Friday, October 28, 2011

A Bountiful Harvest

Since I didn't get the garden planted until July, thanks to cold wet weather, I had little hope of harvesting anything but cool-season veggies. How wrong I was. Our first fall frost is usually mid-September. This year it was late October... just a few days ago. We had a bigger crop of corn than we've ever had. Cool weather peas and lettuce kept going all summer and fall. My dry beans ripened and dried; I froze huge amounts of green beans; the potatoes and onions are dug and plentiful. There were enough tomatoes to can and the bushes are still producing in the garden, having been covered on our few freezing nights. We even had the sweetest grapes we've ever had here in our cold zone.

There were failures, though. The cole crops all went to seed without producing anything but tiny heads; I forgot to plant squash and cucumbers; the popcorn is still not ripe; and my melons, though they ripened, were tiny.

But look at all those colorful dry beans! I've been saving my beans to replant for many years. They likely started out as a hybrid something-or-other because sometimes I get solid red ones, sometimes speckled, and sometimes both in the same pod. They all taste wonderful. I love pretty beans.

I don't remember ever having grapes as sweet as these are this year. I have no idea why. Maybe whatever made them sweet also made the fall colors spectacular, because they certainly were.

Around the house... the Cornus and Vine Maple lit up in different shades at different times.

In the arboretum... the Amur maples changed from one brilliant color to another.

The Norway maple was magnificent, while the Quaking Aspen were more subtle, but lovely, too.

We've had a bountiful harvest of color as well as vegetables this fall. Let the rains begin.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cape Kiwanda and Whalen Island

Taking a break from harvesting our garden produce, I lured Johnny away from his winterizing projects and drove to the coast yesterday. Now that his back allows, he was able to climb the dune at Cape Kiwanda and scan one side for Black Oystercatchers while I scanned the other. That works much better than one person alone. We arrived at high tide -- nine feet yesterday -- and found two pair of Black Oystercatchers resting above the high tide line on their respective sides of the dune. The north side pair had a juvenile with them. This was a surprise since I could not determine that they were nesting this summer and had concluded they were not. The same thing happened two years ago. I guess if I can't figure out if/where they have a nest, neither can predators and they are able to successfully fledge a youngster.

Junior is on the left of his parents in the photo. The bill of the juvenile is still dark toward the tip. It will be all red by this time next year. Likewise the juvenile's eye is not yet red-appearing like the eye of the adults. (Click on the photo to enlarge it and see these features.)

Everywhere along the coast, it seems, Brown Pelicans are gathering. They were in the air, on the water, and on the Cape.

From Cape Kiwanda we headed into Pacific City where we ate at our usual spot, a Mexican restaurant. Then we headed north to Whalen Island, which internet friend Dawn often writes about and highly recommends. We can see why! It's a lovely natural area with a long winding path through a woodland bordering an estuary and wetlands. Periodic short paths head toward viewpoints.

From one viewpoint I could just see Haystack Rock off Cape Kiwanda peeking up. From another I could see a few hundred Brown Pelicans. They are everywhere.

Way out on the mudflats, there were many shorebirds which I misidentified almost 100%. Thank goodness for the willingness of knowledgeable birders on the online birding list to set me straight. I posted photos on my other blog, BIRDS,, and the experts told me what I had seen.

On the northwest side of the island lies an extensive wetland area. We saw a Marsh Wren here, Great Egrets, various crowned sparrows, and, in the wooded trail leading up to this viewpoint, about a zillion robins and flickers and enough bear scat to make us feel right at home. (It's always nice to know we're not the only one with bears.)

Our day on the coast was a nice break from harvesting and winterizing back home. Without Dawn's tip, we might never have found this delightful spot so close to our usual haunt of Cape Kiwanda.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Big Year

The Oregon birding email list, Oregon Birders Online, has been abuzz with reviews of the movie, The Big Year. I had read the book of that name which is a true story of three guys each trying to accumulate as many ticks (birds) as he can in one year... and more than anyone else ever has. The movie begins "This is a true story. Only the facts have been changed." And that was accurate. It was a movie and a pretty good one but more about chasing a dream than birding. It skimmed over the part that I liked least about the book: the enormous expenditure of fossil fuel while chasing birds. The movie was a gentle comedy, after all, not a political statement.

But whenever I start to feel smug about my type of birding, which is mainly on our farm, using no fossil fuels, I remember my many trips to the coast to monitor Black Oystercatchers, my even more frequent drives 6 miles up Agency Creek to check on American Dippers, and my monthly, November through March, 80 mile raptor route to count wintering raptors in my area. All are for what I believe to be good causes, but good enough to warrant all that gasoline? I drive a hybrid, but still...

Yesterday, on my way home from a haircut, I stopped at a site on my winter raptor route where we've often found White-tailed Kites, relative newcomers to our area. I didn't find any yesterday, but I did find a Northern Shrike. I immediately called birder friend Carol because I knew she did not yet have a Northern Shrike on her Yamhill County list for this year. Carol keeps county lists and state lists as well as a lifetime list. Carol was very excited when I called. She told me it had been a great day for birds already. She had found a Barn Owl roosting in a tree in her back yard. Barn Owl was another species Carol had not yet had for 2011 in Yamhill County. She then drove out to the Northern Shrike site and found it. The excitement in Carol's voice at getting two birds for her list in one day made me happy: especially happy to have had a part in it. We all need something to get excited about.

Yesterday, after returning home from haircut and Shrike adventure, I talked Johnny into driving up Agency Creek to check on Dippers. I found one singing non-stop not far below a nest site that I had located this spring. Downstream a hundred yards or so, but out of sight from the singing bird, was another Dipper foraging and giving an occasional short burst of song. I videotaped the singing bird. It's not a good video and difficult to hear the bird over the water's sound, but it lets me record a Dipper singing in mid-October. Why was it singing? Were they a pair, communicating over the noise of the rocky creek? Or was one letting the other know that this was his territory? It is questions like these that excite me and keep me going back to observe and try to understand these fascinating song birds that swim.

Today, Johnny and I drove to the coast and hiked The Thumb to check on Black Oystercatchers. This was the first time in two years that Johnny was able to climb with me. His back surgery in June has given him his life back. The photos are of him at the beginning of the hike, and on the last stretch up The Thumb. Yes, it's really as steep as it looks. I guess this is a Big Year for Johnny, too.

We found only one of the three pairs of Oystercatchers that nest on the offshore rocks below The Thumb, but what a glorious day it was: warm, sunny, with thousands of gulls in the air and on the water; hundreds of Brown Pelicans and cormorants on the offshore island.

After several hours of enjoying the weather and the scenery, we hiked back to the car and drove to Fishing Rock, where we had seen one adult and one juvenile Black Oystercatcher three weeks ago. On the way we stopped to photograph another mob of pelicans, these resting on the edge of Siletz Bay, by Cutler City (one of the six Lincoln City "neighborhoods").

Although no Black Oystercatchers were at Fishing Rock this nearly high-tide time, the ocean was full of birds, including Surf Scoters riding the breaking waves. And what beautiful breakers they were.

Relaxed from the sight and sound of the ocean and its birds, we left for the Bijou Theater and The Big Year. We met friend Caroline there. Afterwards, we all went to a restaurant and talked about the movie and our own ways of enjoying birds. Caroline has made two trips to Antarctica to see penguins with their chicks and would like to go again.

We three especially liked, as did many of the online birders who reported on the movie, one scene when a Big Year pursuer leaves his old and ailing father in the snowy woods waiting for him while he seeks out a Great Gray Owl... then feels remorse and runs back to find his dad calmly watching the Great Gray Owl in a tree nearby. They stood together, both excited to see the big bird.

One birder commented that he disagreed with the premise that the birder who captures The Big Year record is "the best birder in the world". I agree with that criticism. There are big names in birding but they are people who have written field guides or are ornithologists who know much more about birds than just how to identify them.

Yet all of us "birders" have one thing in common: we love birds. Some pursue their passion by flying around the world seeing as many of the fascinating feathered creatures as they can. Others spend it sitting and observing. All of us get excited over something about birds and the out-of-doors that is, perhaps, intangible and not easily explained to non-birders... although I think many of us secretly believe that everyone would be a birder if he put a pair of binoculars to his eyes and saw a brilliantly colored Western Tanager... or stood by some mountain stream and heard a Dipper sing.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Art Harvest

Years ago, our friend Monica Setziol-Phillips helped found a tour of Yamhill County artists. For one weekend, tour goers could purchase a catalog of participating artists and a button that would gain them entry to the homes and studios of artists working in a variety of mediums. Many years later, Art Harvest is still happening, expanded to two three-day weekends and with many more artists. Monica did not show her own work at Art Harvest for quite a few interim years, busy with other projects and with showing her lovely wood and weaving sculptures elsewhere. But this year she rejoined the tour. Johnny and I helped out one day of the second weekend: yesterday, Friday, October 14.

Monica has her looms set up in the house that her parents, both since passed away, built and lived in high on a hill near Sheridan. Her woodworking shop up there is the one she shared with her famous sculptor father, Leroy Setziol. The gallery on that property is fairly new and a wonderful place to showcase artwork. Because the three buildings are quite separated, it takes three people each day of the tour to guide visitors.

Johnny parked cars, greeted the arrivals, and showed them the workworking shop with ongoing projects, tools, and varieties of wood that Monica uses in her sculptures: mahogany, teak, yellow cedar, black walnut and more. Monica and her husband J.P. spent most of their time at the house where J.P. hosted with beverages and snacks while Monica explained and demonstrated her various weaving techniques.

I stayed in the gallery, answering questions and selling Monica's artwork, large and small. I couldn't resist ordering some carved refrigerator magnets for Christmas gifts and for myself... lovely small sculptures. Monica carves wooden dishes and trays as well, each unique. She took orders for those as the ones on display had mostly all been sold, as had the magnets.

Also selling well were cards Monica has made of her paper cuts, another thing she does beautifully. One original was on display but not for sale.

Virtually everyone who entered the gallery was audibly in awe of Monica's talent. No one else in this country does weaving and wood combined. Only a few of her wall pieces were unsold by the second weekend, when Johnny and I helped out. Here is a sampling of the ones I managed to get reasonably good photographs of.

Besides wall pieces, Monica had two elegant, free-standing wood sculptures on display.

Outside the door of the gallery, the view across the valley was artistic itself.

A corner of the deck around the gallery hosts one of Roy Setziol's sculptures. A visitor discovered, atop the railing in another corner, an oak gall with a ladybug nestled picturesquely in its center. The observant visitor's warm breath woke the little creature, who wandered out, looked around, and promptly crawled back inside its cozy refuge. We all, ladybug included, felt wrapped in beauty at this harvest of art.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Queen of the Night

Queen of the Night is one of the many common names for night-blooming jungle cacti. I call mine a Night-blooming Cereus but I really don't know if it's a cereus or something else. All I know is the blooms last one night only and give off a strong fragrance designed to attract large moths to pollinate them.

Mine bloomed with three flowers in August and then formed eight more buds in October. I hoped it would wait until I returned from my trip to Ashland. From now on, I'll be careful what I hope for. I came home the night of October 5. The first bud kindly waited to open until the night of October 6. I was too tired to remember to check it that evening, but caught it the next morning. Unfortunately, I was apparently too bleary eyed to realize I didn't have it in focus.

That night two more flowers opened by 10 p.m. I did a little better. By 7:30 the next morning, when I was truly awake, they had already begun to fade.

So I took photos of buds that were looking like they'd open that night. One of them did. It is still dark at 7:30 in the morning and not much light in the jungle room , so I tried using the flash. That worked better.

Why I felt compelled to photograph each bud open, I don't know. But I did. Unfortunately, I didn't get better at it.
Four buds had bloomed with four to go on the day of our cider pressing party, October 9. That night was a very tired night. I knew this bud would open but I only made it to 9 p.m. Awake at 5:30 a.m., I crawled out of bed and took a picture of the fully open flower. The sweet smell was overpowering, especially combined with the fragrance of the Kahili ginger which refuses to quit flowering.

On the morning of October 11, I took this photo of two open flowers. On my calendar, I wrote that the last two buds opened on the night of October 11. I know I saw all eight buds open... sometimes when my eyes were barely open, but I swear I saw them! Apparently, however, I missed taking photos of all eight. Next time, I'd be happy with two flowers that open on a night when I'm not exhausted. This October's flowering became a marathon.

Right now, in my jungle room, all eight spent flowers are hanging and are almost all in view in this photo.

These flowers are spectacularly beautiful when open but it would be nice if they'd stay open longer than one night. They don't look like much when they're through blooming. This one looks about the way I felt after trying to stay awake nightly to watch them. I sure didn't feel like a queen of the night.