Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Birding Marathon Months

Our birding marathon months of May and June are almost over. Today we completed the Breeding Bird Survey, having left home at 7 p..m. last night after doing evening chores early. It took 2 1/2 hours to drive to our camping spot at Valley of the Giants... a mere 12.7 miles from our back door, as the crow flies, but 62 miles by road, the last ten or so negotiable at no more than 15 miles per hour thanks to a cratered road.

My assigned start time was 4:58 a.m. at a 1/2 mile hike from our campsite. I was cursing Roy Gerig, the originator of this route, for starting the BBS there as I tripped over downed logs and fought my way through eight foot high salmonberry tangles in the dark... and fell into a hole made by uprooted giant trees. But when the Marbled Murrelets began calling at Stop #1, I forgave him. Somewhat.

Marbled Murrelets are robin-sized sea birds that fly inland to nest on the broad, moss-covered branches of old growth trees. It was many years before biologists figured out where these ocean-dwelling birds nested. It's a thrill to stand under a huge, tall fir in the middle of an old growth forest and hear sea birds flying in at dawn to feed their nestlings. I just wish they could fly in a bit later.

The return trip to camp was less eventful since it was now light enough to see the path (to use the term "path" loosely) without my flashlight... which had not saved me from the root hole. The rest of our route is on roads, some deeply potholed and only traverse-able at 15 mph, but at least they are drivable. Besides Marbled Murrelets, I found American Dippers at 3 stops... a new record for the route. And Purple Martins finally came close enough to stop #50 to be counted... if they had come during my 3 minutes, which they did not. I only have 3 minutes per stop to count all the birds I hear or see... mostly hear. Johnny took a photo of me tallying birds during my three minutes at one stop.
The Agency Creek Riparian survey about which I've written earlier was completed last week, with all paperwork duly mailed off last Friday. Hooray! I hate paperwork.

Also last week, I tried again to find nesting Black Oystercatchers at Road's End. I was not successful in confirming that any are nesting... or not nesting. The BLOY were not cooperative that day. But the wildflowers on top of The Thumb were lovely. And so was the view, as always.

Now it's time to stay home and catch up on gardening, weeding, hoof trimming and shearing, to name a few long neglected tasks. And to ride my horses. And take photos of interesting things on the farm. Like this flashy garter snake that sunned himself (herself?) yesterday on the raised bed outside our attached greenhouse/jungle room. A second identical snake slithered away before I took this photo. What a handsome pair!

We'll still be hitting the coast from time to time to check on Black Oystercatchers, but the major bird surveys are done for the time being. Surely I will remember next year not to sign up for quite so many...

Friday, June 25, 2010

A Taste of the Farm in June

This could have been titled "The Ugly Raised Bed Projects". The original ugly raised beds, now painted and/or full of cool weather edibles, look better. The potatoes look very happy in their manure spreader, don't they? And we are eating daily salads of radishes, chard and lettuce.

But the new "raised beds" (old tires stacked with potatoes planted within) are truly hideous. I had a bucket full of little potatoes left after planting the manure spreader, so finally planted them in tires in the chicken yard. My plan is to leave the potatoes in the tires all winter with some rain protection (probably as ugly as the current chicken protection) in hopes the potatoes keep without rotting or sprouting. The tires, I'm hoping, will keep the spuds from freezing. There is wire mesh below the tires to keep the gophers out. Time will tell if my plan works.

Notice the pile of lovely compost in the garden beyond the tires. Johnny brought that with the tractor so I can, finally, plant the warm weather garden, now that it is finally warm. This is a new record for lateness to get the corn, beans, etc., in the ground... today's project.

I could also have called this blog entry "What the Goats Didn't Eat". I left a gate open recently and the goats, naturally, went through it. They started with an apple tree, moved on to the comfrey patch, my peas in one of the green boxes, then hit the roses and blueberry bushes. Damn goats. But they didn't get everything. Pictured are some of the roses that escaped, including my "blooming poplar tree", abloom with the climbing rose "Paul's Himalayan Musk". Too bad I can't capture the fragrance in a photo.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Live Strong on Father's Day

On Father's Day, Seattle held the Livestrong Challenge, a bike ride and run to benefit the foundation founded by Lance Armstrong, supporting cancer patients. Kevin and Ian (age 8) rode their tandem bicycle in the 45 mile portion. Johnny was able to go up by train to spend the weekend and cheer them on. Jessica took most of these wonderful photos. The above photo she shot through her car window. Kevin took the photo below. I don't think I want to know how he managed that!
The pair had been training for months, riding up and down the hills around their home near Carnation, Washington. Here they are on a training ride.
But the Livestrong Challenge 45 miles was their longest ride to date. In spite of rain and cold, Ian did great and was still going strong at the finish. Those bananas he ate at every rest stop must have helped. Look at that mudstreak up his back!

Here's Ian, warming up at a rest stop, cold but still smiling!

Heading back to the car after the ride, Ian is one proud and happy little boy. What a great Father's Day for Kevin.

Together Ian and Kevin brought in over $2,300 for the foundation. Thanks to all who supported them financially and otherwise.

Friday, June 18, 2010

My Annual Shakespeare Fix... and Birds

On my whirlwind day and a half trip to Ashland this week I had dinner with old friends, saw two plays, attended two lectures, two green shows and a backstage tour, drove many miles there and back, and seriously overtired myself. However, I had a great time and am home and a little rested now. Although I meant to take a photo of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's magnificent outdoor theater to prove I was there, instead I took photos of Mt. McLoughlin looming over Medford and a very bold Scrub Jay that friend Ruth feeds peanuts to in her Medford back yard. If you look closely, you may be able to pick out the blue jay burying a peanut in the rose garden. It's easier to see in the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x3JxsqyYCGQ

Before I left home, I took a photo of the unusually tame Swainson's Thrush that has taken up residence in our back yard.
Somehow, my photos seem to be dominated by birds. And my trips, no matter their purpose, turn into bird trips. I stopped at the Merlin rest stop on my way home and hiked to the road behind where all sorts of interesting birds have been reported. I saw and heard an Ash-throated Flycatcher, my first, but my photos and video are pretty sad. You can, however, hear the flycatcher doing its characteristic vocalization on my videos, should you be interested. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dY_PY3JZmPo and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybrhnAaDE8o

Johnny managed to do the chores for me, bless his heart and newly healed back. While he was on duty and I was off playing, the two barn owl babies flew the coop. Or rather, the loft. I'm hoping the parents start a second brood. These left so quickly that we were unable to have our customary Owl Party. That is when we invite interested folks to come of an evening and watch the babies learning to fly. Usually the fledglings practice for an evening or two, crashing into tree limbs, before heading out. It's fun to watch.

Instead, I watched swallows flying over the OSF outdoor stage as the flag went up for Henry IV, Part One. As always the productions were magnificent. Hamlet, the night before Henry, was like no Hamlet I have ever seen... if you like Shakespeare, go see it (if it isn't sold out completely through the end of the season.) How fortunate we are to have such an incredible theater company right here in Oregon... a mere 250 miles or so from the Fink Family Farm.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

What Was I Thinking???

What was I thinking when I signed up for all these bird surveys in May and June? Didn't I remember that these are busy months on the farm with gardening and goat milking, mowing and weeding? And when the weather turns nice, it would be nice to ride my horses. Instead, all I do is survey birds.

Of course, I had no way of knowing that Johnny would be incapacitated for a month, further complicating matters... since he's my prime survey partner. Nor did I know it was going to be cold and drippy for weeks on end.

But Johnny seems all well now, the sun is out, and I have some lovely photos to remind me of the surveys completed. More surveys are in the offing, but for the next few days, I will change gears and do something besides chase birds. Here are some of my favorite scenes from surveys of the past few weeks.

The Rufous Hummingbird on a wild delphinium is from the Agency Creek riparian survey. So is the Hairy Woodpecker taking a grub to feed young'uns in a nest hole.

Our Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) scouting trip found young American Dippers being fed by parents. If you have a very good monitor and very good eyes, you may spot three of those birds in this photo on rocks in lovely (and appropriately named) Boulder Creek.
Easier to spot is this young Dipper on a rock in Warnicke Creek.

That survey begins at the 51 acre Valley of the Giants, home of impressively huge old growth Hemlock and Douglas Fir trees. It's a beautiful place. The log is along the way to our first survey point. I sit and rest here among the big trees.

Today I climbed The Thumb at Road's End to look for Black Oystercatchers and determine if they are nesting. I found one pair, not nesting, and these wildflowers. The sea was wilder than I usually see it and just as beautiful.

It's not such a bad deal, I guess, this bird surveying. At least, not in the looking back at it.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Murder on the Farm!

Today started out badly. Shirley Puppy was barking outside our window at 5 a.m. Johnny heard her first and woke me. I jumped up, slipped on the lined coveralls I keep by the bed for just such occasions, and ran outside and to the barn for the big flashlight, which I stupidly had left there instead of in the house. Shirley led me past the machine shed to the arboretum, where my light found scattered feathers, blood, and a large scat (feces). The feathers were from our peahen, who had been nesting I knew not where in the arboretum. The scat was from whatever had killed her.

Shirley led me onward to the fence, where there were more feathers and blood and a place where the woven wire was stretched and the predator had obviously gone through with my peahen. Many down feathers had been rubbed off on the wire as the hen was dragged through it. The neighbors' side of the fence is heavily wooded with a dense brush layer. I could not see into it.

I knew I shouldn't let the peahen nest outside but the turkeys are nesting in the indoor peafowl pen. I had hoped to find her nest and protect it somehow, but that was unrealistic. I should have locked her up. Too late now. Sad and discouraged, I went back to bed.

Two hours later I went outside again and turned the chickens loose. They are barricaded inside at night to keep any more from getting eaten. First it was Mighty Mouse, my bantam rooster, and then, a week later, a second chicken was nabbed when I forgot to prop the heavy concrete block against the door one night. A raccoon nudged the door aside and managed to kill one of only two Buckeye pullets that I'd bought with that group of chicks neighbor Irv raised for me. Since then there's been a live trap set in the chicken yard at night plus a barricaded door. I've caught nothing.

I had been hoping to sleep in this morning after our early morning wake-up yesterday. We had to be up at 4:15 to make it to our first survey point by 5 but Shirley Puppy awakened us at 3 a.m. instead with her barking. That time a raccoon was in the cherry tree on his way to the chicken house roof and then down into the chicken yard. The concrete block was in place so the coon could not have nabbed another chicken. At least, I hope not. However, a raccoon with a taste for chicken needs to go to the happy hunting grounds in the sky. I called Johnny out with his gun.

So this morning's predator could not have been yesterday morning's marauding raccoon. Besides, today's killer left a scat that was way too big for a raccoon. I took photos when I went out at 7 a.m. but sort of doubt anyone reading this blog wants to see my photos of blood, feathers, and feces.

At 7, I looked for the peahen's nest and found it close to the path, with four peahen eggs undisturbed. The tall grass the nest was in was beat down where the predator had taken the peahen to the spot where I'd found the scat and feathers. Too bad I had not looked for the nest at 5 a.m as the eggs might still have been warm then. The scat and blood were fresh so the evil deed must have just been done. I took the eggs anyway and put them under our setting bantam hen. They were cool but not cold. Maybe, with a lot of luck, the embryos within will survive and hatch.

I do not know what killed the peahen. It could have been coyote or bobcat. We have both around here. From what we could tell from Shirley's barking, she was keeping a healthy distance from the site where the peahen was killed. That makes me suspect the predator was a bit too big for her to tackle. As soon as I have time to deal with a pup, I will get a second livestock guardian dog to help Shirley out.

Well, that's life on the farm. And, although the day started out badly, it ended well.

We had our first salad greens from my raised box plantings this evening. Delicious.

And, best of all by far: this is the first day since Johnny's back started seriously bothering him a month ago that he has been out of pain all day. Here's hoping every day from now on is pain free for him.

...And here's hoping the local predators find some wild prey to feast on instead of my poultry.

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Lost and Found Day

My day started early. I left the house at 4:45 a.m. to start a riparian survey on Agency Creek, beginning with three stops on our farm. I am not an early morning person. I have no trouble waking up, but getting my brain functioning is another thing entirely.

Loaded down with the necessary tools of the trade: GPS, watch, cell phone, clipboard with data forms, timer, binoculars and camera, I staggered out the door and hiked the 1/4 mile or so to my first stop through misty rain. I dutifully pulled Dad's watch out of my vest pocket and peered at the time in the near dark, punched the timer, and jotted down all the birds I heard. I certainly couldn't see them but they were cheerfully bubbling away as birds tend to do in the early dawn.

At the conclusion of the 5 minute survey, I fought my way through soggy bushes to spot #2... and discovered that the watch was gone. It must have dropped out of the vest pocket... somewhere. Fortunately, I had my cell phone for telling time. It would not be a big deal to lose a watch except it was my Dad's and I've kept it with me ever since Dad died. But the survey had a time limit so I hurried onward.

By 6 a.m., I was done with our three sites and ready to head up Agency in the car. Johnny wanted to come with. He had a very bad day yesterday but riding in the car has been feeling good to him so he gave it a try. And it turned out to be fine. Something about riding in a car relaxes Johnny. In fact, when I'm driving, he always falls asleep. He says it's because he's afraid of my driving so it's better to keep his eyes closed, but I know he comes close to falling asleep when he's driving so I don't believe that. Besides, I'm a very safe driver. Most of the time.

When we came home about 10 a.m., I hurried out to milk goats and feed the patient horses. With chores finally done around noon, I hiked back to site #1, overlooking the creek behind the horse pasture. I was hoping the watch had dropped out right away and would be there in the bushes at site #1 waiting for me. And it was! Oh happy day. I put the watch in a deeper pocket.

Back in the house after eating breakfast at lunch time, I sat down to fill out the paperwork and upload today's photos from the camera. I couldn't find the camera. I searched the house, all my pockets, under the seats in the car, in the barn in case I'd taken it out there after we returned home. No camera. We discussed where I'd last used it. I wasn't sure but knew I'd taken photos of a flycatcher 3 stops from where we quit.

Back in the car we went and up the road. Johnny drove and I got out and hiked into all the sites where I'd trekked after the last photos were taken (near as I could remember). I fall down in the underbrush often so I searched those sites thoroughly. At the very last site where we stopped, I remembered clambering through downfalls trying to find a better viewpoint of a Dipper on a rock in the stream... and falling between logs. I retraced my steps, fell again, and found the camera! I must have had the camera strap over just my shoulder instead of head and shoulder, so when I fell it slipped off without me noticing. I don't even have the excuse that it was still dark as it was at 5 a.m. for the first stop, when I lost the watch.

But all's well that ends well and all that was lost is found. We plan to do the second half of our survey tomorrow, starting at 5 a.m. where we left off yesterday. Here's hoping that I can hang on to everything, keep from breaking a leg in the downfalls, and that Johnny's back still enjoys the drive.

The flycatcher came out as just a silhouette. But the value of that photo lies in the fact that I took it, and thus had a place to start looking for the lost camera.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Agency Creek and Google

My latest bird survey requires survey points to be at least 200 meters apart. Yes, I'm doing yet another survey. This one I actually get paid for, although Johnny figured out I'll be getting about $3/hour after all the extra time I put in setting up my data points and filling out the paper work. After last Monday's first expedition to select points, I think that estimate is down to more like $2/hour.

After identifying, photographing, and finding the GPS coordinates for, plus notating all the trees/shrubs/herbs I could identify on, 16 sites (as many as I got to in 4 hours of struggling through the underbrush last Monday), I wondered if my sites were each really 200 meters apart. However, I had no clue how to figure that out. A search through the GPS instructions was no help. So I turned to Google.

"finding distances between GPS points" is what I entered in the search box. Immediately, Google gave me this site: http://boulter.com/gps/distance/ Oh happy days! All I need do is write in the coordinates for two sites and presto! I am given the distance in kilometers between them (.2 km being the 200 meters I need).

What I am finding is that I am a lousy judge of distances.

I know that our driveway is about 200 meters long. But transferring that visual image to the woods alongside Agency Creek, where the survey takes place, is problematic. I need enough points along the creek, before it heads uphill into montane habitat, rather than strictly riparian habitat, to fill four and a half hours (from 5 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.) on two mornings. Ten days or more later, I do the same survey in reverse. I count all the birds I hear or see within 5 minutes at each site, then make my way as quickly as possible to the next point, 200 plus meters away.

There are about 6 miles worth of proper riparian habitat along Agency Creek, starting with our farm, so it would seem fairly simple to get enough data points, 200 meters apart, in that distance, to use up 9 hours. However, the creek is not easily accessible for much of its length. Believe me, I know, having tried to access it last Monday. It's a jungle out there. I've been nettled, tripped, and bushwhacked, so I am sticking to trails made by some human before me or by deer.

The sites I walk into, rather than drive to, seem much longer between points than that wonderful website that Google found seems to think they are. My five sites on our farm are now down to three. Altogether, I've had to reduce the 16 sites I found on Monday to 12. And there are only 2 more miles of Agency Creek left for sites.

I may have to do more bushwhacking through this Northwest Rain Forest to create more data points. Here are photos of the vegetation looking upstream and downstream from one rather typical data point. Scrambling 200 meters through that without a path is a daunting proposition. And, since the line I take is anything but straight, I have no clue how far I've really gone, until I check into the Google-identified website after I return home. Then it's back to the site to add another 50 or 100 meters... As I said, my distance judgment is lousy. (Yes, I know there's supposed to be a way to have the GPS tell me when I'm a certain distance from my last data point, but for this near-Luddite, that is way too difficult to figure out.)

My hourly wage keeps getting lower. But there are benefits. The cute little Black-throated Gray Warbler at the top of the page was spotted on Monday's excursion. And Agency Creek really is a beautiful stream... which I occasionally get close enough to to see.