Friday, June 27, 2014

Johnny's Homecoming

Johnny came home from his week away on Thursday, June 19. Naturally, we spent Friday surveying birds. First there was the Beached Bird Survey where we canoed across the Salmon River, watching an eagle soar overhead. As we hiked the beach looking for dead birds, we found a dead sea lion first. About fifteen Turkey Vultures and one Bald Eagle were either feasting on the carcass or waiting their turn to do so.

I have this dream that someday, it will be California Condors feasting on dead sea mammals, as there was years ago... But this day, it was Turkey Vultures.

On our lunch break at the end of the beach before turning around for our return trip, Johnny spotted a Black Oystercatcher foraging on a tidal rock... probably one of our Road's End North Nest Rock birds, gathering food for a chick or chicks. It was time for the eggs to hatch. Our next stop would be Road's End where I hoped to see a chick. (That tiny black dot silhouetted against the surf is the BLOY.)

On our return trip up the beach we found, for once, a beached bird that was not a gull. Johnny found one wing, then searched until he found the second. The vultures had been spreading our bird carcasses all over the place. Here is our first beached Pigeon Guillemot, or what was left of it: two wings.

The wind was blowing onshore as we canoed back to Knight Park and our van. I made a sail with my coat and two paddles. Johnny had only to use his paddle as a rudder. Fun!

Then we were off to Road's End and our hikes up to BLOY observation points: Johnny on The Thumb, watching the South and Middle Rock nest areas; I to the North post, looking down on the North Nest Rock... and, I hoped, new chicks.

The adults certainly acted like they had chicks, one standing guard while the other went off to forage, chasing away interlopers... but no chicks could I see... for two hours. Finally, a parent brought food and a single chick came out of hiding. Parents are top right and bottom left with the tiny chick about halfway between them, heading left.

The little family then marched down to a pool in the rocks. One parent went into the pool, drank and took a bath while the chick stood with its feet in the water and the other parent stayed on shore, standing guard.

After a bit, the chick got brave and splashed like the parent had done.

I don't know what happened to the other two eggs, but this seems to be very common in the Black Oystercatcher nesting world: lay three eggs and, if lucky, fledge one. Hopefully, this chick will survive to fledging.

Before leaving, I admired the view northward, as always, toward the rocky headland between me and Cascade Head. One of the tidal rocks beyond the headland is where Johnny had seen a BLOY when we were doing our beached bird survey. The beach beyond the headland was the beach we surveyed.

Two little black dots on the beach are likely the dead sea lion and its vultures. I like them better at this distance.

We ate supper at our favorite Thai restaurant in Lincoln City and headed home. That night, we sat behind the house and watched fledgling Barn Owls fly in and out of the oak tree, begging for food. How could Johnny ask for a finer first day home?

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Home Alone

Home Alone. That's a joke. I have 3 horses, about 20 goats, 3 turkeys, 18 or so chickens, 2 dogs, 1 sheep, 2 llamas... and 2 pigs. I am *never* alone. While Johnny was gone for a week visiting the California kids, I kept busy feeding and cleaning up after animals, weeding, hoeing, mowing, digging tansy, weeding, mowing... you get the picture. But none of that makes good copy. So I'll confess: I also took off a couple days to go to the coast and survey birds. And sea stars.

On Sunday, June 15, friend Nancy and I spent a long day at the coast, surveying Black Oystercatchers at Cape Meares, Short Beach, and Cape Lookout. The only place we found any were at Short Beach, where I was sure a pair was nesting but could not verify it. However our main focus at Short Beach turned out to be a sea star survey.

I had received an email from COASST, the people in charge of the beached bird survey that Johnny and I do, just before the weekend asking their volunteers to monitor sea stars while at the beach during the low tides of the upcoming weekend. Sea Stars (commonly but incorrectly known as starfish) on the west coast have come down with a devastating wasting disease. COASST, based at the Univ. of Wash., in collaboration with Cornell Univ., is conducting surveys of sites on the northwest coast. So Nancy and I ran a transect on Short Beach and counted sick sea stars. There were lots of them.

The disease begins to rot their arms until they sever and sometimes go walking off by themselves (the arm, that is) while the main body withers, rots, and dies. The arm also dies. It is pretty gross. First, though, the signs may be subtle, with just a bit of shriveled or rotten looking part of an arm. Here are some of the stars we found in various stages of illness.

I left Nancy to do most of the sick sea star surveying, while I tried to figure out what was going on with the BLOY (Black Oystercatchers). At low tide, I can get farther out to hopefully see more of the ledge where the Oystercatchers have nested in the past and I was sure were nesting this year. But not far enough as it turned out. In this photo, an Oystercatcher that had been standing on the ledge is taking off, lower left. Although I watched on and off, I could not tell for sure if the BLOY were feeding chicks, incubating eggs, or neither one.

As the tide came in, we left and headed to Cape Meares, where we heard but did not see BLOY. However, the camp hosts there are keeping an eye out for them and will keep notes. Plus friend John Woodhouse checks almost every day and lets me know any BLOY news.

So on we went to Cape Lookout (back to Cape Lookout as we had stopped in the morning but it was raining so useless to look). We found no BLOY on the rocks but we had a consolation prize of a sky full of skydivers, coming off Gammon Point above the park and landing on the park beach.

We went up to the Point and watched this one taking off.

Nancy, a retired marine biologist, thought the day was great fun, especially the sea star survey, but I was not so thrilled. I wanted to figure out what was going on with those Short Beach BLOY.

So... frustrated at my lack of success, I came back at another low tide three days later, when I was able to walk farther out for a slightly better angle. An Oystercatcher was on the ledge. I could see it apparently sometimes going for food but never could tell for sure if it brought food back for chicks. I definitely could not see chicks!

Note the two little rock bulges in front of the BLOY. Those are what I used to judge what angle I was looking at.

I backed away to where I was farther from the ledge but at a better angle. Note those two rock bulges. I can now see a bit farther left, but not into where the chicks, if there were any, must have been.

After two hours, the tide was coming in and I gave up. On the way back up the mile long beach, three sub-adult Bald Eagles were attacking a gull (or something) that would try to lift off the ocean only to be hit by an eagle and go down again. I watched until the eagles gave up.

As I climbed the long, rustic staircase back up to the road, I remembered that last year I had found a spot on the road where there is a break in the shrubbery allowing a view (distant) of the nest ledge. I set my scope up in that gap. It was over a mile from my scope to the nest ledge. I did not hold out much hope of seeing anything at that distance. But I did.

The angle was better and I could see farther to the left and behind those two rock bulges. An adult BLOY landed as I watched and put something down on the rock, pecking at it as they do when they're breaking up mussel pieces to make them bite-sized for chicks. But I could see no chicks. It was a "long" way away. After the adult flew off, I kept watching. And lo and behold two gray blobs moved! They were chicks! There was a third gray blob that did not move so I don't know if that was another chick or a gray rock. The adult soon returned and again put something down on the rocks for the gray blobs.

I took photos, but the only reason I can see chicks in these photos is because I knew where they were. However, if you have a good eye (and imagination) you might be able to see the one on the left inside the red circle (which friend Dawn kindly put on my photo to corral the chicks). The left one is standing and you can see its shadow. Okay, I can see it's shadow. The second photo is cropped to make the chicks bigger but also blurrier. You'll have to take my word for it. There are chicks at Short Beach!

The next day, Thursday, I mowed around the perimeter of a field in the morning, then showered, drove to the feed store in Dallas for feed and then to Salem to pick up Johnny at the Amtrak station.

It was great to have him home, especially since the next day, Friday, was the best tides of the month for doing our beached bird survey at Salmon River. After our canoe trip to and from the survey beach, we hike the cliffs at Road's End to check on the three BLOY nests at that site. So many surveys; so little time...

Johnny's Trip to the California Kids

Johnny managed to finish the horse paddock project and get all the hay in so he could spend a week away from the farm visiting our California kids and grandkids. Naturally, he had projects to do down there. But first up was Cedrus' pre-school graduation on June 14. Here are the four graduates (shortest one is on the left and barely visible) with their teacher... and the school's play structure... behind them.

Cedrus, in the center.

The graduates held up signs saying what they wanted to be when they grew up. Cedrus wants to be a chef. He can come cook for me any time!

Each graduate was presented with a lei. What an adorable kid.

Here''s the cool play structure that is in the background of all the above photos. It's an ark, I think.

At home, Kestrel and Cedrus have a play structure, too, that they play on often. They especially like the zip line that Johnny and Steve installed on a previous Grandpa visit. Auntie Fudge came for graduation and is watching Cedrus.

Kestrel is good at the monkey bars, too.

Johnny also took photos of the kids and Steve using a hula hoop. But most came out blurry so all  I can show is Cedrus, with Munazza and Kestrel in the background.

They also took hikes with Grandpa. Good thing I wasn't there. Munazza puts up with more than I would. Steve, while balanced on a tree limb, is taking a photo of a bee hive in a tree with Kestrel, whom he is obviously *not* watching. Oh my.

Of course, Cedrus wanted to see, too.

Thankfully, they all survived. Back home there was plenty to do indoors. The boys now play and sing some songs together: Cedrus on keyboard and Kestrel on guitar.

Here's Cedrus crossing hands in a piece. Both boys are learning their instruments quickly.

 The kids are avid readers. Kestrel has graduated to full size books. He's just finishing this one. Pretty impressive for a seven-year-old.

And, of course, there's cooking. Here are Steve and Kestrel making sushi.

At a music fest they went to in town, they jammed with one of the musicians.

Of course, there were projects for Johnny at home. The big one was redirecting the plumbing for the washer and dryer from inside the house to the garage. Johnny would have to explain what they did and all the problems they ran into. I stopped listening when he told about uncapping a natural gas line by mistake. Oh my.

Here Steve is cutting away the wallboard to expose the pipes behind.

This is what was behind the wall.

This is how they remodeled it.

Here are the washer and dryer, installed in the garage.

They had to redirect the dryer exhaust pipe, too.

The other project for Grandpa was more fun. The "playhouse" part of the play structure was never used because it was dark and full of spiders. Johnny and Steve cut holes to lighten it up and, presumably, discourage spiders. (Johnny says to let birds in to eat the spiders.)

Here's Kestrel trying out a new window.

Of course, Steve had to try it, too.

The boys looking out the  new windows.

This one is a tube tunnel from the other side.

When it was time for Johnny to catch the train for home, everyone went to the San Jose Amtrak station to see him off. Here is Steve in front of the station, being Steve and teaching his kids to be nuts, too.

Since Johnny took all the photos, there are none of him. But that's okay. I know what he looks like... and he's home again now. It's wonderful for me to have these photos of Kestrel and Cedrus, our incredibly wonderful, adorable, talented, California grandkids. And whacky Steve, too. I'll get more photos of Munazza when they come here and I am holding the camera.