Sunday, June 28, 2015

The End of an Era

The big snag is gone. I knew it would fall sometime as it was thoroughly rotted out. But it has been such an icon since we moved here in 1977... still alive, barely, then. Grand Firs grow fast but don't last long. Several have bit the dust since we moved here. But this one was huge and towered over the entire valley. So many birds have perched on its peak to survey the territory.

A Great Blue Heron sat up there regally many a morning.

 Turkey Vultures used it for a perch... in fact, yesterday two were on it. Some days there were lots more than two...


  An Osprey sat there once and a Red-shouldered Hawk a time or two...

Red-shouldered Hawk

 ... a Peregrine Falcon...  and many, many Red-tailed Hawks...


 The only Acorn Woodpecker I've ever seen here poked around at its top...

 with a Kestrel watching... for a time. Wondering, I'm sure, what that strange bird was doing on *his* (the Kestrel's) snag.

A few times a year, a Bald Eagle posed on top. The day after the below photo was taken with an adult eagle on the broad top, a sub-adult eagle tried to land on that skinny point next to the broad top. It never could balance on that point but it kept trying.

As the tree rotted more and more, pieces broke off, leaving the top looking different from month to month. But always very tall, providing a wonderful lookout tower for the birds.

 Birds have nested in the holes that its rotting limbs created. Raccoons slept in those holes. A college class got to see two of them curled up together high above just a year or two ago.

 So many birds used the top as a perch that I moved one of my scopes down to Johnny's machine shed to be closer and had it set so I could just move it a few feet outside and it would be aimed at the top. I have taken a zillion photos of that snag with its occupants. Now the skyline looks bare without it. How will the hawks react, I wonder, when they fly in to find it gone?

To take this photo today, I stood where I set my scope to look at the snag... which is no longer there.

  After all this steaming hot weather, it was a joy to hear the thunder roll this morning as I sat up in the horse barn loft measuring out hay cubes for the horses. Then rain began to fall on the roof... what a wonderful sound! But the rain didn't amount to much. Still, it cooled and cleared the air. After feeding the horses, I cleaned their paddock as usual into my EZ Go, enjoying the cool breeze and the very occasional rain drop. Then I drove the EZ Go to the field adjacent to the little creek and the big snag that stood over it, the field where I spread manure every morning.

Just as I started into the field I heard a tremendous crashing in the trees by the creek. I looked just in time to see the last descent of the snag as it fell through the trees and across the creek and the culvert crossing.

Suddenly, there was no snag on the skyline.

I called Johnny and he came out to see. It was completely blocking the culvert crossing. The horses would not be going into their lower field today. This is the shaky photo I took when I first arrived at the scene. Although I knew it was destined to fall, it was still hard to believe it was really gone.

Johnny, being less sentimental, went right to work sawing the snag into a piece that could be towed off the crossing with the tractor.

He towed it to a spot alongside the path... a place to sit and rest, he said.

I crawled through the brush to where it had stood. Just a stump was left with the rest in pieces lying across trees and the culvert and into the creek.

From the horses' side, it looked formidable... and the horses agreed. When I turned them out a little later, they spooked at the strange mess across their creek crossing.

The rings on the stump told a tale of rapid early growth, followed by slower growth, interspersed with good years of wide rings and not-so-good years of narrower rings. The newest growth rings were very narrow. It had slowed down considerably in its old age.

The core of the stump was completely rotted out but I found a hunk of it lying nearby. Look how wide those rings are, back in the fir's youth.

An interesting set of very narrow rings were in the middle of wider rings (photo below), showing a couple years of severely stunted growth. I wonder what caused that?

Ah, the tales that tree could tell... of birds and other wildlife in its boughs... of good years and bad years. I started to count the rings but could not finish because so much of the core is gone... The rings that remain tell me it was at least 200 years old.

It's like having an old friend die. That snag has watched over our farm forever. But nothing lasts forever. Goodbye, old friend.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Be Careful What You Wish For

For years, I wished I could get a permit into Cascade Head before the official opening so I could monitor Black Oystercatcher nests I was sure must be on the offshore rocks. Well, this year, I got the permit. Um, there are no "trails" to viewpoints for those rocks. I found my nests, 3 of them, but bushwhacking through the salal and downed trees is a mite exhausting. Then there's my regular 3 nests at Road's End with a lengthy hike... and the occasional jaunts to Cape Kiwanda, Short Beach and Cape Meares. I'm to the point where I'm relieved rather than saddened when a nest fails so I don't have to make that hike again.

But the scenery is lovely.

Road's End

Short Beach

Cascade Head

Cape Kiwanda

 And the company delightful...

Between trips to the coast I work like crazy on getting the garden planted. Well, first there was the problem of bindweed and thistles... but that story in another blog.

I also take time to enjoy the roses, which seem to thrive in spite of neglect.

Gebruder Grimm

Paul's Himalayan Musk

Paul's Himalayan Musk


Morning Has Broken

Burgundy Iceberg

And the butterflies... they love the urine-soaked soil in the horse paddock. Apparently, horse urine has minerals that attract butterflies. My daily manure cleaning in the paddock becomes a delight when the butterflies are around.
Western Tiger Swallowtail

Pale Swallowtail

Lorquin's Admiral underwing

Lorquin's Admiral

And so I haven't much more to wish for in my life... and I'll be careful before I do.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Earliest Haying Ever

Last year I wrote that we had all the hay in the barn on June 7, the earliest ever. We beat that record by a week this year. Sunday, May 31, we put the last bales in the barn... without any of them getting rained on. Indeed, we hardly had any dew mornings, much less rain. It's a very dry year. But rain was predicted for Sunday night. And, between weather and schedules, we only had a five day window to cut/rake/bale and get it into the barn.

We cut all three fields this year, even though one was still being pastured. The grass all over the farm was early maturing so Johnny used neighbor Paul's mower to cut it everywhere he could get to. We locked the goats away from the operation but let the llamas and sheep remain. As some of the photos show, they reluctantly moved out of the way of hay equipment.

 Johnny took this photo to show the three pieces of equipment needed to mow the field. The garden tractor to jump Paul's tractor, which never started on its own, the tractor with mower, and the EZ Go to dash for mower parts.

I got home from a Black Oystercatcher nest monitoring at the coast on Wednesday just in time to see Johnny finish cutting the last field.

On Thursday, he had a day off to join me in more coast nest monitoring. Then on Friday, 
Johnny raked hay while I was off to the coast again returning in time to take a few more photos...

On Saturday afternoon, Paul baled hay... with llamas and sheep supervising...

 ... and getting in the way...

 When Paul finished, a little after 4 p.m., we began picking up bales. We quit around 7:30 and started again the next morning when the dew was off. By Sunday noon, all the hay was in the barn. Granted, there were less than 400 light bales but it's still quite a feat considering the hay crew. Our tractor driver is 85 year-old, one-eyed Irv, who also relayed bales from one hay elevator to the next in the loft.

Bale handler in the field and taking bales off the truck and onto the hay elevator was me... not exactly what you'd call a burly bale handler. Johnny took a photo when I was resting, of course. Probably watching a bird in the field.

Johnny did most of the work, mowing, raking, helping feed the baler when necessary, and stacking hay onto the flatbed trailer as I threw them up there. No, not "threw"... put them up there. Even though the bales are light (probably 40 to 50 pounds max), they are not throwable by me. Johnny, 73 and with a bad back, also took the bales off the end of the second elevator and stacked them in the barn.

As is his custom, Johnny jumped the last bale in the field. (Irv is on our tractor in the background.) Johnny says when he can no longer jump a bale, it's time to quit haying. The camera caught his take-off and landing, but not in the air. Trust me, he cleared it just fine. Looks like he'll be haying again next year.

  Sunday night it did, indeed, rain a little... about 1/4 inch... but not on our hay. Today, Monday, is a lovely, drizzly, gently-water-the-ground day.

Hay is in the barn and life is good on the Fink Family Farm.