After our usual gathering of large rocks for surrounding baby arboretum trees to protect them from gophers and my lawn mower, we drove to the farthest of the Agency Creek American Dipper nests that we have found over the last couple of years. No Dippers were present, but there was plenty of evidence they had been there. With leaves off the trees and the weather pleasant enough, we decided to hike upstream from that nest location and see how far the Dipper evidence continued. (Dipper evidence being little whitewash splats where a Dipper sat and defecated, like on the rocks pictured below.)
The Dipper evidence continued far beyond where I reached, I'm sure. I'll search more another day. We found interesting things along the way, including these leavings from some predator... a raccoon perhaps? We think these are fish teeth and scales.
We also found a beaver slide with one beaver print not obliterated by its dragging tail. There were many beaver chewed trees but I did not take photos of them. Maybe next time.
Also along that part of the stream were these interesting cup fungi.
I wanted to have time to check some of our other known Dipper nest areas so hiked back to the van and we drove on. A short distance up the road, Johnny noticed a Gray Jay feeding on something. It turned out to be a Bushytail Wood Rat, or half of one. I've seen hawks and vultures and coyotes feeding on dead animals along the road, but this is the first time I've seen a Gray Jay doing it.
Between two known Dipper nest areas, we found a potential new nest area, judging from the quantity of splats. We'll come back later to see if we're right.
The known nest area by Asinine Bridge gave us our first view of a Dipper this day. It was sitting atop a log that crossed the stream near the old nest site. Another Dipper was downstream and out of sight of the first one. It is difficult to know at this time of year if sitting birds are hanging out near their nest site or defending their territory boundaries. Time will tell.
Farther downstream, another Dipper sat atop a rock in an area where we often see Dippers but have not yet discovered a nest. This is near what I call Blythe's Corner and Blythe's Falls, for a friend who visits this part of the stream to meditate. A Dipper often meditates with her, but neither she nor I have seen it feed nestlings. Perhaps this year I will, now that I've discovered a potential nest site within view of this Meditating Dipper on a Rock. The Dipper is the tiny black dot in the center of the photo atop a rock, with Blythe's Falls in the background. The next photo is the Dipper enlarged (and blurry).
Another more colorful bird caught my eye as I hiked. We saw two of these pretty Red-breasted Sapsuckers along the creek.
Dipper evidence was everywhere it should be yesterday, at least at the nest sites we visited. We did not hike into the last two, which are considerably off the road. We'll survey again in March and see if nests are being built or rebuilt.
Back home in late afternoon, I was unloading rocks when I heard my horses screaming. Johnny hollered that two of them were in the arboretum, pacing the fence line. I hurried to retrieve them before they destroyed my trees. Mr. Smith was calling to them from where they all should have been. The mares must have come through the fence somewhere down in the woods. Jessie Anne seems to think that fences are puzzles for her to figure out. I put the mares back where they belonged and closed the electric fence gate to keep them contained in one field until I could find the fence they had gone through.
This afternoon I followed their hoof prints... an easy task in the soft ground... from arboretum to woods to where they walked over the downed fence. Huge trees had fallen on the fence and smashed it flat so I cannot really blame the mares for walking over the top. Mr. Smith, though, must have been elsewhere when they made their escape. Since they called him from where they wandered, which was in a different direction from where they escaped, he ran back and forth along an intact fence line trying to reach them.
It would have taken a chain saw to repair the damage and a lot of post and fence replacing, so I spent several hours doing my usual propping up what could be propped up and then weaving downed limbs through standing trees to create a network hopefully looking enough like a barrier to convince the horses to stay where they belong. When Johnny has time, he will fix it properly.
It was a good Super Bowl Sunday for us, minus chicken wings and beer. Even the horse escape could not dampen my enthusiasm. After all, it was good to find out about the downed fence and lucky the horses did not get their feet caught in the woven wire as they crossed it. And, of course, any day I see a Dipper is a good one.