Sunday, April 27, 2014


Have the spring flowers ever been this beautiful before? Our farm is abloom with color.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Northern Elephant Seal

On Monday, the day after my brother died, Johnny and I loaded a canoe onto the top of the van and drove to Knight Park at the foot of Cascade Head to canoe across the Salmon River and do our monthly beached bird survey. And be soothed by the ocean's sound and smell.

It was a lovely day for canoeing the river and hiking the beach. The walk from the river to the south end of the beach, following wrack lines, was uneventful (i.e. we found no dead birds). But when we got close to the rocky cliffs blocking the south end of the beach, we saw a large gray lump that turned out to be a seal... or something. It did not appear alive at first but when we approached made a feeble attempt to wiggle forward. It had large red holes in its hide and we assumed it had been pecked.

Looking through my COASST protocol book that has all the information we need when doing a survey, I found a hotline number for stranded marine mammals and called it. She took the information and said a researcher would be calling me. Our protocol is to not interfere with nature unless the problem is man caused. So we retired to rocks at the end of the beach, a long way from the seal lump, ate our lunch and watched. 

The tide was coming in but still quite a distance from the beached beast. However, the closer the waves came, the more interest the seal displayed. We had seen its wake in the sand where it had pulled itself along from the base of the cliff to where we found it. Now, with the sound of waves growing closer, the seal wiggled forward more often. Eventually, after about 40 minutes (we took a long lunch), water and seal met and it was able to swim away. We thought that was a happy ending.

Well, maybe not.

The researcher did call while we were doing our return trip survey and after the seal was safely at sea. He asked if we had taken photos. Johnny had. Since we don't have one of those magic phones that can send photos immediately to a recipient, I offered to email them after we returned home later that day. He told me before seeing the photos that he suspected our seal was a juvenile Northern Elephant Seal and not stranded at all, but rather hauled out to shed its skin. I had never heard of such a thing. Thus began a steep learning curve about Pinnipeds (seals, sea lions and walruses) and Northern Elephant Seals in particular.

Here is what Jim Rice, Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Coordinator, told us after he saw the photos:

This is a juvenile northern elephant seal going through what's termed a "catastrophic molt", which occurs annually April-August. Molting seals often appear sick, but this is a normal process in which they come ashore to shed their hair and skin. It takes several weeks to complete, and is often marked by irregular breathing, weepy eyes, runny noses, and damaged-looking skin. But as bad as molting animals may look, they are going through a normal and necessary process, and usually are not stranded.

Who knew?

I started reading up on elephant seals. The males get really huge, have ridiculous snouts that fall over their mouths and help them make incredibly loud roaring noises when they're fighting with other males. (Those vocalizations, I learned, so impressed the sound man for Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, that they were recorded and used as the main component for the sound of the Orcs.)

 A male elephant seal I would recognize, but how can you tell juveniles, like this one apparently was? Jim explained:

Elephant and harbor seals are part of a family group of pinnipeds called phocids or true seals. All members of their group lack a pelvic girdle and therefore cannot rotate their hind flippers under their bodies and walk the way the sea lion family group (otariids) can. True seals have short front flippers with claws on the ends and undulate on their bellies to move on ground. They also lack external ear flaps and use their hind flippers for locomotion in the water. Otariids (eared seals) have long paddle-shaped flippers that they use like wings to fly through the water and they are much more agile on land.

This seal was definitely not agile on land. It moved, when it moved at all, like some severely overweight inchworm. Indeed, these seals have massive amounts of blubber.

I found a site online that explained more about these strange pinnipeds:  "The Northern Elephant Seal, Mirounga angustirostris, is an extraordinary marine mammal. It spends eight to ten months a year in the open ocean, diving 1000 to 5800 feet deep for periods of fifteen minutes to two hours, and migrating thousands of miles, twice a year, to its land based rookery for birthing, breeding, molting and rest." Those rookeries are on beaches and islands off the shore of Baja California north to San Francisco.

More from that site about molting on the central California beaches where they also breed:

The Molting Period - April through September

"From mid-March to mid-September, elephant seals are present on the beaches to grow new skin and hair and shed the old – to molt.  Early in this period they share the beaches with the weaned pups which have not yet left for sea and the final weeks of the period they share with the juveniles who arrive for the fall haul-out.  The adult females and the juveniles are the first to appear with their number reaching a maximum near the first of May and all departing by the first of July.  The sub-adult and adult males begin to arrive in early May and are gone by early September.  Each molting seal stays in the rookery for approximately one month.

The seals come to the rookery to molt rather than grow new skin and hair continuously as we do because growing skin requires circulating blood just inside the skin – outside their insulating blubber.  With an internal body temperature near 100°F (38 C), and ocean water around 40°F (4 C), growing skin at sea would entail enormous energy loss.  A measure of how serious that would be is that the seals travel thousands of miles over several weeks and fast on the beach for a month to avoid paying that price."

So, I'm guessing that the juvenile seal we found on the beach was on a stopover on its way to its rookery, wherever that is, to finish molting. I hope it makes it.

On our return hike we surveyed more wrack lines and found one bird wing to id and tag. It was from a Western Gull.
It was nice to have a bird to practice our bird carcass id skills on, but not nearly so exciting as a beached and molting Northern Elephant Seal.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Robert John Foley, b. 3/19/41 d. 4/20/14

My brother died on Easter Sunday, felled by Parkinson's Disease. I knew that he was slipping away when I called late Sunday morning. His wife, Elladine, was at his bedside and put me on speaker phone at his ear so I could say goodbye. I asked Bob to give us a sign after he was on the other side, a rainbow or something. I should have asked for a rooster tail in the sky like the one thrown up by the hydroplane he raced. Here is Bob driving his Full House Mouse in younger, healthier times. The rooster tail is out of the photo. (The Full House Mouse now resides in a museum.)

Every year on Bob's birthday I taunted him with the reminder that he was still older than I was and always would be. I'd said that on the back of the photo card I sent him for his 73rd birthday a month ago. Bob had told Elladine that was the best part of my card. It made him laugh. While on the phone with them Easter Sunday I said "I just realized that in a few years, I won't be younger than Bob anymore." Elladine said "Well, he just wanted the last laugh."

I walked around the farm and down into our woods after the phone call, remembering my big brother, his support, his advice. One thing he told me when I was almost-an-adult sowing some wild oats was that he felt it was okay to do whatever you liked as long as you didn't hurt anyone else. But it was best not to tell your parents what you were doing if it would upset them. This was after I'd told my parents what I was doing and upset them.

Thinking of Bob, I took photos of flowering trees, wildflowers, birds and anything beautiful I could find on that beautiful Easter day. Bob had always been interested in everything and I felt like I was sharing the beauty with him...

Bleeding Hearts in the woods seemed particularly appropriate on this sad day...

The little Japanese lantern by our front walk was a gift to Mom from Bob and Elladine many years ago. After Mom and Dad were gone, Bob and Elladine told me to take it. I love it. It reminds me of Mom. Now it will remind me of Bob as well.

The first boat Bob had was one he and Dad built together, when Bob was a young teenager. Bob still had it when they sold their home in California to move to Colorado and be closer to their daughter, grandson, and Elladine's family for support as Bob's condition worsened. My brother couldn't bear to see it burned so Johnny brought it home after helping them sort and dispose of Bob's tools, boat motors, and lots of et cetera, before their move. That boat now hangs from the ceiling of Johnny's machine shed, providing more memories of my big brother... many associated with boats. As kids, we both water skied behind that boat, as well as took many fishing trips.

During my sad tour down memory lane and before I reached the creek, where I go for renewal and comfort, Elladine called with the news that Bob had died... barely two hours after I, and his son Rob from California right after my call, had said goodbye.

Down at the creek a lovely male Hooded Merganser was fast moving out of sight when I arrived. I wondered if that bird was a sign from Bob. He shared my interest and appreciation for birds.

But then a hummingbird feeding on a streamside shrub with yellow flowers (Twinberry, a native honeysuckle), caught my eye. From my perch on a log at streamside, I snapped a photo of the yellow flowers.

But as I attempted to get a photo of the fast moving hummingbird feeding on the flowers, I stood up on the log I had been sitting on, lost my balance and fell, knocking into the water the log that had been precariously balanced next to me, atop my log seat. I landed right next to the creek and almost fell forward into it with my camera, the one I bought to replace the camera I dunked in the creek last fall and ruined when I lost my balance and fell into the water. (I may be a slow learner.)

As I landed within inches of disaster, I clearly heard my brother's voice saying, "Smooth move, Ex Lax". I had not heard that phrase in years. But I heard it often as a child from my older brother, teasing me after I did something stupid. That was surely "the sign" I'd asked for, delivered Bob's way.

My brother's voice from "the other side" made me laugh. Leave it to Bob to turn even the saddest occasion into laughter. As Elladine said, he always did have to have the last laugh.

I'll miss my big brother... his wisdom and his wit.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

A Visit from the California Family

The day after the Washington family left, we drove to the airport to pick up our California family: Steve and Munazza and Kestrel and Cedrus. We arrived just as they were retrieving their luggage.

After supper at Cedrus' favorite restaurant (because they have wonderful berry lemonade), the Wildwood Cafe in Willamina, it was home to sleep in a tent inside the house. The boys thought that was very weird and very exciting!  Photo on the House of Ants post:

First thing Kestrel and Cedrus do on their first morning at the farm is make popcorn waffles with Grandpa Johnny. First they pop the popcorn, then they stir the waffle batter.

After breakfast, it's chore time. This was the first visit that included pigs.

Johnny was eager for the boys to arrive so he could burn our piles of brush and old barn wood. They liked watching the fire go whoosh when Grandpa poured "boy scout water" on it (dirty diesel gas).

Their dad, Steve, is a firebug, too. He demonstrated what happens when you light a dandelion seed head. It goes POOF!

When the fires burned down, we had the obligatory picnic and messy s'mores.

We all hiked to the creek, but some rode part way in the EZ Go electric cart, driven by Cedrus. This visit his legs are long enough to reach the pedals so he can really drive, not just steer it. That was his very favorite thing to do at the farm... and he did it every day.

Again, the miracle of no rain held out and we were able to hike through fields and woods without getting wet. Grandpa intends to use these two big logs to make a bridge across the little creek. But for now they made a great balance beam.

On Thursday it misted a bit and acted like it might rain... but it never did. Just in case, we limited our activities to close to the house. The cavalettis and jump standards and cones became mazes and obstacle courses under Kestrel's direction. The llamas kept watch over the proceedings.

Munazza demonstrated her incredible aim by throwing a ball and knocking a teddy bear off its perch... much more accurately and from farther than did Steve. He needs to take her to an arcade.

Grandma brought out a horse cart and gave Kestrel and Cedrus a ride.

Then we switched horses. It was Grandpa's turn.

Kestrel gave Cedrus a ride.

Kestrel and Cedrus teamed up to give their mom a ride... but only long enough for a photo op.

After the pony cart rides, Steve and Munazza went to town to buy food for us. It's so nice to have kids who are willing to cook when they come visit and are such good cooks! Meanwhile, Kestrel and Cedrus hid the Easter eggs they had dyed with natural dyes (and Grandpa's help). When Steve came home, he and I hunted all over the house. The boys are good hiders! Even better, Kestrel kept a list of where each egg was hidden so we have no rotten eggs to find years hence.

Friday morning, we played the feather game with swallows. I gave the boys poles to attach the feathers to. Sometimes it took two people to hold a pole...

Indoors, the boys gave performances. Cedrus danced for us and Kestrel sang. We have talented grandchildren! Here Munazza and Kestrel cuddle on the couch... Maybe this was after we watched the movie "Frozen" and they were trying to warm up.

As always on a farm, there was work to do. Munazza and Steve cooked and helped with whatever needed doing. The boys helped with farm chores. They gathered eggs from the chicken house, helped throw down hay to the goats, fed treats to the pigs and llamas, and spread seed for the wild birds as Cedrus is doing here...

Their flight home left Friday early evening. Unfortunately, it left without them. We hit stop and go traffic for many miles on the way to the airport and arrived too late. Instead, they spent the night in a nearby hotel and flew out early Saturday morning. Their hotel room had a lovely view of Mt. Hood. The photo below was taken from the top of the parking garage at the airport on Friday. The weather was still beautiful!

Today, after everyone was gone, it began to rain. The weather folk say it will rain off and on for the rest of April. How kind of the weather to cooperate for our visits from family north and family south. Here's hoping weather (and ants) cooperate the next time they visit the farm.

A Visit from the Washington Family

Usually when the Washington crew comes to Oregon, it's for a horse show at Devonwood, where we rendezvous. But this time they came to our farm. Jessica said she would cook for us and she did. And left plenty to help us feed the next round of company. Jessica is a wonderful cook. This time her sister Sarah came, too. She hasn't been here since she ran into a nest of yellow jackets in our arboretum several summers ago. We assured her the bees are not out yet.

We did the usual farm things... meeting all the animals, including the llamas... (That's Sarah on the left)...

...hiking to Agency Creek and skipping rocks (Kevin)...

Kevin found lots of tiny creatures in the shallow pools, like this well camouflaged sculpin...

 Sarah and Ian spent a lot of time in the goat barn, loving up the baby goats...

Jessica's favorite activity was watching the swallows swoop after the feathers we threw up in the air for them...  or held hopefully aloft. Here are Sarah and Ian...

...and Kevin...

Jessica had another method...

We had such miraculously dry weather before they came and while they were here that we could lie out in the field without getting damp. That may be a first for April in western Oregon...

The swallows seem to enjoy the feather stealing game. Rarely did they stuff a captured feather into a gourd nest. And once, when one did but no one seemed interested in taking it from him, he pulled it out and threw it away! Few females have arrived here yet, so it's just a game for now. The swallows are not ready to feather their nests.

We also hiked through the woods to retrieve trail camera cards and saw a bobcat in one, but it did not come out clear enough for a still capture. However, it may have been the same as this bobcat caught on camera a few weeks earlier...

A leaping Ian was caught on camera this time...

It wasn't all fun and games... Jessica did a lot of cooking; Ian and Johnny cleared out the garden to prepare it for tilling... Kevin and Johnny worked on projects in the shop... Ian helped with chores each day. They probably did more things but if I don't have a photo, I don't remember what they are.

It was wonderful to have them here on the farm... in beautiful weather!