Since the 4th of July was on Friday, we thought it best to avoid holiday traffic by heading to Valley of the Giants on Saturday evening for our once-a-year Breeding Bird Survey starting early Sunday morning. Life had just been too busy earlier in the survey window, which would close on July 7th. Plus the Marbled Murrelets, the reason this route was created (along with Spotted Owls, but they are apparently gone), are more vocal in July when they return from the ocean at dawn to the big moss-covered limbs of old growth trees to feed their chicks, calling as they approach their nests.
Unfortunately, we were still having issues with Jessie Anne chewing down the barn in her frustration at not being allowed out on grass. (Story in previous blog entry.) So we spent much of Friday and all of Saturday covering all the posts that hold up the barn with either metal or chicken wire. I didn't want Jessie Anne (with a little help from her daughter Nightingale) chewing those posts in two while we were gone. It is always hectic getting all the animals set up so we can leave the farm overnight, but the horse situation greatly complicated the process this year.
I milked the goats and fed everyone early and extra Saturday evening since we would not be back until noon or after on Sunday. We stay overnight and start the route at 4:58 a.m., after walking in half a mile to the first stop. For the first time in the eight years we have run this route, we did not scout it first to check road conditions and clear that half mile hike through brush. Big mistake.
After a two hour drive, we arrived as the sky was darkening just before 9 p.m. and hurried to clear the trail, which seemed longer than usual. The brush, mostly thorned, towered over our heads and we lost our way several times. I wondered if we'd ever find the "sitting log" where we can look up at a known Marbled Murrelet nest tree to start our survey. But at last, we did... in near dark. Then we hurried back on the sort-of cleared trail before it turned pitch dark.
The alarm went off at 4:15 a.m. We ate a quick breakfast and used our flashlights to guide us to the sitting log without tripping too many times. Apparently, the Murrelets were sleeping in that morning as we did not hear them there. After our 3 minute survey, we hurried over logs and through bushes back to the van at Stop #2 where we again heard no Murrelets (but plenty of other birds: the "dawn chorus" was now in full swing). At Stop #3, a half mile down the road, I heard the first Murrelets. What a welcome but weird sound to hear sea birds in the middle of an old growth forest. We heard them at two more stops in Valley of the Giants before it either grew too late for their flight calls or our stops were too far out of the old growth forest they need for nest sites.
Besides the usual horde of singing Swainson's and Varied Thrushes, Pacific Wrens and Pacific Slope Flycatchers, we heard Band-tailed Pigeons almost every stop and many Western Tanagers. I snapped a photo of this handsome Tanager singing atop a tall fir (No, I didn't take time out from the timed survey: I was listening for birds while I took the blurry picture).
And then I took a picture of one of the Band-tailed Pigeons that posed so often.
We rushed from stop to stop to complete the route in the preferred five hours... and almost made it this year. We would have made it handily if it were not for two heart-stopping incidents on the way down. Gates that were open when we drove up Saturday night were closed when we drove down early Sunday morning. There is no cell phone service up there and it would have been a long walk and many hours out. Fortunately, the gates were shut but not locked so we were able to drive through. Although Valley of the Giants is owned and managed by BLM, the roads going up to it are owned by private timber companies who can shut the gates whenever they want to keep the public out. Perhaps they were closed now for fire danger, moved up from "low" to "moderate".
Two hours after completing the route, we were home again and I hurried out to feed horses and milk goats. It was hot by this time. It looked to me like our wire and pipe wood protection had worked as I saw no new chewings by Jessie Anne in the area she had access to. Mr. Smith is locked into the barn area to eat his food or else he'll chase the mares away and eat theirs, too.
Later that afternoon when Johnny went out to try to fix a water leak by the horse barn, after I had turned Mr. Smith back with the others, Jessie Anne was inside Mr. Smith's area, chewing on everything wood. So we spent the rest of the hot and muggy day protecting the wood inside Mr. Smith's area, this time with big white PVC pipe slit to fit around the round fence poles that were Jessie Anne's latest target.
My new routine is to get up very early, feed the horses, chickens, llamas, sheep, dogs, then let the horses out into the pasture -- with grazing muzzles on -- after they're done eating their special and expensive low-carb hay cubes. The grass is supposed to be safest between 3 a.m. and 10 a.m. Well, I'm not getting up at 3 a.m. but 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. is plenty of time for them to gallop and cavort... and eat grass, before I bring them in for more of their hay cubes. Here's hoping that amount of freedom will be enough to keep Jessie Anne from destroying anything else. And here's hoping the pasture becomes "safe" very soon.