Saturday, May 23, 2015

Marathon Birding: Black Oystercatcher Surveys

For the last two weeks, we have been surveying Black Oystercatchers for the Portland Audubon Society. They have taken over the Oregon coast-wide abundance survey that Elise Eliot-Smith had done for USGS for about eight years, then, when her funding for that program ran out, continued purely as a volunteer coordinator for another couple of years. Now with Portland Audubon at the helm, the study has been revitalized. And so I leaped into my areas with great enthusiasm. Johnny's enthusiasm was a little less, especially after our first Cape Lookout survey in rain and cold on May 12.

We did, however, find a pair of BLOY on one side of the cape and a single from another of the five, yes five, observation points that all require much hiking between. BLOY surveying at Cape Lookout is challenging. But the views, when you can see them, are lovely.

Here is the north cove, where we found two BLOY on our first survey, May 12, after the rain quit.

Here is a view from the south side of the cape, looking toward Cape Kiwanda, obscured in clouds.

Cape Lookout does sometimes have other rewards. Our follow-up survey on May 19 (when the above photo was taken) netted somewhat better weather... and whales! Johnny spotted two cows and two calves right below us. Well, way down below us as the Cape is very high over the water. Whales keep their calves close to shore as they round the cape heading north to avoid the deep sea predators, so they have no choice but to follow the steep sides of the cape around, affording great viewing opportunities to people on the trail high above.

But BLOY were the main objects of these surveys...

On May 14, I had surveyed Cliff Creek Falls alone. I found no BLOY at this site where I had watched a chick grow up and fledge in 2012.

But there were plenty of sea lions below me, barking and herding fish.

 ...And wildflowers on the long hike back to my car, giving me rest stops for photographs.

 BLOY provided excitement at North Cascade Head the next day, May 15. After a difficult, steep hike bushwhacking, we arrived at the cove where I had seen two BLOY in a scouting trip earlier. None were to be seen when we arrived, so we sat down to wait. After almost an hour, we heard and saw two land on a foraging rock next to the big flat rock where I had seen them the last time. They flew to the flat rock, preened, copulated, and then the female walked stealthily toward the cliff... and sat down on two eggs! We had not seen the eggs before as they were behind tree branches from us. I never knew BLOY to leave eggs that long untended but BLOY continually surprise us. And who knows if he was there, behind the tree branches, and had left without us seeing him to meet his incoming mate for her turn on the eggs.

the nest rock

the pair soon after alighting on their nest rock

female on nest with bit of post-preening down on her bill

More BLOY excitement happened at Road's End on May 20, although we didn't know it until later, when I examined my photographs. I had hiked to the North Observation Point while Johnny hiked up The Thumb. I could see my North Rock BLOY below me, doing nothing. Eventually they moved to a spot that they were apparently considering a nest area as they scraped and scratched and wandered around as though to say, "How about here?" while the other replied, "No, I think this is better over where I am."

When I tired of watching them, I canvased the back of the Middle Rock and South Rock with my camera from my great distance away. It was in one of those photos that I found the South Rock BLOY nest... but thought I'd found the Middle Rock until I compared photos two weeks later. Johnny could tell both North Rock and Middle Rock pairs were nesting... somewhere on their respective rocks... because one of the partners of each was on guard duty. But they nest on the west side of their rocks, out of Johnny's view. And, I thought, out of my view to the north of them as well.

 The rock in the middle below is "Middle Rock", far away even zoomed up a bit in my camera. The rock far left is "South Rock".

 I zoomed my camera all the way up and shot blindly all over the rock. I did not think I had a prayer of finding the nesting bird. But here she is...

On Friday, May 22, we did our last survey. This time it was more about fun than birds. We hiked the beach at Oceanside at low tide, then met friends for lunch in Netarts. All of us then went to Short Beach to see if that pair were nesting yet (apparently not).

 At Cape Meares, we found the pair that nests on the North Cliff but they are not yet nesting.

North Toe at Cape Meares

The real excitement, though, came from the Peregrine Falcons that nest on that cliff. Their aerie is high on the cliff and hidden behind thistles. However we hiked down to the lowest viewing platform and were able to see the female's head, sort of, above a pair of buttercups and left of the thistles. It is a *very* long way across the cove to the north cliff, but Johnny managed a photo through our scope. If you strain your eyes, you can make out a peregrine's mustachioed head above two yellow flowers.

As we started to leave the Cape, a Bald Eagle flew over the cove. Papa Falcon took out after it screaming and diving at the eagle, who barrel rolled to avoid being struck between the shoulder blades by a furious falcon. The falcon loudly escorted the eagle all the way out of the cove.

Today, we heard that one chick and possibly a second were seen the morning we were there!

During our two week BLOY surveys, we saw a total of 21 BLOY. Not all those sites are mine to survey officially, though... I was just checking for nests which I do monitor until fledging. We found 17 BLOY in "my" sites.

And we did a bit of gardening between trips... That story and photos in another post... someday... after I rest up.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Marathon Birding

May 9 and 10 were the North American Migration Count days... and also the start of the two week Black Oystercatcher monitoring period. Johnny and I have been heavily involved in both.

Saturday, May 9, I birded our farm for the Yamhill County count, then we drove up Agency Creek Rd. to bird up there and also do my occasional American Dipper survey. I'll tell the story in photos.

For two weeks previous, I filled the sunflower seeders daily to attract birds. It worked. American Goldfinches, Evening Grosbeaks and Black-headed Grosbeaks swarmed to the feeders, just waiting to be counted on migration count day.

Black-headed Grosbeak
Up Agency Creek Rd., we watched a Raven tussle with a little snake. The snake wasn't giving up without a fight and the Raven often jumped back out of reach of the striking snake. But eventually, the Raven won and flew off with its prey.

This forlorn little fledgling Dipper kept hoping its parent would feed it. But parent thought it was time for baby to learn to eat so flew by calling several times, but never stopped to feed.

After awhile, baby started picking at whatever it could find on its mossy rock perch.

Little by little, it worked closer to the scary fast-moving water... and thought about jumping in.


Eventually, hunger overcame fear and the little bird dove.

Rewarded with underwater goodies, it perched on a partially submerged log and continued to feed. 

I moved on to find more birds. I'd find more if I didn't spend so much time watching them.  A lovely Western Tanager did what all birds should do on migration count day: it perched in the sun on top of a dead snag where it was plainly visible.

We finished the Yamhill Count by climbing the loft ladder after dark and counting Barn Owl babies. There was one more then (two) than there is now (one). Our Barn Owls are having difficulties this year. Hopefully, they will have a second clutch with better luck.

Sunday, May 10, we hiked up The Thumb at Road's End for our first Black Oystercatcher (BLOY) survey of the season, and also counted birds for the Lincoln County migration count, including this young Bald Eagle that insisted on sitting on one of our BLOY nest rocks. Not surprisingly, we did not see the pair of BLOY that nest on that rock.

We did, however, see the pairs that traditionally nest north and south of that rock. I look forward to monitoring those nests, which gives me an excuse to visit this beautiful site weekly.

One Oystercatcher is in this photo of the south rock, left and below of center

One Oystercatcher is here on the north rock, slightly above and right of center

I left Johnny on top of the Thumb to keep watch on the BLOY, while I headed upward and across to the woods to count birds for the Lincoln County NAMC. A swallowtail butterfly with very worn wings, but still beautiful, attracted my attention first.

The view in every direction was, as usual, stunning.

Red Crossbills were feeding in the spruce cones. These two looked particularly "cross".


Johnny met me down at the car and we headed onward to count birds (and eat our lunches) at Tamara Quays, at the top of the Salmon River estuary, and then onward to pick up a Dipper at the bridge at Rose Lodge for the Lincoln County count. It was very cooperative, taking a bath below the bridge.

After another stop just inside Lincoln County at the Van Duzer Wayside, we entered Tillamook county for a few miles and hiked up a road, finding an Olive-sided Flycatcher atop a snag, and other birds less cooperative for photos.

Then it was Polk County where we made three stops, finding the requisite Dipper for that county by a bridge on Mill Creek, then on to Noble Oaks, formerly Oregon Wildlife, where our friends Nancy and Dick live and have created a private wildlife mecca, now part of the Nature Conservancy's non-public holdings. A few birds posed for pictures. Alas, the lovely and unexpected Lazuli Bunting did not.

Hooded Merganser

Savannah Sparrow
 Also unexpected was this flycatching Black Phoebe.

We ended our day at the Wildwood Cafe in Willamina for supper. It was a fun and full weekend of birding, but that was just the beginning as we had (and still have) many more days of Black Oystercatcher surveying at other sites yet to come... plus my most un-favorite part of these counts: data entry. In between, farm chores continue and the garden waits to be planted. It is a busy and beautiful time of year.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Johnny's Texas Adventure

Three days after I returned from Traumhof, Johnny left for Texas. His nephews wanted him to come visit... and work on their projects, of course. That's what Fink men do on "vacations". Nephew Jeff flew in from Illinois to join his cousins, Johnny's nephews Stu and Charles. Johnny also got to see niece Cassandra (the sister of Stu and Charles) and her husband, also those three kids' mom, Marge, and her partner. Charles' wife flew in for a few days and Stu's girlfriend dropped by.  Have all that straight? Good, on with the photos.

First project seems to have been to fix the car. Stuart digs a part out while Jeff holds up the hood. Johnny took photos.

Stuart makes biodiesel for some of his vehicles, tractors, etc.. This is the biodiesel manufacturing area. Stuart gets the fats and oils from here and there to make the fuel.

Both Charles and Stuart make just about everything themselves. Here is part of Stuart's' workshop with lathes and milling machines and more.

The first couple of days for Johnny were spent pulling dead trees and branches out of the creek... and through poison ivy.

Junkman Jeff is great with a tractor. He helped with tractor projects at our farm last year.

Charles spent most of this day in hip waders in the murky creek sawing trees into movable hunks

Charles' house with solar electric panels and solar water heater panels. He is entirely off grid and produces his own electricity.

Jeff and Stuart in front of Stuart's house, which is adjacent to Charles' acreage.

A fireman's pole allows quick descent from the second floor of Charles' house. That is Cassandra coming down the pole. Johnny shinnied up and down several times. I guess he's not over the hill yet.  (Only Cassandra's husband Scott and Johnny could go both up and down. The others could only come down, Johnny told me. He was surprised and happy that he could still shinny up a pole.)

This was Johnny's bed under an elegant mosquito net.

Here Cass and Marge and their men have fun bouncing up and down on Johnny's bed, which was a big air mattress on top of another mattress. It's not just our grandkids who like to bounce on beds.

Charles' water cistern with the lid raised...

Charles' water cistern with the lid raised.

Charles' composting toilet with toilet paper neatly folded and placed in the hole to accept bodily offerings. I remember the days when we and all our friends were going to be off grid and have composting toilets. A few did. But none still do. Charles (and, I understand, some of his neighbors) have taken up the baton we children of the 60s have mostly handed off.

After pushing the lever on the left and spraying with the black sprayer on the right, all disappears down the hole.

Here Jeff relaxes with big feet that Charles made for some costume party while a cheetah stalks behind him.

There was all kinds of wildlife in Texas, (although no cheetahs). Johnny took photos of a turtle...

... two snakes (one head is in upper left, other head lower right

and ants, both fire ants and other little red ants

Johnny also saw a Roadrunner but did not get a photo. He did get a photo of a Tufted Titmouse that was feeding nestlings in a nest in the fork of this tree. But the bird is a little hard to see. It's in the upper right corner.

 Zoomed up, it's a bit odd, but sort of recognizable as a bird...

There were odd things in the house, too. The garbage can was in a closet. When you opened the door, you saw this:

Charles made this sculpture some time ago. Like his dad Bruce and his mom Marge and his siblings, he is an artist.

 Here are Charles and wife Heidi with their dog Rowan on a bridge on their property. They actually live in Connecticut but Charles comes out to Texas for one to three months a year to work on his Texas property.

Neighbors of Charles have built several dome concrete houses. They start with a foundation and a big balloon.

For this one they glued lightweight concrete blocks on the outside, then, after deflating the balloon, sprayed the interior and exterior with concrete.

This is what the inside wall looks like.

In another style of building going up, Stuart and a neighbor started with a shipping crate that had been a tornado shelter, then added rooms above and beyond. (What the finished product will look like, I have no idea.) The domes were also built to be tornado proof, as was Charlie's bedroom above the cistern. I guess they have lots of tornadoes there. The day Johnny left, there were tornadoes nearby according to news at the airport.

On his last day there, Johnny stayed at Cassandra's, who lives close to the airport. She has a more conventional lifestyle... and residence.

Breakfast time...
Some of the clan went to a museum before Cassandra took Jeff and Johnny to the airport. Here they pose in front of an old car...

Heidi, Jeff, Charles, Johnny, Marge (Cassandra took the photo)

As they left the museum, they saw a school group playing on the Leap Frog Park in front. Each frog  emerged out of the ground a little farther than the one behind it, as though they were emerging from a pond. There is also a shallow wading stream around the outside for kids to play in.

Johnny arrived home 8 days after leaving, having had a wonderful time. Everyone, he said, was very nice and welcoming and "more normal than I expected". They are a great group of folks but I'm not sure "normal" is applicable. But then, I have never considered being "normal" a plus.

Johnny arrived back on our farm just in time for two weeks of marathon birding. How normal is that?