Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Oregon Shorebird Festival: Part Two

So eager was I to tell the story of the canoe trip in Part One of this saga, I forgot about The Restaurant Incident, which happened Friday night. So, since this is my journal and I like to be reminded of the stupid things I've done, here it is... The restaurant was crowded and noisy so we opted to eat outdoors on the deck. Unfortunately, it did not occur to me that the chairs tipped forward at the tables were safer to sit on than the ones not tipped forward. I sat in the latter... and a pool of water on the seat. I leaped up but it was too late: I was soaked. I replaced my chair with a tipped up one that did not have a pool of water in the seat. And sat on my napkin.

I put on a dry pair of pants for the evening program Friday night, where we were given information about the upcoming field trips and a talk by bird rehabilitators. They had brought some of their education birds for us to meet: a Great Horned Owl who had a lot to say, a Peregrine Falcon, Red-shouldered Hawk, and Turkey Vulture. All these birds had been rehabilitated but were unable, for one reason or another, to be returned to the wild.

We walked back to our cars or dorm in pitch black, but I had brought a flashlight, as instructed. I was staying in a dorm on the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology, where the Festival was centered. Here is my dorm during daylight hours, with the dining hall below. The Institute is in a lovely, quiet setting.

My jeans dried overnight and were ready for the morning canoe trip, where they only got moderately wet and muddy. After returning from the canoe trip (described in Part One), I wandered down to the docks where fisherman were cleaning tuna and throwing the scraps to waiting, barking sea lions below.

Saturday evening we had a wonderful seafood buffet... tuna, as that was what was in season and in plenitude at the nearby dock... with rice and veggies and salads and desserts. Then came the evening program with a compilation of birds seen on the field trips of the day, a photo report on the recovery of 400 acres of the Bandon Marsh and a very impressive presentation by a grad student on migration patterns of shorebirds. Too bad I remember little of it except it was very well done and interesting and surprising.

Sometime during this day I talked to Johnny and learned that he had taken photos of a shorebird on our pond but he didn't know what it was. It turned out to be, near as I can tell after blowing the picture up a gazillion times, a Snipe. He also took a blurry photo of a Green Heron taking flight... also on our pond and at the same time as the Snipe was there. As far as I know, no one at the Shorebird Festival saw a Snipe. Or a Green Heron. I think Johnny was wondering why I'd bothered to go.

At the first stop on my Sunday field trip, I was beginning to wonder the same thing. At the Bandon Marsh there were many shorebirds... about a mile away. All the big guns of the birding world at the festival were debating whether the Golden Plover they'd found out there was an American or a Pacific. Near as I can tell the difference comes down to the length of a couple of tail feathers. At that distance, even with my scope, I couldn't have told you if the bird had a tail. Later, when I looked in my ancient Peterson's field guide at home, I discovered that back in 1961, there was no such thing as an American or a Pacific Golden Plover. They were all Golden Plovers. I think that's how it should be. The bird they were discussing was in an intermediate stage of molt and rather drab. I much preferred the bright Pacific Golden Plover that no one argued over that I had photographed earlier in the month at Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge. I posted that photo on my Birds blog. http://lindafink-birdnotes.blogspot.com/2011/08/mid-summer-bird-photos.html

We drove from birding spot to birding spot in the Bandon area and did see some cool birds. Snowy Plovers were a first for me. Alas, I did not get photos. Tufted Puffins were fun to see on a distant rock... but too far for my camera. A Snowy Egret kindly sat in a tree by a small pond right next to the road. Below him was a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron masquerading as a lichen covered branch.

After a bit, the sleepy Night-Heron woke up enough to look around... and look a bit more like a bird.

But the best was yet to come. At the Coast Guard Station, we were allowed into the fenced and gated back yard. Just across the fence was a pier and boat loading platform, coated with rust and bird excrement and covered in Black Turnstones. Plus one Surfbird. And two Wandering Tattlers. Shorebirds! Close up and needing no scope! Love that Turnstone wing pattern in flight.

The Wandering Tattlers, unlike the Turnstones and Surfbird, had to be viewed through a tall, rusty, chain link fence. But they were very close and easy to see... although a challenge to photograph through that fence, since getting close enough to stick the lens through a hole would have scared the birds away.

Next stop was lunch where three Red-necked Phalaropes were kind enough to perform on the water in front of us. Phalaropes are odd for shorebirds since they swim quite well.

Our last stop of the day was Bandon Marsh where the sun finally shone brightly for us and we saw in person what we had seen in photos the night before... (and where I discovered the second thing I'd forgotten to bring: sunscreen.) Already the newly undiked land is returning to its estuarine state with salmon smolt swimming up the channel that had been closed off for over 100 years. Tiny Least Sandpipers worked the mud nearly at our feet as we listened to the explanation of what has been accomplished there and how important it is. Well, we listened while looking for birds.

So now I know where Charleston, Oregon, is and what one does at a bird festival: see some birds, learn about birds, meet people of like interests, and have fun doing it. Would I go again? You bet. I'm already looking forward to next year's Oregon Shorebird Festival and yes, to another canoe trip. It can't be that windy every year, can it?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Oregon Shorebird Festival: Part One

Since Johnny's back surgery seemed to have done wonders and he was sure he could handle my chores over the weekend, I registered for the Oregon Shorebird Festival in Charleston, Oregon. I had no clear idea of where Charleston was, except somewhere on the south coast, or what you do at a bird festival but I was ready to escape the farm chores for a few days and the time seemed right.

I noticed a canoe trip was one of the field trips so I signed up for it. I like birding by canoe. Alas, I had no idea what I was getting in for.

The first phone call from the organizers asked if I'd mind switching to a kayak because the canoes were full. That was fine with me. But I was a little nervous about my lack of kayak experience so I quickly searched youtube for videos of how to paddle a kayak, then launched the little kayak I inherited from my dad in our farm pond and started practicing.

I need not have bothered. The next phone call asked if I'd mind switching to a canoe as someone had back trouble and needed the back support of a kayak. I assured the person that a canoe was fine. I have foldable canoe seats anyway and I added them to my list of things to take.

Phone call number three assured me I had a spot in a canoe paddling but was it okay if we had a rider in the middle of our canoe. I told the nice lady on the phone that that was fine. That if they needed to switch me to a kayak again, that was also fine. I didn't care if it was a canoe, a kayak, if I paddled or didn't paddle, just so long as they didn't make me swim the whole five miles. There was no need to call me back for any more changes. She thanked me for my flexibility.

Friday after morning chores (milking, feeding, cleaning barns), I packed the car with Johnny's help, ate lunch, and left. I was proud of myself for having made a list and checked each thing off it. I had a great time wandering slowly down the coast, stopping at vistas I have not seen in years, if ever. (I rarely go very far south.)

Seals were hauled up on a rocky outcropping just below a house that stood all by itself on a grassy ledge, a little south of Waldport. You'll have to click on the photos below to see where these seals are in relation to the house. What a view from that deck.

Farther south, I was fascinated by Cook's Chasm and the Spouting Horn (which was not spouting when I was there but was a lovely spot near Cape Perpetua, nonetheless.)

I arrived at Charleston without getting lost... a bit of a miracle for me. I felt a little lost, however, being alone when everyone else seemed to be in groups. Happily, I saw my birding friend Carol, who does my winter raptor route with me, and her partner Paul, who lead field trips at this festival every year. I joined them for supper at a nearby restaurant.

The next morning, as I sat in my dorm room happily eating my granola with milk I'd brought from home in the cooler, I wondered why the ice pack had melted so quickly as the milk was not terribly cold. Oh well, it was good. The next morning when I took the lid off the cooler, I realized there was no ice pack in it. I'd left it in the freezer at home. No longer feeling smug about not forgetting anything, I had warm milk on my granola. It tasted fine.

Back to Saturday morning and the canoe trip... We convened at the parking lot and carpooled to the launching spot. The two trip leaders gave us safety and paddling instructions. I had envisioned a quiet stream to drift along on and watch birds. Wrong. This was a very wide, fast moving river. At least as wide as the widest part of the Willamette River. And the morning was windy. Very windy.

We were, with few exceptions, pushing- past- middle-age dames. I was assigned to the stern of a canoe with one similarly-aged woman in the front and another in the middle. Well, not quite the middle as she could not maneuver between the two struts (or whatever they're called).. so she was forward of them. Both my canoe mates were considerably heavier than I, as nearly everyone is (I struggle to get over 110 pounds and mostly fail). This bow-heavy weight distribution proved to make steering, at which I am lousy to begin with, rather difficult... especially in the wind.

One younger woman and her quite young and smallish daughter were in a canoe together. There were three canoes in all plus two kayaks, not counting our two leaders, each in a kayak. We launched and were instructed to practice our strokes in the relatively calm water close to shore. Just before my canoe left shore, three Yellowlegs (birds) flew in to the beach and landed together: two Greater Yellowlegs and one Lesser Yellowlegs (as we could tell by size). Tom, one of our leaders, pointed them out to us, very happy that he had already delivered on the promised shorebirds. I took a photo. It was the best one by far I got all day. (Photo at top of page)

I think everyone except the woman and her daughter saw the 3 birds. Unfortunately, they were already on their way upstream, which was the wrong direction, carried by tide and wind. Joy, the other of our two leaders, paddled after them in her kayak. The rest of us followed Tom, downstream, against tide and wind, to view Black Turnstones by the bridge. However before we could get that far, Tom had us put in to shore while he went to see what had happened to Joy and the missing canoers since he was no longer able to reach Joy by radio. The radios were uncooperative, off and on, for the entire trip.

Eventually he came back, winded from fighting tide and wind, to tell us the missing canoer and Joy would wait for us upstream as the tide and wind were too much for them to fight. This is when I began to realize, I think, that we were embarking on An Adventure. Onward we went upstream, hugging the shore and trying to avoid ramming the many pilings along it. The plan was to cut across the channel and float back toward the bridge to see Black Turnstones that usually hung out on the barnacle-encrusted pilings of the bridge. There was no way I could have followed those instructions. Once we hit the fast moving tidal current, we were off and running upstream. Tom was the only one who could manage the feat that day and, as it turned out, the Turnstones were not where they were supposed to be anyway.

Next stop was a sand bar just being covered by incoming tidal water. On the part still above the water, there were hundreds of shorebirds running about. We were instructed to push our crafts as far as we could to ground them so we could sit and key out the shorebirds. This was not so hard for Tom and his kayak, but for my bow-heavy canoe, it was a bit more difficult. We could get the bow onto the bar, but the stern kept whipping around trying to go with the flow and pulling the canoe off the bar. Meanwhile the rider in the middle was trying to get photos of the birds rather than of the back of the woman in front of her. It was an interesting time. Plus we had splashed water into the bottom of the canoe that was drenching the rider and she was, understandably since the water was very cold, freezing. I snapped some shots in hopes I could key out the birds when I was home in front of my computer. Amazingly, they came out not looking like I was swaying and bouncing and flopping a paddle around, which I was. These new stabilizer cameras are wonderful.

In this photo are 2 Black Turnstones, at least 3 Red-necked Phalaropes and a passel of Western Sandpipers. You'll just have to take my word for it.

Below left has a bevy of Western Sandpipers, three Black Turnstones, and one Yellowlegs. The lone Turnstone in the photo right looks like he's hunched up and fighting the wind. So were we.

Eventually, we left the mud bar and fought to keep our canoes headed upstream instead of following the circling tidal and river currents which were going every which way with the wind blowing in various directions. It was a fun time. We joined the waiting canoers and Joy and proceeded upstream, seeing few birds but lots of curious harbor seals that popped up out of the water to watch us. This photo was taken by my canoe-mate-in-the-middle, Harlean Tobin.

Eventually we fought our way to the lunch stop, a lovely island with a log just right for sitting on. An osprey called and flew over us. From this island paradise we could watch birds in comfort. But we were behind schedule and Tom urged us onward. He assured us the wind would not be so bad from now on and the channel would be narrower, making less turmoil with water going too many directions to cope with. We decided to switch places and let someone else man (or woman) the back of my canoe while I moved to the front of a different canoe. That was lovely. For me. It was a restful time with a young woman in the stern who knew what she was doing. But it was not to last.

Contrary to Tom's optimism, the wind and water were not more cooperative, except occasionally when we turned into a lee spot, and the woman who took over my position could not manage it at all. So we beached again and I went back to fighting wind and water with a new, rested (she had been riding in the middle of a different canoe for the first part of the journey) paddler in the front. I was also rested now and it really wasn't quite so bad as it had been. Unfortunately for one of the kayakers, while we canoers were waiting to change places, her kayak tipped over for some unknown reason and she got drenched. Trooper that she was, she climbed back in with Joy's help and paddled the rest of the route soaking wet and cold.

Tom kept assuring us that it was smooth sailing just around the next point of land and we were almost to the take out spot. Half an hour later, we were, although the challenges never ended. As the channel narrowed, logs and stumps became an issue and we needed to thread our way around them. We all succeeded, amazingly enough, and landed safely at the take out spot where a van arrived to take us back to the starting point and our cars.

In spite of the challenges, it really was quite a fun and bonding time. At least, it seems so now that I look back on it. We became good friends in a very short time.

I'll stop now as it's late and time for chores. The next installment, of the Sunday field trip, will be much less exciting... but with better photos.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Summer Flowers

Unlike me, Kahili Ginger and roses like heat. And unlike Night-blooming Cereus, ginger flowers last longer than one night. And don't hide. One is flowering now in the greenhouse with two more plants spiking buds. The greenhouse/jungle room smells like Hawaii day and night. That I like.

Outside, the roses are one of the few flowers that seem to thrive, or at least survive, on my neglect. Here are some blooming now. Below left is Double Delight, one of my mom's favorite roses. But she had lots of favorites. I inherited her love for roses, but not her diligence at caring for them. My roses have to take care of themselves.

Below right is Sunsprite, one I had not heard of until I found out about Heirloom Roses, near Newberg, and became addicted to their annual half price sale. (I stayed away this year by a huge effort of will.) Heirloom has own root roses, meaning they are not grafted onto wild stock. If the rose freezes and comes back from the roots, it will come back as itself and not the wild stock. The bud below is of my favorite Heirloom Rose, Playboy. It is usually covered with flowers. The leaves are super healthy and pretty themselves.

Two years ago I found another nursery on the web, Hortico, from Ontario, Canada. Their prices were good and although they don't have own root roses, I bought some anyway, mostly Rugosas for the arboretum. Rugosas really do take care of themselves and have big lovely rose hips in the fall. I also bought a Kordes shrub rose from them, Gebruder Grimm. What a spectacular bush that has turned out to be. The buds start out yellow and red, then turn colors from orange and yellow to red to pink. There's a kaleidoscope of color blooming all the time. It, too, has healthy vigorous leaves.

Not much besides roses can survive the heat and weeds and lack of water in my neglected flower beds. But the cheerful blue Love in a Mist somehow manages and pops up everywhere. I love the name as well as the flower.

I do not, unfortunately, remember the names of all the roses and other flowers that I have planted. This tall hybrid tea, name forgotten, has long-stemmed flowers but not much in the way of leaves. That doesn't matter because it resides next to a dwarf mugho pine which would be more dwarf if it ever got pruned, as would the rose, no doubt. I figure they complement each other.

Many more roses are beating the heat, some with no water at all this summer. But they're used to it. A few of these roses were here when we arrived in 1977 and who knows how long before that. This one is an old-fashioned beauty that doesn't hold its many-petalled flowers up as well as the newer varieties, but it's still here after all those years, blooming every summer in spite of the tough conditions. It must know that the Oregon mists will return again eventually.

Maybe all those weeds around the roses provide protection from the sun and keep a little moisture in. Well, something must. I can keep the veggie garden and greenhouse watered, but the roses, except for once in a great while, have to wait for rain. There are benefits to my neglect: without water splashing the leaves, I have very little problem with blackspot. And only the disease resistant, super hardy bushes survive. I call it tough love, without the mist.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Rail Trail

Last week friend Toni and hiked the Rail Trail at Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge, which is even closer to her Albany home than Finley NWR, where we usually hike. The Rail Trail is not on an abandoned railroad line. It was named because it's a good place to see rails, Sora and Virginia, in the marshy areas.

But we didn't. We did, however, see grebes, herons, frogs and strange, oblong, floating objects that we don't know what are. Friend Hazel, however, sent this website that makes my nutria scat guess look correct. Ugh. http://skagitnutria.howitworks.com/what-is-nutria.cfm

One of the grebes was close to our boardwalk, but in an odd plumage I didn't recognize. After searching the books and web, I decided it must be a juvenile plumaged Pied-billed Grebe.

We saw other odd creatures. Toni identified this miniature green hippo and a crocodile coming up from under a log.

The crocodile doesn't look quite so crocodilian from a distance. Other areas of the boardwalk are not so close to water in this dry season, but lovely nonetheless and full of woodland birds. Here's Toni on the boardwalk.

The boardwalk eventually ends but the trail proceeds around fields and alongside a hedgerow by the road, returning to its beginning. That hedgerow was full of bushtits, chickadees, flycatchers, cedar waxwings, towhees, and other passerines. Although this Western Wood Pewee was very cooperative about landing in view, the lighting was not so good on this warm afternoon and neither are my photos.

After leaving the Rail Trail, we drove to the kiosk at what I believe is called Eagle Marsh. As always, there were plenty of waterfowl here, including one White Pelican demonstrating why Ogden Nash thought a pelican's bill can hold more than it's belly can.

The shorebirds were pretty distant, but by calls we were able to figure out that we were seeing both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs. A Red-winged Blackbird flew in and landed near a resting Yellowlegs, so I think that one is a Greater, since it is so very much bigger than the blackbird.

In order to make the habitat less attractive to the invasive nutria (which we also saw), some of the water areas at Ankeny have been drained and the weeds are being removed. Nevertheless, there were plenty of birds around on that warm August afternoon... along with those rarer creatures: hippos and crocodiles.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Night Blooming Cereus

These jungle cacti hang from the balcony in my jungle room (attached greenhouse/solarium) and bloom in the summer. At night. For only one night. Usually when I'm out of town.

It is difficult to keep remembering to check them daily for buds, then to keep checking as the buds grow. They grow fast. And very sneaky. As long slender addenda to the elongated stems that serve as leaves, the buds are anything but obvious. And they hide behind the other foliage in my jungle room. Then, without warning, one night they open and emit the most intoxicating fragrance. It's their one night to attract a moth to pollinate them. They are out of luck in my jungle room but they try anyway.

The photo below was taken as the bud began to open, 9:15 p.m., last night.

Here it is almost fully open 45 minutes later.

I was too tired to stay up for the ultimate opening. The photo below was taken at 8:30 in the morning. The show is over.

At 5 the evening after (I just took the photo below left), the drooping flower still has beauty, in a way, but no fragrance. The first bloom on this plant bloomed two days ago... and I missed it. I usually do. The flower gradually gets more droopy, then turns black, as the ric rac cactus bloom on the right did. The ric rac also blooms one night with a flower almost identical to the cereus... and even harder to find because it hangs from the ceiling. I did not see this ric rac bloom until it looked like it looks now... black. Very frustrating. However, last year I did see blooms and they did not look like the ric rac blooms in the books or on the web, which are red and white. They looked like the cereus, all white. So I suspect my ric rac is a type of orchid cactus masquerading as a ric rac. Who knows. It starts making lots of buds but they almost always turn black before getting any size. I don't know why. The Night-blooming Cereus does not have that problem.

The middle photo above shows the cereus amid the other jungle cacti. The spent bloom is bottom right of that photo. Below is a shot of the ceiling showing the ric rac cactus. The spent, blackened flower is lower left. The leaves in that photo that are not ladder-like are cereus leaves. It is walking across the ceiling now, too, no doubt preparing to flower where I have to break my neck to see it. You can see why Johnny calls this my jungle room.

In July of 2009, the cereus outdid itself with at least 7 blooms. I don't remember how many I saw open. Probably not many. The photo left from 9 p.m., July 15, 2009, shows five spent blooms and at least one about to open (very bottom of the plant). Photo right shows one open at 6:45 the next morning.

It's a spectacular flower, huge and wonderfully fragrant. Maybe if I threw my sleeping bag in the jungle room, I'd be able to watch the whole show. Presuming I had remembered to check each evening to see when a bud was beginning to open.