Sunday, September 25, 2011

At the Coast Before a Storm

After a potluck with old friends at the coast Saturday, (we showed goats together years ago), Johnny and I checked out the Salishan Nature Trail that we had heard about from email birding friend Dawn. The only way you could know about this trail is if someone told you as it is down a well hidden "No Through Traffic" road in the Salishan marketplace.

The short trail is super civilized and borders the Salishan golf course on one side and Siletz Bay on the other. We saw more dogs on leashes than birds along the path but there were lots of very distant water birds on the bay... mostly Wigeon and Mallards, as far as we could tell. Two Great Blue Herons were the only close-up birds posing for us that afternoon. One seemed to have an injured spot on its shoulder.

At one point the trail splits in two. The left trail continues on, more or less, to the ocean beach at Salishan Spit. Johnny is checking out how far he can see northward. The right trail continues along the bay a short distance to a bench.

Since Salishan is fairly close to Fishing Rock, one of the Black Oystercatcher survey sites, we drove there and found, with Johnny's sharp eyes, two adults and one juvenile. We don't know where this pair nested but at least we know one nest in that area succeeded. The juvenile's bill (left photo) was still largely black with red only at the base. It will gradually turn red until by this time next year, it should look like its parent's bill (right photo).

Since Boiler Bay is just beyond Fishing Rock, we went onward to look for Oystercatchers there and found two. We also found a flock of surfers catching the waves that the oncoming storm was bringing. Or they were trying to. Only one, while we watched, succeeded.

All along the coast, Brown Pelicans flew just above the waves and wild surf, fishing their way south to their winter home. We, too, headed home then... before that night's rain and wind storm began.

Friday, September 23, 2011

CRABS and Nostalgia

Non-birders may think that spending the third day in a row birding, as I did this week, is a bit excessive. After two long days counting for the North American Migration Count, I joined CRABS for a day at Baskett Slough. No, the people I were with were not crabby, quite the opposite. CRABS is an acronym for Craig Roberts' Amateur Birding Society.

Craig Roberts was a crack birder and the one I turned to, via email, when I had a question on bird identification. He was also a very good, I'm told, emergency room doctor. Craig and a group of friends from Tillamook began birding together and the friends named their little group after him, since he was their inspiration and leader. Craig was scheduled some years ago to help with our newly, at that time, re-formed Upper Nestucca Christmas Bird Count, where I was looking forward to meeting him in person for the first time. But, tragically, Craig was killed in a car accident just before Christmas... by a drunk driver. He left a wife and children and a ton of friends.

Craig's little birding group from the Oregon coast has stuck together and still go off birding once a month. Last Monday, the day after the NAMC weekend, they came to our farm and we all went together to Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge. Without Craig to tell us what we were seeing, I turned to other top birders for advice by posting photos on my BIRD blog. The aces told me this bird was a Greater (rather than Lesser) Yellowlegs. You can tell by the knobby knees (and other things but I like the knobby knees hint best.)

Besides all of us missing and remembering Craig on Monday, one of the CRABS group began reminiscing about her childhood in the little town of Willamina that we went through. I found her recollections of this town where my children attended school to be fascinating. She lived there in the late 1930's and early 1940's. Back then, the parking lot by the grocery store was a vacant lot where the town children played ball and other games. They roller-skated in the plywood mill, went to a school that has since burned down, and watched movies in a theater that no longer exists. It was a good reminder that nothing stays the same.

This must have been the season for nostalgia as Johnny just returned this morning from nine days to visit the town in Illinois where he grew up, attend his 50th high school reunion (how can it be that long ago??), spend time with his many relatives who still live in the area, then fly to Connecticut to visit the relatives who live there now. He enjoyed swapping stories of the good ol' days with his sisters, brother, nieces and nephews. This is the only photo I've seen so far since his camera wasn't cooperating. His brother Bruce in Connecticut took this of a sister, her daughter and granddaughter, Bruce's son Charlie and his partner Heidi, and Johnny. Charlie and Heidi live on a farm, have a big garden, horses and other animals... including a tortoise.

With Johnny gone, I, naturally, birded for three days straight. (Between morning and evening goat milking, of course.) Plus canned and froze garden produce, watered plants, sheared sheep, rode horses, wrote blogs, and took photos. Just to prove nothing stays the same on the farm any more than anywhere else, here are the last three artichokes: I didn't pick them in time so they went to flower instead, making the bumblebees happy.

And now today is the first day of autumn, my favorite season. The Ginnala (or Amur) Maples in the arboretum are quite outdoing themselves in the fall color department. But soon, they, too, will exchange their brilliant leaves for bare branches. And one more yearly cycle will have come and gone. (But 50 years since high school?? How can that be??)

Monday, September 19, 2011

NAMC: Polk County

On Sunday, birding friend Marilyn joined me for half a day of mostly wet birding. My assignment was to "find Coast Range birds", whatever that means, for the Polk County count. For me it usually means counting Band-tailed Pigeons at a mineral lick I discovered some years ago a few miles from our farm. Sunday, we only found twelve of them perched out in the open. The rest of the hundred or so I've seen in the past were no doubt perched under cover, which is where we wished we were. It was pouring rain.

The best birding, naturally, was on waterways. Seventy Mallards on the Grand Ronde sewage ponds did not mind the rain at all. (Sewage ponds are hot spots for birders. There's even a field guide to sewage ponds in Oregon.) The three Hooded Mergansers that we found on a more scenic waterway, the South Yamhill River, didn't mind the weather either.

But at most stops the only birds out and about were a few jillion Barn Swallows. We, not having the same enthusiasm for wet skies as swallows, elected to go to a park I seldom visit, since it is a few miles farther east, in hopes the rain would be less in that direction. Happily, it was. And Mill Creek Park is a lovely place. Someone has built rock pagodas all up and down the creek bed. They won't last through the winter's high water but they are interesting to see now. In this rocky creek we found an American Dipper, which made me happy. (Have I mentioned before that I love Dippers?)

Our last stop was the Fort Yamhill historical site just a few miles from home. Although we did not see as many birds as usual, the rain had quit completely and we had a nice hike around the park, enjoying the wild blackberries that a bear had obviously also enjoyed. His seed-filled scats were all along our path. Fortunately, he was not. (That's Marilyn picking from the wall of blackberries.)

Part of the path goes through a lovely woods. And so I ended my birding weekend the way it was begun, in a forest of beauty. I didn't find any spectacular birds but I found relaxation and, as Marilyn put it, the restorative power of woodlands. ...And a total of six American Dippers for the weekend: a sure way to make me happy.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

NAMC: Yamhill County

This weekend was the fall North American Migration Count (better known as the NAMC). There's one in the spring, too. We live in Yamhill County and, this year, our fall count was on Saturday. Polk County is one mile up the road and that count was today, Sunday. Sometimes they're on the same day... it's up to the count coordinator for each county to decide which day to use. When Yamhill and Polk are on different days, I do both. You can bird anywhere you like on migration count day, just reporting where and for how long and what you see.

Saturday morning, I birded our farm. I love this excuse to squeeze chores between birding instead of the other way around. And I love hiking through our woods with no other purpose than to find birds. Which I don't find many of in our woods but who cares? The beauty of the woods restores my soul. (And is a lot easier on my back than shearing sheep, trimming horse hooves, or any number of other farm chores.)

Our resident Red-tailed Hawk starts his morning on our big snag. Even from a distance, the buteo shape is identifiable. Through binoculars, the characteristic dark head, light chest, dark belly band of a Red-tail is visible.

And when he flies and gives the Red-tail scream, his identity is certain.
Besides walking the farm, I bird in front of the barn while milking goats. Every morning I throw grain on the ground for the birds. This morning, I planned to count the usual quail, sparrows, jays, towhees, etc., who show up for the bounty. However, this morning a screaming juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk kept the birds in hiding, or most of them. The Steller's Jays dive-bombed the hawk who retaliated by chasing them. Jays and Sharpies are about the same size so the hawk had little chance of nabbing a jay for a meal. (Side note: I've recently learned that Sharp-shinned Hawks are called that because of their very skinny legs (shins). You can see those "sharp" legs in this photo.)Meanwhile, in the bushes, I could hear the fifteen-member quail family having a fit. This mutual jay/hawk harassment went on and on and on... for at least an hour, all the time I was milking and feeding... until an adult Sharp-shin flew in from somewhere and dove toward the sound of the screaming young hawk. The sound stopped. A few minutes later, the adult flew off. The juvenile hawk was not seen or heard again. What, I wonder, did the adult tell that youngster? Whatever, we were all glad. The California Quail, White and Golden-crowned Sparrows, Spotted Towhees, Song Sparrows, Scrub and Steller's Jays, and the newest kids on the block, Eurasian Collared Doves, soon were out happily eating grain.

Side note #2: Years ago I had a hard time telling juvenile white-crowned sparrows from young golden-crowned sparrows, since they don't have the white or gold crowns that they'll develop as adults. Then I learned that all white-crowns, no matter the age, have yellow bills. Golden-crowns have mostly dark bills. Pictured here is a juvenile white-crown.
Now for the mystery. The House Sparrows that live in our barn are always the first to come out for grain. Understandably, they did not appear when the young Sharpie was raising a ruckus. But I did not see them in the barn then, either. And they did not come out with the other birds after the Sharp-shin disappeared. And I have not seen them since. It's not that I miss the messy things, but where did they go?

In the afternoon, the mist of morning turned to rain. I drove up Agency Creek to add some American Dippers to the count. Thanks to my Dipper survey last spring, I know where their territories are and easily found five of them, each on territory, not far from its nest site. The only other birds out in the rain in any numbers were Band-tailed Pigeons on their usual perches six miles up the road. But, as always, it's not just birds that make the count so fun for me, it's the beautiful areas where I do the count.

And, for today's Polk County version, the fun was in doing it with a friend. That story will come next.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Shearing Sheep

Every time I shear our sheep (which is not often), I gain renewed respect for professional sheep shearers. They set a sheep on its rear and have the wool off in ten minutes with their electric shears. I use a hand shears and I most definitely do not set a sheep up on its rear. I do not understand why sheep shearers don't all have broken backs. I would. I tie the sheep and shear her standing. If I'm lucky, she stands. Sometimes she jumps around and if that doesn't make me quit, she lies down. It takes me about an hour per animal. With several rest periods. And the result looks more like they've been moth-eaten than shorn.

Years ago, we had twenty sheep instead of two and a professional zipped through our flock and left them looking sleek (with a few nicks from those electric shears). But after our regular shearer died, we were only able to find one person who would come to our place for as few as twenty sheep. They like big flocks where they can make big money. After the price of gas climbed, even that guy would no longer come. So I bought a hand shears (because I figured I'd scalp the poor things with an electric one, plus I hate the noise) and started doing it myself. But not too regularly.

I sheared today. It was long overdue. At least two years overdue. We now only have two sheep; you'd think I could get them shorn. But I've been busy. And I can't shear when they're wet, which they are 9 months of the year. Nor can I shear when it is blazing hot out because it's a hot job even in cool weather. And when I can't come up with any other excuses for this unfavorite farm activity, I blame their wooliness on my inability to catch the blessed animals.

But I vowed to shear this week... now that the temperatures are in the pleasant 70s and before the fall rains begin. The catch pen is always set up, but the sheep seldom go in there. I've tried to bribe them with apples but the llamas go in and eat the apples while the sheep are still considering it. On the rare occasions they have entered the pen, they exit rapidly as soon as they see me coming. The only things I catch them for are to shear, trim feet or deworm and they don't like any of those.

Today, however, I had success... thanks to our big white goat guardian dog McCoy. I had moved horses to the llama/sheep field next to the riding arena, so I could ride. McCoy, as usual, managed to get through the open gate into that field and was happily roughhousing with our sheep/llama guardian dog Shirley. I was riding Mr. Smith in the arena when I noticed that the sheep had moved into the catch pen to get away from the exuberant, wrestling dogs. And, as luck would have it, one of the llamas was munching away on hay stacked next to the catch pen... and blocking the gate into... and out... of it.

Hah! I leaped off Mr. Smith and told him to stay where he was. ( He did). I snuck over the fence between arena and sheep field in a place where I was not visible from the catch pen. Then I quickly moved next to the gate-blocking llama and darted behind him, grabbed the gate and shut it fast. The sheep saw the trick too late and tried to ram their way through the gate (and me, which they've done in the past) but the gate held and I was safely on the other side. Hah!

I went back to the arena, unsaddled the patient Mr. Smith and put him with the other horses. Then I climbed into the catch pen and looped a rope over the big mama sheep's head, tying her in the corner by the gate where she was trying to escape. That worked beautifully as she was sandwiched between three fences... thanks to her huge coat of wool. I started cutting through the wool to reach her back. Getting started is the hardest part as I have to locate the sheep under all that wool and not cut her in the process. I kept cutting and trying to feel but all I could feel was wool. Amazingly, I went down a good twelve inches before I found her back. Then it was relatively easy to follow her back and gradually cut away the wool on each side. Wool is so heavy it pulls itself down so I can see where to cut.

Of course, she did not stand patiently through the whole ordeal but since she was trapped in a corner she couldn't cause too much trouble, even when she lay down. I just kept cutting. Eventually, I found her legs which I had not seen for nearly two years. She has looked like one of those cartoon sheep, all wool and no legs. I should have taken a before picture but I didn't want to admit how derelict I have been in my sheep tending duties. The picture at the top was taken a year ago. You'll just have to imagine another year's growth of wool.

Pictured is the wool from that one ewe spread out. To give a size comparison, I stuck my foot in the second picture but could not get all the wool in one shot. Spinning friend Velta came by and determined that the ewe's wool was, indeed, twelve inches long.

The younger ewe did not have nearly so much wool. But she put up more of a fight. Both sheep, when turned loose, went straight to their llama friends and tried to hide under them. The llamas sniffed them all over as though to say, "Do I know you?" Both ewes' undercoats are very different colors from what their outer coats were so they look like different animals. Both were brown before shearing. Now one is a mottled gray and white while the other is black. But the llamas apparently knew who they were. Later in the day, all four were grazing together as usual.

Someday, I'll shear the llamas. But that's even more of a hassle. They kick and spit.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

September Summer

When I planted the garden in July, two months later than the preferred time because of our very wet, cold weather, I had a vague hope of having something ripen before frost. With nights consistently in the 40s since then, it seemed hopeless. Ah, my mother would have said, "Ye of little faith." The nights may still be cold, but the days are plenty warm. This week the daytime temperatures have all been in the high 90's, until today when it hit 100.

My very-late garden is producing... beans, tomatoes, lettuce, onions and an unending supply of peas. The corn is almost ripe. I have no doubt we'd have cucumbers and squash if I'd planted them. Instead, we have many varieties of melons which will need another month of warmth to ripen. Who knows why I planted melons instead of squash.

Birds planted many sunflower seeds so the garden is abloom, much to the delight of bumblebees.

Thanks to no rain since the day it quit raining long ago, my life revolves around watering. One day I water the greenhouse and outdoor potted plants. Another day I water the garden, raised beds (boxes, manure spreader, horse-drawn wagon), berries and a few favored flower bushes. The arboretum takes several days even though I'm only watering the newest plants. I try to get it done in the morning, before the sun becomes too blistering. I don't do heat well.

When I first started watering the arboretum this summer, it was a challenge to find the young trees because of the tall weeds. It was a challenge even to find some of the older ones. So I mowed. It took days of mowing carefully around the many trees and bushes. Alas, sometimes not carefully enough. I didn't destroy any plants but I seriously mangled quite a few of my precious planting markers that I was so proud of. I would not know I was upon one until I heard the very loud crack of metal blades hitting metal stake. The marker itself proved hopelessly fragile when encountering the lawn tractor and shot forth in numerous pieces great distances. I spent a lot of time crawling around in the weeds looking for missing pieces of plant markers.

In desperation, I pulled out the markers that were not yet mangled and threw them into the middle of their bush or tree, out of harm's way. And asked Johnny to make me stumps to put my markers in so they'd at least have a fighting chance against the lawn mower. Johnny did. And today I put them up, along with what labels I'd managed to save and tape back together.

The stumps help raise the markers to where they can be seen above the weeds. From a distance, the markers look pretty good. Up close, the damage is more obvious.

Some are worse than others. But, hey, all you need is a hint to know this is a Giant Sequoia, right?

A good many markers are just fine, thanks to being either hidden under their tree or safely thrown inside their bush. Now some of those are proudly visible on their stumps.

This Redwood marker survived but is dwarfed by its fast growing tree. I need twenty more stumps. Johnny has been notified.