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.

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