Monday, January 31, 2011

BLOY Winter Survey: Day Two, Tillamook Area

We went north this time, joining friends John and Barbara for a tour of the BLOY spots near Tillamook. This was an unofficial survey since Tillamook is not in my survey area. But the BLOY areas up there can all be reached by car, no hiking over mountains or dunes or trekking for miles on beaches necessary. And it's fun to do it with birding friends. We traditionally go out for lunch on our treks with John and Barbara. In fact, sometimes lunch is of primary interest... and it was today. We had had a busy morning.

Besides the usual chores of feeding and milking and cleaning barns, I readied a kidding pen since I seem to have quite a few goats due to kid soon... none of which I bred. (But that's another story for another time.) Johnny, meanwhile, had to make a quick trip to McMinnville and back (45 minutes each way) to meet a deadline. So we left home late and hungry.

It was another lovely day, cloudy but warm. We ate lunch with John and Barbara at a favorite restaurant in Tillamook, Kendra's Kitchen. Then we were off to The Three Graces, just north of Garibaldi. The Three Graces are three rocks. Why they have that name I have no idea, especially since there are more than three.

We found four BLOY there, two adults and two juveniles, foraging on the intertidal rocks. There were many other birds in the bay which we were able to see up close thanks to John's excellent scope. But I did not get any decent bird photos.

We drove south, then, heading for Cape Meares. I couldn't resist stopping along the bay when I saw this young Bald Eagle in a tree. (They don't get their white heads until their fourth year.) Eagles seem to be plentiful on this part of the Oregon coast.

We found two pairs of Black Oystercatchers at Cape Meares. Our friends John and Barbara keep track of the BLOY and also the peregrines that nest there. During spring and summer, three pair of BLOY have territories in the cove that can be seen from a wonderful viewing platform right next to the parking lot. The peregrine nest is usually visible from that platform, too... no hiking required... and there are even benches to sit on. Such luxury! Okay, so it's a distant view of the cliffs where BLOY and peregrines nest. John's scope brings things up close. Interpretive signs on the viewing platform tell about the Black Oystercatchers and the Peregrines. I only took a photo of the BLOY sign.

Notice that pointed rock in the far distance in the Cape Meares photo above? Look closely at the zoomed up picture below and you'll see two full adult, white-headed, Bald Eagles on the top of that rock. Common Murres used to nest on the rocks off the cove until eagles began harassing them. I guess these two eagles are waiting for the Murres to come back.

A short drive south from Cape Meares brought us to Short Beach, so named because Short Creek runs into it. I wrote an earlier blog about BLOY at Short Beach. None were bathing today in the fresh water that flows to the sea, but we saw four flying and foraging nearby.

While the others stayed up by the road (pictured in my telephoto are John and Johnny), I climbed down the long staircase (no bushwhacking necessary!) and then clambered onto rocks where I could see up and down the coastline and look for BLOY.

On top of a rock was this poor crab, upside down and missing all claws except the two big pincers in front. Some gull had no doubt pulled off the legs, then dropped it onto the rock to try to break its shell. What was left of the crab wiggled its claws at me helplessly. So I turned it over. It quickly backed into a crevice in the rock with its pincers up and ready for battle. Can crabs regrow legs?

Other creatures were being dismantled... or dissolved... on the rocks exposed at high tide. Here a lovely starfish is wrapped around a hapless mussel that is being slowly digested. Makes a person glad to not be an intertidal creature.

Homeward bound, we pulled over a few miles south of Tillamook to gaze at the amazing sight of roughly two hundred Roosevelt Elk and fifty White-fronted Geese grazing in a field by the road. A fence between the road and the field kept me from getting a good photo. It was an amazing sight. Some of the younger elk were curious about the geese and kept creeping closer until the geese took flight, scaring the elk into a stampede. Soon all settled down again, geese and elk, to eat the green grass.

What a fun day with great friends, good food, and fascinating wildlife.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

BLOY Winter Survey: Day One, Road's End

What a beautiful day for hanging out at the coast: sun, no wind, and warm (for January). Johnny and I hiked up to the top of The Thumb at Road's End to look down on the site of three BLOY (Black Oystercatcher) nests. I hiked it twice, at least part way. At the top of the first hill I realized I had not locked the car, so down I went, locked it and went back up. Three quarters of the way I realized I had left the spotting scope in the car. Sigh. But my binoculars are very good and my legs were already weary and I'd forgotten my knee supports. I continued up scopeless.

At the top, two BLOY soon screamed and flew into view on a rock with barnacles uncovered by the falling tide. The two birds stayed there, feeding and hanging out for hours (too far away for a good picture). But the other two pairs who should have been visible from our elevated perch were not.

I decided to hike north to Crescent Cove to see if any BLOY were feeding in there. Johnny stayed to keep an eye on the BLOY below. I really did not want to bushwhack as I had the last time, so I took a path through the big Sitka Spruce forest and hoped that it would lead me close to, but not trespassing on, Camp Westwind property, who own everything above the high tide line of Crescent Cove. It was a lovely trail and some of those Sitka Spruces were huge.

Of course, I got lost. Suddenly the sun was on my right instead of my left. How that happened I don't know. The sound of the ocean had stopped entirely. Then I ran into the Camp Westwind closed gate and No Trespassing sign. I redirected my route toward the afternoon sun, taking an elk trail. Elk do not bother to move branches out of their path. I was bushwhacking without a clear idea of where I was going. Finally, however, the ocean roared again and I even caught glimpses of it through the trees, but I never did get within view of Crescent Cove.

Tired, I headed back to The Thumb and Johnny. We trekked to the car and I considered hoofing it up the beach to look from there. But the beach walk is a long one. Instead we drove south to Nelscott, where I'd heard BLOY are sometimes seen. That turned out to be a good decision.

The minus tide was way out now and rocks that are usually below the ocean's surface were uncovered and full of beachcombers and gulls. But no BLOY. Hiking south on the beach while Johnny kept watch on a bench above, I found a flotilla of Surf Scoters riding the waves, lots of uncovered rocks, but no BLOY.

Heading north again I walked about a mile past where Johnny was still keeping a bench warm and preserving his arthritic back until I came to a stretch of newly uncovered rocks and barnacles and heard the welcome scream of Black Oystercatchers. Five of them were feeding here. In the distance, I could see Road's End, so my theory is that these were my missing Road's End pairs, plus one of their youngsters from a previous year. I can't prove it, of course, but they had to be somewhere and this was the best foraging area near Road's End that wasn't littered with people and dogs.

As I was watching the BLOY through my binoculars, I heard a resounding crack near me. I looked around but did not see the cause. With my binoculars raised again, I heard the crack louder and closer. This time I saw a gull standing nearby with some sort of shellfish hanging from its mouth. As I watched, the gull flew high into the air with its prize and dropped it onto the rocks. CRACK! After a few more drops from on high, the shell was sufficiently shattered to expose the meat inside for the gull's dinner.

Dinner by now was sounding like a great idea. And dinner is Johnny's favorite part of my bird surveys on the coast. We ate, as usual, at Jasmine Thai restaurant in Lincoln City. Seven BLOY seen plus a delicious meal that we didn't have to cook equals a good day on the Oregon coast.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The L Program

Getting up at 4:30 two mornings in a row to do chores is not my idea of the ideal goat farmer's life. However, it turned out to be well worth the lost sleep. I left at 6:30 to arrive at the beautiful Devonwood Equestrian Center before 8 a.m. when the L Program began.

The L program is to train people to judge dressage shows from Training through 2nd level. I have no intention of judging... couldn't if I wanted to as there are showing requirements at various levels before you can become a candidate and I don't show. But auditing sounded like a great way to learn what judges look for and for me to understand why they look for what they do... and hence what I should be doing when I ride/train my own horses. I have scribed at schooling shows for L (learner) judges but did not really understand what they were looking for in the various required movements.

I can't say I'm now an expert but I sure did learn a lot in those two days. One of the most surprising things to me was learning about the "Q factor", as presenter and FEI judge Janet Foy called it. Q is for Quality and is the first thing a judge looks at when a horse first enters the ring. A horse built for dressage with the suppleness to perform the movements brilliantly will start out with an advantage over a horse that is not so conformed. Thus my Morgan with his cresty neck and short strides will start out with a lower starting score than my daughter-in-law's warmbloods with their long strides and elevated gaits. My Morgan can up his starting score by doing the movements well and accurately, especially those movements where the "brilliance factor" (another term for Q factor) does not come into play, like rein backs. Jessica's horses can gain points the same way. Our horses can both lose points by, for instance, being tense and hence not having sufficient freedom of motion and responsiveness to the rider's aids (signals). But, all things being equal, the warmblood is going to outscore my Morgan. This rule comes down from the international body in charge of dressage, the FEI, (Federation Equestre Internationale), and carries over into the U.S. Dressage Federation. So now I know.

An amazing amount of material was covered in those two days, plus we have a handbook with much more information that the candidates have to learn before they can pass their exam. I am happy I don't have to take an exam as I'm still a little fuzzy on much of it. But I have a ton of notes to pore over. I did learn things I should have known long ago... like the proper way to do a free walk and what to look for to see if the horse is really stretching over the back as it's supposed to. I also learned to watch the shoulders to tell if a horse is on the forehand (not a good thing). And much more.

Janet Foy was a wonderful presenter, irreverent and witty as well as informative. Her 30 years of judging experience and many years of showing at the top levels of dressage have given her a huge amount of knowledge which she willingly shared... including fascinating asides into the world of dressage not covered in a handbook. I was interested to hear her thoughts on the amazing Totillas, dressage phenomenon who won gold at WEG. Knowing now about the Q factor, I can see that Totillas enters the ring with a very high score which is his to keep or break. Janet explained that although his front and hind legs do not lift evenly at the trot, as we've been taught is correct, his hind legs are drawn so far up and under his body that he has to earn a 10 (highest score possible). The front legs are even higher, perhaps too high, but Janet reminded us that a 10 is not perfect, it's just excellent. And there's no quibbling that Totillas' movements and gaits are excellent.

The L Program has two more sessions coming up, one in February and one in March. Each will be handled by a different FEI level judge. I will be there, eager to soak up whatever I can... even though it means getting up at an ungodly hour.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Visit from Jeff Fink

After weeks of rain and cloudy weather, the morning that Johnny's nephew Jeff was to arrive dawned sunny... but foggy. Gradually the fog burned off and allowed us to see a Bald Eagle sitting atop a big fir across the field from our barn... a propitious beginning for what turned out to be a very fun two days. It's always fun to spend time with someone like Jeff, who is interested in and appreciates everything.

Naturally, we hiked him around the farm. The paths to Agency Creek are no longer inundated with water and the creek is back within its banks, although still high.

Jeff seemed particularly partial to the ornaments on the outhouse Johnny built. He insisted on having his picture taken with this pair of antlers, (there are many on our outhouse), thoroughly covered in moss. I think he was trying to show that the antlers have more hair than he does.

We also took this long time Illinois resident to the beautiful Oregon coast. Jeff was excited about all the new sights we showed him from Lincoln City southward to Rocky Creek. Junkman Jeff scraps out vehicles... and turns some of those metal scraps into improbable artworks, so we took him to Freed Gallery at the south end of Lincoln City. He was intrigued by the outdoor wind sculptures, along with the other fine art inside. I would not be surprised if Jeff, back home, creates his own versions out of old car bodies.

Of course, I insisted on showing Jeff one of the sites where Black Oystercatchers often hang out, Fishing Rock. We found no BLOY there that day but we did find a flock of Sanderlings, Surfbirds, and one Black Turnstone. I had loaned Jeff one of my spare pairs of binoculars, hoping to turn him into a birdwatcher. I think Jeff loved the sight and sound of waves against the cliffs more than those little birds and, like any tourist, took lots of pictures with his cell phone.

We were all delighted to see gray whales at the Depoe Bay whale watching center. It was nice of the whales to perform so well for Jeff. Although they were miles away on the horizon, their blows and flukes were easily visible with binoculars and we all earned whale watching stickers for successfully seeing them. The whale museum is a great place to watch whales because the people working there spot them and tell you exactly where and when to look. Plus, and this is a big plus, you're inside where it's warm and dry looking out through huge picture windows. They even have a camera they adjust to catch the area where the whales are at that time so you can watch the show on a tv screen.

I, of course, was excited about seeing Black Oystercatchers on the rocks below the whale museum and on the sea wall nearby. This one was preening as I took its photo.

We ended the tour at the famous Mo's where we ate clam chowder and watched the sun set over the ocean. Pretty exciting stuff for an Illinois kid... and plenty of fun for us.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Surf's Up!

Well, the surf was up last weekend... at least our pond was. I took these photos of our overflowing pond on Sunday. Johnny's overflow worked well and kept the water from washing over the dam, although it came very close. Happily, the rain slowed down and the pond soon retreated within its banks.

We hiked through the arboretum and woods on flooded paths to check out Agency Creek. Our wooded lowlands were under water but the water did not come up as high as it has in past floods.

Mr. McCoy thought it was high enough.

Thank goodness for Muck Boots!

Agency Creek was high and muddy.

But the very next day, when going out to do chores after dark, I saw something I had not seen for a very long time: the moon! It was peeking through one small break in the clouds.

There is a reason our trees are clothed in moss and ferns: rain... lots of it... seven inches in the first two weeks of January.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Cross-country at WEG

My journey to the World Equestrian Games last fall was the trip of a lifetime and it may take me a lifetime to tell all the stories. (Especially since I can't find the day sheets or the cross-country booklet telling all about the jumps and identifying the riders. I really must get organized.) Although our primary focus was dressage, on our last day there, Ruth and I watched the cross-country portion of eventing. Wow!

I am now happily reliving that day through DVDs that finally arrived at the end of the year. It is fun to see the entire ride of Ingrid Klimke, daughter of dressage great Dr. Reiner Klimke. Friend Ruth and I watched Ingrid as she zoomed past us where we were stationed on the course and, even in that short space of time, were impressed with how "on the aids" her horse was, particularly in comparison to some (most) of the others. In the DVD, it is even more apparent that she and her horse were dressage trained. (No photos of Ingrid here, although there is one on my facebook photo page.)

All the horses and riders were pretty amazing, jumping 4 foot high and 5 feet wide jumps, some through water, some across corners, all impossible as far as I was concerned. Yet horses and riders flew around the nearly 4 mile course with very few refusals and even fewer falls.

Someday I will find all the information and be able to write intelligently. Meanwhile, here is a good article on the course:

Mostly, I took pictures of a horse's tail just after it had landed, or the jump with no horse in sight. But, occasionally, I got lucky. For many more photos than are on this blog, go to my public facebook cross-country photo page. I had not yet lost my day sheets, etc., when I posted those photos on facebook, so jumps and riders are identified.

As much as I appreciate dressage, I really love to jump and so does my horse, Mr. Smith. Watching this cross-country course at WEG made me want to try a little cross-country myself... maybe half as high and wide as these jumps... but a little more interesting than the white pvc pipe rails I have set up in our arboretum.

I didn't get a good picture of a horse going over these obstacles in the "Solato Wildlife Center" (all the jumps had intriguing names), but get over them they did... first the fish, then that gigantic kingfisher. Now those are interesting jumps!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Carrots and Cutworms and College and Coots

I'm glad I decided to dig carrots yesterday as the way it's raining today they may have floated out by tomorrow. Given our suddenly warm weather, I was worried that they would start growing and get woody. So I dug them. Lots of them. We've been eating them steadily for months but there were plenty left. Here's a photo of some in the sink after being hosed off outside.

Another batch waits for bagging.

They are all now housed in two gallon bags in the refrigerator. We'll have lots of carrot/raisin salad in the next months.

But there was one that was just too cute to cut up.

Quite a few of these not-so-cute caterpillars were curled up a few inches under the surface of the soil in the carrot bin. I sent photos to the midvalley nature group and was told they are cutworms (family Noctuidae)... not such good insects to have in a garden. I'll put them out for the birds to find and eat.

The day before the carrot harvest, friend Marilyn and I drove to Corvallis to hear ornithology grad students talk about their projects: Streaked Horned Larks in the Willamette Valley, Rusty Blackbirds in the Copper River Delta of Alaska, and interactions between Spotted and Barred Owls in the Coast Range of Oregon. All quite interesting, but all made me glad I did not get a job in Wildlife Biology out of college, as I had intended, because I would never be able to come up with those fancy power point presentations. It's all I can do to figure out MS Word. In fact, I can't. I switched back to Word Perfect for our sometimes-annual State of Our Union letter, even though the only version I have is in Portuguese. Even Portuguese, which I neither read nor speak, makes more sense than MS Word to me.

After the lectures, Marilyn and I wandered aimlessly around Nash Hall on campus until a kind student directed us to the door going outside. We then drove to Finley NWR and looked at birds. A Red-shouldered Hawk was in the same place it was on my trip with Toni and just as far away. It was a gray day and none of my photos of the many kinds of waterfowl came out well. Only this Bufflehead emerged from the gloom with any sort of clarity.

Earlier in the week, when it was still snowing, I detoured through Baskett Slough Refuge on my way home from the feed store with neighbor Irv. We saw these American Coots, or "Mud Hens", as Irv calls them, right by the road.

As a former duck hunter, my 80-year-old neighbor could identify most of the waterfowl we saw.
A pair of Northern Pintails swam close. And Canada Geese browsed nearby as snow fell.

Irv seemed quite interested in looking at everything through the extra binoculars I keep in the pickup. Maybe he'll turn, at this late stage of his life, from hating the Cooper's Hawks that get his pigeons and the Great Blue Herons that eat his goldfish to appreciating birds for their own sake. At least appreciating the birds that don't cause him grief.

It's never too late in life to learn to appreciate things like Coots. I'm not so sure about cutworms.