Friday, February 28, 2014

Farewell to February

After freezing us, snowing on us, and then nearly drowning us, February ended with a lovely, warm, sunny day. The flowers in my yard, having survived the month, now declare that spring is on its way.

As a parting goodwill gift, on this last night of the month, February gave us a spectacular sunset.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Beached Bird Survey

Today we did our first Beached Bird Survey for COASST (Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team). What that means is we hike an assigned beach and look for dead birds. If we find them, we use the Beached Birds key to figure out, hopefully, what they are. Then we tag them with colorful tags that represent numbers, take measurements and photos and fill out data sheets. Believe it or not, hundreds of volunteers all up and down the Pacific Coast do these surveys monthly.

I took the training in October but my assigned beach, Salmon River,  is rather problematical to get to. We either have to go through private property (Camp Westwind) which means coordinating with them... something that I haven't been able to do... or canoe across the river to the beach from Knight Park. That requires outgoing tides and ingoing tides at the right time so we're not fighting current. And we need decent weather of which we've had little. Today, it all worked out and we had an easy paddle downstream and back up after our survey.

I left my good camera home (out of danger of a dunking) and let Johnny take the photos with his little camera. He dutifully took the photos we were supposed to take and nothing else.  Next time I'll bravely take my camera and try to get photos of something besides beach, debris and dead birds.

This is the start of our survey area, near the mouth of the Salmon River, looking toward Three Rocks. I hoped to see some Black Oystercatchers out there, since this is part of my Black Oystercatcher survey area in the summer, but two Bald Eagles were guarding the rocks, one on the south rock and one on the north rock, so there were no other birds at all out there. Except gulls on the middle rock.

Here is the wrack line on our beach that we wander through looking for bird wings or feet or whatever. That's me, wandering southward. That little dot out in the ocean is Wizard Island. It is offshore of my Road's End Black Oystercatcher (BLOY) territory. The headland in the distance blocks the view of our BLOY nest rocks off The Thumb.

 Here I've made it all the way to that headland at the south end of our 2 km long beach.

 This is the view from the south end looking north, toward Cascade Head. When we reach this south end, having walked the lower wrack line from the latest high tide, we walk back on the upper wrack line from earlier and higher high tides.

 And here is the only beached bird we found. One beached wing plus a few bones. This is the upperside of the wing with some of the dark primary feathers apparently missing.

Below is the lighter underside of the wing. I tried to follow the key but there wasn't much here to help... (and I need a lot more practice with more intact dead birds). We measured the "wing chord" at 29 cm, which eliminated many possibilities but didn't narrow it down enough for me. I'm guessing (with the help of the key) that it is (or was) some kind of loon, but since that's only a guess, I wrote Unknown on my little blackboard. Maybe someone at COASST can figure out what it really is. 

Update: someone from COASST did figure it out. Charlie Wright wrote: "The wing is just intact enough to be measurable. The tell-tale thing to look at in this find is that white "window" in the outer primary feather (white not quite at the tip, but surrounded by black). That makes it a gull. The upperwing photo shows a mix of even gray plumage, like an adult, and mottled brown plumage like a juvenile, so we call these "subadult." As for species, there's not quite enough info to tell exactly. But COASST has that handy category for Large Immature Gulls, where this one fits quite nicely."

Tonight I asked Johnny which of my many bird surveys he thinks is the craziest. He said it was a hard choice between this Beached Bird Survey, the Black Swift Survey (looking for black birds against black rocks at dusk) and the Nightjar Survey. But the Nightjar Survey won out, mostly because much of the scheduled survey period is before Nighthawks, our only likely bird of the Nightjar family, have returned from their wintering areas.

At least dead birds stay put.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Marvelous Toy

Do you remember this Peter, Paul and Mary song?

When I was just a wee little lad,
Full of health and joy,
My father homeward came one night
And gave to me a toy.
A wonder to behold it was
With many colors bright
And the moment I laid eyes on it,
It became my heart's delight.

It went "Zip" when it moved and "Pop" when it stopped,
"Whirrr" when it stood still
I never knew just what it was and I guess I never will.

 Well, I now know what it is. Our daughter-in-law Jessica gave one to Kevin for Christmas. She said he was in love with it. It is a robotic vacuum cleaner. I told Johnny and he just rolled his eyes. But at Christmas, a large, heavy package came to Johnny from Kevin. It was a robotic vacuum cleaner. Johnny rolled his eyes again and said, "We heat with wood for goodness sake!" (Not to mention we are not exactly neatniks and this thing wants a clear floor to work on.)

But boys will be boys and they love toys. Johnny started using it... and following it around the house, like Jessica said Kevin does. Kevin has even named his.

I told Johnny that Jessica said Kevin loved to watch his toy dock itself. "It wiggles its butt back and forth and looks so cute!" Kevin told her. I thought that was hilarious. Johnny said, "But it does! It moves back and forth to make contact with its charging dock. It's really cute!"

Oh my.

It first marched left, and then marched right
And then marched under a chair
And when I looked where it had gone
It wasn't even there
I started to cry, but my daddy laughed
'Cause he knew that I would find,
When I turned around my marvelous toy
Would be chugging from behind.

And with apologies to Peter, Paul and Mary...

The years have gone by too quickly it seems,
I have my own little boy
And yesterday he gave to me
A marvelous little toy:
My eyes nearly popped right out of my head
And I gave a squeal of glee!
Neither one of us knows just what it is
But I love it just like he!

It still goes "Zip" when it moves and "Pop" when it stops
And "Whirr" when it stands still
I never knew just what it was and I guess I never will.

But I know. It's a father/son bonding toy. "It doesn't take the same route every time!" Johnny told me in that excited tone little boys use. It's just as well he follows it because, in our house, its tiny holding compartment needs to be emptied frequently.

"Watch it dock!" cries Johnny. "It's so cute!"

Post script: My goodness I've heard from a lot of people who have had a similar experience with a guy and his robotic vacuum. Here is from my Japanese sister, Yoko, about her son Michito. (Yuki is Michito's wife and Ayaka their young daughter):

I laughed as I read your blog.
There was a similar scene at Michito's house.  He loves the newest electrical  appliances.  So he bought a robotic vacuum cleaner on the pretext of Yuki's help a few years ago and named it Mr.Rumba.  Yuki said to me with laugh, "It is Michito's toy." Ayaka said,"Mr. Rumba is so wise that he can return to his dock by himself."  I  asked her to lend me it for a day.  She shook her head. "No! It is  pity that he go to grandma's house. Because there is nothing to eat in your house. He like to eat the dust."

Friday, February 14, 2014

Birds, Trees and People

The snow is gone. Heavy rains are expected with flooding. However, this past week has been downright pleasant.

While the snow was still on the ground, I finished putting together the first part of my Dad's life story, "Hard Times: the Early Years", and sent it off to my sister-in-law to print and read to my brother, who helped me gather these stories from Dad in years past. My brother is now sidelined with late stage Parkinson's Disease, which he weathered remarkably well for the last twenty or so years. I hope to finish putting together Dad's story while Bob can still enjoy it.

On Monday, the snow had lost its ice cover, but also it's allure. I decided to make a snow angel before it disappeared entirely. I remember how fun it was in my youth to lie on the snow and wave my arms and legs to make the angel shape. But what I could not remember was how to stand up without wrecking my snow angel. I seem to be a bit less agile than in my youth. Johnny's comment: "That snow angel has a big bottom."

The horses, who love to romp in the snow, except when it's covered with ice, were showing signs of tiring of the white stuff by Monday.

Where's the grass?

 The trees, however, were happy to be de-iced. And this early-flowering tree opened its blooms undamaged by the ice coating of the day before. That green stuff is moss, not leaves.

On Tuesday, most of the snow was gone and roads were clear so Johnny and I drove my North Santiam raptor route (an East Cascades Audubon Society project), a route that includes Dad's old ranch up by Gates. I started this route in the last years of Dad's life, when I spent much time with him and this route was fun for both of us. Dad died in 2008. It took me a couple years to start the route again, but I finally did.

Last Sunday, Dad's good friend and neighbor Jay emailed that he and his helper, Jared, had seen a Golden Eagle on their place that day. I suspected it was a juvenile Bald Eagle but knew I'd need my Wheeler book on raptors for them to see photos and figure it out.

We saw three adult Bald Eagles on our route before we got to Jay's alleged Golden Eagle locale. Johnny or I would spot a white spot in the distant trees and, looking through binoculars, the spot would morph into an adult Bald Eagle. Here's one.

At our lunch stop at the Lyons City and John Neal Parks, we saw Ring-necked Ducks and the lovely Gadwalls, that seem to always be there.

Ring-necked Ducks


Also at the park was a Pileated Woodpecker, preening and declaring its ownership of this big snag.

The "Golden Eagle" of Jay's did turn out to be a young Baldie and, after looking at the photos in Wheeler's book, our friends agreed. They now know the differences and will keep reporting what they see. It was fun visiting with Jay and  Cindy, catching up on news of their kids and grandkids. In fact, my birding trips this week have been more about connecting with people than birds.

By Wednesday, our snow was gone and the rain had not begun. So I planted the trees that had been waiting patiently in our greenhouse/solarium/porch for over a week, since before the temperature dropped dramatically. The ground was wonderfully soft from all that melted snow it had just incorporated. I have never had such easy digging. The arboretum now has many more Redwoods, Pacific Yews, Madrone, Pacific Dogwoods and Evergreen Huckleberries. (Although I think the dogwoods were already dead. They don't transplant well and I've had very poor luck keeping them alive.)

I also planted lots of Redwoods down by the river, in our River Redwood Grove which has a few Redwoods and lots of Port Orford Cedars from past plantings, and a great tangle of stickery bushes under a few alders and firs. That is an area flooded nearly yearly and the alders topple over regularly, even the ones not girdled by beavers.

Also on Wednesday, a Yellow-rumped Warbler appeared, attempting to eat the last crumbs from a suet feeder. I had just told fellow birders that we "never" get warblers here in the winter. I refilled the suet feeders and managed this poor photo of my warbler visitor... who is still here as of today, Friday.

Thursday was another birding and people day. Dawn and I drove south of Salem, where I had heard that a goat breeder friend of mine from years past was also a birder and had an unusual sparrow coming to his feeders. I had a good time reconnecting and catching up with Gene, but we did not see his sparrow. We did see his huge and beautiful Koi!

From there, we drove to Finley NWR, since we were relatively close to the refuge I rarely visit because of distance from home. Their snow had melted into raging streams so all the roads were flooded a short distance into the refuge. We drove as far as we could on each road, finding, way off in the distance, this strange hawk that took us forever to identify. It finally flew and showed the unmistakable underwing pattern of a Rough-legged Hawk. We rarely see dark phase Rough-legs and certainly none with strange white patches on the back of their heads!

This Western Meadowlark was considerably easier to identify.

On the way home, we swung through Baskett Slough NWR, hoping to see Horned Larks or Short-eared Owls that we had missed at Finley. No luck on either but we did see, way off across the field, the head and ears of a Great-horned Owl on her nest. I knew about this nest from years past. It's not easy to tell from my photos what you're looking at but, trust me, there's an owl in that nest.


After last week's cold and snow, it was nice to enjoy dry weather, plant trees, bird and visit with people.

The rains have still not begun on this Valentine's Day. Who knows, maybe that Yellow-rumped Warbler is a harbinger of an early, mild and merely-drizzly spring.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

February's Winter Storm

Well, it's been fun. Okay, so the first few snowless days of 20 degrees were not so fun. But snow makes everything feel warmer and definitely prettier. I could haul hay and water to the horses in our EZ Go electric cart on the first snow day, but I got stuck and had to dig myself out the second day. After that we used the tractor. With animals fed and watered, I struck off on x-country skis. Johnny soon followed. We made a circuit of the farm.

The next day was snowshoe day. Johnny was napping when I left so I took photos myself of my shoes and tracks. The snow was a foot deep now.

My poor Mystery Pine that turned out to be a Scot's Pine was heavy laden. I knocked the snow off before the predicted ice storm hit.

 The sequoias are better adapted to snow.

Goat Barn in snow

Bench nearly buried in snow. Not a good resting spot this day.

That night, the expected ice storm arrived. In our porch light, the icy snow glittered.

This morning, everything was coated with ice and icicles.

Even the horses' tails... Here's Nightingale.

For some branches, the weight of ice was too much. Here's the carnage in our front yard.

The pond in front of the goat barn was frozen over.

Our back porch was a sheet of ice, so Johnny sprinkled wood ashes that he cleans out of our woodstove periodically. That works very well.

It was easier to feed the birds with an icy layer on top of the snow. The grain did not fall through.

Johnny took this photo of ice-covered buds up our driveway...

And this one looking across the pond toward the horse barn.

This afternoon, the thermometer climbed above freezing for the first time in a week. The snow and ice began to melt, with great crashing as it broke loose from tree limbs, sometimes taking the limbs with it. Before it disappeared, I wanted to build a snow something. But the icy snow would not roll, so I made snow children in place... two snow children playing in a wading pool. ...You have to use your imagination...

All good things must come to an end and our snow is melting rapidly now and slushing. Johnny bladed the driveway so we'll rejoin the world tomorrow.

Between chores and playing in the snow, we got a lot of inside things done we never make time for. Johnny worked on financial stuff while I worked on my Dad's memoirs. Tomorrow we'll be cleaning up the limbs and trees that came down with the ice. Our February snowstorm will soon be just a memory... in photos.