Sunday, February 19, 2017

Valentine's Day and 200K

The day after our Golden Anniversary was Valentine's Day... and the only day without rain when we would both be in the state (rather than traveling north or south for grandkid events) to do our North Santiam raptor route. So that's what we did. The weather was lovely. Mt. Jefferson appeared ahead of us, snow-covered and beautiful.

Raptors were sparse but halfway through the route we found a new place to pick up lunches since our usual Chinese restaurant was closed. The food was very good! Eating out is Johnny's favorite part of our birding adventures. The little cafe is right at the corner where we turn to go to our lunch spot... Lyons City Park and John Neal Park. As we sat in the car eating our take-out meals at the edge of the park ponds, the raptors came to us... A Red-tailed Hawk chased a Red-shouldered Hawk out from a tree where we had not seen it until it flew.

In the afternoon, we stopped to scope out a big nest in a grove of deciduous trees off the road. I was hoping for what would look like a cat's head appearing out of it... and there it was! A well-camouflaged Great Horned Owl was in the nest, peering out. I took a photo with my long lensed Nikon camera... First of the distant grove with big nest...

Then zoomed in on the nest...  the "cat's" head and ears are just left of the big trunk, on top of the tangled twigs of the nest...

...Up closer, you can see the owl's face and ears...

As exciting as the owl find was, even more exciting was what happened after our route was over and we were on our way home. We had noticed that the speedometer on my Hondo Civic Hybrid was nearing the 200,000 mark. In our family, actually watching as the speedometer turns over to an even number is a good luck omen... so watching it turn to 200K is a spectacular happening! About six miles from home, we watched (hopefully Johnny, the driver, was just glancing now and then) as it turned over from 199,998 to 199,999, and then... to the big 200,000! Naturally, I took photos. (It's what I do.)

Back home, Johnny researched when we acquired this car (it was a joint surprise for me from my dad, son Steve, and Johnny) and how many miles it had on it then. Johnny says it is a 2003 model, bought in 2006, with 30,307 miles on it.

A few months after it arrived, the huge battery that makes it a hybrid gave out. Happily it was still under warranty and we got a new one for nothing. That one is still testing perfectly fine after ten years... and nearly 170,000 miles. And I'm still averaging over 45 miles to the gallon.

I've hauled feed in this car, driven it up and down mountains... and scratched it up more than it deserves. I even hauled a buck goat in it all the way to California. (Yes, my big animal carrier fits in the back seat. The door opens wide and I can put most anything in there.) It also has a spacious trunk.

...So many trips north to the Washington kids and south to the California kids, loaded with stuff to give them. So many trips to the coast for bird surveys and fun...

I love this car.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Our Golden Anniversary

Johnny and I have been married 50 years as of Feb. 13. This year, appropriately, the 13th fell on a Monday as it did back in 1967. The reason we were married the day *before* Valentine's Day is explained in last year's anniversary post: It has caused much confusion among friends and family... and Johnny, who can never remember which day we were married.

The reason we don't try to do something special on our anniversaries was explained in my Wedding Anniversary #44 blog post. Here is the pertinent part:

"For our 25th, we spent a night at the wonderful Sylvia Beach Hotel in Newport, Oregon. Each room is decorated for a different author. We had the Herman Melville room, complete with ocean decor and a slanted floor. This proved to be a mistake.

On the way to our romantic getaway at the ocean, we stopped for lunch. Johnny had potato salad. Johnny spent the night of our 25th anniversary trying to negotiate the slanted floor between bed and bathroom over and over as he disgorged his apparently poison potato salad. He did not feel well enough by morning to eat the delicious breakfast that was part of the room price.

Since then, we've stuck to butchering chickens or hogs on our anniversary. It's safer."

But the 50th is a big deal so we are celebrating it this summer during the total solar eclipse, which occurs in a narrow band across the U.S. that happens to be right over our farm. We'll celebrate the union of sun and moon plus the union of Johnny and Linda (50 1/2 years previous) on Aug. 21.

However, I thought we should do *something* special on the actual day. I suggested a waterfall hike or a trip to the coast or... climb Spirit Mountain. We used to climb it every New Year's Day, but after Johnny's back problems and subsequent surgery, we quit. His back is better and he said he misses the hike, so we climbed the mountain. Since I have had knee problems in the past, but not for some years, I insisted that we walk up very slowly. For some reason, the men in this family always liked to race up the mountain to see if they could beat their time from the previous hike. I think that is the dumbest thing in the world. We walked slowly. It was a beautiful, sunny day.

When you walk slowly, you can see birds. I could have seen them better if I'd brought binoculars. Mine are a little heavy and I didn't want to carry them all the way. I brought just my camera and tried to bring the wee birds up closer with it. Next time, I'll take binocs. But I did get one little bird in my viewfinder and took a couple of photos. I thought it was a Hutton's Vireo, although they look so much like Ruby-crowned Kinglets, I couldn't be sure. Believe it or not, these two photos prove, I think, that I was right.
 This photo does not show the wingbars or anything else helpful... except the legs. Hutton's Vireos have bluish-gray legs and feet. Kinglets have impossibly thin black legs... and pink feet. I am not kidding. Zoomed in, you can see the bluish gray legs and feet on this bird.

The eye-ring, lores and bill on this bird are also more Vireo-like than Kinglet-like, but the feet are the clincher for me in this photo. You would have to zoom it in to see the feet well  enough to tell they are gray, not pink.

 Johnny tried hard to match my slowness as I stopped for every bird sound, but he had to wait occasionally to let me catch up.

Two and a half hours after leaving home, we reached the top. Johnny says it usually takes us two hours. I say, so what?

 We ate our lunch in warm sunshine and no wind. I don't remember having a nicer day on top of the mountain. I thought we should have a 50th anniversary photo, so I attempted a selfie... possibly the worst photo ever but at least we're smiling.

 As is Johnny's custom ever since our sons left home and quit climbing the mountain with us, he called Steve and told him where we were and asked if he was on his way up and should we wait for him. He calls Steve because Steve was the one who gave us (or me, anyway) heart failure many years ago when he raced to the top and was not up here when we arrived. We had no cell phones back then and did not know what had happened to him. It turned out he got tired of waiting for us and hiked back home.

The boys missed a good day up there this time. From the top we could see Mt. Jefferson just barely...

Although we hike up on roads and trails, we hike down the face, the side we see from our farm. From the face we could see the Three Sisters to the southeast.

A little farther down, we could see just the tip of Mt. Jefferson at the far left of the photo below, with the Three Sisters at the right edge of the photo.

 Looking toward Grand Ronde, we could see the clearcut that is visible in part from our farm, including that lone fir tree at the top of it.

Here's Johnny, standing on the face looking toward Grand Ronde.

 And here am I, taking a photo, of course.

 We used to be able to see our entire farm from the face, but trees have grown up and now we can see only the machine shed and new goat barn. The two canoes stored on the side of the machine shed are visible here.

The photo above was taken through the tiny crack in the trees at the very right side of the photo below.

After drinking in the view, we headed straight down the mountain as we usually do. It is very steep and brushy this way with nothing but deer and elk trails to help us out. As we started down, I realized that my left knee had been stretched too far on the way up, in spite of how slowly I'd walked. Johnny had brought my knee supports, which I should have put on going up but they are hot and my knees have been behaving for many years so I did not.  (Of course, I haven't climbed Spirit Mountain for many years.) I put one on for the descent. My knee hurt anyway.

Johnny stopped to wait for me and took my photo while I took his.

After we reached the road,  Johnny went ahead at his own speed while I minced my way downward. And I made it! My knee has recovered... but I think I'll start wearing my knee supports for long hikes.

Johnny says we'll hike Spirit again for our 75th and 100th anniversaries.  Gotta love an optimist.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Traumhof Trips

In late January, Johnny responded to Kevin's plea for help with various projects at Traumhof, the dressage horse boarding and training facility that they own and Jessica manages. Johnny worked up there for a week on various projects... and took photos of some of them...

He fixed a drippy sink faucet...

 ...installed a garbage disposal in Jessica's sister Sarah's new condo

...installed a closet door in Sarah's condo...

...repaired the 1985 dump truck my dad had given Kevin and Jessica many years ago... it's still running and in constant use...

...repaired a check valve  by using a carved down chopstick and a safety pin...

...and lots more.

 He also ate very well and went to a very fancy movie theater.

Meanwhile, back on the farm, I trimmed all 3 horses' hooves, clipped the milking goats' udders, and started on hoof trimming of all the goats. I also harvested the last of the carrots and onions and potatoes now that the ground had finally thawed and cleaned up flower beds. I did not take photos of any of that.

One week after Johnny's return, (after I had finished most all the hoof trimming... and my monthly column for United Caprine News and started on the "jungle room" project... more about that another time), I drove to Traumhof to watch grandson Ian play the lead in all three of his school's performances of Neil Simon's comedy, "Fools".  Ian was amazing. His school's drama teacher is amazing. The play was well staged and funny. Everyone thought Ian's performance was terrific. I told everyone who would listen that I was Ian's grandma... Ian's very proud grandma.

I took no photos of the play but stole this one off Jessica's facebook page of all of us after the opening night performance.

left to right: friend and "titular grandma" Bonnie, Jessica, Ian, friend Gary, me, Kevin, friend Susan

I also got to watch Jessica ride her schoolmaster Lily in a riding lesson. Jessica is a wonderful rider. I cannot even imagine being able to ride like that. 4th level dressage test, here they come!

Although I did not do plumbing or carpentry or electrical repairs at Traumhof, like Johnny had done, I did prune plants and cleaned up the greenhouse. I did not take photos of any of that. What I *did* take photos of, though, was the Christmas village and tree still up in their living room. I am so glad it was still up for me in February. Every night I turned on the lights. It was lovely.

I took lots of photos of the village. I love the detail with wee birds in trees, rabbits and squirrels on the ground... and horses!

On Saturday, I visited Jessica's sister Sarah in her lovely, new condo, but I did not do any work as Johnny had done. I just admired the view, the spacious condo, and her cats. Here is a photo Johnny took of the window shades (rolled up) that he installed while there. You can see the cat tree and some of her view. There were swans flying by when I was there.

I left Sunday morning anticipating meeting my cousin Sharon at her apartment in Longview on my way home, as we had planned. However, when I arrived, she was not there. I finally reached her by phone... in the hospital!  Thankfully, she is home now and getting more of the help she needs. But on Sunday, I didn't know what was going on and was pretty upset not knowing, so I decided to get off the freeway at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge and walk out my anxiety while birdwatching.

Alas, I had never been to Ridgefield NWR before and got lost. As I hit a dead end, there in front of me, behind a messy wire fence, was Mt. St. Helens... big and beautiful. So I rolled down my car window and took a photo.

On my next attempt I took a different road out of the round-about (Washington is full of round-abouts) and arrived at the refuge in lovely warm and sunny weather. In the marshy distance were hundreds of swans... far, far away. My camera helped bring some closer.

 The nature trail that is open year round had informative signs along it. I took photos of a few. I liked this over-400-year-old oak tree.

At another point on the trail was a Red-breasted Sapsucker, busily pecking on a branch... so busy that it was tough getting a photo of his head.

Relaxed, I drove on homeward. It was good to see Johnny and my animals again. Rain and wind had kept Johnny busy while I was gone. The plastic protecting what's left of the old barn, or rather its lumber contents, had been ripped off.

And the one wall left standing was now flat on the ground.

The torrential rains of the last few weeks had eroded the dam and left gaping holes.

Gaping, deep holes...

Since I drive over the dam every morning in my EZ Go to load up the manure I clean each day out of the horse barn, Johnny put a piece of plywood over the holes. Works for now.

The day after my return, Monday, February 13, was a lovely, sunny day... so we climbed Spirit Mountain. It was our 50th wedding anniversary. That story next time.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Raptor Runs

It has been challenging working in our two raptor routes in January, between icy roads, illness, and out-of-state trips. We finally had two days, back to back, with reasonably cooperative weather when we were both home and not coughing: Jan. 24 and 25.

We did the Grand Ronde route the first day. That route extends from a few miles west of Grand Ronde to Sheridan, with lots of side road excursions. I had both cameras with me since I've learned that some of those distant accipiters, in particular, are very hard to tell apart. A photo zoomed up on the computer is a great help. However, taking photos slows things down and we had to skip one usual side trip in order to finish before dark. Happily, the owners of that property were home and reported to me what they saw that day. Another cooperator reported a Great Horned Owl heard at her place that night. I love my route cooperators!

The first distant bird that I spent too much time photographing, I admit, was not an unknown. It was White Wing, the mostly white Red-tailed Hawk that has hung out in the Grand Ronde area for many, many years. I don't know how long but the first time I saved an email about it was in 2005. Here it was on Jan. 24, 2017. I wish I could have had a photo from the back, showing the white wings and red tail. Maybe next time...

We were happy to see the two White-tailed Kites still at Shenk Wetlands. I was afraid our long spell of freezing, snowy weather would have driven them off. Hopefully, they'll nest in the area this year as they have in the past. But for the first time in several years, we missed seeing Red-shouldered Hawks anywhere on the route. Hopefully, they did not leave during the cold weather.

The most exciting find was a Merlin right in Willamina. I snapped a quick photo and then it flew. My shot does not show the white line over the eye well, but if you look closely you can see the narrow white bars between wide dark bars in the tail. I'm still hoping for a decent photo of a Merlin someday. They don't tend to sit for long in one spot and when they fly, they disappear in an instant. Falcons are fast!

There is a large elk herd in the Sheridan area, reportedly 120 strong. We saw them, or some of them, resting on a hillside as we scanned for raptors.

The Rough-legged Hawk we had seen the month before just west of Sheridan was in almost the same spot again this day. Naturally, I took a photo.

 Below is the photo I took the month before on the route...

 The next day, Wednesday, Jan. 25, we headed east for our North Santiam route that starts in Salem where Highway 22 crosses I5 and extends to Gates with roads both north and south of 22. It started out well with more than the usual Red-tailed Hawks and American Kestrels, but soon fell back to its ordinary, low numbers.

In Mehama/Lyons, we buy lunches-to-go at the Dragon Gate restaurant and take them to John Neal/Lyons City park to eat them while we watch for raptors. Then I hike around the ponds looking for Red-shouldered Hawks that we used to see there. No luck for the last several years on those birds, but I did find two accipiters and lots of waterfowl.

These Gadwalls are always here.

This time, they were joined by lots and lots of Northern Shovelers.

But the most exciting find of the day was an otter.

It did not see me taking photos until after it had slipped into the water and been fishing for a time. When it spotted me, it followed me along the bank, growling. This is just what the otters that occasionally visit our farm pond do. They are very feisty critters.

Oh, and those distant raptors. This one was *really* distant... and behind branches. I used my Nikon Coolpix P900 with the super zoom to bring it up closer.

Sometimes, with Accipiters, I find the tail the most helpful id point. Cooper's have shorter feathers on the outside of their tails, giving the tails a rounded appearance. In contrast, Sharpshins often show a notch in their tail.

 Rounded tail on this bird made me call it a Cooper's. The other accipiter flew in as I was scoping the above bird... much closer. It was the size of a Sharpshin and flew with the rapid wingbeats of a Sharpie.
Our route ends where it began in Salem. We then go to a restaurant for supper, usually Mina's in South Salem, for their delicious Pho. This time,  I talked Johnny into driving home after supper via River Rd. and across the bridge to Independence instead of going through Salem. It's a long way around but scenic. Instead of cutting over to Hwy 99 at Independence, I always drive on to Rogers Rd. and take it to 99. This time a Short-eared Owl appeared at dusk over the field beside the road. A great ending to a long day.

February looks to be as crowded with out-of-state trips as January, so who knows when our next raptor routes will be. It is always interesting to see what we find whenever we go.