Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Quick Visit to Traumhof

Last weekend I drove up to Maple Valley, Washington, for Ian's State Gymnastic Meet, then on to Traumhof overnight and back home the next day. It was a short stay up there but I was able to spend more fun time with all three of them than usual... probably because it was not a dressage clinic weekend, which is when I usually go up. Clinic weekends are very busy.

Ian had been sick for several days before the meet so it was uncertain if he would be well enough to compete. I had been scheduled to go up on Friday but since he was sick and I didn't want to be, I did not go until Saturday morning when I got the word that he was determined to compete.

I left early enough to stop and say hi to Kinnera and John, who live in Maple Valley just a few miles from the gymnastic center. Hazel was off at the roller skating rink competing so I missed seeing her. It was a tough drive up for me in the rain and I was glad to have a stopping place to regroup and relax for a few minutes. Plus it was nice to hear a little of their news... John's new business venture and Kinnera's beginning piano lessons.

 Ian did fine but, alas, left out a straight jump by mistake in one of his runs on the mini-tramp and so "was terminated"... a rather dire way to say he earned no score. But he had fun. Here is my handsome grandson at the start of the competition, holding the Northshore Gymnastics banner.

After the competition, we went home to feast on Jessica's delicious chicken soup and salad. And I got to see Ian's new computer server. He saved money to buy the components (with a little help from family) and then put them together himself. Here he is at his work station under his bed.

Sunday I rose early (as always) and took a walk up their quiet, woodsy road and then around Traumhof. I like to check on the trees I brought up many years ago and planted. This row of evergreens along the barn is doing very well. Someone has pruned them nicely; likewise the dwarf ones in pots.

Kevin, Ian and I played a board game that was intriguing: Pandemic. Players, each with a different role and different skill sets, must cooperate to save the world from a pandemic. It is the most cooperative game I've ever played and takes a lot of brain work. I left that part to the two brains I was playing with and let them tell me where to move and what actions to take to save the world. We succeeded, but just barely.

Ian also played bowling with me on his X Box since that is the one game I'm good at. Wish I was that good at real bowling. If the Lanes had bowls that didn't weigh anything, I might be.

Their beautiful Bengal cats entertained us. Well, Bangle mostly sat around looking elegant.

Jasmine is the playful one, but here she is stretched out full length, relaxing. What a gorgeous cat!

I also enjoyed spending time in the Traumhof barn of horses. This boarding and dressage training barn is full! Here Jessica combs her beloved Elfin's forelock. I missed getting photos of them kissing. Elfin likes to give and get kisses and Jessica loves obliging.

Here are those lips eating honey off a spoon. A spoiled horse? Well, honey is good for her digestion... and she loves honey.

Since I always get photos of Ian, cats, horses and sometimes even Jessica... but almost never Kevin, I took one of him in his natural habitat: at the computer.

After lunch it was time for me to leave. Ian sat down to do his homework. Like father, like son.

 The trip home was easier than the trip up. The weather was lovely and I was well fed and well rested.

It has not been restful since I've been home. We are in super spring cleaning mode thanks to the sometime-resident chipmunk and an outbreak of carpenter ants... plus a winter's build-up of dust and grime that we have ignored too long... but can ignore no longer with company coming.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Johnny's Chipmunk

Although I'm writing this on April 1st, this is no joke. Last week Johnny spent one miserable night as a result of food poisoning. (This can happen when you buy a sandwich in town, eat half of it and leave the other half sitting out for hours before finishing it off.) The next couple of days he spent either in bed or in a reclining chair, totally wasted.

On the second day, Johnny was sitting in his chair with his legs stretched out when a chipmunk jumped up on his legs and stood there for, Johnny says, at least 20 seconds, staring at him. Then it wandered around his legs for another ten seconds before jumping down and running off.

I should admit that our house has not been chipmunk proof for some time... they come in through cracks between wall and floor in Johnny's study not infrequently. But they usually flee when they spot one of us. This is the first time one has climbed onto someone's lap.

Although Johnny said the chipmunk was very cute, he decided it was time to block off the growing separation between wall and floor after he was functional again. And he did, yesterday. We both hoped the chipmunk was back outside when Johnny finished. Alas, it became apparent last night, while we were in bed, that there was still a chipmunk in our house. And from the way it was prowling around our bedroom, it could not find a way out. Although the room was dark, we could tell a small furry creature had  climbed up onto the bed next to Johnny's head.  (He seems to be a chipmunk magnet.) The chipmunk was apparently looking for a way out the window, which was closed, next to the bed. So Johnny opened it.

Soon I felt the chipmunk take off from our bed... and heard a thunk as it missed the window ledge and hit the wall and fell to the floor. This gave me the giggles.

Johnny decided he could drape a towel over the window ledge. The chipmunk would be able to grab the towel and scramble up and out. Good plan, didn't work. The chipmunk leaped and pulled the towel down with him to the floor. This sent me into hysterical laughter.

Johnny did not seem to think the whole episode as riotously funny as I did. But really now, two people lying in bed in a dark bedroom, listening for a chipmunk to climb up with them, attempt to jump out an open window and crash to the floor instead... Oh dear, I'm laughing again...

Johnny decided the towel needed to make a bridge from our bed to the window. By now I was laughing so hard I don't know how a chipmunk could dare join us.

And I don't know if it did.

In the morning, Johnny took this photo of his chipmunk towel bridge. I guess we'll find out tonight if the chipmunk made it out the window or not.

I know at least one chipmunk was outside today because I saw it carry a piece of moss across our back porch. It saw me and darted under the house. Later, I saw it again with something in its mouth going somewhere and then returning an instant later with nothing in its mouth. The chipmunk was lining a nest somewhere very close to our back door. I decided to grab my camera, sit, wait and watch.

Soon the chipmunk reappeared around the corner of the house. It was carrying what looked like wood chips or something not nearly so soft as moss, but it scampered to one of my big planters and disappeared inside, reappearing an instant later and running back under the house. I went over to investigate.

The chipmunk has excavated a hole in the dirt under my sage plants. (I have perennial herbs in big pots right outside the back door for use in the kitchen year round.).

I went back to the path and waited some more. Soon the busy little creature reappeared. I attempted to take a photo of it going down the hole in my sage pot but it was too fast for me. However, when it reappeared it saw me and stopped and stared for a few seconds.

Apparently, one branch of my sage was annoying the little homemaker and so it snapped it off.

Then it darted out of the pot and around to the back of the house again, probably finding more somethings to use in her (I'm assuming it's a her) nest. I left her to finish lining her nest in peace.

I'm just glad the nest is not in our bedroom.

Monday, March 17, 2014

March in Photos on St. Patrick's Day

Although I've not been blogging here yet this month, I have written several posts for my trees, birds, and wildflower blogs. Links to those blogs are, I think, somewhere on this page.

St. Patrick's Day snow

Here on the farm, the flowerbeds and paths are abloom with daffodils (which means deadheading season has begun); the lawn has been mowed once; weather has been alternately sunny, rainy, warm, and cold. As of today, snow is back on the south hills. All of which proves the western Oregon adage: If you don't like the weather, wait fifteen minutes and it will change.

The greenhouse, no matter the weather, is abloom with fragrant Clivia.

In the new barn, baby goats have started arriving.

Princess Two and her one day old kids

Ebonita with her minutes old twins

A college class from Linfield, Human Adaptive Strategies, came out here for a field trip to look for edible wild plants in our woods, namely nettles. They came on March 7, before much was out... except nettles... and a lot of water on the trails.

I planted lots more trees in the arboretum from Burnt Ridge Nursery. Here's hoping they survive. They are just sticks now. Someday, hopefully, the two Japanese plums planted in the Japanese section, near Mom's Dollar Tree, will grow up and bloom. Here is Mom's Dollar Tree budding out.

Bobcats continue to be seen on our trail cameras, along with deer, birds, rabbits, opossums and too many raccoons.

The Barn Owls have begun nesting in the new barn. Swallows are fighting over their gourd houses. Those stories and photos are on my Birds blog.

We ran the last two wintering raptor routes of the season... Grand Ronde and North Santiam. The biggest surprise of the Grand Ronde route was a large herd of elk seen through misty rain atop a hill.

Yesterday, for the first time in quite a few years, we bought two weaner pigs. Bringing them home from friend Autumn's was an adventure. In the past, we have put weaner pigs in burlap bags, which works great: plenty of air and strong enough to contain them. But burlap bags no longer exist so we stupidly took boxes instead of our kennel crate. But when Autumn brought the pig to the van (we started with just one pig), Johnny told her to throw it in loose, so she did. Why he said that, I have no idea. Now he says it was a dumb thing to do. No kidding.

 Before we were out the driveway, piglet had pretty much destroyed everything in the van and ripped open the sack of pig poo which Johnny had gathered to prime a poop spot in our pig pen. So I grabbed the pig and stuffed it into a box with another box on top and attempted to hold the boxes together. Piglet quickly made mincemeat of the box and was loose again, climbing on the gas pedal. I caught it and held the squirming, protesting beast on my lap all the way home.

Things went better after we arrived home. Introduction to livestock guardian dog McCoy was a non-event. McCoy thought the pig interesting, but not worth much excitement. The pig felt the same way about McCoy.

No sooner had the pig made her circuit of the pen and started eating grass than Autumn drove up with a second pig in a crate. "We thought you should have two, to keep each other company." We had talked about getting two while at her place but decided we would start with one.

They do snuggle together and I have enough extra goat milk for two. 

Besides helping me with raptor route running and pig hauling, plus doing projects for other people, Johnny continues to tear down our old barn. Now he's working on the floor and discovering some nice looking wood (after the manure is scraped off)... cedar maybe?

Friend Dawn is making bookshelves for her house out of some of our old barn wood. We will have plenty to do something with.

Through all the activities and commotion, Fred, the peacock, supervises and lends his beauty to the farm... with occasional loud, piercing comments.

                                                     Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Farewell to February

After freezing us, snowing on us, and then nearly drowning us, February ended with a lovely, warm, sunny day. The flowers in my yard, having survived the month, now declare that spring is on its way.

As a parting goodwill gift, on this last night of the month, February gave us a spectacular sunset.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Beached Bird Survey

Today we did our first Beached Bird Survey for COASST (Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team). What that means is we hike an assigned beach and look for dead birds. If we find them, we use the Beached Birds key to figure out, hopefully, what they are. Then we tag them with colorful tags that represent numbers, take measurements and photos and fill out data sheets. Believe it or not, hundreds of volunteers all up and down the Pacific Coast do these surveys monthly.

I took the training in October but my assigned beach, Salmon River,  is rather problematical to get to. We either have to go through private property (Camp Westwind) which means coordinating with them... something that I haven't been able to do... or canoe across the river to the beach from Knight Park. That requires outgoing tides and ingoing tides at the right time so we're not fighting current. And we need decent weather of which we've had little. Today, it all worked out and we had an easy paddle downstream and back up after our survey.

I left my good camera home (out of danger of a dunking) and let Johnny take the photos with his little camera. He dutifully took the photos we were supposed to take and nothing else.  Next time I'll bravely take my camera and try to get photos of something besides beach, debris and dead birds.

This is the start of our survey area, near the mouth of the Salmon River, looking toward Three Rocks. I hoped to see some Black Oystercatchers out there, since this is part of my Black Oystercatcher survey area in the summer, but two Bald Eagles were guarding the rocks, one on the south rock and one on the north rock, so there were no other birds at all out there. Except gulls on the middle rock.

Here is the wrack line on our beach that we wander through looking for bird wings or feet or whatever. That's me, wandering southward. That little dot out in the ocean is Wizard Island. It is offshore of my Road's End Black Oystercatcher (BLOY) territory. The headland in the distance blocks the view of our BLOY nest rocks off The Thumb.

 Here I've made it all the way to that headland at the south end of our 2 km long beach.

 This is the view from the south end looking north, toward Cascade Head. When we reach this south end, having walked the lower wrack line from the latest high tide, we walk back on the upper wrack line from earlier and higher high tides.

 And here is the only beached bird we found. One beached wing plus a few bones. This is the upperside of the wing with some of the dark primary feathers apparently missing.

Below is the lighter underside of the wing. I tried to follow the key but there wasn't much here to help... (and I need a lot more practice with more intact dead birds). We measured the "wing chord" at 29 cm, which eliminated many possibilities but didn't narrow it down enough for me. I'm guessing (with the help of the key) that it is (or was) some kind of loon, but since that's only a guess, I wrote Unknown on my little blackboard. Maybe someone at COASST can figure out what it really is. 

Update: someone from COASST did figure it out. Charlie Wright wrote: "The wing is just intact enough to be measurable. The tell-tale thing to look at in this find is that white "window" in the outer primary feather (white not quite at the tip, but surrounded by black). That makes it a gull. The upperwing photo shows a mix of even gray plumage, like an adult, and mottled brown plumage like a juvenile, so we call these "subadult." As for species, there's not quite enough info to tell exactly. But COASST has that handy category for Large Immature Gulls, where this one fits quite nicely."

Tonight I asked Johnny which of my many bird surveys he thinks is the craziest. He said it was a hard choice between this Beached Bird Survey, the Black Swift Survey (looking for black birds against black rocks at dusk) and the Nightjar Survey. But the Nightjar Survey won out, mostly because much of the scheduled survey period is before Nighthawks, our only likely bird of the Nightjar family, have returned from their wintering areas.

At least dead birds stay put.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Marvelous Toy

Do you remember this Peter, Paul and Mary song?

When I was just a wee little lad,
Full of health and joy,
My father homeward came one night
And gave to me a toy.
A wonder to behold it was
With many colors bright
And the moment I laid eyes on it,
It became my heart's delight.

It went "Zip" when it moved and "Pop" when it stopped,
"Whirrr" when it stood still
I never knew just what it was and I guess I never will.

 Well, I now know what it is. Our daughter-in-law Jessica gave one to Kevin for Christmas. She said he was in love with it. It is a robotic vacuum cleaner. I told Johnny and he just rolled his eyes. But at Christmas, a large, heavy package came to Johnny from Kevin. It was a robotic vacuum cleaner. Johnny rolled his eyes again and said, "We heat with wood for goodness sake!" (Not to mention we are not exactly neatniks and this thing wants a clear floor to work on.)

But boys will be boys and they love toys. Johnny started using it... and following it around the house, like Jessica said Kevin does. Kevin has even named his.

I told Johnny that Jessica said Kevin loved to watch his toy dock itself. "It wiggles its butt back and forth and looks so cute!" Kevin told her. I thought that was hilarious. Johnny said, "But it does! It moves back and forth to make contact with its charging dock. It's really cute!"

Oh my.

It first marched left, and then marched right
And then marched under a chair
And when I looked where it had gone
It wasn't even there
I started to cry, but my daddy laughed
'Cause he knew that I would find,
When I turned around my marvelous toy
Would be chugging from behind.

And with apologies to Peter, Paul and Mary...

The years have gone by too quickly it seems,
I have my own little boy
And yesterday he gave to me
A marvelous little toy:
My eyes nearly popped right out of my head
And I gave a squeal of glee!
Neither one of us knows just what it is
But I love it just like he!

It still goes "Zip" when it moves and "Pop" when it stops
And "Whirr" when it stands still
I never knew just what it was and I guess I never will.

But I know. It's a father/son bonding toy. "It doesn't take the same route every time!" Johnny told me in that excited tone little boys use. It's just as well he follows it because, in our house, its tiny holding compartment needs to be emptied frequently.

"Watch it dock!" cries Johnny. "It's so cute!"

Post script: My goodness I've heard from a lot of people who have had a similar experience with a guy and his robotic vacuum. Here is from my Japanese sister, Yoko, about her son Michito. (Yuki is Michito's wife and Ayaka their young daughter):

I laughed as I read your blog.
There was a similar scene at Michito's house.  He loves the newest electrical  appliances.  So he bought a robotic vacuum cleaner on the pretext of Yuki's help a few years ago and named it Mr.Rumba.  Yuki said to me with laugh, "It is Michito's toy." Ayaka said,"Mr. Rumba is so wise that he can return to his dock by himself."  I  asked her to lend me it for a day.  She shook her head. "No! It is  pity that he go to grandma's house. Because there is nothing to eat in your house. He like to eat the dust."

Friday, February 14, 2014

Birds, Trees and People

The snow is gone. Heavy rains are expected with flooding. However, this past week has been downright pleasant.

While the snow was still on the ground, I finished putting together the first part of my Dad's life story, "Hard Times: the Early Years", and sent it off to my sister-in-law to print and read to my brother, who helped me gather these stories from Dad in years past. My brother is now sidelined with late stage Parkinson's Disease, which he weathered remarkably well for the last twenty or so years. I hope to finish putting together Dad's story while Bob can still enjoy it.

On Monday, the snow had lost its ice cover, but also it's allure. I decided to make a snow angel before it disappeared entirely. I remember how fun it was in my youth to lie on the snow and wave my arms and legs to make the angel shape. But what I could not remember was how to stand up without wrecking my snow angel. I seem to be a bit less agile than in my youth. Johnny's comment: "That snow angel has a big bottom."

The horses, who love to romp in the snow, except when it's covered with ice, were showing signs of tiring of the white stuff by Monday.

Where's the grass?

 The trees, however, were happy to be de-iced. And this early-flowering tree opened its blooms undamaged by the ice coating of the day before. That green stuff is moss, not leaves.

On Tuesday, most of the snow was gone and roads were clear so Johnny and I drove my North Santiam raptor route (an East Cascades Audubon Society project), a route that includes Dad's old ranch up by Gates. I started this route in the last years of Dad's life, when I spent much time with him and this route was fun for both of us. Dad died in 2008. It took me a couple years to start the route again, but I finally did.

Last Sunday, Dad's good friend and neighbor Jay emailed that he and his helper, Jared, had seen a Golden Eagle on their place that day. I suspected it was a juvenile Bald Eagle but knew I'd need my Wheeler book on raptors for them to see photos and figure it out.

We saw three adult Bald Eagles on our route before we got to Jay's alleged Golden Eagle locale. Johnny or I would spot a white spot in the distant trees and, looking through binoculars, the spot would morph into an adult Bald Eagle. Here's one.

At our lunch stop at the Lyons City and John Neal Parks, we saw Ring-necked Ducks and the lovely Gadwalls, that seem to always be there.

Ring-necked Ducks


Also at the park was a Pileated Woodpecker, preening and declaring its ownership of this big snag.

The "Golden Eagle" of Jay's did turn out to be a young Baldie and, after looking at the photos in Wheeler's book, our friends agreed. They now know the differences and will keep reporting what they see. It was fun visiting with Jay and  Cindy, catching up on news of their kids and grandkids. In fact, my birding trips this week have been more about connecting with people than birds.

By Wednesday, our snow was gone and the rain had not begun. So I planted the trees that had been waiting patiently in our greenhouse/solarium/porch for over a week, since before the temperature dropped dramatically. The ground was wonderfully soft from all that melted snow it had just incorporated. I have never had such easy digging. The arboretum now has many more Redwoods, Pacific Yews, Madrone, Pacific Dogwoods and Evergreen Huckleberries. (Although I think the dogwoods were already dead. They don't transplant well and I've had very poor luck keeping them alive.)

I also planted lots of Redwoods down by the river, in our River Redwood Grove which has a few Redwoods and lots of Port Orford Cedars from past plantings, and a great tangle of stickery bushes under a few alders and firs. That is an area flooded nearly yearly and the alders topple over regularly, even the ones not girdled by beavers.

Also on Wednesday, a Yellow-rumped Warbler appeared, attempting to eat the last crumbs from a suet feeder. I had just told fellow birders that we "never" get warblers here in the winter. I refilled the suet feeders and managed this poor photo of my warbler visitor... who is still here as of today, Friday.

Thursday was another birding and people day. Dawn and I drove south of Salem, where I had heard that a goat breeder friend of mine from years past was also a birder and had an unusual sparrow coming to his feeders. I had a good time reconnecting and catching up with Gene, but we did not see his sparrow. We did see his huge and beautiful Koi!

From there, we drove to Finley NWR, since we were relatively close to the refuge I rarely visit because of distance from home. Their snow had melted into raging streams so all the roads were flooded a short distance into the refuge. We drove as far as we could on each road, finding, way off in the distance, this strange hawk that took us forever to identify. It finally flew and showed the unmistakable underwing pattern of a Rough-legged Hawk. We rarely see dark phase Rough-legs and certainly none with strange white patches on the back of their heads!

This Western Meadowlark was considerably easier to identify.

On the way home, we swung through Baskett Slough NWR, hoping to see Horned Larks or Short-eared Owls that we had missed at Finley. No luck on either but we did see, way off across the field, the head and ears of a Great-horned Owl on her nest. I knew about this nest from years past. It's not easy to tell from my photos what you're looking at but, trust me, there's an owl in that nest.


After last week's cold and snow, it was nice to enjoy dry weather, plant trees, bird and visit with people.

The rains have still not begun on this Valentine's Day. Who knows, maybe that Yellow-rumped Warbler is a harbinger of an early, mild and merely-drizzly spring.