Sunday, December 27, 2015

Christmas 2015 in Photos

The build up to Christmas Day started with a spectacular sunrise on the 23rd.

On the 24th, snow was low on Spirit Mountain above us.

With just a little left on the path from the night before...

I asked for my Christmas present a little early that morning. Johnny wanted a photo of me with it before it was unwrapped for people to guess what it is. (Hint: I was on my way out to the barn and it is *not* a snow shovel.)

We had mixed reports on whether the Hwy 22 five foot sinkhole had been repaired or not. That is the route we take to go to Tillamook on Christmas Day to have dinner with friends. So we decided to drive that far to find out. If the road was still closed, we would have to go the long way around through Lincoln City.

Happily, the road was repaired. Temporary guard thingies protected cars from a very long drop to the creek.

Just beyond the road repair area was Gunaldo Falls. It is invisible in the summer with only a trickle of water. Leaves on the trees block the view anyway. But now it was full and visible.

As long as we were out and about, we drove up Agency Creek Rd. to see the new pavement now that that road is finally reopened. Close to the end of the pavement (six miles from our farm) we ran into snow on the road... and in the air.

I wanted to go back quickly before it got too thick but Johnny, as always, had to build a little snowman first. I took a photo through the van window.

That night there was a lovely full moon with a colorful halo around it but my camera did not pick up the colors. My New Year's resolution is to read my camera's info guide and figure out what all these settings are for.

Christmas morning dawned clear and cold. Snow was very low on the mountains above the horse pasture.

The horse pasture was white with frost, not snow. The horses were muddy from their rolls in the field earlier so the only one I will show a photo of is Nightingale because she is too dark (and too far away) to show the mud.

After chores we left for the coast. Since this was the highest tide of the year, we stopped first at McPhillips Park to walk "our" mile (Mile 262) and take photos of the highest point the water came to. It turned out that was very high indeed. The access road was completely blocked with wood and kelp and debris. (Info on adopting a mile of Oregon beach is at the CoastWatch site: )

That was the only day we have walked that beach without vehicles on it. The only other access point is around a rock outcropping to the north... which was now surrounded by ocean.

The ocean was also up to and climbing the dunes to the south of the access road. We had to climb part way up to avoid becoming part of the debris being rolled around in the surf.

 The sand on the north side of the Cape Kiwanda dune had been washed off rocks and relocated.

Three Black Turnstones were finding bits of things to eat among the rocks.

After returning to McPhillips Park and our car, we ate lunches we had packed (well, one of us had left his lunch on the counter at home but I always have lots of extra snacks in my pack so he didn't starve). Then drove north to our friends' the Woodhouses. They took us on a tour of the many landslides and areas that had been flooded, plus showed us lots of birds, including more Common Mergansers than I have ever seen before in one group (John Woodhouse judged 60) and more raptors in one field than we see on our entire raptor route. But my favorite scene was a Great Blue Heron perched atop a moored fishing boat.

It had been a lovely, sunny Christmas Day with snow on the mountains east of Tillamook over still partially flooded fields, but dark clouds were moving in... It was time to head for the Shiloh Inn and our Christmas dinner.

 By the time we left for home (after a delicious meal that none of us had to cook or clean up after) it was growing dark and foggy. Today, two days after that incredible sunny Christmas Day, the rain has returned. How lucky we all were to have a dry and sunny Christmas in this wet and dark December.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Let There Be Light...

All these dark, drippy days have kept me out of the Christmas spirit. Daughter-in-law and good friend Jessica advised me that she had cheered up considerably when she forced herself to decorate for Christmas. The Christmas tree lights and her Christmas village made her feel better. So last weekend I took her advice and strung lights all over the jungle room (entry greenhouse), tree outside the front door, and set up my little Christmas village. And it does seem cheerier with colorful lights brightening the gloom.

I never can figure out, though, if I should take photos with the flash on so you can see the plants...

Or off so you can see the lights... strung helter skelter...

 Either way, the village does not show up too well in photographs with all those jungle room lights outside the window...

This bride and groom are taking a chilly, snowy, dark-time-of-year ride

You can almost see the ice skater on this little pond, with two young children watching her go round and round on her prescribed figure eight...

Santa's Workshop is appropriately dark for this darkest time of the year at the north pole...

Outdoors the tree in front of the house is getting bigger and bigger... and harder and harder to get lights all the way to the top. But between my trusty ladder and my throwing arm, I succeeded.

The house is ablaze with the lighted jungle room entry beyond the tree...

 I still had a blanket of lights left after all that so I threw it over one of the pines in the rose bed... or part of the pine...

In the morning, when I come in from feeding the horses in the dark hours, it is cheerful to see the house lit up with Christmas lights. The lights on the lower left are a blanket of white lights I didn't know what to do with... so I tossed them over some big ferns by our little goldfish pond. You can never have too many lights...

 Once in awhile, the rain stops. When it does, our Willow Kitty (the feral kitten who adopted us a year ago) sits under a feeder and stares at the birds who come to eat. She wears a belled collar to alert the birds but since she makes no attempt to hide, the bells are redundant. However, before the bells, she did catch an unwary Pine Siskin, probably feeding on the ground. The birds realize, though, that she cannot reach them in this feeder. It is ugly but holds a lot of sunflower seeds and I was tired of refilling the other, smaller ones every day.

Pine Siskin ignoring the cat below

Who me? I'm just enjoying the scenery.

the bird scenery...

Shortly after I took these photos, Willow Kitty leaped upward and grabbed the fence post momentarily. The Siskin flew off... momentarily. Soon the rain started and Kitty left for drier places. Birds swarmed into and under the feeder with the cat away.

Whenever Johnny hears Willow's bells ringing, he says: "You're ringing your dinner bells, aren't you, Willow?" Hopefully, not. Although she did catch a mouse since she has been belled. Mouse dinners are acceptable for cats. But not birds.

Now the daylight hours are destined to lengthen... slowly and imperceptibly for awhile... but lengthen they will. I will keep my Christmas lights lit until the sun reappears for more than five minutes at a time.

Let there be light...

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Tis The Season...

...for Christmas Bird Counts. Johnny and I did three of them this week.

On Monday was "our" count, the Upper Nestucca. This was the 32nd year it has been run, but just the 12th since Don Albright and I resurrected it after BLM dropped it... when the Spotted Owls disappeared from the coast range where the count takes place. I love this count as it is up in the hills above our farm in scenic forest land with lots of creeks and waterfalls (especially this year) and few if any other vehicles.

We scouted last Friday to see if there were trees down across the roads or any other impediments. Johnny chainsawed one tree off but another, on the road where I see most of the birds in my pretty-but-mostly-birdless sector, had a huge fir down that had pulled several smaller alders with it and created a mudslide. I would have to walk that road. And on Monday I did... to the everlasting regret of my legs. On my way back, I called Johnny on our radios (cell phones don't work up there) and told him my knees were aching. He kindly backed the van the three-tenths of a mile to the fallen tree to pick me up. That is an uphill .3 and I was very grateful.

Johnny on the downhill side of the roadblock

the uphill side

We ate lunch in the van at the junction of that road (the 2283) and the 14 road which is the main one through our sector. It had been alternating rain and snow but the snow was not sticking on the road.

Then, as we ate lunch, the snow became more persistent. Johnny told me to take a photo because the flakes were big and lovely.

We headed west toward the end of our sector, about three miles uphill. The snow soon was covering the road. I took photos at the gravel pit where someone had put a couple of jack o lanterns to shoot at.

It was shortly above that where we began to slide. Alas, there is no place to turn around until you get to the top so Johnny just kept going with the van's nose pointed to the left to correct for the sliding rear wheels. I held onto my seat and hoped for the best. Fortunately, we made it without going off the mountainside. Now it was snowing heavily and I wanted to head right back down... The snow was beautiful, but... soon we would not be able to make it out. And no birds with any sense would be out in that weather anyway.

looking west out of our sector

our van in the turn-around spot

looking east the way we had come
With snow falling heavily and the road growing steadily more treacherous, Johnny said, "I want to make a snowman first." Yes, he really said that. And he did it.

On the way down we saw that our rear tracks were not in the same groove as our front tracks .... Johnny said that was called "crabbing" in aviation talk. I suppose it is sort of a travers in dressage lingo. Friend Randy told us later it was "dog-legging". Whatever it was, it was scary.

Back at the 2283/14 junction, the road was again clear of snow and stayed that way for the rest of our trip. I walked a few other short roads... with a walking stick... slowly. One road I had never walked before had a lovely surprise at the point where I turned around... a pond we did not know existed in our sector. Of course, in drier years, it may not.

We saw a grand total of six species on this all day count and none of my photos are any good... moving birds in rain do not make good photo subjects. Gray Jays, Hermit Thrushes, and Pacific Wrens were the most abundant.

But the part of this count we look forward to all day... Johnny especially likes this part the best... is the count down at the end in Linda and Dave Leavitt's warm house. Linda fixes a huge buffet for all of us. We eat, tell our tales of the day, and tally species seen. I thought I would have the scariest tale this year but my sliding snow story was bested by Craig and Joel's harrowing stuck-in-the-snow tale, with wheels two inches from going over the cliff. They winched themselves out, fortunately.

My favorite not-scary story was from the John/George/Mike and Kay team. They watched an American Dipper swim across a lake. "Just like a tiny duck, diving for food, then popping up and swimming." I guess when there are no rocks available to hunt from and your creek is a raging, muddy torrent, you adapt... if you're a Dipper.

The buffet and some of the happily fed birders

The next day, Tuesday, my legs were somewhat better and we had promised to help out with the Lincoln City count. And so we did. First we hiked around the old Pixieland, now a restored part of the Salmon River estuary. It was a drippy, misty, foggy day but we saw a good number of birds including a Virginia Rail that I almost stepped on... at least, the clattering alarm it sounded made it seem like the bird thought I was about to step on it. It quickly disappeared in the marsh grass. We saw 17 species there. No photos as it was too wet.

Next we drove to Road's End and hiked The Thumb, as I do weekly in the summer when monitoring Black Oystercatcher nests. Thanks to my legs, it was a very slow climb. Although it was a dark and drippy day, I did get a few photos of the roiling ocean.

Wizard Island

Cascade Head

The Thumb (I lightened this photo to make it a bit more visible)

The cove where Oystercatchers nest in the summer

Camp Westwind beach

A Subadult Bald Eagle perched on a scraggly tree

On this hike, we saw 14 species.

And then came the count today, Thursday, Dec. 17. We picked up friend Marilyn at Hillside Retirement Center and drove for a few miles and two hours around the area where Marilyn used to walk and bird. It was very rainy today but we saw more birds than anticipated. It was definitely too rainy for my camera this time. Only those very close to the car were even marginally acceptable. Like this Eurasian-collared Dove...

 And these Pine Siskins on someone's front yard feeder...

However, my camera helped identify distant ducks on a pond. I could tell some were Green-winged Teal but until I looked at my photos on the computer, I didn't realize that all 16 waterfowl on the far side of the pond were the same... all teal.

And this Pied-billed Grebe I could not identify until I saw the photos with it brought up closer.

 We all recognized this Red-breasted Sapsucker on a power pole next to the road, but my photos through the rain are blurry.

We also saw lots and lots of deer... much bigger and easier to photograph than birds.

On this rainy day, with just two hours of looking, we found 25 species of birds... and about the same number of deer.

Marilyn then treated us to a tasty lunch at Hillside. It was the easiest count of the week... no hiking... and we saw the most birds. We'll definitely beg Marilyn to do it again with us next year!

And, of course, we'll do the Upper Nestucca again because I love that high country... and some years we get twice as many species (twelve instead of six)... when the weather cooperates.