Friday, November 21, 2014

Scary Sounds and Chipmunk Wars

Y'all may notice that I never say when Johnny has been out of town until he returns. That's because I don't want to broadcast when I'm a woman home alone. I do not understand these people who have devices that tell the world where they are at any moment and post their position on facebook. It's like saying "The whole family is gone for the evening. Come on thieves and burglarize our house."

Okay, so call me paranoid.

A few months ago, a neighbor friend was gone over a weekend. His wife called us on Monday and asked Johnny to come up and fix her door so it could be locked. In the wee hours that morning, she had awakened when her dogs, who sleep in her bedroom, barked and ran out of the room. Then she heard the unlockable back door slam shut. We have had several burglaries in our neighborhood over the last several months. Johnny went up there and fixed her door. He was leaving the following day for one of his trips to visit our kids. Before he left, he fixed our front sliding glass door so it could be locked.

I was a wee bit nervous with him gone and so recent a break in at a neighbor's house. I locked all doors that night.

Several nights later I woke in the night at the sound, I thought, of our kitchen door shutting. After a long frightened several minutes, I assured myself that the back door was locked and if anyone were around, our dogs would have barked. The big white dog is locked up during the day but turned loose at night. The black dog is always loose but out in the field with the llamas and sheep.

I did not go back to sleep for hours.

The next morning I discovered that the back door was unlocked and realized that I had not remembered to lock it the night before. But the door opens into the back room and is not air tight. If I don't shut the door between that room and the kitchen tightly, it blows slightly and sounds like what I heard during the night. Anyway, the big white dog would have barked.

Except when I went out to the barn to feed in the morning, I discovered that I had forgotten to let the big white dog out the night before.

I have not forgotten again. Nothing like a good scare to jog the brain cells.

The day after this unnerving event and loss of sleep, I took a nap in my reclining chair in the living room with an afghan over me, after lunch. I awoke when I felt something... or someone... touching my leg. I jerked upright and saw... a very startled chipmunk jump off my legs. In spite of Johnny's efforts to chipmunk-proof the house, the little rodent was obviously still getting in. (Earlier story here: )

After my blood pressure returned to normal, I vowed to get that chipmunk out of the house. But although it disappeared for days at a time, it always reappeared, often on the stairs to my office, standing with its little paws on the glass door at the foot of the stairs, staring into the dining room. Cute, but destructive. It digs holes in my potted plants to, apparently, store seeds that it steals from here and there. The latest hoarding location is kleenex boxes. It wraps up apple seeds in many twisted tissues and stuffs them back into the box.

Although I have yet to get a photo of it standing at the door, I did get this photo of it on our stair rug.

One of the times the little dickens came down the stairs, I opened the window on the stair landing. Then I guarded the top of the stairs while Johnny came in from below and tried to shoo it out the window. But the chipmunk hid under the plant table by the window instead. Johnny moved closer. The chipmunk fled up the stairs and leaped past my face as I screamed and ducked. Clearly it was not going out the window and clearly I was not prepared for flying chipmunks.

After months of these chipmunk wars, Johnny thinks he may have found the entry point... a tiny gap between the ceiling upstairs and the brick chimney that goes from downstairs wood stove up through the second floor, where my office is, and the roof. He foamed that gap a few days ago and the chipmunk has not reappeared. Of course, it has disappeared before for days or weeks, only to return and dig dirt out of yet another plant, spreading it all over the place.

Or climb on someone's lap while they nap.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Adventures in Birding

The title of this post is a bit misleading. An "adventure" is any crazy thing we do that we live to tell about. "Birding" is anything we do that involves birds, live or dead.

On Wed., Nov. 12, we ran the North Santiam raptor route, which is usually a pretty calm and safe affair. This time the sign at John Neal park, where we always stop for lunch and to hike around looking for the Red-shouldered Hawks we used to see there, was a bit worrisome. That sign is always there giving the latest sighting of a cougar in the area. Usually it's months or even years before we arrive. But this time it was just a week before: Nov. 3... and it appeared that November 2 had been written first and then 3 later, so it was likely spotted both days. Johnny assured me it was probably seen at night by the trail camera they have on duty. 

We walked around the cold, lonely, empty park and found no cougars and no Red-shouldered Hawks.

Driving onward to Gates, where we often stop in to visit friends Jay and Cindy before we head back east for the final segment of our route, we saw tree limbs down everywhere with people in front of their houses raking them off the road. Must have been a wind come through, we noted. Jay and Cindy have a long driveway through the woods and it was covered with tree limbs. We managed to drive over them but had to frequently back up to free some limbs that had been grabbed by the undercarriage of our very low car. Jay told us he had chainsawed his way out that morning as there were trees across it. The night before they had had hurricane force east winds. A wind came through, all right.

That night, after we were safely home, the temperature dropped and we woke to an icy wonderland. Lovely, but very, very cold.

Our next birding adventure was the following Saturday, Nov. 15. It looked to be warmer on the coast than at home and so we headed west to do our beached bird survey.

It should have been the usual pleasant canoe trip across the Salmon River and then the long, rather tiresome couple hours of finding and identifying and recording all the dead birds on the beach, followed by an even more pleasant canoe trip back to Knight Park aided by the wind blowing off the ocean. Good plan.

There was just one problem. The wind was blowing off shore... toward the ocean. That was okay on the way out, with the wind at our backs. Although that east wind was icy cold, the trip was only mildly scary with wind-whipped waves to ride. The tide was going out and so were we.

Eating lunch on the beach after we landed would have been pleasant in the bright sunshine... if we didn't have to each find a huge log to hunker behind to keep the wind from blowing us over and the sand mostly out of our food. The farther away from the river we walked on the beach, the less the wind. But the cold east wind was still blowing and blew all afternoon.

Eighteen dead birds later we were ready to head back. But now the river was full of white-caps and the wind was still blowing toward the ocean, a direction we did not want to go. After discussing the possibilities (I prefer to call our exchange a discussion rather than an argument), we settled on pulling the canoe through the water while we walked on shore upriver to a point where we could more safely paddle across. Hopefully. I was all for walking the entire way on shore to reach a point beyond the park dock so we could let the wind blow us back to the dock. Johnny nixed that plan. It would have been a very long walk dragging a reluctant canoe through very shallow water at beach edge.

Johnny insisted we canoe across and land west of the park where a road comes down to the river. One of us could hike to the van and drive back down that road. So that's what we set out to do. But the tide was with us even if the wind wasn't and at first the going was not too bad. We opted to angle to the far shore and follow the bank upriver to Knight Park. Unfortunately, the wind was stronger midriver and we had trouble keeping the canoe headed into the waves rather than being hit broadside. Plus, since the waves were angling, not parallel to shore, by facing into the waves we were not getting to the far side of the river.

We did eventually get close to the far bank and were able to keep heading upriver with me pushing off underwater rocks with my oar, rocks that we might otherwise have run into. Getting to that road on the other side, our original intention, would have meant turning the canoe broadside to those big waves... not a great idea. So we struggled onward, fighting the wind that usually helps us. Eventually, what seemed a very long time later, we made it to the dock and landed, tired and wiser.

Never again will I neglect to check wind speed and, most importantly, direction before I choose a day to do our dead bird survey.

We have no photos of that part of our Saturday adventure except lots of photos of dead birds, none of which are recognizable. We measure whatever parts remain in order to figure out what they are/were. We also have no photos on our way home via the Nestucca Wildlife Refuge where we did not see the now famous Bean Goose (it was cold and windy and we were tired so didn't spend much time looking). But I did take a photo of Haystack Rock at Cape Kiwanda where we stopped at sunset to look for the Brown Booby reported to be flying around the rock. While Johnny talked on the phone to his nephew back in Illinois who had called him, I scanned the skies. I did see one dark bird bigger than the others flying about but who knows if it was the Booby. I took a consolation picture of the fast disappearing sunset over the Rock.

On Sunday, we opted for a pleasant, non-eventful drive in the cold sunshine up into the Upper Nestucca Christmas Count circle to check on a landslide we had been told was blocking the main road through the circle. Alas, Sunday must have been the last day of some hunt period as pickups with hunters were everywhere. Not wanting to be mistaken for an elk or deer or whatever they were trying to shoot, we did not get out and hike.

Before heading for the slide on the Nestucca River Road, we drove up Clarence Creek Rd. to see if it was open to the waterfall. A slide had closed that road some years back. It was open now and the falls amazing... but impossible to photograph through the trees. I took a picture of the top...

...but there was no way to photograph the long, long, fall. In fact, there was no way to tell when it was at the "bottom" because the creek just kept going down, down, down... Our waterfall guide book only lists Clarence Creek Falls as 45 feet so that mile drop is officially just creek, I guess.

We turned around then and headed to the landslide, which turned out to be 2.3 miles east of where Bible Creek Road hits the Nestucca River Road, the main road our CBC counters use to get from one side of the circle to the other. They will have to take alternate routes. The road is expected to be closed at least a month while crews try to knock down more of the cliff before it decides to come on its own and fill the river, where salmon are running right now.

As we were standing there, several small boulders came rolling down. I thought maybe the Bald Eagle circling over our head was waiting for us to get beaned by a rock so it could have dinner. I opted to move away from the falling rocks.

The day was gray and frosty and the cliffs laced with icicles.

A short distance west of the slide is Alder Glen Campground, with a wonderful wheelchair ramp and handicap accessible dock over the river. I walked out onto the deserted ramp and took a photo of a falls across the river.

Downstream from the dock was a Dipper bathing and feeding.

Then we headed back to Bible Creek Road and on to Gilbert Creek Road and our friends the Leavitts, where the wrap up dinner after the Christmas count will be held. Every year Linda provides a huge, delicious buffet and hot drinks to all the counters. I am sure we have the best post-count wrap-up of any Christmas count anywhere.

After giving the Leavitts our slide report and showing the photos I had taken, we looked at the photos Dave is collecting of all the wildlife they see from their woodsy home, including Gray Jays, Ruffed Grouse, and Elk, among many others. A cougar has been seen several times right outside their window but not yet photographed. Maybe they should have a sign like the one at John Neal park giving the date of the last cougar sighting.

No cougar this day, just their adorable and much loved little dog.

Then it was back to the farm and adventures in thawing water during the ongoing cold snap, making wreaths and, eventually, cleaning house for next week's Thanksgiving celebration.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Holiday Compression

When I was a kid, Halloween was a big deal. (Probably because I was born on Halloween.) Then there was a terribly long wait until Thanksgiving. Eons later, Christmas approached... agonizingly slowly. Even New Year's seemed a long time after Christmas.

But something has happened to the holidays. They seem to be all squished together. I feel like one of these witches that crash in our yard every year at Halloween. This year they barely arrived in time.

The witches are still languishing in the back yard while I try desperately to start getting ready for Turkey Day.

But part of this holiday compression is my fault. As soon as November arrived (the day after Halloween), I started gathering greens for the wreaths I'm making again this year to give to family and friends for Christmas. Of course, they need them in time to hang up right after Thanksgiving, for the Christmas season, so I am frantically making wreaths now. It is harder this year thanks to my dear friend Suue who insisted I could use our grape vines for the wreath holders instead of buying metal frames. She and I wound coils of grape vines this summer and they did, indeed, dry into nice tight circles... or ovals... or some shape or other.

But where is Suue now when I need her?? I have not figured out a good way to jam all the greenery, rose hips, flowers, etc., into the grape vine coils. So I'm using lots and lots of florist wire to tie things in. I need to rewatch that youtube video of the little grade school girl stuffing greenery into grape vine wreaths effortlessly. But mostly, I need Suue here to help!

The holidays would also not seem so squished together if I had fewer bird surveys to do. November starts the wintering raptor surveys: two a month. Plus we are still doing the beached bird survey each month. That's the one where we canoe across a river and hike up and down a mile long beach measuring and identifying dead birds. We did that most recently on Halloween. It seemed appropriate for the day.

Besides dead birds, we canoed alongside five otters that day. I'm not sure what this one had caught to eat.


Sunset over the ocean that evening was lovely... one of the perks of dead bird surveying.

Besides bird surveys, I had the bright idea to make a Birds blog with photos of as many of the 150 species of birds that we have seen on our farm since we moved here in 1977 as I could find. So I spent most of October (when not trimming horse hooves, harvesting potatoes and onions, etc.) digging out photos from the depths of my computer and beyond. The results, so far, are here:

Meanwhile, back at the farm, the house is a mess and needs serious work before the rapidly approaching holidays, with company, arrive. And so, when all my projects (and would-be projects) threaten to overwhelm... I take off for the woods and creek.

As my brother liked to say, "There's a fungus among us." (You have to pronounce it "among gus".) There is many a fungus among us this time of year. Here are some of them captured on film in my occasional escapes.

Can you see the circle these little white mushrooms made in the horse pasture?
Here's what they look like up close.

a cropped view
 These lovely parasols start out as little brown caps, like you can see at the far right of this photo.

They turn into pancakes as they age.

Ghostly fingers lift up from a path in our woods.

These flaky brown jobs seem to be leading me onward...

Very tiny little caps push up from under leaves.
This big model easily pushes leaves out of its way.

Not just fungi strike my fancy while I'm out avoiding work. It's a lovely time of year.

My favorite tree in the China section of my arboretum is this Seven Son's Plant. It should be called Seven Seasons as it seems to create its own seasons all year long, blooming off and on all spring, summer and fall, followed by these pretty red whatever-they-ares.


And then, there's the creek. Rains have finally swelled its banks. Our little stream was rushing and lovely today.

A flock of Ruby-crowned Kinglets flitted all about me, alongside the creek, as I tried in vain to get a good photo for my Birds list blog. I have never seen a whole flock of nothing but Ruby-crowned Kinglets before and they were quite tame. But they refused to hold still for my camera. Mostly, I got branches where a kinglet had just been. Or sometimes, a bird butt. Or a bird taking flight.

I gave up on the kinglets and went back to the creek. A Dipper flew upstream from a log, dove under the water and reappeared back at the log with something tasty in its bill. Any day I see a Dipper is a good day indeed.

Wreath making and Thanksgiving preparations (like cleaning house) can wait for another day.