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.

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