Sunday, June 16, 2013

Adventures in Birding

Once a week, at least, we head for the coast to check on Black Oystercatcher nests... and/or try to find ones we don't know about yet. On Friday, June 7, Johnny was raking hay, so friend Dawn and I went to Boiler Bay to check the nests there. Dawn has kindly agreed to take over monitoring that site and I wanted to show her where the nests are.  The nest areas can be seen from the Boiler Bay park, so there is no hiking involved.

To my surprise, Dawn, a hiker, but strictly of the flat land persuasion, volunteered to go with me to Road's End after we had verified that both nests were still viable at Boiler Bay and even seen eggs at one. The Road's End hike is not for everyone. The last part is extremely steep and, when you get to the top, it's best not to have a fear of heights. Many of the people I've taken up there stop at the bottom of the steep part, the knob we call The Thumb. It's not a bad place to hang out and wait for the idiot who climbs to the top and sits at the edge of a vertical drop to watch three directions for three different nests on offshore rocks. Dawn waited at the bottom, in the meadow of wild flowers with a lovely view of the ocean, coastline and rocks (but not the nest rocks) and... on this day... a distant view of a Bald Eagle sitting on a scraggy tree for the entire time we were there.

 Not such a bad deal, huh? That dot in the middle of the photo is Dawn.

And here she is, happily (or so I assumed) munching an apple. I took these photos on my way down, since I could not see her, nor her me, while I was on top. And therein lay the problem.

The problem: I had forgotten to take my cell phone with me so we had no way of communicating. My cell phone is also my only time keeper, so I did not know how long I had been up there. Apparently, time flies when I'm trying to figure out  what's going on with nesting birds.

It took a very long time to verify that one set of parents were, indeed, still feeding chicks as they had been the week before at one nest. It would not have taken so long if I'd had my cell phone and could have learned from Dawn that she was watching a BLOY gather food and fly north somewhere with it, out of her sight. Not having that information, I had to wait to see a BLOY land in the nest area but it did not always land, apparently, in my sight.

It took so long for me to figure out what was happening on that rock, and to see incubation exchanges on the other two nest rocks (indicating that those birds were still on eggs) that, after a couple of hours, Dawn began to worry about what had happened to me. And so, gathering her courage, she bravely crawled up to the top. Unfortunately, as soon as you reach the top, the view ahead of you is not of the nest rocks and me but of a sheer drop. Dawn did not realize that had she looked to her left, she might have noticed that the slope was rather gentle (relatively speaking) and went down to a ledge where I sit. Of course, when you're flat on your stomach you can't see any of that. She called my name several times but I did not hear her. The wind was blowing off the ocean toward her, not toward me. Panicked, she sat up to call her husband... and saw the tip of my hat over the brow of the hill. Relieved, she slid down on her fanny to her safe spot in the meadow. Some time later (she said an hour later) I descended and told her all the nest news. She listened patiently and then said, "Now, here's *my* story."

It's a wonder Dawn ever agreed to go anywhere with me again. However, the very next week she agreed to meet us at Cape Kiwanda, since I had forgotten to take her scope out of the trunk of my car after the Road's End trip. And, I suggested, if she wanted, it would be really helpful if she would stay on the beach (no climbing involved) and watch Haystack Rock with her scope while Johnny and I climbed to our respective look-out points on the cape. This time, I took my cell phone so I could call her if I saw a bird take off from the tidal area on the end of the cape for the Rock. They have, in the past, nested on a ledge on the Rock that Dawn could see from her spot on the beach. Dawn agreed. Foolish woman.

It was a misty day, even rainy at times.

Here sits a dedicated birder.

Especially when you notice that the Rock I've asked her to watch for a small black bird on is a mile away.

Meanwhile, I was up on the dune catching sight of two Black Oystercatchers on the north side of the Rock, out of Dawn's view. This pair, I wanted to verify (and eventually did), is the pair that hangs out on the cape cliff, very near where I took this photo from, during high tide... when they're not nesting. (I suspect they nest on the northwest end of the Rock but have no proof.) After hanging out on the Rock for an hour, the pair flew to the cliff. So they were not yet nesting as of that day (June 11). I was very impressed that my camera picked out those birds at that distance. Zoomed up, you can almost tell they are black birds with long red bills. Almost.

After Johnny, at his vantage point, saw the north birds (we had radios between us), he took up watch while I clambered to my view point on the south side where I could see the tidal areas. Eventually, a BLOY flew from somewhere below me toward the Rock. I tried to call Dawn but fumbled with my cell phone and did not reach her until the bird had had plenty of time to reach the Rock and disappear. But Dawn, being a dedicated birder, did see, during her vigil, a little black bird land on the ledge and walk behind a rock where a pair nested last year.

Dawn is awesome. But I doubt I will get her to either Road's End or Cape Kiwanda again, whether or not I carry my cell phone.

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