Thursday, May 27, 2010

Silver Linings

Every cloud, they say, has a silver lining. The cloud over our house these last several weeks has been Johnny's bad back. I have found several silver linings in that cloud but I'm not sure Johnny would agree.

First, his being laid up and stuck in the house meant he had time to crack walnuts for me. I wanted them to make butter pecan ice cream. We don't have pecans but we have several sacks of walnuts from my Dad's walnut orchard, gathered a couple years ago. They don't taste too great raw, but cooked in butter, they're wonderful. At least, they are when I don't burn the butter. I've made four batches of butter walnut ice cream this week, three of which I didn't ruin with burned buttered walnuts. (Try saying that fast.) It's really delicious.

Second, since Johnny could not canoe the Salmon River with me to do a follow-up survey at 3 Rocks for our Black Oystercatcher project, I elected to climb Cascade Head from the park where we normally launch our canoe. Friend Marilyn agreed to go with me. It was a steep climb and when we finally came out into the meadow where we could look down, way down, at 3 Rocks, I found no BLOY. I didn't expect to since we'd found none on our canoe-aided survey from the beach.

But the good news is when Marilyn and I walked farther along the trail, we came to a point where we could look north. And there below us were numerous offshore rocks, the sort that BLOY just love to hang out on. I set up my scope and found two different rocks with BLOY on them. This is the first time in my years of monitoring Oystercatchers that I've found a point where I could survey the rocks on the north side of the Head. And all because Johnny hurt his back. I hope he recovers to the point where he can hike that trail with me as it is really lovely, although long. It took Marilyn and me an hour up and longer back. We birded our way slowly down the wooded, bird-filled trail where I took this blurry photo of a Hairy Woodpecker that landed right in front of us.

Today's good news is that Johnny was able to ride with me in the car to the grocery store. It will be really good news when he can go back to doing our shopping again: I hate shopping. He also rode his bicycle around our house when the sun came out. Lots of silver linings in those clouds today...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

House Wrens Housing Woes

A pair of House Wrens are trying valiantly to move into the apartment building behind our goat barn. A pair of House Sparrows are trying just as hard to keep them out. There are four apartments in the little green barn so they really should be able to coexist... but neither pair is willing to do so.When the papa wren first toured the green barn bird house, it was unoccupied. He sat on top and sang and sang. But when he brought his mate to inspect, a male House Sparrow decided his mate would like it, too. Since, then, it's been war, although each pair has chosen apartments on opposite sides.

So far, the House Sparrows have the upper hand, being twice as big. But the House Wrens are determined and feisty. The sparrows have started setting up housekeeping on one side of the apartment building. Whenever one of them ventures to the side claimed by the House Wrens, a wren divebombs and hits it. Twice I've seen a wren take a sparrow all the way to the ground. But no harm is ever done and the sparrows are undeterred and continue to chase the wrens away.

I have to admire the wrens' technique: one of them sits nearby and sings continually, as though singing will convince the sparrows that they'd be wonderful neighbors. It's not working, though.
Next year, I'll put something over the doors to make them too small for the sparrows to get in. But this year, I just wish the wrens would move to one of the three unoccupied nest boxes near the house, all with holes too small for sparrows. I don't know why they have their hearts set on the apartment building.

I spend way too much time watching the goings on. Sometimes, though, there's an added bonus. While taking photos of the wrens yesterday, something bright red flew onto a post beyond. It turned out to be this handsome Red-breasted Sapsucker.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Mighty Mouse Is No More

The tiny bantam rooster that literally ruled the roost in our chicken yard is gone. Mighty Mouse was boss of the other rooster here, who was three times bigger but totally intimidated by cocky little Mighty Mouse. They got along fine as long as Big Rooster didn't do something stupid like try to eat grain too close to where Mighty Mouse was eating. I wish I had a photo of the two of them together, to show the size difference.

Our grandchildren loved Mighty Mouse. He would come running when they threw him grain. Or even if they didn't. He would strut and show off in front of everyone until given a treat.

But something, probably a raccoon, took Mighty Mouse from the chicken house roost one night last week, leaving not one feather, just a mound of blood. I suspect a raccoon. And it probably happened because he was on the end of the line up of chickens on the roost, above the long rabbit cage I'd moved in there a few days earlier to house the half-grown chicks I would be bringing home from Irv's. The cage made an easy climb up to the roost for some predator.

I didn't know how much I loved that little rooster until he disappeared. The 24 new chicks that Irv has been raising for me are here now and out of their temporary quarters in the rabbit cage which I've removed from the chicken house. The new kids on the block are getting along fine with the older chickens, but they are no consolation for the loss of my little pal.

I do know that Mighty Mouse was growing old. His spurs made a full curl. It would have been hard on him if he'd ever aged to the point where he was no longer lord of the chicken house. Not that I think that ever would have happened...

Life goes on. But... we miss you Mighty Mouse!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sciatica, Heart of the Valley, and BLOY

Johnny's back really rebelled last week, sending shooting pains down his leg. He's still in bed most of every day. A massage therapist friend came yesterday and helped considerably. Mostly, it just takes time for the swelling to go down. We know from the MRI several years ago, when Johnny was out of commission for months, that he has herniated disks and arthritis in his spine. That's why he retired from roofing. But it's hard to keep a good man down and Johnny has probably been doing more with his back than he should. After this bout, he'll likely behave for awhile before he forgets again...

With Johnny on bed rest, I escaped during parts of three days to the Heart of the Valley horse show at nearby (one hour away) Devonwood to watch Jessica's horses and others from Traumhof (Kevin and Jessica's dressage facility in Washington.) It was fun to spend time with grandson Ian, who is so bright and articulate at 8 that my friends who came to watch the show raved over him more than over the horses. Elisienne (Lily) won her Grand Prix freestyle class so she deserved some raving over. Rudeau, Lily's son, conked himself on the stall door, burst a blood vessel in his mouth, and bled horrendously. Rudi went home without showing on Sunday. Fortunately, there is no permanent damage, just a lot of traumatized people. Here is handsome Rudi in the warm-up ring, a couple days before conking himself.

Although I took lots of videos of dressage rides, I only managed to take a few stills at the show and mostly not of horses. Here is Doug the rubber ducky mascot with his diminutive friend Howard in one of the new Traumhof chairs.

With torrential rains forecast to come again, I spent the two afternoons after the horse show doing follow-up Black Oystercatcher (BLOY) surveys. It's tough surveying Cape Kiwanda on my own. I couldn't tell if the pair I saw on the north side was the same pair I saw on the south side, after trudging up and down dunes to get there. When Johnny goes with me we head different directions and keep each other updated by cell phone. Road's End was not so bad because I can see all three BLOY territories from the same spot... the top of The Thumb. But hiking both sites on the same day was a bit exhausting.

Here's one place where I spotted BLOY at Cape Kiwanda.

There was a lot of hill and sand between me and the other sites.

Today I surveyed Fishing Rock and checked Boiler Bay as well. By then it was getting blustery and misty so I was glad to head home with only one more site to do next weekend, with friend Marilyn. We'll be hiking Cascade Head, weather permitting, to try to find BLOY on 3 Rocks where Johnny and I canoed last week when his back went out.

Of course, there are still future treks to the beautiful Oregon coast to determine which pairs are nesting... and then weekly nest checks. It's a fun job. I just hope Johnny is able to join the fun soon.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Highlights and Lowlight of our Bird Surveys

The North American Migration Count for our county was Saturday. We birded our farm plus drove up Agency Creek Rd. and counted more birds. We even found new territory we had not been to before... where a logging road that had been blocked with downed trees was now cleared. At the end of that road were some old growth Douglas Firs that we didn't know existed. Here's Johnny either looking for birds or trying to figure out where we are from the top of a big one that didn't get away from the loggers. Too bad I didn't take any photos of the standing big trees.

On Sunday we surveyed for Black Oystercatchers (BLOY) and counted for the Lincoln County NAMC at the same time. The view from The Thumb over Road's End was just as beautiful as last time. And, with the help of our scope, we found three pair of BLOY down on those rocks.

Our newest survey area, Fishing Rock, allowed a much closer view of a pair.

Tuesday Johnny found both of the pair of BLOY that live on Cape Kiwanda, one on the north side of the Cape and one on the south. He called my cell phone to tell me about the pair at the ocean end of this inlet. I was watching for them elsewhere... and watching the resident Peregrine Falcon, who had just taken a bath, at the same time.

Three of the four sites we survey for Black Oystercatchers had pairs of Black Oystercatchers who cooperated for us (i.e., were visible when we were there looking for them). The fourth site not only had no BLOY but resulted in Johnny's reinjured back. He twisted wrong while unloading the canoe. He was marginally okay for the canoe trip across the Salmon River, not for that Three Rocks/South Cascade Head survey, definitely not since then. He's on bed rest until it's better. Although this ill-fated trip had no BLOY, it did have pretty cool seals watching us from shore.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Julie's Birthday Party

The past weekend was a birding marathon... North American Migration Counts in two counties plus Black Oystercatcher surveys at four sites. We have two more days of surveys this week, but today we took off because the weather on the coast, where today's survey was supposed to be, was foggy and rainy. Instead, I went to friend Julie's 70th birthday party and going away lunch. Julie is moving across the mountains. All of us members of the Old People's Riding Club willl miss her. She's been the treasurer of our club and a good friend to all of us.

Her birthday lunch is not one she'll soon forget. I certainly won't.

We ate at McGrath's Fish House in Salem. I'm pretty sure they don't allow dogs in the restaurant. But the organizer of this do, Darlene, has a little dog, a very strange dog with a head way too big for its body, that she takes everywhere with her. She had him stuffed into a cloth zippered bag with just his nose sticking out. I didn't know about the dog when I sat across the table from her. But very soon the woman on my right, Susan, turned to me and asked, "Did you drop something?" I looked under the table... the something that my table neighbor felt "dropping" was the dog, who had left his zippered pouch and was exploring legs. Darlene dove under the table and stuffed her pet back into the bag.

All was peaceful until Darlene stood to go visit with friends at the far end of the long table. She asked the woman on my left, Karen, to put the bagged dog between us on our bench seat so he wouldn't escape the bag again when she left. Karen apparently knows this dog. However, the dog didn't appear to remember her. He growled. At her. At me. I tried very hard not to move because when I did, he made a little snap with his teeth in my direction. I hoped Darlene would come back very soon. But she did not. Thankfully, the dog fell asleep.

Darlene did come back when the food was served but did not offer to retrieve her dog, although he looked up when he heard her voice, then turned to me and growled. I held still. In a few minutes, he fell asleep again. I was glad he seemed to be a very sleepy animal because whenever he was awake, he was growling at me. I told Karen if the waiter looked our way, act like her stomach was growling. I couldn't because I was afraid to move.

We ate our lunches and then someone started us singing Happy Birthday to Julie. That woke the dog who leaped up and started growling in earnest, mostly at me. Everyone else seemed to think this hilariously funny. But they were not sitting next to the dog. I was very glad when Darlene stuffed him back into his bag and under her seat.

We had not counted on the restaurant waiters, who shortly arrived with a cake and a ludicrous fish hat which they plunked on Julie's head and started us all singing Happy Birthday again. The dog under the table growled with every note. Darlene jumped up to plop a horse figurine she'd brought onto the cake. She had the bagged dog on her arm. The restaurant staff said nothing. Perhaps they thought it was a stuffed dog. I could only wish.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Planter Box Project

It seemed like a good idea. We have three huge wooden boxes that were once used by the defunct Strawberry Patch fruit stand to hold pumpkins and squash. They've held mostly junk here until last year, when I commandeered them to plant potatoes, carrots and onions in. That worked superbly well. They are lined up against the bushes by the little creek, along with the old manure spreader where I've planted sweet potatoes in the past.

This year, I decided to plant the early vegetables in the boxes since the ground is too wet to be worked and I'm too lazy to clean out the buck pens and dump the manure/straw mix in the garden, as I did the last two years, with compost on top to plant seeds in. It was a great plan to use the boxes as well-raised beds. Too bad it isn't working.

The problem is that I have been feeding birds and chipmunks (not deliberately feeding chipmunks but they help themselves to the bird seed) in the area where I have the planter boxes. Not surprisingly, birds and chipmunks decided the boxes were full of seeds for them that I had, for some mysterious reason, buried instead of throwing on top of the ground. No problem for the critters: they dug them up and devoured them. Every one of my peas. The lettuce/chard/beet seeds were tinier and didn't get eaten until they'd pushed their first tiny leaves out of the ground... when the birds/chipmunks/whatever promptly chewed them off.

My great idea had turned sour. Not to be defeated, I replanted the peas and put netting over the boxes. The miserable little creatures ignored the netting and kept right on destroying my future food supply. Next I put plywood on top of the boxes. That seemed to stop the varmints, but did not let sunlight in. I now have a few anemic looking pea sprouts. The rest have either been eaten or are hiding under the ground, afraid to come out. Can't blame them.
The carrots are doing fine, however. They are planted in the box with onions that I started from last year's left-over onions. Apparently, birds and chipmunks don't like onions. Next time I replant, I'll put onions in all the boxes as companion plants... or, actually, guardian plants.

Besides not working as planned, the boxes are ugly. Or were ugly. I decided to paint them. Never send your colorblind husband to the store for dark green paint. What he came home with was Jazzy Juniper, a psychedelic color more blue than green. I went back to the store and bought Black Spruce. After spending the better part of this afternoon painting the hideous boxes, I showed my handiwork to Johnny. He suggested I give them a second coat.

This project is way out of hand. It may have been easier to clean the buck pens.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Crazy Over Horses

"Horses, horses, horses, crazy over horses, horses, horses..."So went the refrain of a song my mother used to sing to me. She never understood my fixation on equines but she learned to accept... and sing about it. Mom's gone but my horse addiction remains. Dad's gone, too, he who shared my love of horses. We watched every Kentucky Derby together. I waited to watch it this year until after the fact, on the computer, where I could see the video that follows the horse that ultimately wins, as well as the leaders throughout. Super Saver it was, this May 1st, with Calvin Borel aboard.

Calvin Borel is on top of his game in U.S. Thoroughbred horse racing with his third Kentucky Derby win in the last four years. Steffen Peters is on top of his game in U.S. dressage with yet another win this weekend at the Del Mar National after an incredible year of wins in both the U.S. and Europe. Steffen, however, accomplishes his wins without a whip. As exciting as horse racing is, I prefer dressage.

This past weekend, while my daughter-in-law's horses were posting their own good showings at Del Mar (each earning higher scores at each succeeding day of the show), I watched yet another horse event of a quite different nature. Dad would have loved it. As much as he admired and supported Jessica's dressage horses, he readily admitted he didn't understand dressage. What he knew, and worked with as a young man, was work horses.

Every year the Oregon Draft Horse Association holds a plowing contest at Champoeg Park. The following day, which is the day Johnny and I went, the horses harrow the field that they plowed the day before. Then oats are planted. The horses will be back later in the season to harvest them the old fashioned way. I love watching these big... and some not so big... horses doing their thing.

Horses, horses, horses, crazy over horses...

A Shattering Experience

Yesterday I raced around on my ride around tractor mowing like crazy before the rain reappeared. Later, when I went into the house, I heard what sounded like something falling off the shelf in the back room. I didn't see anything and forgot about it. Much later, when I came in from doing chores, I heard it again when I shut the back door. Still saw nothing. Intrigued, I opened the door and shut it... hard... while watching the shelf where the sound seemed to be coming from.

What I saw was a big hole in the window over the ledge where glass had fallen in. The rest of the window was a lovely mosaic of glass crystals. It's really quite attractive how safety glass shatters when it's broken. And pretty amazing that I had not noticed the shattered window earlier.

I could not imagine what had caused the glass to shatter. Outside that window is a climbing rose and a bare-at-this-time-of-year bush (Fragrant Sumac). No bird could have gone through that tangle of branches to smack the window, which is what usually smacks our windows, though none have ever broken one.

It was late and I was tired, but we were expecting a major wind and rain storm so I knew I needed to do something or the back room would be a lake by morning. What I did, of course, was go wake up Johnny who had gone to bed long before. While waiting for him to come out and rescue the situation, I took all the junk off that ledge (finding seeds from last year I'd forgotten I had!) and cleaned up the glass left on the ledge. I didn't get around to sifting all the glass pieces out of the tub of clothes pins... But I did notice two small round holes in one area with lines radiating out from them... the impact site.

Johnny finally straggled out, said, "Pretty!" and went to find a piece of wood to cover the window. He remembered hearing a thud when I was mowing. I had not heard any thud (of course, I wear ear protectors so don't hear much of anything.) But we don't have rocks in our lawn. We have not found the guilty item that shattered the window, but I suppose it was my lawnmower that did it.

Looking on the bright side, I will now get rid of all the junk on that ledge that doesn't belong there. I have to go through everything anyway to find the little pieces of glass jewels, for that's what they look like. The shattered window was pretty... in a discouraging sort of way.