mud.

After chores we left for the coast. Since this was the highest tide of the year, we stopped first at McPhillips Park to walk "our" mile (Mile 262) and take photos of the highest point the water came to. It turned out that was very high indeed. The access road was completely blocked with wood and kelp and debris. (Info on adopting a mile of Oregon beach is at the CoastWatch site: http://oregonshores.org/coastwatch.php5 )

That was the only day we have walked that beach without vehicles on it. The only other access point is around a rock outcropping to the north... which was now surrounded by ocean.

The ocean was also up to and climbing the dunes to the south of the access road. We had to climb part way up to avoid becoming part of the debris being rolled around in the surf.

 The sand on the north side of the Cape Kiwanda dune had been washed off rocks and relocated.

Three Black Turnstones were finding bits of things to eat among the rocks.

After returning to McPhillips Park and our car, we ate lunches we had packed (well, one of us had left his lunch on the counter at home but I always have lots of extra snacks in my pack so he didn't starve). Then drove north to our friends' the Woodhouses. They took us on a tour of the many landslides and areas that had been flooded, plus showed us lots of birds, including more Common Mergansers than I have ever seen before in one group (John Woodhouse judged 60) and more raptors in one field than we see on our entire raptor route. But my favorite scene was a Great Blue Heron perched atop a moored fishing boat.

It had been a lovely, sunny Christmas Day with snow on the mountains east of Tillamook over still partially flooded fields, but dark clouds were moving in... It was time to head for the Shiloh Inn and our Christmas dinner.

 By the time we left for home (after a delicious meal that none of us had to cook or clean up after) it was growing dark and foggy. Today, two days after that incredible sunny Christmas Day, the rain has returned. How lucky we all were to have a dry and sunny Christmas in this wet and dark December.