Sunday, January 6, 2013

Upper Nestucca Christmas Bird Count

Our postponed-because-of-stormy-weather Christmas Bird Count finally happened on January 2nd under clear, cold skies. My sector was still snowed in with only a mile of road in three directions passable. So I walked.

Ten miles.

Johnny dropped me off  at the edge of the count circle early, in the dark, then drove home to do chores. It was a lovely, moonlit night.

I hoped to hear owls before the sun came up. I did not. Nor did I see any birds when the sky began to lighten. In one mile, I reached the junction of the 2283 road that we come in on and the 14 road, which was only passable for a mile in each direction. There would be no driving to Bible Creek Road as we usually do.

I had not yet seen or heard any birds. I wondered if I was going to see a bird that day. This count, and particularly my heavily wooded sector, is not known for high numbers, but Pacific Wrens, at least, have always kept me company.
As I stood at the junction of the 14 and 2283 roads and listened to the silence, I saw my first two birds of the day: ducks! I never see ducks up in the deep woods. But there they were, two Hooded Mergansers, winging swiftly from somewhere to somewhere over my head. My day had begun.

I walked across the 14 on the 2283, a road we would not drive at all because of snow, snow now frozen solid. In a short distance, a Pacific Wren popped up onto a mossy log by the side of the road and I attempted to take its picture. Naturally, it disappeared behind the log before the shutter clicked.  This was to be my experience all day while trying to photograph the birds I saw.

 After begging the wren to reappear with no results, I sighed and looked up the snowy road ahead of me. There, staring back, was a bobcat. This was the first of many mammals spotted this bird count day.

  I kept snapping pictures since the cat seemed uninterested in going anywhere. Here it is zoomed up.

I couldn't stand there all day taking pictures of an immobile (except for one ear) bobcat, so I started to walk closer. The bobcat was gone in an instant.

When I reached the spot where it had sat, tracks frozen in the snow told stories of many earlier bobcat and snowshoe hare encounters. Perhaps the cat was waiting for its breakfast to appear. All along the 2283 road were bobcat and snowshoe hare tracks, as well as elk.

A short distance beyond the bobcat spot, a cow elk went crashing through the brush beside the road. She stopped and looked at me but not long enough for a photo.

Although the sun was out, it did not make it through the thick trees to me... except in one spot where the trees thinned along the road. I was so excited to see my shadow that I took its picture.

After about three miles, I turned around and started back, not having found the Sapsucker tree or attendant Sapsucker that I had seen on our first scouting trip, before the snowfall. Johnny called me on the radio (cell phones don't work up there) to say he had returned from chores and was parked at the junction. He left the van and began walking toward me. In a very short time, he found himself following a porcupine that was ambling down the middle of the road away from him. He called to tell me the porcupine was headed my way. However, just before I rounded a corner where I would have seen it, the quilled beast ambled off the road and disappeared into the woods. Too bad Johnny didn't have a camera.

And so it went all day. We saw a few birds, mostly Pacific Wrens, Chestnut-backed Chickadees and Golden-crowned Kinglets with a few Hairy Woodpeckers thrown in here and there. And plenty of mammals.

Chickarees (Douglas Squirrels) scolded us everywhere we went.

A coyote approached, but fled as soon as we were in sight. Birds kept refusing to stay put for my camera.

Since we could not drive the 14 road to the count down, we returned the way we had come and drove around the long way, arriving at Linda Leavitt's house within the count circle in time to eat the wonderful buffet she prepares for the count participants every year. We arrived too late, though, to see the Northern Pygmy Owl one count participant had called out of a tree right by Linda's house.

In spite of the paucity of birds, Johnny and I had a good time, as we always do when we're up in the woods. He was excited to follow a porcupine for an eighth of a mile and I was excited to trade stares with a bobcat... and gets its picture. We were both happy to not get the van stuck in the snow like we had three days earlier, while scouting for this count.

My hips were sore for a day from all the walking, but I look forward to doing it again next Christmas Count season. Who knows what might appear next year in the high forest of my count sector.

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