Saturday, February 25, 2012

A February Day at the Coast

The day after Johnny's return from his week in California, I dragged him off to the coast. It was the only non-rain day predicted for the near future and we had not been to the coast in way too long (from my point of view). Although the predicted sun rarely emerged, it was relatively warm and windless.

The trail through the woods heading for The Thumb from Road's End was muddy and slick. I thought I was being careful but... down I went into a rocky stream flowing in the middle of the path. At least I didn't fall into mud. I was only damp on one side and after wiping off binocs, camera, and scope bag, we continued upward. Before reaching the top, Johnny spotted a Peregrine Falcon on the cliff at the north end of the Road's End beach. The dot silhouetted against the ocean is the falcon. A zoomed up version is in the photo right.

While Johnny played with taking photos through the scope with his new camera, I tried to get a picture of waves washing over the top of the offshore island. We were there at high tide and it was the highest tide I've ever seen from The Thumb. I had no idea that island, usually so high out of the water, was ever inundated. But it was that day.

We climbed higher then and took photos of the falcon from a different angle. He had not moved.

At some point, the falcon flew to the snaggy tree that we could see after we'd climbed to the top of The Thumb.

A young eagle circled high over us for a time. The falcon ignored it.

With such a high tide, we didn't really expect to find Black Oystercatchers, although the tops of two of the three nest rocks we monitor in the spring were high and dry. But sharp-eyed Johnny did find a pair, not on the nest rocks but farther north on rocks at the south end of the Camp Westwind beach. The tiny-appearing birds were silhouetted against the water beyond. Although they were very far away, Johnny's camera managed to capture them (on the right side of this picture) through my scope.

Beyond them we could see Cascade Head and, with the scope, scores of elk.

After a couple hours of wave and bird watching, we headed back to the car. As always, I'd packed an extra set of clothes so was soon dry and presentable for our late lunch at Otis Cafe, where we bought, as always, some of their wonderful Otis Seasoning Salt to take home... along with plenty of leftover lunch. (Their servings are generous.)

From Otis, we drove to the Tamara Quays Salmon River estuary restoration project. No signs mark the area, but we had gone to their grand opening last year so knew where it was. At the closed gate, a sign said that foot traffic was welcome. We hiked in. From the headwaters of the estuary, we had a different view of Cascade Head and, finally, sunshine.

By this time, the tide was on its way out but we could see that this huge Sitka Spruce log had been rolled by the rising water from where it had rested previously. It made me wonder how old-time loggers were able to stand on those rolling logs as they herded them downriver.

From every twist and turn of the marsh-rimmed river, young Bufflehead ducks eyed us warily.

We soon headed home, leaving the birds to enjoy their estuary in peace. It was a wonderfully relaxing and refreshing day for us to enjoy before the return of February's wet weather.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Kestrel's 5th Birthday

Thanks to farm chores, we take our trips separately. Last week it was Johnny's turn to go south and help grandson Kestrel celebrate his 5th birthday. We bought Johnny a pocket-sized camera so he could take pictures for me while he was there. He rode the Amtrak down and back a week later. I missed him, but enjoyed his morning calls, telling me all about the goings on of the previous day.

Kestrel's Auntie Fudge joined the party over the weekend and delivered a huge birthday cake in the shape of Totoro, one of Kestrel's favorite movie characters (from "My Neighbor Totoro"). No one but Johnny would eat the frosting which Steve said looked like plastic. But the cake was a big hit with Kestrel anyway.

As well as partying, Johnny had a great time doing "projects" for the kids and grandkids, including remodeling the back yard play structure so Kestrel and Cedrus could reach the monkey bars and use the rope ladder and fireman's pole and rings. The heights are now adjustable so the bars can be raised when the kids get taller.

One day they all went ice skating (indoors, of course). Cedrus opted for riding his tricycle outside with his mom, instead, but Kestrel loved his second time on skates. (His first was just a week before.) Johnny used to be a very good skater and Steve is pretty awesome on in-line skates, so they had a good time, too. (Johnny said he only fell down once.)

After Kestrel tired, he went outside to join Cedrus, while Johnny and Steve continued to skate. (Auntie Fudge took the skating and trike riding photos with Johnny's camera. Thank you, Fudge!)

Johnny loved his birthday trip, especially working on projects with and for the kids (his favorite thing to do). Besides play structure remodeling, the projects included rewiring lights, installing a door, and cutting a board for a train set. The kids and grandkids were sad to see him leave. But I'm glad he's home! And grateful for the photos that give me a little window on his week.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Great Backyard Bird Count in Review

Today is the last day of the four day Great Backyard Bird Count. Mostly I just count the birds that I see while doing my daily chores, like those above, but yesterday, the only rain free day of the count, I hiked through our woods to Agency Creek. The creek was no longer muddy, but still running full from all our rain.

As I sat and waited for birds to appear, the lone Red-tailed Hawk that lost its mate to a power pole electrocution last month (see January's "A Raptor-Centric Week") appeared carrying a stick and landed on last year's nest. Perhaps, I thought, the widowed bird was refurbishing the nest in hopes of attracting a mate. That made me sad. Wanting to get a photo next time the bird brought nest material, I sat and waited. But the bird did not return to the nest (below left). Instead I saw it soaring, alone as it has been since the tragic death of its partner, around and around: a small, lonely figure high in a vast sky.

But after many minutes, a second hawk appeared! I watched as the two hawks circled together and occasionally made courtship dives. Oh happy day! "Our" Red-tail appears to have a new mate and will nest here again. Life is good.

This morning, another serendipitous sighting came while cleaning the horse shelter. The resident Bewick's Wren came out of its usual brushy lair and flew into an apple tree screaming its head off. I looked around to see what was the cause of the hysteria, but could see nothing... until I looked up and watched a Bald Eagle fly overhead. I can't imagine that a brush inhabitant like a Bewick's would worry about an eagle, but maybe the little wren's job is to alert everyone in the neighborhood to Look Out! Danger Above! The eagle was paying no attention to anything below and quickly flew out of sight... after adding another species to my GBBC list.

Although the rain is back today, I hiked through the woods before lunch anyway, hoping to add to my rather short bird list for the count. By chance, a small flock of Chestnut-backed Chickadees came by with several kinglets of both varieties in tow. I made a valiant effort to get photos but failed. As soon as I focused on one spot, the tiny bird moved to another. While chasing wee birds around with my camera, I noticed one hiking itself up a trunk. A Brown Creeper! I haven't seen any here for several years. And today, miracle of miracles, there were two traveling together with the kinglets and chickadees. I was determined to get a photograph but they were more determined to move out of range as soon as I clicked the shutter. You will have to take my word for it that the lump on the right side of the trunk (in photo below left) is the back end of a Brown Creeper moving out of sight. I didn't do much better with the Chickadees. Mostly, I got lovely lichen and moss covered branches where a bird had been a millisecond earlier.

Unless something else appears out of the rain (that I can see from my window because I'm not going back out), my species total for the four days stands at a paltry 28. At least, bird species. There were also chipmunks and rabbits to be seen... and, of course, flowers... flowers that hold still for the camera much better than birds. Yesterday's clouds had their own beauty, too, framed by blue (or at least not completely gray) sky.

The Great Backyard Bird Count provides a wonderful excuse to get outside, even on gray and drippy days, and notice the world that I too often just walk past on my way to do chores.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Easy Bird Count

Today is the first day of the four day Great Backyard Bird Count. The GBBC is the easiest count for beginners and fun for all of us. Here are the rules from the GBBC site:

Participation in the GBBC is easy:

1. Count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count. Fifteen minutes is the minimum, but you can count for as long as you like!

2. Tally the greatest number of individuals of each species that you see together at any one time. Optional: Print your to get an idea of the kinds of birds you're likely to see in your area in February.

3. Enter your checklists on the website at . You should submit tallies for each day and for each new location you visit. The deadline to enter your checklists is March 5.

So, what are you waiting for? Get out and count!

All participants are entered into a drawing for prizes. But the biggest prize is being out there, seeing birds, and enjoying the fresh air. (Although you're welcome to look out your window and count birds if you prefer.) I wandered around before the rain started back in today and discovered more than birds... our Fragrant Dawn Viburnum is covered with blooms just opening and scenting the air.

Next to the back door, the Winter Blooming Jasmine (or something... I never remember the correct name) is enveloping the horse hitching post... and everything else in the area.

Along the back walk are faithful primroses that bloom every chance they get all year long but especially in late winter and spring. The yellow ones are open now, soon to be followed by others.

Oh yes, birds. I did take photos of some of the birds feeding on seed I threw out for them in front of the goat barn, although they don't hold as still for the camera as do the flowers. Two Spotted Towhees, a Fox Sparrow, and parts of several not-very-golden Golden-crowned Sparrows march along, slightly out of focus, pecking at seeds.

It's easier to get a photo of the resident peacock, who thinks I throw the seed out just for him. In the background, you may be able to pick out a bevy of small birds feeding in the grass. They are mostly Golden-crowned Sparrows that winter here and will be leaving for their northern breeding grounds before long.

Birdwatching is fun and the GBBC gives me a great excuse to go do it. Sure beats working on income taxes which is what I need to do now that the rain has returned. You can bet that the next break in the weather will find me outdoors again, counting those little chickadees and kinglets moving through the hedgerows... and whatever else crosses my path...

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Silver and Gold Friends

In Girl Scouts, we sang "Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold." This past weekend was spent with both silver and gold friends. It started with gold friends Kevin (our 41-year-old son), Jessica (his wife of 14 years), and their son Ian, 10. I went up to watch Ian's gymnastic meet near Seattle on Saturday. It was his first time to compete.

Ian is on the Northshore Gymnastic Team. He competed in Trampoline and Double-Mini. I had never heard of Double-Mini before nor seen it. It's a ramped up and down trampoline just a short distance off the floor. The gymnast runs fast up the ramp and leaps on the middle, bouncing high up and off the other side with a twist or flip or whatever his/her level calls for. (Ian is Level 4, whatever that means.)

I know it looks like Ian has no legs, but they are tucked under him after he bounced on the mini-double. You can watch him doing his routine here:

Ian scored 28.0 out of 30.0 points which another parent told us was very good. I was clueless about the scoring but it looked good to me. At least, I know there's no way I could do it. Before the next meet I attend, I hope to get better informed so I understand what's going on.

The trampoline was a huge, double trampoline. The kids, Ian told us, could pick whichever side they wanted to perform on. Competition starts when a child reaches Level 3. The levels go up to 9 or 10 or something (didn't figure that out either). I thought Level 4 looked difficult enough. Here's Ian: (no, he didn't fall, he bounced on his back then back up on his feet. He also bounced on his seat then twisted in mid air to bounce on his seat the other direction then back up to his feet. Like I said, Level 4 looked difficult enough to me.) Watch his routine here:

Another thing I didn't understand was who was competing against whom. There were five teams (I think) in the competition. The kids competed against others of their level and, I think, gender. However, it worked, Ian got blue ribbons in both his events. Here he is, back home, still in his Northshore uniform, dutifully posing for Grandma's camera in front of the refrigerator with his ribbons before having a bowl of his mom's wonderful chili. After all that exercise, he was hungry!

On Sunday, gymnastic meet over, we stayed at Traumhof and caught the second day of the David Blake dressage clinic. As always, it was wonderful and I learned (at least temporarily) lots. This was the day for "silver" friends. I don't know when I've ever been to a barn where the staff and boarders and trainer... and horses!... are so happy and friendly. It was fun to see all these newish friends I've made there. And to watch David work his magic with the riders and their horses. He taught while sitting on the sidelines part of the time, but also in the arena when appropriate. Here he is helping a horse understand the passage rhythm. And he couldn't resist tuning up for the new owner a horse that he had trained to Grand Prix and then sold. David obviously still loves this horse.

Early Monday morning, very early, I left Traumhof and headed for Seattle to see "gold" friends Woody and Martha. We've been friends with Martha since before Kevin was born. She married Woody, her husband of 30 years now, some ten years later. I arrived in the dark and took a nap in the car until they were stirring. Why I can't sleep past 4 a.m. when I'm away from home is a mystery, but I can't, so I get up and do something like... drive into Seattle. I certainly have no traffic to worry about at that hour.

When the day began to lighten, I walked around their property and took photos. It's hard to believe they live inside Seattle. I don't know how many lots they have but the way the hills and trees are positioned, not another house is visible from theirs... nor is the road. A bike path, screened by trees, borders one side of their property. They have a woodshed that is a work of art as is Woody's tool shed, carport, and every other building on the place. Woody is a master with wood. He built the Camp Denali log buildings in Alaska and was invited back for the 50th anniversary, all expenses paid. He and Martha have again been invited this coming summer, all expenses paid, for the 60th anniversary of the founding of Camp Denali.

Here is their Seattle house...

Woody is now 88 years old but you couldn't tell it to look at him. They still heat with wood, grow a big garden, and play music. Woody plays the hammer dulcimer, among other instruments. Martha plays viola and violin. They have been playing together in a folk dance band for many years. Martha plays in other musical groups as well.

A sign hanging in their bathroom epitomizes their outlook on life. Golden words from golden friends...

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Shirley's Puppy Bumper and Consequences

For every action, we are taught in Physics, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Last week we sold the kid goats. This week I'm swimming in milk that the kids are no longer drinking.

So today I made custard and ice cream. The mint chocolate chip ice cream is wonderful. The butter walnut not so much. As usual, I burned the walnuts. Burnt Walnut ice cream is nowhere near as tasty as unburned butter walnut ice cream. Plus it didn't occur to me that adding a cup of burned walnuts to an already full ice cream maker would make everything ooze out the top. Normally I don't mind messes of that sort because I eat them. But I've now eaten more burnt walnut ice cream than I needed or wanted. I'll have to wait to start on the custard.

But to get on with Shirley's Puppy Bumper... Shirley, our llama and sheep guardian dog, believes she owns the neighborhood and goes through our fences to patrol "her" territory. Unfortunately, she also likes to chase cars while she's out and about. Consequently, I am continually patching the latest hole she has made through our ancient woven wire fences. Sometimes my patches keep her in for a day... or part of a day... before she creates a new hole.

When I run out of fence panel pieces, or enthusiasm for hauling them all over the farm, I weave tree branches and whatever else I can find through the woven wire.

In desperation after a neighbor came to tell us our black dog was on the road again chasing cars and he'd nearly run into her, I searched the web for a solution and found Puppy Bumpers.

"Stuffed pillow collars keep dogs in fences."

They had pictures of cute little foofoo dogs with stuffed pillow collars around their necks. I read the gazillions of testimonials from satisfied owners with neat city picket fences that their little foofoo dog used to go through until they discovered Puppy Bumpers.

I finally found a testimonial about a dog on a ranch. The dog was not so big nor so furry as Shirley and only outdoors, I suspect, occasionally... not day and night with sheep and llamas to protect. Plus I suspect that ranch's woven wire fences were in considerably better shape than ours. But I was ready to try anything. So I ordered the size the ranch dog was wearing: the largest size they had. Thankfully, it fit!

The next time Shirley escaped, I caught her and put the Puppy Bumper on after returning her to the llama/sheep field. And waited to see what would happen. For several days she stayed in. I did not want to leave the collar on her 24/7 so, after praising her effusively, I took the collar off. The next morning, Shirley was out on her neighborhood patrol again. This went on for weeks; as long as she had the Puppy Bumper on, she stayed in. When I relented and took it off, she escaped.

But my semi-solution was not to last. A few days ago, Shirley was outside the fence with her Puppy Bumper still firmly around her neck. Rats! It was back to watching where she managed to push through even with a stuffed pillow around her neck and patching that hole, which I have now done.

My latest plan is to let her out first thing in the morning. Generally, Shirley comes home soon when she leaves in the morning. It's later in the afternoon, bored with no coyotes to bark at during the day, that she takes off to find something else to chase, like a car. When she returns in the morning, I'll put her in and hope she stays. If she doesn't, it's Puppy Bumper time again. Consequences, Shirley, consequences.

For every action, there is a reaction... but not necessarily equal since Shirley seems better able to get out than I am at keeping her in. Of course the ultimate solution is to put up new fences. But that's an expensive project and one we're not ready to tackle. So live with it, Shirley. I am.

And now to find more uses for too much milk...