Monday, March 30, 2015

Night-blooming "Fern Leaf" Cactus Bloomed!

What the proper name for this plant is, I just learned from a friend: Epiphyllum (or Selenicerius) Chrysocardium. Common name is Golden Heart or fern leaf cactus. It is a night-blooming orchid cactus and it is spectacular. This year it made eleven buds but all except one turned black and died. That is the usual case with this plant and I have no idea why. But the one bud that lived and grew (for months) finally bloomed last night. It was spectacular... and oh so fragrant!

To get an idea of the size of this bloom, Johnny held a ruler up. It was almost one foot across from outer petal to outer petal. Look at it in relation to the size of Johnny's hand!

Yesterday morning I saw that the bud was quite long and looked ready to open so I made a mental note to watch it that evening. But, as usual, I forgot. I have missed as many of our night blooming flower openings as I have seen. It wasn't until I was turning off the lights before going to bed that I glanced into the greenhouse and saw it fully open. I made Johnny, who was sound asleep, get out of bed and come look. He didn't even complain because he has been waiting for this flower to open, too.

By this morning, it had wilted but was still mildly fragrant.

Our greenhouse had already been smelling like Hawaii for some time because of the blooming Yesterday-Today-and-Tomorrow shrub (Brunfelsia pauciflora). The blooms start out purple, turn to light lavender, and then white. All three colors are on the bush at all times. And they smell wonderful... but cannot compete with the almost overpowering aroma from the night-blooming orchid cactus.

It was a show worth waiting for. And I'm sure glad we didn't miss it!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Catching Up

This is supposed to be a journal of life on our farm but I have been too occupied with other stuff to keep it up to date. It is an early, busy spring. And so dry that I tilled the garden on March 10. We were still having frosts at night, but Johnny screened some of our compost for me and I filled flats in the greenhouse in preparation for planting tomato, melon, and other seeds. However, something was digging in the dirt immediately and I assumed it was that pesky chipmunk.

So I prevailed upon Johnny to seal off the ceiling gaps where we had seen the chipmunk disappear.

However, little holes kept appearing in my dirt. Johnny set traps. And caught lots of mice! I then discovered a crack under the side greenhouse door, so Johnny weatherstripped that. No more mice.

I thought we had solved the problem until a few days ago, when the blessed chipmunk sat in the greenhouse scolding me. I pulled pots from where they were stored under the bench on the north end of the greenhouse. No holes there. But then I pulled plants away from the north wall and window. That's where the chipmunk had been near and there I discovered rotted away sills. Johnny has now ordered a piece of metal to cover the whole mess. I hope that finally solves the chipmunk problem as my seeds are due to arrive any day and I don't care to feed them to a chipmunk.

The next weekend I started working, finally, on the third book in my Goat Lane series: Still Life in the Goat Lane. I only do that when it rains and I have to stay inside... but it seldom rains so this book may be a long time coming.

On Tuesday, the 17th, we did our last Raptor Run of the season, the North Santiam one. As usual, I walked around John Neal park but found no Red-shouldered Hawks. However there was plenty of other wildlife.

The ponds are so reflective, I can never resist taking photos, even of common birds like these Canada Geese.

Mallards are common but still handsome.

This eagle sat in the tree where we have seen Red-shouldered Hawks in the past.

On Saturday, the 21st, I explored an area on the coast where I have suspected Black Oystercatchers might nest but have not been able to get to. Indeed, I found a pair. Hopefully, I will get back during the nesting season to find out if my hunch is right.

The weather has been so nice that I find it hard to stay indoors... and so I don't. When not mowing or weeding or pruning, I prowl through our woods looking for wildflowers and whatever else I might find. That gave me the bright idea to start yet another blog, this one just to keep a photo record of the wild creatures on our farm. I have called it The Fauna of Fink Family Farm and divided it into various categories, like Mammals, Reptiles, Insects, etc. Here is a recent photo I added to that blog (under Amphibians).

These two frogs were mating in our seasonal horse pasture pond.
 I take lots of wildflower photos as they bloom and put them on my wildflowers blog.

Western Trillium

Skunk Cabbage
In the domestic animal category (not in my Fauna blog): three chicks hatched last week and survived (one hatched but did not survive) from the eggs I bought at the Poultry Swap three weeks earlier. I had set them under our broody hen. She is now happily raising these three for us. Each is a different color.

I thought the hen should have more than three chicks to raise so I bought 4 Speckled Sussex pullets and gave to her. She didn't want them. So they are growing up with the 6 Speckled Sussex pullets that neighbor Irv bought at the same time. He has a big brooder... and a big heart.

In gardening news, we are still eating potatoes and delicata squash from last summer's garden but the onions are all gone. It seems I can never raise enough onions. Maybe this year... if the seeds ever arrive and I get them planted and the chipmunk doesn't eat them up.

Happy spring!

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Last Beached Bird Survey

Oh happy day! We are done with the beached bird surveys! I gave my notice a few months ago that March would be our last survey. Of all the citizen science projects we have done, I have probably learned the most from this one... and enjoyed it the least. It has been stressful for Johnny because he worries about the weather and the wind on our canoe journey over to our beach. It has been stressful for me because I worry about picking a good day, weather and wind-wise. And the data entry is tedious, the photo relabeling time-consuming and stressful, the long hike staring down at the ground looking for dead birds instead of enjoying the scenery annoying. In short, we were not cut out for this project. But we stuck it out for a year and thus the COASST folks have one year of data from this beach. Maybe they'll find someone else to carry on.

To be fair, it isn't all dead birds on the beach. We have seen lots of other creatures. Today (March 12) we saw gelatinous blobs that we didn't know what were. I wrote to the COASST folks, Jane Dolliver in particular who has been very helpful in teaching me about dead birds and more. She said it's a Salp, a kind of tunicate. And she gave me this link: 

In searching for salps on the web, I learned this:  "A salp is an unusual looking creature that is a free floating tunicate and is barrel shaped. The creature is able to move by pumping water through its body, which is jelly like. When the salp pumps the water through its body it strains it and feeds on the phytoplankton that is in the water... Because salps have to pull the water through their bodies to both eat and move, when they are in very dense populations of phytoplankton they can actually become clogged with their food source and sink! When this happens it is not uncommon for the beaches to be full of slippery salp bodies that have become clogged and then wash up onto the beaches."

To learn about tunicates, go to:

We also saw sea stars that were happily eating their food source, mussels, and looking healthy, unlike the ones we saw on our sea star survey last year at Short Beach. Johnny took a photo of one that had washed up. Well, it looked like it was healthy before it got stranded... and died... on the sand. The ones clinging to mussels on the rocks had no rotting arms and appeared big and robust.

Thankfully, there have been no storms and thus no "wrecks" of birds on the beach. In fact, we only had one new bird to catalog plus five "refinds" from the huge numbers of Cassin's Auklets that were beached in December's storms and found by us in January.

Since we had time and it was a very low tide, we walked/clambered/climbed through the tunnel at the south end of the beach, our turn-around point. I managed to lose my balance and fall into a pool, filling my boots with water and drenching my jeans. Johnny found that very amusing. It was a warm day so it didn't really matter. And I always have a change of clothes in the vehicle when we go to the coast... and often need to use them. When Johnny quit laughing, he asked me to do it again for the camera but I refused. Instead, he took this photo of our view from there, looking south.


We surveyed our way back to our canoe, finishing, on this warm and sunny March day, earlier than usual and drove to the Nestucca Wildlife Refuge a few miles north to see if we could find the now-famous (and alive, not beached!) Bean Goose that has been living with a flock of Cackling Geese on the refuge all winter. It belongs in Siberia, I think. But it seems very content here and gave us excellent looks as soon as we drove onto the refuge road.

 It even seemed to pose when we drove in farther to where the flock was closer.

Would you like to see the orange band around my bill?

 And when we drove up the road to get closer still, it held still while I tried to take a photo through the bare bushes between us, all while I was sitting in the van looking out the window.

Orange legs and orange-banded bill make this bird obvious

After taking a few dozen photos, we drove up to the viewing area and signed our names to the "Bean Goose Guest Book". Yes, this bird has had visitors from all over the country. After all, it is the first confirmed sighting of a tundra bean goose in the lower 48 of the United States. That's a big deal to birders. And it's been there since November. Over 1,000 birders have signed the bean goose guest book so far.

That was so easy we decided to drive on north to Cape Kiwanda and look for Black Oystercatchers. Well, I looked for BLOY while Johnny took a nap. They were as cooperative as the bean goose. The pair that hangs out on the north end of the cape against a cliff was there in their usual spot, a bit hazy in the on-again-off-again fog.

I did not notice "stuff" on the bills until I saw these photos and thought they were from the beach grass I was looking through and over. But even when they stood to preen and then one moved higher where no grass should have interfered with my photo, the "stuff" is there so I think maybe they really did have something on their bills.

I walked to the south side of the cape, then, to see if those BLOY were around. I found one on a flat rock off the cape, feeding first, then snoozing. We often see just one on the south side plus a pair at the end of the cape or on Haystack Rock. I did not clamber out to the end of the cape to look for that pair this day. The day's canoeing and hiking had made me hungry and tired.

I was amazed at the amount of erosion on the cape since my last visit. How much longer, I wonder, before it splits off from the mainland.

Haystack Rock with its top in drifting fog, was as beautiful as ever.

Back at the van, I changed into dry clothes before we headed to Los Caporales in Pacific City for supper, our usual spot when we do BLOY surveys at Cape Kiwanda. What a glorious day on the coast and a fine finale for the beached bird survey.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Dippers and More on a Warm March Day

On Friday, March 6, I saw this pair of American Dippers just upstream from where the path through our woods meets Agency Creek. This is the first time I've seen two Dippers together from our place. I hope they nest here! Their appearance spurred me to start my sometimes-monthly spring and summer surveys of the nesting Dippers along six miles of Agency Creek. March is usually too early for them to be nesting in our area, but it is an early spring. And it was another beautiful day so Johnny and I packed lunches and headed out after morning chores yesterday (Saturday, March 7).

It proved too early for many of the Dippers to be hanging out near their nest sites. But we found other interesting creatures. A beautiful Mourning Cloak butterfly was flying about at one of our stops. It landed on the gravel and walked toward another butterfly, an Anglewing (also known as Comma). The Anglewing was standing on a piece of manure. Why, I don't know. And why the Mourning Cloak crawled up on it, too, is another mystery.

  Satyr Oreas (Polygonia oreas)

Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)
Here they are side by side, wings folded, on their hunk of junk with an empty shotgun cartridge behind them. Both these butterflies hibernate overwinter and emerge in the spring to lay their eggs. I sent photos to to find out what they were. The L on the underwing of the Anglewing proves it is P. oreas, apparently rare in this area.

Here and there the earth's bones, as I think of them, are exposed along this road. In one place across the creek, the slanting columns of basalt hint at a volcanic past in these Coast Range hills.

The Rock Quarry shows even more basaltic convolutions and layers, indicating, I think, different episodes of eruptions and uplifting... a cataclysmic past.

A little farther along, I heard the most beautiful sound on earth... at least to me. A Dipper was singing accompanied by thunderous rapids. They always seem to sing in the noisiest parts of a stream. Yet their endless song of lovely, ever-changing melodies is easily heard. I have never been able to record it, but others have.   However, a recording is nothing like being there, in the cool forest with clear rushing water and the sound of this little gray bird singing non-stop just because, apparently, it is happy to be alive. That bubbly song can be heard, if you are lucky, any month of the year.

One place we almost always see Dippers foraging is at The Chutes, the local name for a place where the creek is funneled between steep narrow walls. The creek is so low this dry winter that I was able to walk from the nest area, where I found only a Great Blue Heron, upstream along the bank to within sight of The Chutes. I found no Dippers this day, just lovely cascading water.

On our way back, we found a Dipper not too far from another nest site standing on a rock midstream, preening. It takes a lot of oiling feathers to keep them waterproof with all the swimming about in and under water to catch tiny prey creatures that this little songbird does.

We also found, at one stop on our way back, the first Trillium we have seen open so far this spring.

With no snow pack in the mountains, we will pay for this warm and dry weather later in the year. But we may as well enjoy it now.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Bobcat Kill

We see bobcats in our trail cameras often, but they don't look big enough to bring down a deer, the way the books say they can. But while Johnny was in California last month, one of my walks in the woods found a dead deer, half hidden under fallen logs and covered with leaves and mosses. Well, I didn't find it, our dog Shirley did and I looked to see what she was working on.

Wild cats, namely cougar and bobcats in our area, hide their kills that way, then come back and eat more later. I set up trail cameras by the kill to see which kind of cat it was. The deer looked to be a yearling.

A bobcat came during the night. Also feeding on the carcass occasionally in the next several days was the neighborhood dog we call a Wolf Dog, because it looks to be a cross between a wolf and a dog. Once our camera found that dog's sometime-companion, another neighbor dog: a black dog with a collar. It only came once and came alone. Every time I went down to check the camera cards, Shirley came with me and the camera caught her. She never stayed long, though. Neither did the neighbor dogs. The bobcat did, though, and moved the carcass once to another spot. The bobcat only came at night.

Here is Wolf Dog

The black dog...

 Shirley (after the carcass was mostly gone)...

I expected to see raccoons and opossums and who knows what else feeding on the carcass, but the only other creature I saw in the trail cameras was a mouse. And it came many times to eat something... maybe small insects or fly larvae? It was a very cute mouse with big ears and a long tail.

Six days later, nothing was left but a few small bones and scattered hair.

In the past, the only thing we have seen bobcats catch were rodents and rabbits. Now we know that bobcats, at least this one, can bring down a deer.

I'm glad we have livestock guardian dogs living with our livestock. Most of our goats are not nearly so big as this deer was.