Saturday, November 19, 2011

Where the Wild Things Are

The wild things are in our swamp, in front of the trail camera. Our camera has captured, so far, many deer and raccoons, one opossum, several coyotes, three different bears, and one bobcat. Oh, and two horses who are now, hopefully, locked out of the swamp. Jessie Anne seemed to delight in putting her nose on the trail camera and fogging it up.

I cannot figure out how to capture individual frames of the videos to print as stills. I think I need more sophisticated programs than I have on my computer. Or at least a more sophisticated, tech savvy, computer operator. Birder friend LaVon told me she solved the problem by taking photos of her camera videos on her television set. I thought that was a great idea so went to all the trouble of moving our trail camera videos to a CD (it took me hours since I am computer illiterate)... only to realize a CD is not the same thing as a DVD and cannot be played in our DVD player and viewed on our television. I have watched my camera videos on the tv, but it has ports (or something) for connecting to the VCR.

LaVon said she had never had luck taking photos of the video captures on a computer because the pixils (or something) show up and make funny lines. Well, she's right.

Having failed at the television angle, I took photos of the video frames I wanted on the computer, in as many different ways as I could dream up. Some of the wavy lines that appear in the images are quite attractive, but do make it difficult to tell what wild thing one is looking at. Here are the shots that are the best I've come up with so far.... at least they are recognizable. I have no clue what to do about the big white eyes. I have now reset the camera to 24 hour surveillance instead of night time only, so perhaps day time videos will provide better images. The still shots the camera has taken the one night we set it for stills were pretty awful. It's tough to get a wild thing to pose for the camera.

Three different bucks have appeared in our videos: a 3 point, a spike, and a 5 point.

It's more difficult to tell the does apart, but one has twin fawns, as seen on the left.

Everyone can likely recognize the fat coyote, fat opossum and fat raccoon in photos above.

Our original reason for buying a trail camera last year was to capture photos of the bears that were leaving their calling cards all over our lawn. So it was nice to have photos of them that we didn't have to take by leaning out the bedroom window in the middle of the night. We knew there were at least two different bears in the neighborhood, because we had seen Three Foot in the pear tree by our house and a smaller bear in the orchard. But we had never seen Big Bear until he appeared in our trail camera by the swamp. And we thought Three Foot was big. This fellow is huge.

Below left is the first bear who appeared in our camera. A video of him is on an earlier blog:
Compare him with Big Bear, on the right and in the video above.

I can't help having a soft spot in my heart (head?) for Three Foot, the bear that raided our pear tree, ripped open our dog food container, and destroyed a sack of chicken food. He has a mangled right front paw that he holds off the ground. There are still remnants of claws on the foot, and we have seen him hang on to the pear tree while picking pears with one front foot, so he manages. But when he turns right, as he is in two of these stills, he lurches to keep all that weight over his other three legs.

It was exciting to finally see a bobcat appear in a video this morning. We know they are around as we and neighbors have seen them, but they are not as bold as coyotes or bears. This one stood and stared at the camera the entire 30 seconds of the video, slinking away at the end. The cat's eyes are about half the size they appear here. I have no idea why they look like this in the video.

We have also seen skunks and porcupines on our farm, neither of which have yet appeared in our trail camera. And we know at least one cougar visits our neighborhood occasionally. I'm not at all sure I want to see him in the camera. If I do, I might be a bit hesitant about going back into the swamp, where the wild things are, to retrieve the camera card.

Addendum: After reading this blog entry, friend Toni sent this news release:

"The word is out! Auditions are now being held at Fink Family Farm on the new Wild Animal Trail Camera site. Although originally searching for wild nocturnal animals, the producers of this popular reality show have discovered new talent in well-known domestic animals who made surprise appearances during the auditions. Further attempts at gate crashing of this sort is, however, being strongly discouraged. Would-be stars should be advised that casting is complete for the "Three Bears" and "Bambi" episodes, as well as "The Masked Bandits", but the search is still on to find that "special someone" to fill each of the starring roles in "Stinky and Pokey, Lost in the Swamp." Another major project awaiting production, "The Big Cats," has been temporarily sidelined due to an accident on the set. Although officials would not confirm or deny it, a rumor has been circulated that one of the co-stars was so overwhelmed by the opportunity of performing with THE BIG CAT that, when he first saw him on site, his eyes literally popped out of his head. We will keep you posted on his condition, but at press time, his eyes still had that totally "gone" look."

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Birding Baskett Slough

Nothing compares to spending a day birding with friends, unless it's a day birding with friends where you actually find the birds you hoped to find. Such a day was today. In spite of periodic rain showers and cold wind, the weather mostly cooperated when Tillamook birders Barbara, John, and LaVon plus Johnny and I stopped at our pre-selected spots.

We started with the Fink Family Farm where the seven bluebirds that arrived eight days ago came cooperatively close for photos by all of us. Hopefully the others got better photos than mine. I call this Fuzzy Bluebird #1 and Fuzzy Bluebird #2. Our resident Red-tailed Hawk and American Kestrel also put in an appearance, but my inability to get a decent picture of either continued today.

From the farm, we drove to Shenk Wetlands where four White-tailed Kites posed on their usual hedgerow, way too far for photos. Although they were facing away, I am fairly sure they were two adults and two juveniles, to be confirmed on a future trip when they face me where I can see the rusty blush on the breasts of the juveniles. Friend Marilyn and I saw two adults and one juvenile there on my raptor run two weeks ago.

Next stop was Orchard St. by Sheridan to see the wintering Northern Shrike. It was raining when we arrived and no shrike in view. But within minutes the rain subsided and the Shrike appeared right in front of our car. However, it soon flew to a tree a bit farther away and I managed to get only a Fuzzy Shrike photo.

After a lunch stop in Sheridan, we headed for Tucker Rd. on the way to Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge. The Hooded Mergansers I'd seen on Monday were still there, along with many Cackling and Canada Geese, but the Eurasian Wigeon that was hanging out with the Mergansers on Monday was nowhere to be seen through the now driving rain. (I later checked my bird book and realized that it was not a Eurasian Wigeon after all. Good thing it wasn't there this day to prove my ignorance.)

So onward we went to Livermore Rd. where I again could not find the alleged Snow Bunting. We did find Harriers and Red-tailed Hawks. Some Great Egrets continued to guard the sheep flock, as they had on Monday, and were now aided by this handsome Red-tail, who seemed to be keeping a sharp eye out for trespassers.

A pair of Bald Eagles sat regally atop very tall and distant power poles on Livermore Rd., but I managed only a Fuzzy Eagles photo.

Then on we went to the star attraction at The Narrows on Coville Rd.: the juvenile White-faced Ibis that I had taken blurry photos of on Monday. It was a bit closer this time, but not close enough. And the wind was very cold. These shots are the best my shaking hands could manage. The real photographers in the group undoubtedly did better. Another bird-photographer friend, one I met on my canoe trip at the Oregon Shorebird Festival in August, happened to be at Baskett Slough at the same time as we, also stalking the Ibis. It is always fun to meet fellow bird nuts in the field.

The first photo below has the Ibis in the center of the foreground, reflected in the water. The others are zoomed in closer, creating Fuzzy Ibis photos.

Having scored on nearly all the birds we had hoped to find, we headed home. As we left Baskett Slough, the rain returned in earnest. But a sun break along the way produced a lovely rainbow, a fitting conclusion to a fun day. As I write this journal report, the rain and wind are fiercely noisy outside my window. Let them rage. We are safely home, warmed both by the wood stove and fine friends.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bluebirds of Happiness

Bluebirds have been symbols of happiness for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. And, for some reason, they make me happy, too. Other birds are blue, like jays, but jays have a brassy personality, not the sweet gentle personality of bluebirds. Western Bluebirds, which is the species we have from time to time on our farm, don't fly around screaming their heads off like jays do. Instead, they talk to each other in soft melodic murmurs. I love the sound of Western Bluebirds. And I love their subtle insect-hunting methods: sitting on a fence quietly, then flying softly down to the grass for a catch, then back up to the fence line, working their way around our pastures. They seem to pay me no mind at all.

Last Wednesday, a flock of bluebirds moved onto our farm after an absence of nearly a year. That's when I took the above picture. I've seen them nearly every day since. I hope they stay. Bluebirds lift my spirits. And my spirits needed lifting after 11/11/11.

On that day, for some strange reason, multiple things went wrong on the farm. A ewe died. Then, a baby goat died. Granted, both had been ailing for sometime. That evening, when I went to put the horses in, Nightingale was across the fence in the neighbor's field cavorting with the two neighbor mares, having mashed down the panel gate between. It was nearly dark when I found her and she would not let me catch her. Or rather, the neighbor's mares would not let me. They took off, hazing Nightingale, whenever I approached. Soon it was pitch dark. Nightingale is black. I gave up. I called my neighbor and told her I'd retrieve my errant mare in the morning. Then I went to the barn to milk goats. Unbeknownst to me, the hot water heater had died sometime during the day and I had no hot water to wash buckets or udders. That was the last straw after a stressful day. I harbored thoughts of selling the farm and traveling the world instead of working myself to death on this place.

But the next morning, Nightingale was relatively cooperative and soon back home. Johnny and I spent the morning creating a barrier between the neighbor's panel gate and our field. Then Johnny fixed my barn hot water heater. And the bluebirds arrived, murmuring their sweet and soothing sounds. How could I have thought of giving up this place I love so much?

Whenever the work here overwhelms, and the animal problems as well, I take a break and go birding. On Monday, I birded Baskett Slough Wildlife Refuge on my way home from the feed store in Dallas. I usually stop at The Narrows at Baskett Slough for a few minutes after a feed store run, but that day I spent hours. A few "good birds" had been located over the weekend, and I thought perhaps I could get some photos if they were still around.

It was a gray and misty day and the birds far out in the watery marshes. So I gave up on "good" photos and settled for ones where I could at least tell what the birds were. And some I took just because they struck my fancy. One of the reported "good birds" was a White-faced Ibis, seldom seen in these parts. But it spent most of its time foraging around a distant grassy hummock in the marsh. Zoomed up to where it is recognizable as a tall wading bird with a long curved bill, it blurs at the edges. I like to think of it as an "Impressionist" photo, a sort of avian Monet. Sort of.

There were many varieties of birds at The Narrows, but all far away. At least three Bald Eagles were in the vicinity. A long distance shot of this one appealed to my gray day mood.

Northern Harriers were abundant but also far away. I caught this one about to dive on some hapless rodent.

A Snow Bunting had been seen by several along Livermore Road, which is one of my routes home from Baskett Slough when I'm wandering. I never did find the white Bunting, but in a brighter sky moment, I saw a white Egret in a geometric space that caught my eye.

At the end of Livermore Rd., dark clouds lowered and the rain began in earnest. In a distant sheep pasture, I spotted a dozen or more Great Egrets. Some people have livestock guardian dogs. These people seem to have guardian egrets.

Heading home, I drove past a pond on Tucker Rd and found these lovely Hooded Mergansers swimming through reflected fall colors.

Yesterday, the day after my Baskett Slough escape, was one of those rare and totally unpredicted sunny November days. I spent it happily pruning shrubs and fighting back wild blackberry vines, while Bluebirds murmured their comforting conversations close by.

Life is good, at least for the moment.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Trail Camera Lives Again!

We gave up on the trail camera last year when we couldn't figure out how to charge the battery. Well, we charged but it didn't. Turns out we had run it empty and killed it... I didn't think to check the battery level each time I turned it on. So Johnny bought a new battery, installed it, and set up the trail camera next to a pear tree in the swamp two days ago (far side of the farm from our house).

We had not shaken the pear tree when we shook the apple trees last weekend because we were making apple, not pear, cider. And it's on the other side of the electric fence from the horses (who should not be eating tons of pears or apples). Well, it's away from all four horses during the day and three of the horses at night. Our solar charger must lose enough umph at night to stop impressing my palomino, Jessie Anne, who is now known as The Golden Leaner. She leans into the fence, pushing over the white plastic fence poles. After she's over, the fence poles straighten back up. The other horses will have nothing to do with that white electric tape day or night.

So, our first night of the trail camera operation this fall (two nights ago) captured videos of a bear (bears?), coyote, deer, raccoons... and Jessie Anne. One bear video is here. For the others, you'll have to go to youtube.

I especially like watching the reactions of the various species to the trail camera. For those reading this without the ability (or desire) to watch the videos on youtube, the bear is curious, the coyote terrified, the spike buck interested, and Jessie Anne oblivious.

On the second night (last night), I changed the trail camera setting from video to still in hopes of getting a good photo of a bear. But the bear did not show. Instead, I have 28 stills of, mostly, deer. (I had locked Jessie Anne in the barn to keep her out of the area.)

The raccoon was in the back dark corner of the photo so I cropped to find him. The coyote is washed out and I don't know how to fix that. The videos of the coyote are much better. Not that I need to see coyotes at night. They are perfectly willing to roam our fields in the daytime, too.

For some reason, having night time videos of bears makes their presence seem friendlier than just seeing their scats, upchuck piles, and scratched tree outside our back door. Maybe it seems friendlier because they are a quarter mile away at the southeast corner of our farm instead of in our back yard, ripping open sacks of chicken food and mangling the dog food container.

When the action slows down under that pear tree, we'll likely move the trail camera close to the house, just to make sure the bears are really gone. Or not.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Bear Solutions

Although Johnny thinks the solar-powered alarms I ordered to scare away bears won't work (and he's probably right since we don't have much "solar" this time of year), I haven't noticed him following through with his idea that we should mark our territory by peeing as high on the trees, etc., as possible (and we all know which one of us can pee the highest). So I ordered the alarms anyway. In the meantime, I hung a string of tin cans on the apple tree outside our back door that the bear(s?) insist on scratching. I think they are using that tree as a marking post but I don't know whether one bear is telling the others that this is his territory or whether he's telling them that this is a good area for apples, etc., and the people who live here are too dumb to worry about.

Although Johnny laughed derisively at my tin can alarm, I do think the cans worked to deter the bears. I noticed no new scratches the next morning and there have been new scratches since I took the cans down... in spite of no apples on that tree anymore.

I only left the tin cans up one night as the next day was our main bear preventive day: another cider making party. This time we shook every tree that has apples on it around the house, orchard, and horse pasture. The bears can have the driveway and arboretum apples as they've already eaten most of those anyway.

A variety of methods were used to separate apples from their trees... whacking branches with long poles, grabbing branches and shaking them, climbing into the tree to shake from on high, and Ian's favorite method: lobbing apples at other apples from the ground. Then the troops gathered the fallen apples into buckets and poured them into feed sacks, preferably not while the apples were falling, although impatient Ian spent a good deal of time getting conked on the head and back.

Here is Kevin up in a tree...

Above is Ian lobbing apples at apples while Rand poles them. Above right is Gina poling apples while Ian, what else?, throws apples at the tree. Below is Linnet's smiling face high in an apple tree.

After a potluck break at noon, the cider making began. We had some returnee cider makers from the last gathering along with new recruits. Linda and Dave and Randy were faithful returnees, bringing Dave's son Jesse and his friend Sarah with her two kids Hailey and Dylan. Ian and Hailey and Dylan had a great time together... and the llamas enjoyed having more kids to feed them apples.

Jessica, who usually joins in, missed the fun because she was attending a horse function (where I joined her on Sunday). But she sent her fabulous chili recipe with Ian who made it for all of us for lunch.

Barb and Mark are also regulars from past years, this year bringing daughter Linnet and her partner Gina. Neighbor Irv and Rand pitched in as well. All took home plenty of cider for their efforts but there was still half a barrel left for us... and many fewer apples on the place for bears.

On the left are Kevin, Linnet, Barb and Sara washing apples.

Above, right, Ian puts apples through the chopper with help from Randy & Johnny.

...Hailey pressing with supervision from Jesse and Dylan

Dylan pressing while Jesse looks on...

Of course, apples are not the only attraction for bears: there's the chicken food. So Johnny's bearicade from last year is back up at night. That story and photos are here: Also the dog food dispenser is moved indoors every night... and the back door locked. I do not want a bear in my house, looking for goodies.

When apples everywhere are gone (and there are plenty of deer around helping that happen), the black bears will find a sheltered spot and take a nap until food supplies return in the spring. The bear piles will stop appearing nightly in our yard and driveway and the bearicade can come down. The dog food dispenser will stay where it belongs outdoors and I can stop scrutinizing every pair of eye shine I see at night on my way to feed the horses. I can hardly wait. Next fall, I'll be prepared with solar alarms *before* the bears arrive.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Birthday Week Gone Bad

When you have a birthday on Halloween, as I do, I suppose you should expect scary things to happen. They certainly have this year.

The plan was to hike to a mountain lake not far from us, but one we haven't hiked to for several years. I went out early Halloween Monday morning to feed horses and milk goats. My beloved Mr. Smith was not feeling well. He has had several episodes of mild colic over the last year or more. This was another. So I spent my birthday morning walking my horse and worrying.

By the time he was better, I was hiked out. Plus we needed to repair fence. Shirley Puppy, a neighbor told us, had been out on the road chasing cars again. I'd hoped she had learned her lesson when hit by a pickup a year ago. She had for a time, but the lesson wore off. So Johnny and I surveyed the fence line around the llama/sheep/Shirley field and determined the easiest temporary fixes to make. The whole fence needs replacing sometime, but for now, we put up stock panels over the worst areas.

While doing that, I noticed a black ewe on her side, not getting up. I hiked into the field and righted her. She was very bloated and breathing hard. But she, like Mr. Smith, seemed better later in the day. I made myself a chocolate cake and some goat milk ice cream. This birthday was not going to be a total bust.

That evening, Mr. Smith was "off" again, so it was more walking, in the dark, for another hour until he produced manure. Johnny came out at one point to see what was happening. Always one to find the bright side of things, he said, "You got to do a lot of hiking on your birthday plus spend time with your horses. A good day, huh?"

I was not amused. I was too worried about Mr. Smith. He has had some funny white things in his manure for quite some time and I began to wonder if he was loaded with some strange sort of worms. I gathered the fresh manure, when it finally arrived, into a pail and sent it off with Johnny the next morning to the vet. I was scheduled to do my first raptor run of the winter the day after my birthday and intended to do just that if Mr. Smith was okay. He was and I did. The vet called while I was on the road with friend Marilyn driving. Mr. Smith was loaded with tapeworms. That's what those funny white things in his manure were: tapeworm segments. The vet told me what de-wormer to buy. (I have and all 4 horses are now de-tapewormed.)

That day after my birthday was a much better day, being spent looking for birds. We did not see many raptors... most of the wintering raptors do not arrive for another month... but we did find a pair of White-tailed Kites and one juvenile kite at a place where we knew they must have nested but from which they had disappeared for several months. Kites do that every year. It's always exciting (to birdaholics) when these beautiful hawks reappear.

Happily, the usual scary things at the Oregon Wildlife grounds where we survey were safely locked away: the white rhinos. They have been causing too much trouble and are banished from areas where people might roam. Instead, we saw several raptors, two lovely Western Bluebirds, some of the usual endangered antelope and several not-at-all endangered native deer. This handsome fellow was taking a nap as we drove by.

Things were looking up. But not for long.

That night we had the hardest frost thus far of the year. I had forgotten to cover the tomatoes. So I picked green tomatoes Wednesday morning. And noticed that a bear came very close to the house during the night, leaving scratch marks on the apple tree right outside our back door and a pile of partly digested apples in the back yard.

I thought briefly that perhaps we should start moving the dog food dispenser inside at night, as we did last year after the bear dismantled it, and perhaps we should erect the bearicade over the chicken house door. But I decided to leave the big white goat guardian dog, McCoy, out instead, hoping his barking would scare the bear away. That proved to be a bad decision.

Sometime during the night, I woke up to hear Shirley Puppy barking. "Shirley is barking", I told Johnny, who was also awake.

"Yeah, she's been barking for about ten minutes."

"And you didn't get up to see what's going on??" I jumped out of bed and headed for the back door, turning on the kitchen light and back room light as I went, grabbing the flashlight, opening the back door, and shining it at the apple tree, then the back yard. McCoy barked briefly, then both dogs were quiet. The motion sensor light was not on in the back yard so I didn't think the bear had been there. It was cold outside and I wasn't dressed. I went back to bed. Another bad decision.

It was dark when I went out to feed horses the next (this) morning. I did not notice the destruction in the back yard until later, when I came in from milking goats. The bear had, just as last year, ripped the dog food dispenser off the fence and over to his side. However, he had apparently dropped it in the water trough before getting it over the fence. The water trough was full of floating dog food. The pipe I leave at the bottom of the trough for the goldfish to hide in was out on the ground. The bear must have scooped it out while trying to get the dog food container out of the water. I had been leaving very little food in the dispenser in case the bear did come. (Finally, one good decision.) It looked like all of it was in the water. Apparently bears don't like soggy dog food.

At some distance from the fence, against the grapes by the woodshed, was the metal barrel with securely fastened lid that we have kept dog food in ever since last year when the bear destroyed the hard plastic dog food barrel. (See... ) Last night the bear tried and failed to get it open.

Failing at his dog food raid, the bear turned his attention to the unprotected chicken house and tore open a sack of grain. He had not eaten much so maybe bears don't like grain. Tonight, Johnny will erect his bearicade and we'll move the dog food dispenser into the house.

There are "bear piles" all over the yard this Thursday morning, most full of pieces of yellow and green apples, probably from our Golden Delicious tree in the front yard. It seems bears like yellow apples best.

This bear seems to like raspberry leaves, as my raspberry plants were stripped of leaves this morning. Deer would have eaten the nearby blueberry leaves and rose leaves and those are untouched. Maybe the bear had a tummy ache after all those apples and needed raspberry leaves to ease it.

McCoy, the dog I left out to chase the bear away, was sound asleep when I went out early this morning to do chores. I will say that there was no sign the bear had entered the goat barn where there is a full bag of dog food in an unsecured plastic barrel. Maybe McCoy was guarding that.

Last year when we were having bear trouble, niece Melissa suggested we buy a toy alarm that "when someone or something gets near it, some siren goes off and makes you pee your pants." I think it's time to take that suggestion. At least it should get us out of bed.